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End of another year...

Another New Years Eve. My husband was here for Christmas, but now he's back to 2400 miles away. So we're both watching Hulu and playing on the internet together. He's catching up on the first season of Buffy, which expires tonight (I finished it yesterday). I'm catching up on a couple of fall sitcoms. Sure, we're boring, but we like it that way. At least this year, we like it that way.

This year has been good and bad. I defended and moved to an awesome post doc position, I got a couple of great publications out, we got an adorable new niece and a new nephew, we moved half of us across the country, and we adopted Gibbs the free energy puppy. I only managed 5 bee stings. But we lost Milja, our cat of 10 years, after a long illness. We had to spend half of the year in different states. And I got a truly awful and scary medical diagnosis, which leaves me alternating between optimistic determination and wanting to crawl under a rock and cry. Actually, right now I'm more in the crying under a rock phase. It'll pass in another 10 minutes. Apparently this is normal.

But I am looking forward to the new year. I have a batch of awesome experiments ending and two new sets planned out. I have some nice travel planned, thanks to a decent travel budget and conferences in cool places. My husband and I have some visits planned, and hopefully he gets a job here soon and our cat Elsa will meet our dog Gibbsy. We even have our 12th wedding anniversary coming up this year! Twelve years and we're as happy as we've ever been. Except for that being in different states part. The distance sucks. Especially with the shitty medical stuff going on. But oh well.

Other great things? We got light-blocking, noise-reducing curtains for the bedroom right after Christmas. That plus the new humidifier means I don't wake up with traffic noise all night long, or even worse, those damned police helicopters. What is it with the police helicopters here? Seriously, they are constant and all night long. But I no longer care, because I can't hear them anymore.... ah bliss. And decent sleep is always something to look forward to.

Fun with Apples

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite afternoon snack was a microwaved apple. I'd slice an apple, sprinkle it with brown sugar and cinnamon and microwave it for a few minutes. It reminded me of the skillet apples my grandfather would make on Christmas Eve during our annual brunch.

Personally, I have an abysmal track record with skillet apples. I finally got my recipe perfected. I would have posted a picture, but I ate them pretty quickly tonight. So, sliced green apple and butter in a skillet. Sprinkle over some sugar and a good amount of cinnamon. Cook that down and stir every now and then (but not too much or the apples break apart). Once those apples are soft and the moisture is getting a nice caramelized texture, toss in some amaretto and its done.

I added a little bit of whipped cream on top. Seriously, my refrigerator is never without whipped cream. The canned kind holds up well and its easy to put a tiny bit on the little deserts I can't seem to live without.

Right now I'm in the countdown to Christmas. My husband is flying in on Tuesday, which gives us 2 days to get all the cooking done for our Christmas Eve dinner. Of course this means I will be starting earlier than that. Cookies. Breads. Ham to brine. Herring to get together. And of course many, many vegetables to peel, chop, boil, mash, and whatnot. I love cooking. I still have to get the recipe for liver casserole from my mother-in-law. Not my favorite, but my husband misses it, so we're going to have that liver casserole. Maybe I'll post a picture when its cooked.

On Shitty First Drafts

One of my favorite books on writing is "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life," by Anne Lamott. A very good friend gave it to me a number of years ago and its one of those books that gets better on the re-read. Anyway, Anne Lamott writes about the inavoidable "shitty first draft." Every first draft is shitty. That's what second drafts are for... and well sixth and tenth drafts as well. This is how you get to looking back on something you published a few years ago and wonder what awesome person wrote it, because wow, it sure reads well.

I am a master at crummy first drafts and this is because I have no fear of committing total crap to the screen. If that degree in writing has done anything for me, it has been taking away the hesitation of writing that first sentence. Yep, all due to that degree and enough coffee... or occasionally a half a bottle of wine (at home, I promise. I cleaned out my drawer of vice when I moved to the new university).

What has come as a revelation to me is that a dear former mentor of mine writes shitty first drafts also. He's one of the best writers I've ever known. He can take a few of my paragraphs, make some minor tweaks that never would have occurred to me, and the text just sings. God I hate it when he does that. So freaking annoying. I usually only saw what were probably his fourth or later drafts. Until Google docs. Collaborating with Google docs is an eye opener because everyone sees every little draft. I always knew he worked hard at being such an awesome writer, but I guess it never really clicked until I saw those awful first drafts. Crap-tastic, just like mine.

This has been pretty inspirational for me. And a reminder that good, clear scientific writing is not going to come quickly, so I might as well hunker down and enjoy the process without all that extra anxiety piled on top. It'll get there. Eventually. At some point. With enough coffee.

Farmville Addiction

I finally succumbed to Farmville on Facebook. A few people in my family are addicted, and were trying to talk me into signing up on Thanksgiving. I was on the fence, especially since I had happily blocked those notifications in the past. But then I called my loving spouse, who promptly informed me that if I would just sign up already, then he'd have enough farm neighbors to buy a bigger farm.

Being somewhat compulsive, I have spent way too much time planting fake crops and arranging fake livestock. But I have called a halt. I got things the way I wanted them, and hopefully now I can just maintain. Being a bit nerdy, I managed to do this in just a few days my maximizing harvest rates and whatnot. Thinking about optimal farmvilling rather than optimal foraging for a little while can't hurt, right?

On the plus side to the Thanksgiving vacation, I got a huge amount of work done yesterday. No brain fog then- and I remembered to write all my thoughts down this time. The girl can learn to cope, that's for sure.

This week is going to be busy. I have to write and give a guest lecture for Thursday, get the house ready for a visit from my loving spouse, finish up testing this 7th block of my current experiment, analyze that, and put together a presentation on it for the lab meeting on Friday. Oh yeah, and work on that huge grant that is due in January. And meet with 3 new undergrads about doing research in the spring. And follow up on a list of phone calls. Blech. Give me data all day long, but I hate phone tag (and even worse, having to talk to the people once I get them on the phone).

Collecting frogs becomes sadly dangerous

This is incredibly awful. Some biology students were collecting frogs along a trail only a mile from their campus, and some trigger happy hunter decided they were a group a deer. He shot and killed one woman, and injured a young man. The hunter was trespassing.

Student Mistaken For Deer, Shot To Death

We had some lovely outdoor adventures back in my undergrad days... slogging through wetlands, in the dark. Once someone had to pull me out of a lake after I sunk to my knees in the thick muck trying to collect a sample from a cool-colored algal bloom. Getting covered with ticks. Getting covered with blood. Attacks of poison ivy. Snakes. Chiggers. Hypothermia. Clouds of blood-sucking mosquitoes. Birders. Scary stuff. But, no one ever shot at us.

Dinner Tonight!

One problem with living alone (when you're used to cooking for more than just yourself), is that you can get lazy when it comes to cooking for just yourself. In the interest of improving my quality of life, without sacrificing my lazy non-lab hours, I have been perfecting the 10 minute yummy dinner.

Here's one of my current favorites. I boil some lemon-pepper pasta, drain it, throw in some grilled chicken strips (which conveniently come pre-cooked and frozen from Trader Joe's), toss in some olive oil, and add some feta. Then I dump it on my plate and enjoy my food. Easiest dinner ever... well except for frozen microwave meals or ramen.

Honestly, I would probably starve without Trader Joe's. Or I might end up doing like last week: spaghetti every single night. I finally burned out after day 5 and went to Wendy's the next night (thus defeating my intent to eat less fat, and my goal to avoid eating out in the interest of eating my way through my pantry).

Jardín Botánico

My Dad got me into Brasilian music from a young age. He's a tropical, relaxed kind of guy, so a little samba just fits with his general "Dad-ness." Last week he sent me a cd of some of the things he's listening to these days. Along with the actual Brasilian music, Dad added some songs by Michael Franks, an American musician who has written a number of musical love letters to Brasil. Michael Franks is also a tropical, relaxed kind of guy, much like my Dad. In any case, he has a song about getting lost in a Jardin Botanico. I can only imagine he's singing about the botanical gardens in Rio de Janiero. I like this song, because last summer I got lost in that very place.

For a biologist, or really for anyone, the botanical gardens in Rio de Janiero are amazing. 200 years old and extensive. 900 types of palm trees. Beautiful buildings full of orchids and bromeliads and even carnivorous plants. Thousands of tropical plants from all over the world. All kinds of amazing birds. Monkeys and marmosets in the trees! And in case you get bored with the orderly plantings, it backs up to a coastal rainforest, the Atlantic Forest. Incredibly dense and wet, covered with fascinating lichens and full of all kinds of mysterious things.

I have a pretty huge memory card on my camera and I ran out of space before I ever got to the monkeys. I wasn't even actively birding. I was just in awe. I saw trees I had only ever read about- like cannonball trees. Cannonball trees look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book- giant balls hanging off of a giant tree.

Ironwood Trees!

I finally saw some ironwood trees. I tagged along on a field trip with a class from Pima Community College. It has been so hot since I've been here that being outside has just not been pleasant. Last week, though, was glorious. As is this week. But anyway, we were west of Tucson in a state park full of classic Sonoran desert plants. Lots of saguaro, palo verde, acacia, barrel cactus, three kinds of cholla, lots of opuntia, mesquite... I even saw lots of little mammilaria plants. I've never seen them in the wild before. One of the students called them "Target plants," because it is one of those classic plants they put in little cactus bowls, which they always have out at Target.

As excited as I was about all the plants, I wanted to write a little about ironwood trees. These trees can get pretty huge for something in the desert. And they can live for hundreds of years (I read 1,500 years in one book!). You can imagine how important such a large tree could be in the desert- it would serve as a great apartment building for birds and would change the micro climate around it, to allow other plants and animals to thrive: an oasis of shade. Here's a picture of one of the biggest trees in the Tucson area, which was right where we were:
For scale, that picnic table could easily seat more than 12 people. I wonder how old this tree is? The trunk was really neat up close: all twisted and craggy and beautiful. Apparently this area got practically no rain this year, so the canopy is much more sparse than usual. Not that these trees have huge leaves anyway. When you grow up in a nice moist place, like I did, you can get the idea that tree leaves tend to be on the big size- like the many species of oaks, magnolias, dogwoods, and maples that I used to press into my childhood leaf collections. But most desert plants have tiny leaves. So the picture at the top is of ironwood tree leaves. They are rather small!


So why the small leaves? It has to do with water loss. Smaller leaves lose less water. This has to do with surface area: that part of the leaf that is exposed to the air around it. Getting rid of leaves altogether is hard, since of course you need leaves for photosynthesis, which is how plants make the energy they need (me, I like to cook a nice pasta with a good roasted tomato sauce). Some desert trees even nearly avoid the leaf requirement altogether: they can photosynthesize in their branches and trunk. These are the palo verde trees. They're easy to recognize because, like Kermit the Frog, they are green all over. I have two of them in my yard, one of which I am constantly doing battle with. As cool as they are to look at, some of them are covered with spines (like the one growing into the gate into my backyard). To the right is a nice close-up I took of a little leaf palo verde.... it is nearly "leaves optional"... What a cool tree!

Sleepy... with a chance of insomnia

I'm sleepy. I need to sleep. But, I've been sleep-deprived for the past 8 days. My husband and I are currently in different states. I had to leave to start this postdoc, but he hasn't found a job here yet (thanks, crappy economy!). So we're 2000 miles apart. I'm in a nice little house in the middle of town just close enough to a busy intersection to get rather sketchy looking folks wandering by in the daytime. I figured I was being paranoid, but whatever, I'll lock my bedroom door at night if it helps me sleep.

I'm glad I did because someone tried to break in last week. While I was home. Just after I went to bed. I have an alarm on the back door, and it went off for the first time ever. I called 911. They sent the police. Joy. The door alarm apparently scared whoever it was off.

And where was my tough guard dog during this? Sleeping, lounging, nothing. The appearance of policemen with flashlights in the backyard brought out a soft, but determined "woof" from Gibbs. So much for being like his namesake.

So I didn't sleep for a few nights after that and when I did sleep I'd wake up with nightmares. I usually have nightmares, but home invasion nightmares are generally worse than the other run-of-the-mill ones. Isn't anxiety fun??

I wish the husband would get here. He helps keep me on a schedule. I stayed up until nearly 2 last night researching a project for work, forgot to eat breakfast, and have nearly no clean clothes. I think that makes me a walking hungry disaster in whatever clothing is left. If Gibbsy isn't going to be a guard dog, he should at least try cooking and cleaning. I suspect that will be a losing battle!

September and Busy!

I realized I haven't managed to post anything for a while. I have been busy this month. Well, I was busy, then I had the flu-from-hell, and then I was busy. The new semester has started, which has brought hoardes of undergrads... scantily-clad undergrads. The Sunday before classes started, I went in to feed my bees and nearly ran over a group of girls walking around in bikinis. This is the desert. Its not like there's a beach nearby. Sure, its hot outside, but seriously. Sadly the bikini bottoms are more modest than the tight little shorts the girls also wear. It makes me feel old because my first response is to yell, "Get some damned clothes on." Of course today in the lab, one of the PhD students made a joke about a cartoon from the mid-80's and all the undergrads were like, "What? I wasn't even born then."

Being a cranky old lady aside, my experiment has been running well. We finally worked out some of the procedural kinks and I figured out a nice way to keep the foraging bees motivated without making the colony suffer. Did I mention I managed to kill off a colony? Yeah, bees don't do well on persistently crappy food. Now I'm rotating the colonies between awesome food (when I'm not testing them), and moderately crappy food (when I am testing them). So that works out to moving between 50% sugar solution and 15% sugar solution (by volume)

The picture is of a bee on a training slide (a photo-op bee). They are choosing between different colors, which are covered with microscope slides. The little diamond is just a target for the bee- where the drop of sugar solution reward is found.

So we tested our 26th bee today. I think it is a decent number considering each bee has to make 80 choices... about 4 hours of work per bee. I'm aiming for 120 bees, so hopefully it doesn't take too horribly long. I already have the next experiment designed, and it is super nifty also. Its much shorter (2 months in duration), but addresses a much simpler set of questions. And it will be fun to do.

So, working hard. I'll have to write separately on the other bee schemes I have going. Plus my gardening schemes. And writing schemes. And travel schemes. So many schemes, so little time.

Through the Slump?

I think I might be through my August slump. I love what I do and I find the questions fascinating. But sometimes, I see the entirety of the work ahead of me and feel a little overwhelmed. I get stressed out, I get headaches and get tired, and I start to shut down a bit. It is harder with my husband halfway across the country. Luckily this never lasts for long for me- a couple of weeks.

I've been overly migraine-ish anyway, but apparently the monsoon season does this to many of my fellow sufferers. As wonderful as the weather can be in Tucson, when you add wildly shifting barometric pressure to very bright, intense sunlight, you get a recipe for migraine disaster.

slump + monsoon migraine = yucky month and low productivity... which of course adds to the stress which adds to the ... anyway, you get the point.

Luckily, I have my tricks to break free. First, I realize that I've actually been getting things done so I need to quit beating myself up. Along with that, I get enough sleep, drink plenty of coffee in the morning, and remember all the lessons I learned in the mindfulness meditation classes my wise doctors made me take through the medical school. (Laugh all you want about the mindfulness meditation: that stuff works. When three separate doctors insist you learn something to be more healthy, its a good idea to pay attention)

Then I take a step back. Where am I in my research? How close am I to cool results (or any results)? What are the nifty next steps I'm going to enjoy taking? How about my long list of awesome experiments I really want to get to? How does all of this move my research program forward and help define me as a scientist?

That and thinking about the job market and where I want to be is usually enough to kick me in the pants and get me excited again. Heck, I have cool papers just on the verge of submitting to journals. I've got a nifty experiment running that should be done by Thanksgiving or Christmas. That's much faster than the 2.5 or 3 year running time of each of my last 3 experiments. Gotta stay positive!

Ahhh, the process of working on long term goals.

New Laptop!!! More stuff to do!!!

I have a good reason to celebrate today: my new laptop came in. There are good parts and bad parts to this event. On the happy side of things, this is the nicest computer I have ever had. One of the university tech guys picked it out for me, and it is totally fast and awesome. They installed Office for me and took off all the crap-ware. The screen is crisp and I *finally* have a webcam built in. This will make life much nicer.

On the crap side of things, since its through the university, its set up for stupid users. He thought he'd given me admin rights, but I guess not, since I can't install a damned thing. Blech. On the other crap side of things, it took a $2,000 chunk out of my research slush fund for the year. That plus $400 for some extra software, and I have definitely put a dent in that account- and its only 18 days into this fiscal year. Whoo-hoo! Luckily my research is relatively cheap, and I spent all my summer money getting the start-up going for the experiment I'm running now.

This computer was missing Outlook, which I've always hated anyway. So I have fully moved over to Google. A really nice benefit is an automatic sync with my Blackberry calendar. No more wires! I enjoyed Xobni for Outlook, but I'm thinking Gmail for everything will work well. I've always liked the way Gmail gathers up related emails (same subject heading and the emails that spawns) and it is hard to beat the search function in Gmail. So I set up my two university emails with Gmail and I'm ready to rock.

What I'm lacking now is a graceful way to handle task lists. The Google tasks is not set up to sync with Blackberry yet (although my husband, with an Android phone, is in luck). The task function in Blackberry is decent, in the sense that it is simple. BUT, sometimes a girl wants to edit these things on a computer. There are quite a few task apps available for Blackberries, but I'm cheap and lazy. Lately, I've had relatively short task lists. I've been working with a modified David Allen GTD system, where I have all my projects mapped out and the only thing that makes it to my task list are the "next steps" and things I need to do over the current week. I might start calendaring more also.

So what's next? Get those stupid admin rights and then install the things I can't live without (but don't have yet): Statistica, Endnote, MindManager, and MatLab. I already have CS4 everything, so that part of life is good. And I've moved my files, to that is good. Of course, to install that stuff I'm going to have to install Java, Quicktime, and a whack of other things from the web...

Putting Numbers on Bees

I don't know about you, but I can't tell one bumblebee from another. They all look just about alike to me. It reminds me of my first job in high school at Chick-Fil-A, when a few of my coworkers informed me that all white people look alike. That was actually a fun job with some pretty funny people. But I digress. The next best thing to name tags for the bees is numbers.

They (people who sell beekeeping supplies) sell these little colored tags with numbers on them for marking honeybee queens. They come in five colors, numbered from 1 to 99, and you can fix them to a bee using super glue (what else?). It is a fun little process and my mother claims the bees come out looking like they're wearing sweaters. Or maybe ice hockey jerseys.

Once my two colonies of bees came in, I spent the next two full days supergluing tags on each little bee (except for the queen, who is rather huge, and couldn't ever be confused with her smaller daughters).

How do you superglue a tag to a bee? Very, very carefully. Actually its pretty easy. You grab a bee with a giant set of tweezers. The bee gets angry. Then you stick the bee into a tube. The bee gets angrier and starts buzzing in a rather menacing fashion. Then you take a plunger and squeeze the bee towards the end of the tube. At this point the bee is thoroughly provoked but can't buzz anymore because its wings are pressed to the mesh covering the end of the tube. I don't know why, but I find this hilarious. Ok, before anyone starts thinking I'm evil, please know that this is all done gently and no harm comes to the bee!

Once the bee is immobilized, you grab a tiny amount of superglue, put it on the bee (away from the wings!), and stick on the tag. This little bee is Orange 14, from my colony #1.

After repeating this process over, and over, and over again, you get a colony of bees that all have numbers. At this point you can have some fun and collect data about individuals to your heart's content. To the right are some individuals with green tags, busy at work tending to new sisters and such. I say "and such" because I'm merely a casual observer of colony maintenance and reproduction. I'm really only interested in the foragers: the ones that leave the nest in search of food for everyone. Foragers will, conveniently enough for me, go all sorts of distances in their task... they will travel through yards of tubing and brave the wilds of the plexiglas mazes.

Mail-Order Bees

One aspect of bumblebee research that had me entranced from the beginning is that you can order your experimental subjects by mail. Yup- by mail. No catching things in traps, no kidnapping nestlings, no quarantining and de-worming, no blended concoctions of worms and food pellets, no complex breeding charts... just a 1-800 number and a credit card.

The reason? Well it certainly isn't for the benefit of making scientists' lives easier. It is because bumblebees are economically important. These little pollinators are important agricultural workers, and they are particularly good in greenhouses. Those greenhouses where many of our tomatoes and other veggies are grown, all of which need to be pollinated.

A few weeks ago I got my first bees in. By mail. They come in plastic boxes packed into fetching yellow and white boxes, packed into standard cardboard boxes for shipping. The plastic boxes just won't work if you need to observe the colony and work with them conveniently, so the bees have to be moved.

How do you move bumblebees and a next from one container to another? Very, very carefully. First you get your new container ready. We had some new, stylish plexiglas colony boxes, so I used those. I added a substrate (the lab uses wooden cat litter) and got ready for bees. Since bees don't fly in the dark, and don't see under red light, that's the way to go. You set up a little bee red light district in a dark room and move the bees one by one. Its a bit tedious, but better slow than stung!

After everyone is moved, you can move the entire nest with the queen. Add food, make sure everything is covered, and voila! a new bumblebee home!

Blogging and Bad Dogs

Well, July was certainly a busy month. I got back from Brazil, got bees in the lab, and started up with some research. My mom visited, I got a new rug, and very importantly, I adopted a dog (as seen below).
We named him Leroy Jethro Gibbs, or Gibbs for short, or Gibbsy, when I'm being nice. Gibbsy is a rescued dog. They think he's about 2 years old and he apparently came from some people who were hoarding dogs (40 dogs in a garage or something like that).

Gibbsy is super sweet, very affectionate, and not a barker. I had to housetrain him though. It seems the extent of his housetraining was to not go in his kennel. I have a fenced-in backyard, but on the advice of dog training websites, I walked him on a leash for the first 3 weeks. This was I could see his bathroom habits and confirm the, ahem, events becfore we came back inside.

This seemed to be working well, so we switched to off-leash a few days ago. This switch was apparently a mistake. We spent a good 20 minutes outside tonight at dusk. I watered my plants and read an article on the history of shell-collecting, and Gibbs did doggy things. We came back inside, where he promtly peed on the blanket on the bed. My bed. The bed he also sleeps in (at the foot of the bed), which is where he peed. What was he thinking??

I promptly kicked him outside (well, not literally), where he'd better have finished his business for the evening. Now I'm doing laundry. Thank goodness I have my own washer and dryer now!

Strange behavior, given our past weeks together. He's still not quite figured out he must poo outside- he occasionally favors a rug by the front door. And he's had an incident or two inside other places (which I figured was a transfer/generalization issue... "don't pee in my own house, but other indoor locaitons are ok..."). We were working on that. Any advice is appreciated.

Ahhh, dogs. Other than these occasional issues, he's been pretty good. He's a nice size: 18 pounds, has a nice temperament (he's at least half corgi), and is a great companion. He also likes mango, we discovered. I think we should start some formal dog training this month. That could be useful.

Back from Brazil!

I just got back yesterday from my 2 weeks in Brazil. I had an amazing time, but I am definitely ready to be home again. Of course, I caught some kind of nasty something, so I spent all day in bed today, feeling crappy.

How about some pictures? I spent the first half of the trip at a conference in the middle of Brazil, in Pirenopolis. It was a nice little town. This picture is the outside of the pousada where I stayed. Lovely rooms, lovely breakfast, lovely birds. Nothing like the sound of wild, native parakeets being noisy as hell to wake you up in the morning! I started every morning with fresh mango, pineapple, papaya, little baked goodies, and coffee with milk. Truly great coffee.

The conference was interesting. Not the best conference in terms of the research, but it was great to see posters on so many different systems, and visit with people I usually don't see at these meetings. I also won a sizable amount of books from various publishers, thanks to the competition I entered with my talk.

I would love to go on and on about the food, but I have no idea what most of it was called. I enjoyed the manioc, which I'd never had before in so many ways. And of course, I loved the beef. Brazil is a beef country, and they certainly know how to cook it. Wonderful stuff.

One of the nicest parts was the unlimited free drinks. I cannot count how many caiparinhas I drank. This is an amazing drink. They take lots of lime slices and sugar, and muddle it in the bottom of the glass, then add ice and cachaca (a liquor made from cane sugar). It is super yummy. Here's a nice picture of the remainder of one of my many drinks.

Ranching Caterpillars

I'm in the caterpillar ranching business this week. One of my postdoc mentors works on butterflies, and I'm helping him get more raised while he is out of town.

Caterpillar ranching works a little like this: baby caterpillars start out tiny and then grow big and strong as they roam the wilds of the flower beds, munching their way through everything in sight. Then, once they're ginormous and start stretching out along plant stalks or hit the road, quickly covering some serious ground, then I round them up.

These are some pretty bad-ass caterpillars: red and black and spiky. And when they get angry, little yellow horns emerge from their heads. Seriously. Red and black like that: we call that warning coloration, ladies and gentlemen. Which is good, because these guys eat plants with toxic compounds that they sequester in their cute little bad-ass bodies.

Anyway, after the daily caterpillar round-up, I move them into the caterpillar stockyard, which is a cage full of yummy plants and a luxury rack on which they can attach themselves and pupate. Sort of like a caterpillar spa. It seems these guys are quite ravenous, because I can never keep them stocked with enough leaves. The cage will be full one afternoon and they will have eaten them down to the stems and less by the next day.

After they form their little chrysalis, which honestly looks like something from a science fiction film- all spiky and weird-looking, then they go into a large netted cage for their emergence as adults. Below is an adult: you can sort of see the irridescence in the wings. And of course, the coloration on their underside has blue and white spots. This adult is basking, which seems to be the scientific term for "chillaxin'" And of course, its a great way to gain some heat for the whole thermoregulation thing.
Honestly, I used to think butterflies were boring, but pretty little things that floated around, and people planted bushes for them, and you could pay chunks of cash to walk around in a greenhouse or a tent full of them (where if you were lucky, you'd find some big praying mantids with a pile of butterfly wings underneath them). But now that I've seen this species learning in the lab (with amazing speed) and searching for their host plant out in the desert (far more successfully than I did), I have concluded that this is a seriously cool system.

Blooming Bishop's Cap

I've been getting more into cactus cultivation, now that I live in a place where they are supposed to grow. One of the niftiest cacti I have is an Astrophytum. And this week, it has been blooming.

So here is my little cactus, or rather cacti, since there's a smaller one budding off. The flowers last less than a day. I'm lucky I was not out of town to miss the show! So in the case of these two flowers, they were barely open by the time I left in the morning, looked great in the afternoon (when I took the pictures), and were gone after that. It is a little hard to tell from the pictures, but cactus flowers have this wonderful iridescence about them. I assume it is to attract pollinators.

Isn't it a cool cactus? It has the five sides, and those neat striations. So give an idea of scale, that's an 8 inch pot. I got the cactus at a Tucson Botanical Society sale, where they said it is a 15-20 year old plant!

I'll know if they were pollinated if the fruit appears. I don't know what pollinates these guys, but I have seen butterflies around.

Sonoran Desert Adventures


I actually made it into the field today, like a real biologist. I was in the Santa Rita mountains chasing butterflies with one of my postdoctoral mentors. There were butterflies, wasps, jackrabbits, various birds, and --exciting for me-- the Sonoran bumblebee, Bombus sonorus. They were even nectar robbing. For you non-insect people out there, nectar robbing is where an insect bypasses that whole crawling into the flower, getting coated with pollen, and acting like a pollinator should game. They cut a slit at the end of the flower and just take the nectar. Little thieves. I've read about it, but never actually seen it.

The butterflies we were chasing were pipevine swallowtails, and they only lay eggs on one type of plant. This plant is small, grows close to the ground, and is hard to find (especially this time of year). The easiest way to find a plant is to follow a butterfly. The females do this host searching flight that is really distinctive, and boy do they home in on these plants. Truly amazing. The more I learn about the system, the more completely fascinating it becomes. I was watching these butterflies learn in the lab, and it was one trial learning: one experience and they knew what "flower" to look for. Super cool stuff.

Now I'm a little tired and feel sun-worn. My sunblock, excellent hat, pants and long-sleeved shirt ensured no sunburn, but the bright light and the dryness really has an effect. I drank plenty of water before, during and after, but I just want to dive into a pool of water and then curl up in a dark room surrounded by soft things.

Why soft things? Because the desert is sharp and spiky. Cactus is prickly, but so was just about every plant and tree I saw. Trees covered in spines. Dead plant material made up of huge spines. Shrubs with little spines everywhere. I stepped on a spiny something or other that nearly went all the way through my shoe! So spiny things, dry things, rattlesnakes (though I didn't see anything), flies buzzing about, glaring sun. Certainly not a welcoming kind of ecosystem, if you ask me. But beautiful nonetheless.

A Lost Day... sort of

I apparently spent most of the day in bed. I got up, got ready, but on a cute set of clothes, and the next thing I know, I'm waking up at 2:30 in bed. With my clothes on and my hair dried into some ungodly mess. And a migraine.

I really hate migraines. I get all kinds of annoying neurological symptoms with mine... the neurologist said I have a dissociative disorder, of the type they usually see in people who have had a great level of trauma. Looking back, I have had some pretty crappy things happen to me, and there was that great bout of PTSD. I just don't see any of it as particularly traumatic. So I'm going with the migraine explanation, which is also on the table.

Of course, the day wasn't totally lost in terms of work. I have been super productive this afternoon. I played with MatLab, got a huge whack of treatments and trials and rewards randomized for my bumblebee friends. I think I'll spend the evening throwing all of that into a database and set up some assignment sheets and bee training sheets.

The nerdy side of me truly gets into this kind of nuts and bolts of an experiment. I also love designing data collection schemes. Yesterday I worked on replicating a published model and playing with it until I decided on treatment levels and such. I don't know why it gave me such fits, but I decided to be stubborn and do it in excel first, and excel doesn't make giant equations easy.

And of course, things looks theoretically nice and separate, but then you work in actual values and you find yourself wondering: would a bee really notice/care about a sucrose difference of 5%? I don't know. But I think I have it worked out to some degree of satisfaction.

Maybe I deserve some tacos for dinner...

My New Food Addictions...

I have a confession. I have become a regular at the Mexican fast food place right next to my house. It is just so close and so cheap and so yummy. I can't help myself. I have not had a single thing there that was not good.

For example, let's take my dinner from a few nights ago. On the left there is a chile relleno taco and on the right is a fish taco.
You know, there are a lot of bad versions of the chile relleno out there. Eggy fried crap covering some pathetic little chile. Not this chile relleno. It was awesome. I've had them alone from this place, but the taco version was amazing. I'll have to try the burrito version some time.

The same thing goes for fish tacos. The first time I heard of a fish taco, I thought the idea was disgusting. Ten years later, I had one by accident shortly after I moved to San Diego. It was love at first bite. I do love a good fish taco. Then I moved to Minnesota, which sadly is a bit of a black hole for good indigenous food. Walleye and hotdish don't exactly catch my imagination. Anyway, I could get a fish taco there at one of those now-ubiquitous Baja fast food places, but it just wasn't good. It was the sauce. The sauce was missing! The taco pictured above? Perfect. The sauce was lovely. Lovely enough for me to forget about the lettuce instead of cabbage.

Since I've been tasting my way through the menu, I finally tried horchata. That's a really great drink. And as the lady behind the counter said, it goes great with a churro. I never would have imagined a rice and cinammon drink, but its great. And to think, I had never tried it before. I tried the jamaica also... hibicus-ilicious.

And I won't even get started about the world of tamales. Just thinking about them makes me hungry enough to walk over and get some. Did I mention my new house of addiction is open 24 hours a day?

Making my Office Nicer

So I'm set up in my office. I'll eventually share it with 2 other people, but for now, it is a blank wasteland of old fine cabinets, old green metal shelving, and old, huge metal desks. I'm on the 2nd floor, which here is a bit below ground. This means, that while there is a window, its way, way up high and I can't see out of it. Well, I can see a glimpse of the sky. Being Tucson, that sky tends to be blue. Blue is nice.

I grabbed the desk in the far corner. I like hearing hallways noise, but don't need to be tempted to watch the hallway traffic. I have internet and light, so I guess that's all I need. But not all that I want. You spend enough time in one place and you need things that make you happy.

So I brought a few pictures from home. Pictures of SNOW!

How more un-Tucson can you get? These are pictures my father-in-law took last winter. I had them blown up a but and threw them in frames. Winter in Finland can be very pretty. The snow brightens things up, so in a way, it reminds me of sunny days.

I need to decide what else I'm going to add. Not much, I think. But a couple of plants are a must. Maybe a nice palm to balance out the snow?

Texas Ranger, Leucophyllum frutescens

I figured out what the nifty bush in the middle of my front yard is. Its called Texas Ranger, or Texas Sage. Yesterday I suddenly saw little pink buds all over the plant, towards the ends of the branches. I thought, "wow, I'm going to have some flowers in about a week." Ha! I woke up this morning to a bonanza of purple flowers. Amazing. Everything happens faster in the desert.

Of course I still had no idea what the plant was, but flowers always help on an ID. I took some pictures and brought my camera in to work. Surely in a building chock full of biologists, I would solve my puzzle. Luckily, the first person I asked knew. He's a desert gardener, so I was hoping that would be the case.

Since this morning, I've seen this plant everywhere. It is super common with the landscaping around here. Funny how well it blended in when it was just those tiny silvery leaves. Add a bevy of purple flowers and suddenly a plant gets noticed. Maybe this is why women get breast implants... I'm just sayin' there's a likely reason there.

Designing Mazes for Bumblebees


I'm taking a break from work for a few minutes. I've spent the day reading papers and settling details for my first experiment. To the right is a picture of the fetching critter I am working with now. To be completely unscientific for a moment, I'd like to say that bumblebees are super cute.

I've been working on a design for a maze for the bees to crawl through. I am trying to get a scenario where I can force them to make multiple dichotomous choices (like 8 or 10), and where I can change the stimuli and the reward values. It also needs to be easy to clean and fit in a table.

I think I have something worked out and made a little mock-up out of heavy paper to check my dimensions. Of course, with any animal experiment, all sorts of annoying and unexpected things can go wrong. Getting it to fit on one table is going to be a stretch... one choice segment is about 10 inches long, so multiple that by 10 and you get a maze that's more than 8 ft long. Maybe I can do something to shorten that.

On the other hand, I spent part of the day ordering colored craft foam. Its washable and will make excellent colored stimuli, if I can get some colors that the bees will like, and will like equally (or nearly equally). Of course, while I'm designing and decorating these mazes, perhaps the bees would appreciate some crystal chandeliers and and maybe a honey water fountain? Passed silver trays of tiny pollen balls?

For the weather update, its a mere 94F outside, and yet my office is cold. The bike ride home will make up for that. At least I have a few hours before I attempt that little round of fun. And tomorrow is very exciting: I get hot water again. Yippeee! When I was setting up the utilities for the house, I had no idea that the only gas powered anything was the hot water heater. So I've been dealing with cold showers since I moved in since it takes more than 5 business days to get on the schedule for gas hook ups.

Alright, break over. Its back to the grind for me. Since I'm nice and brain dead, this seems like the perfect time to count fly eggs.

Sunburned in 30 Minutes

We took a break from unpacking to visit the B & B Cactus Farm. My husband and I have been rather taken with the plants here. Cacti and just plain nifty. So we drove out to the east side of town, in an area with fantastic mountain views, and pulled into Cactus Wonderland. It was amazing. Amazing and hot.

We strolled amongst the saguaros and agaves. There was a greenhouse full of small cacti, one of succulents, one of aloe, and some others. We bought a few aloe of different forms and a few small succulents for the indoor collection.

On the way home, we went to Lowe's to get another bright yellow-orange Lantana ($2.50 a pot!) and found some sago palm for only $14 each. Crazy! We got all of that planted, and I'm still trying to decide where to put the super cheap portulaca I bought. I really need to post pictures, but I am lazy.

In any case, I had to do the planting at night because our brief visit to the cactus farm ended up with me sunburned and utterly destroyed. I have also learned that [Tucson heat] + [optic nerve damage] = [I go blind in my left eye every time I walk outside]. Good times.

On the professional front, I finally received my employee ID number, and then I could get my ID card, and now finally, the computer has done what it needed to do and I signed up for an email and computer account. I have to sign up for benefits later on, but at least I got my email set up and my new web page uploaded.

The husband leaves tomorrow, so I hope we can get the rest of the unpacking done today!

Settling In

We are here in sunny Arizona, surrounded by boxes. I am excited that the kitchen has lots of cabinets, we have a laundry room, and the front porch is really pretty.

I am trying to decide what to plant outside. There are some great trees and bushes in the yard, but I am thinking of adding some red yucca to the side of the house (outside the back door), and some aloe and agave or various kinds in containers on the front porch.

We have white oleander all down the side of the front yard and house. It looks like this:
The red yucca, which I think would be nice, looks like this:

Tomatoes apparently LOVE the Tucson sun and heat, but I'm thinking it might not be worth the extra water bill. On the other hand, I am amazed at the cheap produce here. I guess being closer to the source really pays off. Which is strange to think that we didn't get such cheap produce in San Diego, which is actually IN California.

My goal for the day is to finish unpacking everything for the kitchen, and get my ID card at the university. I need the ID card to get an email address, keys, sign up for benefits and parking. All the things I need to do tomorrow. BUT, I can't get the ID card until I get an ID number, which is still pending. It is nice to know that this university is just as bureaucratic as the other ones I've been employed by.

We're Not in Kansas Anymore...

So I'm in Deming, New Mexico for the night. We have finished up our second day of driving across the country in a moving truck (with a car towed behind). Yesterday was the killer day- from St. Paul, Minnesota, through Iowa, part of Missouri, and most of Kansas. We left at 7am and didn't get to the hotel until after 11pm. I swear that Kansas was getting longer the more we drove through it (take the limit of Kansas...). The best part of Kansas were the cows. Herds of cows hanging out on incredibly green and hilly pastures. We stayed on a road called Pancake Blvd in an area that was truly flat as a pancake.

Today was Oklahoma, Texas, and most of New Mexico. The cows in Texas weren't as nice. They were crammed into huge stockyards with no grass. Thousands of cows. I wouldn't want to be a cow in Texas. The highlight of the day was stopping in Hatch, NM. Back in my past, one of the biggest food revelations of living in Arizona was the green chile. Actually, this was so important, it deserves capital letters: Green Chile. We would leave the lab and drive to Sonic for lunch because they would make grilled cheese sandwiches with green chiles. Yum. Anyway, the chile capital of the southwest is Hatch, New Mexico. I celebrated with some local apple empanadas.

What has been really nice has been the driving. I wasn't able to drive for a number of years for medical reasons and just now got my license back earlier this year. It has been fun being able to drive and let my husband rest. He usually does so much for the family because I can't always do things. So that was nice.

We get to Tucson tomorrow morning. I have another set of movers lined up tomorrow afternoon. In between, I sign all the papers at HR and meet with one of my new post-doc advisors. Then I have the week off to settle in and unpack.

I can hardly wait to really explore a new town. Hopefully I can post some pictures once I get set up (and find my camera data cord!).

Moving sucks

That's my eloquent title today. I feel like I've been moving for over a week... because I have been moving for over a week. The day after I defended, we moved into our new St. Paul apartment. That took a few days, and we still have more to take over there. Simultaneously with that move, we've been packing up the remaining mass of our household for the move to Arizona. And I do mean mass. I am worried that it will not all fit in the truck, but I guess I'll find out very soon.

People who know me, know that I run out of energy very quickly. When I run out of energy, annoying things like not being able to walk or see tend to happen. This makes an endeavor like movng particularly difficult. So I hired some guys to pack the truck. Better them than me... or rather my husband, because there's no way I'd make it. Give me the bubble wrap and the dishes, but I'm not lifting a mattress. Funny to think that in my healthier days I worked for FedEx at their headquarters in Memphis... on the runway, moving huge freight containers and whacking things with crowbars.

But once everything is in the truck, I can breathe a little easier. The husband and I actually love driving the rental trucks. We've done it so many times now. It is rather freeing to drive across the country with no stress, in the slow lane. Our first big move driving our own truck was from Memphis to Flagstaff, Arizona. I thought we'd never get through Texas. The second one was from Flagstaff to San Diego. One couldn't wish for a more scenic and varied drive. Our most recent cross-country move was from San Diego to Minnesota. Up to LA, across Nevada, through the Rockies. With 2 cats. That was an adventure. Other than the creepy town in southern Utah we stopped in, it was fun.

Hmmm... it is looking like most things are fitting in. Wow- my loving spouse just brought me a Dove chocolate ice cream bar. It is very yummy. I guess this is my last bit of enjoyment before scrubbing out the bathroom and kitchen... and where that soda exploded into my freezer last week. Joy.

Call Me Dr. Milja

Well, I survived my defense and I didn't even need any weapons. I was surprised at how many people actually came to my talk. You'd think that Thursday morning in the middle of finals would be a deterrent, but it was nice to have an audience. I even got some really cool questions.

As for the exam part, I survived. Nothing too hard, just a nice conversation. I got my signatures and a bunch of hugs. Yay!

I am sooooo glad the whole thing is over with. I wish I could have a long vacation now. But, no. This week I get to:
  1. pack up my lab
  2. move into new apartment for husband (who is staying in our current town for job reasons)
  3. turn in revision for the article in Proceedings of the Royal Society (yay!!!)
  4. turn in final copy of dissertation and pay all the stupid fees
  5. pack up nearly everything we own for the move to Arizona
  6. Buy plane tickets for conference in Brazil
  7. Send off for visa to be allowed into Brazil
  8. And one final neurology appointment before I move
Holy cow. I think I need to take a nap from just thinking about all of that.

Watching my brother graduate

I just watched my baby brother graduate from college. He finished at Florida State University with a double major in finance and political science. I am so proud of him. It seems like only yesterday he was ripping off his clothes, running around outside and peeing into the street... oh wait, that was yesterday. (just kidding).

Once, I was visiting home from college for an academic competition, and other members of the team were staying at my parent's house in Atlanta, and my dear brother showed up wearing nothing but a bandanna tied around his waist chanting "diarrhea cha cha cha." Yes, he had diarrhea, and was giving us all minute-by-minute updates of his progress. He must have only been 6 or 7 years old.

Ahh the memories. And now he gets to find a job and be an adult. I wonder if that means I have to actually be an adult when I finally graduate??

Getting Ready for Eurovision

Let me preface this by saying I love the Eurovision song competition. It always cracks me up. And with the advent of YouTube, we can all enjoy the wacky videos far ahead of time.

For instance, a few years ago for Christmas I got a cd with all of Finland's entries over the years. One cd and only a few decent songs- the rest were total crap and we thoroughly enjoyed laughing at them. For those of you unfamiliar with Finland's record in Eurovision, they came in dead last many, many times. In my eyes, Finland redeemed itself for eternity by winning in 2006. Lordi was so... Finnish. I can't believe they won the country competition. Usually the granny vote wins out and some lame song goes to Eurovision.

I think the Granny vote wins in most countries... which is why so many of the songs are cheesy and lame. Except for Germany, whose entrants often have me asking WTF? (this year, its gotta be Ukraine, whose video is one hot mess... well, mostly a mess, and a squished kiwi... but I'll have to talk about that another day).

So, back to Lordi. Imagine all the usual peace, love, and lame songs. The usual Spanish euro-trash dance song, Russian chicks frenching each other, and then this:



I just love Finland.

Here's a classic Finn-entry from 1961 by one of my all time favorite singers, Laila Kinnunen:

My dissertation is DONE!

I turned in my dissertation this afternoon! Yay. It is almost over. I have my final defense in two weeks.

I even pick up my graduation gown tomorrow. Crazy.

I honestly don't know what to do with myself right now. So I'm watching some of my backlog of tv shows that I couldn't watch because I was working like crazy. Right now I'm watching part of the final season of Boston Legal.

I might be stressed out, but at least I'm not crazy like Michele Bachmann

My state has a crazy congresswoman. She's not from my district, and I am still amazed she ever got reelected... because she is crazy. Seriously crazy. I believe the proper term is actually batshit crazy.

Her latest? Apparently she finds it notable that the last swine fly outbreak occurred under a Democrat president also. 'Cause if Dick Cheney was still protecting our borders, he would have waterboarded those damned viruses before they ever infected Americans... Never mind she's wrong. Ford, not a Democrat, was president, and it wasn't exactly an outbreak. Oh yeah, and those mandatory vaccinations he ordered killed some people with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

http://thinkprogress.org/2009/04/28/bachmann-flu-democrats/

Wonder what else she's been up to? She was calling for a revolution last month, and earlier this month claiming that new government volunteer programs were really going to be re-education camps for our youth. A few years ago, she pawed all over Bush after a state of the union address. Last fall, she urged an investoigation to find the "un-American" members of congress. Ironically, she also voted against requiring health insurance companies to cover mental illness.

It is really sad when you can google someone's last name with "batshit crazy" and come up with lots of results. Try it, and look her up on YouTube. Amazing.

Still Breathing!

Ok, so I freaked out a little bit yesterday about my impending dissertation due date. I dealt with it in the best way possible: with a nap. My husband and cat joined in. They're real team players.

I started out my morning at the doctor's office because I thought I had an appointment. I was wrong. It is next week. So I took the bus to my office and bought a lovely coffee from the vending machine. Ah... vending machine coffee.

I finished chapter 4 and sent it to my advisor, so that's done. I also managed to finish all of chapter 2 except for part of the results (which are still pending) and the discussion. So that means 3 chapters done, and the last one 70% done. Looking pretty good!

What's left? A little data analysis and that discussion. Then: finishing my general introduction and general discussion. I have bits and pieces of each, but I'm being rather picky about the writing. I've written and rewritten the introduction a few times now, but I think I'm finally getting at something I'm happy with.

So, can I do it? I'm feeling optimistic right now. Optimistic enough that I'm writing this and watching Top Gear instead of working on that introduction!

On the shoe front, I found a pair of zebra and black patent leather wedge sandals. I'm excited. My advisor told me it wouldn't pass subfusc, but he's not at Oxford anymore. Silly advisor. I can wear all the zebra print shoes I want with my gown. Ha!

Only Partially Freaking Out

Alright. I finished the formatting. I added in the final appendix. I started a complete rewrite of my introduction chapter and I'm actually happy with the framework that I'm taking on now. Excited about it actually.

His holiness went over the introduction, modelling section, and methods of Chapter 4 (the one that's taken him 2.5 years to tackle), so I made those minor corrections. I have a feeling that more major corrections are to come. The data analysis and results are very complicated... and make for a complicated story.

So what does that leave? Finish the introduction, finish the general discussion (which is pretty decent so far, but only 25% done), and write chapter 2. That writing chapter 2 part is going to be a bitch. I did write up with model for appendix 2, so at least that part is done.

I have exactly a week. It can be done.

Formatting Like a Madwoman

The dissertation is due to my committee in 9 days, and I have been busy. I met with my advisor, his holiness, this morning. He thought I was joking when I said it was due April 29th. On the plus side, he's now actually going to read that draft of a manuscript I first sent him 2.5 YEARS ago. I know he's serious this time because he emailed me earlier his hour asking for the most recent version (from last fall). He's actually a great advisor, we've all just been busy with everything else and he thinks my other work is more interesting than what is to become chapter 4. Not reading that draft has become a running joke... of course more funny to him than to me!

Chapter 3 is actually in review at a journal, so I went ahead and copied and pasted it into the dissertation file... and formatted and formatted and renumbered equations and added the figures into the proper places and formatted the captions and made sure my list of figured automatically reformatted properly and made sure Endnote did its thing with the new references and added 3 new appendices (condensing 5 from that manuscipt into a mere 3).

Chapter 1 is in review at a journal, so that was also a cut and paste job.

Chapter 2 is completely unwritten. HAHAHA. I am insane. Or going to be insane. Hell, I haven't even finished the data analysis. I still have eggs to count for the data analysis. Luckily, I love data analysis, and that degree in English comes in very handy with the writing. Plus I have many grants and proposals plus a project charter for that experiment to pull from. My goal is to be done with a decent draft of it by Friday.

My current goal is to figure out the multi-level list function in Word so that I can have my figures autonumber themselves in the form "Figure 3-5" for chapter 3 figure 5 rather than "Figure 15," which is what it is at the moment. The continuous numbering is driving me crazy.

Hospital Escape: Time to Talk Shoes!

So I managed an escape from the hospital yesterday. I was so happy to get out- and get that IV out. The second one I got was really hurting. At least my new crash helmet kept me entertained. I got to walk around with the nurse, a nursing assistant following me with a wheelchair, and my husband... all while covered with wires and my crash helmet. I had a whole entourage.

The outcome of the whole experience? I got a tiny bit of work done. I had some surprisingly decent food (they had room service, where you order off a menu). I had a few seizures, or rather "events" as they call them. The diagnosis? Non-epileptiform seizures. I asked if they could be related to my migraines, and the doctor said that definitely could be the case. That's pretty much what I had figured it was to start with, so no mystery here. In any case, I go back to see my neurologist in a few weeks for the followup.

Now, on to a more interesting topic: SHOES! I am graduating next month with the PhD and this is the first graduation of mine that I have been to since high school. Much of my family is coming, which will be cool, and since they're southern, they will be dressing nice. I found a black sheath dress on eBay for $3.50, which I hope fits because it is super cute. This leaves the shoes. I'm wearing the whole black gown and hood thingy and tam (the poofy hat, which cracks me up). I need cool shoes. I thought about black, but that's boring. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get these:

I like them. I tend to get pretty wobbly and I'm not too keen on having to bring my cane to my graduation! Its not that I mind the cane, but I'd just rather not in this situation. I'd rather focus on my awesome poofy hat and a kick-butt pair of shoes.

I'm thinking that if I don't do red patent leather, I am going to look for a good animal print (rawr!).

Hoping for Seizures: A Sad State of Affairs

What kind of a crazy person hopes for seizures? Me! Well, I just want whatever crazy things that happen to me to hurry up and happen so that I can go home. I have a couple of "events" yesterday. I think the doctors' sleep deprivation scheme worked too well because I essentially fell apart at the seams.

Today, I got a new IV (yuck), and this afternoon they're going to get me walking around in an attempt to provoke something. I have to wear a helmet. Yippeee. At least I'm on a neuro floor where just about everyone has wires or shaved heads and surgical headgear.

At the moment I have my door closed. I spent yesterday people watching in my attempt to stay awake. I made it about 32 hours without sleep.

Video EEG: My Own Reality Show

So I'm ending my second day in the hospital on a video EEG study. Right now, my head is covered in wires (cemented on) and I have a camera aimed at me. It's my own reality show, and it isn't much fun.

And did I mention they've put me on a fall precaution?? Oh yes. I have to be supervised when I go to the bathroom. I'm not allowed to leave the bed. They even put a bed alarm on, so they know when I'm trying to evade them. I hate it when they do that. They did that to me the last time I was in the hospital. I'm not even allowed to sit on the edge of the bed...

Tonight, the torture continues: enforced sleep deprivation. No sleep tonight or tomorrow. They are trying to provoke some seizures. Because the sooner they get some seizures, the sooner I get out of here. I had to do a sleep deprivation EEG a couple of years ago, and that was brutal. This time, I'm on camera and there's a hospital staff to enforce my awakeness. So I get to be stuck in bed, but stay awake. Good times.

And did I mention I'm in a university teaching hospital? Oh yes, medical students, residents, nursing students. At least that keeps things interesting. Still, have a med student the age of my baby brother taking care of me is odd. I guess that means I'm getting old!

19 Days Left

I have 19 more days until my dissertation is due to my examining committee. I have 5 days until I write to each of them and inform them that my dissertation will be arriving to them in 14 days. Then May 14th is the big day: my defense. I have been threatening to bring a small trebuchet to defend myself with, but his holiness, my advisor, informed me that weapons are not allowed. He can be so un-fun. Plus, he throws things at me all the time: celery, nerf darts, chocolate, pens shaped like missiles. I did kick him yesterday, so that makes me feel a little better,

But I have been productive. I just submitted a paper to the Proceedings of the Royal Society yesterday. I am afraid I did not purge all of my American spelling, so I hope the reviewers forgive me. His holiness, my advisor, got his DPhil from Oxford, so at least I have an excuse. As my co-author, he does not!

Yesterday, I also added a few paragraphs to my general discussion. Then I counted dozens and dozens of scans of fruit fly eggs (boring...). Today I finished some formatting and cross-referenced figure numbers.

At this very moment, I am skipping a lecture on the history of my field of study, and contemplating skipping a pub night with colleagues. I am too lazy to drive, plus my vision isn't exactly its best right now. Plus, I'm lazy. Did I mention that?

April Blah

I'm tired. Super tired. I went on a data analysis binge yesterday and got a ton of work done. I finished a poster for a university research thingy tomorrow (and got that printed today), and was able to add two brand-spankin' new graphs to it. I am a little stunned at how cool the results are looking so far. I guess my general pessimism about experiments working out has the benefit in that I can only ever be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Today was more data and more counting things. Ever since the optic neuritis (which continues), my eyes really hurt when they're tired. I always had more fuzzy vision at the end of the day, but now its super fuzzy and painful. Totally sucks. But it should get better with time (according to the wise neuro-ophthalmologist... who also informed me my other optic nerve is damaged from something in the past. As my husband said, when the wife warranty runs out, everything starts breaking).

I did manage to get a manuscript draft to my advisor before he had the chance to nag me. This is the one that was reviewed by Science, for what seemed like ages (well, actually weeks), and then got rejected. We really have to get it off to the next journal, so I corrected some things and reformatted it. Hopefully his holiness can decide he likes it and we can submit it again. Regardless, it is chapter 1 of my dissertation and is now complete.

House Hunting

I felt like an ant today, out hunting for a new home. My husband and I are trying to find a new place in Arizona and a new place here in our current town, simultaneously. Ah, the joys of having to live apart.

The Arizona search has involved searches, craigslist, and a lot of checking up on Google Earth. I think we've finally found a good place, with a tolerable price, in a nice neighborhood. I'm ready to send a check and be done with it.

As for Minnesota-land? This was more of my husband's choice since it will be his primary domain. We drove by lots of places, did the usual internet trolling, and went on some tours. I thought this would take forever, but I think we've already found the perfect spot. It even had a large window box in the kitchen for growing plants and perhaps a cat-napping spot.

Both are right on target with the budget, have lots of windows, and make the husband happy. Even better? We can get the dates to overlap in a way that should make moving as painless as possible. Not that moving is ever painless, but that last one nearly killed me, the husband, and my sister. Only my little niece K-Dog had energy to spare- and she was 5 at the time and carrying floor-sized lamps down 3 flights of stairs. The girl is hard-core: she's 7 now and could probably bench press me.

More uncertainty nailed down. That's always a good thing.

Adventures in Medicine

The character-building continues. I finished my second of three doctor's appointments this week, and had to do yet another blood draw. Tomorrow: the neuro ophthalmologist for some optic neuritis fun followup. More eye drops. Yuck.

Today was the neurologist. I can't say the news was uplifting or happy, but it was an odd change to have a neurologist not treat me like a neurotic grad student. Now I'm up for a round of all kinds of evoked potential tests, a 5 day video EEG in the hospital, a follow-up with the same neurologist and an appointment with an MS specialist.

I would be more freaked out, but after all the IVs last week, I don't have much of a drama response left other than, "Well, this sucks." Plus, I have more pressing worries at the moment: how am I going to finish this dissertation while stuck in tests and the hospital? I was already pushing it. To quote my advisor, "You definitely have your work cut out for you this month."

It should be a fun challenge. All of it. Life is life, you know.

Space Shuttle Launch!

I got to watch the launch of the space shuttle today! We're over 100 miles away, but it sure was nifty to watch. Huge plume of vapor behind an incredibly bright flame. I've always wanted to see that in person, and it seemed like with the shuttle being phased out and fewer flights, it wasn't going to happen.

When I was a kid, we'd watch the shuttle launches at school. The Challenger explosion actually happened on a day when we were out of school. Emily (my sister) and I saw it on the television at home. The way everyone had pumped that launch up at school, it was particularly traumatic. No first teacher in space.

I still wanted to be an astronaut. I didn't want to be a pilot or anything: I wanted to run the experiments. And of course, when I found out how hard it was to become an astronaut, it only made it that much more intriguing. Show me a brick wall, and I seriously want to climb it or blast through it.

As for the research... I managed to count 70 more scans of fly eggs.

Eventful "Vacation"

Life has gotten interesting here in Florida. My dad had foot surgery, I found out I have nerve damage in my left eye, my brother seems to have discovered red wine, and my little niece is taking after me and actually enjoys reading (unlike her mother).

Dad's doctor took lots of pictures during the surgery, which no one wanted to look at except for me. How often do you get to see someone's foot cut open like that? Now Dad is a Bionic Dad with a metal screw in his ankle. I guess he needed some straightening out.

As for the eye thing, it is optic neuritis for the third time. I am surprised about the actual damage. Kinda scary. I really don't want to do the shot every week thing, but I guess its better than the potential much nastier alternatives.

We went to Fort Lauderdale tonight for dinner with my Uncle Robbie. He and his wife are down here for a cruise, so the timing was perfect. It was fun. I am always amazed at the ostentatious displays of wealth here in south Florida. I saw a parade of extremely expensive cars, but the flashiest was a bright banana yellow Bentley convertible.

Oh yeah, and I got more scans of eggs counted. I am enjoying the system I set up. I'll have to post about it tomorrow when I'm more awake. I'm too busy watching one of those giant-monster-animal-attacks-small-town movies on SciFi. This time it is giant squid. Awesome.

Not Cool

Florida is great. It is warm, not too humid, and incredibly wonderful. I got a little work done this morning and settled myself in.

The not cool part? I'm not here a whole morning, and I already had to go to a doctor. Stupid ophthalmologist thing. And I get to go back tomorrow afternoon. My optic nerve for my left eye is unhappy. Or something like that. We'll see tomorrow.

They say that suffering builds character. I make it an art form.

How much progress have I made on the dissertation? Not a whole lot. But now my eyes have gone back to normal after 6 hours of massive dilation. So perhaps I get a little more done before bedtime. I can hardly see how the results turn out on that last experiment- it is going to be cool no matter what it looks like. That's a what I call an ideal design.

On the Road

I'm at the Tampa airport waiting for my next flight. You know how sometimes air travel can be a total bust with regards to productivity? Well, today has been pleasantly productive. I outlined the revisions to two manuscripts, my steps in compiling the remaining data in that last massive experimental evolution study with fruit flies, and did some nice strategic thinking about the manuscripts I really want to get done in the coming months. Of course, being stuck in the same seat for 5 hours helps focus thoughts!

On one hand it is fun to have so many ideas. On the other hand, I hate knowing I can't get to them all. I suppose I should be happy that I've made it to the point that I can recognize what I have time for and what I need to cut out. I am also hoping I have things prioritized properly. I am really trying to focus on the good, big ideas that will contribute to a nice research program. Dave would be so proud.

Watching this last faculty search has been educational. The job talk is so important and I think it really does need to tell a good, cohesive story that makes really nifty and important future directions very clear. Being on that search committee came at a perfect time in my career, I think.

What an exciting time! So many potential opportunities and directions... surviving the job hunt is going to be an experience, that's for sure.

Euphoria!

I see that word and always want to think euphorbia for some reason or another. I guess plant bio never leaves one's brain.

I am having one of those afternoons where you tie up loose strings and get prepared for a vacation, feeling accomplished and organized. Except I'm not really going on vacation. For the past FOUR years, my life has been dictated by the reproductive cycle of Drosophila melanogaster at 24C. (except those months when the flies tried to kill me and I ended up on bedrest...) Anyway, I'm heading to Florida to work on data and writing.

There is so much to do, that I am starting to feel the pressure. However, at least I will feel pressure and warm sunlight all at once! And most importantly, I will be hanging out with my family.

But more on the euphoria front. I may be scanning in petri dishes, but I have a new manicure and pedicure. Bright coral pink. I got a nice sea salt scrub, a mud mask, a parafin treatment. Lovely. It makes me feel better about not fitting into all of my old summer clothes!

Sunday Adventures

Well, adventure is strong word. I am scanning in petri dishes of agar and Drosophila eggs. Hundreds and hundreds of petri dishes. Usually I do these in the lab, but the lab is cold, it is hours and hours of work, and I still have an awful migraine (5 days and counting!). So I brought my work home with me. Scanning at home is far superior to scanning at the Ecology building.

I scanned all last night and much of today, and I'm still not done. The huge assays I'm running right now just generate so much data so quickly, it can be hard to stay on top of things. On the plus side, I cleaned up my laptop: the registry, the files, a little spy ware. Now my laptop is zipping along.

Stuff and Things

It seems my life has become so complicated that I can hardly keep track of myself. This is a new attempt at keeping track of myself, and making it easier for family and friends to keep track of me (when they feel like it).

My cat had/has a blog, but she got lazy. And let's be honest, a cat's life is fairly simple and boring.

So let's give this a whirl and see how it goes.