Monday, March 29, 2010

Blue toenails

Those of you who play soccer or do a lot of running likely have experienced a blue toenail or two. You know what I mean- your toenail turns dark blue and thick, and stays like that for months until it eventually falls off, revealing a new, flimsy nail underneath. Back when I was playing on two soccer teams and running marathons (oh, the salad days), I typically had at least two blue toenails at any given time, to the point where I was too ashamed to get a pedicure because I didn't want to expose anyone else to my Halloween feet. I also once dropped a padlock on my toe, and even though it was years ago, the nail has never fully recovered- it's still thicker than normal and light blue at the base. If I'm ever captured by enemy forces and tortured, I hope that they'd rip out my toenails (as opposed to waterboarding or what have you) because, hey, they could use a fresh start.
Little did I know that there was a home remedy to blue toenails, until Eri pointed me to this thread on a triathelete blog. After giving it a read, I think I'm quite happy to leave my remaining blue toenail in peace.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Might as well face it, I'm addicted to crumpets

In the bakery section at the local grocery store, I noticed an unusual item that resembled a cross between a pancake and an English muffin. They came in stacks of six wrapped in plastic and, to be honest, looked kind of disgusting, like spongy round breads. The packaging didn’t help, either, as it gave them a Wonder Bread processed type aura and made me question how long they had been sitting there on the shelf. Nevertheless, I was curious, as these items are found in every grocery store and seem to be quite popular. I asked around and soon learned their identity: crumpets. And then I tried them in the traditional manner: toasted and loaded with butter (or margarine, in my case). Holy crap, these little fuckers are tasty! They’re like pancakes with nooks and crannies. Mmm…their texture is a perfect blend of soft squishiness and when you spread butter on them it melts down into the spongy holes in the best possible manner. Granted, they probably aren’t the healthiest way to start your day, and since my first crumpet, I’ve been on something of a bender. Crumpets may in fact be the best thing since sliced bread. Lesson learned: never judge a bakery item by its packaging.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Two Australian news articles emailed to me over the past week:

1. I am big in Australia is an entertaining article about how musical stars from decades past continue to perform in Australia. I do object with the insinuation that George Michael is a has-been- c'mon now, his shit is timeless! A lot of modern bands tour here as well, but they charge a lot more for tickets than they do in the states, particularly in Boston where I've been spoiled by the ability to see great bands play at small, inexpensive venues. Wilco and the Pixies were both recently in Melbourne, but I didn't quite get my act together in time to organize tickets (admittedly I wasn't super motivated to shell out $80 to see groups who I've already seen numerous times). I did splurge for Vampire Weekend in a few weeks and I am very very excited for that one.

2. Australian jogger mauled by kangaroo. I haven't come across any roos yet on my runs through the city, so I don't think I have anything to worry about. I did see a rat once, though. Just like home!

And a bonus link:
Here's a fun little picture blog: My Parents Were Awesome. I should dig up some old photos of Mo and Pat, but based upon the pictures I came across while living at my grandmother's old house, Mom-mom sets the family standard for awesomeness.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This little piggy went to market

Groceries are a lot more expensive in Australia...unless you buy them at an actual market rather than a supermarket. Luckily for me, the largest market in Melbourne, Queen Victoria Market, is located about halfway between my workplace and apartment. I arrived in Melbourne in time to catch the last of the summer night market, which basically exists to give people an excuse to drink sangria outdoors, a mission I fully support. I returned last Saturday morning to catch the market in its more typical state- butchers and fishmongers (love that word, it sounds so Olden Tymes) hollering out their specials, and fruits and vegetable stands as far as the eye can see. They even sell live animals, although I suspect that people aren't buying ducklings as pets. I passed on the live poultry but did pick up some eggplants to make this. Yummy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A month in Melbourne

I realized today that I've been in Melbourne for exactly a month, so I thought it would be a good time to answer all those "so, what's it like?" questions.

Maybe I'm still in the honeymoon phase, but so far, everything's great. I like the city, like the job, like my flatmate, love my apartment and the neighborhood, love riding my bike, and I've made a few friends and joined a soccer team. I think after finally emerging from a soul-crushing six year stint in graduate school, I felt the need to press the big ole reset button on my life, and a new job in a new place seems to have done the trick. The big and obvious downside is that Australia is so very far away, and the massive time difference does make it seem even further.

So...time for some compare and contrast! Melbourne is a little larger than Boston and definitely has a bit of a chip on its shoulder in regards to Sydney, similar to how many Bostonians feel about New York. People here love good coffee and dress in a very unique style, which has inspired me to ditch the Old Navy grad school duds and pick up some new clothes (um, once I finish paying for the moving costs). For some reason, Americans have the impression that Australians are super friendly. They certainly aren't mean or anything, but they're not, well, Nicaraguan friendly. It's rather nice to live in a foreign country where you aren't noticebaly a forgeiner. Until someone says "How are you going?" (the standard greeting) and you pause and look confused before mumbling "Huh?...Oh! Good! You?" (This happens approximately six times a day.) The driving on the left thing isn't that big of a deal (especially since I haven't driven yet), but this is not the city for Boston-style jaywalking. Cars will not stop for you, and if you get hit, the general attitude seems to be that it's your own damn fault for being in the road.

Although I normally don't blog about anything job related, I know my science friends want to know what the lab is like, so I'll break protocol a bit. Like in the US, research laboratories tend to be very international, and mine is no exception- in addition to Australians and me, my group has members from Malaysia, Singapore, and Germany. The biggest difference is the overall lack of funding here- reagents cost more, and there aren't any big NIH grants to be had, which changes the general tone of the lab. Experiments are planned extremely carefully- it's better to take your time and do something right the first time to minimize costs than rush through to get a quick and dirty result that will need to be repeated. Every order is closely scrutinized, and labs cut costs by racking their own tips and reusing things like weigh boats. In some regards, it's a more thoughtful and less wasteful way of doing science, but on the downside, it would be nice to have more reagents and equipment available. On the plus side, despite the poor funding, academic scientists get paid much better here than they do in the US. It still baffles how labs in the US will spend millions of dollars on equipment and reagents but pay postdocs less than 40K a year (for a full rant, just ask JR). Aside from the funding, the other significant difference in the laboratory environment is that we are located smack dab in the middle of a hospital, and a children's hospital at that. All day long I see kids and their parents headed towards various doctor's appointments- it's poignant reminder that the institute where I work does have the overall goal of improving child health through research.

Okay, that's enough nerd talk for one night. Coming soon- more pics of the apartment and the neighborhood. And lastly, I've come to the realization that I hate Ikea.

Lastly, happy 30th birthday to my little sis!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


With the whole intercontinental move, I didn't pay much attention to this year's Oscars (which may explain my poor performance in Kris' annual contest). However, I enjoyed this New York Times article about Kathryn Bigelow, who won both Best Director and Best Picture for The Hurt Locker. I had no idea she was the first woman ever to win Best Director- really, Hollywood? I also had no idea that she was the director behind the cinematic masterpiece known as Point Break. Rock on, Kathryn Bigelow- you're my kind of lady.

If you're feeling philanthropic, my friend Jess who was in Peace Corps Nicaragua with me started a small non-profit organization called the Asla Foundation that funds scholarships for Nicaraguan students. Many rural communities don't have a local high school, and although the costs associated with commuting to the city to attend high school (bus fare, school fees, uniforms, etc..) may seem small to us, they can be prohibitive for children from farming families. As a result, many young Nicaraguans in small towns end their education in the 6th grade. The Asla Foundation provides scholarships that sponsor students for all five years of high school. You can donate here.

In other news, I saw Shutter Island and it was really bad! Do yourself a favor and skip it. After The Departed, I had such high hopes...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I want to ride my bicycle

Check out my brand new (used) bike! Back in Boston, every spring I would consider buying a bike, and then I just wouldn't get around to it, and then it would be fall again and why buy a bike when you can't ride it all winter? The other obstacle is that, basically, I'm a big scaredy-cat when it comes to riding bikes in the city. Let's just say I don't have the best natural sense of balance, and Boston streets aren't exactly bike friendly. Here in Melbourne, however, bikes are everywhere, and most roads have separate bikes lanes. Plus, there's no snow or ice to worry about, so you can ride your bike year-round. I saw a purple Huffy on eBay that looked promising, but when I went to check it out, I was under the impression that I would be able to buy it on the spot but the girl selling it wanted to continue the bidding and wait 10 days for the online auction to finish. Whatever. Dismayed, I began my walk home and decided to pop into a crazy little junk shop on along the way, and guess what they were selling? Bikes! After checking out the merchandise, I went back later with a friend and ended up buying an old women's road bike from a chatty old (even older than the bike) Italian fellow, who threw a light, lock, and chain (not quite Pee Wee Herman, but close) into the deal. Now all I have to do is get used to riding on the left and avoiding tram tracks. Easy peasy, right?

My other purchase of the day (besides a helmet- safety first, people.) was a set of three teeny tiny cacti from an art market. I love them.

After an enjoyable day in the neighborhood, I cooked up some salmon for my flatmate Belinda (pictured) and one of her friends, and we drank champagne and watched an embarrassingly girly movie. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Online again!

Praise be! I finally have an internet connection at home. Turns out that it's a pain in the arse to get an internet connection installed here in Melbourne if you don't have an active phone like (which I don't)- two service calls are required, and worst of all, it takes 4-6 weeks to schedule an appointment. After some investigating, I went with another option, one I hadn't seen at all in the US but is very popular here: mobile wireless broadband. Basically, it's a little stick, commonly referred to as a dongle (dirty!) that you plug into a USB port on your laptop to connect to the internet. You buy the device itself through a provider, and then pay to recharge it every so often based upon your usage. I'm testing out my dongle (okay, I really can't handle that term) tonight, and so far, so good, although it is a little bit slow due to the advanced age of my laptop. So the good news is, more blogging and skype! (Hit me up at emd3737 on skype.) And for the bad news, well, you're going to have to listen to me use the term dongle. Repeatedly. Dongle dongle dongle.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

My new apartment

So, after a long and fairly frustrating search, I finally found an apartment and moved in this weekend. And I love it! It's in my favorite neighborhood (or favourite neighbourhood, if you prefer Aussie spellings) in Melbourne: Fitzroy. Close to work, close to downtown, and loaded with restaurants and pubs and cafes and funky shops. My apartment is right around the corner from Brunswick Street, the main drag. The area has a definite hipster vibe to it (skinny jeans and trendy haircuts abound) but doesn't seem annoyingly pretentious. The apartment itself is nice- it's not large but it's relatively new (adios Southie squalor) and does have a balcony and a little sun room. My new flatmate is an Australian named Belinda- we hit it off right away when I stopped by to check out the place, and she offered it to me on the spot. I told her I'd need a couple of days to decide, but ended up texting her about ten minutes after I walked out the door to accept.

I moved in this weekend, amidst the craziest weather Melbourne has seen in a while. And conveniently, today is Labour Day here, so I have an extra day to get myself settled before the workweek begins. Here are a couple of photos of my new hood- Brunsiwck Street, a really neat looking bar that I have yet to try (but I love the faded, tropical look of the building), and a flower shop.

Still no home internet connection, but I hope to get that established this week sometime and will return to my normal posting frequency.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Book Review: Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

When I began reading Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, I wasn't feeling overly enthusiastic because I had recently finished another novel about New York City that also prominently features the twin towers, although in very different capacities. However, despite a slow start, Let The Great World Spin is a quite different, and in my opinion, far superior novel, to Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. It is set in 1974, back when New York City was gritty and violent and untamed, and on this particular day, a French acrobat walked on a tightrope between the twin towers, stunning onlookers and the authorities. A series of events that occur on this single day string together an ever-increasing number of the city's inhabitants- an Irish priest, immigrants, prostitutes, artists, judges, and Park Street wives. The beauty of the book is the characters themselves; author Colum McCann presents them without judgement and makes them come alive. The biggest complaint I had about Netherland is that everything seemed too cold and distant, and I was happy to find the opposite to be true in Let The Great World Spin- you care about the characters because they are so vivid, so real. I thought it was great and deserving of the 2009 National Book Award for fiction. Here's the New York Times review.