Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hit & Run

I officially have my first year of school down the hatch! That means there are less prerequisites waiting for me in my second and final year, and more challenging, interesting courses to look forward to.

Though it’s been a full-on semester but I’ve managed a distraction or two. I’ve been hiking, biking, hunting for snakes/salamanders/frogs, wine tasting, road tripping, and rooting around for temperature loggers on Texas horned lizards. I learned how to rock climb, and fish for blue gill and crappie; had a date with a fiddler and a Scottish folk singer in St. Louis, and discovered the fine pleasures of bourbon.

On finding morel-looking mushrooms in the yard, I invited some friends over for an impromptu potluck, and checked in with everyone the next morn to make sure we all made it through the night. I hit two new states – Oklahoma and Arkansas – (twice!) and experienced waking up to an all-too-perky bugle playing Reverie…I don’t recommend it.

I’ve skinned, stuffed and pinned almost a dozen rodents, and warmed up my bike and sneakers. And just like that, it’s time. Summer’s here and I’m once again in my midyear playground in the foothills of the Rockies for three months of romping with rodents. Bliss…

Friday, March 4, 2011

Life’s Rules

So while I was in bed the other night, listening to the tornado sirens going off and vaguely considering getting out of bed – I decided instead to snuggle deeper under the covers for protection against glass should the window go – I wondered why this semester seems so different from the last. I’m unmotivated, undisturbed at the prospect of ‘Bs’ and actually asked for an extension on a paper because I waited till the last-minute and was embarrassed to turn it in without further refinements.

I’ve become a slacker, albeit a selective one. I’m still working and volunteering many hours weekly, and I interviewed and finalized my summer crew with 2+ months to spare. I made a concerted effort to find more balance in my life but only succeeded in cutting into my sleep time. Could it be that I’m already burned out after just 1.5 semesters in? I still have over a year to go … and that’s just for this degree!

After all my ups and downs this past year, I jointly developed a two-part rule with a dear friend as a possible guide in dealing with life’s blows. The rules were meant to keep us from becoming cynical about life, though at first glance, it might appear that we already are.

Rule #1a: Expect less from yourself

I often set up ridiculously high expectations for myself and am disappointed on a fairly regular basis. But these are standards I would never impose on anyone else, because these expectations are mildly retarded. I know this when I sit back and evaluate with a clear-ish mind. It’s possible that I set myself up to fail because I expect myself to. When I’m feeling cavalier, I’d claim to want to push my limits to see what I’m made of. More likely though, I prefer to stress myself out in trying to attain impossible goals, so I don’t have to deal with other things in my life gone awry. In the process, I have found that I am still capable of surprising myself every now and then. I like that. I hope I continue to be unexpected, undefined and un-box-able.

Rule #1b: Expect less from others

Today, this rule took on a new meaning and a new low. I am deeply disappointed, but not surprised. Hurt but not morose. Angry but not petulant. Sometimes, people suck. If being a good friend comes at a high expense to yourself, find new friends.

It’s time to clean house. It is Spring after all. The daffodils are blooming, and life is calling out for some company.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shoganai …It can’t be helped (or can it?)

Loneliness strikes when you least expect it to. Or perhaps, I should have been more mindful. After three weeks with family and dear friends traveling and gallivanting across Asia, ordinary life in the Midwest seems just a little bit empty, one-dimensional and yep, a little lonely.

Still … I was always proud to say that I didn’t mind my own company. And yet at this moment, I’m finding my company lacking and quite frankly, a little dull.

I’m still busy as a bee, and feeling trepidation about my over-planned weekly schedule. Between school, work, volunteer gigs, side projects, prepping for my summer field season, and the nagging minor matter of my GREs, technically, I should be too damn busy to think!

But think I do, and mull and ponder also. I think I sometimes miss a life that doesn’t revolve around me. Where everything that happens, happens because I make it so, and decide to do it. A life derailed because of circumstance, chance events, weather, or an unexpected phone call. I miss the chaos of life that I see in others.

My life is ridiculously regimented, in no small part, because I make it so. I feel more efficient and productive when I am able to tick things off my list. I have scheduled down to the number of hours that I will work, study, run; the number of times a week I can watch a movie (once); what day of the week I can cook for the following week, etc.

All this scheduling has made me yearn all the more for the impishness of life and its unexpected moments of complete turmoil.

My first week in Malaysia recently was marked by a remarkable series of events: a ridiculous extravagance of seafood, killing my first roach in years (after all the wildlife I have done, amazingly I haven’t lost my squeamishness for roaches!), stung by a jellyfish (with scars to prove it), and collecting buckets of water for an almost island-wide disruption of our greatest natural resource.

For three weeks in Asia, I lived outside my life and found it to be good. Now I just need to figure out how to regularly schedule an occasional event of pandemonium, and I’d be in fine shape. I’d feel alive again: less robotic, less put-together, less perfect.

Or maybe I just need to do less, be less, and be ok with that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This year I gave up my full-time field technician wanderings, and gave in to full-time sessile student life. I summered out west in Colorado, backpacked, rafted and hiked many a summer day away. It was the year I fell in love and had my heart broken in two; the year I closed a bittersweet chapter of my life in Gotham.

It’s the year I got stupid, soft and vulnerable; the year I wanted to hit the next person who told me I was a “strong woman.” It was the year I returned to woodcarving. And decided that if I wanted better abs, I needed to work at it. I started baking and discovered black walnut ice cream in 2010. I also started running seriously – no mere coincidence I’m sure.

I had something to prove to myself this year, namely, that it is possible to teach an old dog like me new tricks. I got through my first semester back in academia after a 13-year hiatus, and did much better than I could have hoped.

2010 is the year I moved back into a house for the first time since ‘97, and bought a bike, my first since a teen. I also decided I deserved a queen-size bed. And found a kindly Malaysian man in the Midwest who sourced for me a granite mortar and pestle, just like the one I used in my mother’s kitchen growing up.

I meshed my rugged outdoorsy side with a softer more feminine side that’s been shelved for a couple of years, when my dresses, skirts, bags and shoes were dusted off storage and back within arms reach. I suited up for Halloween, quite literally, donning a pinstriped business suit for the first time in 3+ years as my disguise of a past life. This year I found new friendships and forged older ones. I started collecting books again, and framing artwork.

Ahhh, the accumulation of material goods. A sign of roots, surely? But perhaps these roots are just as deep as my herb garden… a seasonal passion, a step in mid-air till it’s time to skip on by.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Where else but in school would anyone entrust me with an ant project, and now a waterfowl gig. Last week I couldn’t have picked out a mallard from a wood duck and now I know at least 12 species by sight, and working my way through another half dozen. My new job involves me trying to make a dent in identifying some 20K duck wings in the next couple of months. The ducks are stored in a walk-in freezer where garbage bags upon garbage bags are piled high. And then there’s me frantically sorting, data entering and identifying duck wings, because I have taken this to be a personal challenge of sorts to somehow make a stinkin’ dent! But new bags arrive every week, so the battle hasn’t been in my favor thus far. Ironically, I’m considered a “lab assistant,” which brings to mind images of a sterile lab coat environment. Instead, I’m holed up in a former kennel, downwind from a body farm where pig carcasses ferment, sorting hundreds of envelopes, which I’m sure to check with a quick shake before opening. If it rattles, then open with care, because the shooter waited a tad long before mailing the wing, which now resides together with some frozen maggots, that scatter if you’re not careful.

I’m digging my new job.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life as an undergraduate, amateur entomologist, home renter & volunteer trapper

I am home alone for about 10 days, so I proceed to lock myself out of the house and break my housemate’s blender. In a single day. I have also indulged in some guilty pleasures, namely frying belacan in my home – my first time since moving to the States – and boy, it was so good! And I still have a week to air out the house and remove all olfactory evidence.

When I’m not reveling in the wonders of having a kitchen again, I spend hours trying to identify hundreds of ants. I dump out vials of ethanol, filled with ants and chunks of peanut butter, and count and rinse the ants off with a harsh squirt of ethanol. Under the dissection scope, I clean up more goop with a metal prod and tweezers, and then the fun begins.

Petiole scale? Check. Spiked propodeum? Check. Acidopore? Nope. 3-club antennal segment? Check. And so it goes until I think I know what I have.

The ant expert came in last week and basically, I found out that I know squat, and I’m going to have to re-identify the samples I’ve completed. But I’ve since had a breakthrough and can now successfully i.d. four genera with no more than a quick glance. I just have three more to master, and then it’s on to the good stuff: trying to identify ants from partially ingested body parts in Texas horned lizard scat.

Just for kicks, once a week I go small mammal trapping, where I caught my first golden mouse and a couple of shrews.

And then, when I’ve run out of all other classroom distractions, I sit my arse down and study. School’s going well … ho-hum.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fall Semester, Week #1

I have gone through a gamut of emotions this week, starting with wide-eyed terror (assessment test?!), confusion (iClicker thingamajig), annoyance (am I really going to have to fill up all these damn circles for my FULL name on every single Scantron test??), and a mild fit of depression (assessment test…sigh).

There’s also been a fair bit of excitement, mostly focused on developments outside the classroom. The house is looking great and I have a kickass bike! I slowed down my pace, and am running so much better (thank you, Simon). I walked to the farmers market today (and last Saturday), and expect to be mortared-and-pesteled by the morning.

I’ve managed to accumulate a fair bit of stuff just in the last week -- how does that happen? -- desk, dresser, old schoolhouse desk top with missing legs, dismantled church pew, three chairs, two tables, bench, side table, hollowed out stereo, blinds, and a patio swing. [Yay estate/yard sales, flea market and abandoned furniture in condemned building.] Is it inevitable? Every time we stay in one place for any amount of time, do we always end up hoarding and collecting craploads of stuff? And I have projects – things I need to fix up and paint around the house. Unbelievable.

Somebody smack me if I start singing along to Joe Walsh’s “Average, Ordinary Guy.”