Category Archives: health

Long time…

I’ve been back to being super busy at work, which always interferes with my ability to sit down in a disciplined manner and rant about England and the English. Oh that and Twitter. It seems that nearly 6 years into this little adventure, I can get a lot of rant out of my system in a mere 140 characters.

And I’ve been working out. Which is a bit of a shocker. I have a gym to whom I pay money each month even though I have not been there in a few years. Oops. I joined in 2008 ahead of my inaugural trip to Australia and I was good about it for another year after that and then I wasn’t any more. And I kept convincing myself that I was going to get back into it, which is why I didn’t just quit. But now I need to, as I found Jillian Michaels when I was back in the US over Easter.

Being away from the US for almost six years, and not being much of a fan of so-called reality TV, I had missed the whole Jillian phenomenon. I can recall having seen the occasional American person complain about how difficult her breakthrough workout DVD (“the 30 day shred”) was on Twitter but I wasn’t really paying attention. And then I was at my sister’s house, and sitting on her couch with my iPad, and my sister asked if I minded if she do this 20 minute workout. So I watched it and was fascinated. For a week in Minnesota with my sister, we dutifully tromped down into the basement with a couple of pairs of my Mom’s hand-weights (more on that in a minute*) and did the 20 minutes of hard work. I was hooked. I bought it on iTunes and vowed to make it through 30 days.

That trip was busy and I was doing work things after Minnesota, so I didn’t get back into it straight away. On returning to England, I had to locate a set of dumbbells, which meant I went into the local sporting goods megamart for the first time ever. (I have been being my usual self, and still tending to buy things like quality working out shoes while in the US…) And of course I had to pick all the weights up and try to guess how heavy they were, since they were marked in kg. (I know, as a scientist I should have that conversion memorized, but I don’t. I’m getting better at Celsius temperatures, though! Only took 5.7 years!)

I’m on a roll now–I’m not going to jinx myself by admitting how many days in a row I’ve managed, but it’s been quite a few. And no matter how crappy I feel or how long my day was at work, it’s remarkably easy to find 20 minutes to do this intense and intensely brutal workout. (Although that said, that may just be the 20 minutes of blogging time that I’ve been eating into…) And Jillian Michaels is remarkably motivating in a way that I’m not used to in terms of fitness DVD instructors. Believe me, I’ve tried them all over the years. I’ve had Jane Fondas, Denise Austins, former supermodels; I’ve tried The Firm, step aerobics, yoga, latin dance, intense cardio, intense leg lifts, ballet. Admittedly these are all American, I’ve not ever tried any British fitness options. But regardless, somehow this one is different and in a really good way.

Hopefully, in some future number of days, I’ll be able to announce that it’s worked and I’ve made it through 30 days and plan to keep going. And maybe there will be some nice side benefit, like a decreased jeans size just as swimsuit season approaches. But for the moment, more than anything I’m just loving the routine of forcing myself to do something active like lift heavy** objects over my head while simultaneously doing leg lunges.

* I got my mom off osteoporosis meds and onto a weightlifting regime a few years ago. (There is good science in this, believe me–this is my area.) She now has the nicest arms I’ve ever seen on a mom-type person. I’m only a tiny bit jealous because a few more years of Jillian and I’m sure I’ll look the same.

** 1 kg. The girls in the video do 5 lbs. I’m close, right?

I almost forgot to mention this: I am personally against the whole concept of for-fun bloggers doing sponsored posts that read like real posts until you get to the end. This is entirely about me and my constant battle with the bulge and in no way, shape, or form did any one give me any money or swag in order to advertise this particular exercise DVD! I hate that I feel the need to write this disclaimer but I wanted to make it abundantly clear what I’m up to.

Home, sick

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I was home sick, and one of my friends–a European transplant to California–misread it as “homesick” and said that she felt the same. She figured it out, but I thought it was amusing as it is quite common to feel homesick when you are home, sick, in a foreign country and missing creature comforts associated with being sick back home. For us Americans, that’s things like the magical OTC marvel “NyQuil” for which no UK equivalent exists. Judging by the status updates of fellow sick Americans this week, this is one of those things we all bring back in our luggage. For me another is Aleve, an NSAID that doesn’t seem to be available in Europe and that works much better than ibuprofen for me, for some reason I have never been able to concretely establish (but suspect is because for a time I was on 2.4 gm of the stuff per day during a bad bout of arthritis pain, so I suspect I’ve built up some sort of immunity to the stuff!) A few years back a colleague at work tried to give me “LemSip” which as far as I can tell has a devoted following in the UK not unlike the American devotees of NyQuil, but I’m afraid it made me gag and did not make me feel better in any way, shape or form. Ditto with the remarkably thick, gooey and disgusting “chesty cough” syrup that I found here. It’s Robitussin or nothing for this girl, as it has been for pretty much all 35 of my years on this planet!

Being home, sick is not nearly as much fun as having a day off work. Although you have spare time with the internet and no constraints, you feel like crap and that sort of detracts from the freedom. I also find that it’s the only time I take naps. I could tell I was really sick when I needed a nap yesterday, as it was the first time I can remember since living in England that I have properly called in sick and then gone back to bed. I recall doing so back in Virginia, which would be more than five years ago. So I am lucky, I do not seem to get laid low all that often. The usual seasonal cold, of course, but this was much worse than that. I have a legendary tendency to avoid superfluous medical intervention, so as I am not actually dying I have not been out seeking professional help, but I suspect a mild form of bronchitis from the way that I sound like a baby seal barking unless I am constantly drinking fluids.

Which brought me to the realization that I have stopped drinking tea, except when I am sick. This is terribly un-British behavior, and in stark contrast to the many adaptations I have made to local life after 5 years living here. I used to drink tea quite regularly, back in the US before my arrival here. I was particularly fond of this magical sort:

I happened to find that I still had a few tea bags of this left in my cupboard, from some care package years back, when I was still drinking tea more frequently. In my home, sick state, my homesick self was thrilled to find Constant Comment in the cupboard and it is that which has been keeping my baby seal bark under control, as I try and half-work from my bed with my laptop. It’s never terribly productive, sick working, since the head tends to feel quite fuzzy, but you can sometimes get rather dull things done like answering 10,000 boring emails and doing website updates. I know, my life, the glamour–can’t even take a proper sick day. It’s true. With a 24-7 job, it’s tough to have such a luxury. At least I have tea.

Late Update: apparently I was home sick on a day in June. I know this because I blogged about it. I’m not the only one who goes back and reads their own blog archives and goes “OH YEAH!” right?

Knowledge is Power. Or at least less fear.

I was home sick today. I’ve had a stomach bug since Saturday. I am trying very hard not to link this to the salad I had, with raw cucumbers on it, when I was having a nice pub lunch outside in the gorgeous sunshine on Friday, with my very good friend and her darling little six month old baby. And yes, it was a Friday, and I was playing a bit of hooky. My job is flexible like that. When you work late into the night many days and all day on the weekend, sometimes you can then have a nice pub lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon when your friend with the baby just happens to have the car. But I digress. So I was not feeling very well this morning, and I knew that this was probably not just the stomach bug, but a combination of the bug and that of the stress I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks over the fact that my visa expires in the second week of October and I have to apply for permanent residency.

The story actually goes back even a little further. A week ago Friday I had dinner with one of my fellow Americans, and she had just received her passport back in the mail with her permanent residence visa. She made a point of ceremoniously handing over her Life in the UK study manual for me to use for my own application process. She also made a point of heckling me for being ridiculous about how big and scary this thing had become in my own head. Sometimes good friends do things like that. They heckle you when you need it.

So I took advantage of being sick in bed this morning with my laptop and my orange juice and I bit the bullet on that thing I’ve been needing to deal with. And I downloaded the forms and the information for this application for residency. And I read them through. And I started making lists (mostly mental at the moment, but I’ll make a check-list soon) of the things I need to gather in support of my application. It’s all fairly benign, as several people have told me (but I refused to listen), and of course I now have information and know what I need to do. It’s slightly logistically complicated, because my US passport also needs to be renewed, and I have to squeeze all sorts of things in this summer where I’ll need my passport. Like taking the Life in the UK test. So it’s not over yet, but at least I know more about what I have to do. I might wake up tomorrow and, for the first time in a while, not feel sick.


There were always going to be some lifestyle adjustments that came along with my move. For, in exchange for the wonderful mod cons that make this place fabulous, I was leaving the very center of town and moving outside the “ring road” into a far more “suburban” region (in spirit if not in name, as officially I’m still “in town”). I’ve been out here just over a week now, although admittedly I twice last week stayed at my old place in the city. Both times after having been out for dinner and finding myself losing energy for the trek. And I also took a taxi to work twice last week when I did stay out at the new digs. I just need to recalibrate my thinking about when I get up versus when I need to be somewhere! It was a 15 minute walk before and now it’s more like 40. And the public transport links are good but with the (1) walk to bus stop, (2) wait at bus stop, (3) ride bus, (4) walk from bus drop-off to office thing, that’s also about a 40 minute endeavor to be on the safe side. So I need to re-orient my thinking and get used to the new timing. The walking distance was always intentional, as I love walking and love the exercise it brings and in the mild English climate it’s quite do-able year round. Living in the city I was not getting enough of a walk in each day, unless I went out to the gym (which is right by my new flat, yay!) purposefully. So things are falling into place but I’m still making adjustments, which was tough given how busy this week was, the fact that I had a head cold, and the fact that I’m out of town part of each of the next two weeks. I know, I know. Believe me, the travel is about to slow down dramatically, but I still have to take the trips that were planned prior to my deciding to take this flat and to try and slow down a bit. But fortunately this has, thus far, been a nice, quiet weekend of unpacking and cooking and generally enjoying the new place, and appreciating the multitude of things available in the enormous Tesco only a few blocks away. I keep buying frozen food just because I can!

And this is why I live in the city

I have been out in the wilderness of New England this week, experiencing what has (to me) become fondly known as “science summer camp for grown-ups” — a conference at a remote location, where a medium (100 to somewhat less than 200) people camp out in college student dormitory rooms together and spend a week immersed in a single topic of scientific inquiry. The brilliant thing about this format is that the science bits are in the morning and evening thus leaving the afternoons free for other forms of entertainment. Which sounds lovely, except that this week has been more of an adventure than I bargained for.

The science bits were great, I should start with that. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself and written more than 20 pages of A4 notes. Which is amazing in and of itself–I’m sufficiently old and jaded that I don’t often have that much to write down. One of the afternoon social events was brilliant, it was a beer tasting at a local swanky brew-pub complete with a hilarious brewmaster with a sharp wit, an English degree, and lots of audience participation. There were lots of shot-glass-sized beers to drink, and everyone left happy but not sloppy. But Tuesday we went hiking, and had a spectacular time. Except it was hard going. And I’m clearly not as young as I used to be.

Step back, the group was two of us “senior” colleagues (at all of mid-thirty-something) and two very junior (young twenties) colleagues. We older folks (ugh) were scrambling to keep up with the two youngsters. And it was not pretty. I got my foot caught in a gap in the rocks and I’m pretty sure my left pinky toe is busted (again… it’s happened many times before) and my compatriot experienced some sort of bout of food poisoning and was rushing down from the summit while I was limping. I was literally doing the bridal half-step except leading with my right foot every time I had to descend vertically, such that the pressure would not be on the left pinky toe. Fun. But the views at the top were awesome.


I thought this particular hike (fun and picturesque as it was) was but a distant memory, until I woke up this morning, aware that what I thought was just a mosquito bite on my leg was actually sort of strange in shape and appearance, looking nothing like a normal mosquito bite on closer examination. Fast forward a few hours, and the thing just kept growing and growing, until it was about 3″ across by the last scientific session of the evening. At that point, I had noticed steady growth in the thing over the last few hours especially (not to mention the itching) and realized I had to do something about it. So I left the last scientific session of the evening mid-way and went to the tiny-town New England ER because I had the background to realize it might be serious, and at least worth a look by someone more qualified than me in the medical milieu. I spent a lovely hour as the only patient in the ER of a tiny town New England hospital, chatting with the lovely doctor, who happens to have a son studying for a PhD in my field. I could have predicted what the doctor would recommend (broad-spectrum antibiotics for a longer-than-usual time) which he did, but at least it was a pleasant medical experience.

I now have to get up early in the morning to get an antibiotics prescription filled in the local pharmacy before heading out to my next meetings in Boston. I have a disgusting bulls-eye rash on my right shin, and I can scare people with it. There’s a medical bill careening towards my parents’ house in Minneapolis, because that was the easiest way to handle the emergency non-resident healthcare scenario. I was happy, I was treated. I had a triage EMT, a nice nurse and a chatty MD. I got a first dose of anti-biotics and a prescription for 2 more weeks, which is a big deal when faced with this sort of skin penetrating rash. But I have no idea what it cost, and I will be eagerly anticipating the numbers. I did not need as much time as they gave me, or as much high-level effort as they gave me. I have an obvious rash with an obvious cause.

Zen and the art of bread baking

My job has big cycles of busy and less busy. Of these, the period of mid- January to mid-March is for some reason absolutely crazy busy for me. Having just made it through that cycle (plus a trip to Glasgow plus a week to recover) I am loving the fact that this week has been quite quiet. I have been taking the time to work on things that interest me, which I often don’t have time to do during the busy work periods. This has, this week, including following up on some of the things I learned about pregnancy in kangaroos in Australia a few months ago! (My job as a bioengineer must seem really random to the outsider!) After two months of never getting to the gym, I have managed exercise a few times a week in each of the last few weeks. And I have been trying to have a life that includes hobbies as well as work. I have been working on my wire and bead crochet project, pictures to come, and baking! I think this is a new record for me with loaves, I’m finally having the patience to knead for the full length of time and seeing that it really does make a difference!


I know, somewhere deep down in my heart, that my problems are relatively small. Although I blog incessantly about the little annoyances of expat life (along with the great parts too!) they are not real problems in the grand scheme of things. Nothing brings this home more than finding out that one of your high school friends is in a nursing home after having suffered from serious health problems for the last few years, including organ transplants and brain damage. Nothing puts life into perspective better than realizing that, although annoying, your problems really are nothing more than annoyances.