It’s crazy how fast time flies and how things progress.

Honestly, I pay for this domain name. I need to stop abandoning it for long stretches. Also, if I keep it alive this year it’ll be a 5 year old blog. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a plant alive that long.

So. Anyway.

When last we spoke, it was the beginning of a long, dry, hot summer in the UK. We didn’t see rain here in Essex for over 50 days. It normally rains here at least once a week if that gives you an idea of how crazy it was. Ah, but ignoring the parched earth it was glorious. We roamed the local country park a few times both with and without picnics. We went to Mersea Island and played on the beach. We even accidentally came at high tide and had to drive through the sea a little bit. Don’t worry, the Mini did fabulously.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this summer was the need to leave the windows open as much as possible, especially at night to try and drop the temperature in our bedroom from 29º down to 25º (if we were lucky). During the daytime we mostly had to chase flies and the occasional rogue wasp out of the living room because of this, but then the Flying Ant Day Accident occurred.

Flying Ant Day is a strange British phenomena. Normally, these pavement ants do not have wings and are happy to live their lives underground. However, there is a point in the summer that they reach breeding season and all seem to grow wings and fly en masse. (Apparently it’s not just a single day and happens across the UK all summer long, but it’s still an impressive swarm when it happens near you.) This type of swarm is like midges or gnats, but much larger. They don’t really do anything to you other than get in your face, but in a swarm it’s awful.

HOWEVER, they do seem to like the light, very much like moths. And we have a streetlight outside of our bedroom window. “Well that’s a bit creepy to watch, but surely no harm right?” you say to me. Oh but wait. One of us accidentally left the bedroom light on when we’d gone up to open the windows and then shut the bedroom door so the cat couldn’t get out of the house.

Perfect. Storm.

M was still having a glass of water and otherwise getting ready for bed downstairs whilst I came upstairs to sort out my clothing for work the next morning, only to be confronted with something that looked like a scene out of a horror film. HUNDREDS OF FLYING ANTS ALL OVER THE ROOM. They were in the windowsill, the curtains, the lampshade, the bedding, the laundry, and all over the floor. They were crawling the walls and ceiling. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the horror of it.

My initial reaction was just to stare at them and then scream for M to bring up the fly spray. (Why I thought a can of fly spray would fix this I don’t know.) I stood, riveted in the doorway, somehow thinking that if I took my eyes off of the swarm that they’d all come down the stairs and into the rest of the house. Thankfully, M came up and had more common sense in how to deal with the scene.

Long story short, M emptied an entire can of Raid in our room and half filled a Dyson vacuum with flying ants before we went to bed two hours later, sleeping in the guest bedroom. Everything in the room that could be washed was washed, including the bedding that I had just changed that afternoon. 😥

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Plagues of ants and drought aside, nature decided to just get a bit rude in general. The heat spiked to new and exciting levels, and the train network is not currently equipped to deal with weather so extreme. This had happened last year and there was about a week that it was nigh on impossible to get on a train into or from London.

This year they did try to do some things to help with the heat. A lot of the rails in the stations had their sides painted white in an effort to drop the heat whilst the trains were at the platforms and prevent the tracks from buckling and warping. However, when the weather stations starting predicting a heat spike so intense that it could make new records, the train companies just decided “sod it” and preemptively cancelled trains at about 9:30 the night before. Awesome, right? At one point they could only run a train an hour from Colchester to London, and I’m amazed those trains didn’t get stopped more from overcrowding and overheating inside of them. It was insanity.

Supposedly, Greater Anglia is getting new trains out in 2020 and they’ll all come equipped with blessed air conditioning. Why do I feel like the seats are going to be even smaller though?

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When I was able to get into work, I was able to work on my last project as staff at the NHM. We’ve already processed all the Toxodon fossils that Darwin sent back from South America on his Beagle journey and posted them online, but the chance came to reunite two portions of a Giant Ground Sloth skull that haven’t been together since Darwin cut them into two pieces. Not only did I get to witness the event, but I got to scan said pieces! It was all very cool, and a fitting way to end my work.

You see, I had applied and been accepted to do a PhD at UCL whilst working alongside the NHM. But we’ll get back to that later!

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FINALLY, we got rain in Essex again. It took weeks for the grass to go back to green and the cracks in the earth to heal, but it was amazing to have it back. We joked that my mother in law is apparently a water spirit, as every time she comes to Essex it rains. If we’d have known, we’d have had them over much sooner!

Towards the end of the summer it was finally beginning to cool down, and the Heritage Open Days EU project kicked off, opening access to historical places that are either usually closed to the public or paid entry only. Most everyone went to the castle, but I had a list of some of the more obscure and usually closed buildings that I desperately wanted to see, and a husband with an infinite sense of patience for my love of all things old.

We were only able to do one of the open days, but in that day we went up and down Colchester and managed to see the inside of the Anglo-Saxon church (the oldest in town), the facade that houses the archaeological discovery of a Roman theatre (you can easily walk by it), the interior and the view from the upper floor of the old abbey gate (the only thing still standing of the abbey), and most of the structure of Tymperleys, home to William Gilberd, scientist and physician to Elizabeth I (and now a place with most excellent scones).

Autumn began to creep in with cooler weather, and with it came the time to go back to school again. I could have sworn I was never going to do a PhD, but here I am. In fairness, my future predictions have been pretty wildly off the mark so far, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Before the official start of term, all of us in the SEAHA program (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) convened in a village outside of Brighton for an induction into the way of things, and a chance to get to know and bond with our fellow students. I am so, so glad they did this for us, and not just because the hotel was amazing. Getting to know everyone in advance really helped make the first few weeks much easier.

One can’t stay in opulent hotels forever, and after the weekend retreat we were ready to begin lectures. Of course, this is SEAHA and we are anything but standard, so they included a trip to Stonehenge halfway through the first module, so we could write up a presentation in the second half about what we would do to modify the current A303 Stonehenge tunnel plans to make them better, using our mixture of experiences. It was more of a challenge than expected, but we ended up with new friends out of the experience and I can now tell you far more about the proposed tunnel project than I ever thought I could.

With autumn also came the harvest season, and this year I was feeling crafty. There are shedloads of sloe berries and growing on the side of a quiet road near the fields I jog past, and eventually I got up the idea to go harvest them and attempt a batch of sloe gin. You aren’t supposed to pick them until after the first frost, but the hot summer had rather killed a fair few of them, so I just picked them and froze them in the freezer at home to make up for it.

They were then added into a jar with obscene amounts of sugar, and of course, some gin. We left them to infuse until just before Christmas, then strained and decanted them out. Some have been given as little Christmas trinkets, with the firm advice that they’ll be better if they’re left until about mid-January to drink. I for one am excited to try ours out, perhaps mixed in with some prosecco, or even by making a proper sloe gin fizz!

As it does every year, my birthday snuck up on me. This year is the last year of my twenties. M thought it amusing to get a tiny cake and put 29 candles on it, so I brought out the fire extinguisher just in case. (Did you know you can buy fire extinguishers and fire blankets on Amazon Prime? Best late night purchase M’s made in some time!)

I didn’t really have any grand goals to achieve by the end of this year, and I’m still not sure what I want to do for my 30th birthday party. On one end, I could have a bunch of people around and make a big do of it, or it could just be the two of us on an adventure somewhere. I should probably sort it out before springtime.

Regardless, this birthday was a fabulous birthday, with cake, a new coat I’d been lusting after, and an evening out in the lovely medieval section of Colchester. 🙂

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Classes back in swing, birthday survived, and coats brought out of storage, we trundled into the cool autumn air. Except this time, I had friends from the US coming around with me! As is the Great American Tradition when coming to the UK, we managed to traverse across a wide swathe of the country in a little over a week. The two of them even carried on into Wales, but alas, I had to get some work done for the module. We did try to give them a weird and wonderful ride through bits of the country that not everyone goes to see on a typical tourist tour, but some things you’ve just got to see – like Stonehenge!

It’s always so exciting when people come to the UK, whether or not they’re coming to say hello. Being on an hour’s ride into London means it’s usually easy to catch up with people, schedules permitting. It was hard to part ways, but back to the States they eventually had to go, and the cat finally decided to come out of hiding and take up her roost in the living room again.

Module one was completed with much grumbling and typing, but completed successfully. I’m now at the tail end of module two, which had a bit of a twist to it this time. We had the option to do a basic laboratory procedure in the lecture hall, or we could liaise with our supervisors and do one elsewhere that might further relate towards the PhD. Needing to learn how to run an SEM and process photogrammetric data anyway, I opted to go back to the NHM. Over the course of two weeks I have learned how to dehydrate a specimen, coat it for SEM, run the basics of an SEM, and process photogrammetric images! It all sounds rather fancy for staring at a fly face for two weeks. I’m currently tweaking the write up of my experiment, and it goes in for submission next Monday. Looking forward to what the next module will hold!

In between modules, M and I left the country again. My parents were going to see one of our exchange students and her family, and they were kind enough to invite us to stay at their house as well. We took them up on their generous offer and ended up with an absolutely unique experience of the Netherlands that one could only get from a local, and got to see my parents! I would definitely like to go back to the Netherlands, but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer. Those winds coming off of the ocean have nowhere to go but straight into your bones.

Whilst there, we took a train over for a day trip into Germany as my mom had never been. It’s fascinating to see the sharp difference between the Netherlands and Germany, seemingly just across the border. We’d hoped to see the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, but arrived a little too early. It wasn’t a lost trip though, as we got to see the famous Rhine River and a painstakingly redone Altstadt, built back up after the war.

Christmas showed up soon afterwards in a big way. When not covering our house in tinsel and Christmas cards, we were out and about and enjoying the festive spirit of it all. Got the chance to pop into Paycocke’s House and the Grange Barn out in Coggeshall for their special Christmas hours. It really did feel like going back into Tudor Christmastime, and I only wish I hadn’t gone by myself as it seemed like it’s really meant for company to come along.

Getting closer to Christmas, we managed a long weekend journey up to York to catch up with our Northern friends. I probably should have known better than to go into the Christmas Markets in York, but we braved the crowds and found some fabulous little trinkets and all kinds of snacks! Even managed to score a table with seats in The Three Tuns at peak pub hour in the rain, of which I was far too proud. Finally, late into the evening, we saw the Shambles quiet and then took ourselves back to the AirBNB for the night.

And then before we knew it, the last few weeks had passed and it was Christmas! We went up to Manchester to celebrate at M’s big sister’s new home. It’s a gorgeous new build with a massive back garden. Their days of househunting really paid off. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of it, as I appear to have caught food poisoning off something just before we arrived. Thankfully the sickbed was comfortable and M made sure to keep a steady supply of Sprite, so it could have been far worse. Other than that hiccup, it was really good to see everyone, especially our ever growing nephew of whom nobody can rival in Marvel knowledge. Honestly, I’d call that kid first on any game show.

We got back home for New Year’s, had a quiet night of it, and then slowly dragged ourselves back into the real world.

So here we are, a lightning trip into the present. Now that I’m not on the trains for 4 hours every day, I should hopefully be a bit better about popping in every now and then. Until we see each other next, hope you’re having a good one. 🙂

 

— Kate

New Year, but not new resolutions as such.

I think I did New Year Resolutions like twice when I was a teenager and they always fail by March at the latest. Writing down something major to change and then just expecting to stick to it through the year is a hilarious and depressing way to start a year. Heck, I’ll be struggling to remember it’s 2018 and not 2017 until April. Why would I expect major life changes to stick so easily?

Instead dear readers, I’ve decided to do a year of 30(ish) day challenges. If I can make it through a month and it sticks, awesome. If not, it’s only 30 days, and that’s something worthwhile in itself. I won’t lie, I’ve done some of these challenges because I wanted to fit it neatly into this blog. Also, I realised a lot of the original challenges were weight and diet related and it looked a bit bleak. Whilst weight is a big issue for me, I don’t want it to take over my life for a year!

There will be some things that overlap and some overlying things that runneth over. For starters, actually sticking to my calorie target for bare minimum weight loss will be in the background this year, particularly in this first quarter of the year, which I have termed the Diet Quarter. Speaking of which, the other three quarters have been named as well – the Willpower Quarter, the Mental Health Quarter, and the Exercise Quarter. Why is exercise at the end of the year you ask? Well for one, M would graciously let me attempt all the cooking over Christmas, but we all know that would end poorly. Secondly, enjoying nature for 30 minutes is much more pleasant when you aren’t cold and being rained on. Also, I’ve got grand ambitions for starting jump rope as an overlying thing that will runneth over throughout.

So here below is the approximate plan for the year:

The Diet Quarter

 

January

A traditional Dry January, with some provisos. Our wedding anniversary is right in the middle of the month, and I want to celebrate it with something more than Diet Coke. I do not want to hear about your mocktail ideas instead. Just let me have this. It won’t be as strict as my Sober October challenge was, as I’m not raising money in my name. If you feel so inclined, I’ll leave a link for one off donations to the UK eating disorder charity Beat throughout the first three months as part of the Diet Quarter. Be healthy in what you do and all that, yeah?

February

No snacks. Sounds easy, will likely be very hard. Having tracked my food throughout the year, I know full well that snacks are the main reason I am not back at the weight I want to be. Mercifully a 28 day challenge, but hoping this one will stick.

March

Mindful eating and all that jazz. Mostly just retraining myself to eat small, slow bites and not eat meals like a starving animal. I’m halfway tempted to buy one of those forks that vibrates if you’re eating too quickly, but may just eat everything with tiny cutlery for children over the first fortnight. That would at least bring humour into the situation. This is also a good challenge to gear myself up with for the next quarter as well.

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Sweet dreams are made of this.

The Willpower Quarter

April

The no-money month. Okay, okay. Obviously some money will be spent, but on things that absolutely have to be had – food, toiletries, train tickets – those kinds of things. Again, looking back over bank statements over the last year, I am guilty of buying snacks at the station, ordering takeaways when we had food we could make, and buying random toys and clothes under retail therapy that while used didn’t need to be bought. It would be really nice to be able to take all that money saved and throw it at some debt.

May

No mindlessly checking my phone when I’m at home. We all do this, and I think we all know it’s not great (especially around other people). So for the month of May, if I’m at home my phone will be allowed to roam the house with me and I can answer calls and texts, but will have to be left in pre-decided Phone Homes where I can’t readily pick it up and scroll out of boredom/fidgetiness. I married a great guy, and I should be using the limited time in the day to actually see and talk to him, not just show the poor soul the latest internet memes. He’ll just get those while I’m on the train. 😉

June

Rolling into the mental health of the next round will be finding something nice to say about myself every day. Listing general good things about the world is much easier than being kind to myself, and that’s incredibly messed up. So to push myself into a new mindset, let’s use all of this newfound willpower to start thinking nice thoughts.

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The cats of the internet will have to wait.

The Mental Health Quarter

July

Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside in nature. Like proper nature, not just a walk around the block or a stroll from one museum down Exhibition Road and into another. I’m setting down the rule that the 30 minutes have to be walking on something unpaved. I’m debating if listening to podcasts whilst wandering is acceptable. We shall see. Regardless, getting out every day and getting some sun while this country actually sees any is going to be important.

August

Taking over cooking. I should explain. I am physically capable of cooking. I have actually cooked things successfully. I still cook occasionally when M is on night shifts. Generally though, he does the cooking and I’ll help out occasionally and otherwise clean up the leftover mess. It works, and we both like the roles we have. However, everyone always tells me that it’s therapeutic to cook, and that it’s good for the soul and all that. So I thought I’d give it one more go and see if by the end of the month I too have achieved the chef’s nirvana I hear rumour of.

September

Easing out of the mental health months will be a month-long project of writing down the different aspects of my life that I am thankful for. These always start off easy, then get cheesy, then get downright ridiculous before being abandoned somewhere around Day 16 at most. This time, I’d like to finish a full 30 days. It’ll be interesting to see where I end up delving towards the end, and also finding out if there are any themes that emerge.

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See? There’s some greenery.

The Exercise Quarter

October

Actually getting 10,000 steps EVERY DAY for a month. Usually if I’m on a work day, I get all the steps. However, any holidays or weekends are usually atrocious. Right now post-Christmas, my FitBit says I have an average of 5,998 steps per day if that gives you an idea of it. I’d like to add a monetary challenge to this to incentivise myself and make it hurt if I don’t reach it, but I don’t want to give money to some Evil Organisation. Also, if it goes towards something like a gadget for M that would drive me crazy, he’ll likely try to hamper said efforts. I’ll need to think about this one.

November

Stairs only. I will regret this with every fibre of my being with any deep line tube travel. I will definitely regret it with the fact that I currently work on the 5th floor (US 6th floor) of the building. But if this challenge doesn’t fall under exercise, I don’t know what would.

December

Finally, I want to end the year with some extra space in my clothes so I can eat ALL the cheeses. I’ve finally stopped lying to myself and telling myself I’ll run in the winter. Instead, I’ve found a few indoor 30 minutes or less routines. I’ll pick one closer to time and subject myself to it for the month. I may even convince the Significant Otter to join in. Maybe.

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Okay, these stairs could get a pass on grounds of health and safety.

So there we are – game plan for the year laid out. Now to see what madness comes of it, and to see if only taking little steps of 30 days at a time makes it any easier for things to stick. Wish me luck?

 

— Kate

Moving to Chelmsford (Summer 2016)

Because we are gluttons for punishment, only two weeks after returning to England (and returning to the correct mental time zone) we up and moved from Norwich to Chelmsford. Thankfully we had done all the house hunting beforehand, so it was just a case of packing up boxes and sorting out moving day.

But oh, were there boxes to be packed. Boxes and boxes. I don’t know how we keep expanding with each move, but it’s going to have to be slowed before we lose an entire room of the house to storage. It’s always good fun to figure out how you last packed all your breakables before doing it again. One year I’ll photograph it all as it’s done so I remember. Maybe.

Due to time restraints and lack of willing (and wonderful) bodies to help us move, we hired movers for this round. It’s amazing how much faster a move goes when professionals are involved. A bit harrowing to watch though. M and I opted to take the train down to Chelmsford and sort out the rental paperwork whilst they put everything on the truck under the watchful eye of the in-laws. Keys were handed over in much better time than anticipated, so we ended up just kind of sitting on the floor of our new empty rental and waiting for the truck and parentals to arrive.

Everyone and everything arrived unscathed, apart from a flower vase that I had improperly wrapped. Not too shabby all things considered! With much help from the wonder in-laws, we unpacked the basics of the house and even built some flat pack furniture without too much profanity and blood loss. In a bit of a box fortress, but a functional box fortress, we bid adieu to the family and began to settle in for the year.

The excitement for the week (post-moving) came the next day with the arrival and installation of a dishwasher! We’d gone a year without one, and let me tell you what a luxury one is when you don’t have it anymore. Not only the ease of cleaning, but also having a space to put dirty dishes before washing that doesn’t cram your kitchen counters/sink and stink up the place. Let’s be honest – sometimes the night’s dishes don’t always get washed right after dinner. Especially when your husband has the ability to use every pot and pan in the house for even a mere casserole.

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What a sight for sore eyes.

Within a week we had tackled the majority of the boxes and put the rest into banishment in the loft. With the house looking vaguely child-safe, we had company over with their bright eyed little baby. Putting down a blanket in the back garden, this was a brilliant evening for catching up and having a BBQ. There were copious amounts of food as per usual, and no one burnt any hair off their face or arms, so it rates as a general BBQ success.

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Plus it may have just been an excuse to use the awesome new grill as soon as possible.

At the end of the weekend, we felt pretty much at home. We’d decorated some, we’d tidied, and we even met the neighbours. Oh, and the neighbourhood cats.

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I was back on the internet scouring for work, and M was doing well in his new posting for the year. Chelmsford is infinitely walk-able and I took advantage of this with my time off. By then I was (and still am) a firm slave to my FitBit. I have to say, the city doesn’t have the same charming feel of Norwich, but has everything you could need and is only 35 minutes away from London by train, so it’s a fair trade. All in all, life was good. Now to just find work again. I make a terrible housewife. 😉

— Kate

It Lives.

Well, I kind of went and dropped this show for about a year.

Y’know, life happens. And it has been a wonderful life happening.

Rather than try to sum up a year in a long post, I’ll spread it out over posts and maybe eventually even get back into the present. Who knows?

Anyway, suppose I should get busy working on that. Better go brew another cup of tea.

 

–Kate

Why Tea is So Very Magical