NaNoMoFo?

NaNoMoFo?

So, it’s late October. The 30th, to be exact. We are experiencing the first snow of  the season here in Trondheim and… I joined NaNoWriMo.

What am I doing? I don’t have time for something like that! I have all these lab reports to correct, exams to prepare for, sciency stuff to, well, science. Besides, I don’t even have a fully fledged project to start writing on! Yup, I’ve been lax on the writing side of things lately, and there are no shortcoming of excuses.

The thing is, everyone is busy. Emil has been talking about NaNoWriMo for weeks, firing himself up but feeling somewhat lonely as no one he knows has agreed to do the challenge with him. I too, blew him off because I just didn’t see where I would find the time.

Well, as you can see. I’ve had a sudden change of mind. I still have pretty much no outline to speak of, and the project is haphazard at best, but I decided I’d give it a go. If it falls apart it falls apart. Brush yourself off and try again later, right? Besides, this story excites me in a way that My Friend Lucy excited me back when I first started working on that. That has to be a good sign, right?

So this time we’re going ways off into the future. I make no promises, but there will be environmental consequences, the odd bit of chemistry, two crazy old ladies and an adventurous young teenager. Plus, possibly, goats. Or maybe ducks. What’s not to love?

So there is the ultra-short update. Life has been keeping me busy and I just keep piling it on. I suspect one month from now the story will be quite different!

Are you joining too? Here’s where to find me.

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The Uninhabitable Earth

I stumbled across it quite accidentally, this link in the New York Mag. Well researched and well written, there is even a link to an annotated version for those scientifically inclined to check out the sources and investigate the claims.

It’s a bleak future we are getting painted. Large swathes around the equator could become uninhabitable. storms and extreme weather would be commonplace. Pests like malaria would move further north as the climate warms. The acidified seas could start emitting toxic hydrogen sulfide. And it could all happen in the millennial generation’s lifetime.

One part of me is deeply fascinated. Here is just another example of homoeostasis on a massive scale. In the last few centuries we have pushed the planet in one direction, and now, after a grace time where it adjusted to the changes, it is starting to push to get back to centre. There is nothing unnatural about these predictions, in fact, as the article also points out, scientists have actually been holding back their predictions. But no amount of climate change denial is going to make even conservative estimates less real.

I will probably live to see my Norway getting a climate more akin to the UK or the continent. It will get wilder, wetter and less stable. Who knows how climate refugees and increased aggression will destabilise borders and governments. It almost makes me hope that there will be a serious change in how money works, just so the extremely wealthy will be less able to buy their way out as usual. But that is pure wistful thinking. The wealthy and powerful always have a way of slipping out of both responsibility and consequence, even if they have more ability than most to do something about the status quo.

At the same time, I am not hateful or even apathetic about the prospects. What difference would that make? On the contrary, it makes me wish to fight for financial independence and self-sustainability all the sooner. Who knows how efforts to become more resilient will actually get us, but it makes me hopeful and keeps me going. Just yesterday, I discovered a new blog full of similar attitude. Pages like Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Moustace manage to balance happiness, frugality, resource efficiency and climate consciousness all at the same time. I might not be that far along yet, but the hope is there.

This month, we have bought nothing but groceries with the disposable income available after paying fixed expenses like rent and electricity. It was surprisingly easy, and surprisingly relaxing. Our groceries came to less than ~$150 for two adults, and we spent very little time shopping, leaving time for other activities like foraging and hiking nearby. We will probably have to spend a little more this month, as we dug quite heavily into the pantry and will need to replenish stores of flour and legumes. Still, it has been an interesting experiment. Our entertainment has been free as well. In addition to hikes, we’ve found free books for our kindles and listened to audiobooks from LibriVox, as well as arranging two board game nights with friends. I haven’t seen nor been to the city centre is several weeks, and I have certainly not missed it.

I do think that it will be increasingly important to relearn practical skill in the decades to come. Maybe I will be wrong, but at least I am lucky enough to be interested in these things at any rate.

The first article also inspired me to try to outline a story. I don’t know what sort of story it would be, only that it might take place several years from now, in a dystopian place were many of these predictions have come to pass, and my generation are grandparents or even great-grandparents. What would that look like?

Until then, at least the rocket in the windowsill is growing.

The beauty of simple things

The beauty of simple things

We are nearing the end of August already, and my partner and I are enjoying what turned out to be a surprisingly fun and enlightening challenge.

Last Saturday, we did a big shop in one of the larger grocery shops around (which, for us, means that we spent almost 1000 NOK or ~$100). They had 30% on all fruit and veg, so we went a little mad. Fun things like blue Congo potatoes (still haven’t tried them, looking forward to it!) and special varieties of kohlrabi that you used to only be able to get in the north, but whose popularity is making its slow way soutwards, all made their way into our basket.

With all this food in our fridge and pantry, we thought to ourselves “how long can we live on this food?”. So that’s exactly the challenge we set ourselves.

Our original dinner plan was for one week. We passed that point yesterday and we have only been through about half the dishes on our original list so far. The first week, it was all about using up the greens that spoil first. Things like rocket, kale, and some awesome-but-wilty purple carrots we got as a moving in gift. Now we are moving on to the things that store well, like sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, beets and potatoes.

Despite our self-imposed halt on grocery shopping, we have been eating very well. I am a bit of a food hoarder by nature, and I like having a stocked pantry. This means we have a generous amount of things like flour, sugar, lentils, beans, seeds, rolled oats, canned tomatoes and coconut milk to substitute and stretch our fresh vegetables with. It is also berry season, and my partner has been spending almost every lunch away from his writing desk going up into the forest to pick blueberries. We have also found several stray bushes of red currants on the wayside, which made several glasses of jelly and squash (and the drained berries have been turned into red currant chips/leather, which was a surprisingly good snack). The best think so far has probably been the meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) squash, which has a delicious complex flavor and not at all as sweet as most berry-based squashes. The season for meadowsweet is over now, but next year we will make at least twice as much. It is delicious!

In short, we have used up almost all our sugar on our fun adventures, and it has been worth it without a doubt. I don’t normally use a ton of sugar, so it has been a bit of a shock to see bag after bag poured into the large pots of raw juice for preserving, but it helps to think that this will hopefully get us through a big part of the winter without needing much store bought supplies. I don’t have any illusions that it will pull us through all of winter. Partly because I have not preserved on this scale before, and partly because we just moved across countries, and our stock of jars and bottles is small but growing. Come next year, it will be a different game!

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I am no pro, but these babies set beautifully. A bit too much actually, next year I’ll use less apple peel per liter raw juice for the jelly.

But back to our food-based challenge. As you can tell, we have actually enjoyed not allowing ourselves to go to the store. We have even gone to the lengths of satisfying our snack urges by slicing and frying potatoes for chips. An educational reminder of just how much oil goes into that crispy snack. Plus, having to actually get up off your butt and make a snack before you can enjoy it certainly also raises the bar for how much you want it before you actually go through with making it. I have also tested a no-knead (or self-knead) method for bread baking in Miyoko Schinner’s book: The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples, a cookbook that quickly rose to be one of my favorites in my tiny but growing selection of vegan cookbooks. It was ridiculously easy, and the results spoke for themselves!

The one thing that inspired me to write this post, however, was my partner’s delicious carrot and onion pie.

To understand my mini-epiphany, you first have to understand that when we make pie, it is usually an over-the-top thing based on “how many tasty things can we stuff into this one pie shell?”. Less than five different fillings were rare, and while these pies were certainly tasty, this simple version with onion, grated carrots and a generous helping of oregano and some other spices was delicious. It was simple, and the flavors were allowed to speak for themselves, not fight with each other for attention.

In short, this simple pie was much better. We appreciated the ingredients a lot more, and it left a lot more room for many different pies later, where previously, with our “chuck it all in there” approach, all the pies tended to taste much the same.

I have really liked our attitude to food this past week. It really has been a positive “how can we optimize what we have?” versus “we need x to make y, let’s head to the shop.”. We still write an ongoing shopping list whenever we notice that something is running low, and I think it will make for a denser and more efficient shop when we do go.

But for now, we have more than enough fresh veg to last us for at least another week. We can probably stretch that even more too, by making simple staples that require little fresh veg like lentil soup, lentil loaf and more delicious pies. I am decidedly making more bread next weekend too. Why buy a boring loaf when a homemade one is not just super easy but tastes at least ten times better and you know exactly what’s in it?

This is fun! Right now, we have a very different attitude to food than we had just over one week ago, and I really hope it will stick. Our appreciation for how we use our food has increased a lot, and we have learned a lot at the same time. Of course, we hope to grow more and more of our food ourselves, which would also reduce how often and how much we need to shop. We’re not there yet, but there is rocket in the windowsill and chives on the porch.

Could you go a month without going to the grocery store?

2 months in Trondheim

2 months in Trondheim

Long time, no blog post.

As usually happens when there are major changes in my life, it is often easier to just hang on for the ride, rather than trying to keep up with blogging and other updates.

I am in Trondheim, back in Norway, and have spent just over 2 months in my new position. My supervisor is a rocket of energy and enthusiasm. At times it seems that all I can do is to try my very best to just hang on and try to keep up. It has been great so far, but then again I started during the quiet summer season. In autumn there will be the added stress of teaching and courses. I am quite nervous about teaching the undergrads, but I suppose I’ll just have to do my best!

After living with my amazing doppelganger while looking for an apartment (I could easily have stayed there, we have so much fun!) we managed to find a roomy basement apartment that is only partly dug into the hill behind it. To the west, we have the most gorgeous view of the city through three large panorama windows. I look forward to spending many happy evenings looking at sunsets at night. Not to mention cradling a big cup of tea or hot chocolate while watching wind and storms howl by outside!

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My view the very first night in the new apartment. 

Amazingly enough, this is the first time either of us have lived in an apartment that feels… homey. Previously it’s all been student housing and shared housing and living with friends and always with this overhanging knowledge that this is temporary.

Not so in this new place.  I have a personal hope that we will be able to stay and live in Trondheim for the foreseeable future. Certainly, in an ideal world, I would like us to stay here until we have saved up enough to buy a place of our own. Hopefully it is not too lofty a goal, as neither of us are envisioning huge mansions. It might sound dorky, but one of the things I am really looking forward to is finally being able to save up more than just a few nickles and pennies here and there. Enough for both a rainy-day fund and a house fund.

I know. Crazy, right?

For that we need to work though. Luckily (or should I say unluckily?) I now have one of those jobs where I could be working from pretty much anywhere, barring any teaching, meetings or other scheduled activities.

Did you, for instance, know that polar bears are suffering not just from loss of habitat, but also from anthropogenic sources of toxins? PFCs are found in many a waterproof tent, jacket, trouser or non-stick cookware, and a recent study has found that these chemicals are already at such a high level in polar bears that they are having a detrimental effect on their steroid hormones. Steroid hormones control a lot of sex-dependent behaviours, and could be one of the reasons the polar bear is reproducing even slower than normal, having fewer cubs, more cubs dying at an adolescent stage, and perhaps also one of the reasons fewer older females are observed (source).

PFCs have been targeted quite heavily by environmental activists like Greenpeace, and a phase-out has been promised. You can help by opting for PFC-free gear next time you need outdoor kit, or choosing stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic cookware.

Because I want to live in a world where polar bears are not just a history lesson.

So it begins

I’ve now been a week at NTNU, the institution where I will be trying to work and write and generally fight for my PhD. It has been a bit messy, as starting up at a new place so often is. I have been told the real work starts tomorrow. Right now I have an office space, a teacup and an internet connection.

My main supervisor, Dr. Alexandros Asimakopoulos, is an ambitious and driven man. He has high expectations of himself and those around him. It is the sort of infectious attitude that I hope can and will shoot us into the future on a cloud of hard work and passion. His passion for excellent science, and my passion for environmental protection.

I let him know straight away that my primary driving force is that of environmental protection. It is behind almost, if not all the choices I make and the priorities I set. To protect the environment we, of course, need excellent science and bullet-proof results, meaning our goals and priorities are highly complementary. Last but not least, we need to get loud.

Dr. Asimakopoulos has experience being loud and getting heard. He has been taught by some of the best in the industry, and I am in the fortunate position of getting taught by him in turn. His hard-working spirit is infectious and admirable. He may only be 3 years my senior, but in this field and in this climate, I think that may be an advantage.

I hope I can live up to his expectations and that we will spend the next four years doing excellent work. It is easy to see that here is an opportunity that does not come along too often, so long as I grab myself up by the collar, buckle down, do the work, and do my best to keep up with him. Having heard some stories about other people’s supervisors as well, it is also a comforting thought to know that right now, I feel confident that my supervisor has my back.

Who knows. Perhaps this will be the last positive and reflected PhD post? I hope not. I value the remaining scraps of my sanity and hope the next 4 years, although they will no doubt be intense, will still leave me with a little bit of time at the end of the day to breathe out, spend some time with friends, and generally breathe some life into my hobbies and social circles again.

I’m going to need it.

 

The last couple of days

The last couple of days

It’s the last week in London on my part. Or rather, at this point it is only the last few days. I’ve been stalling writing this post, just like I’ve been stalling actually packing my bags.

Two bags. One suitcase and one backpack. And the familiar feeling just before a big change. It was a lot more distant before I actually sat down today to see how much of my stuff I could actually get into the bags.

Most, as it turns out. Our place isn’t that big, and we always knew we were going back to Norway. The books are a problem. We’ll figure it out.

Friday, Norway. Monday, Trondheim, and a whole new chapter will begin.

Emil is terribly exited and has been looking at flats for the last couple of days. This time, maybe, we’ll get something nice where we can actually live.

So, of course, I had to go one last trip to Kew before heading off. Easily the best thing about London. This time they had a guided tour on rhododendrons. We even got a small tour of the old part of the herbarium, which we are told now houses over 6 million different samples, and where they receive over 30 000 new samples every year. Kew is amazing.

My life is in suitcases and boxes again, but at least this time we know what we’re going to.

So let’s Bilbo it up and get this adventure on the road!

The Name of the Wind

I am rereading it again. Possibly one of the most important stories I ever read as an adult. Most of all because, as a student, I never felt like I had time to read anything non-curriculum related. There was always a student’s guilt of not having studied enough, read enough or worked enough.

So it was with some trepidation and a slight bit of delight that I picked up The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, one mild summer afternoon under the Arctic midnight sun. I think I had just finished my exams, or maybe it was just that year’s lectures that had ended. I was free as a leaf on the wind, and I had been sending long glances after this book with the cliché cover and enticing back blurb. I had not let myself afford it before, but it kept beckoning me. Tempting me in the gorgeous bookshop that is oh, so common in both Norwegian universities I have attended, but woefully lacking in my partner’s London campus, as they are just not able to compete with Amazon.

As I mentioned, I had not read a book purely for my own enjoyment in years. I had a bad case of student’s guilt and an empty purse. The book cost at least half a week’s worth of good food. A whole week’s worth in a skint time. I was feeling hollow myself, studying because that was what I did.

Little did I know that the fat, little book would soon become my new treasure. A way back into the long-loved fantasy books of my youth.

In the very beginning, the prologue and mood-setting in the Waystone Inn confused me. It took a bit to get started. I thought I knew what was going on, doubted myself, but it turned out I had been right after all. I sat in my landlady’s good couch. The kind that is meant for snuggling up with a cup of steaming tea and a good, well-read book.

Once the book got started proper, the rest of my tea got cold. Over my head, the midnight sun wandered around the horizon in a way that is natural to the northerner’s but difficult to describe in writing. The feeling of night with the quiet, crisp silence and yet the light is bright as day. It is delightful, and a perfect setting for drowning in a book. And boy, did I drown.

I pulled an all-nighter then. Something I have only done a small handful of times in my entire life. I read the whole little brick of a book in one single setting, only interrupted by a call of nature. And because I was slow to the party I had the liberty of being able to walk back to the bookstore the day after and pick up the second book. This one I did not read in one sitting, but it was a delight all the same, even at less than 48 hours. Not as much as the first one perhaps, but there is always something special about being first.

Because I have a tendency to go a bit mad once I latch onto somthing, I searched for more of his works. What I found was his blog, and I read happily through the archives for perhaps two days straight. After that I still keep tabs on it. He has a lovely way with words. A lyrical way that dances through your mind, even without the melodic rhymes of a song or a verse. It just rolls beautifully off the page in thoughtful, lilting syllables. He rekindled something in me that had been forced under a lid for several years as I felt too busy by my science curriculum: A love for the well-written word and stories that don’t just follow the narrow path.

At some point I actually sent him an email. It was gushing and embarassing, but underneath was a question that had burned inside me for a very long time. Because all the good fantasy I had read was in English, I was somehow conditioned to think in English, especially when it came to fantasy. I wondered, anxiously, if it was possible for a non-native English speaker to write well in English. To write compelling, beautiful stories in a language that was not their first.

I was not really expecting an answer. Imagine my delight when one arrived in my inbox almost a week later. It was short. At only 27 words it is possibly the least verbose I have ever seen the bearded bard.

Even so, it was 27 words I held close to my heart. By mentioning Russian author Dostoyevski (who wrote in English), he validated years of rocking back and forth between yes, no and maybe.

Then there was The Slow Regard of Silent Things. And Rouges. And Bast. Old Holly was another small delight, even just for the beautiful flow of the words.

For Christmas my partner got me a Kindle. I had not wished for one. It was not that I did not see how one might be convenient, but I do try to keep a decluttered and fairly minimalistic life. It was simply not on my list. Yet now I am finding I quite enjoy it. Whereas before I would bring a book to the airport, and be done and disappointed long before the journey’s end. Now I can bring more than a book, a whole bookshelf worth of books. It is like a magnificent book of books, and it is glorious. I can bring my favourite, most verbose author while still bringing Gaiman, science and new authors I discover along the way. Like Abercrombie, and Lynch. It doesn’t weigh any more in the least, and it has quickly become a tiny treasure trove. An easy way to keep reading because the device itself is slim and light, no matter what heavy tome has currently caught my attention.

This might be a strange way to go about it, but in some strange way of things, I am trying to write out my appreciation to the author who brought me back to the comforting home of fantasy novels of all kinds. I thought about writing reviews, but they would probably have become far too meandering and easily distracted. Probably it would have turned into one long mess of a thing where I try to review all two books and short-stories all at once. And I suppose that simply will not do for a good review.

It is true that I am, somewhat anxiously, returning to the world of science and research in a few months. But this time, I am determined not to let the world of dragons and magic slip me by while I do so. I even make fledgling attempts at crafting stories of my own. They are fledgling, mercurial things. But there is enjoyment in trying to find them in between the words and spaces. It is a delightful hobby, and I hope to keep at it.

So thank you, Rothfuss, for giving me back the delight of well-told stories. For setting my own imagination once again alight.