Between the years

View of a sunset from Indian Rock in Berkeley with views over the bay towards San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge
Sunset from Indian Rock in Berkeley

Christmas is officially over I suppose. Out tree is still up and will be until early January. We had a very quiet couple of days. Since we have no family around to visit and mostly everyone of our friends away to the snow or sick (with Covid or otherwise), we just hung out at home.

On the 24th we went out in the very late afternoon to go to Indian Rock park in Berkeley to see the sun set and look at a house that is covered with fairy lights from chimney to basement. The kids always enjoy going there, too. There are so many secret passages to explore and rock stairs and not stairs to climb that it does not get boring and we adults sat with all the others there and waited for the sun to slowly sink behind San Francisco city views – so pretty every single time.

House decorated with lots of fairy lights and a lighted up small Santa on the chimney
Christmas house

So this is the house I mentioned. It’s very close to our first apartment. I want to say we ‘discovered’ it but honestly it’s hard to miss. The decorations grew a little over the years but the lights were there as long as I remember. I always wonder if they put them up themselves or have someone do it for them and how long it takes and what the neighbors think about it. It sure is a beacon of light and I needed that this Christmas Eve. I leave you with a couple more pictures.

Angel figurine in front of the sunset
Sunset angel
Group of ice bear figurines with santa hats and merry christmas message
Ice bear merry christmas

On the way back home we stopped at another holiday display in El Cerrito. There once was a man called Sundar Shadi who started a holiday display in this little town in 1949 and continued to put it up and extended it until 1996. Now it is put up on the hillside by volunteers.

Christmas display at night
Shadi Christmas display in El Cerrito

By the time we were heading back the sky was on fire. It always blows my mind how red the clouds get after the sun is gone. It’s like magic.

Sunset over the bay with views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge and El Cerrito city lights
Sunset good night

We had a quick dinner and the kids played us some Christmas carols on their clarinets before we unwrapped our presents. Everyone was really happy with the outcome.

Part of me was a tiny bit sad that we could not see family in person this year. I know we made the decision together and we all needed the rest (and traveling around this time of year is not rest), but still. I wish instead of AI they would invent beaming people back and forth – sigh.

Speaking of AI. Have you tried out ChatGPT yet? “Overall, ChatGPT can be used to create chatbots and conversational agents for a variety of applications, including customer service, social media, education, and personal assistance.” That is part of the answer I got when I asked the chat bot what I can use it for. But it also will write you stories given a prompt. I hope my son never realizes the potential. He hates writing with all his heart and this would fix all his problems – even in German. I am still trying to figure out how to feel about it. Same is true about Dall-E which you can find on the same website. What do you think?


Merry, merry


I can’t believe how time flew by and now we already have December 24. The plan is to go on a short walk and then tonight we will sit down for our Christmas Eve dinner (German sausages and potato salad), 4 candles burning before we sit in front of the Christmas tree to unwrap presents. Did you know that in Germany you do the presents on the 24th instead of the 25th? There is no Santa coming down the chimney and no socks on the mantle – oh wait, we do have the socks on the mantle. I guess that’s what happens if you mix up the traditions.

Earlier this month I received my package from the Secret Santa Mug Swap that San from the in between is mine organized. I like little surprises so much and mug I received from @thecarolinaetc is so pretty, don’t you think?

World Market haul

To make our Christmas dinner I took the 30 minute trip to our closest World Market in the area. Regular hot dog sausages just won’t do for Christmas. Our local market which carried German products closed recently because the owners retired so longer car drive it was. The kids had fun, too I think since I asked them to pick the sweets. Pico Balla Haribo are our favorite. I was crying a little inside about the prices ($10 for a glass of sausage) but if it tastes a little like home that’s what it is. My son even found a present for his big sister: a magnetic hourglass what he thought was really cool (and I think she will, too).

GIngerbread honey cookies

Instead of writing blog posts I spend quite some time recently making cookies. We made our traditional gingerbread honey cookies twice because the first badge was finished in no time. Since cookie time is over I will save the recipe for next year and share it then but I am so happy I finally found a good recipe that will make your own gingerbread spice (in Germany they sell premixed spice packets for this and a lot of recipes ask for it).

I also made cinnamon stars, San’s Vanillekipferl, black and white cookies and another almod type cookie. We also made marzipan potatoes (no potato involved just powdered sugar and almond flower and cocoa powder mostly) which are not pictured. This morning I put a plate of our goodies together for everyone to enjoy throughout the day. I think we are ready for the holidays to come and I will make note of a couple future blog post ideas.

I wish you a very merry Christmas if you happen to celebrate and to everyone else: I hope you will enjoy a couple quiet days that will leave you refreshed for the days to come.

What I do for work

busy cell culture days

It has been quiet here again. I guess that means that 30 days is indeed not enough to form a new habit (at least not for me). Did you know that supposedly it takes 66 days on average? This information originates in a scientific publication by Phillippa Lally from 2009 in the European Journal of Social Psychology. She published quite a few more research articles about the topic of habit forming so I trust that is about right. See, this is also the reason why sometimes writing something takes me forever. I start with something look it up and then that takes me down the rabbit hole (is that the right expression?) because I don’t find a good time to stop. It’s a little but occupational hazard since I always worked in research. Whenever we start a new project that usually means reading up on it what was already published and see how we can improve it. Sometimes it also leads to new ideas.

After high school I went to a 3 year school to become a medical technical laboratory assistant. A lot of my class mates worked in hospital labs after finishing but the first job I landed was in a research lab in the Anatmoy department at the medical school in Hannover. The next one was in a lab that was associated with the Nephrology department and after that I helped my PI then start his company. When we moved to the US I was glad I found a job again in a research lab at UC Berkeley in the Neuroscience department. I was not set on a specific research topic or a specific techniques and I think that somewhat helped in my case.

I love how exciting research can be when you discover something new or when you find a way that will ultimately help patients. I like to work with my hands, I like to do good work, I don’t like to be in the spot light or teach in front of a class. I like to keep everything running smoothly behind the scene. I think all in all my job is pretty perfect for me – at least for now. The lab works on gene therapy for eye diseases in the broader sense. For us that means pre-clinical studies in cells and mice to test if the ideas work in general but it is very exciting to see that these ideas can rlead to actual treatments that will be used in the clinic down the road and help patients. Right now I am mostly responsible for making the vectors which are used in our research. We use a non pathogenic virus called adeno-associated virus (AAV) and exchange its genetic information with the information that hopefully will repair genetic defects in the diseased retina. I am no specialist for retinal disease but if you have questions about that you should check out the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

One downside of my position is that my salary comes out of research grants which usually run anywhere from 1-5 years. For the last 25 years it always worked out and there was always follow up funding available. I could also look for a position in industry since I am a US citizen now and don’t have to worry about my visa status anymore but for now I am happy where I am. I get along with my PI, my work schedule is flexible enough so that I can fit in doctors appointments, school trips, sick kids, etc. I was able to reduce time after the kids started school. I am now at 80% and that works great for me.

I sometimes wonder if I should have done things differently. When I finished school, I first wanted to study chemistry but only knew chemists who were unemployed after they finished. I almost studied philosophy and history but changed my mind at the last minute and kept working. I did some courses in book keeping when I worked for the start up company. I liked that, too but I think I would have found it to boring overtime. I also liked the six weeks I had to intern at the hospital during my education and was thinking about medicine for a little while but decided that it was to emotionally challenging for me. I probably could have gotten my PhD as my PI suggested in the past but honestly I am perfectly happy where I am right now.

What about you? Do you sometimes think about the other options that passed you by or would you pick the same profession over again?

Christmas is coming

Tree 2022

This past weekend we finally got our Christmas tree and I am so excited! I do like Christmas as a holiday. I have fond childhood memories associated with Christmas and I hope that my own children will have the same.

One of the Hutschenreuther baubles – painted so pretty

The first year we moved to the US I got cheap tree decorations from Ikea. It was a set with red baubles and stars which was totally fine but this year was the first year I did not even touch it. Over the years I collected Christmas ornaments from Hutschenreuther and I think they are so pretty. Last year we went to Germany to celebrate Christmas with the family and I packed up the ones that were still at my dads house so that I finally have them here. My mom used to collect them, too and to me it feels like continuing her tradition. This year our tree is filled with those ornaments and a couple of others I got over the years here and there as well some diy ornaments made by my kids when they were little. I think those are probably my favorites still especially now that they are older.

Snowman 1
Snowman 2
Snowman 3
Mix it up
California love

Since I was cooped up in my room the last week because of covid I also added some new snowflakes for our big front window. It finally feels a little more festive inside the house, too.

Let it snow

If you want to try yourself at some homemade Christmas decorations here are a couple of links:

How to make a Froebel Star – video and written instructions (thank you for google translate as the original is in danish).

Star made of kite paper – the instructions are in German but the pictures are self explanatory. I made these before in previous years and I love how the light shines through them.

A couple of more stars – if you click on any of the images you get to folding instructions for each. The Stern Vicky is one of my favorites and a good way to use up leftover wrapping paper or even catalogues.

The template for the paper snowflakes came from the Martha Stewart website.

Here is a bell shaped ornament for the ones who don’t like stars or want something different.

German traditions – the advent calendar

Counting down

Since today is December 1st the count down to Christmas using the advent calendar begins. My kids were happy to learn this morning that they are getting one this year (lucky them that I finished it before we were in Las Vegas). Did you know that it’s origin goes back to the 19th century and seems to lie again in Germany? The main purpose was to count down the days until Christmas Eve and to shorten (or sweeten) the wait.

When I was a child we mostly had chocolate filled advent calendars similar to the ones you can find at stores these days. Each day you open a door and find a piece of chocolate with a different motif. When I was little we sometimes used the molds to fill with candle wax when all was done.
My first boy friend back in the day made one for me with a little present each day similar to the one I made for my kids this year (above).
Sally, from Little Hiccups made an activity advent calendar for her kids what I think is very cool, too. I found another one over at eighteen25 that uses cut out snowflakes and doubles as decoration.
There are pretty cool picture advent calendars. They come in all kinds of sizes and pictures (including postcard size) that will reveal a new small picture each day. In old times it used to be christian motifs but the newer ones show Christmas markets, teddy bears, cats – there is something for everyone.
By now you probably saw the Lego advent calendars when shopping (at least it’s hard to miss if you have kids) and there is a list of other companies that make them these days as well (teas, jam, games, christmas ornaments, the list seems endless).
Through another blog I came across the Reading Countdown Advent Calendar from Everyday Reading. Oh, how I wish my kids were still younger.
In Germany they also have book advent calendars that tell a story over 24 chapters and my favorite German kids character “Die Maus” has an online calendar with a clip hiding behind each door (sorry, that it is in German only).

I am sure I could continue this list a while longer. Do you have an advent calendar at home and which one would you prefer if you would get one?