Showing posts from November, 2014

Fried gray matter

"Towanda!" - the movie Fried Green Tomatoes Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, but it's just another normal day in Norway. I actually spent the entire day working on Draft 2 of my manuscript, and by the time I finally got the updated version sent off, I was fried. Toasted. Brain-dead. I personally think Draft 2 is much better than its predecessor, and that is entirely to the credit of my co-authors. I got very constructive comments from them, and even though I had to completely re-do the discussion section of my manuscript, it was worth it. The study took a pretty darn big step forward, and I have high hopes that it will get accepted to a good journal. There's still one, maybe more rounds of editing to be done before I can submit the manuscript for publication. For now, I just need to step away because I have been staring at my computer screen far too long for my own good. It's time to bike home, to be grateful for my life and my incredible job and

The apprentice

Science is one of very few fields in which a true apprenticeship program survives. If you don't believe me, think about it: graduate students undertake both practical and theoretical training under the direct mentorship of a master. We earn a little money but are not allowed true independence until we graduate. Sometimes, we even work alone late at night and end up making broomsticks dance. We are apprentices in every sense of the word. Recently, Andrew has been having me help him prepare for a research cruise. I had never worked with the specialized equipment we'll be using at sea, so he's teaching me how to care for it and use it - better now than later on the ship. An onlooker wouldn't think I'm actually doing much - just carrying heavy black cases between IRIS buildings or listening quietly while Andrew explains something. In reality, I'm absorbing everything. I'm learning how to use the equipment in a specific sense but also learning how to prepare


Norway is an incredibly expensive country to live in, so Norwegians usually do their major shopping trips in other countries. Those who live in Oslo hop the border to Sweden, but border-hopping is a bit more of a challenge when you live on Norway's western coast. A few of my housemates puddle-jumped instead to Copenhagen for a weekend shopping/sightseeing trip, and I decided to tag along. My new epic winter boots. Copenhagen is well-known for its vintage clothing stores, and we hit up more than just a few. I think "antique shop" may actually be a more appropriate term, since the stores we entered had everything from lamps to coats to dishes for sale. They were all set up pretty much the same way, with housewares in the front and racks of outdated fashions in the back. The items for sale were all of good quality but just old enough to give the stores a distinct scent. I had been on the look-out for a good pair of winter boots, and I found the perfect pair in a seco


Do you remember the first draft of a manuscript that I finished just before leaving for Germany? Well, I got some comments back from my co-authors and have started working on Draft 2. The comments I received were incredibly constructive and will help improve the paper. I'm not sure if this paper is better than ones I've written before or if I'm just getting a thicker skin, but my co-authors this time weren't nearly as critical as I expected. I've realized over the past few years that I need to see paper drafts as predecessors to the end product, rather than seeing later drafts as just altered, sometimes mutilated versions of previous drafts. That's a subtle but important reversal in thinking: I have to see the final version of the paper as the true, ultimate version rather than treating the first draft this way. I have to treat all preceding drafts as mere stepping stones. It's so easy to get bogged down by criticism, even if it's constructive, so I fi


Well, friends, after time-traveling back to 2014, I am once again in the land of smoked salmon and patterned sweaters. I find myself surprisingly relieved to be back. You know, I realized I'm learning to recognize Norwegians in a crowd. Just as Americans wear North Face and Germans wear Jack Wolfskin, anybody found with a Helly Hansen jacket in public is probably Norwegian. My Lutefisk dinner I got caught up on my work at IRIS yesterday and then headed out for a special dinner with my housemates in the evening. Jonathan, the same guy who had the idea to eat sheep head (Smalahove) in Voss, suggested we go out for Lutefisk. Now, Lutefisk is of course another traditional Norwegian dish, but it's not nearly as disconcerting as Smalahove. It's just plain old cod. The fish is soaked in cold water and a basic solution called lye for about two weeks. The caustic solution causes the fish fillet to lose much of its protein content and take on a gel-like consistency. After being

Freunde: Part 5

Corinna and I Before leaving Germany, I took the train to Kiel and visited my friend, Corinna. She and I met a year ago in Oregon, when Corinna visited my institute there. She spent a month with us learning how to raise deep-sea larvae in captivity. Corinna is incredibly thoughtful, and she often sends me packages of my favorite German chocolate. (In case any of you are wondering, Ritter Sport Nougat is the best chocolate in the entire world.) I send Corinna American peanut butter back, because she's the only German I know - and possibly the only German alive - who is addicted to peanut butter. It was really great to see Corinna again. She showed me her institute, her deep-sea culture room, her favorite restaurant. We spent a good amount of time just walking around Kiel and talking about life. She's a really neat person, and I was glad I got to spend some time with her. Well, friends, in the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that." I

Freunde: Part 4

On Saturday, I had lunch with a fantastic woman that I affectionately call my "adopted German grandmother." Petra and I met through my church in Bremerhaven because we played music together for one of the Christmas church services. I remember when I first met her at the rehearsal, she was very formal and referred to me as "Sie," the formal word for "you." By the end of an hour, though, she had decided we could "dutz" each other and re-introduced herself by her first name. Since then we've always used the familiar "du," and sometimes she'll even call me "Enkel," the German word for "grandchild." Petra and I When I lived in Bremerhaven, Petra would invite me to dinner, and we'd spend the evening drinking tea and talking about our adventures. We watched Avatar together and snacked on candied ginger. We spent New Year's Eve 2011 watching fireworks over the Weser River from her 14th-floor apartment.

Freunde: Part 3

Vanessa, Catharina, and I On Thursday, I met up with Vanessa and Catharina. The two of them were regular students in my Jazz-Modern and West African dance classes in Bremerhaven. They've both kept up with me on Facebook and comment regularly on what I post there. It was neat to see what they've done since - graduated, moved, gotten married - and share with them my adventures. Miriam and I I also hung out with Miriam on Thursday and Friday. Miriam and I got to know each other at the AWI because she had a year-long internship the same year I worked there. She's now doing her Bachelor studies at the University of Bremen but has stayed in contact with the AWI. Miriam is a very enthusiastic person, and I love her animated expressions. We walked around downtown Bremen and had a nice dinner; then the next day, she showed me her campus at the University of Bremen. It was really great to see her again. The Wunschkirche Group! Not everyone was able to make it, but I was

Freunde: Part 2

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I got to hang out with my friend, Theresa, and her boyfriend, Juan. Theresa was even nice enough to let me stay at her place this week. She and I actually met on a bus, which is very unusual for northern Germany. People here usually don't strike up conversations with strangers, but Theresa is not your stereotypical north German. She's very open and loves to travel. In fact, she probably undestood better than anyone what it was like for me to live in Germany because when we met, she had just returned from two years as an au pair in the United States. Raclette feast with Theresa and Juan. Theresa and I spent a lot of evenings together when I lived in Bremerhaven. I would stop by her house after dance class, and we'd have dinner and watch Gilmore Girls . We kept in touch after I left, and she actually met up with me in Stockholm last summer while I was on vacation with my aunt. Juan is from Colombia and belongs with me in the Gallery of People


"Kirstin, you know more people in Bremerhaven than someone who has lived here for 10 years." - Christiane Johanssen, translation mine "Freunde" is German for "Friends." I've met up with several friends this week in various combinations, and I'd like to tell you about each of them. This is actually my favorite part of being a traveling scientist: I get to meet interesting people all over the world. Natalia, Alexandra, and me On Monday night, I had dinner with Natalia and Alexandra. They're both studying at the Hochschule Bremerhaven, and we met because the Hochschule paired me and Natalia together through a mentorship program for international students. I was her "Sch ü tzling" (literal translation: "Thing to be protected"). Natalia and Alexandra are both Russians of German heritage who were born in Kazhakstan. Cool, right? Their families returned to their ancestral land (Germany) when both girls were quite young, so

Custom-made suit

As I stepped out of the train station, I switched into autopilot. I made my way through the thin crowd, crossed the street, and turned right. Of coure I knew exactly where I was. How many times had I walked this exact route? How many times that year did I return to Bremerhaven after an adventure, a weekend away, and walk this exact same route? I passed my gym, the university, my bank, the Kennedy Bridge. If you had approached me on the street and told me I was a 24-year-old Ph.D. student, I would have laughed in your face. For that moment, I was 21. I was a recent college graduate with a Fulbright grant to my name and the world laid out before me. It's actually surprising me how easily I've slid back into Bremerhaven. Everything is right where I left it. It feels almost like my life here is a custom-made suit hanging in my closet, and all I had to do was show up and put it back on. I stopped by the AWI briefly on Monday before meeting friends for dinner, and then came bac


I love trains. You don’t have to disrobe at a security checkpoint; you can take as much luggage as you can carry; you get to see beautiful landscapes, and you can spread out onto the seat next to you because there’s usually nobody there. Ok, if you understand German, I recommend you check out the Wise Guys song “Deutsche Bahn” for a bit of perspective, but I still insist it’s the best way to travel. I would go everywhere by train if I could. I started this morning by saying goodbye to Stefanie at the train station in Utrecht. That girl is a gem. The ride to Bremerhaven is about 5 hours, and I had to change trains twice. To be honest, it made me happy when we crossed the border and the announcements were made in German instead of Dutch. I can understand a good fraction of Dutch words, but there’s nothing like getting every single syllable in a language you understand. It’s like somebody flipped a switch and made everything suddenly fit in my brain. You see, traveling to Germany

House of Orange

My favorite color is orange, and it has been for years. My suitcases are orange; my backpack is orange; and most of my clothes feature the glorious color in one form or another. For this reason alone, I must give bonus points to the Dutch for selecting orange as their national color. I used to think the Dutch chose orange only to set themselves apart from every other country with a red, white, and blue flag, but Stefanie explained that the Dutch royal family is also called the "Order of the House of Orange." Dude, trust me, if I ever by some miracle happen to rule my own country, I will plagiarize the Dutch and refer to my family as the House of Orange. How awesome will that be? The most-photographed view in Utrecht. Today, Stefanie and I started out with a walk through downtown Utrecht. She showed me her favorite cafe; she took me down an extremely narrow street ("typical Dutch"); she showed me the most-photographed view in Utrecht. Utrecht is a pretty intern

As if no time had passed at all

I'll start this post out with a lovely little fact of geography: Norway is a lot closer to Germany than the U.S. is! I've shared with you before that I lived in Germany for about a year in 2011-2012, so while I'm in Europe, I decided to hop over and visit. I got clearance from Andrew to be gone for a whole week, and I'll spend that time meeting with colleagues and visiting friends. I actually started by flying to Amsterdam for the weekend to see a dear friend. Stefanie and I first met on the icebreaker Polarstern in 2011, during my first research cruise ever. We spent a lot of time together in Bremerhaven after the cruise because we met every Sunday afternoon to cook together. Stefanie brought me a bouquet of orange flowers at the airport! Shortly after I left Bremerhaven, Stefanie did too, and she's now doing her Ph.D. at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. When I landed in Amsterdam, she met me at the airport with a bouquet of orange flowers and

Draft 1

It's finished. It's finally finished. I can't believe I made it. The image analysis that I've been working on with Andrew - the one that he gave me the data for when first met 2 years ago - it's done. It's all there. Draft 1. Now, draft 1 is obviously nowhere close to the final product. This manuscript is still going to have to be edited by my co-authors. Then it's going to endure peer review once we submit it to a journal. Maybe it will be torn apart and rejected; maybe it will be accepted. It will continue to be shaped, molded, and revised, but still, draft 1 is a big step. I feel like the air around me just got a little lighter, but that might just be because I'm sitting up straight. I've spent the better part of the last two weeks staring intensely at my computer screen in various postures. Man, I need to do some yoga. Draft 1 is done. Thank. Goodness.


The last thing I did in Oslo was attend a concert with Ingeborg as part of the Oslo World Music Festival. Actually, this concert was the whole reason for going to Oslo in the first place. The artist was one of Ingeborg's favorites, Khaled, whom she described as "the Bruce Springsteen of the Arabic world." Khaled is from Algeria, and I'm pretty sure the entire Algerian population of Oslo showed up to this concert. Some even brought Algerian flags and soccer jerseys to wave in the air. The concert hall had a wide, open floor packed with people, plus two balconies. I thought it was a decently large venue, though I'm sure it's nothing compared to where Khaled is used to performing. He's been singing since his twenties and is now 54. He stood in the middle of the stage, surrounded by a band of 5 or 6, and moved around way more than I expected for his age. Khaled's music is the kind that makes you want to move. I found myself unconsciously swaying my hip

Walk the line

"There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." - Oscar Levant A model of the Kon-Tiki raft. Photographed by me at the Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, 2014. Next door to the Fram Museum is the Kon-Tiki Museum, which commemorates a famous expedition across the Pacific Ocean. Thor Heyerdahl was working as a zoologist in Polynesia when he met a Polynesian chief and learned the legend of Kon-Tiki. According to the legend, the chief's ancestor, named Kon-Tiki, had arrived in the South Pacific on a raft from the east - from South America. Prevailing theory at the time (and also since) was that the ancestors of modern Polynesians came from southeast Asia. Thus, Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that it was possible to cross the ocean from South America to Polynesia on a balsa wood raft such as the legendary Kon-Tiki would have used. If you read my previous post, you'll see I was deeply impressed by modern explorers such as Nansen and Amundsen a

Giants with shoulders

"I've learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou While in Oslo for the weekend with Ingeborg, I made a point of visiting some museums. I've already told you about the Munch Museum. The following day, I headed to the Fram and Kon-Tiki Museums, both located at what is called Bygdøynes, a peninsula west of the city center. Me aboard the Fram . Photographed by me at the Fram Museum, Oslo, 2014. The  Fram  is a polar research vessel which was used in three famous expeditions: first, it was captained by Fridtjof Nansen and allowed to freeze up in sea-ice with the hopes of finding the North Pole; second, it was used to explore around Greenland; and third, it transported Amundsen and his crew to Antarctica for their legendary race to the South Pole. I find it astounding that this ship is still intact. I didn't realize before I got there, but the Fram Museum

True innovation

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." - Aristotle We stepped from the bright lobby into the dimly-lit auditorium. Why are there couches on the stage? I thought to myself. I was surrounded by a group of Norwegian women, all of whom seemed to know what they were doing more than I did, so I followed them down to the stage. Beside me, a dreadlocked, bearded 20-something in a vintage sweater settled emphatically into the cushions. Alright, then, I thought,  couch concert it is.  As it turns out, there were also yoga mats available for those who wished to lay on the floor. The audience surrounded the performers on all sides, and the performing duo faced each other as they played. It was quite a unique combination of instruments - violin and saxophone, plus a brass bowl hit with a mallet, a finger harp from Ethiopia, and plenty of singing. You're probably imagining something abstract, grotesque, and tribal r


"The true artist only ever depicts himself." - the movie Stealing Beauty Ingeborg and I went to see the Munch Museum in Oslo. If you're not familiar with Edvard Munch's name, I'm sure you've seen his most famous work, The Scream, or one of countless allusions to the painting. The central figure, with his mouth agape and hands on the side of his face, has become unbelievably ingrained in popular culture.   I remember learning in Modern Art class in college that the intense agony Munch expressed through The Scream was influenced by the long hours of darkness during a Scandinavian winter. We were told that darkness leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder, cultural pessimism, and dark, tortured, art. While I have no trouble accepting this view, I wondered if any Scandinavian artist was ever inspired by the long hours of light in the summer. There's just as much light in Scandinavia as anywhere else in the world; it's just unevenly distributed thr

Seen around town

The Norwegian Royal Palace in Oslo The sight-seeing part of my weekend began with a walk from Ingeborg's mom's apartment to the royal palace. We stopped in at various shops to look around, then headed to Slottsparken (Palace Park). When we approached the royal palace, Ingeborg had to point it out to me because I otherwise wouldn't have recognized it as a house of royalty. It was quite an unassuming building - plain, even - and it occurred to me that I've seen museums more conspicuous and lavishly decorated. Ingeborg explained that since Norway was ruled by Denmark for so many years and afterwards unified with Sweden, the royal family of Norway is not nearly as rich as some other monarchies. Today, they live so much like normal people, she said, that she didn't see a real point in maintaining the monarchy. I have to admit that I agree. Henrik Ibsen's signature outside the Ibsen Museum in Oslo Later in the day, we passed the Ibsen Museum, located in t


One of the things that traveling abroad has changed about me is that I am now very comfortable being a guest. It started when I lived in Germany, because I was constantly being invited to friends' homes. In fact, part of my strategy to see the country was making friends with people who had grown up in interesting places and then hoping they would invite me to their hometown. The plan worked splendidly. I think the key to being a good guest is openness. I've gradually become comfortable in a variety of arrangements, whether I'm sleeping on the floor or a queen bed in the guest room. There's a delicate balance to be found whereby I accept my hosts' offers without being greedy, participate in a conversation without being either domineering or too shy, and remain comfortably myself while taking part in the lives of those around me. It would be inaccurate to say I always find this balance, but I'm definitely much closer than I was in 2011. This weekend, my friend