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...!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

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

Seeing as I'm leaving the country in nine days and have ”a little bit” of wrapping up and nailing down to do, I'm left with somewhat limited time for blogging. I will thus have to be quite efficient (i.e. not too chatty) as I'm presenting the rest of the Alaska story.

Ready? Ok, here we go.

From Talkeetna I drove to Healy, which was my base camp for venturing into Denali National Park, utilizing the excellent hop-on hop-off shuttle bus service. Denali, or ”the high one”, is the indigenous name for Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. The national park is also the home of a plethora of wildlife, and during my day trip I counted about ten grizzly bears, five moose, herds of caribou and dall sheep, three gyrfalcons, and countless ground squirrels.

I know I promised tales of blueberries and wet feet, but I'll just shower you with photos instead. My apologies. (There will be blueberries though!)

Grizzly bear! (Yes it's there. Look hard.)

Another one. This guy was actually on the road when we came riding in the bus.

Pretty mountains.

”I said hello caribou, goodbye heart, sweet caribou I'm so in love with you...”

The view from Eielson Visitor Center.

Finally! The Alaskan blueberries were just like the Swedish: small, but packed with flavor. (This is where I went off road and my feet got wet. Totally worth it!)

Eielson Visitor Center from above. This little climb took 35 minutes up and 17 minutes down. Best thing, besides the view? The caribou that was resting at the top, calmly observing the sweaty hikers zigzagging their way up the rocky mountainside.

Afternoon clouds playing games with shadows.

The next day I set off south, from Healy via Anchorage to the Kenai peninsula and Sterling. It was a long drive, but also ridiculously beautiful; I wanted to stop and take pictures about every two miles or so, in particular as I was going past Turnagain Arm.

After staying the night in Sterling I backtracked a few miles to the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area; more on that in part III...

Monday, August 17, 2015

The August issue

Third Monday of the month means a spanking new issue of Science Spotlight. Finally!

I recommend clicking on the links below to read about: i) a new method for reducing chronic graft-versus-host disease by specifically removing certain immune cells (naïve T cells) from stem cell transplants; and ii) the development of a sophisticated measure of emotional distress for improved care of transplanted cancer patients.

HCT improved - less naïve, more useful
A more meaningful, less stressful, distress measure

Awesome stuff, as always! If you don't read it you're clearly out of your mind.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Girl and the Golden Carrot

If I've ever earned a golden carrot, then Saturday was definitely the day. Waking up at 4:45 am in a strange city and running a half marathon a couple of hours later was not an altogether pleasant experience, to be honest.

On the positive side, the weather conditions in Vancouver were perfect when the race began at 7 am: overcast and a little chilly. I started out fantastic along the scenic course, being carried forward by energetic cheerleader children, sassy drag queens, and flirty mermaids. The problem: I was doing a little too well, which I probably should have realized when I suddenly caught up with the 1:40-”pace beavers” [sic] after about 6 km. But it felt so good! My legs were the happiest in British Columbia and I simply couldn't bring myself to slow down when they so badly wanted to do their thing.

I kept up without any trouble until about 15 km, when I started feeling a little queasy. It was as if my body suddenly connected the dots between my poor breakfast and overambitious pace, and decided to simply resign. In short, I hit the wall.

After a feeble attempt to close the steadily growing gap between myself and the pacers I reluctantly concluded that I was out of luck and slowed down to the initially intended 4:50 min/km. However, I had overdone it to the point that even 5:00 min/km turned out to be a painful struggle and every hill, no matter how minor, made me want to just lie down and let the wolves take me (they have those in Canada, right?).

Still, somehow, from the bottom of my stubborn heart, I managed to muster up the energy to keep running. I simply refused to give up, and when I finally crossed the finishing line—drained, dizzy, and utterly confused—the clock had stopped at 1:42:23. Despite my stupidly optimistic start I had managed to maintain an average pace of 4:51 min/km, i.e. almost exactly what I was secretly hoping for before the race, and beat my previous PR from 2012 with more than 2 minutes.

Golden carrot, I own you.

After stumbling over the finishing line and receiving my carrot medal, a white tube-shaped item was handed to me. In my post-race confusion I didn't understand what I was holding, but a starry-eyed staff member happily informed me that it was an ”organic cotton towel infused with rainforest mist” that would reinvigorate and reenergize and...

I wobbled on with my wet towel. The joys of attending a yoga festival.

David and Amelia, my brilliant support crew. And my golden carrot, which I'm biting into because what else am I supposed to do?

The rest of the weekend was fabulous; I recuperated almost curiously quickly after a second breakfast and a shower, and the three of us spent Saturday browsing through stores, eating, drinking, meeting up with some friends of Amelia's, eating some more, and then finally watching the surprisingly clever Inside Out at a theater downtown.

Sunday morning started with a quick breakfast and then another challenge of physical nature: Grouse Grind. I was afraid my legs were going to protest madly as we were climbing ”Mother Nature's Stairmaster” to the top of the mountain, but I can honestly say that they were practically unaffected by yesterday's effort. It's almost a little strange, no...? Anyhow, up we went, and down we rode in the gondola. After that, we celebrated with a fancy, calorie-packed brunch at Chambar before loading ourselves into the car and heading back to the US.

As we made our way over the border crossing, the immigration officer looked at my visa and noted the rapidly approaching expiration date. He turned to me and asked if I was planning a renewal or if I was wrapping things up shortly. The answer sounded alien, but there was no hesitation: ”I'm wrapping things up.”

Two weeks to go. It's happening—it really is.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why sit still when you can move?

I'm not busy enough! Let's go to...I don't know...Vancouver? To do this.



(See you on Sunday, Seattle!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

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

First of all, I don't know how to express this but I'll give it a try: going to Alaska was like coming home.

The light and the air.
The quietude. The serenity.
The soft rustling of birch leaves in the morning breeze.
The feeling of openness—weightlessness, almost.

A lingering sensation of coming really close to something important, something fundamental.

Okay, please stop me before I go all hippie-yoga-yin-yang-flower-child on you. What I'm saying is this: I liked Alaska. Alaska and I are friends. I will most likely need to go back and visit Alaska again sometime.

There, you have it.

Now let's get on with the more chronological description of my journey. I was away for nine days in total, starting in Anchorage and driving north to Talkeetna and Healy/Denali. From there I made a U-turn and headed south to the Kenai peninsula to visit Sterling, Homer, and Seward, before returning to Anchorage and (reluctantly) reality.

Throughout the trip I continuously consulted my copy of the excellent 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska (5th ed) for general info and hiking inspiration along the road. I knew roughly where I was going and when, but apart from that framework my activities were not planned in detail. Instead, weather (lovely, in general), mood (stellar, overall), and strangers (friendly, mostly) inspired the day-to-day decision-making.

First hike: Thunderbird Falls (2 miles roundtrip). An easy stroll through a delightful forest of birch trees to a pretty waterfall, and then back the same way. Realization: Washington state sure has a lot of trees, but evergreens aren't quite the same as deciduous forests; I've missed these babies. (Yes, I got a wee bit teary-eyed.)

Next: Bodenberg Butte (south trailhead; 3 miles roundtrip). Up, up, up on a dusty switchback path to the top. Great views. Lots of sweat. Then down, down, down. More sweat.

Next, on to adorable Talkeetna—probably my favorite community of those I visited on this trip. Touristy? Sure, definitely—but in a comforting, low-key kind of way.

My sightseeing started with a walk down to the Susitna River where I got my first real glimpse of the massive Denali (a.k.a. Mount McKinley) on the horizon. I then visited the town's cute little museum, where I was recommended also stopping by at the Ranger Station. There, I watched a film about climbing the intimidating mountain peak, which holds the title North America's highest with its 20,237 feet (6,168 m) above sea level. I was impressed, but not inspired. (Not one bit, actually.)

The night was spent in the bunk house at the homey House of Seven Trees, where I met an eclectic group of guys who had come to Alaska from all sorts of places to get their private pilot licences. A fun crowd and an enjoyable evening.

Wait, hold on—I almost forgot—I got an earthquake for dinner! No, that's not a witty name for some ridiculously spicy Alaskan fireweed chili, but an actual whoa-my-spinach-bread-is-shaking-off-the-table kind of rumble from down below. A mere 4.3 on the Richter scale, but I was beyond excited.

The morning after started with breakfast at the Roadhouse before continuing on towards Healy—my base camp for entering Denali National Park.

I kind of enjoyed traveling that road. It was kind of pretty.

Stay tuned for Part II, featuring bears, blueberries, a monumental mountain, and wet feet. I'm expecting to upload it sometime before Halloween (possibly Thanksgiving).

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I'm all oranged up and ready to go go go!

Boo cancer, hurray research!

PS. It's not too late to donate. Go for it!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


”Folks, I apologize for the lack of stunning views over Kachemak Bay, impressive mountains in Denali National Park, and flowering hillsides by Skilak Lake. I...”

”But you promised!” you interrupt, with an accusing glare. ”You promised we would see it all.”

I stare at my toes, nervously shifting my weight back and forth. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. You’re clearly not letting me off with a warning this time.

”We demand pictures! High-resolution photos, preferably, but if it’s going to take forever to upload them then a simple sketch will do. Or a diagram. Perhaps a model, made out of clay? Anything!”

I take a deep breath.

”I promise...” My voice is cracking. ”I promise to give you what we agreed on—I just need some time! Won’t you please give me some more time?!

The silence that follows is almost unbearable. Suddenly, you shrug, smirking. ”Sure, why not—you’ll get a few more days. But youd better not disappoint. We won’t be as understanding, next time.

Baffled, I slowly back away, thanking you over and over in an incoherent ramble; Swedish, English, possibly a bit of Danish. Leaving the room, I turn and start running, my mind blank except for one single thought: how the hell am I going to make a clay model of Resurrection Bay?