Tag Archives: grace

At 31… this much I know…

Making a wish

Had a great birthday! Got to speak to my parents in the morning and then had a really good day at work (my latest paper wasn’t rejected WITHOUT REVIEW until exactly 4 hours after the end of my birthday 😛 ). I came home to decorations on the house,

and a beautiful birthday dinner laid out for me.

After presents (gel manicure nail kit & smashbox eyeshadow palate from ‘rentals; maternity PJs, a maternity dress, a toaster and a waffle iron from da husband; sock money, eraser and key-chain from Sasha, Liam and Rachel respectively) there was of course: the return of the ‘A’ cake.

It was a perfect day.

I reflected that on my last child-free birthday (I hope) I am older but not much wiser… I know very little, but (in the words of The Guardian): this much I know:

1. Revenge is very tempting, pointing out people’s weaknesses with wide-eyed innocence and making them squirm just to appease my own feeling of being hard done by… but I always regret it.

2. Grace is much harder, and takes longer to reconcile peacefully as the right decision, within myself. But I have never regretted extending forgiveness in the long term.

3. Losing control of a situation is a failure: usually a sign of bad management and poor planning. Losing control of a person is not. People should be left to be free.

4. Jealousy holds me back and makes me unproductive; being inspired by where / who what I want to be is a springboard to greater things.

5. I have never regretted staying late to finish a project or task. I have regretted letting things slide.

6. I have never regretted sharing an idea. Ideas are like people: they should also be set free to find the sustenance to grow.

7. “I am so sorry, I must have got it wrong” has opened the most doors for me.

Not much… but a start…

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(Re)building a life

So, it is the end of my week’s vacation: and through a combination necessity and will, I have actually taken a proper vacation from work. Out of Office autoreply on and emails ignored (with no small measure of guilt). I felt I needed a week between my postdoc and my first faculty position. Well… really, I didn’t feel that I needed a week, but I didn’t want to realize from a place of mental ill-health, 8-months down the road, that I did. So, a break I took.

Of course with a home to create, this has not exactly been an idle time. Nonetheless, I have saved some time for myself; evenings especially, and the weekend. Leaving me at a loose end: what to do with myself? Before the move, I was guilty before of doing too much: accepting every invitation, giving my all to every social occasion and opportunity, always being 1/2 in work mode, working out twice a day, pushing my body to the limits each time and yet rushing through my workouts so I could meet my friends / answer that email / get that thing done. I don’t think I ever just ‘was’. I had lost my tendency to complete activities in stillness and solitude.

It was strange at first: to have time on my hands. Strange and quite isolating; like I said, I am used to filling every space in my calendar. I didn’t know what to do but slowly found myself gravitating towards certain activities: cooking, baking, horticulture, reading fiction, even (in desperation 😉 ) just hanging out with the husband. I could while away the hours planning my veggie garden and sowing the seeds, tending my orchids, baking homemade bread from scratch. And feel very calm after doing them. Or even, calm does not describe it: centered and complete. Like ‘zen’ was the perfect word for this feeling. I remembered that these were things I used to do all the time before life got crazy.

Husband approves of my re-found love of baking

So… now I feel I am at a cross roads. I have no social obligations here, no weekly gym classes, no friends nearby who I am dying to see. I am starting work with only a few papers to tidy up and submit after co-author revisions: all my postdoc papers being done, I have no real work obligations yet. I have dropped my workout schedule to zilch due to busy-ness, shock at Texas heat, a lack of a gym membership and some prenatal bleeding (no worries… all good…. just got a bit over strained with the move); I am basically starting from scrtach on the fitness front it has been so long. So: I can be selective in what I choose to do, and of course, I can choose to do nothing. Literally, I feel like I have been offered a fabulous opportunity to rebuild my life (time) as I like.

Within reason of course: I want to be very successful and productive at work, I want to remain reasonably fit and healthy, I want to have friends and actively engage in church life. But I don’t want the frenetic pace of before, the feeling that I am not giving anything my all, the feeling that I am a hands-grasp from exhaustion / burn out. That I am running on caffeine and wondering how I am going to give my all to my next activity.

In particular: I want to stop worrying about how I am going to fit a child into my life, and start waiting for a child to complete a part my life (crazy first few months not withstanding). My husband has always been very good at this: saying no, keeping ‘me’ time, not over stretching himself. I don’t know exactly where my balance lies yet… but I hope I still achieve, and still have success while actually enjoying it – rather than congratulating myself as I head into the next thing. I literally want to stop and appreciate the beauty in life.

My minor obsession with orchids has resurfaced 🙂

It will take some examining as to why I have lived my life like that: fear of rejection, fear of missing out, fear of failure. Partly the desire to excel at everything: why publish 3 papers a year,w hen you could do 4? Why ‘take up jogging’ when you could train for a half marathon? Why stop there – why not complete Tough Mudder? But, I think I came dangerously close to ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’, or ‘success on paper, but failure in spirit’: how much was I really there for my friends? How much in my exhausted state did I really give them? How great was my Science, when I was so very focused on completing more than was expected and / or asked? It is not the spiritual life I wanted. I don’t feel I was giving my best to Earth.

It will take some work, and I am sure I will make mistakes. I am not even 100% sure what I am looking for in balance, and a sense of the holistic, and stillness and being. But, with all my newly found free time: I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

A trio of thanksgivings, a triad of pies and a trillion things to be grateful for

Pies for Thanksgiving

The festive season is here, its advent marked by Thanksgiving. A full holiday in the US, and much more like a UK-Christmas than Christmas. I am feeling full, blessed and nostalgic, which I think is the point of this time of year and marks the end of a psychological evolution in me, which I  can illustrate through my three thanksgivings. It also marks the start of my love for pie (the psychological and pie developments may be interlinked), and I share 2 recipes and 1 drool-worthy picture below. Finally, I do as I am supposed to, and muse on what (or whom) I am grateful for in my life today.

So, 2 years and 2 months ago (give or take) I arrived in the US as somewhat of a mess. 6 months previously I had been all lined up to complete a postdoc with a wonderful woman at Oxford University. Then I dated a Yank (actually, a Brit transplanted to Yank-dom some 25 years previously) and got a job offer at Yale. Then David Allison, in the space of a single phone-call, convinced me to chuck that in to come to UAB. What can I say? He was charismatic. And I am extremely impulsive. Said boyfriend-of-questionable-Yankdom hit the roof and said: it’s him or me (it’s OK, he doesn’t read this blog). I now kind of understand his reasons, which I will not share out of respect. But back then – I didn’t, so I didn’t believe the Yank-wannabe, so I just blithely signed the documents for UAB and sported their sweatshirt for the remainder of my PhD. Which, strangely enough, I am wearing as  I type now. But I digress from my digression. Mr Failed-Brit was deeply unimpressed. To the extent that he started cheating on me, fairly obviously, which I did not admit to anyone else, except myself. Occasionally. (But everyone knew anyway).

This lead to a rockstar FIT about 3 weeks before departure in which I announced there was NO WAY I was going to UAB, and this Allison-bloke (of whom I had miraculously never heard) and this nice Arnett-woman (who had offered to mentor me) could stick their data and their postdoc where the sun don’t shine (which is a difficult place to find, indeed, in Alabama). My ex-officemate  heard the howls from literally across the office hallway and talked some sense into me, with a cunning mixture of humour, and gentle pressing on my academic ambition. So, I boarded the plane, bawled my eyes out within 20 minutes of being seated, explained the situation to the hostess and got a swanky upgrade to Business Class.

Nice upgrade not withstanding I arrived in AL not entirely sure I wanted to be here. Heck – I didn’t. By the time thanksgiving rolled around, said not-quite-a-Brit-not-quite-a-Yank had moved in with another woman, still come and visited me (I don’t think that woman knew), been dumped by me, got together with said woman officially while texting / emailing me how we were meant to be, and 1 day before told me that I had harmed his children’s mental health by dumping him, and I could make it better by taking him back (while he was with the woman? That bit I never figured out). Luckily my best friend of much ferocity and protectiveness, Clio, was out for thanksgiving and banned  me from Skype and the telephone. She also set me up with an awesome thanksgiving and I will ALWAYS love her for picking me up and keeping me going.

Mess with my friend, and you'll feel the rough end of this Starbucks, alright?

But, thanksgiving number 1 was marked by a distinct decision to be as British as possible. To cook things in the British way, with another Brit, and experience thanksgiving as a transient piece of fun that wasn’t going to be part of my life anymore.

Thanksgiving no 1

I stayed another year. I got to have thanksgiving part 2. This was spent at the Chinese Buffet, with my boyfriend, and then driving to Tuscaloosa for a very messy night. It was great, but I call it ‘The Lost Thanksgiving’. I had no idea where my future was, and I was scared.

Thanksgiving no 2 did give rise to the best photo ever, however

This year, times have changed. I got married. I fell in love with UAB. I fell in love with the American academic system and how it pushes and challenges you. The opportunities that are here. While I will always love genetic psychiatry, and I hope it will have a place in my research future, I also love lipoproteins and insulin resistance and specifically gene-nutrient interactions (both with genes mediating dietary influences, and diets mediating gene expression). My postdoc mentors taught me about integrity and thus I learned to trust myself and my decisions. I prayed a lot. I didn’t so much accept that I might stay here, but actively pursued doing so, and looked forward to it. I embraced that America, and American traditions will be a big part of my life.

My previous opinion on pie. Note the inverse correlation between my disgust for pie, and my BMI

That is not to say that this has not happened without hardship. I have faced that so much of who I am, and my culture, and my heritage is recessing into the past. It is just not going to be a part of me. Yes, I can occasionally cook British food but it is just that: occasional. An event. I have lost the British way of celebrating Christmas… I don’t dress as I do in London (quite frankly, sick of the back handed comments, or of plotting my route to my desk to avoid them)… it has made it especially hard to lose my name upon getting married. Husband said he ‘didn’t mind at all’ what name I used, so I hyphenated. I was upset to find out he won’t take on the hyphenated name (as is fairly common in Europe) and sick to my stomach to find he expects the children to have his name.  So, not only am I going to be removed from my heritage a lot, but removed from my children too! It never occurred to me it would be a problem – but he just says ‘you came here… you take on American ways’ (AL-ians do often conform to the stereotype of not exactly embracing women’s lib), but it is so hard to do it all the time and lose more and more of myself. I already knew that I would raise my children the US way (it’s not like I am going to make them stand out) – even though so many things just don’t seem right to me…

Anyway, I had a very American thanksgiving and it marked my joyful willingness to embrace many aspects of this culture as part of my own. And it was very wonderful. I spent time with very close friends / pseudo family and felt safe, loved and grateful. I am honored to have been part of such a happy occasion, and will always be grateful to my hosts for making me feel so included for one of the first times since I arrived here. Which is all anyone can ask for, right? That and pie.

The boy bakes a mean pie

This year, I embraced the quintessentially American PIE (not crumble… or tart…. or pastry but PIE). And not mince pies neither. With help (and ensuing hilarity) from the hubby, we made pear pie, and plum-frangipani pie (OK, the last one was not very American as every American I know (with the exception of Stella) shocked my multi-cultural foodie soul by saying ‘what is frangipani?’ over and over again).

Frangipani! Yum!

Here is where I got the recipe:

http://www.passionateaboutbaking.com/2011/07/baking-vanilla-almond-frangipane-plum-tart-the-last-of-the-plums-well-almost.html

Even if you don’t make the pie, check out this blog for some of the most gorgeous food-porn photography. Passionate about baking: I am your slave. It was good – I would have sweetened the base slightly, with Demerara sugar, as that part was quite bland. But otherwise the tartish plums worked well with the sweet (but not overly so)  frangipani. With the addition of some homemade leaves:

Leaves. Not 'eyes' (Wesley) or 'sausages' (Hemant) but autumnal leaves. Got it?

it also looked pretty stunning.

Imagine the leaves on this, and it glazed with melted apricot jam. Drool.

Then came the pear pie. This was easy peasy.

Ingredients

1 Pilsbury pastry case

6 firm slightly underripe pears

1.5 tsp cinnamon

.5 tsp all spice

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tbsp lemon juice

Basically: Line pie tin with crust

Get husband to peel and slice pears. Toss pears in other ingredients. Layer in pie crust and bake. Devour

Don't you just want to sink your teeth in?

And then, Stella brought over a pie for the college football! She made an Amish funeral pie, and it was my p0st-workout carb up with a large dollop of fat-free Greek Yogurt. And it was delicious. Think sweet raisins, with a tart filling, and then an addictive bite with the nuts.

Amish funeral pie

Amish funeral pie a la Stella

So what am I grateful for? I am grateful for many, many things. But, mostly for people. For Wes, who is kind and caring and good at teaching me what true selflessness is. Who is a steadfast and loyal husband, and full of many jokes. Who loves me, and professes his love, through my best and worst. Who counter balances my impulsive ‘let’s do it’ with a considered ‘let’s plan for it’. For Matthew who far more often than me, stands up for what he believes in, and remains true to his values. For Clio, who is going through the worst time, but displays awe-inspiring strength and is still the girl I have the most fun with (and is really my one-true love). For Stella, who not only bakes great pies, but has given me my drive and ambition back, and shown me that it is OK to stand up and go ‘no… I have thought about it, and decided to do it MY way. And if you don’t like that, that’s OK, but I respectfully disagree’. And who also taught me to set goals and strive for them, and be pleased when I reach them, but not lose my sense of self worth if I don’t smash every one. For Donna and David who have been supportive, kind and caring mentors through a tough transition. Who have helped me exceed any expectations I had for my postdoc, and who remain unbelievably dedicated to my future happiness. For David who challenges all my preconceptions of myself, and Donna who stands behind me while I smash them. To all of David’s family who genuinely treat me as one of their own, when the very worst thing to me is that mine are so far away. For my (old) family who are very brave and supportive about me being so far away and for my (new) family who are so welcoming (I got called Auntie Lekki – woo-hoo). And for Walter, Dinah and Bobby. Who keep me warm at night (occasionally because they have peed on the bedsheets, but mostly because they are snuggle bunnies). And that names just a few.

Right! That’s thanksgiving  done. Onto Christmas (the VERY BEST holiday of all).

Check it out - a homemade advent calendar. More Christmas crafts to come.

A few of my thoughts on gay marriage

The issue of legalizing gay marriage has made me realise a few things about myself. I assumed that it was a simple equality issue, and so it was right to legalize gay marriage. But, I have realized that it is not a black-and-white right-and-wrong issue to me. To me there is no clear cut right answer, and only opinions on what is best / fair / the right thing to do.

So, NY has legalized gay marriage. Hoorah! I am very happy for this news. Here are some of my thoughts as to why I personally would like Alabama to follow suit and legalize gay marriage.

To me, it is not clear about whether the Bible is against homosexuality or not.

One of the main oppositions I encounter in AL to legalizing gay marriage is that the Bible is anti-gay relations. Well, my problem here is that I don’t know the Bible well enough (and would welcome any thoughts on this). I used to think the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ story was where the Bible explicitly stated the Christian stance against homosexuality. Until I actually read it (now there is an idea). When I read it, my own personal interpretation (which is shared by others) that it was the general debauchery that was problematic, and the main criticism levied against the inhabitants of Sodom was their unwillingness to welcome an outsider. Let us not forget that they wanted to rape the visitor – and that this presumably was a great sin. It’s just not clear to me that the homosexuality was a sin. It is also not clear to me why, if it was, this part of the old testament is still relevant, when we abandon so many other parts under the new covenant.

I am similarly unclear on other parts of the Bible and the stance on homosexuality. The Bible is hugely complex and I don’t think gives us lift off the page answers on many things.

I honestly don’t know what God asks of us on this front. But let us assume, for a minute, that the Bible is anti homosexual relationships. That it is an affront to God. I still think Alabama should legalize gay marriage.

My personal belief is that the value of marriage is less about gender relations, and more about respecting individuals who commit to another, in a loving and faithful fashion.

Even if there are things in a relationship we don’t personally agree are good life choices, I think you can still respect and honour two individuals who commit to a loving relationship, and recognize this as something you promote and support, in its own right. I respect family bonds, and people who work hard to maintain a family. I believe this is a tough thing to do, and I could only commit to marrying someone, and in my heart believe it was a lifelong commitment, if I knew God would help me maintain that commitment. I personally don’t think that I am strong enough to do it without His love and support. I happily respect any union that is aimed at the same goal: of making a stable and lifelong family, which I believe is a Godly endeavor (although you can execute it without God and I still support that), and accepting and negotiating all the personal sacrifices one has to make in that quest.

Thus, I don’t believe that legalizing gay marriage is the start of some slippery slope, and we ‘just don’t know where it will end’.

I understand some people feel this: legalizing gay marriage is just another step in the decline of the sanctity of marriage. And a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step. However, I believe that legalizing gay marriage is the exact opposite: it is to me, respecting the sanctity of marriage for what it is supposed to be, and what so many heterosexual couples fail to make it: a lifelong loving commitment. Heterosexuals have made a mess of the institution of marriage – it is always a union between a man and a woman, but only 50% of the time is it a lifelong commitment as promised (a lot of the time it isn’t even loving). I honestly think this a way of redeeming it.

Maybe these views reflect another view of mine: I don’t believe marriage is for everybody. And it makes me cross that some sectors of society still hold it up as a goal to be strived for at all costs. My personal opinion is that if it is not for you – for whatever reason – then you should never, ever feel pressured into doing it for legal / societal norm reasons. I think a lot of heartache could be saved if people didn’t assume that marriage was inevitable, and if people didn’t treat news of engagements / weddings as the attainment of some lofty goal (I famously was PISSED that I got more congratulations for getting married than I did for passing my PhD).To me, it is not a goal, or an achievement, but a reflection of a commitment and lifestyle choice that is made with good loving intentions, and hard to maintain. I respect people who are brave enough not make that commitment, just I respect ALL who are brave enough to make it.

I am a practicing Christian, and I am not 100% sure on where God stands on homosexuality. However, I do know I sin every day – sometimes accidentally, sometimes as an active decision. I don’t think it is my right or my place to grade sins, and decide some are better or worse than others, but I do think it is my Christian duty to be as graceful as possible, as loving as possible, and to support Christian values, such as loving faithful relationships wherever they occur.

Plus of course, marriage can be an entirely legal, and non Christian endeavour.

I found it was, more often than not, in AL  than the UK. Many people have an a-religious ceremony. So if a man and woman can do that, and make a commitment without God, why can’t two men or two women? So: go NY, I think you did an awesome thing.

I don’t know when my blog got so political. I entirely blame my new officemate and intend to return to writing about cats and dieting shortly 🙂