Log in

only in america...

... would this constitute "not breaking any laws."

I will return soon, I promise. Spending all day writing is not conducive to writing in my free time :-). BUT, the dissertation has nearly 10,000 words so far! Most of them inconsequential, but hey. You have to start somewhere.

oh, the city

While I was crossing the road with the campus crossing patrol this morning, it occurred to me that when we were kids we were helped across the road by a friendly old man in a reflective jacket with a lollipop-shaped sign.  Now we get helped across the road by a friendly old man in a reflective jacket with a firearm stuffed in his waistband.  Come back, suburbs - I miss you. 

hi-tech teamaking

If anyone needed yet more evidence that the US and UK are so much more than two nations divided by a common language...  it has become clear to me that the little technological advances that make our lives that bit easier haven't always made it across the pond to this apparently developed nation.

When I first arrived here I innocently bought a stovetop, whistling tea kettle from Ikea because they didn't have electric ones there, I'd been taken to Ikea in a yellow school bus with a load of Chinese students and it didn't appear to be stopping at any other quality home improvement stores, and it seemed like a pretty cute piece of kitchenware.  Later, I laughed, a lot, when a friend's then boyfriend thought an electric kettle was a great idea for her birthday present.  Well, it turns out that America simply DOES NOT DO the electric kettle.  Whaaaa?

Someone had left our department and left behind an electric kettle in her office, which was offered to me on the basis that nobody else drinks tea (can't remember the last time I drank tea in the office either, but I guess racial profiling is alive and well).  I figured I'd probably use it, since I now hardly ever drink tea at all on the basis that the stovetop kettle takes too long to boil,* so I accepted the freebie.  Seconds later, my generous colleague returned with a yellowed instruction book for said kettle, saying "you might need this too."  From her reaction, I'm guessing that raising my eyebrows and saying "really? I need a whole book to tell me to fill it with water, plug it in and switch it on?" constituted some kind of technophobeaphobic cultural faux pas.

* YES, I KNOW... but in my defence my benchmark for these things is a coffee maker you can fill up the night before and have it produce fresh coffee for you when you wake up (it's so good it even brings a mug of it to the bedroom for you, but for some reason that feature only kicks in when J is home).

redneck checklist


  • Catfish, hushpuppies, sweet tea... check.
  • Bluegrass... check.
  • Driving a tractor in circles round a field... check.
  • Sitting in flatbed of pickup truck seems like a good way to get around... check.
  • Giant spider... check.
  • 100 degrees Fahrenheit... check.
  • Shooting .22 rifle... check.
  • Using truck bed as arm support for said rifle shooting... check.
  • Obliterating red plastic cup... check.
  • 45mm semi-automatic handgun... check.
  • Shotgun-induced shoulder injuries*... check.
  • Cows... check.
  • Partial deafness... check.
  • Sunburn... check.
Yet to achieve: horseshoe flinging, strange accent, tooth loss.

* From the kickback.  Anything induced by barrel of shotgun = no shoulder.

 "Back shortly, folks - just popping out to buy some .22 cartridges."

Speaking of ammunition, one relative of J's we went to visit the other day had a few boxes of it on his living room coffee table.  Sitting atop a Bible.  I love this state.


Not content with travelling 4,000 miles across the ocean and back again last week, I'm preparing to Head South, as it were, tomorrow for another enforced sauna experience in the good old state of Alabama.  This time, however, all travelling will take place in a climate-controlled car, and the only children present will be ones I'm actually allowed to yell at.  Babysitting and chauffeur service also comes as standard, as J's sister will be joining us, and most likely driving, since J's engine starts screaming over 30mph (which provides all the fun of a Ferrari while retaining crap-car-right-of-way, but may not make it the full 1,600 miles) and, despite the fact that I've been driving over ten years, my recent ownership of a learner's permit is too fresh in her mind.  Damn you, people with nice cars.  

So, as far as I know, we set off tomorrow morning, stop over in South Carolina in the evening, and make it to Middle of Nowhere, AL on Sunday.  I will endeavour to have some interesting observations for you even though I've been there before.  Maybe this time I'll get to shoot a rattlesnake with a pistol instead of just running over a dead one.

Bye for now, y'all.

on flying in cattle class

I've just returned from a trip home to England, where I was informed in no uncertain terms that blog posts about my cooking skills simply won't cut it for my readership of 2, so I'll go back to making observations and you will have to prise my recipe for the best fried fish tacos *ever* out of my cold, dead, artery-clogged hands.

At this time of the year, it always occurs to me that the inevitable sadness of saying goodbye to family and friends back home is usually swiftly alleviated by the joyous realisation that i will not have to travel by air again for quite some time.  Why do I ALWAYS have to sit near the irritating people?  Why is it that I turned down a $70 upgrade to Economy Plus on the way out, which I could have afforded but decided to put towards paying off the original cost of the flight instead, and sat with a really nice person, but on the way back was only offered a $500 upgrade to First Class that was almost as much as I paid for the ticket, and had to sit with f***wits?  

This time, it was the kid who was pretty young, maybe four, but clearly way too old to wail like her teeth were being pulled out by hand in quick succession, when her calls of "daddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddydaddy..." were not answered by him within three repetitions.  Of course, in the rare moments when she is not trying to attract the attention of the remarkably reticent father (usually to complain about such emergencies as her seatback entertainment not delivering up the personal favourites - SpongeBob SquarePants, Swan Lake, Silence of the Lambs? - she was hoping for), she is engaged in a loud rendition of 'Old MacDonald Had A Farm' that goes on for so long that Old MacDonald has now branched out from sheep, cows, and pigs, to organic hand-reared ostrich and foie gras lovingly prepared in the farmhouse kitchen by his doting wife.  At 5am.

Perhaps if Old MacDonald ever finds the time to take a break from his intensive breeding program for the local farmers' market, he might stop by and share with me a tip or two about sterilisation.

a sad reflection

So I started tagging my journal entries, and while I'm only about halfway through so far, I can't help but notice that "silliness" is the biggest word in the tag cloud and "work" is the smallest. 


cooking up a storm

Wow, it's been a while since I posted.  Sorry about that.  Not sure if anyone reads this anyway.......

So.  Passed the proposal defence, which was nice (although only after having the date set back two weeks because my Dearly Beloved Chair had something better to do).  They actually seemed quite happy with my proposal, so perhaps I have a future in academia after all.  Woo hoo!

Am kind of in the doldrums with the whole thing now, though.  Once the initial nervous energy with getting the proposal written and giving the presentation, and the excitement of surviving all of that, is over, all you're left with is the thought that now you have to write the bloody thing in a reasonable amount of time.  Yes, I know that should be exciting too, but it's a big thing to make a start on, if you're like me and get on better at cruising altitude rather than take-off.  I'm also taking on a hell of a challenge by aiming to graduate by next May - not a lot of room for error.  We'll get there, though.

One thing I've discovered is that I've really started to take comfort and inspiration in cooking.  I guess it's a manifestation of the artistic/creative streak I've always had, but haven't felt I've had time to indulge since GCSEs (11 years ago... wargh!) - academic and working life kind of got in the way, and I've always promised myself I'd make time for it (as the several unused painting sets I've stocked up around the world will testify) but as I've documented many times, my time management skills are terrible.  I may not be able to make the time to sit down and draw or paint, but I do have to feed myself every day.  And with living alone most of the time, I've gradually built up the courage to experiment - especially since it's only me who suffers the consequences of failures!  J loves to cook too, so when we get together at the weekends we always end up watching the Food Network and creating things for each other.  It's a lot of fun, and super sanity-inducing.  And the more I do it, the more I find myself learning about how it all works - not just techniques, but how different ingredients and flavours go together.  J also helped my learning process by buying me a subscription to the magazine Cooking Light, which I love because it embodies my developing foodie philosophy - healthy, fresh, sophisticated but good value for money.  It's so much fun to discover that you can actually make so much of the stuff we tend to seek out ready made, and it's even yummier and healthier (because you know what you put in it) but somehow costs less money!  It started out as just having bought too much stuff and not using it, and instead of wasting it discovering all the things you can do to preserve it.  I've made my own pesto out of leftover fresh herbs, which you can freeze in ice cube trays and defrost when you need it, and tonight I made my own hummus and baked pita crisps in about 5 minutes flat (well excluding the baking time, but while that was going on I made dinner!).

So, if anybody's still out there, I'm thinking I might try to use this blog a bit more, but change the theme a bit (since mummyphila says I've now been in the US too long to be enthralled and amused by it) - I won't be going entirely foodie on you, but I thought I would come on more often to share some of my cooking triumphs and disasters (à la ms_bracken  and infov0re , on occasion).  Since my other emerging passion is photography, maybe I'll post some pictures too!  And in the meantime, I'm going to enjoy feeling creative again, a decade after having what I thought was the last of it sucked out of me by the educational system.  Having something totally unrelated to focus on is more than likely to stop me going completely nuts while I finish the PhD, too......

academic win

I convinced him!  And now I'm ready to go!!!

I'm so excited to be on the verge of passing this milestone and moving on to the next level.  The American PhD works pretty differently from the English model, in which you go in and spend three years or so working on the project/title you picked out at the beginning.  In the US you start off doing coursework (which I LOVE, because I never feel like I'm done with learning - plus it gives you time to go through all the faff and self-doubt that comes with the process without actually wasting as much time as you think you are), pass qualifying and comprehensive exams indicating you know enough about your subject to claim any expertise, and then you write a dissertation proposal that has to be defended in front of your three-person advisory committee, and then write the full thing (which also has to be defended).  Luckily for me, the examination process here has been pretty disorganised, but I'm in a fairly good position because I'm a big geek and actually did the work anyway, so I have something to produce if anyone asks.  The proposal defence - which I'm now almost ready for, and will have done by July - is a really big milestone because when you get past that your status changes to 'ABD' (all but dissertation), which means you can get a good idea of your graduation date and you become eligible to apply for jobs that require you to have your PhD by the time you start.

I'm feeling good because I've done so much drifting while I've been here.  I've let all sorts of people get me down and make me feel like I can't do it, and they were wrong.  I've convinced myself at times that I wouldn't be able to do it, but I was wrong.  I've had people refuse to work with me for political reasons that have nothing to do with my ability or personality.  I've had people tell me my timeline is unrealistic based on no knowledge whatsoever of me or my work ethic.  I've even been laughed at by peers for being enthusiastic about what I do and going over and above what is basically required.*  And now guess what - I'm at the top of my game, I've worked hard enough that good people want to work with me, and I'm on track for the timeline I've set.  I'm not going to say "I win" just yet... but the path is clear!!

Now have to get back to work on this proposal..........

* Still my favourite PhD story.  Shortly after J and I got together, I purchased a book that wasn't on a reading list, but I hoped would help with the class.  The book was by a professor J knows well and likes.  I actually can't remember now if he recommended it to me or if I found it myself, but I do know I bought it of my own volition.  When I brought it along to our study group a fellow student sneered "aww, did your boyfriend buy that for you?"  I have always been amused that a student at the doctoral level needed a boyfriend in the field to buy her books on her chosen subject :-)  Reminds me of when I did my masters and one of my cohort said "What's wrong with you - I always see you in the library" and I wondered what he was paying 10,000 quid for...  (Toto, I don't think we're in undergrad any more...)