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November 15, 2019

but when she's on her back, she had the knowledge, to get her where she wanted | november reflections




Last time I wrote, I was in the midst of a strange period of waiting for my thesis to be marked. It was a challenging time, life continuing on while I waited, and waited. I'm happy to be on the other side of that agonising waiting now, and I'm happy to report that the wait was worth it. I successfully defended my PhD thesis, even managed to make a couple of (incredibly nerdy pun) jokes with my examiners! I'm now planning my graduation in December this year, and looking forward to celebrating with my wonderful and wide network of whānau and friends; because as anyone who's completed a doctorate knows, no thesis was completed without support. 

I had friends who sent me baking, postcards while they were travelling, who were a sympathetic ear at various points. I have a partner who took a couple of weeks off work when I needed the extra support. I have a family who have listened to me even when I've been mad, grumpy, annoyed, frustrated, and I am so lucky to have people who have given, and continue to give, this kind of support. I only hope that I return the favour to people in my networks. 

If you ever read back through the Maitland St Meals archives, you'll see quiet allusions to the all-consuming lab work that occupied my every thought for 7 years. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but scientists will know what I mean. Even when I was too sick with undiagnosed typhoid to find the energy to get out of bed every day to get down to the lab, I was thinking about sigma factors. On the holidays I took to Waihi Beach with my family, flying up to Auckland and being driven to the beach for some salty swims and sand between my toes, I always took my computer with papers to read. Even while making some of the early time-indulgent meals written in the early blog posts, while I chopped onions or boiled beans, I was thinking about new things I could try to optimise some of my experiments that weren't working as they should. 

It's been nice to have the brain-break this year of not having to think about scientific puzzles with quite the same intensity - but now that it's been a good 18 months since I have done any wet lab work, I find myself missing it. I think this is a good sign that I'm in the right profession! And it's been nice to slowly realise that, despite the many challenges of being a young woman scientist, my innate curiosity continues to lead me down the scientific path.



However, I'm simultaneously creative. I've mentioned before my old poetry blog, which now resides offline and I'm its only reader. In June last year, after 2 years of collecting handmade mugs made by mainly New Zealand and Australian potters, I signed up for a ceramics night class at the art school at Otago Polytech. 

I remember saying to my old flatmates once I had been accepted that maybe I'd hate making things out of clay, but I just wanted to make one mug. I ended up making many more than one mug, and I didn't hate clay at all, in fact, I loved it. Going to night classes last year for two terms was such a creative treat for my brain, particularly leading up to thesis submission in December last year. Each week I knew I'd have 3 hours on a Thursday night just for making whatever the hell I wanted (and whatever my skills would allow..!). Making ceramics is partly scientific, partly creative, partly muscle technique, and with a little bit of luck. It was the creative outlet I needed. 

The other night I said to my partner R after making dinner that I felt like Maitland St Meals had come full circle. I'd just made a simple spring salad of blanched asparagus, tomatoes and red onion with a simple vinaigrette dressing to accompany dinner, then arranged it in bowls and plates I've made myself.


While it was a simple dinner, and while my hand-pinched bowls have some way to go especially on the consistency front, I was particularly proud to have dinner in "things I have made", and dear R dutifully stood over my arrangement to take the above picture (thank you). 

This year I've been minimally employed, partly by necessity as I needed to devote time to amending and publishing my final thesis; and partly because when your skill set is as specific as mine is, finding a job can take a while. I've currently got several jobs, and I'm thankful for all of them, however none are regular enough to ensure I can always afford to pay my bills. This "freelance" lifestyle has its perks which I am trying to enjoy, but I hope I don't forget what it's like to have a constant worry about money and where it will come from and whether I should be saving more, and what large purchases do I need to make between now and Christmas, or now and March... 



However, the flexibility in my schedule is also nice to make the most of. It's nice to have time to write more poems, to attend the newly-formed Ōtepoti Writer's Lab, to pinch a few bowls now and then. It's nice to have time to hang out with musicians, to develop my piano skills, to play a few gigs around town. I've been so thankful that I'm able to play the piano for people, and get paid for it - while it is work in a sense, it's also something that brings me a lot of joy. I'm thankful for these hands of mine with fingers that play, and shape bowls, and polish glassware at a bar..




I'm thankful too, for Ōtepoti / Dunedin, where I currently live. This year I have slowly discovered the music community partly due to my current living situation, partly due to my partner, and mostly due to having to find any way I could to make a bit of extra money. I've played regular gigs most of this year, and it's made me a much better pianist. Not so much in the sense of what I play, but more in the sense of where I play. I've practised performing so much I find I get less and less nervous before each gig now - instead I look forward to the delight of playing a piano / synthesiser; and the endorphin rush afterwards.

Playing the piano frequently has opened doors I didn't know existed - I've met some interesting and talented local musicians and learned so much from their generous insights into performing and playing; I've played the piano in a recording studio for a very talented friend completing her music honours album (it will be released sometime in 2020, exciting!). I feel very grateful for the small and generous community of musicians and creatives in this tiny Southern city I call home.





This year has not been without its challenges - but I'm learning that no good year ever is without challenge! As the year, and the decade, comes to a close, I find myself purposefully reflecting on this year with gratitude for the opportunities, for the people, and for the aroha given and received. I'm especially grateful to my parents, L & R, whose endless and unquestioning support and love gives me strength; and to my partner R, who allows me the space I need to be myself, all while loving me. He showed up to my PhD seminar even though we'd had a minor argument the night before; he's dropped my raincoat around to my old flat because the forecast was for showers; and he'll stay up cooking dinner when I am too weary to be anything but horizontal when I get home from a long day at work.

I'm planning on a tattoo to mark 2019 and its milestones. I've set up a pledgeme to raise money for it, because many of my friends and family live overseas and this is a way they can participate in celebrating graduation, and the end of an era, with me. There's no obligation to pledge at all, but if you'd like to I'd be honoured! The link is here.

Hopefully I will write a bit more frequently here - I have much to say, and much to share, but it isn't always simple finding the time.. See you soon.

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title from Belle & Sebastian - The Stars of Track and Field

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1. Light through leaves on George St, 3/11/19
2. Outside | inside, Otago uni central library, 12/11/19
3. Dinner in my pots, 7/11/19
4. My hand and a blue candle R gave me in a ceramic vessel I made in 2018, 8/11/19
5. The Northern motorway overbridge in Ōtepoti, 3/11/19
6. Early morning sunrise from the lounge, 4/11/19
7. Closeup of my hardbound thesis after I picked it up, a rather surreal moment for me. 6/11/19
8. Me outside the graduate office before I went and rang the University bell (made in 1863), photo taken by fellow graduating Dr P. 6/11/19
9. Celebratory brunch with dear R. 7/11/19

April 7, 2019

there's nothing to lose and there's nothing to prove | april thoughts



I had such good intentions when I wrote my last post. I imagined I'd have weekends to myself, that I'd manage to find a nice, relatively easy job to earn enough to pay the bills. I imagined I'd have so much more time than I've been able to find. 

I never thought I'd find myself thinking or writing this, but I miss my focus last year. I miss having a clear goal and seeing the path towards it. I'm so surprised that I find myself missing my thesis. And I don't think it's the thesis I miss as much as I miss having a central purpose. 

I'm still waiting on examiner's reports. It's a strange interim time, where on the one hand you're incredibly proud of managing to submit a complete document, but on the other hand nothing is certain in terms of results - both what they will be and when they will come. It really is a strange waiting game, and one that's difficult to explain to anyone outside the bubble of academia. 

There was a time when I wasn't physically able to work; a significant additional stress during an already challenging time. I am just now realising how much I've sacrificed of myself, my ability to earn money and save money, in order to complete my PhD - and it's not even finalised yet. I feel so far behind other people my age. 

I rationally know that age is just a number; that 'progress' in terms of how society measures it is not something I should be measuring my success by. I rationally know that really not that many people start, continue, submit or complete a PhD, and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to do so. But I've had to borrow more money from a wide range of supportive people in order to pay for the absolute basics - rent, medical care, food, heating, internet. I'm an independent person, and the psychological burden of this debt weighs on me. 

Now I'm able to earn money by tutoring and teaching, but all my hours are dedicated to work for other people. I only love my job if I truly feel valued; and I don't often feel valued in my current various employments. I constantly feel like I have to "hustle" to make enough money so I don't feel guilty for being a financial burden on people around me, and that means I prioritise paid work over everything else, including work on my own research, which doesn't currently pay. I feel like I'm working for everyone else, when all I'd like to do is work for myself.

These are the realities of life for many people my age, and I know there's advantages to my current situation. I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule - almost too much to truly enjoy. I constantly have dreams of getting out of Dunedin, of visiting other places, of adventures; but I can't see how to make those dreams a reality with all the practical circumstances preventing me. 

I think the main answer to all my current worries is time - time to rest, time to sleep better, time to do things I love with people I love. I am practicing patience, and being gentle on myself and people around me as I figure out what the next steps are. 

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title from billy idol/tony james - dancing with myself. I think my favourite version is the Nouvelle Vague one, here


January 6, 2019

grass up to our waists | hello in 2019



The last post on this blog, which was in March 2016 so nearly 3 years ago, ends with me promising the recipe for croissants "if I ever get around to making them". 

I'll tell you right now, I never got around to making them. Why was that, you might ask. Let me tell you.

Firstly, the price of butter. In New Zealand the price of butter has increased recently, and particularly over the past 3 years. It used to cost around $4 for a 500g block, but now prices are around $6.50 per 500g. Croissants require quite a lot of butter, and quite a lot of attention. Attention I was willing to give, but part with $15 for butter just for a batch of croissants, as well?

Not only did the price of butter increase, but the amount of time I had for cooking and food, particularly labour intensive and perhaps frivolous food like croissants, exponentially decreased. The lab work I alluded to in previous posts consumed my life, as well as the teaching and tutoring hours, until all I did for the last couple of months of last year was work to earn money, or work on my thesis.

Although this was not a pleasant way to spend time, it resulted in the successful completion and submission of a document I was happy with. It's important to acknowledge the incredible support I had around me from my partner and my family which was instrumental in allowing me to work as hard as I had to. I will be forever grateful for their understanding, encouragement and support. The soft bound submission is a end-of-sorts, and because the examination process and second, hard-bound submission is still to come, that's all I'll say about it for now.

I submitted on the 20th of December, 2018; a mere two and a half weeks ago. Since then, I have been slowly unwinding into holiday relaxation mode, spent time with my family and my partner's family, slept as much as possible, and eaten all sorts of delicious holiday food. It has been a slow process, letting go of the anxiety-inducing deadline-driven thesis thought patterns and easing my brain into true holiday mode for the first time in a while.

I find myself with the desire to catalogue the coming months of my life as I unwind and reflect on achieving last year's milestones, and decide what direction I'll take towards the future. There are lots of career and life decisions to make in the coming months, which makes for an exciting time.

I hope to post here a bit more frequently during this time, to catalogue my thoughts as I reflect about all I learned during the process of completing my PhD, and as I determine the next steps in my career. There might not always be recipes, but I hope there'll be a few to share. I know I am looking forward to having more time to spend cooking this year.

If you're still reading this, hello! Thanks for being here, I'm happy to have the inspiration and time for self reflection to write again here. See you soon.

G

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title from 'been in bed' by Grawlixes

March 17, 2016

but it ain't really a picture | roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad



This could have quite easily been another post about soup. A couple of weeks ago there were beetroot at the farmer's market, the long kind rather than the round kind, and as soon as I looked at them I thought 'it's about time I made borsht again' to myself. And that's just what I did, one cold and autumn-like evening, staining my fingers red and using the last of the lemons Mum brought from her tree when she visited.


However, heading into winter, there will be many more times to write about borsht and its incredible colour and ability to warm you up even on the coldest day. Maybe that will be next time! There will be less of an opportunity to write about substantial, season-change salads. I have to say, I never thought I'd be a salad for dinner person. Much like in my first flat where half of the flatmates didn't consider soup to be a "proper meal" no matter how many potatoes I included, or whether I baked focaccia bread to accompany it, I just didn't consider a "salad" to be a proper meal.

It isn't really a proper meal, if you just cut up some tomatoes and a cucumber, and add whatever leafy greenery you have lurking in your fridge or garden. But if you add some lentils, or bulghur wheat, or israeli couscous, or roasted kumara, you've got the beginnings of something more substantial. I've found such a salad a great way to use up the ends of things in the fridge at the end of the week. Cooking for one means you have to be especially attentive to ensure your produce doesn't go to waste.

The salad below ended up being dinner for three nights. The first night, I had it just as it was. The second night, I had it with smoked salmon and my parents down south in the Catlins, and the third night, I seared a lamb steak and sliced that over the top. I've been incorporating the occasional red meat in my diet to combat extremely low iron levels.

roast potato, haloumi and mushroom salad

3 medium potatoes, or the equivalent amount of small ones
brewer's yeast
2 lemons
olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 cup almonds
cherry tomatoes
leafy green - I used baby spinach
1 cup mushrooms
1 shallot
haloumi (as much or as little as you have, I used about 100g)

Scrub the potatoes (and peel them if you want, but I usually don't), cut into small pieces and place in a roasting dish. Add some olive oil, salt to season, the zest of a lemon, and about one tablespoon of brewer's yeast. Toss potatoes until they are all covered in the yeast/oil, and then roast at 200º for around 30 minutes, until they are cooked through and brown around the edges.

In the meantime, dry roast the almonds in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, giving them a shake every now and then. Set aside. In the same pan, heat a little oil, then fry the chopped shallot briefly before adding the mushrooms to cook. When the mushrooms have cooked, remove from the pan, and increase the heat a little before frying the haloumi. For this salad, I chopped the haloumi into small squares (to hide how little there was!) but if you like, you can leave it large.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking for the potatoes, add the cherry tomatoes to the roasting dish. Make a salad dressing with the juice of two lemons, an equal amount of olive oil (about one tablespoon) and a teaspoon of mustard. Give the almonds a bit of a bash in a mortar and pestle.

Add everything together and enjoy while the potatoes are still warm, though it's great cold too. It's a pretty forgiving recipe - you could add/swap the haloumi and mushrooms for just about anything - bacon, feta, zucchini... whatever you have in your fridge.

There's something quite delicious about the combination of sharpness and savoury from the lemon and yeast that the potatoes are roasted in, and I've made these roasted potatoes many times since. If you don't have brewer's yeast, I think that a good sprinkle of cumin could work in its place.



Lab work, and the semester starting, meaning the return of my teaching and tutoring schedule, have kept me pretty busy, but last weekend my parents came to visit and we escaped the city for the weekend - driving down the coast to the very desolate and very rugged Kaka Point. We drove down the long way, out to the coast, and stopped at Tunnel Beach on the way, where I assured M & D that the doc sign was inaccurate and it wouldn't be a 1 hour return walk (it was), reminiscent of times when I assured them that driving to Moeraki would only take 15 minutes from Dunedin. Estimating driving times has clearly never been much of a strong point. 

It was so good to get away - the first two photos are of Tunnel Beach, and Kaka Point respectively - to get out of the city and spend most of the weekend outside, looking out to sea, and of course, just spending time with my parents is a treat too. Next week when I'm in the lab over the Easter weekend I'll think of these beaches! 

I've been noticing leaves changing on the deciduous trees as I walk to work, and with each passing week more and more leaves drop onto the lawn outside the museum. Winter is on its way, and I'm finding that for now, I don't mind. Though I would appreciate our flat radiators being functional, it has been a chilly few nights on top of the big house recently! 

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title from wild imagination - kurt vile. It wasn't easy to find a song because I've mostly been listening to instrumental music recently .. 

Maybe next time I'll tell you about making croissants if I ever get around to actually doing it rather than googling and youtubing it!