Tuesday, January 29, 2008

happy home

I love stepping into my apartment these days. For one thing, it's warm. It doesn't even need to actually be very warm in the apartment for it to feel warm coming from outside -- it's been FrEeZiNg recently, so as long as the temp in the apartment is over 20F, it's warm!

For another thing, it now smells like lilies. I don't often remember that a scent can really make or break a place. The gentle aroma of lilies is a truly wonderful experience. Why does my place smell like lilies? My new pal Trader Joe gave me some flowers. Literally - I did not buy them. I went there for the first time last Thursday, and after kind of bumbling around near what seemed to be the checkout mob, a kind cashier said he could ring up my (organic -- one was even mostly local!) items if I'd step over away from the wad of people. I said thanks and admitted that I was a bit disoriented since this was my first time there. He expediently bounded over to the floral section and came back with a huge bouquet of roses, Gerbera daisies, carnations, and...lilies! "Since it's your first time here, here's a gift - I hope it brings you back." ...I'll take it!(Yes, I am that person who still has not put away the Christmas decorations so I still have a Christmasy table runner...)

And, of course, there's my Joelle always waiting to greet me. The poor dear has been very patiently dealing with my harassment of late - she's developed some major mats, and that requires a lot of yucky maintenance work like the evil Combing and Brushing and Mat-Raking and, of course, Trimming. She mostly hates it because it requires the two things she despises the most: being held and being put belly-up.

We've also been facing a sort of hay crisis. I like to buy my hay from one place, and every time I've gone there for the past month or two, they haven't had any hay! That was okay the first couple times, but then...the stock at home kept getting lower and lower and lower, and pretty soon I was quite truly "scraping the bottom of the barrel" (er...box, it's not really a barrel) to get out the last bits of hay. The fact that by now the hay was indeed in BITS was also bad, because it meant that the small hay pieces fell to the bottom of the hay-holder in Joelle's house. So maybe I'm just babying her, but when I saw Joelle putting both paws up on the rim of the holder and sticking her head in as far as she could reach to get at the hay, I declared, "That's it! I'm buying you a new thing for the hay!"

That meant a bowl. But it couldn't be just any bowl, because Joelle does not like to eat out of bowls; she likes to dump out the contents of bowls and then eat. That's okay now and then, but when it's the daily hay that means it gets REALLY hay-y all over the floor, and I am not too into that...and it just contributes to MORE matting and then the resultant Combing, Brushing, Raking, Trimming, and being held belly-up! That is why her food pellet bowl is bolted to the side of her kennel and is therefore un-dumpable. I wasn't too keen on another bolted bowl. So, the new hay-bowl had to be a heavy bowl, one that could not be flipped over with normal bunny strength.

Luckily, I found the perfect dish.I think she likes it as much as I do.

Monday, January 28, 2008

are you sure...?

I know I ought not to worry so much.

I know that worrying doesn't help and that usually when I start flipping out about something, it rights itself rather quickly and then I am just left feeling frustrated that I had wasted so much energy being concerned that nothing would ever work out.

But...every time that something worrying occurs, I find it very difficult to not worry about it.

The latest frustration to my life comes less than 24 hours after having accepted a postdoctoral job. So - hey, good news: I have a job lined up for after I graduate, which tentatively means by April 1! And just when I thought the saga of my future was coming to a peaceful close, just when I thought I had covered all my bases, just when I thought I had clearly grasped what I'm supposed to be "doing" with my life (at least for the time being) -- frustration!

The frustration: a particular member of the committee that decides whether I really get to graduate or not suddenly sends me an email to the effect of, "Huh, you're going to graduate soon? When did this happen? What have you actually accomplished that gives you any capacity to graduate?" (This person was not at the meeting where the other members of the committee told me to write up all my results and get the heck out of grad school...but I did indeed inform the individual of my results and the rest of the committee's instructions to me to finish up and graduate...almost 3 months ago...!) So...I send the person the summary of the last meeting and a bazillion tons of my results. And then I get a, "These results are weird - they don't look like other peoples' results. Do you know how to analyze your data? You really should ask someone who has done this before (a.k.a. my employee). You should have another meeting; everyone probably thinks your stuff stinks."


There are some times in my life where I wish I had the capacity to selectively erase peoples' memories. If I had that ability, I would shake this person, say, "You really hurt my feelings. Do you actually think I am completely incompetent and don't know how to analyze my data??! And for your information, I have asked no less than 4 experts in this area - including the pioneer - who have a total of more than 50 years of experience, and they told me I was doing it correctly. Now you're going to make me sit down with the person in your lab who you're so convinced knows more than all of those people?? And by the way - you obviously don't know any of the literature on this stuff, because the "weird" results you think I'm seeing is because nobody has ever reported anything about these cells, so of course it's not going to look like anyone else's! The other 80% of the committee has not indicated that my stuff stinks. If they thought so, they should really tell me instead of being jerks and waiting until I'm obliviously accepting a new job to suddenly trick me and say 'You gotta do more work here, nah nah nah nah!' Speaking of that, why in the heck did you not say anything about this anytime during the past 10 weeks that you have had the data I just resent to you?????"

And then I would erase the person's memory of that conversation so the person wouldn't be angry at me.

Sometimes I just want to be understood.

Of course, I cannot say any of that stuff, and it is best if I come up with more kind, convincing (and non-violent) ways to support my scientific work. But right now I am worried...that I won't get to graduate this semester...that people think my work (and...thus, by association and production, ME!) is worthless and stupid...that my future bosses will be upset that I told them I'd be available in April when I won't be...that some hideous, embarrassing disaster is waiting to befall me and will involve people saying, "You should have done this, this, this, and known that, that, that."

As I think about it, those are not things that are truly very REAL. Well, at least not the last one. Reality tells me that more than a majority of the graduate-or-not committee have written letters of recommendation to the very person who just hired me -- obviously those people think that I will/should graduate. And...the new boss told me repeatedly that April 1 is flexible. ...Breathe...okay...it'll be okay...

So! Yes, that is the update on me and what's up in my life! I got a job. It's lovely. I am really, really, really, really, really looking forward to it at this precise moment because it has NOTHING to do with my current area of research - HIV - which I am very much disliking currently because it involves so much competition and requires so much detailed, outrageous information to be provided to convince people of anything, when, in my humble opinion, I think that really nobody has any actual concept of the depth of complexity of what's really going on and why (see, for example, here. I got into this field because I wanted to help people, not because I wanted to duke it out with people who are too self-centered and stuck in their own ways to consider that there could possibly be a different way of looking at an answer to their favorite question.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

where it all comes from

I am afraid I am rapidly turning into a "tree-hugger!" I am attempting to make 2008 a banner year in which I transition into an organic/local food-consumer. Thus far I have managed to buy nearly all organic groceries (and rabbit greens) -- there was that emergency jug of non-organic orange juice I picked up when I got the flu, but at least it was made from American-grown oranges according to the package. Last week I was trying to figure out how I could possibly find locally-grown chocolate when I realized that maybe this is why some people substitute carob for chocolate (although I haven't actually been able to find anyone who grows carob in non-perpetually-warm climates). ...I hope it doesn't come down to that...I think I'm able to convince myself that organic, fair-traded chocolate is "good enough," because I really dislike carob.

What I think is important about organic food is not that it's necessarily any healthier to eat - although I don't dismiss those arguments - but that the way organic food is grown and produced is done in a sustainable way, so it's not going to destroy the farming land or put "bad" stuff into the environment which will then take forever to get out. So, it's much, much more about how food comes to be on my plate. Which, in the end, causes one to consider a LOT of aspects. Who is growing this food? Are they getting paid a reasonable price? How is the food being cultivated? Is an exorbitant amount of energy (a.k.a. carbon) being put into the food's processing and delivery? And how about the packaging: is it produced in an eco-friendly manner, is it reusable (or re-used) - heck, is it even necessary?!

As I'm sure most people have noticed, the price of "natural" foods is higher than your run-of-the-mill favorite mega-store brand. This is an obvious limitation for a lot of people (although...truth be told, probably most of us don't really need to be eating quite as much food as we do...which means that if we were eating the actual amount of food we should eat, we would be spending a lot less on food. Why not buy less food (gain less weight) but make it organic and spend the same amount of money we'd have spent on the three-times more food than we need anyhow??). BUT...when we get down to the cost of something, the value inherently must be considered. How much do I value keeping farmland available for generations to come? How much do I value supporting local farmers who are being pressured to be paid less, treat their soil worse, and be controlled by huge companies with a major bottom line? How much do I value acquiescing to the way the earth was naturally designed to function instead of insisting upon having what-I-want-when-I-want-it?

Another part of food I often forget to value is the life involved with it. Not just human life, but animal life. I am not talking about vegetarianism. I came across an interesting article about chefs who are taking responsibility for the meat they prepare. Responsibility, to them, involves treating meat-producing animals as organisms with value, and that alters the way in which they make their meat choices. I invite you to read the article from the New York Times. In the end, it deals with the cost. The following is a blurb from the article for all to ponder:

"A chicken is a living thing, an animal with a life cycle, and we shouldn’t expect it will cost less than a pint of beer in a pub," (chef Jamie Oliver) said Monday in an interview. ...The most shocking of all may be his revelation that price wars have squeezed the profit margin of the modern poultry farmer to about 6 cents a bird. Mr. Oliver’s message to supermarket shoppers is clear: the only reason for the miserable lives lived by most chickens is your insistence on cheap food."

Monday, January 14, 2008

just like that

It's been said time and again that despite the phrase "It's not what you know, it's who you know," the more accurate phrase is, "It's not who you know, but who knows you." In the scientific community in which I've been reared, this has always come across to me as meaning stuff like, "Your boss will tell his other boss friends that you need a job, and then you'll get a job with one of them" or "Someone you went to school with will be working at a place you're interested in, and that will be your 'in' to that company." I believe that those takes on it have their merit.

However, in light of the fact that marketing and sales in the business world often seems to really be selling one's own self (e.g. kind, classy, humorous Businesslady takes her client to a 5-star dinner, and poof - the big deal is sealed! It's not necessarily the deal on the table or the food on the table that do the convincing, but rather the kindness, classiness, and humourous-ness of the person orchestrating the convincing. I mean...would you prefer to buy something from a Rude Nasty person or a Friendly Happy one?) -- in light of that, it seems that an additional interpretation might be considered for that old saying.

What happens if a person doesn't try to figure out who else might be able to make the right connections with the company/person she's interested in? What if instead she just goes ahead and makes that company/person know who she is? Call it an introduction, if you'd like. Sometimes at a social gathering a friend/co-worker will introduce me to a new person, other times I just introduce myself. Why shouldn't it be like that in the world of finding an employer? Maybe the key to getting "known" is to make one's self known.

You never know what will happen. Even if you weren't trying to do it. Such was the case with me this past week. I have been sending out my curriculum vitae and a lovely blurb about what I plan to do with the rest of my life to researchers far and wide, and where appropriate I have been following up with telephone calls. I figured this was just what reasonable people do, but rumor has it that I'm incorrect. Thus far the following have resulted from these calls:
  • A busy researcher who had put filling-that-position on the bottom of the list of things to do moved considering me for the position to the top of the list
  • The crazy, disjointed background I have that I think seems like I have no idea where I'm headed has repeatedly been praised by forward-thinking researchers
  • I discovered that a position that was not yet advertised but which is even more in line with my training is available with one researcher
  • In short order, I am being whisked away for an interview the end of this week
Not quite sure where any of this will end, but the moral of the story is obvious: like it or not, "marketing" one's self does wonders -- and not just for getting an interview or job, but also for making one realize how marketable one might actually be!

Friday, January 11, 2008

she's five!

Fish may have brief lives, but the good news is that rabbits don't. Joelle and I celebrated her fifth birthday on Wednesday. She chewed some holes in one of my throw pillows......and I cut off the hair on the top of her head so she could see better and then served her a magic birthday basket salad with kale, parsley, and hidden apples and carrots.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Been too busy/preoccupied/sick to blog. Today's been a kind of cruddy day, I'll admit, so I suppose it's apropos to report the following:

Sheamus, my beautiful betta fish, has died. He passed away while I was visiting my family in Michigan for Christmas (I do not believe it was because of my absence that he died), so I am not sure of the date. But in commemoration of Benazir Bhutto, I'll say he and she shared their last day on earth December 27, 2007. Sheamus was buried in Swissvale, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 2007.