Like most people, I occasionally make New Year’s resolutions. In 2022, rather than resolutions per se, I set myself quite an ambitious list of things to achieve. Here’s how I got on.
Race a Triathlon
I really wanted to get back into triathlon so I resolved to get one done in the year. So, I did the Pasadena Triathlon and was very pleased with my result (at least compared to the amount of training I did!). Here’s my recap.
Do some adulting things
I had three things on the list and managed to do two – the last one I left a bit late and then couldn’t get the attention of anyone I wanted to pay to help me. It’s on the list for 2023. Being a grown-up can be so boring!
Read 12 must-read books
I’m not getting any younger so I thought it was about time to read some proper books. I started with this list from Brittanica. I’d already read some, so I supplemented the list with a few of others. My main revelation was that even though these books were classics, they were very enjoyable to read — the opposite experience I had with classic novels in high school! Here’s what I read:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Don Quixote (part 1) by Miguel de Cervantes
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My absolute favorite from this list was The Grapes of Wrath: brilliant writing, and a beautiful, heartbreaking story.
Get the cat a social media presence
Ah, the cat. The cat has rather dominated our lives this past year. Even though she has our attention 24-7 and the whole house and garden as her territory, she gets bored easily. I decided she needed a social media presence. So, in September while my Dad was cat-sitting, he set up an Instagram account for her. I try to post 2-3 times a week but it turns out Peppa doesn’t like having the camera in her face! Find her at @lazypeppa.
Write 12 Blog Posts
I produce content for a living but I wanted to see if I could bring the same discipline to my personal work. I really enjoyed this challenge because it allowed me to revisit some of the fun trips I did with my late mother and late grandmother, and to record some of this year’s adventures. It was a daily effort and most of the work was done only between 6:00am and 6:30am as I passed the time before work (after the cat got me up at 5:00am). I didn’t promote any of the posts, so most of them weren’t read by anyone!
Many things are in flux for next year so I will likely keep my ambitions small. However, having used my diary extensively to write my 12 blog posts, I was reminded of its value: so in 2023 I will aim to write my diary every day.
I found my 2022 resolutions/goals to be very valuable this year, and I’m pleased to get 99% of them done. Happy New Year!
Time flies when you’re having fun: and somehow we have reached the milestone of 10 years in the US. We only planned to stay for about 2 years but somehow the country got its claws into us and we are now fully-fledged passport-wielding Americans. And now on our first 4th of July as citizens, here’s a summary of how we got there. The links below are to my blog posts.
The decision to take a job in the US
In February 2012, my husband got an offer to work in Boston. It wasn’t really a job we could say “no” to but we agonized about whether we wanted to leave Australia, to upend our lives and become expats (for the 2nd time for me). In the end, we had to do it. Thank goodness we were in our thirties because I’m not sure I’d have the energy now!
We arrived in Boston at the end of March 2012. I felt at the time I was a pretty seasoned traveler, and I had been to the US before, but nothing prepared me for this. I was expecting streets figurately paved with gold, everything you see in the movies to be true – riches, and happy smiling people. But Boston is (or was, back then) in need of some work. Everything was run down, shabby, and falling apart. The infrastructure was third world, everyone was rude, and the weather was horrendous.
I was unemployed, lonely, we were pretty poor, and my husband was working 90-hour weeks, including weekends. So, our plan to stay 2 years, rapidly got revised down to three months.
Adventures in Boston
But then, things slowly improved. I finally got admitted to the university’s spouses club and quickly took over the communications team. We found an expat couple to make friends with and with them soon learned how to have fun in Cambridge, MA. I got more serious about running and I started to volunteer at the Museum of Science. We got used to snow and more snow.
To be honest, we didn’t do much in New England while we were there – we saved our time and pennies for trips to Australia and other places.
Boston was a steep learning curve but we slowly began to get the hang of the US.
Food: Food in the US is terrible compared to Australia. Chicken is almost inedible and turned me vegetarian for a good while. Portions at restaurants are huge, enough for two. Everything is full of high fructose corn syrup. Wholefoods groceries were just about acceptable (but too expensive).
Tipping: Gotta tip at restaurants and a lot of other places. 20% seems to be standard though you can finesse it to 18% if you can do the math(s).
Culture: Boston is a very snooty town. If you are not one of the elite – i.e. have money – you are nobody. This was hilarious to me coming from the UK where money definitely does not buy class. However, the pointy elbows were everywhere, especially in Wholefoods.
Sport: Ah at last, a good thing about the US. We learned about NFL and baseball while in Boston. We became fans of the Patriots and the Red Socks.
“Spouses”: At Harvard, there were hundreds of spouses of international students and staff, mostly women it seemed, who had nothing much to do. In their original country, they were lawyers, doctors, and TV presenters, but in Boston they were house-partners, and full-time parents of small kids, all because of US visa rules. It was such a waste of talent, but we found things to do (e.g. English classes).
Weather: Boston has proper seasons – stinking hot summers, glorious colorful autumns, freezing snowing winters, and beautiful flowering springs. It was great, but not enough summer for me. Which leads us to…
How California snared us
The best way for employers in California to hire people is to invite them over for a trip in the winter. While Boston is up to its neck in snow, California is a balmy 70F and sunny. So, after an interview trip in November 2013 (on the way back from New Zealand) we signed on the dotted line and prepared to move to Pasadena, CA.
Getting a house
With the luxury of our first permanent job that paid well, we decided to buy a house. Thankfully my husband’s colleagues hooked us up with a real estate agent to the stars (because she works with a lot of astronomers) and after 60 days of living at the Residence Inn in Burbank, we moved into our new house in June 2012 (part 1,part 2). Best decision ever.
After two years of being un- or under-employed in Boston and volunteering, I decided enough was enough and I was going to do nothing else in Los Angeles until I got a “real” job. After we moved into our new house, I spent the first few months fixing things around the house – such as installing a microwave and working on the garden. I applied for many jobs at Caltech, JPL, and other places in Pasadena which all came to nothing. Then come October I was totally fed up with everything so I lowered my sights and applied for a front desk coordinator job at a company I had a loose connection with from Australia.
When they didn’t get back to me I decided I was really fed up and would get a Christmas job, which is when I signed up as a Driver Helper for a few weeks. Naturally, within the first hour as a driver helper, the front desk coordinator company called back, so that within a week I had two jobs (neither of which I really wanted).
The front desk coordinator job though turned out to be my making, and within three months there I was in the role I wanted in the communications team.
In California, life is very different from the east coast. It’s always sunny, people are generally upbeat, and there’s an energy of creativity, striving and an understanding that limits are there to be broken.
One of the other things we have got used to over these past 10 years is the rhythm of the year. School finishes early compared to the UK, and everyone, not just kids seems to have “summer” – a time for vacation, and outdoors activities. Summer in Pasadena is hot, usually about 85F, and the season finishes with wildfires. Then as the year turns to autumn/Fall there is NFL season and Thanksgiving. Winter in Pasadena is wet and everyone hopes for the day it’s cold enough to wear their fashionable boots or jacket. Spring is glorious with flowers and flowering trees from about February to June.
Another aspect of US life we have really got used to is domestic airline travel, something that has to be seen to be believed. Especially the concept of bringing a giant carry-on suitcase on the flight: which sets the market for “who boards first” and thus gets a space in the overhead bin to put said luggage. Bad behavior is rife – like people putting coats and small bags overhead, taking up space, which means everyone is delayed because then the airline has to gate-check the last few bags that don’t fit into the hold. Then the deplaning debacle occurs where everyone takes a lifetime to get their bag out but everyone is so polite that you absolutely must wait for the person in front to be out before you can get into the aisle. It’s incredible to witness and happens on every single flight.
Finally, a striking thing about Los Angeles is also a vast and a quite visible gap between the haves and the have-nots. The homeless population in Los Angeles is 64,000 which is the size of a small town in England. We give to The Midnight Mission but we could do more.
Becoming Americans and the future
In late 2021/early 2022 we became American citizens. We decided we liked it enough here that we wanted the option to come back whenever we wanted – and to participate in civic life. So far we have voted in the primaries and my husband has been called for jury duty, so those boxes are getting ticked (I mean, checked).
Who knows what the future will bring but for now we are moderately content where we are, with our house, jobs, and living the good life in Los Angeles. Happy 4th!
Like a lot of people during the pandemic, we decided to adopt a lockdown cat. Both of us had owned and loved cats during our childhood, but with our nomadic expat life, we had decided it wouldn’t be fair on a furball to move it around the world.
Now we are moderately settled in the US we decided to take the plunge. In March 2021, we browsed the available cats at the Pasadena Humane Society and chose a female 10-year-old grey (blue) cat with green eyes called Peppa. The shelter said she was a bit overweight and had been given up by her previous owners because of litter box issues.
The day before we picked her up, we went on a huge shopping spree at the pet shop and bought a bed, food bowls, food, toys, litter box, litter, scratching posts… We blocked off our dining room with cardboard walls to provide the cat with the apparently necessary “enclosed space” for her to feel safe as she got used to her new home.
We picked up Peppa from the shelter and they presented her to us in a cat carrier covered with a towel, with her favorite toy tucked into the handle. They also gave us a huge bag of food, litter and toys.
We brought her home and opened the cat door, and there she sat for four hours.
Things we then learned over the past year (photos and video below!):
She prefers to eat dried food which is not good for her digestion: she struggles to eat canned wet food, prefering to only lick the gravy. However, she’s very happy to eat chicken or tuna from our dinner…
She leans so far into her water bowl that her front gets wet
She is a fan of cat grass
She loves to be brushed, especially on her face and whiskers
She can’t jump very high
When she is looking for us she picks up her favorite toy and brings it around the house, yowling.
She started out wanting to hang out on the bed, but now only jumps up to wake us up in the morning.
She wakes us up at 5am and we resist getting up until 5:30am
She wants us all to be in the same room at the same time, preferably the study. When she’s in the same room she ideally wants to be touching the chair you are sitting on
She snores, wheezes and huffs
She’s quite talkative and communicates via a humming “murt” sound: but when she’s a bit impatient she whines like a toddler, then when she’s really annoyed she pronounces the word “me-ow”
She loves to chase a sparkly ball up and down the hallway at full speed.
Her latest game is to chase a sparkly piece of string (a Christmas decoration) amongst tissue paper, and she hurls herself on the paper and surfs across the room
She’s totally fine with the litter box
LOVES: feathers, catnip, feathers, lying on her back, treats, watching the squirrels from the window, sitting in the sink, making biscuits on plush blankets
HATES: water, other people, going to the vet, loud noises, the chlorine smell of my swimming bag, being touched without permission
Is the second total solar eclipse as good as the first? This is the question I believed never needed to be asked, because of course it is. In fact, I was sure it would be better because I knew what was coming. On this day, 1 year after the solar eclipse in Chile, let me give you my answer to this question.
My first total solar eclipse was the Great (North) American Eclipse of 2017. We traveled far, slept little, and had a life-changing experience. I saw black circles everywhere for weeks afterward.
Even before the 2017 eclipse, I realized that the following eclipse, July 2019, would pass within half a kilometer of my former employer’s worksite in Chile. Soon, others at work realized too, and a huge event, involving a hundred guests and many staff, was planned.
The kind of event we were hosting is always a huge challenge, but I told everyone involved in the planning who cared to listen that it was going to be worth it. NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENED, no matter the six months of planning, and the week on the ground, the stress and chaos, the lack of sleep, it would be worth it for that minute and a half of totality: the most spectacular thing your eyeballs will ever encounter. I told myself this too.
Totality was going to happen in the mid-afternoon of July 2, 2019. We traveled as a group to just inside the zone of totality in the Coquimbo Region of Chile. There was a vast tent set up on an even more vast carpet of green hessian sacking.
On arrival, we refreshed on pisco sours, then we sat down for lunch (well, I didn’t because I was managing a crisis, but I saw that others had lunch). There were solar telescopes set up outside and a live feed projected in the tent of the sun being slowly covered by the moon.
Since I didn’t get lunch I decided to bail on the speeches and headed out to the front of the green carpet where all the photographers were setting up. I got the tripod up, got the big (300mm) lens on and got out the solar filter for the lens (recycled from 2017). All the first-timers had a screw-on solar filter (or no filter) and I felt very smug knowing that my paper one was going to do the job just as well, and would be much easier to get off at totality. I also had a solar timer app I used in 2017. (Well worth the $2-$3).
I knew that first part of the eclipse, where the sun slowly covers the moon (the partial phase), wasn’t going to be that interesting a second time, so I half-heartedly clicked the camera and mostly lent my filter to my teammate and discussed exposure times and apertures with people.
I also explained what was going on to the non-astronomers, and showed them the pinhole effect and generally talked them through the approach to totality. I emphasized that they should not try to take photos on their cell phone, and just watch instead. As we got closer I set up my GoPro to do a timelapse.
Since we were on a valley floor it was very easy to see the moon’s shadow approaching – seemingly much faster than in 2017. With help from the app, I counted it down for the people and told them when to take off their solar glasses.
Totality was as beautiful as in 2017. The corona was different, and for some reason, I noticed the color of the horizon and the color of the landscape more. It was mesmerizing. I clicked the camera a bit and warned people as we were coming out of totality.
Afterward, the newbies around me were either crying happy tears or exclaiming with excitement. It was truly as good for them as it was for me in 2017. But, you may have guessed, it just didn’t have the same impact for me the second time. Perhaps I was shattered from the trip and from the drama of the day, or maybe this is what it’s like for everyone. (Later, I discussed this with a second-timer who agreed with me).
But, it was still great fun to look at the photos on the back of the camera, and to get a totality photo straight onto work’s social media from the desert. Our team was also unwittingly featured in one of the best photos of the event.
So, in summary, please go and see a second total solar eclipse, but my suggestion is to find a way to make it different from the first experience (e.g. go on a boat, a plane, or try for a cool angle on the photo). The next one is December 14, 2020, visible from the southern part of Chile and Argentina.
Like you, we are in lockdown. We are in Pasadena, California (part of LA County) and we feel especially lucky that we have a garden and that the weather is (finally) good.
For the last few days, I have been in the yard repairing our termite-ridden, falling-apart fence, and learning the process. I use the word ‘repair’ loosely as I realize that it is not a long-term solution to put fresh wood pickets against wood that is being chewed by termites. However, this is a patch job and the pickets are cheap.
In the photo below you can see the fence I was working on. There is one missing picket, and, on either side of the gap, there are two fairly rotten pickets. I originally planned to do all three, but in the end, I just did two. To make the job extra challenging, the fence is helpfully behind a fairly delicate Jade plant, which drops its leaves at the slightest touch. My goal was to repair the fence without destroying the plant.
Tools: After working on the fence for a few days, I’d got the tool situation down to the minimum. To get the fence pickets the right length I needed the tape measure, the triangle, the pencil, and the hand saw. To get the old picket and nails/screws etc out I needed the hammer and the flat head screwdriver. To fix the picket to the rail I needed the drill, the drill bit, the countersink bit, the drill bit with the phillips head on it, the phillips screwdriver and some screws. And gloves, of course.
The first job was to remove the old picket and the rusty nails that, once upon a time, were holding it on – without pulling down the whole fence or destroying the rail. Easier said than done especially when the whole fence has been chewed through by termites.
Because the pickets come in only approximate sizes, and because I was only repairing the fence, not building a whole new one, I made sure to check that the pickets were actually going to fit in the gap. I found that they often didn’t. Ideally one would take out both the old pickets to check the new ones both fitted… however, next door has a dog, and it would easily have got through the hole if I’d taken both out at once!
Then I cut my pickets to length.
Because I couldn’t take out both pickets at the same time (because of the dog), the next process took a little longer – on the other parts of the fence I was able to do multiple panels at each of the steps below.
The next step was to drill some holes for the screws. I got a drill bit that was slightly smaller than the screw, balanced the picket in its place, and drilled four holes – two at the top and two at the bottom, level with the nails/screws on the other panels. The drill went through the picket into the rail.
Then I switched to the countersink bit so that I could make a dent for the screw heads.
Then the final step was to get the picket screwed into place. I found that getting the screws started in the holes with the screwdriver was helpful.
Then it was time to look at the second picket (to the left of the one I just put up). I pulled it off and it pretty much disintegrated in a shower of termite droppings. Unfortunately, I then found the new picket I had selected was a hair too wide to fit in the gap. None of my remaining stash were any thinner, so there was nothing for it but to trim it longways. It was a little tedious to saw by hand but not impossible.
I repeated the procedure above, to get the finished result below. The next job (for another time) will be painting it.