Running shorter distances, faster

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I have never been one for competition. I dislike people who are sore losers or sore winners. I don’t mind not being good at a thing that I have not put much effort into trying to be good at, but I don’t like being better at it than someone who has put effort into it.

I don’t even like to compete with myself on the things that I do put a lot of effort into because I see performance as quite contingent, temporary and ephemeral. I mean, why should I pressure myself to run faster at some distance when how fast I run is down to things beyond my control, like the weather, how popular the race is, whether or not I am having a bad allergy day, etc. Plus, if I should be proud of running faster one week, should I be upset to run slower later on? And ultimately, I don’t run to be fast. I run to run, so all running that I actually run is good running.

Consequently, I have never really focused on how fast I can run. I didn’t even record all of my early race times, so I am not really sure how much my running speed has improved since the very early days. Instead I focused on running better (with less stopping to take a walk break, less feeling terrible after, etc.) and farther (from my first 5K, to 10K, to half marathon and then a marathon) and with better form (straighter posture, arms moving less side-to-side across my chest, etc.).

On the whole, this has worked pretty well for me. I enjoy running and find that when I finish I am in a much better mood than when I started. I am healthier, I sleep better and I feel stronger. I really got to enjoy the way that I could zen out and just let the distances slip by with so little effort. I liked the moment when I felt that I stepped outside of myself and was no longer running but being run.

On the other hand, the same thing all the time can get boring. So I have changed my approach for this year. To some extent, this change was an accident of happenstance. In the process of moving to a new country, I was less able to sign up for races, to train for long races, and to run long, un-interupted stretches of zen-running . But I did find myself in a country that had a lot of parkrun opportunities, which gave me great opportunities to run timed 5K runs in a way that I would not traditionally have bothered with. I also joined the run-commute club at work, which encouraged me to run the 2.8K to work (and another 2.8K back home) several days per week. As a consequence of running these shorter distances more frequently, I have been able to focus on how it feels to run shorter and faster, with the kind of body positioning that suits short-and-fast runs rather than conserving-energy-for-long runs.

After noticing my 5K speed improve significantly, I decided  to deliberately not sign up for or start training plans for any races longer than 10K. My 10K speed has also improved, knocking about a minute and a half off my PB after years of hovering around the 1 hour mark. I am still not really bothered about getting faster for the sake of competition, not even with myself, but I am interested in how running short-and-fast is making me feel, making my body move, and making me see running differently. Zen is now not just about being peaceful over long distances, it is about being peaceful under short and intense bursts of effort. A different sort of zen, but also good to know I can do.

Plus, there is always next year for the long distances. We shall see.

Gooooooooooaaallll!

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Goals, rather, because I set more than one for myself. All of them are to be completed, or at least attempted to the best of my ability, by my next birthday in October.

  • Run a marathon
  • Join a gym and start a weight training regime
  • Get my body fat percentage below my BMI

Let me talk about these a bit more. Marathons are not always easy to find in a place and time frame that work well. Further complicating matters, I do not know for 100% certain where I will be in October, as I do not yet have my residence permit for the UK in hand. So, wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I will try my best to find a mid- or late-October marathon. If not, I might end up running two half marathons on subsequent weekends, a 30K race plus a 10K training run, or just a personal marathon in the form of a long training session. We shall see.

Likewise, joining a gym cannot happen until I know where I will be for at least 6 months at a stretch. However, if the residence permit goes according to plan and I start the job as expected, then I hope to join the fitness center directly across the road from the office. It is an aquatic center, so I could get back into swimming in a big way (not done that for YEARS!). But I understand that there is also a fitness area with weights as well as the pools, so it should be about ideal.

As for BMI, I have always been pretty low in the scale. Typically 18 or 19 if I remember correctly. When I used calipers back in my 6 pack abs challenge, I found that my body fat percentage was 21… I think. Maybe higher. Either way, body fat was higher than BMI. Women cannot get their body fat percentage as low as men can, at least not in a healthy way, but they can certainly get below 18. At the same time, weight training is likely to raise my BMI slightly by making my body more dense and muscled. Both of these facts mean that I should be able to get the body fact below the BMI while still being healthy and strong. I do not have either a scale or calipers, so I will need to find a way to measure  those at some point if I am to make proper progress on this goal.

Although the first two goals are a bit contingent on what happens in the future, I can start building good habits now. I have decided to put on my sports kit EVERY SINGLE DAY and do at least ten minutes of sport. At this point, that includes gentle yoga and walking along the canal by my house. When the habit is embedded, I plan to step up the intensity but even then there will be rest days that only need a bit of walking or yoga. I have also decided to track everything I eat for the first week of every month. I am using the MyFitnessPal website and app. I fond it a bit cumbersome, but I am not too bothered about being super precise on calories or nutrient content or whatever. I really just want a way to get a better overview of my habits, tastes, and intakes. By comparing the weeks that I track between now and October, I will see how my habits and tastes change. Finally, in the absence of a scale and calipers, I plan to take a photo of my body once a week and take some measurement with a tape measure once a week to get a more objective record of what my body is like. If it all goes well, I may make a video montage.

 

Do not hold your breath on that.

 

 

Another day, another challenge.

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We meet again, Mr. Reader.

Or Mrs. Reader. Or Ms., Dr., Miss, Rev. Capt., whatever. I have several things to update you on.

First, I received permission to reside and work in the country I currently reside and work in. Hooray! Ring the bells! This means that I will not be kicked out any time soon (not within the next 5 years anyway) and can remove that particular worry from my mind. Now I just have to sort out paperwork to reside and work in another country, one that is not this one. The hassle never ends, eh?

Second, I took some time off after the half marathon to be a slob and feel sorry for myself, but that time is done. I have set up a new running schedule and should be back on my feet three times a week. I had trouble with my hacked smartphone-as-running-tracker, but I think I have that sorted out too. As always, you can snoop on me if you so choose.

Third, I have a temp job trying to help a local tech start up company hire some new engineers. If you are an R&D engineer with knowledge of printers, get in touch.

Fourth, I am participating in a citizen science effort to discover how effective duct tape is against warts/verrucas. They are just called warts where I come from, but the association with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory means that I find ‘verrucas’ much more charming than ‘warts’. Anyway, I have had one on my foot for years, which means it is not likely to go away on its own. It doesn’t usually bother me at all, but it does get a bit sore sometimes. So I decided to see if I can show it the door while also contributing to SCIENCE! I will be duct taping (or McGyver-taping, as my family calls it) my foot for 6 days out of 7 for the next several weeks. I shall keep you informed.

For your entertainment, here is my foot before and after taping.

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And finally, now that you are grossed out by my warty foot, food! With a lot of attention and effort, we have got our food bill down to about 50 euros per week on average, not including splurging extras that are obviously unnecessary. We have been trying out inexpensive new recipes, mostly vegetarian ones, and have some definite new favourites. Of course, there are always old favourites, like pancakes. I ate a lot of pancakes growing up and didn’t realise that they were not a luxury until I saw the House of Yes. I hope that I will get around to sharing some of favourites in another blog post soon.

Long time, no writesy!

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It has been too long, old friend. So here’s the haps.

  1. My half marathon went reasonably well. I finished in 2 hours, 11 minutes and ten seconds. I could have finished faster, but I wanted to really enjoy it more than I wanted a fast time. I did enjoy it too. My music player crapped out right at the start so I spend almost the whole way round doing my running meditation breathing exercise, which felt really good.
    Only irritation was the super loud (wheezy breathing, jangly pockets) guy that seemed determined to get ahead of me and then slow down between 9 and 16 kilometres. I kept passing him (breathing slow, steady) which seemed to work his nerves. Whatever. I didn’t end up running or doing most of my training in my vibrams. I bought cheap-o replacement asics instead. C’est le shoe.
  2. I have continued to make thesis progress. I should be resubmitting it to the committee within a couple of weeks. Hopefully it won’t get knocked back this time. I don’t know what I will do if it does. Cry? Fight someone? Pack a bag and go wander along the camino de santiago for a month? I have already told my supervisors that I will NOT be rewriting it a third time and that if this all goes tits up that will be the end of it for me.
  3. It has been almost two years since I drew a regular wage because of all of the thesis complications and assholery, so I am living pretty much on the poverty line. This brings back very painful memories from my childhood, and is putting me right back in the dark mental places I used to be in. I broke one of my teeth from stress-grinding at night and I have been having nightmares and panic attacks. However, you can better believe that I can make a meal out 4 euros. Last night was `vaguely Mexican’, so I hand made 8 tortillas, a veggie and bean chilli business, and a bunch of brown rice. All very filling, with enough for leftovers and it only needed flour, oil, carrots, half a courgette (zucchini), an onion, brown beans (from dried instead of a tin), brown rice, and tomato paste, plus odds and ends of spices and seasoning. I might cost it all out to see exactly how much money that ends up being per meal… I will probably also be checking out Jack Monroe’s blog because she has a lot of good ideas and is obviously interested in helping people eat as well as they can with limited resources.
  4.  Immigration woes are still hanging over my head. I have until the end of the month to see if I have permission to stay in this country, but then the process to see if I can get permission to move to the UK begins. There is no real reason to believe that I won’t be granted permission to stay here, but the UK is far less certain. Also, I have no idea on how long either will take. Hopefully I will not be an illegal resident (again) and that permission to stay will be granted by the time the thesis business has wrapped up so that I can get a job and start bringing in the cash money.

Most of this sounds quite grim, and it is. I am not doing well. I write this blog to as an outlet. Let’s hope it helps.

The end of this and the beginning of that…

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So, I think I am done with my purging exercise. I don’t know if I did exactly as many as I had planned, but I don’t much care. I have other things to be doing. Here is my final round up.

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A collection of all the crud leftover after I cleaned through my hobby stuff. This went into the (recycling) bin.

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This is one of the hobby items that got cleared out. This was a bag of  beads and beading supplies that I got given as a birthday gift.
Beads are not my bag, baby. It goes to a charity shop.

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This is a selection of random crap that was in my bedside table. Failed projects, IKEA tools, and a weird mint. To the trash with you!

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A smartphone stylus/pen that I got in South Korea. The pen stopped working and I am not that fussed about using a stylus. In the bin.

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More crap! A wad of bubbly wrapping paper stuff and an old calendar book. In the trash/recycling bin.

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And finally, a sheet that had a big tear in it and some bags of sweets. I meant to use the sheet material to make a summer skirt, but my sewing machine is non-functional, my time is short, and the material is quite old anyway so would probably not have stood up to much use. In the bin.
The sweets are not my kind of sweets. I put them out at work with an “Eat Me!” sign.

And on to the new! I signed up for a half marathon in June, which is not far away. There are several consequences of this:

  1. I have a healthy distraction from the trauma of my PhD.
  2. I have a goal to work toward which should help me to improve my life choices/habits/etc.
  3. I will be training for my first race in my vibram 5 finger shoes. This is because my normal shoes are fading and give me an ache along one leg, which is no bueno.
  4. I have a reason to use my old smartphone again! I am rooting it, removing all the bloatware, installing runkeeper and downloading some music to turn it into my new fitness tracker. I have high hopes.

Building up steam

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So, my mini-resolutions for January are going well. I have been stretching every day and I have been flossing most days. Not every single day, partly because the weekends throw my whole routine out of whack and partly because I ran out of floss. I have now purchased more floss.

Outside of my resolutions, things are going well-ish. I finished a square in a geeky knit-along project that I started. I wanted to use up all my random leftovers and never-started-project-stash, so I figured I may as well work in my double knit skills and get a nerd-tastic blanket (or wall hanging) out of it. I have also taught myself how to Russian join yarns, so you know… Boo. Yah.

I did some running last week too. 4K on Thursday and 5K on Sunday. I discussed with my partner and we are both up for signing up for a couple of 10K races this spring, so that should keep us motivated. We are also looking into obstacle course races, but we need a bit more all round fitness for that. I guess we can find some hills or steps to run up, and can do some burpees, push ups, sit ups, etc. We no longer have gym memberships, so the weight lifting that I would like to do is not really an option. Hmmm. Maybe this is not the time to take on a new kind of challenge… or is it?

I have received comments back from 2 of my thesis committee members. They are generally positive but both seem to want some rewrites that might be time-consuming and a bit discouraging to do. Le sigh.

My partner and I set a date and filled out all the paperwork to get a civil partnership. We never thought we would bother with this sort of thing, not being believers in the need for the government to recognise our relationship and all. But the immigration route requires that it all be official… Fortunately, there is an option to get it done in about 5 minutes at the city hall building for free on a Monday. Sounds about right. I may wear jeans to the ceremony. Not sure yet.

And I cracked a tooth. After repairing it, my dentist said I must be grinding my teeth at night during this stressful period. Well, yes. I do feel stressed. Not sure how best to deal with this at the moment. I guess the running will help, so that is another reason to get out and exercise at least 3 times a week. I should also look into some meditation practice, I suppose. Maybe a mini-resolution for February?

New year, old me

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I like New Year’s Resolutions, but I have no illusions about becoming a new person or changing my life in grand and meaningful ways. Instead, I live New Year’s Resolutions because they give me a chance to reset some of my goals, evaluate how I am doing, and take a new look at things that have become so familiar that I don’t even see them anymore.

But let’s back up. I will let you know how the rest of 2014 went before I start on 2015.

  • The Project 333 challenge was generally a success, even if I sort of stopped dealing with it for most of December. The thing is, there are just too many things about myself that I am unwilling to compromise on. For example, I know that I hate being cold and that if I don’t wrap up warmly I end up with all kinds of health problems from eczema to arthritic fingers to sinus infections. So I am just not willing to put limits on my scarves, hats, gloves, etc. Neither am I going to be the kind of person who doesn’t put on the bracelet that I received as a birthday gift from my grandmother when I only get to see her once every few years. All told, the Project 333 challenge was not a really good challenge for me because it limits jewelry and accessories which is not how I roll.
  • My fitness has gone pretty well. At least as well as could be expected. I ran a 10K in October and another in December, both at a reasonable pace and both in a way that felt good. Comfortable, life-affirming, positive, all that jazz. I also had a follow up test with my health coach and all kinds of health indicators (cholesterol level, blood pressure, etc.) are doing excellent. Yes, I am still struggling with a few extra pounds, or perhaps more accurately, a few extra inches of squidey-ness around my midsection and yes the asthma is still a challenge. But overall, I think I am in good shape and I feel pretty happy with myself.
  • I finished the rewrite on my thesis and sent it out to the committee. One committee member dropped out at the last minute and another seems to have some negative feedback, so the defence ceremony may get pushed back by a month or two, but things are still progressing.
  • I didn’t get either of the jobs with Oxford that I had interviewed for, but there are still a few other interesting vacancies on the horizon and I am trying to stay positive. My partner and I have also found an alternative route to getting residency and permission to work in the UK, which might make the job hunt a little easier. We’ll see.
  • Xmas went great! We cooked for about 3 days solid (using a colour coded schedule for the big day) and everyone made suitably happy noises.

    So what about 2015? Well, rather than one big resolution for the whole year, I prefer to do one or more month long resolutions at a time. So far for January, I resolved to do some stretching exercises every day (I tend to do them while brushing my teeth because my power toothbrush gives me clear 30 second time intervals) and to floss every day. So far so good.

    I am considering another one for February in which I get rid of (trash, recycle, donate, sell, etc.) one thing every day. I have a few things in mind already. I will probably also combine this with a photography challenge so that I have to practice some still life photography skills and so that I have a record of my de-cluttering. Other possible resolution/challenges might be: eat 7 portions of fruit/veg per day, wear a different pair of earrings every day for a month (repeating pairs after they have all been worn), cook a new recipe or learn a new kitchen skill 4 days out of every week for a month, send at least one postcard or letter per week until I get through my stationary stash, do 10 minutes of yoga or other posture improving exercises per day for 30 days.

    Please feel free to suggest additional resolution/challenges in the comments below!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

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I have some wonderful news! My supervisor has signed off on the current draft version of my PhD thesis, which means that very soon I will be able to set a date for the defence. My life can start moving forward again! Hooray! And huzzah!

Also, I am more than a week into the Project 333 challenge and have fixed the first 20 items. Here they are. Stand back and admire their glory.
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Actually, most of these are not the exact items, but I feel they represent them well enough. For example, my lighter coloured jeans have ripped knees and my black hand bag has added studs and spikes. But you get the idea.

  • Two wool sweaters
  • 3 t-shirts
  • One pair wool leggings
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Two skirts
  • One wool and silk dress
  • One wool blazer
  • One denim waistcoat
  • One wool hat
  • One wool buff (another multi-way, multi-purpose item of clothing)
  • One pair of sunglasses
  • One pair of boots
  • Two bags
  • One ring

I considered the rules about jewelry and have put this ring on the list as a provisional item. I already have several pieces of jewelry that I wear every day (actually, I can’t remove them without special equipment… body piercings being what they are) but none of the rest of my jewelry is the type that I can leave on to sleep in or shower in. I have several pieces that I wear frequently, all of which are sentimental and special as well as amazing, but I decided to pick just one (so far) and wear it every day during this entire challenge. If I do another round after I will pick a different piece to wear every day. If I do manage to wear it every day, then it won’t count as a list item, but it occupies a place on the list for now until I see how good I am at remembering to put it on every day.

Some important things that stand out for me on this list. First, my favourite neutral is grey. I would never wear black at all, except so many very useful things only seem to be available in black. Second, my favourite fabric appears to be wool. Well, natural fibers anyway, because the non-wool items so far are either cotton or linen, but there are at least 4 more wool items that will get added to the list in the near future. I just can’t get on with synthetics, except for specialist sport clothing which I only wear while doing sports or sleeping (ever worn a technical sports t shirt to sleep in? Heaven.). Third, how the heck have so many people managed to create Project 333 lists with no hats?!? I assume they use umbrellas instead and have decided that umbrellas don’t count as accessories, which seems unfair to me. So far I have only used the wool fedora, but I have two other hats that I will probably be adding to the list when weather conditions make them necessary. Plus the buff can become a hat and you better believe I will be wearing it, possibly underneath a second hat, when the weather gets cold. Double hat. I will also be gloving and double gloving, with the gloves to be added to the list very soon.

The running is carrying on fairly well. I ran 7 kilometres on Sunday, and then 4 on Tuesday but will be taking a break for a few days since we have guests in town. My pace is still too slow to meet my sub-1 hour target, and I still need a short break to catch my breath at the turning around point, but I shall keep you posted.

Setforwards and setbacks.

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Well! You will be interested to know that quite a lot has happened. Today, being October 1st, is the first day of my project 333 challenge. I haven’t finalised the whole of my selection, and I plan to allow myself a liberties, but it has definitely started. The first 6 of my 33 are what I am wearing today, as represented (pretty well) in the collage below.

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This includes

  • a reversible, transformable skirt from Zand Amsterdam,
  • a cobalt blue wool jumper from Monsoon,
  • a purple and pink backpack from FUBU,
  • burgundy 14 eyelet boots from Doc Martin,
  • black wool tights from Icebreaker, and
  • sunglasses that I used to have in high school (they are SO 1990’s).

I am particularly happy with the skirt because it is reversible (one side a retro brown and cream pattern, one side a mish-mash of brightly coloured floral vertical panels) so I get two skirts in one. Actually, the waistband is detachable and also reversible (both sides have black and white floral-ish prints) so that I can make four different skirts, as well as wearing both sides of the waistband separately as a belt with other outfits. It also has a detachable pocket that can be clipped onto the waistband (which may or not be attached to the skirt at the time) or can be worn separately as a handbag. Is it cheating to call this one item? Not my problem. I LOVE multi-way, multi-purpose clothes like this. I have several of them and I use them, in their many different guises, regularly. I am calling it one item and anyone who disagrees can shove it.

I have also been keeping up with the running schedule. The persistent cough, which I think was bronchitis, is starting to clear up and I am getting better at managing the timing on when to use the various inhalers to get the best out of them. I am already feeling better after a run than I was expecting at this early stage, and so far no puking. True, my speed is still not up to scratch, and I have to take breaks to stop and catch my breath or to walk for a bit, but this is a process, not a destination.

So those were the setforwards. Now for the setbacks. My PhD supervisors were not confident that they could properly critique the philosophical elements of my thesis, so they called in a philosophy professor from upstairs to read it and give his opinion. That professor said he thought it was all wrong, that I was not using concepts the way philosophers use those concepts, that he didn’t think I was interpreting some of my sources properly, that he didn’t understand what I was doing or why, and that he didn’t like my thesis. Look away now if you are not prepared to read some swearing.

Cockwomble! This cunting ass-hat is worse than a massive sack of dicks! Someone hold my handbag while I prepare to smash his shitstained, fuckmented toss-featured face in!

Fortunately, he is talking utter and complete bollocks. I am definitely not interpreting my sources in an uncommon or bizarre way. I am using the contested philosophical concepts in a way that many other philosophers have used them. What’s more, it seems that he only read 4 of the chapters (the intro, two content chapters and the conclusions) and obviously didn’t read those very well because he told me that I ought to consider doing something that I clearly and obviously did do. He said that he fundamentally disagrees with some of the ideas that I lay out, which has apparently impaired his ability to read, think or engage with my argument. You know, all those things SCIENCE PROFESSORS are normally expected to do. I suspect he just took a dislike to my thesis from the introduction and couldn’t be professional enough to read it at all or to read it without letting his preconceived negative attitude prevent him from understanding it.

The arsebadger.

One of my supervisors said that this is not the disaster that it seems because it would be much worse if he agreed with my fundamental ideas but found lots of inconsistencies and errors that needed correcting. As it stands, we could just ignore most of his criticisms and look for another philosopher that is not so closed to the ideas I suggest. Not insurmountable, but I have not yet had a chance to talk to the other supervisors. We’ll see what they say.

Unless they agree with him, which seems unlikely given the things that he actually said, the biggest problem this will cause is more delay. That means I need to find a way to extend my residency and visa before my current one expires and I have to leave the country.
Le sigh.

It’s the beginning of a story

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To tell the truth, every moment is the beginning of an entirely new story, so the title is a bit of a wash. Never mind. Here is what has been happening.

  • I jogged a very slow and wheezy 4K yesterday. It was 1K short of what my training schedule said I should have done, but it was also, miraculously, faster that what the schedule said I should have done. I didn’t use my race watch, so I was kind of winging it. Lesson learnt for next time.
  • I put a load more clothes, shoes and bags in the off-season suitcase. How much? This much.
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  • I found a few more things to donate to charity, including a vintage white leather jacket that I LOVE but which just doesn’t fit me. C’est la vie.
  • Between the additional off-season clothes and the charity donations, the wardrobe and dresser are now pretty darn empty. In fact, there are probably about 22 items of clothing left, far less than the 33 allowed in the project 333 challenge. I will have a separate post on what those items are later so that you can all be nosy and see what I chose. Unfortunately, those 22 items do not include accessories, shoes, bags, jewelry, gloves, sunglasses, etc. I am having a devil of a time deciding on these, because I just don’t know whether this winter will turn out to be blisteringly cold like the one 2 years ago, or quite mild like last year. I might have to cheat (ish) and swap out some items half way through if the weather takes a turn.
  • I attended the PhD defence ceremony of a colleague this morning, which made me really eager to just get mine done and out of the way. She is going on to be an assistant professor in Beijing! Well done to her. I don’t imagine that I will have such a short route to proffessordom, although maybe I could if I were applying to universities in China. I imagine that their universities are growing along with their economy, unlike all the universities (and economies) in Europe.
  • The double knit scarf is coming along, albeit slowly. I doubt I will finish it before it becomes scarf wearing season. Fortunately, there are other scarves to use in the meantime.