Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy Weekend!

The moonrise on my walk home tonight. At a balmy -4F.

I officially started working in the paleo lab today (this week i've been optimizing PCR primers in Carney's lab, to save on costs - if I did it in the clean lab it would be horrendously expensive, and I just need to figure out the program to run when I get to the clean lab). It's been an interesting, if not as lab productive as wanted, week. I'd had some +ve control DNA sent from Hawaii to Thunder Bay on tuesday when I realised I was (really) short on it here. It was sent overnight fedex. Well, it's friday, and no DNA. It went to Toronto, then Memphis, then Toronto, then Memphis, then Toronto again, then sat, then finally cleared customs, and then got stuck in a snowstorm enroute. So no DNA. And Fedex is closed tomorrow so I can't even get it over the weekend. Sucks, to say the least, and has held up things here (I ran out of what I had on Weds evening).

So little more to do than go skiing and enjoy the snow! Well, that's not entirely true, I did manage to optimize two primer sets, so will be in the clean lab running those on my fossil DNA this weekend. But tomorrow little Sammy and I shall be going skiing for a couple of hours (we're both at the same level!) and then sunday I have an indoor 10K and Kim and I will do a little snowshoeing in the afternoon I hope. So a fun, and hopefully productive, weekend ahead. I also sent out my first proposal draft to my collaborators today. Wasn't in as good a shape as I wanted it to be before I sent it out, but time is ticking. So I also need to spend a good few hours a day on that over the weekend too.

Hope you all have a good one!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sun, Snow and Skiing!

And Happy Birthday Lucy - One Today!

Well, i'm here, and apologise for the giant blog break, it's been busy and relaxing all at the same time. Let's catch up. So I flew from Honolulu to SFO and spent 2 days with Stian, Nicola & Co., went to see his new house, saw the kiddos (oh so cute!) and had a wonderful dinner with Barbara and Carlo - thank you so much for the hospitality you guys, was great to catch up!

Then onto Canada! A long long day of flights. I'd ordered some snow boots to Nicola's house to pick up enroute, and I ummed and ahhhed as to whether I really needed them (they weren't cheap - not expensive for snow boots, but not cheap) and whether I could get by in my hiking boots. Just so we're clear, it took me all of 1 second stepping foot in Canada to not regret that purchase.

The last flight of the day was a 8pm hopper flight from Minneapolis to Thunder Bay, 45 minutes in a tiny plane. My snow boots didn't fit well in my luggage so I wore them that day. When we left MSP we were warned a storm was coming through and we might get to TB and have to turn around. We got to TB and were told that we could land, they just had to plough the runway. So ten minutes later we were on the ground, ploughs were all over the place trying to keep the runways clear (it was snowing!). Remembering there are no tunnels at TB airport, I was suddenly glad not only I had snow boots, but that I was wearing them! The plane taxied, then took a bump over a snow bank, drove through the snow and up to the terminal. The ladder was pulled up and they didn't even plough a path! Though I was cozy I did feel bad for the ladies wearing slippers!

A successful pick up from Carney and I was fully in Thunder Bay (AND - the smuggled pineapple made it all the way from Hawaii!). The first day was glorious, just about 0F and sunny. In hindsight I wasted that day, as I went into the lab all day (but I guess that is what i'm here for....), as for the last 2 days it's been -20F instead and a little cold to play in the snow. That said, this afternoon, after 2 gels and another PCR in the machine, Carney took me to the ski hill for an hour of up and down the bunny slope. I'm pleased to report I think i'm now back to where I was with skiing on my last go 2 years ago (to put this in perspective i've had 2 days on the ski slopes in my life, separated by 5 years). Now I have to decide whether to take an intermediate lesson or whether just to practice....i'm excited by being somewhere I can ski more than once and even have the opportunity to take more than one lesson. The big deal is skiing is free (Carney is ski patrol so can get a buddy pass) whereas i'd have to pay for lessons ($45). Any thoughts from skiers much appreciated - I don't want to tackle the black slopes or anything, but would like to get to the point where I could tackle any blue or green when I go places, rather than feeling I always need to take a lesson every time I jump on skis...

The most exciting thing so far is catching up with Kim, Carney and the girls! We've already got lots of fun things planned, the first may be a 10K indoor race this sunday.....well okay, so that's not as fun, but there are other plans like skating, sledding and mushing afoot! Alongside, PCR, Extractions, Sequencing, and writing a proposal that is.......

The view from the deck - snow!

The biggest change in the family is Taylor is walking! She only started a week ago, but has already got down the running away when you call her name!

And my first gel! I seem to have hit PCR hell already (anyone in molecular bio will know what I mean here....), but this first gel went "okay".....good to get the bugs out the way early I guess.....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting ready to go....

It's been quite the busy few weeks and now i'm looking at leaving on Thursday for SFO to see the Alesandrinis (yay!) and then to Can-eh-dia for 4 weeks to do some lab work! It's been hectic, i've been helping some friends with some desperately needed house stuff and trying to get a proposal together to go in for mid-Feb. I also seem to have got myself overwhelmed with other things too, so it goes. I suspect I won't blog again until Canada, so hope you all have a good week!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Little Hannah

Got to spend some time with little Hannah Engels-Holdt this week, she is such a cutie-pie!

Helping me sort my bills.....already better at the financial side of things than i'll ever be!

Hanging out in Grodnick.

Backpacks for Belize

A good friend of mines mother is participating in an expedition to provide medical care and basic supplies to the Holy Cross Anglican School in San Pedro, Belize. The group she works with has a long standing relationship with the school and this year the plan is to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in need.

- If you have a used (or new) backpack or book bag in good condition that you don't use, consider donating to this cause.

- If you can "load" the bag that is also much appreciated - they are specifically looking for - colouring books, paper, tape, pens, pencils, chalk and erasers, stickers, sharpeners and hand sanitizer (though any school type supplies i'm sure would be much appreciated).

If you have a bag to donate you can either send it to the address below or if you live in the Raleigh-Durham area Alyssa will pick them up (just drop me a note and i'll put you in touch). I'll personally be sending a few bags along - every conference I go to I seem to get a bag that sits unused, this is a great way for them to be used by those in need!

Alyssa Hopkins
2204 Garden Place
NC 27607

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's been a hectic week, and still continues to be so, so i'm just posting a few Maui photos and will catch everyone up on the scoop soon! It's one week till I head to Canada. Kathy is here until tomorrow evening and i'll be sad to see her go, we've not only got a ton of work done, but have also had a lot of fun in the process. I sure miss my Woods Holians!

Some photos of the 5 day (work....honest) trip to Maui.....

Haleakala - I took Kathy up there one day and we did a short hike into the crater to a cinder cone on the western edge. One of my favorite places and the weather was perfect - we could even see the Big Island!

The tourist photo at the topmost ranger station. Though i've been here since, I haven't had my photo taken in this spot since 2001 (it's on the righthand slideshow somewhere!).

Our "office". Quite perfect in every way. Ocean view, garden setting, covered Hale, power outlets and even a tiki bar right behind us - what more could you need? We got a ton of work done in this very spot!

View from the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Hawaii's most Hawaiian Hotel - I love this place as tacky as it might be! We went swimming almost everyday and snorkeled under Black Rocks (at the far end of this picture) where there are some pretty impressive reefs and fish.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kathy is here!

My friend Kathy from Woods Hole is here, so excuse my little blogging break! We're working on some Alaska data together, and are off to Maui to escape the office and work there for a few days on Thursday, can't wait! It's unfortunately pouring down right now, hoping the weather clears up for her!

Have a great week!
In front of the Waikiki Duke statue

Enjoying a Mai Tai and a Lava Flow!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas Horsey

With my teaching schedule I didn't get to make as many gifts this year as i hoped to, and ended up buying some here and there. I did get to make some woolly hats for my nephew and niece, and some soap for family and friends.

One crafty piece i'm particularly pleased with was a surprise find over the summer. I was staying at Jenny and Doug's while they were on the East coast and saw a yard sale a street over from them one day. As I drove by I saw a little wooden horse for sale, so stopped and took a look. $5 and it was in good condition (all be it poo brown), so I picked it up for little Hannah, thinking i'd refinish it. Doug and Jenny had all the right tools to sand it down too, so I took advantage while I was staying there, then painted it slowly over the last few months. It didn't come out quite as I first envisioned, but I still think it came out great! I wish I lived closer to by nephew and niece to do things like this for them, so thank you Hannah for being my substitute niece!

I forgot to take a photo of the initial - it was a thick (thick!) all over coat of poo brown! Here it is after an initial power sanding. The paint was so thick you could barely see the carved out eyes. There were some holes to fill too, but it was mostly in really good shape.

Starting the (many) primer coats.

Primers done and ready for some colour. This took me the longest time, as I couldn't decide what colours to do! All the colours were water based acryllic with a water based varnish, so, although not the toughest, all very kiddie safe and I did enough coats, it should last a pretty long while.

The finished product! The dapple wasn't initially planned, but I thought cute, and Jenny likes red, which is a great neutral colour to be passed down to subsequent children too.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I love Macs. They have all these handy widgets on them. I was just looking up where Jenny, Doug and Hannah's flight is (they've been in Oregon for the holidays) and all my temperatures of various places popped up. From the bottom up - San Francisco, Punta Arenas, London, Thunder Bay and Boston. On the left is Honolulu. Note the difference between Honolulu and Thunder Bay (the place in Canada i'm heading to in 3 weeks). Yikes!

What is more funny is every time the temp for Thunder Bay pops up, I check it's set on Farenheit and not Celcius. And yes, every time, it is indeed set to Farenheit.

Goals for 2010

Welcome to 2010, how did yours go? It's not been a great start for me, but I keep telling myself it's a new year so just keep pushing forward. Our major funding agency here in the US decided to release proposal rejections the morning of New Years eve. So I found out that the one big grant i've been waiting on, and really wanting to get funded, did not. I still have one more in the works, one that though exciting, is small potatoes compared to the one that did not.

I wrote two big grants this year, big money, good salary and to be perfectly honest, awesome science. One went into Polar Programs for some more experiments on my Antarctic larvae. To be peer reviewed you get 5 reviewers and then a panel of experts that decide on your proposal. You are then ranked and they fund as many as they can going down the list. That proposal came back with awesome reviews, and an awesome panel review, and yet was not funded. The panel even said to resubmit it next year (June 2010). That was big grant #1 and I heard about that a few weeks ago. That was irritating, but okay, because I was waiting on my other big grant, and I knew it went through the first round of rejections as I know other people who had their rejections already. Proposal #2 was to go to Chile, to do a seasonal study on some fjord corals. They haven't released the reviews as yet, so I don't know what went down. All I know is that it did not get funded. I personally don't think they should tell you until they release the reviews.

This has hit me hard in a number of ways. 1) My heart is really in that proposal, it's a fabulous project, with awesome science, a great group of collaborators and will really push forward our understanding of deep-water corals; 2) without that salary i'm pretty much going to be on 75% salary for the next year, Hawaii isn't getting any cheaper, and there probably goes my chances of getting to the UK this year; 3) without that salary, and without the potential for that salary until this time next year, i'm pushing the extent of my position here, it'll be a close call, and there is no guarantee it would get funded next time around either; 4) the job in Maine that i'm shortlisted for is looking hard at how much funding you're bring in, my inability to bring in those two large grants will not help me in getting that job, and it may throw me out; and 5) I was hoping to get a good amount of funding this year to convince the dean to sponsor me for a Greencard, now I don't feel i'm in a position to ask. I have a few more years on my work visa, but it's unbelievably stressful to renew and live by.

So that's been my last few days, not fun ones, i'm really pissed off and my faith in my ability to do what I do is severely knocked, I'm just not sure i'm cut out for this. 100% soft money sucks, to be kicked out of the country if I don't get that salary sucks even more. I've managed to keep myself going for the last 4 years, but in this financial climate I just don't know if I can do it anymore. If it is to do with the financial climate, maybe my science just sucks. I don't think so, but I haven't been able to write a funded grant in over a year now, that's not good.

As always, keep moving forwards. New year, new decade, maybe this one will be better. I'll be 32 this year, apparently my lucky number, so we'll see. I did pretty well on my 2009 goals, but I need to keep it here they are, my 2010 goals/resolutions/objectives - whatever you would like to call them....

  • Loose (and keep off) 10lbs - this year I lost 15 and put on 10, need to loose that 10 again!
  • Cut the junk food - cook more from scratch, more packed lunches! I don't eat out much here in Hawaii, but when I travel it becomes an issue. My 10lbs were put back on during my trip back to Woods Hole and Canada. I'm not sure how to get over my hectic travel, but eating better at home all the time is a good start. Less funding = less travel too, so maybe this issue will be okay this year.
  • Get the gym back into my week - it really is the best way for me I think, as I can go at my own pace and time. Not sure how this is going to work out, there is the free uni gym that's always packed and not so nice, or maybe i'll try out one of those 24hr fitness places and see how that goes. If I go back to paying gym fees, I need to make use of it, i'm not keen to go this route, but I need the stress relief.
  • Run another 1/2 marathon - not sure whether to do the same one again or another one, but either way, this is a goal i'm sticking to!
  • Try a sprint triathlon - could be fun, and there are lots of low key ones here to try
  • Cycle more - my bike has come out a little, but still hurts my knees (I stopped when marathon training got serious for fear of hurting my knees beyond running), so I need to keep going and see if I can strengthen them. If not, it's by by to the bike.
  • Improve my distance swimming - I used to be a really really strong swimmer, and I want to get that back. There's nothing better than feeling completely confident in the water.
This category is somewhat bittersweet to me right now, because of the above, i'm not sure the top two are obtainable. I wrote these before I heard about the last big grant I was waiting for, so i've left them in. This is where I would like to be with my finances, i'll try as hard as I can on both of them and see where I am this time next year.
  • Pay down my debt - (other than student loans, which are being paid monthly and are low interest), I want everything else I gained as a graduate student at least halved by 2011, if not more. I've ignored it for too long, I need to pay it attention in 2010
  • Save up for a 2011 hiking trip - Kili, Nepal, NZ, Machu Picchu......not sure where, but I know I want to do a big one in 2011 that'll take more than free flights (which I can get on miles). I know this doesn't exactly fit with the above, but I feel like my life is flying by and there are so many things I want to do, I need to get them on the schedule. Nothing extravagant, but something fun and challenging. I haven't taken a trip that hasn't involved work at one end or the other for a long time, and that's the plan.
  • Less fees in 2010 - I am so tired of bank fees for me being dumb, even with my crazy schedule, I need to make the time to keep more on top of this and stop paying a fortune in fees

Crafts, Recreation & Home
  • Explore more of Hawaii's hiking routes - use more of my weekends to stress relieving hikes, take the time off to do the longer hikes, Moana Loa (4 days) is top of the list and i'm planning for when I get back from Canada in March
  • Get back into pottery - it's been a few months!
  • No buying soap or shampoo in 2010 - make it all myself from scratch second year in a row!
  • Clear the clutter - one thing in = one thing out, I don't need more "stuff" in my life right now, my little place is as full as it needs to be and it stresses me out to get "stuff".