Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How are you?

I am learning Japanese. I am planning to move to Japan when I finish my phd. Japan is a beautiful country, I am really looking forward to moving there and so I am trying to learn Japanese. In the fall I took an introductory Japanese class at my university. I feel it gave me a solid introduction to the language. This semester, though, I need to focus wholeheartedly on my research so that I can actually finish within the next few months. Therefore I am not taking the second part of the introductory Japanese class, but I am continuing to learn on my own. One way I found to squeeze some Japanese into my day is to listen to podcasts while I walk to work. The podcasts I am listening to are from JapanesePod101.com. Although it is subscription based, it is not very expensive and offers a variety of supplementary materials in addition to the podcasts.

Today I learned a new phrase. It is a way to answer the question: How are you? How are things going? The phrase is ぜっこうちょう ですin hiragana, and it is read zekkoochoo desu (絶好調です).
It means "great! wonderful! on top of the world"

Somehow even saying the phrase lifts my mood. So, can you guess how I'm doing today? ぜっこうちょう です!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Comfort food

When I was younger I was not very discriminating in my food choices and I had a good appetite, as a result, by the time I graduated from high school, I was quite a bit overweight. It didn't bother me too much. I liked to study and to hang out by myself. I spent a lot of time reading, and thinking; the world outside my head didn't interest me much. When I started graduate school, however, my perspective started to change. A major reason for this was discovering yoga. I started to realize that even though I have a good imagination, the real world is a lot more fun. I started to care more about the health of my body. I became more physically active and changed my diet.

At first the change was very drastic. I stopped eating meat, fish and dairy and stopped eating food that had been processed to a great extent and which contained very artificial or unnecessary ingredients. I started reading labels on foods and discovered that even the simplest foods, like canned peas, often had unnecessary ingredients, like corn syrup. I even stopped drinking coffee. I spent the next couple of years refining, my diet, at various times cutting out certain foods. I started to pay attention to how my body feels after eating different foods. I found that some foods make me feel sleepy and sluggish. While others make me feel energized and satisfied.

Nowadays I try to only eat food that makes me feel good. It isn't always possible, especially when going to peoples' houses or eating out. But I try to cook and eat my own food whenever I can, and I always read the ingredients on packages. A couple of years ago I started eating dairy, chicken and fish again and drinking coffee. One of the best things about being a vegetatian is that I learned about many new foods. When you eat meat, it is often the focus of a meal and its easy to overlook the vegetables and strarch that accompany it. When vegetables and grains are the focus of your diet, you start looking for more variety.

One of my favorite new foods is quinua. Quinua (pronounced KEEN-wah) is an edible crop from South America. It can be cooked like rice (2:1 water to grain ratio) and had a delicious hearty flavor and chewy texture. My favorite way to cook quinua is to mix it 1:1 with red lentils (which don't need to be soaked) and boil it with salt and curry powder. The final result reminds me of mashed potatos but with more texture and is my ultimate comfort food, expecially in cold weather.

Quinua and red lentils:
Measure out 1/2 cup each of quinua and red lentils, wash several times under running water. Quinua tends to float, so you have to be careful that it doesn't get washed away. Bring two cups of water to a boil, add the quinua and red lentils and stir. When the water boils again, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 min. At this point I add the salt (to taste) and about 1 tsp of mild curry powder, stir and simmer for another 8-10 min. If I'm feeling ambitious, within the last couple of minutes I add frozen peas and baby spinach without stirring and leave the pot for 10 min after turning off the heat to let the peas thaw and the spincah wilt. I then stir and enjoy. Goes especially well with roasted chicken. Mmmm...



Today I had another realization. Part of the reason I often feel stressed and procrastinate is because I think too much about the possible outcomes of actions. I like making plans: planning my experiments, thinking up step-by-step recipe instructions, mapping out the routes to take to different places, organizing my schedule...even with simple tasks like doing laundry, I spend some time thinking about the order of loads. This is itself, although time-consuming, is not the reason I get in my own way.
I also think about the possible outcomes of each plan, and since there can be several, some being unfavorable, I try to think of ways to avoid the unfavorable outcomes. Before long any simple task seems overwhelming and troublesome. I start thinking that I need to think about it some more before I actually undertake it. I always find that when I actually take action, it is never as complicated as I originally thought, and although the outcome may sometimes be not as I expected, things usually turn out ok, even for the better.

I also find that if something I am doing is taking more time than expected and cuts into the time of what I had planned next, I start to feel stressed. I realized this today, when I was talking with my husband, who is in another country and to whom I nly get to speak to a couple of times a week. I was planning to go to work afterwards, and the longer we talked I found myself thinking along these lines: It's already the afternoon, I was planning to be at work by noon, will I get everything done at work that I was planning? Suddenly it hit me: It's Sunday, I'm having a great conversation with my husband and I'm stressing out about work!?! It's ridiculous! So then (after I finished talking with husband) I thought that I don't have to treat both aspects as one thing: I can separate the planning from the outcome anticipation. Making plans is good, but I don't have to be attached to the outcome before it actually happens. Because that's just as stupid as it sounds and a waste of time.

My new action layout is thus: think of what needs to be done, get it done. If it takes more time than anticipated, that's OK because the task got done. If an opportunity comes up unexpectedly, it's ok to drop any previous plans and follow the opportunity, because another one may not present itself. Family time is ALWAYS more important than work, especially on weekends. Spending less time worrying means more time to get stuff done. Period.


Monday, January 19, 2009


One of my favorite yoga teachers, David Vendetti, writes in his biosketch "Yoga allows me to be who I am without struggle." My feelings about yoga are very similar. Throughout my life I have found something about myself to criticize; lack of excersise, overindulgence with food, too much tv, not enough studying, not being happy with my skin, etc. When I attended my first yoga class, over 5 years ago, I was instantly in love. My mind watched in quiet wonder as my body opened up, lengthened, flexed and stretched in new and unexpected ways. For the first time, there was no criticism. I was completely happy with who I was. I still get this feeling each time I step on my mat. I feel happy and at peace, no matter what else it going on in my life. Some days it takes a bit of effort to get myself to a yoga studio, and a few moments to drop the resistance in my mind and remember how to be still, be present once I'm on the mat. But each time I experience complete happiness.

If you are in the Boston area, check out South Boston Yoga.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

"clench your troubles in your fist"

I like complaining. I freely admit it. Sometimes it just feels nice to whine about the difficulties of life especially if there is someone to commiserate with. However I am also aware of the power of influence of one person's mood on that of others. Someone who is always negative and unproductive is unpleasant to be around. It often feels like their bad mood and negativity is a black hole that sucks up all joy and motivation around it. On the other hand, positivity and productivity are just an infectious: it is easy to get inspired by someone else's positive attitude, especially if it is sincere and lacking in arrogance. Therefore I try my best to keep my sad, negative, defeatist thoughts private, especially when talking to people I care about, because I know their lives are not any easier than mine but they still try to cheer me up when they think I might be feeling down. One source of great inspiration to me is my grandfather. He is a retired engineer who worked very hard well into his seventies and always speaks of his job with enthusiasm. He is constantly saying motivating things to me and although I probably don't tell him often enough, I am very grateful.

It is no secret that I haven't been exactly happy in graduate school. I've struggled to find direction and motivation, and have not been particularly productive. However I am determined to finish my PHD partly for myself, but mostly for the people who believe in me and don't give up on me. My grandfather always has positive advise to offer me. On of my favorite things that he says, although it doesn't translate very well into English is: "Don't let your troubles get the best of you. Gather up your weakness and doubts into your fist, clench them tightly and keep moving forward." I love picturing this! It gives me an instant mood lift :)
I know that I've been spoiled in graduate school. Nobody has yelled at me or told me I'm not doing a good job. My advisors have always found something positive to say and have never been harsh. Yet, I don't think it is unreasonable to say that I have not been a very motivated graduate student. I have been to busy complaining about everything that I don't like about science to really focus on my research. It has not all been playing around though. I have learned a great deal about benchwork and developmental biology. I've also gotten to know some great people and discovered that I love teaching and editing. So overall I think I've met some goals of graduate school. Still there remains the main goal: the Dissertation and publication. I'll admit, it's a struggle. Everyday. I struggle to think positive, to endure unhappiness, to keep my troubles clenched tightly in my fist. Sometime I loosen my grip, I slow down, I start to lose focus. In these times I need only to look around: I am surrounded by people who inspire me. Smart, wonderful, hardworking people, who also have setbacks and struggle with hardships, but who keep moving forward, not losing momentum, being a shining beacon for those, like me, who start to feel lost.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thoughts on a New Year

This year, I hope, will be my most productive yet in graduate school. That is I plan to finish graduate school with at least one publication and FINALLY after 7 years of wondering around in search of myself get a real job and start an actual career. Just over a week ago I got married. It feels nice to know that there is a person there who is also committed to our future together. And although we don't know what our future will be like, or even when we'll live in the same country, it's nice to know that we have a strong bond holding us together. It may be old-fashioned, but being married makes me feel more calm and secure. So I'm counting it as a good thing. I hopefully now can focus more fully on my thesis research.
A New Year and lots to be done. No time to waste!