it's about life, my life, quilts, midwifery, and whatever else occurs to me.

30 December 2010

Highs and lows of postgrad year 2

One of my tasks over the summer/holiday break is to put down some thoughts on my progress so far. What have I accomplished? What do I understand better now than I did a year ago? What disappointments have I had, and what triumphs? Where do I need to focus my efforts in the coming year?

Without a doubt the high point of the year was receiving word that the abstract I submitted for a presentation at next year's ICM meeting was accepted. Having sent it off in the winter with no expectations at all, I think the word "gob-smacked" is a pretty accurate description of how I felt reading the notification email. I haven't yet begun to think about what exactly I will present; for one thing, I don't know how much time I'll be allotted so it's a bit premature anyway. For now, just knowing I have it to look forward to is enough.

In that same vein, a second abstract I sent in for the ACNM annual meeting was also accepted, again to my surprise and pleasure. I dithered awhile over whether to try to do both, but I'm confident I made the right decision to postpone an American presentation until I know more about my topic and can tailor a talk better for an American midwifery audience. It is gratifying to know that someone looked at my abstract and thought, "hmm...maybe this is important for us to hear about..."

My confirmation of candidature in April was all-consuming and nerve-wracking. In retrospect I probably stressed over it more than absolutely necessary, but like giving birth for the first time, I had no real idea what to expect. I had lots of good advice, help, encouragement and support from Fiona and Venerina in the weeks leading up to the day. With little public speaking experience I was very anxious when my turn came. Having some friendly faces in the audience helped me relax and just talk.

At a public speaking event I dread being boring most of all, and to me, standing up in front and reading slides or notes to the audience is the epitome of boring, so it's important that I be able to speak almost extemporaneously using the slides just to prompt or illustrate important points I want to make. The feedback I got from the committee on my confirmation talk was quite positive and suggested I looked a lot more comfortable than I felt.

Moving on to the year's frustrations, top of the list is my failure so far to get anything published. Out of a total of 4 submissions (2 each for 2 papers) I only have one "revise and try again" to show for all the work. My journal targeting is probably at least partly to blame for the two initial rejections, although the comments in one case seemed so off the mark that I supposed the reviewer hadn't actually read the MS. That first rejection was difficult to absorb but now having had 3 more it's getting easier to pick myself up and refocus.

I'm still struggling with some statistical concepts. I know I don't read enough about it. I have yet to find my perfect "Statistics for Dummies" book that will explain it all without those horrible mathematical formulas. I always have so many questions, and I'm afraid of making a statistical faux pas that will render my research useless. Or worse, unpublishable. On the other hand, learning about my statistics software and how to use it has been more fun than I ever imagined. I've learned that if I don't use it regularly, I forget a lot, which means I have to remind myself to use it regularly from now on.

I've been a bit disappointed that my data generally don't support my hypothesis that working as a midwife is a risk factor for WRUQMSD, at least not so far. It's possible though that I just haven't got far enough into the data set yet, and that the variables that will make a difference are waiting for me to find them.

I also feel like I'm slipping behind in my timeline because I don't yet have the first research publication ready to submit. I've had to reorganise my thinking about what the paper should cover, and that has meant running all the statistical tests again. Having done them, I now have more questions than before.

And now to the future: I'm looking forward with anticipation to finishing study 1 and getting it out to Birth; further analysing the data from surveys 1, 2 and eventually 3; and (with some trepidation) to organising and carrying out a qualitative study later this year. Further, I need to sort out what I can do that will help me with my statistics problems.

I can't say enough about the fabulous support I get from Fiona and Venerina, all the time. They are midwives to me as a novice researcher, and in my world that's the highest praise there is.

28 December 2010

Thoughts on 2+ years in Oz

I was just reviewing my "what I miss/don't miss" and what I love/don't love" lists and realised I had to make some changes. It seems trite to say it, but a lot has happened since we moved here in September 2008. The Aussie dollar is now at parity with the US dollar, which is bad and good at the same time. Good when I have to feed our US bank account with Aussie dollars; bad when I look at the prices of some things here (shoes, bathing suits, books, electronic equipment and sometimes food, just to name a few) and where I used to say "well, X dollars, that's not so bad, it's really only .7 or .8X dollars in REAL money," I can no longer make that comparison.

On my love/miss lists, probably the biggest change has been the availability of good ice cream, i.e. Ben & Jerry's imported from the US of A. This is to take nothing away from the local purveyors of quite good gelato, but everyone knows gelato is not the same thing. My Ben & Jerry's moment arrived a few months ago when Brisbane-area delis started stocking 7 or 8 flavours, of which I actually only bother with one (Half-Baked, if you must know). I wonder what misguided market research led B&J's Australia to decide not to import Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz to this land of coffee and more coffee. And, sadly for me, there is also no Mint Chocolate Chunk to be had in pint containers, which by the way cost $11.95 at my nearest deli (I told you shit was expensive here!) making it an occasional treat, not a way of life. Sydney and now Melbourne have Scoop Shops; here in the provinces we're still waiting for one. If we should be so blessed, I am pretty sure my favourite MCC, as well as CCBBB for Phil, will be on the menu.

Bagels: not great bagels, but actually boiled and then baked bagels are for sale in the supermarket (plain or poppy), and in the CBD (that's Strine for "downtown") there's now a cute little place called Bagel Nook. BN imports its bagels from Melbourne, apparently the capital of all things Jewish in Oz, and even has sesame bagels on offer, in addition to what seems like five kinds of onion bagels (feh!). Unfortunately, BN is closed on weekends so my shopping trips there are limited to those days when I'm passing through the CBD on my way home from a meeting with my research supervisors.

It's summer and it's been a cool and wet one. When we arrived two years ago, Queensland was under rather severe water restrictions and building a desalination plant to cope with the drought that had been going on for something like 8 years at that point. The reservoirs were at about 15% of capacity. Surely it's mere coincidence but since we've been here it's rained so much that the reservoirs have been back to 100% for months now and communities that had all but dried up, literally, are now awash, again literally. Farmers just can't catch a break; they were anticipating their best harvest in years but were knocked back this time by too much rain rather than too little.

After a wet winter, spring reports had it that the desert areas to the west of us were blooming like they hadn't in years. Spring was often rainy and cool and, unusually, it wasn't until late November that I could wear shorts and go barefoot all day. And now it's summer, when we should be in the pool every day, but with what seems like near-constant rain and overcast skies between the deluges, swimming in an unheated pool just isn't that attractive an idea. I wouldn't wish for a return to the drought conditions, just some sun and blue skies once in a while. But before you think I'm complaining about the weather here, let me just say that I have no idea where we could live in the US that would give us the same weather benefits (no snow and ice) and yet be affordable and in a place we would actually want to live.

Then there's politics...oy. That'll be for another post.

13 November 2010

Guarding the pool

I noticed this fellow in his, or perhaps her, very impressive web the other day while sweeping the pool deck. I hope he, or she, is catching a lot of mosquitoes out there.

The Aussie alphabet: H is for Holden

Holden, the iconic Australian vehicle. It's GM, Australian-style, Down Under's Chevy. It comes in a range of models from the tiny and cute to the sedate sedan to the SUV (of which there are many, many). But we can't talk Holden without talking ute, Ozspeak for utility vehicle, which I understand is every teenage boy's dream car. Remember the El Camino, which was a car in the front half and a pickup truck in the rear half? It's alive and very, very well here in Oz. From its beginnings as a real utility vehicle, it's been pimped to offer all the goodies a CUB* could want in a "lifestyle vehicle." Here are a classic EH station wagon from the 60s, along with a contemporary Commodore sedan and a ute.

Once I walked past an EH sedan of similar vintage to the one pictured here parked on the street and noticed the name badge across the boot ( = "trunk") had been modified from HOLDEN EH to read OLD EH. I thought the owner meant "old, eh?" until someone told me the model name was EH. Either way it's good.
*CUB: cashed-up bogan

09 October 2010

Those beautiful girls

The jacarandas are in full bloom, but we've had buckets and buckets of rain nearly every day for the past month. Even the sunny days have usually been followed by rainy evenings/nights. My big news is the second MS I sent in was rejected, in record time. So it's back to the drawing board for that one while I still await a decision on my first paper from its second journal...On the plus side, I'm getting to be good friends with Stata. But that's too boring so instead here are some recent photos of the most beautiful little girls in the entire universe. Clockwise from bottom left: Zara on the first day of kindergarten; Amity enjoying a drumstick; Wes with the girls; and Amity exercising her new skill of pulling up on things.

05 September 2010

Big weekend in Brissie

Yes, this weekend was the opening of the Brisbane Festival, which as near as I understand it is 4-ish weeks of music, dance, theatre etc. at various venues around the city. Since the 1st of the month we've had the Brisbane Writers' Festival going on, and today Paulie, Stephen, Phil & I went to hear Susan Maushart speak, which was my goal. She's a columnist in the Weekend Australian magazine and one of the only reasons I spend money on the paper (owned as it is by News Limited, i.e. Rupert Murdoch). (The other reason is Phillip Adams.) Imagine my sort-of surprise when she started speaking and I heard the pear-shaped tones of Long Island emanating from her mouth! I always had it in the back of my mind that she didn't write like an Australian, and it turns out that's because she's not an Australian! In person she is just as smart and funny as in her columns and I came home with two of her books, signed, and her gmail address. Sad for us here, she is leaving Oz in November to move back to the Gisland. Phil & I both talked to her at some length during a lull in the book signing and she appeared to be open to further contact either here or there. She is the sort of person I'd like to have living next door to me.

That was today, but last night was ... Riverfire. The pyrotechnic opening event of the Brisbane Festival and this year supposedly for the VERY LAST time - they said this last year too but turns out they were full of it - we were treated to the famous, or infamous, "dump and burn" courtesy of an aging RAAF F-111 jet. As bad environmentally and financially as it is, I have to say it's extremely cool to watch. Last year I went down to South Bank right next to where the fireworks display originates, but this year we just walked up to the reservoir where we have a great view of the city and watched from there. Not quite the same experience but nowhere near the crowds. The streak of light in the sky is burning fuel from the F-111, but the jet flies (and dumps and burns) all by itself, no simultaneous fireworks; this photo is a bit shopped. The link above has a video clip for a better idea of how it really looks.

10 August 2010


Oh frabjous day, one less thing I have to import from the US. Today I found Dobie sponges in the supermarket. I might add I have changed supermarkets recently. I had been going to Woolworth's (same name, different mission here) because it was close, but decided after a couple of visits that I like the Coles a bit further up the road better. And today (Tuesday being shopping day as it is also Food Connect box day, I pick up my box and then know what I need to augment the box with) I was looking for steel wool when...there they were. They're bigger than US Dobies and don't use the Dobie name, just "Scotch-Brite" but they are the real thing. Much better than regular sponges because of the outer layer of scrubby (but not scratchy) stuff...Reader, I bought 3.

31 July 2010

The Aussie alphabet: G is for Gecko

Geckos are by no means unique to Australia. I'm including them because, this being my first time living in a warm enough climate for them, they hold a certain fascination for me. Their vocalizations -- they sort of chirp -- seem way too loud for their size. Upside is they supposedly eat insects, including mosquitoes. Downside is they produce little turds that you find in places like your bathtub and you have to clean up after them every day.

Google has gazillions of gecko images. Not all of them are images of actual real live geckos, of course. You get gecko jewelry, gecko sculptures, Michael Douglas, and the Geico gecko. When you search "Australian gecko" you also get Ugg boots and the money shot of Sydney opera house with the harbour bridge in the background. This one looks pretty much like the ones I see clinging to my living room ceiling or scurrying across the driveway.

30 July 2010

design wall!

At long last, I have a design wall. And 144 blocks to arrange into a king-size quilt top. BTW those of you who know me know I hate the color orange, but don't worry. The blobs look orange but they are actually hot pink.

17 July 2010

The Aussie alphabet: F is for ferry; footy

So, ferries. Certainly not uniquely Australian. But yesterday, on the road back from Toowoomba, we got off the motorway and took the scenic route, Moggill Rd, from its western origin. What we didn't know was that the road ends at the river, yes, ends; and in order to get to the other side of the river, the cars drive onto a funny little ferry. Here's a link to the map showing how the road just ends on either side of the river. The ferry is pulled across the river by a cable, see top photo, and once it's across the cars drive off and continue on their way. This arrangement is on a major commute route. The traffic backups during peak hours don't even bear thinking about.

But, footy! THAT'S Australian. Now, footy could be any one of four games played here: rugby league, rugby union, soccer, or Australian Rules Football. But usually it refers to Aussie Rules. Now that I've lived here for nearly two years, here is what I know about these games:

1) Soccer is called soccer, just like in the US. It may be the beautiful game elsewhere, but here, of the four it's probably the least popular.
2) Rugby scores often don't get out of the teens, whereas footy scores can approach 100.
3) If there are four upright poles in each end zone it's footy; if the goalposts are H-shaped, it's rugby.
4) A lot of footy teams are based in and around Melbourne, the spiritual home of Aussie Rules.

The nuances of league vs. union are beyond me, and none of them look like American football, mainly because there are no timeouts between plays, no pads, no helmets, and the ball is a bit rounder without the pointy ends.

I took the photo above at an actual footy game - yes, I have been to one, thanks to Brian - about a year ago.

14 June 2010

Meta-blogging at convention

What do you call it when someone who blogs is blogging while sitting in a session about blogging? I'm at the 55th annual meeting of the American College of Nurse-Midwives in Washington, DC. Three midwife/health bloggers presented the session, which is almost over now though. Two people have iPads in here, as far as I can see. Are any Aussie midwives blogging? With all the changes coming up so soon, it seems like this would be a good time to start one.

Been to a few good sessions. The one on manual rotation of the OP head was packed with probably 300 people. It looks hard to do, kind of like the Woods screw maneuver only with the head, not the shoulders. I may never get the chance to try it at this point but it should be widely disseminated.

Also been seeing a lot of people I know and explaining my current location and being a student and the research I'm going to be doing. Explaining the research is hard because it's not midwifery, but as soon as I get through it I can see the light bulb go on on the other person's face and out comes the story: "I had my rotator cuff fixed too!" "Why hasn't anyone written about this before?" It really seems like there's something in this.

01 June 2010

Study for "What's wrong with Australia"

I took this photo first yesterday, shooting (as you shouldn't) into the sun. I have no idea how the distortion happened but it's kind of artsy so I'm posting it. You can still see the Liquorland sign and the golden arches on the far right.

Pink poinsettias

You've seen red ones, you've maybe seen white ones, have you seen pink ones?

What's wrong with Australia

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like here in Oz. But this one photo really says it all about what's not to like. Too much fast "food," too much booze. And this particular branch of Liquorland, which happens to be a couple of km from my house, is one of the many drive-through liquor stores in Oz. Yeah, you read it right. Drive-through liquor stores.

29 May 2010

The Aussie alphabet: E is for Ekka

It's only the end of May now, but August will be here before we know it. And August is the time for the Ekka. Proper name: Royal Queensland Show. Shortened to Exhibition, which being Australia gets shortened to Ekka. A Queensland tradition since 1876, it's got everything. A midway with carnival rides, livestock judging, performances, food, music, and showbags, collections of (usually) candy and toys offered in themed bags (Batman, Barbie, that sort of thing) for some amount of money. All this goes on for nine days in August; this year's dates are 5-14. And the Wednesday of Ekka week is a public holiday, the last official one before Christmas, so everyone can go! They put special trains on that go to the showgrounds where the station is only operational for these 9 days a year.

This photo, no doubt taken from the ferris wheel, is from Ekka 2009.

11 May 2010

English bluebells

We visited the U of Birmingham's botanic gardens yesterday. Here are 2 shots of the gorgeous bluebells that are blooming all over now.

Ludlow Castle

Today was my solo excursion to Ludlow, recommended by my maven of all things olde and English, Anne. The castle remains are pretty impressive although I think they could do a better job of labelling the spaces. The oldest parts date to the Norman period -- like the keep pictured here. More on the castle here.

04 May 2010

UQ turns 100...

...and that's pretty old for an Australian university. There was a big community celebration on Sunday, 18 April. Phil and I spent the day at the "eDiscovery Quest" tent sending people off on a sort of scavenger hunt all over campus; participants had to solve a series of riddles and those who got them all right had a chance at the big prize, an iPod Touch. But that has nothing to do with this photo. I noticed a couple of days after the big event that someone had spray-painted the grass below the student union with the 100th anniversary logo.

Roman ruins in Caerleon

The amphitheatre. Site of legionaries' drilling, as well as who knows what horrible spectacles the Romans enjoyed so much. Also, thought to be (one of) the site(s) of King Arthur's Round Table. Yeah, that Round Table.

Can I buy a vowel?

We're in Caerleon, Wales, the first stop on Phil's speaking tour of the UK, 1-14 May. We're staying at the Priory Hotel, a former Cistercian monastery. Caerleon was the site of a Roman fortress that was the home of the second Augustan legion from 75 CE until about 290 CE. The Welsh language is inscrutable to someone whose second language is Spanish. This is a great example of its inscrutability.

09 March 2010

my beautiful girls

I just had to post this photo of Zara and Amity. Many more to come, no doubt.

06 March 2010


Capital of SA, 5th largest city in Oz. Last Sunday morning - very windy, but still sunny and dry, and pleasant for walking along the Torrens River that runs through the city.

Barossa Valley

Last weekend we ventured forth to the Barossa Valley in South Australia, my first trip to SA. The Barossa is known for its shiraz wines. The valley has a lot in common with California vineyard regions. The hills aren't as high, but the parched late-summer fields dotted with bushes and trees in contrasting deep green are very reminiscent of Phil's mom's Santa Ynez Valley. We stayed in a holiday home with 2 other couples (friends, and friends of the friends). On Saturday we visited Angaston, the home of yummy dried fruit and English influenced, in contrast to other areas of the valley which were settled by Germans. Lunch was at Maggie Beer's Farmshop, a mecca for foodies, in Nuriootpa. Last stop was Rockford Wines, in Tanunda. A gorgeous, warm, sunny, dry day.

First MS submitted!

After nearly a year of intermittent work, last Sunday night I uploaded the manuscript for my first paper, "Prevalence of work-related upper quadrant musculoskeletal disorders in midwives, nurses and physicians" to the target journal, Journal of Advanced Nursing. Two days later I realized I had made two errors that needed to be fixed. So it's temporarily "unsubmitted" until I get the errors fixed, then I'll upload it again. The first problem was their fault for not saying that I should put the email addresses of the co-authors on the title page in the instructions for authors. But the second one was all mine; on my diagram of the body parts that comprise the upper quadrant (neck, shoulder, upper back) the key says that shoulder is upper back and vice versa. No worries though, she'll be right, my graphics consultant will fix it.

Amity's quilt

Here she is showing off her quilt. The pattern is called Attic Windows. Usually the corner where the two sides of the window frame meet the pane (where the purple and gold come together) involves tricky piecing but this pattern just has you make a half-square triangle for each corner. Too easy! In the border, as with all my baby quilts, is her name and birthdate. Amity means friendship, and I wanted an appropriate quote to stitch on the other 3 sides of the border. Zara's quilt has Peter Rabbit fabric and I used the opening lines of the Tale of Peter Rabbit, but I didn't have a ready literary source for this one. But the internet came through after some looking. The source is cringe-worthy -- Kahlil Gibran -- but I think it expresses the hope her parents have in naming her Amity: "In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures."

14 February 2010

Amity Jude

I have a new granddaughter! You've probably already guessed her name. She's 12 days old today. This photo was taken a couple of days ago. Isn't she beautiful? I'm working on her baby quilt, which I will photograph and post when it's done. I've been visiting here in VA with her parents and big sister Zara since the 26th of January. The time has flown by and I'll be leaving on Thursday to go back home to Oz. By the time I come back in June, she'll be a whole different person.

10 February 2010

The Aussie Alphabet: D is for Diminutive

You don't need to be in Oz for more than 15 minutes before you realize (realise) that no energy is to be wasted pronouncing unnecessary syllables. While "bottle-o" might be recognizable (recognisable) as Ozspeak for "bottle shop" (which is itself Ozspeak for "liquor store"), you might wonder at "rego" (pronounced with soft g) -- this refers to car license plates and comes from "registration," at 4 syllables clearly way too long a word. You might get "muso" (musician) but would you get "arvo" (afternoon) or "cozzie" (costume, Ozspeak for swimsuit)? Do you fancy "brekky at Macca's" (breakfast at McDonald's)? I live in "Brissie" (Brisbane) where I often need my "sunnies" (sunglasses) and I go grocery shopping at "Woolies" (Woolworths). "Lippie" (lipstick), "bikky" (biscuit, = cookie [must look up etymology of that!]), "bikie" (motorcycle gang member) -- sometimes we talk like we're all still in "kindy" (kindergarten) here.