Friday, October 9, 2015

A Frenglish farewell

Dear friends—if any of you are still out there—it's time for an update, long overdue, revealing my current doings and whereabouts.

I now live in France.

Oui, c'est vrai! In the town of Limoges, which looks kind of like this:

Ok, at least some parts do... But honestly, it's really quite pretty. I haven't got a permanent apartment yet, but I'm hoping to find something soon, preferably located not too far from these historic grounds.

So, what am I doing here? Short answer: sciency stuff. Research and development for Big Pharma, basically. I started this Monday and have had a most eventful week with many good laughs over inventive Frenglish/Franglais—both from me and my new French colleagues.

Sure, there has been quite a bit of frustration over lingual shortcomings as well, but only off-work—for instance during apartment hunting and grocery shopping. However, starting on Sunday I will receive online lessons and coaching in French, so I hope to rapidly improve my understanding and speaking abilities.

In the meantime, Duolingo helps me refresh my old high school skills; I'm learning how to say all the important stuff. These little nuggets will help me tremendously in daily life—at work as well as in the community.

Merci beaucoup, Duolingo!

Now over to more serious matters: to all of you who have kept your fingers crossed during these months of uncertainty, I want to thank you so very, very much for continuous support and encouragement. I have been trapped in a literal whirlwind since August, but I'm incredibly excited to finally be here.

However, I have decided to let this blog rest, indefinitely, as I start this new chapter of my life. Emerald City Reflections has been a great forum for sharing ”photos, thoughts and observations” (quote from blog head), but keeping it updated has taken time—time that I no longer might have. I need to focus on learning the language and integrating into this new culture, and it must take priority.

Thus, I thank you kindly for sharing my adventures—ups and downs—throughout these three years. The highs have been high and the lows have been low, but most importantly: I have had the adventure of a lifetime. Hopefully, I'm just getting started.

To all, my gratitude and love. Tack, alla! Be well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The September issue

Although I physically left Fred Hutch a while back some unfinished business remained after departing, such as my two last articles for Science Spotlight. Readers, I give you:

BSCL therapy for ocular GVHD - a sight for sore eyes
An improved method to detect low levels of methylated DNA

In the first piece you can learn about a neat way of treating graft-versus-host disease in the eyes, using bandage soft contact lenses. The second story is of slightly more technical nature, describing an improved method for detection of methylated genes, which in turn may be used as biomarkers for colorectal cancer.

Writing for Science Spotlight this past year has been a wonderful learning experience—challenging at times, but incredibly worthwile. As faculty mentor, Dr. Julian Simon supported the team of editors in the best possible way, and beyond that served as a personal mentor for me concerning all things related to science writing (and science [and life] in general).

In short: this was great. I'm very happy that I was able to do this for a year, and would not have hesitated to apply for a second term, had I stayed at the center.

I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of the research that is performed at Fred Hutch—I certainly enjoyed writing about it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Putting the Ä in Ämerica

I realize that it's been awfully quiet on the blog since I packed up my apartment in Fremont and shipped myself and my things back to Sweden. Now that I'm here, I've had some time to reflect on my time in the United States (and elsewhere). Lots of great memories, of course! One of the many things that amused me during my self-imposed expatriation was the Americans' enthusiastic use of diacritical marks—umlauts, mainly—in places where one would not necessarily expect them. I started ”collecting” these little oddities early on, thinking that it could be fun to eventually share them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the time has come—but first, a small disclaimer: this post might not make much sense to the non-Swedes. On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be learned? (Nah, not likely.)

The first example, which most people probably know about already, is the snack bars by the brand Lärabar—simply pronounced ”lara bar” by the locals. The same producer has another line of fruit/nut bars with the double-dotted name über. Why not just call them ”snäck bärs” while you're at it?

Evidence of further umlauting is often found in the candy isle...

...and, to my surprise, also among the wines. How about a fine bottle of aged Pölka dot with that Seitan Roulade with Chestnut-Champignon Stuffing?

Another family of goods with a strong preference for extra dots and dashes are hair and body care products. Just look at this collection of items, found at the local pharmacy:

The more diacritics, the less dandruff? More dots, less frizz? Göt 2b kinkier—now that's a winning name.

After applying that first-class Jāsön shampoo, perhaps you need a fashionable scrunchy to complete the look? Hmm, let's see... Wait, here's one!

Ah, there we go. Next, a collection of random items that made me giggle over the years:

A soft neck pillow from Clöudz:

A cozy candle from Cløve:

Bling stickers (limited edition!) from Colorbök:

If it's metal it's gotta have umlauts— I found Camöuflage in Canada.

Perhaps some power vinyasa after that? The folks at häutēyoga seem to know what they're doing.

Music maestro Buzz Brümp knows how to attract a keen audience to Tractor Tavern.

Another Canadian gem: Blue Ångel.

North America isn't the only place for misplaced dots; in Costa Rica, kölbi is the biggest and oldest network provider. Vamös juntos!

Finally, a colorful mural from my old hoods. I'm not 100% sure that it's actually a misplaced umlaut, but I kind of like the idea that it's saying LAMA G's Cäfe.

Ådiōs, fölks!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A for effort

Seriously, you have to give me some cred for my home styling abilities! I don't even need any bowls of lemons—just look at this display:

Master bedroom.

Please note the carefully placed snowboard case, to the bottom left. One must be prepared for that middle-of-the-night alpine craving.

Dining area / office / entertainment center / yoga room.

Mmm that couch looks so comfy!

So. My bags are packed, the apartment is cleaned, farewells have been said, hugs delivered. Tomorrow I'm off, on Tuesday I land in Sweden. And then...? A contract will be signed, I hope—more on that later...! But for now, good night.

Oh, by the wayyou know how I use to say that every time I have Swedish visitors over it rains when they leave? Well, after 3+ months of drought, this happens.

Just sayin'... Seattle is sad too.

(But we need this! Burnt Sugar and I say: Let it rain.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Last days of disco

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear... I can't believe how quickly August has flown by, and now I'm down to one single day left at the Hutch.

I don't know how to...I can't even...when did this...why am I...

...wait, what?

So I guess I'm leaving then.

My desk is cleaned, the drawers emptied. Files are transferred and notebooks archived. On Tuesday I gave my last lab meeting presentation, summing up my three years as a postdoc in about an hour—not an altogether easy task, but I felt really happy and proud afterwards. Satisfied.

What a great time I've had in the Press Lab! How wonderful everyone has been, and how lucky I am to have had such fun projects to work on. Not all results have gone my way, but I leave with two first-author publications and a number of co-authored articles in my portfolio. (A third first-author paper is currently underway, and will hopefully be finalized by the end of the year.)

There are not enough words in the world to describe my gratitude towards Ollie, who not only took me in as his mentee but also invited me without hesitation into the warmth of his family. Nancy expressed it very nicely at the official farewell party at their house, which was held after my presentation: ”Remember that you will always have a mother in Seattle.” How could I forget? In addition, my other mentor, Brenda, has been equally supporting and terrific, and it feels unreal to think that I won't be able to pop down to her office and have a chat about life and science and anything that comes to mind (my dating resume, mainly) from now on.

This is me giving a toast at said party—apparently whilst waiving. A royal touch?

Besides throwing me this wonderful soiree, Ollie and Nancy had also picked out an incredibly thoughtful parting gift: a silver feather pendant, handcrafted by a Native American artist in Oregon. I can't imagine a more suitable token to remind me of the Pacific Northwest and the amazing years I've spent here. Thank you so very, very (very) much—for everything!

Back home in Fremont, ordered chaos rules. My beloved chair is sold and gone, three bags of clothes and gear were dropped off at Goodwill this morning, and the rest of my things are either packed, waiting to be packed, or being left behind for the girl that's moving into the unit after me (an excellent solution, by the way!).

Tomorrow I go to the Hutch for the last time to send some emails, bid farewell to friends and colleagues, give and receive lots of hugs (I hope), and, reluctantly, hand over my keys and badge.

After that? Party time, folks. (She's going out with a bang!)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Remember that time I went to Alaska all by myself and it was really awesome? (Part IV)

Finally, the last piece of my Alaska puzzle. In this post I will show some photos from Seward—or rather, from Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. I had booked a nine-hour cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours, and before I continue I want to make one thing very clear: I was not disappointed. Holy cow, did I get my money's worth.

Seward, as seen from the bay.

This is clearly not a very good photo, but the odd-looking black shape is a sea otter casually flopping around in the water. These guys were all over the place! Adorable.

The weather was fair, but icy winds from the glaciers prompted the use of hats, hoods, and gloves, despite the July sun.

Seriously. This place.

Regarding wildlife, it kind of boils down to one word: wow. I didn't actually plan on taking very many photos during the cruise, knowing how limited my little camera is when it comes to capturing animals; instead, my plan was to just enjoy the moment in the moment. However, one particularly happy humpback whale made me change my mind.

My heart raced when we first spotted water splashing in the distance, and as the boat came closer we could see a whale waiving its pectoral fin. It was doing all sorts of funky tricks, diving and waiving and showing off its impressive tail, and then it disappeared under water. Our captain told us to be ready with our cameras, because it was about to breach—and breach it did. After that it dove down again, and breached once more. And once more. And once more... We counted fifteen times in a row before this crazy humpback called it a day, and the captain said that he had never seen anything like it before.

After about five breaches or so I realized that it would be ridiculous not to try to snap a picture, even with my little camera, and I must say that I'm pretty happy about that decision.

Yeah. Imagine this, times fifteen—kind of hard to beat.

My new favorite sea mammal has to be Dall's porpoise, however—these little ones were incredible! Zig-zagging around with impressive speed, playful like dolphins but looking like tiny orcas. They were almost impossible to take pictures of, but I can assure you that they were awesome.

...oh yeah, orcas—we saw several pods of them too. And more humpbacks. And sea lions. And bald eagles; one quite sheepishly swimming after trying to catch a fish that was slightly out of its league. Eventually it managed to get out of the water and sat down on a sunny cliff to dry its wings whilst trying to recover some of its lost dignity. Another favorite species were the various puffins—in the air, in the water, and on the rocks. And bawling sea lions. And chubby seals. And jumping salmon. And, and, and...


Honestly, it was surreal—everything just happened at the same time, all the time. I sometimes didn't know which orca, humpback whale or porpoise to watch, because they were all around!

And then there were the glaciers... The one we spent the most time at was Northwestern Glacier, which was creaking and calving, meaning that chunks of ice broke off and fell into the water around us. And on the ice were seals, resting and playing...

Okay, I need to wrap up this story now... I'll do so with a photo of the conveniently named Exit Glacier, which I visited briefly on my very last morning before saying goodbye to Seward and heading back to Anchorage.

Goodbye, dear Alaska. What a wonderful time we had together! I'm so grateful and happy that I got to make this journey, and that I did it the way I did. På återseende... (I just know I will return some day.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Remember that time I went to Alaska all by myself and it was really awesome? (Part III)

My guidebook informed me that the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area offers a number of trails starting from the Skilak Lake Road. My plan was to do two three-mile hikes, but I accidentally started off on a third one. It took me about halfway through the five-mile hike to realize that I had chosen the wrong trail, but by then I just decided to go for it and complete all three. I'm really glad I did, because all of them offered spectatular, albeit very different, views.

Admittedly, there were moments where I questioned my decision to venture out in the wilderness all by myself—in particular when I found bear droppings on the path—but I was doing my very best to make enough noise that I wouldn't surprise any grizzlies. Besides wearing the bear bell on my backpack, I was more or less constantly singing as I was walking, and I have to say that I'm pretty glad that no one was there to hear me. Drinking songs, children's songs, Swedish schlager hits, Christmas carols... You name it, I sang it. And when I couldn't sing anymore, I started talking to myself. Still, I guess it worked because if I were a bear I would totally have stayed away from that crazy chick...

First hike: Skilak Lookout—the trail I was not supposed to take. (Kind of glad I did, though...)

Fireweed (rallarros or mjölkört in Swedish) were blooming everywhere.

Second hike: Hidden Creek Trail, down to Skilak Lake. Here, a moose was standing in the water, drinking, while salmon were jumping all around (not shown in the photo, so you can stop looking).

Third hike: Hideout Trail. Up, up, up... The photo really doesn't do the view justice, but you can see the Kenai River winding through the forest to Skilak Lake. Up here, I had a truly unique experience as I was looking down (!) on two bald eagles that were soaring high above the treetops. Otherworldly.

These three hikes all took a few hours each, after which I drove on towards Homer and the wonderful Seaside Farm in Kachemak. What a place! Another gem to add to my collection.

The next day started with a walk along the Homer spit.

Yeah, this is not creepy at all.

Am I the only one looking for a DC Comics supervillain in the picture above? I'm thinking The Penguin or The Joker—or perhaps simply The Comedian?

Lots of touristy, yet cute, little shops at the end of the spit.

The rest of the day was spent browsing through the farmers market, enjoying the delightful Pratt Museum, and sipping on coffee at various cozy cafes. The locals at Seaside Farm also talked me into joining them to a nearby honky-tonk in the evening, where I enjoyed some proper American culture, far off the beaten track.

The next morning I drove east again, past Sterling and Skilak Lake, all the way to Seward—my last stop on this journey. More on that in part IV...!