30 June 2010

Front yard monsters

Found this dangerous fellow in my yard. He was having a near-death experience.

I fear his afternoon did not improve significantly after I left him. Although he does look like a formidable foe for the biodiversity I've encountered in my yard.

You know what he's thinking, don't you?

So do I, but I don't think I can say that on a family blog.

27 June 2010

Panty Twisters Revisited or Why America Sux

Ok, here's the problem. Happens every day. I have two things I want to plug in. So just plug one in upside down and one right side up. Right?

Wrong. The both have an orientation that demands they be plugged in upside down of all things.
Massive FAIL.

And then there's this: 3-pronged plug that sticks out a full two inches from the wall, demanding a complete rearrangement of furniture.

Look at all the space I'm losing and for what? A stinking plug? FAIL.

Why are we being held hostage to plugs? It doesn't make sense. Listen, folks. It doesn't have to be this way. We are Americans. We are creative. Ingenious. The world's problem solvers. We can solve this dilemma. Oh wait. The Brits have already done it for us.

I present the side-by-side plug.

So we should just adopt this, right? Wrong.

The reason we can't adopt this is because the "footprint" is too large. Apparently, large outlets like this are unstable given our housing construction. *cough*BULLSHIT*cough* Or perhaps they think that we wouldn't accept the larger size (given our herd mentality acceptance of the 3" from the wall furniture option). I for one am ready to sign on.
But most Americans, apparently aren't. Or at least most Americans are in the dark. And American contractors don't want to change. And American money makers would rather sell you some half-assed solution and keep creating the same problem forever. So here's one brainiac's solution. Sink the plug into the wall. Although this really isn't a solution at all for those oversized plugs. FAIL.

Here's another solution. Use a connector. Although I'm not a fan of plugging 3-pronged safety plugs into what is effectively an extension cord. FAIL.
Now here is an idea I could get behind. Rotate the orientation of the plugs such that you can plug in two big honking plugs. Although the fact that they don't actually SHOW two plugs in the thing causes me to suspect the worst here. But for the time being, I'll give this one a B-.

Ok, another problem. I bought a paper-thin iPod and the plug is 3X as thick.

Hellooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I will give them brownie points for making the plug part fold into the charger, but I'm not giving them much. This is about a C- solution.

But who could we possibly look toward for an answer?

How about this guy?For all those people who think that building a better mousetrap won't make you rich anymore, let me introduce the next multi-millionaire. Oh, here's a surprise. He's a Brit.

What's his idea? A folding plug.

Thank you, Mr. Brit, for unwinding my panties. They were getting uncomfortable.

26 June 2010

Debt, Life, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I'm in debt. Educational debt. It's big. I thought it was a good investment. Now, I'm pretty sure it was the biggest mistake of my life.

Because I'm having doubts. Doubts about the career path I thought was so clearly outlined for my future. Oh, don't get me wrong. This isn't a case of I-thought-I'd-enjoy-the-work-but-I-found-out-I-don't. This is a case of I-love-the-work-but-I'm-not-willing-to-give-up-the-rest-of-my-life-to-do-it. And you know. I'm rather surprised by this realization.

I have often said that academics is the ultimate old boy's network. Being granted a PhD is the price of admission. Only, the price of admission is too high. The expectations are appropriate for those who want to work at elite universities, but for people willing to accept second or third tier positions (like myself), the price is too high. I have actively sought professions and paths that reduce my stress and enhance my opportunities for fun. I don't believe in living a life you hate. I don't believe in having jobs you loathe. I don't want to live for the weekend and I don't want to have a job to pay the bills. I really do want to love my work. So that I do love my work means I did make a reasonably informed choice to go for it.

However, just as getting a degree isn't just about your research--it's also about jumping through the hoops, enduring the hazing, subjugating yourself to oversized egos, etc. etc. etc.--the privilege of doing research comes with the burden of successful grant chasing, long hours, publishing in top-tier journals, and having everything go right. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, everything will not go right. And here I am, at a second-tier university, laboring in a mediocre lab, and trying to make myself care about a future in this business. Every degree-granting institution behaves as though it is an elite institution, and too many doctoral advisors talk the talk, but aren't walking the walk. Which is to say, they aren't performing at a level worthy of the crap they are giving their graduate students.

So here I am. Trying to finish something I started in ignorance. Standing on the other side and wondering what the blue blazes I do now. I love the work. I love the field. But I am damn sure I can't live where my job and my future depend on successful grants. I suck at getting grants. I'm tired of stressing about presentations and publications. I'm tired of kissing ass. I am tired.

It should not be harder to be a botanist than it is to be a physician.

I am a competent person and I can do a good job at this work. But if I pursue an academic path, I'll die younger, spend less time happy, and wonder why I threw it all away and for what? I need an out and I'm desperate for it.

But those loans. That looming debt that will come due the minute I leave this path. I need a job that pays.

Fuck me running.

15 June 2010

A long time coming

I promised this video ages ago, but here it is: the derecho storm of 8 May 2009. A day famous because two friends graduated and a massive storm hit C'dale and knocked out electricity for 5 days. This is my little piece of local history.

It's raw footage and over just under 10 minutes, so be warned.

08 June 2010

I'm NOT just like my aunt either

I have a maternal aunt who's a hoarder. She can't throw anything away. Not even garbage. She has stacks and stacks of stuff lining trails through her house. Mice live in those stacks. It's disturbing, unsanitary and unbelievably claustrophobic. She can't let anything go. I've heard armchair psychologists say that people like that have experienced some profound loss in their lives and now they hang onto everything. Like "this is mine, and I'm going to keep it even if it IS junk". I don't know enough about my aunt to know what the true losses in her life might have been or whether this holds true to her life experience or not. My mother looks down her nose at her sister for this trait, but doesn't understand that she has gotten a healthy dose of this herself. She just has a bigger house for her piles of stuff and no one notices it....yet.

My sister and my paternal grandmother are the exact opposite. They throw away everything. They can sweep all around their basements. Their garages are organized and clean. My sister doesn't have a knick-knack out of place.

I'd have to say I fall somewhere in between. I collect things and may hang onto things, but usually it is with an eye for finding some future owner who may need it. I sort of consider myself a broker in that respect. Getting rid of a couch? Bring it to my house. I'll find someone who needs it. I don't think the recipients mind that I collect stuff. And it does give me a good feeling to know that I put together a gently worn item with a person in need.

On the other hand, my house can appear cluttered. And I do have my own issues. I hate to throw away those department store bags with nice handles. I never saw a set of sheets I didn't like. Socks. Jesus. Can we just not talk about socks? Or shampoo. It's shameless the amount of shampoo I have in my bathroom at any given moment. And I can be messy. But I'm no hoarder. At least not in the strictest sense.

Case in point. I gave Ms. Midwestia a nice calphalon pan that I hadn't used in quite a while. Maybe it was two. I can't really remember. In any event, they are gone. I've been on a mission to simply and minimize recently. I'm gathering stuff for a garage sale. I have FINALLY made real headway on getting rid of the stuff in my closets. It's taken me a few years to let some really nice clothes go, but I have to face the fact that I've changed professions and I'm unlikely to ever need business suits again. And I really can't decided whether or not I need those old college texts or not. At least I have only hung on to the botany related texts. I have no idea if I will ever consult them again when I'm planning classes. (Any advice on this is greatly appreciated, but they really are space hogs.)

Then there are the things I enjoy collecting. Cook books. Plants. Interesting plates. Coffee mugs from my travels.

I have a house guest coming for two weeks. Luckily, over the past month, I cleaned out my office (which WAS beginning to look like the start of a good hoarding lifestyle). It is now the cleanest room in my house. I think I'm going to move my futon in there so my guest has a bed and a private room.

Now, if I can just find a home for some of this stuff!

05 June 2010

I'm NOT just like my mother

All my life I sort of wondered why I never really fit. I didn't seem to value the same things that I was told I should value. I always wanted to go places and see things. My parents, and my mother in particular, placed a high value on financial and emotional security and material comfort. Now those are not bad things, per se. In fact, it is quite normal, I think, for parents to want their children to value things that will ensure their health and prosperity. However. I didn't want the husband, the kids, the house, and the white picket fence. Never. Not even for a moment. And all that has served to do is make me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

My mother plans endless furniture purchases, redecorating ideas, and major upgrades to house and yard. She has only become more invested in her home since my father passed away 25 years ago. She has added an enclosed porch, a outdoor "room", a major patio, custom fences, expensive landscaping, and on and on. I know that when the time comes for someone to take care of her, one of us will have to move into her house to do so, because that woman ain't never leaving that house. But here's the kicker: I never much liked the house we lived in growing up. It was new, painted all white (my mother's choice), and my mother lived in fear of nailing a hole in that precious plasterwork. So we had pictures leaning against the walls at foot height. We were forbidden from putting up posters in our rooms (tape on the plaster walls--lawsy no!). It wasn't a warm, inviting home. It had no character. It was a place to sleep at night. For those of you who want to know why every room in my house is painted a bright color....just look at how I grew up. I couldn't take it anymore!

When I was young, I wasn't given things. I wanted designer jeans like all the other girls at school, but my father laughed. We had to show him a hole in our shoes to get a new pair. Hell, I never recall once even asking for a haircut. We were being given a college education. So on the one hand, my parents taught me to place no value on some material things and ultimate value on other material things. My parents didn't believe in spending money on experiences. We went on three real vacations when I was young. We didn't eat out at restaurants. We stayed home and knocked around the neighborhood all summer. Sometimes we went camping on weekends. Sometimes we went fishing. It's what we did.

So I had never been anywhere and I'd never seen anything until I was in college. I had never been to a professional sports game. I had never eaten in a Mexican or Chinese restaurant. I went to Canada once for an afternoon when my dad took us on a business trip with him to Niagara Falls. I was starved for experiences.

When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to go to Mardi Gras. I asked my parents to loan me $50 so I could go with my friends. They not only refused but I got an hour lecture on why Mardi Gras was such a "waste of money". They may have wanted to teach me the value of money, but they taught me something else. They taught me that if I wanted to live my own life the way I saw fit, I was going to have to leave my parents out of it. Starting in college, I began to lie to my parents in earnest. They weren't always outright lies. Mostly they were lies of omission. "What are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, just hanging out with my friends." I learned that if I wanted to live my life without a constant barrage of unsolicited advice and lectures, I had to keep my lifestyle from my parents. So I went to Chicago with my roommate. And I went to Kentucky Derby, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I have always felt like a bit of a shit for splurging on those things.

The first time I went to Chicago, I was hooked. It had everything. My head was on a swivel. That town had so many things to experience, I thought I'd never run out of things to do. I did it all. Seriously. I enjoyed that city. Fireworks on the lakefront. Every museum and summer festival. White Sox games. Chinatown. Greektown. Uptown. Downtown. You name it. I probably did it twice.

Today, I was reading this article discussing whether "things" or "experiences" bring greater happiness. And the conclusion was that we get happiness from both, but (depending on the person), we can get greater satisfaction from one than the other. This was an epiphany for me. My mother is the kind of person who gets her happiness surrounding herself with stuff and I am not. My idea of heaven is throwing dogs and backpacks and sleeping bags in the car and going.

It has always somewhat surprised me when someone asks me if I am afraid to do the things I do (drive across the country, do research in remote areas, and do all of it alone). But then, I have realized that they could no more do that than I could live the quiet, safe little life that they find such satisfaction in. To me, that would be hell.

My greatest disappointment in life, I'd have to say, is that I haven't found anyone who wants to do these things with me. But I'm not waiting on him. I waited 30 years to get started. I don't have any more time to waste.

04 June 2010

Movie Editing 101

Here is my first attempt at video editing. Now you poor, poor people won't have to suffer through endless miles of dead air space in any videos I post! Yay!

h/t J, who encouraged inspired me to find a way to do this.