Instagram Part 1

I can’t believe it has almost been a month since I last posted. January sure went by in a blur. I think there is something to the beginning of the year that always pulls the ground away under my feet. The holidays had been so lovely not having to do anything (or at least very little) and back to school and work through me into the full of it. I was also lost in thought on some topics that bothered me. My daughter is starting high school after the summer and all of her best friends applied to private schools whereas we are planning to send her to the local public school. Some of her friends’ parents are not happy with the academic aspect, some are worried because of safety (there were a couple of lock downs in the past year). I had long talks with her if she would be interested in private school but she says she is fine about going to the public one. I admire her resilience. Part of me questions our choices and part of me is just sad and feels a little betrayed. All this may stem from my own high school experience what was ok but could have been better. The school system in Germany is very different but I ended up as the only girl from my town at a new school and I had a ruff time in patches – no fun. I so hope she is going to have a better experience. I also have pretty strong feelings about the whole private school system. I sometimes wonder what the public system would look like if all the money that people pour in the private school education would benefit the public system. Dreaming of a better world, sigh. Dealing with all the emotions made me retreat for a while.

Instagram part 2

What I have been doing and want to keep up for this year is project 365 on Instagram. Posting an image a day an adding a short blurb if I have time for that seems way more achievable these days. Stephany and San are also doing it and I am enjoying see some more pictures on there again instead of the reels which are so popular these days. There is something with moving pictures that draws you in and I tend to spend way more time on there when I look at stories and reels. It annoys me to no end. It also annoyed me to no end that one reel snug in there but oh well. So today here are the first 27 images from project 365. Are you using Instagram and/or other social media? What are using it for? I also have a Facebook account but honestly only keep it because I am still part of a buy nothing group and various other groups where I sometimes find helpful information. Instagram I like because it helps me with my sewing projects, to find a new pattern I want to try and to see how it looks on other people. I also still keep up with some friends on there (remember the old days when Facebook was a place for that?) and to see what is happening locally. I also have a LinkedIn account for work but deleted my Twitter account recently. I am tempted to also delete my Nextdoor account but keep it for the occasional neighborhood check-in. I mostly try to stay off on there. It was a good idea but people are so argumentative and sometimes mean that I can’t stand it.

Instagram part 3

What do the pictures tell you? They remind me that there was a lot of rain in January, that we had a power outage, that I started baking bread again, that there was sunshine and delayed Christmas presents, time spend in the garden and on diy projects (knitting, crochet and wreath making), that we dog sat and that I went on some walks in the neighborhood. What it does not show you is how busy January was at work. I agreed to teach two undergrads who work in the lab and it took some getting used to to integrating their schedule in mine. But it also is a lot of fun even if it requires so much talking all day long. It does not show you the time it took to write e-mails to my son’s class regarding an upcoming science camp or the time spend shuttling the kids around to new classes (pottery and gymnastics). My daughter had a competition with her jazz band and my son had his second junior black belt test in Taekwondo. All very exciting. It does not show my inner struggle with the upcoming switch to high school or that I have been keeping up with my exercise better than in previous years. I managed to go to the gym or on a run 2-3 times per week what is a step in the right direction. One of my former colleagues mentioned on Instagram that she does not know how I do it all but I guess it’s an explanation why I have not been on the blog for almost a month. I will be back, promise. But tell me, how was your January?


Go big or go home

Spelling bee list

There is a lot of test prep happening in our house lately. My kids both have German exams coming up and my son is participating in his school’s spelling bee. The German tests are mostly multiple choice questions with a listening-understanding and reading-understanding part at different difficulty levels. Some of the answers even I find not completely straight forward but I find that to be the case with most multiple choice tests. As usual my daughter does that independently whereas I basically have to sit next to my son so that he will stay focused. You don’t know how the test will look like but practicing with old tests helps a little to learn what to pay attention to when the actual testing day comes along. With the amount of complaining he does about the actual test, the stupidity of the questions, etc. I sometimes question myself if this is all a good idea but I think I said this before. Considering the amount of complaining and claims of misunderstanding he does surprisingly well on the practice tests.

I can help him with his German but I have my phone and my daughter to help with the list of spelling words. For a good chunk I would not do the pronunciation correctly and sometimes I even don’t know the word – so it is a learning experience for me, too. I told my son when looking at practicing his spelling words he should apply “klotzen, nicht kleckern” what is a German idiom for ‘go big, or go home’ I guess. It can mean to work really hard on something, or to put in a lot of effort (to achieve the optimal result in the end). A “Klotz” is a big block or chunk of something like a wood block or a concrete block. A “Klecks” is a small speck. So he should use a block and not a speck in direct translation. Anyway he seems not to concerned about the whole thing. The last couple of years another girl from his grade won the spelling bee and I fully expect she will do so again (and I think so does he). She has way more competitiveness in her than either of my kids and I am fine with that. To say it with another German idiom “Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm” – “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”

Do you have a favorite idiom? I am sure there are plenty in English I don’t know about. I like them and as Amélie said in the movie of the same name (at least in the German versin) “Someone who knows idioms, can’t be a bad person.”

When looking at the translation of ‘Nicht kleckern, klotzen!’ I saw that it is also the German book title written by a public figure I rather not name – I might never use this phrase again.

Goodbye 2022, hello 2023

Golden Gate Bridge in the rain

I am wishing you a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2023!
On 12/31 the old year said goodbye to us with a serious downpour in the Bay Area. It always blows my mind that whenever ‘unexpected’ weather hits the area (and that seems to be true for other areas in the US as well) everything collapses. The drains were sorely clogged up in many areas and we felt like we had to drive through rivers on some roads going into San Francisco that day. We later learned that we actually were fairly lucky. I saw pictures online with people surfing the streets and a section of 101 south of the city was closed. There was an evacuation order in place for another town close by due to flooding. With 5.46″ of rain in San Francisco that day it was the 2nd wettest day on record. Considering all that we were extremely lucky with our small garage leak. There is another atmospheric river passing over us this week with the most expected for Wednesday – we will see.

Mask of a pharao plated in gold
Burial mask

On New Year’s Eve we had tickets for the “Ramses the Great‘ exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco (so that is why we drove into the city what we almost never do). I think it was pretty fantastic and we managed to walk through without major complains even from our strongest museum critic (our son). It’s still on through February 12th if you are interested and you have to get tickets in advance. I just wished we had eaten lunch before we went or at least taken something because there was a long line at the cafe and honestly it was a little too upscale a menu for some of us. I was glad we came a little early to walk a little through the rest of the museum before our timed tickets which was fun, too (at least I thought so). On the way back we decided to have a late lunch at In-N-Out Burger.

Statue with a face with
Another museum fin

The rest of New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet for us. We had raclette for dinner. It’s basically a mini table top grill where everyone has their own little pan that is filled with raclette cheese (or other cheese if you prefer) and other things like corn, onion, tomatoes, bacon, mini sausages, etc. We had boiled potatoes and a dip with it, too. It’s popular to do in Germany even though it originates in Switzerland. After dinner we watched ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home” as requested but took a break to be continued in the New Year since everyone was falling asleep (not the fault of the movie I assure you). We adults tried to stay awake a little longer but fell asleep on the couch only to wake up again after midnight. The champagne we had before dinner gave me a migraine so I was a little extra tired anyway.

I am always a little puzzled why this last day of the year is such a big deal. I enjoyed reading all the word of the year and goal posts (past, present and future) but for now this is just nothing I want for myself. Maybe when I have a little more breathing room in my life I will think about it more deeply.

Now the daily trot has us back – school, work and the likes. Since it is raining this week I picked up my daughter from school yesterday. That meant being home earlier than usual and I got the chance to take a walk outside before the rain started during daylight hours. Sunsets are always something to behold in the bay and I love the views peaking through the houses. If I would make a resolution I probably would say I want to go on a 30 minute walk every day. That is doable, right?

Deep orange sunset over the bay with a peak of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Tam
Sunset over the bay

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?

New year, new plans

This blog has been dormant for the last years. There was a lot going on and there were to many words in my head and I just did not get them organized. I don’t really want to explain right now and just start over (nothing bad, just busy life).

One thing I want to do more this year is read. I started out posting the books I read on my Instagram account but thought it would be nice to write up a short summary here. Just to be clear: no New Year’s resolution but just trying. No pressure please. Especially not right now, right?

One book I just finished is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It was one of the books I turned over at the book store a couple of times and then got it as a Christmas present from a friend. I am glad I did!
At the beginning the actor Arthur Leander suffers a heart attack onstage and dies. From there it moves quickly into the beginning of a flu pandemic that wipes out most of the population and ends civilization as we know it. This sounds way more dramatic than it really is in the book. 20 years later Kirsten Raymonde, who played in Leander’s last production as a little girl, travels with a group of actors and musicians from settlements to settlement and performs Shakespeare and music to its inhabitants. The book jumps back and forth in time between the after and the life of Arthur Leander and the people in it. Throughout the story it becomes clear that the characters are interconnected, sometimes in surprising ways. Reading about the end of the life as we know it in normal times can be a little disturbing and it made me uneasy in stretches because of our own ongoing pandemic. In the end though the pandemic in the book is not the main storyline but just the backdrop to some of the people we come across in. Yes, it talks about how life changed through the pandemic but also about how people cope (or not) and it felt oddly “normal” if that makes any sense. I really enjoyed it. Maybe you will, too? If you already read it, what did you think?

Commute decisions

constructionThis picture pretty much is one of the reasons why I decided at the beginning of the year to commute by public transport and bike instead of taking the car. This construction site used to be the parking lot I frequented most but UC Berkeley decided to build yet another new building (and of course did not provide additional parking options that were in a reasonable distance). If I need to walk 20 minutes to get from parking to work after driving to work for 20 minutes I might as well take the bike (or BART) for 30 minutes. And I am doing something good for me and the environment along the way! The University actually has some incentives for people who want to switch to public transport like discounted ticket prices for BART and the bus system (AC transit). You can also sign up for a program that guaranties you a free ride home in an emergency by taxi or rental car (Guaranteed Ride Home). Since I have school aged kids that sometimes need to be picked up short notice I thought  this was pretty clever. Luckily I did not have to use it yet.
It has all been really good actually. I already rode a little over 1000 miles by bike this year. One of the stereotypes that always comes up when talking about the US is certainly not true in the Bay Area: Everyone takes the car everywhere and nobody walks or takes their bikes. So not true! If you drive somewhere on the weekends in the hills around here you always have to watch out for bikes and the cities are pretty walk-able. Public transport might not quite compare with German standards but you can’t have everything. A couple of years ago there were so many people using the BART system that they actually were discussing to raise the ticket prices so less people were going to use it. What a ridiculous idea to maybe have more trains running.
How do you get to work or around in the US, Europe or other places?