30 August 2009

A year to remember

After the Lep course, I headed east in search of another one of my elusive plants. Spoiler alert: I didn't find it. I did manage to find lots of my outgroups. With any luck, they will amplify this time. But I did do something I have never done before. I spent the night in the desert in the open air.

It was one of the most remarkable nights of my life. I simply cannot explain everything that I felt and experienced. I was completely alone. I did not have the proper clothing and shelter for such a night, so about 3/4 of the way through, when the temperature dropped down below 60 degrees, I made my way back toward my car. The sun beat me back to the car. I wanted to share my experience with you in photos. This was my night on the white sands.

25 August 2009

Hello Muddah.....

Been having great fun at nerd camp. Took some picture postcard photos today.

Stepped on this moth. Yup. It's a gift.

OK, everyone here said I was crazy, but I think this one has a design on it's body that looks like a tiki torch, so I dubbed it Manduca tiki. You see it don't you?

23 August 2009

Nerd Camp

If you had any foolish thoughts that D might be something other than pure nerd, lay those thoughts aside as folly. I just realized today that I'm at moth camp. Any pretense I had of containing even an ounce of cool has evaporated.

Let me introduce you to the fastest tongue in the west. Hyles lineata. The white-lined sphinx moth.

Hey, it's not all moths. Here's a pretty awesome beetle.

A praying mantis eating a sphinx moth for breakfast.

Geometrid moths.

Another hawkmoth.

Lots of dirty brown jobs (Noctuidae).

I learned to pin....properly....by a real entomologist. I learned a little about butterfly and moth morphology. I have looked at diagnostic characters under scopes. I have oooohed and awwwwed over caterpillars. I have already begun my shopping list of things I need to buy to do my research the right way. I've got some great, interested classmates that I really enjoy spending time with. The food is great. I've listened to corny jokes about statisticians (and laughed), and endured endless ribbing about my accent. I am trying desperately to care about the butterflies we chase during the days. Maybe I'll collect some of those for you tomorrow. Let me leave you with this.

You haven't lived until you have examined caterpillar fracts. Just look it up.

20 August 2009

Trip Prep

Hold your breath. I'm going on another trip. This one for a lepidopteran course in southeast Arizona. I'll be doing a little collecting after it's over. Which reminds me that I need to get in the herbarium today and do a little investigative work on site locations.

But today I am preparing for the trip. I started by cleaning out the fridge. You would think, having been gone the better part of two months this summer, that my fridge would already be empty. But noooooooooooo....

Today I threw out expired yogurt, salsa and spaghetti sauce with mold on it, a liquefied green pepper, and a carton of eggs that expired in late JUNE! I didn't buy groceries this week because...well...what would be the use? My fridge is empty. Needs a good cleaning.

Keeps my mind off the fella a la hot date, because I've convinced myself he's just not interested. Beckie says I'm crazy. He called last night, she says. But he doesn't exude enthusiasm, I said.

Sheesh. It is really hard being this crazy sometimes. But at least my fridge won't stink when I get back.

09 August 2009

What I did with my Saturday

Click here to view this photo book larger

Well, after the farmer's market and a few errands in town. Took me about 7 hours to put it all together. It's a birthday present for D-nephew Lee. These are all pictures that he took on our trip. I think he's really got an eye for photography. However, I did notice that he deletes anything but perfect photos. Makes the decision right there in the field. Me, on the other hand, I come home and see if I can't fix some of those pics.

Since the book is for him, I sprinkled in some pictures I took of him in the field. I hope he likes it. He'll be 22 this year.

I made one of these books of D-fav Nevada just after she died. I really like these little books. I like them even better when I have a half-off coupon.

07 August 2009

Advice for 30 year olds

If I had one bit of advice for 30-year-old men, it would be this: step away from the bottle.

D-friend Bek is 40 years old. She's expecting. Gutsy move, yes. Foolish? Hardly. But there is one part of her situation that does make her condition more difficult. She has a husband who drinks. And when I say "drinks", I don't mean 6 beers on the weekend. I mean he takes time off work to work on their house and drinks 18 beers in a single day. She suspects he's an alcoholic. She doesn't know because he doesn't drink every day. They have had week-long spats that drug in in-laws and friends and destroyed relationships with many concerned. They have separated for two-weeks at a time over the drinking. She calls me up regularly to vent about his drinking. I don't have the heart to tell her that, yes, her man is a drunk, and if his drinking bugs her that much, her marriage may be doomed.

Now don't think I'm just a negative person. Because it isn't about dooming her relationship. I am speaking from what I have seen and experienced in my years growing up, growing older, and growing wiser. Or at least having the awareness of people and things around me to have seen patterns emerge.

I believe there is a point in your early 30s when you make a decision. Perhaps I should say you have an opportunity to make a decision. You can decide to be a grown up or you can decide to string along your youth beyond its natural lifespan. People who decide to grow up make changes in their lives. They slow down on the drinking. They start to save money for the future. They invest time and energy in their careers. If they haven't started families, they may begin now. They are concerned parents. They are making positive, meaningful, adult decisions in their day-to-day lives and considering the future. They rid themselves of the stupidity of youth, they analyze their experiences and relationships, they shed the party boy/girl image, and they quit doing things counter-productive to their goals.

Or they don't.

Men, in particular, seem to have trouble turning this corner. They get caught up in a "I work hard. I deserve to relax and let loose once in a while." All the time, never realizing that once in a while comes far more often then even they are willing to admit. Never taking into consideration that all that drinking, recreational drug use, hanging out in bars is playing with fire. I have seen this attitude destroy more marriages than I care to count. In fact, there was a time in my life when I could count on one hand the men I knew who weren't alcoholics or drug addicts or daily, dedicated users of marijuana. I will be brutally honest when I say that my marriage ended long before my divorce and long before the really difficult part of making the decision to leave. My marriage ended the day I realized that my husband would never, ever, ever stop smoking pot every single day of his life. Pot was his hobby. I couldn't go anywhere with him. I couldn't take him, for instance, to a work function, because he would show up reeking of pot. He had become an embarrassment to me. I nagged. I prodded. I begged. I withheld sex. Not me, not the promise of intimate relations, not his children, not his career, nor any relationship in his life could cause him to even slow down. He had made his choice. Pot was the most important thing in his life.

Now, if I had told him this he would have called me crazy. Of course his children were important. Of course I was important. But as he was fond of saying, "actions speak louder than words". He smoked pot in the car on the way to his daughter's wedding. In his tuxedo. A wedding in which he had to walk her down the aisle in front of 500 of her closest friends and new family. Helloooooo.

He smoked pot on the way to work. On lunch breaks. On the way home. While driving the car I paid for. He smoked pot in front of the tv every night. I don't even want to think about how much money that man spent on pot. If he had spent that much on golf clubs and green fees, or fixing up a dream car, or traveling, or Bear's tickets I might not have minded so much. But to watch your husband sit in the dark in his den with nothing but a doobie and a bong day after day, week after week, year after year was more than I could take. One day it dawned on me I had married a dedicated loser. He wasn't going to change. And this was my life. Forever.

That was the day my marriage ended. Some little spark that had nearly been beat out flamed for just a minute. Some little voice whispered inside my head, "Oh, hell no." And then that flame grew stronger and that voice grew louder. I was done.

So I watch Bek struggling with that same set of circumstances. Just change the word "pot" in the paragraph above with "beer" and you've got her life. And yes, he does drink and drive. We all know how tragically that has ended in my own life. My oldest brother is serving 15 years for involuntary manslaughter. That's legalese for having killed someone while driving drunk. I watch Bek worry as her belly grows and her marriage disintegrates. I am afraid for her. She's 40. She's old enough and wise enough to know where this is going and she is struggling, not with concern for her husband, but concern for herself and her baby. She has my greatest sympathy. Because none of her nagging and even the prospect of fatherhood has given her husband the push he needs to start behaving like a grown up. He is fighting it tooth and nail. I think he is fighting it because he's addicted to alcohol. He hasn't gotten the picture yet. He's trying to fool himself with the "I don't drink everyday" mantra. " I can't be an alcoholic if I don't drink everyday."

Gentlemen, I don't know how to break it to you. But if you have had more than one argument in a year about your drinking, smoking, recreational drug use, it is interfering with the relationships in your life. If you defend yourself by any means possible, you are playing fast and loose with those relationships. If your significant other, parent, friends, and co-workers have told you its time to slow down or quit, do yourself a favor: LISTEN. You may want to be a lot of things in your life, but "a drunk" isn't one of them. Trust me. I've seen it all.

I think it's why I don't drink at home anymore. Beer will linger in my fridge for months. I never drink hard liquor unless I have friends over. Alcohol is just not a meaningful part of my life. I hope this makes me a grown up.

05 August 2009

Empathy for an old man

This evening, I have been watching the second disc of Michael Palin's Himalayas. I'm pretty sure it's a BBC production. In the first disc, he travels through the Khyber Pass. All I can say is rent this video series (available on Netflix). I watched disc 1 on the eve of traveling out west. It was my inspiration for tackling the Golden Trout Wilderness. If a 60-something comedic actor can tackle the Himalayas, surely a 40-something botanist can tackle a few shorty mountain passes.

Luckily, I didn't watch disc 2 before leaving. I might have had second thoughts.

Palin suffers altitude sickness. He gasps for breath. He passes signs warning of "Mountain Sickness" detailing headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, and other symptoms. I know them well. I hiked 10 miles up nearly 2000 feet and I couldn't eat dinner. I didn't want breakfast the next day either. I had to make myself drink vast amounts of water. Eating the smallest amount of food felt like a full Thanksgiving dinner. The thought of the summer sausage I had brought filled me with nausea. I may never eat tuna again.

I am quite convinced that there is a thin me living at 17000 feet.

But his hike and mine were vastly different. He had packers of the human sort. He had liberal use of motorized vehicles. He even had yak to aid in his journey. Then again, he is probably close to 20 years older than me. I can cut him some slack.

Friendship Bridge at the border between Nepal and Tibet.

Mt. Everest

That aside, I desperately want to see the Himalayas. I want to spend hours taking photos in Khyber Pass. I want to camp at Everest's base camp. Is this a silly thing to want? I want to do it before I get too old. I don't know how I'll manage it, but man, wouldn't that be a fine adventure?

And unless you have a substantial block of time for travel fantasy, for God's sake, don't click here.

04 August 2009

So you think you want to go to graduate school

Lots of people toy with the idea of going to graduate school, but as we know, only a self-selected few actually do. And those who do wonder constantly if it is the right thing to do. I'm no exception. I think about whether I've done the right thing with my life a lot. I've been chasing this Ph.D. for 8 years now. In January 2001, I began to make up the deficiencies I had in my undergraduate record. I thought I'd get my masters. If all went well, I'd get my doctorate.

I wondered if I was smart enough. (I am.) I wondered if I had what it takes to stick with it. (I do.) I wondered if I would enjoy the job I got when I got out. (I believe I will.) I wondered if it was as bad as some people made it out to be. (It is.)

About a year ago, when I was in the middle of one of my blue funks, I conducted a survey of graduate students (which I still haven't properly analyzed), and got input from the people who've been here about whether they would do it all over again. Most would, but most were unhappy about some facet of the way their graduate experience had gone. More than a few were disillusioned with academia. If I can be given a little room to extrapolate here, I'd say that most clearly loved with the work, and clearly were not in love with what it takes to do that work. And that made me realize something about the people who do succeed in graduate school. We don't give up when the going gets tough, or when the going gets really tough, or when the going get ridiculously, unbelievably, inconceivably tough, or even when you-really-should-have-brought-a-lawsuit-over-this-shit-already tough.

Graduate school reminds me of marriage that way. The relationship starts off in this idealized, I'm-just-crazy-about-you way and over time it becomes more and more strained until one day you come to your senses and realize that the way you're being treated isn't ok. Not in your book. Not in anyone's book. So yeah. An ability to tolerate the intolerable because there is no other path leading toward your goals--that's what it takes to be a successful grad student.

I understand now what J meant when he said he would tell people to do something else if you could, but if you can't do something else, then, dig in and get comfortable.

So, yes, people in grad school are smart. Being smart is the least of your worries. Do you have the other traits necessary to succeed in grad school?

Are you tenacious? Can you stick with it when you hate your advisor, when nothing is going right with your work, when your committee is convinced you are a moron, and when nightmares of having to pay back those student loans wake you up in the night? If not, stay away.

Are you self-motivated. No one is going to hold your hand in graduate school. No one is going to make sure you are working. If you need a coach just to get out of bed in the morning, join the gym. No one is going to cheer from the sidelines to spur you on. Maybe your mama, but certainly no one you work with.

Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? Self-awareness is extremely helpful. If you don't know already, graduate school will gladly point your weaknesses out to you.

Are you thick-skinned? Can you stand people yelling at you? Because professors will. They will say things to you that cut to the bone. You will be amazed that these people can say these things and live with themselves. Trust me, their comments may hurt but they are doing you a favor by saying them.

Can you work alone? Graduate education is, by its very nature, singular work. No one is going to be there when you are in the lab night after night after night. This is your path. Remember?

Confidence. In fact, I would say that most graduate students border on narcissistic personalities. We believe in our abilities. Usually, we have the stuff to back up that faith.

Are you ready for the hard realities of life? Because I'm going to tell you, you aren't nearly da shiznit as you think you are. Most smart people are used to being the smartest person in the room. In graduate school, everyone is smart. Most of them are smarter than you. You will feel stupid around these people...for a very long time.

I have heard many people say that a graduate degree is "just a piece of paper" and "it really doesn't mean anything". I can't even address how wrong these people are. Graduate school is a gauntlet and you really can't begin to understand how much that paper represents until you have done it yourself.

I'm still wondering 8 years later whether I did the right thing.

How I wrecked my kitchen

I found this blog. You see, I had 10 poblano peppers to deal with. I got a deal at the farmer's market last weekend. They had to be dealt with. So I went internet hopping and found a recipe that looked interesting.

I had just about everything needed except the hot peppers and red wine vinegar (which wasn't a deal breaker--though the peppers probably were). So I did a bit of quick shopping and started chopping.

I chopped onions and garlic and cilantro and spinach. Yes, spinach.

Then I blistered some peppers. 10 poblano peppers, 6 jalapenos, and two red hot finger chili peppers.
So I peeled 18 hot peppers. You know how they warn you to wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers?

Maybe I should have listened.

The fresh salsa was made with a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, two cloves of chopped garlic, two diced green onions, a handful of chopped fresh cilantro, the meat of two roasted red hot finger chilies and one roasted jalapeno, a bit of olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. Perfection!

You kinda have to let the flavors steep a while so all the flavors are married.

The stuffing for the peppers was a mixture of pepper jack cheese and spinach. Yes, I am home alone so I can eat all the cheese I want!

I added a bit of spicy sausage to one and it did NOTHING for the flavor. Don't be tempted. These are so much better vegetarian.

I used a handy box of fish batter I had hanging about, but I think they would have been even better with a simple batter of flour, egg, and milk. But I wasn't going to risk the milk. Not after the risk I was already taking with the cheese. In any event, smothered in the most excellent salsa, I couldn't taste the flavored batter anyway.

Wow. This absolutely wrecked my kitchen. OK, so it was wrecked before but now it is REALLY wrecked. AT least now I have to deal with it. So this is the meal that helped me clean my house. Seriously.

Oh, and if anybody has any ideas for what I'm going to do with 1/3 lb. of pepper jack cheese-spinach mixture, 2 roasted jalapenos, and a pound of medium spicy cooked breakfast sausage, just let me know. I'm thinking frittata.

Out with the old.....

Remember these? Oh, so do I. Fondly.

My 6-year-old hiking boots. They went a lot of places with me. Over most of the western US. Over a good portion of southern Illinois. Served double-duty during snow storms.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

And so today, I opened up the closet and got down the box that has held my "spare pair". Spare no more, they've been promoted.

Just take a look at these.

It's like a really bad "before and after" shot. For God's sake, they still have the tags on them.

I'm not sure what Gore-Tex does, but I think it's good. Very good.

Sheesh. The inserts don't even have footprints on them yet. Or burrs. Or grass seeds. Or any of those assorted plant cling-ons that I always manage to run into. This is going to take some getting used to.

Just ignore that chicken on the floor beside me.

01 August 2009

Failure 2.0

I just returned from a three-week field research excursion with my nephew. I really didn't know him when we got in the car. My objective on this journey was to get an idea of the man this kid had turned out to be. We had a lot of conversations, he and I on our 7000+ mi journey. At one point, he and I got into a discussion about something...I can hardly remember what at the moment....and my nephew made a sweeping, unflattering characterization about black people. Something along the lines of "all black people are lazy."

I told him in no uncertain terms that all black people are NOT lazy, that the same could be said of white people in general terms, and of him in particular, and, you know, that he sounded incredibly, undeniably, idiotic.

In his most incredulous voice, he said to me, "You act like I'm racist." He explained that in the neighborhood he had lived in in Louisville while he went to school--a neighborhood that was probably 50:50 black:white and probably a heavy on the poverty (it is a college area, after all)--that THOSE blacks were lazy and not trying to improve themselves. Clearly, this was meant to portray that he wasn't racist about ALL black people. In his mind, somehow, it was acceptable to be racist about those poor lazy black people in his neighborhood in Louisville.

I didn't point out (although I should have) that he was, in fact, a college dropout...that his life lacked any direction whatsoever...that despite being given an opportunity that most of the world would kill for...HE was the one who wasn't capitalizing on this incredible opportunity that his parents had made available to him. I didn't say that. But it was dancing on the end of my tongue.

I did explain to him that not everyone was able to attend college nor had the aptitude for it and some of THOSE people had to live in his neighborhood because their economic reality, so while he had to slum it for a bit to sacrifice for a college education (in an apartment that his mother was paying for and tuition that his father was paying for), there were others that had risen as far as they were likely to go and for them--this was a decent life. They were not lazy. They were not trying "not to improve themselves". They were living out an alternative life path that--even if it didn't live up to his standards--didn't mean they weren't trying. To call those people stupid and lazy was petty and irresponsible.

Now I am the first to admit that my nephew has some serious misconceptions about the world and is in rather deep denial about himself. When I informed him that the apartment he complained about (and that his mother bought for him) cost 3X the cost of my mortgage, he acted like I must be some sort of supreme failure. He has a fairly well developed sense of entitlement all right. More than I am used to seeing in any of my college students I complain so bitterly about.

But looking at the larger issues here, I can't understand what it is that makes us look white and black people in exactly the same circumstances and only see the negative in the black people? What is it that makes us blame black people for their plight? What is it that makes us look down on black people at the same time as we co-opt their language and sense of style? What is it that makes us look at poor black people and forget that their poverty might have more to do with keeping them down than a lack of ambition? What is it that makes us not see an angry Harvard professor, but a black man out of control in a high-class neighborhood?

When it comes to this, it isn't just my nephew. I think it is a white cultural thing. White people are conned into thinking (by everyone from television news to hip hop artists) the black community glorifies the gangster-slum culture.
If his status ain't hood, I ain't checkin' for him
Better be street if ya lookin' at me
I need a soldier
That ain't scared to stand up for me
Known to carry big things, if you know what I mean

Destiny Child, 'Soldier'
Even in the younger generation where friendships are much more colorblind, they still see the general population "out there" as fitting those old stereotypes. And I just don't know how chipping away at one false premise at a time one person at a time is going to make any difference at all. It is important to me that my family do what it can to stop the perpetuation of white supremacy in this country. And I thought that in that one little bit of real estate that I might actually be able to effect change.

And that's what I was trying to do. Only I was trying to do so without tearing the kid to shreds. My nephew is trying. He just extraordinarily protected. And I'm not sure my message came across as well as I'd hoped. But while my nephew sat there, incredulous that I was calling his racism racism, I sat there wondering why the hell I didn't have a better grasp on how to tell a white person that their privilege was showing.