What I learned in March

Now that April is more than halfway over, I finally have a minute to share my insights from last month!

March was enlightening for me in many ways. I was able to observe myself and my work habits more objectively – looking closely at what they really are and how I operate – in order to build around who I am instead forcing myself to work the way I think I should.

I learned that I work best when I have no ultimate final output in mind. Diving into the process with no solid vision of what I am doing or where it is going is the most fun I can have. It’s where I constantly find myself inspired and excited, and where I smile and laugh as I see the form of a project bubble up from the work I’ve done, not knowing what it wants to become until it does. I love watching it emerge.

Along the way, I found a few tools and techniques that helped me get into this process and stay there longer. They made my work much more enjoyable and focused, eliminated a large percentage of distractions, and helped me stay more organised – all so I could experience more time with that beautiful spark of creative inspiration.

1. Tools

Split screens on Mac

No need to get all fancy with multiple monitors, you can get the same benefits using Mac’s split screen (there might be PC options for this too. Definitely worth looking for). Just hold the green dot down until you have the option to choose another screen. Whichever one you select will sit side by side with the other (with the option to change the ratio or swap them around for whichever view suits you best). I tend to put research on the left and writing on the right. It looks like this: Continue reading



If you were going to make a cake, what would your first step be?

Alex Trebek and I will give you a second to think about it.

Ok. Whatcha got?

Maybe you said you’d need to find a recipe, go shopping, or turn on the oven. Perhaps the more seasoned chefs out there jumped straight into mixing up ingredients. I’m not really a cake baker (or a cake eater – much prefer pies), so I’m not here to say what’s right or wrong. What I’m willing to bet, however, is that, when asked the first step you’d take in making a cake, you didn’t say: grab a jar of sprinkles.

And yet, I watch myself and other creatives and entrepreneurs repeatedly fall into this trap. A new project or business idea comes to our mind and, instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty business of making it happen, we run straight for the sprinkle cupboard, buzzing with excitement. In our minds, the project is already complete and now we’re happily decorating our beloved creation with all the bells and whistles and adornments we can imagine.

Here are some sprinkles-first errors I have witnessed in myself and others: Continue reading

My Happiness List

My Happiness List

As I mentioned last time, the process of thinking about and writing down a list of things that makes me happy and keeping the list where I can read it regularly has been quite enlightening. I know I said it before, but who knew that thinking about what makes you happy would actually make you happier? It’s a sweet trick. I try to read my list every day, really taking a second to remember what each one means to me (it only takes a minute and it’s well worth it). Going through them gives me a little rush of joy every time.

Since the list I shared with you last week is just the summary I use to trigger my thoughts for each point, I felt inclined to share the full idea behind each one. It’s more of a note-to-self summary than a description, per se, but if you’re in the process of making a list for yourself maybe it’ll give you more ideas. I read quite a few lists from other people while making mine and it helped guide some of my own points.

In writing this all down, I particularly liked how they tend to cross-pollinate. For example, paying close attention to people helps me nurture my relationships, while being Noelle helps me have more fun. Ditching my ego makes it easier to not keep score, and being active helps me look my best. It’s lovely to see them build on each other like that.

So without further ado, here is my expanded happiness list! Continue reading

What I Learned in February

Well, it wasn’t as successful as last month – by a long shot. I had a few lovely days off to hang out with visitors (reading under palm trees, gorging on delicious food, and wearing myself out with pool games) followed by a week of not as much fun when the builders came and tore out two of our bathrooms. I was locked in the living room with a meowing cat for five days, one of which was my birthday. Not terribly fun and definitely not very productive.

That being said, I did manage to get some stuff done in February and learned a few things along the way.

Keep a Happiness List and Read it Often

While I didn’t completely finish the Bliss Station I mentioned last month, I did make progress. One thing that was great to work on was my happiness list (based on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness commandments from her wonderful book The Happiness Project – how many times can you fit the word happiness into one sentence?). I wrote the majority of this list a few months ago, but I wanted to review it and hang it somewhere I could read it every day. I’ll put up another post with what each of these mean to me and why I chose it, but as that is too long for here I’ll give you the shortened version. Continue reading

Fade to Grey


I am an only child, but I have siblings. I am a strong, capable, independent woman, but I am currently fully dependent on my male partner. I have a group of friends and family who I love so deeply I still see them around every corner, nearly seven years after I left them for a new destination. I cried so hard at the airport that day that I lost my breath and ran out of tears. But I still got on the plane. I call Utah home, but London is equally as comforting for different reasons, and although my physical home is currently in Oman, I spend most of my days looking forward to my next home, a place I have never lived and have only been to once.

My life is complicated. Life is complicated.

And yet I have developed a habit of seeing the world in black and white, good and bad, true or false. Fully accepting life’s inherent complexity and uncertainty takes a level of bravery and stamina I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly develop. Sitting calmly amidst paradoxes and dichotomies takes a level of academic confidence I lack. Kneading out the grains of truth from a sticky ball of life takes skill and dexterity, and for whatever reason I have been utterly unwilling to get my hands messy.

Instead, I often twist and turn a complicated reality, contorting it until it fits into a binary mold. Then I operate under those conditions and throw a small fit when this doesn’t lead to that but leads to the other instead. I want to know it all and I want to know that I know it all. Not so that I can boast of my intelligence or capability, but so that I don’t have to experience perplexity or confusion about what will happen in my future or the role my past played in getting me there. I want life to be packaged up neatly with a big fluffy bow and I want it to have a hand-calligraphed card on it saying:


I want life to be simple. I want it to be easily understood through the stark contrasts of black and white, high and low, yes and no.

But do I, really? Would I truly enjoy living in a world so lacking in nuance and subtlety. Swimming around a fish bowl every day is binary. Swim or stay still. Eat or don’t eat. Live or die. Fine for a fish, perhaps, but it comes up lacking for this complicated human.

I revel in the depth and complexity of the people I love, slowly learning more about them over time, wrapping myself in more and more levels of their love in return. I delight in the scientific discoveries that constantly make our world a more fascinating place to be, all because of its seemingly endless complexity. I even seek out the discordant trill of uncertainty, the vibration that tells me I am at the edge of my comfort zone and things could get much more interesting from here on out.

You see, I do appreciate complexity and uncertainty, so long as they stay where they belong: in the realm of intellectual pursuits and high adventure. They are not regularly invited into the boring, mundane considerations of my day-to-day existence. There I am uninterested in accepting any messiness or confusion.

But if day-to-day life isn’t complicated, I don’t know what is. And I don’t know what “life” consists of except the chain of ordinary days strung between intermittent moments of purposeful adventure. It is in this realm of the absolutely ordinary where I am working to accept that nothing can be broken down into two simple possibilities and that, instead of seeing reality as a stark contrast of black and white, I need to appreciate, and even relish, its beautiful and infinite shades of grey.

What I Learned in January

Setting up a year of independent study has been an interesting process. I’ve learned what a MOOC is (massive open online course) and about great free learning places like Coursera. I’ve created my own yearly, monthly, weekly and daily schedules. I’ve learned how to bounce back from distractions and off days. And I’ve learned more about myself and how my brain works so I can get the most out of my study time. I can’t say it’s been all wins – I’ve definitely had some rough patches – but overall I think it’s going well!

Resources I’ve Found Helpful

Coursera is fabulous. I’ve finished two courses there so far (Learning How to Learn and Think Again I) and am on my third and fourth now (Think Again II and English Composition). Though I’d definitely recommend all the ones I mentioned, not everything I’ve tried has been life-changing. I’ve started a couple of courses and quickly realised they weren’t what I expected or wanted. But I just un-enrolled and that was that. There are a lot of other online learning platforms out there and a few places with lists of MOOCs you can sort through if you’re looking for something specific you can’t find on Coursera.

My homeschooling friends have been a good source of info too. They gave me great tips for making schedules (so important!) and led me to some fabulous people, like Susan Wise Bauer who wrote The Well Educated Mind (recommended below!). Teachers have been the best at helping me remember that education is an ongoing project and, more importantly, a fun experiment. Everything you do toward it is progress. It’s all about sitting down and committing your curiosity to the pursuit.

What I learned about scheduling

Schedules are wonderful. I made a point of having a full semester schedule on paper (ok, in excel) before Day 1 of my study. I took all the topics I wanted to study and looked at all the books I wanted to read and broke them down over the 16 week session.

Every week I look to see where I’m at on the semester schedule and I base my weekly goals on what I need to finish to stay on track. Every day I look at the weekly schedule and see what I can do to chip away at it. Having that overarching guide means I don’t have to make decisions every single day about where I’m heading. It’s already set and I can just pick up where I left off.

Two points on making schedules:

  • Be honest.. Ask yourself how much time you *really* have and how much you can *really* commit to the project every day/week/month. Look honestly at what you can *actually* achieve in that window. It’s much better to find yourself ahead of schedule with the ability to add more than it is to find you’re overwhelmed (aka stalled) by what you still feel you *have to* finish (more on that momentarily).
  • Schedules are flexible. The point of making one isn’t to force yourself to stick to it religiously every day of the year. If you give yourself that goal you will fail; have even one off day and you’ll lose that perfect streak. A long-term schedule gives you direction. It helps you break down the project to make every day choices about it easier. If you get behind in one area you are likely getting ahead in another. Allow for flexibility while still keeping the big picture in mind.

Reminders for my future self (who will certainly struggle with these along the way)

  • You don’t *HAVE TO* finish anything. Independent study is about having fun and enjoying yourself. Whatever strikes you as fascinating, curious or fun is what you want to be studying. So study that.
  • Be discerning. Lots of things are interesting in the world, but you’ll never have time to explore them all. Get over it and decide which are most interesting to you right now. Then study that.
  • Be disciplined. Stick to your schedule and don’t make excuses. If you really don’t want to do it, cut it out, but be honest with yourself. Are you avoiding it because you don’t enjoy it or because it is challenging? Accept the challenge.
  • Stay organised. Keep track of where you are and where you’re going. Document your achievements!
  • Do *ONE* thing at a time. When you catch yourself doing three different things at once, step back and remember what it is you are actually working on. Do that thing.

Books I’m reading now

  • The Well Educated Mind – a wonderful book that delves into classical literature and provides a framework for critical analysis
  • Understanding Arguments – a very readable and engaging textbook that covers all the topics from the Think Again series more thoroughly. The answer key is also available which means you can dive right in and learn by doing!
  • Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  • Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

Things I want to do in February

  • Finish setting up my Bliss Station (with a nice, handwritten version of my Happiness List)
  • Take more time to do the things I enjoy when I’m not studying (pole dance, pub quiz, wadi walks, yoga…)
  • Keep going! Stick with my schedule, keep doing what I’m doing and have fun doing it!


Dear ____: January 23, 2017

Hello again!

We just talked this morning, but I wanted to say how lovely it is to hear your voice and see you in person (on a screen). I don’t know how our ancestors did it, man. How can you move across the world and never see or hear your loved ones again? A letter that takes three weeks to arrive by steam ship is romantic and wonderful for a time, but to never be able to react real-time to their questions, their facial expressions, their bad puns…that’s torture. Plain and simple. Much as I hate technology at times, I am glad that it exists to shrink the distance down a little.

According to our family legends, my great, great (I think, but I’m not so great at genealogy) grandfather emigrated from Bristol to America back in the 1800’s. He joined the American Navy and during WWI he spent a night at the Bristol base on his way to somewhere (I’m not very good at history either). He wasn’t allowed to leave the base and, more painfully, his family were not allowed to come and visit him. To be in your home town again, after all those years, and not be able to hug your family or go to your local pub and meet up with your friends? I could not handle that. They were a tougher lot back then.

It’s not easy being so far away. I miss home a lot (not the snow and the inversion you are having now though!). After the events of last week reminded me that developing nations and their lack of legal infrastructure can lead to instant and irrevocable change for my friends (and myself tangentially), I long to be in a place where at least I know there are rules and people are held accountable to them. I know that there are loopholes and problems in any system, but it feels we’re always spit out the wrong end of them here. It’s thoroughly frustrating.

Good news though, we do love the new digs. The space is much more comfortable for us and somehow it feels more homey. We have a lovely view across the city from the roof (where we had a beer and watched the sunset yesterday), and we can walk (walk!!! imagine that!) to the corner shop and a mall (with a cinema) all on quiet, residential back roads where no taxis come and honk at us. It’s fabulous. We’ve both felt really happy here the last few days, possibly because we’ve had a lot of unexpected leisure time – it was in short supply the last few weeks so it’s wonderful to have it back!

Until next time, my friend.


Dear _____: January 8th, 2017

Dear ____,

Hola and good morning to you! How is 2017 treating you so far? For us it’s been hectic but good. All in the same week, we started a new year, found a new house, lost the house then found another one that’s even better. Chris wrapped up his old job and made progress on the paperwork to start the next one. He also embarked on a journey to the UK for a 10-day pleasure cruise of unemployment (mostly to be spent eating pork products and hanging out with his family).

I completed the penultimate exercise of my Dive Master course, wrapped up the course I was teaching, collected four friends (two I knew already and two other news ones) from the airport and helped them get set up for a week of adventure around the country. While Chris is away, I am packing up the house (slowly, slowly, as they say here) and entertaining the cat with all sorts of boxes and packing materials.

It’s been a busy week!

January is also the start of my year of study. I would love to say I managed to get it all in, but it was just too much. Of the four days I planned hit the books, I managed one and a half. Still. I did that, so I am trying to be happy that I made a point of it.

The most interesting course I am doing right now is called Think Again (on coursera – a cool online learning platform). It’s really brilliant and a little bit mind blowing. Here’s something that totally changed my world view this week: we were talking about arguments and how they are constructed from reasons and conclusions. So one challenge was to argue to someone who doesn’t believe you that a water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. I was chatting with Chris about it and guess what, Alex! We don’t know! We don’t certainly know that water is H2O. It’s not a definite fact. Did that freak you out? Because it freaked me out.

Chris knows many random things and is much better educated than I, but I thought I had that whole H2O thing down pat. Yet when I asked how he would argue it, he said, “Well, we don’t know that it is. We have to appeal to the scientific authority that they have observed its behavior and seen that it is consistent with what we would expect from a composition of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.” I was like, “Whaaaaa??? We don’t know that it’s a fact??” followed by the sound of my mind slowly crunching in on itself.

So I started googling it, and yeah, he’s totally right. We are pretty sure that there is a ratio there of two hydrogens for every one oxygen atom, but we cannot say with absolute certainty that the molecule itself is made up of only three atoms. It could be H4O2. Or H6O3. Or H246O123. It could be any of those. Or it could be all together different. We simply don’t know. And that was kind of a liberating moment for me. I felt like, “If we can’t be certain of something so seemingly fundamental as that, then everything can be called into question. And it should! And that’s super fun and awesome!” I feel like I should have had this realisation when I was ten or something, but there you go. I had it at least, and that’s what matters, eh?

I’m also really loving the linguistic elements of this argument class. It talks about how sometimes you can change the world with just your words. You can say, “I pronounce you man and wife.” and in making that pronouncement you actually make them married. Magic! So you physically altered the material world when you officiated Kristen’s wedding. You’re like a super hero!

In my spare time this week, I also managed to watch Pleasantville for the first time (right? I don’t know how that’s possible) and I was very impressed by it. I am exceedingly late to the game here, but I really enjoyed it. You know how I have a thing about color, so the whole black and white thing with color secretly moving into it was super awesome and joyful for me. At the beginning, the plot felt cheesy and I thought it would be superficial, but it covers a lot of really serious topics like being human, the pain of racial divides, the importance of education and literacy, the value of color and art, what it means to think for yourself and how sex is super fun.

I remember that it came out when I was still a church-goer and all the talk about it was, “It’s a movie about sex and this shady little girl who gets everyone to do it, and they make it sound like that’s a good thing!” It’s sad the things I missed out on in my life because people told me they were wrong. If I could go back and talk to myself then, we’d have a very interesting chat.

Anyway, the analogies in the movie with our current political atmosphere are palpable. A little too close to the bone at times, actually. Two quite painful quotes for you:

“My friends, this isn’t about George’s dinner or Burt’s shirt. It’s a question of values. It’s a question of whether we’re gonna hold onto the values that have made this place great.”

and a scene described in the script thusly:


They jingle happily in their metal carrier, just as they did before. The CAMERA WIDENS out to REVEAL Elm Street in all its idyllic glory, with one notable exception: In the foreground is the trunk of a tree with a hastily scrawled public notice tacked to the bark:


While the ultimate solution to this messy situation was far too easy to be believable (make the ultraconservative, stuck-in-his-ways leader feel some feels and suddenly everyone gets it and they all move on with their life happy and enlightened about how to work together), it did make me feel like perhaps, ultimately, education and freedom of thought and expression will reign supreme over ignorance and narrow-mindedness. At least I want to hope so.

With that optimistic thought in mind, I am off to face another week.

I hope your first toe into the doorway of 2017 has been greeted with warmth and joy (at least indoors and away from the epic amounts of snow you have had!).

Until next time, my friend!


Diving Updates!

Hey there!

I wanted to let you know that I recently shifted all my diving content to our blog We Are Divers (which you can find with the previous link or through the What I Write About section at the top).

My goal with the site is to share the underwater world with non-divers and diving newbies as well as those with lots of dives in their log book, so even if you’ve never set foot in the sea, you might still find some stuff you’ll like!

What’s over there, you ask? Hmmmm… Let’s see. 

Here’s a recent series I did on basic underwater photography tips and tricks.

And here are some of the videos I made from our dives around Indonesia this summer – the Underwater Dance Party is my favorite.

I’m also working on some other fishy products (wait, that doesn’t sound right…) that I hope to be sharing with you soon!

For those uninterested in diving, no worries. I will still post my creative projects and thoughts here from time to time. For now, the sea seems to be calling to me more and more, and all my creative pursuits revolve around fish and weird ocean creatures. I’m sure these two worlds will continue to overlap – I’m just happy to have you be part of either of them.

Have a good weekend!

Can Science and Religion Coexist?

Despite attempts in my youth to pretend otherwise, science (particularly the mathy branches of science) has always called to me from the deepest parts of my soul. I grew up watching Square 1 TV (of particular importance were Fridays, when the MathNet agents finally solved the week’s mystery), Bill Nye the Science Guy, 3-2-1 Contact, and Nova, among others. I loved reading science books and magazines in my spare time, and I would often ask my mom to write me math tests to take at home because I didn’t get to do enough at school.

Yeah. I was that kid. (I still kind of am that kid).

At the same time I was gobbling up all this great 80s science programming, I was also required to attend an evangelical church (to be fair, it was a fairly mild one, full of people more inclined to play tennis at their country club than roll around in the aisles speaking in tongues). I disliked it for many reasons (pertaining  more to childhood politics than great philosophical debates), but one big issue I had was that I was not allowed to explore the topics of religion scientifically. In fact, I was often treated as some kind of rebel, an agent of mayhem for asking so damn many questions.

As previously mentioned, I was a nerdy shut in who purposefully created extra homework for myself. Rebellion was a terrifying word to me. I was a good kid (like way, way too good) who just wanted to understand the world – not a rebel trying to shake things up. I just didn’t understand some of the things I was told, and my way of learning is to ask loads of questions and test the answers against what I know. I was just being nerdy little me. Still, many Sundays ended with me in tears, frustrated that the answers (when I got any) either evaded my actual question or didn’t make logical sense when parked next to what I knew of the world.

When I turned eighteen and could no longer be legally forced to go to church, I stopped going. Quite expectedly to me, 99.999% of the people I knew from church disappeared from my life (and I equally from theirs), and I developed a hair-triggered response mechanism to religious dogma, particularly as it relates to science. As far as I could see it, there was no place for religion in science and, from what I had plainly experienced, no place for science in religion. You’re one or the other and that’s that.

Fast forward to this week. I am currently reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and, for the first time in thirty years, I have found a small window of tolerance opening up in my philosophy, creating the space where these two often opposing sides might actually be allowed to overlap in a harmonious fashion.

Bryson’s book is anything but a spiritual awakening. It is a factual romp through the history of scientific discovery, focused in particular on how we know the things we know (sure the world is round, but how did we figure that out). It’s a marvelous account of human ingenuity and stick-to-it-ness with regard to understanding the natural world.

In reading his accounts of physics (both astro and atomic), chemistry, biology, geology, genealogy, archaeology, and more, I am blown away by how staggeringly complicated our world is. Studied individually, each of these are endlessly fascinating subjects. Put them side by side and my god do we live in an incredible world. Our universe is so spectacularly, breathtakingly complex, beautiful, mysterious and puzzling that it makes the mind spin in wonder. The more we learn about it, the more we see we have yet to learn. The more we understand, the more we realise we don’t. In whatever time humanity has left on this earth, we will never be able to comprehend it all, to know fully how it all fits together or to have a perfect picture of our past, our present or our future.

Science is constantly unravelling mysteries only to stumble upon more. In a video I watched recently of scientists studying sharks, one (paraphrased) statement stood out to me: the best project is to go out with one question and come back with many.

I may not believe that god created the world, but if you do, what a beautiful way to appreciate the gift that was made for you. To take the intelligence bestowed upon you and use it to dive into the finest details of this creation, to constantly see more and more wonder, more and more mystery, more and more complexity….to me that feels like a beautiful conversation between creator and creation: God creates the universe in all its detailed glory, making it endlessly explorable, then creates humanity, a race of people with boundless curiosity and the level of intelligence required to continuously learn more about said universe and appreciate the incredible complexity of what they uncover. What a beautiful way to enhance your spiritual experience.

A scientific approach to the world doesn’t necessarily run counter to a spiritual one. The pursuit of knowledge itself is neither secular nor religious – when science is used to promote either of these two camps, it is done so by people pushing an angle. Science is by definition neutral. It has to be; that’s what makes it work. It’s simply a systematic approach to understanding the world around us and documenting the knowledge we gain. How you interpret that knowledge is up to you. Whether you choose to believe all this mystery is the result of physical and chemical reactions we don’t fully understand yet or the work of an intelligent god who made it just for us is entirely your call.  The one thing I hope both sides can agree on is that this universe of ours is pretty freaking amazing and the more we learn about it the more incredible it becomes.