Another shot at a New Year

Today is the first day of the year according to the Chinese lunar calendar and I get a do-over of welcoming the new year.  I got sick the first two weeks of January and it really bummed me out because I really wanted to get a fresh start on a lot of things – like reviving this blog for one.  I actually got to starting some of my new year’s resolutions once I got better since most of them involved being more physically active and I couldn’t do that when I was sick.  I take little victories when I can, and I am happy to say that I’m doing well with those resolutions so far.  I ran more miles in the last three weeks than I did the last couple of months and  I’ve added a variety of strength workouts, thanks to the Boston Strong 26-day challenge, a virtual fitness challenge that supports the 2014 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Boston Marathon Team.  This morning, I took a moment to think of three words that I would like to set my focus on in the coming year.  I came up with 1) Mindful 2) Happy and 3) Quality.

I think these three words tie-up perfectly.  One has to make a conscious decision to be happy and to make yourself happy, you have to be self-aware.  Being mindful helps you to be more self-aware, eventually driving you to choose the better alternative for your mind and body.  This leads to choosing quality over anything else.  I resolve to keep these three words in mind this year.

Turning a new leaf over

Only minutes to go and it will be 2013.  This year has been a memorable one and I can summarize it into three important personal events: 1) turning 30, 2) getting my PhD and 3) getting my heart broken.

You may have noticed (or not) my inconsistent entries towards the second half of the year. You see, it’s quite difficult to write about what’s in your heart and mind when it is in pain.  It took a while for me to come to terms with it – the heartbreak, that is.  I decided to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I did love, I got hurt and it hurt really bad.  I saw this quote in one of my friend’s facebook page – the first line explains my heartbreak, the second is my wish for myself.

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There’s always a first time for everything and this is my first heart break.  I didn’t know that I would be affected so much by this… Outwardly, I carry a happy disposition, but internally, I am struggling not to dwell so much on what happened and to focus on the better things that  are happening.  But this struggle led to my deluding of the self that I am okay after what happened.  It only prolonged the inevitable – that I would eventually crumble my happy facade.  I couldn’t live a life like this, it was affecting my overall disposition – mentally, physically, spiritually.  It was important to acknowledge that I am not okay, that I was hurt.  This was an important first step to steer myself back to the path of happiness.

Now, that is past and we are turning over a new leaf, a new beginning.  And how apt and timely that I saw another friend’s New Year facebook status (thanks Mirang!).  I am so inspired but what she wrote and I quote her:

“The New Year, a fresh start, promises a hopeful beginning. And hope, they say, springs eternal.

But it doesn’t. Not really. It is inevitable to be disappointed when plans fall through, when people hurt us, or when we fail ourselves. In those instances, we find that our seemingly endless well of optimism dries up fairly quickly. And hope, hope withers away when there is nothing tangible to cling to.

So for the first time, I decide to begin my year not with hope but with faith.

Faith does not need reason to exist. It is illogical, often times improbable, even downright impossible. But when you have unshakable faith – whether it’s directed to a supreme being, a universal force, or to the intrinsic scientific order of the natural world – you surrender yourself to the possibilities that you cannot even begin to imagine for yourself.

This year, I will have faith that everything will work out as they are meant to work out. Faith that somehow everything will fall into place. Faith that I may not have complete control over every aspect of my life, but it will be okay.”

And there you have it.  I will face the new year with Faith.  It doesn’t need explanation nor reason.  You just have to have it.

Bring it on, 2013!!

Seven weeks or so later…

All the hullabaloo leading to the thesis defense day and I don’t write anything about what happened…  I passed my thesis defense!!!  I am now a PhD and will officially become one on June 3rd, when I receive my diploma during the commencement.  I plan to write the days that were – retrospective blog entries, if you will – and I will begin by posting the acknowledgement section that I wrote in my dissertation.  This section sums up my appreciation and gratitude for the people who have been a part of my graduate school experience – may it be in the lab or outside of lab.  My deep and sincere “Thank You!”

———-

And I have come to the end of tunnel.  That was one long tunnel!

As I reflect on my training as a scientist and the time I spent in graduate school, I have come to realize that I am truly blessed!  I am surrounded by a bunch of wonderful people who have helped me throughout this journey and I appreciate everything that they have contributed to who I am today.

First of all, I would like to thank my mentor, Dr. Masanori Terajima for taking me on as a graduate student in his laboratory.  His zen-like approach to science is something I admire and wish to emulate.   I could not thank him enough for being patient with me and for being always available to answer questions, to give advice and to provide guidance, among others.

I thank Dr. Francis Ennis for his words of wisdom and for reminding us to always keep a big picture perspective.  His invaluable knowledge on influenza and his comments and suggestions helped mold this thesis project.  I also appreciate the faculty members of our group, past and present.  Big thank you’s go to Alan, Dan, Sharone, Mary and Anuja for your insightful comments during lab meetings.  I especially thank Dan for being a part of my TRAC committee for the last five years.

I would also like to acknowledge my TRAC committee members, Larry, Katherine and Ray.  Thank you for all the helpful discussions and directions during the TRAC meetings and for being a part of my dissertation committee.  I also thank Dr. Jason Kim and Dr. Loren Fast for taking the time to read and critique my dissertation.

John Cruz, Laura Orphin and Kim West have been instrumental in teaching me the necessary laboratory techniques for my thesis project.  To the CTL king and to the ELISPOT queens, I salute you!  John has also been an excellent resource for any lab-related issue and I thank him for always accommodating my requests and inquiries.  I thank Pamela Pazoles and Marcia Woda for teaching me how to “flow.”  ICS is not my favorite experiment to do, but it surely was tolerable because I knew a flow expert is just around the corner.

Labmate, deskmate, hoodmate – Anita Leporati.  Your cheerful demeanor and positive outlook (and of course, that infectious laughter!) kept me sane through this entire ride.  Thank you for listening to all my crazy stories.  You have become a dear friend to me.

I am very grateful to be a part of the group previously known as CIDVR, past and present members.  You will always have a special place in my happy memory vault.  My lab-life was a pleasant and enjoyable experience because everyone is always ready to help and give encouragement, not only in lab-related stuff but also in the finer things in life.  Special thanks to Laurie-Ann for helping me out during the final stretch of my thesis writing.

Massachusetts has become a home away from home because of the wonderful people I met through the years.  To my grad school “family” here in Worcester – Abby, Arlene, Freidrich, Judith, Krista, Lucy, Rachel and Reina, thank you for all the wonderful memories (mostly revolving around food) and for your friendship.  Thank you to Homer and Gen for being the ‘kuya’ and ‘ate’ of the family, helping us out (the newbies in MA) in so many ways.  To Arlene and Rachel, I don’t know how you were able to put up with a crazy roommate like me – thank you for all the little things and the big things and all things in between.  To my running buddy, Krista – thank you for going the miles with me, not only on the pavement but also in the road of life.  To my drinking buddy, Lucy – a “hydrated” being is a happy being; thanks for all the conversations over “hydration”.  I would also like to acknowledge my grad school classmates for their support and encouragement from the core course, to qualifying exams, to (failed) experiments – thank you Kristen, Joel, Zaida, Ermelinda and Bhavana.  To friends, old and new, especially the Boston Filipino community and Adrian – thank you for providing a place of familiarity and camaraderie.  I would also like to extend my gratitude to my very good friend Bing.  You are the constant variable in this ever-changing equation.  I am so glad that you are always a phone call away (or a 3-hour drive for that matter).  I don’t know how I could have gone through the last seven or so years without you.

Lastly, but certainly not the least, I am grateful for having a very supportive family – Der, Mer, Nengi, Reni and Dongi.  I especially would like to acknowledge my parents, who always believed in my dreams and supported my love for learning and for science.  I have been physically away from all of you for most of my life, but I know we are eternally bound by our love for each other.  Your prayers, words of encouragement, pep talks and helpful advice throughout the years have made me who I am today.  I could never ask for a better support system and I can certainly say that you have always been behind me every step of the way.  You are my inspiration!

Turned 30 and suddenly M.I.A.

The 29th year project has come to an end, and I didn’t even have the time to wrap it up.  After my birthday weekend, which was one of the happiest birthday celebrations I’ve ever had so far, I needed to go “full-warrior-mode” and tackle the 600-lb elephant in the room that has been staring at me for quite a while now… my thesis.  It has been a struggle writing the dissertation, as you might glean from previous posts.  I only have less than three weeks before I submit the written dissertation to my examination committee and I haven’t met my personal deadlines for the draft.  I have to say that I have three chapters done by the middle of this week, and it has been sitting on my P.I.’s desk, untouched.  I understand why he couldn’t get to it sooner – we had to prepare all the necessary files for our journal re-submission, and I know he is also in the middle of writing another manuscript.  It didn’t help that I had to do extra experiments for the manuscript revision or that I have to supervise the undergraduate volunteer as he embarks on a new lab project.  I am not a master of time management, and the past few days challenged me to spend my time wisely.  The last five days, my diet while I’m in the lab consisted of chocolate, pretzels, chips, more chips and an overdose of caffeine (the strong brew from the Seattle’s Best kiosk in the hospital lobby).  It’s tough, but partly I am to blame.  I could have done more when I had the time, but my brain doesn’t function very well when it’s not under pressure.  This is something that is hard to change.  Today was my most productive day in terms of progress with the last two chapters (and the most critical chapters at that – Introduction and Discussion).  I just have to march ahead through the weekend and finish the draft by Sunday night so that I can send it out for comments from my P.I. by Monday.  This will give me the rest of the week to refine the overall draft, put them together and get it ready for printing come Monday next week, which is the deadline for  written dissertation.  I know I can deliver.  I just need to hang in there.  And stay sane.

P.S.  I’ll have a separate post for  the weekend that was… hopefully soon.

And I hit the 30-mark

30 days to go.

And now, some random musings.

I decided to give my blog a little makeover.  I realized that the last few posts were mostly bleak and sad (as pointed out by my avid reader, my sister Joanne).  The previous theme that I chose was a little too dark, and maybe changing up the theme a bit to a lighter tone would help brighten up future posts.  I also uploaded a new header, a photo I took of the sunset in Dennis, MA.  I’ve always loved sunsets and sunsets over a body of water are my favorite!

I now have exactly two months until my thesis defense.  The writing has been slow, mostly because I do not push myself too hard.  For a while, I didn’t have the actual defense date because of scheduling conflicts among my committee members.  I fell into a complacent mode – not really caring about how much writing I have done in a day.  But with the date all set and my time running out, I need to compel myself to work hard and write fast.  It’s not an easy task, and I still am overwhelmed as to how I am going to write-up my introduction, but I have most of my chapters done.  I need to take one day at a time, and I’m glad that even if I started working late today, I have added a substantial number of lines and tables to the dissertation, more than what I have added to it in the last 10 days.  One day at a time.

I also have a confession to make…  the progress has been slow because I watched an episode of “Vampire Diaries” and got hooked!  I started last weekend, and now, I have finished Season 1 (all 22 episodes) and I’m 8 episodes into Season 2.  Talk about using my time wisely…. tsktsk.  I didn’t expect that I would like the series, but I did.  A little mindless entertainment while I fold clothes, do chores or get ready for the day… well, I really don’t have good excuse except that I liked the series and can’t get enough of it.  Howell.

Car woes.  Yes.  I have been in and out of the car repair shop this week.  The check engine light of my car lit up, the first time it happened since I got it in 2006.  Turns out I needed to replace a valve (EGR).  My car is old (1997 Accord), but it has served me well.  I really don’t want to shell out any more $$$ because I just paid a deductible for the repairs done after the freak incident in October and I had the rotors and brake pads replaced over the summer.  And the near-accident a couple of weeks ago… But I can’t afford not to have the car fixed.  So out goes another couple of $$$…

39 days and counting… I have a date… and another countdown begins

I’ve been counting a lot lately… counting down the days till the big 3-0, counting down the days till my defense date… I finally have a date for my thesis defense (after one thousand years – it took forever to have all my committee members’ schedules aligned).  4.3.2012.  And the birthday countdown? T=0 on 3.4.2012.    Talk about memorable dates!  Life milestones up ahead!  It’s a scary and exciting thought!  I am looking forward to a new decade, to a slew of wonderful life adventures.  I can’t wait to be done with graduate school and begin a new chapter in my career.  There are so many things to think about, it’s a slurry in my head.  There are tons of things to be done, and I am getting anxious every now and then.  I usually don’t worry, and lately worry (and self-doubt) just creeps into me.  I am a walking bag of mixed emotions, it’s driving me crazy.  It’s the last leg, the last lap.  I am almost there.  And all will be well.

(P.S.  After re-reading this, I realized I am giving myself a little pep talk here.  Crazy.)

54: Wow, it’s 54!

I haven’t been keeping track of my countdown for quite a while now, what with all the craziness that has passed and the craziness that is still going on – the holidays, dissertation writing, revision for my journal article, and other stuff that I haven’t been able to deal with since I came back from my two-week visit to family in Texas. So much has happened since my last December post till today, that it gives me a headache just thinking about them. The good thing is that they were mostly nice things. 🙂 And I’ m glad I took a pause tonight to get back to the countdown. This downtime tonight helped me think about the things I need to accomplish soon and to put things in perspective. It’s weird that I haven’t really thought about what I want to do for the coming year (I am usually good at putting aside special time to think things through)… Maybe it’s because there is a need for me to be short-sighted for the next few months. The biggest hurdle to my planning and thinking ahead is this thesis dissertation. It’s ironic how it is my ticket to a new chapter of my life at the same time, I find it a hurdle to planning the rest of my life after graduate school. Well, it’s not really a hurdle, but my inner voice is telling me to be cautious about what lies ahead because I don’t want to expect too much or plan way ahead – I don’t want to be disappointed. But I think I have to define for myself what I want to do after graduate school. Do I take the path of academia and be a full-fledged researcher in the university setting? Do I take a job in the industry? Do I switch gears and pursue something that I am recently very interested in – science policy? I’m still not sure… as of now, I have decided to apply to as many postdoctoral trainings, fellowships, job opportunities as I can.  As for my personal life, I have grown attached to the friendships I’ve made here in MA, that it will be hard for me to leave and start anew, especially now that I am starting to care too much for one particular person.  I even thought of looking for opportunities only in MA, so that I could stick around and give “this” a chance.  I’ve never been in a place longer than I have been in Worcester (7 years and 4months…), even including my childhood days (we moved a lot).  MA is starting to feel like home, and right now, I am not ready to leave it.  Not yet.  However, I might change my mind if I do get a good offer from out of state though… but then again I am limiting the job search to MA. so there you go. 😉

100 days till 30

The day after thanksgiving marks n = 100 days till my 30th natal anniversary.  I feel like the universe puts these “reminders” in moments that I can remember and when I need them the most.  I haven’t been feeling my best lately – and it really dampened my holiday mood.  I did not take the time to think about the things I’m thankful for this year – I usually would attend mass a day or two before thanksgiving.  But when I realized that the 100th mark is today, I felt a rush of self-reflection in the midst of this post-Thanksgiving frenzy.  I am one lucky person!  With all my flaws and misgivings, I am blessed with love!!!  I am blessed with a loving family and loyal friends.  What more can I ask for?

P.S.  And it’s exactly a month before Christmas!

Afroblue “Christmas Time is Here”

115: Nostalgia (or reminiscing those days pre-Facebook)

I spent most of today sorting through tons and tons of clutter – paper, magazines, and other stuff – many of which go back to 2004, the year I first came to the United States.  I went through old correspondence as well.  During my first couple of years in the US, my family, in particular my mom, and I used to write letters and send pictures with captions at the back.  I would get a birthday card in the mail, and even got a Valentines Day card once.  But with internet and social networking, the letters trickled down until there were none.  Nowadays, we just send each other a message on Facebook and ask each other to upload recent pictures of their trip, activity, what-have-yous.  I appreciate the convenience that Facebook, email and the like provide – making connections with our loved ones in an instant.  However, I am such a sappy, and romantic being, and I find the old way of corresponding more precious and more meaningful, precisely because you have to put time and effort and thought into your letter writing.  Reading the old letters and looking at printed photos with hand-written captions at the back made me laugh and smile and cry at the same time.  My mom even sent me an old picture of my sister when she was in fourth grade.  My sister sent this to me when I was in high school (I was already living away from home then).  When I read the caption at the back, my heart just melted.  At the same time, it was filled with both a longing to be home and the feeling of being truly loved.  I miss them.  And I’m really lucky that wherever we are, I know we are bound by love and that we are loved.

This photo was taken in 1994, when pictures were taken using cameras that use an actual film.

For 140: The marathon in two photos and a short reflection

The training plan. It wasn't the best training ever (as seen by the X's - meaning runs I wasn't able to make), but this pushed me to give my best, given the other going-ons in my life - school, volunteer work, friends, family...


T-minus 140 till the big 3-0 and I finished my second marathon!  This was in Lowell, MA, the 23rd running of the Baystate Marathon.  It was definitely way better than the first one – it felt great overall, both physically and mentally.  I knew I trained well for it and I was confident going into the starting line, although I had nervousness and pre-race jitters the entire week before the marathon.  My battle plan was to just listen to my body and dedicate each mile to people who I care for deeply and to people who are a part of my New England life.  I ran without a watch and my ipod touch; my music was just the wind and random songs playing in head.  I had four fuel gels, my mile dedication list, my “let’s do this” mindset and my trust that the water stops will have the water and gatorade that I need.

The mile dedication list. I thought and prayed for each person during their particular mile. It really helped me a lot, getting "distracted" with thoughts of them and thinking about their well-being and praying for their heart's desires.

I was doing a 9:45 to 10:10 minute per mile pace based on my splits: 2:08:25 at 13. 1 mi (21.1km) and3:10:23 at 18.6 mi (30km).  Ideally, I could have pushed for an under 4:30 finish, however on my way to mile 20, the notorious “marathoner’s WALL”, I had a cramp in my left gastrocnemius.  I definitely had the wall alright, and the next 3 or so miles was a lot of struggle, mentally and physically.  I had to stop several times to shake off the cramp and stretch the muscles, and had to be satisfied with a walk-run-walk system (instead of walking only during water stops).  It felt like I let myself down for a moment, but thanks to my mile dedications, I was able to push myself and do it not only for me, but for the people in my list.  The mile dedications were also a great way to engage in my own communion of the saints, a Catholic belief that we are all one spiritual unit, and that a prayer for one resonates and becomes a prayer for others as well.  I may only have a person or two for a certain mile, but I certainly prayed for the people in their lives too, creating ripples of good vibes and prayers for them.  It really felt good doing that!  The cramp was coming and going, and eventually, I just told myself at the end of mile 23 that I will just have to close my eyes to this “tiny” discomfort and move my feet one in front of the other, doing a faster-than-walk-but-not-really-running pace.  After a final water stop at mile 25, I ran the best mile that I could at that present moment and finished with an official time of 4:50:42!  Wahoo!