Employed and Homed…at last

After several months of telling everyone I was “unemployed and homeless”, I now have an awesome new job – perhaps even my dream job – and a lovely new apartment.  Since I haven’t posted in ages, a brief run-down of how I got here.  I gave up my apartment last August and “moved” myself and the cats to my friend’s farm in the Smoky Mountains to write up my dissertation.  Timing in the lab being what it is, I ended up back in Madison a few weeks later for “just a few weeks” to finish up some lab work.  Instead, I spent most of the fall couch-surfing around Madison thanks to the generosity of my friends and family.  Finally, at Thanksgiving, I headed back down to TN to write the three chapters of my dissertation.  I got one chapter written and then found out I had been offered a fabulous job back in my home state of Florida as a zoo nutritionist at an amazing institution.  So, instead of continuing to write, I took a whirlwind trip to visit friends and family all over as it might be a while before I’m “footloose and fancy-free” again.  In between, I sandwiched in a fabulous family reunion to celebrate my grandparents’ 20th wedding anniversary.  The reunion was a hoot because we were trying to keep it a secret from my grandparents, but none of us could keep our story straight.  As just one example (there were dozens), my mother told my grandfather I was in Bradenton, my aunt told him I was in Sanibel Island, and I told him I was still in Tennessee!  It was all downhill from there, and I think the lesson we all learned from this was that the family should never try to pull of a bank heist or other caper where we need to be perfectly coordinated.  Clearly, that is not our modus operandii :).

Following the reunion, I took another whirlwind trip back to TN to collect the cats and my stuff (and had a whirlwind zoom through Memphis to say good bye to my friends there). On the day before I started my job, I finally arrived in Florida.  I’ve rented a tiny, but very cute apartment in an old spanish-style building (4 units) on a beautiful river.  My very first day here, while I was waiting for the moving truck to arrive, I sat out on the dock and saw manatees!  I’ve since explored the river in my new kayak(s) and seen lots of manatees everywhere, plus fish, gators, turtles, and all manner of birds.  The river near me is lined with old houses that are clearly grandfathered in from before any housing codes.  Some are built hanging cantilevered out over the river, others are slowly crumbling into the river, some have been torn down and replaced with ugly cinder block mini-mansions, but most are still low, old Florida houses in all states of repair.  There are always tons of people fishing along the banks with their kids, and people out fishing in little dinghys.  There are plenty of Florida characters here to make life interesting – old hippies smoking pot, people having animated conversations with themselves, leathery ladies sunning themselves along the banks.  It’s Florida, all right –folks, we ain’t in Wisconsin anymore!  People aren’t midwest nice here and they drive like idiots, but there’s the southern hospitality and relaxed attitude that is nice to come back to as well.

As for the job, it is fabulous!  I’m sure the gloss will come off after a while (I’m already tired of the endless status update meetings), but in the meantime, I’m in charge of the nutrition of over 3,000 animals of over 250 species.  In practical terms, that means making diet changes every time we gain or lose an animal, and as animals grow up, get old, and go through their seasonal or annual cycles.  Some animals (naturally) don’t eat much all winter, others fast most of the summer, and so diets need to be constantly tweaked to take all of this into account.  I also work with the vets to adjust the diets of animals that have a clinical need for a diet change, oversee the commissary where the diets are prepared (a work in progress) and manage the budget.  I’ve got a great right hand person who is a natural at the business side of things (dealing with vendors, staff, etc), for which I’m extremely grateful, as that realm is entirely new to me.  For the clinical stuff, my learning curve is steep, but it’s very interesting. I like that there are definitely no two days that are even remotely the same — definitely a job to keep me on my toes!  I’ve only been there three weeks today, and I’m still going around to meet the different areas. There are still many animals I haven’t seen yet (or heard of, most likely!).  It’s nice – I think I’ll be out and about more with the animals than I was in Memphis, where I was mostly chained to my desk and lab.  I’m really impressed with the people I’ve met so far.  I’ve heard rumors of some some lingering “good ol’ boy” type mentality, but for the most part, I haven’t seen it.  Everyone is doing amazing things to provide top-notch care for the animals, and is working very hard to make the working environment nice.  At least a third of the people have been there more than 20 years, some nearly 40 years.  The attitude is very positive, and that’s 90% of what it takes to make a place fun to work.  Throw in some cool animals and what’s not to love?

I am, however, reminded of reasons I didn’t want to return to Florida.  An idiot with a gun shot and and killed a teenaged black kid armed with a bag of skittles who was calmly walking away from the idiot and on his way home in the neighborhood they both lived in.  The killer called 911 to report a “suspicious person”.  The 911 operator told him to not approach the person, but the idiot went ahead, chased the unarmed kid, and shot him.  The kids cries for help can be heard in police tapes released.  Although the event is horrible, the real tragedy is that the police dragged their heels on the investigation and have still declined to charge the idiot with murder.  The police are making stupid statements about how it was part of neighborhood watch (the idiot killer was not a member of neighborhood watch and didn’t follow their rules which say to avoid suspicious people and call 911, and specifically forbids watch members from carrying guns on duty) and that they aren’t racist.  No!  Of course not! <sarcasm> It’s just that white people all mean well, and black kids are just naturally suspicious, so absolutely ANYBODY would have done the same thing in that situation </sarcasm>.  What are the chances that a black man claiming he was on “neighborhood watch” who shot and killed a white teenager would not be in jail at this point?  Zero.  Not that ignorance and idiocy were absent in Wisconsin (see the current governor there for a stellar example of both), but a much lower proportion of the population participated in it.  Yet another round of culture shock for me *sigh*.

And on that downer of a note, I’ll say that despite all that, I’m happy to be here.  I love my job, I like my apartment, I love the river and the abundance of natural beauty in Florida, and will be optimistic that people can somehow learn to treat each other decently someday.

Peaking late

It’s 11 pm in the lab and I’m…well…bored. So, I’ve started making movies to share with you about the “fun” I’m having here.

Part 1 – The overview

Part 2 – Fun with Robots!

Part 3 – Collecting Peaks

Made it!

I can’t say we had a good trip, but we (the cats and I) did finally get out of Madison and make it to the Smoky Mtns alive, if rather beaten to a pulp.   The week leading up to our trip was chaos, but I did manage to survive surgery and collecti the last of my data for Project #1 while taking care of all the last-minute-getting-out-of-town details.  I knew that Roxie got carsick, but had hoped that she’d settle in to the drive after a bit, especially once we got on the straight highway.  Dragon has never had a problem in a car, so I wasn’t too worried about him.  They survived 9 hours from Memphis to Madison a few years ago without any problems – how bad could the trip be?  Hah!  Despite relaxing cat pheromone sprays and anti-nausea medications, the cats howled, yowled, puked, pooped, and peed the whole trip.  I have never heard such a variety of pitiful, mournful noises from cats.  They even managed to meow on both the exhale AND the inhale, so there was NEVER a moment of silence.  I thought my cats had a 2-3 word vocabulary, but now I know that they are just normally polite.  They know how to swear in every language under the sun and know an entire dictionary of ways to express their hatred of life, the universe, and everything.  If you can imagine taking a 12 hour car trip with two colicky, teething children, you might have an inkling what the hell of the trip was like.  Although I’ve driven such long drives alone before with no problems, every muscle in my body ached after the tension of the drive with.  If I hadn’t loved the kitties quite so much, I’m pretty sure they would have been left by the side of the road somewhere in Indiana.

Fortunately, we did arrive at cat and human paradise – the Smokies.  The heat and humidity will take some getting used to, as will the culture shock.  I’d forgotten how the default setting of the South is that you are a criminal.  Everywhere I go there are signs of policemen “we are watching YOU”, and “If YOU use a gun, you’ll serve the time”.  Even at the grocery store, there are signs about security cameras everywhere.  I can’t shake the feeling of guilt despite that fact that I’ve been here over 24 hours and haven’t shot anyone yet or even stolen anything.  I feel like I might be about to.  I rather like the northern assumption that you are a good person and some nebulous “them” are the bad folks. This idea that *I* need careful watching is disturbing, and I can see why the South is so paranoid about the government spying on them.  I feel spied upon and I’m about as far from government oversight as I can get!

I also had no idea my cats were so citified.  They are afraid of the dark!  It gets really dark here at night and as soon as the lights are out, they freeze in place.  I had to find a nightlight for them just so that they could figure out how to get into bed and find their kitty litter!  I know cats can’t see in absolute dark, but it is surprising that these guys just go frozen when the lights go out.  We’ll have to work on that, and hopefully once they are more comfortable here, they’ll be able to navigate around the house at night using their whiskers and other kitty senses.

Dragon shot out the door yesterday and straight into the face of George Henry, the barn cat who apparently defends the property against dogs and other intruders.  Fortunately the encounter was such a surprise to both cats that nothing really happened except a lot of sniffing.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’d love to let the cats outside to explore a little, but I’m worried that the boonies here might be a little too wild for them.  Would they run up and try to greet a fox?  a dog? a racoon? get kicked by a horse?  If they freaked out and bolted, would they be able to find their way home?  We might try some leash time first, although I can imagine Dragon’s mortification at being paraded around George Henry wearing a harness… “Mooommmm!”

I’ve got a little office area set up in front of a window with an excellent view of The View.  I love The View from here.  In all the chaos of the drive down here and how zonked I was  yesterday, I almost forgot to go sit out on the porch and watch The View by Night, but I remembered in time.  I’d post a picture, but that wouldn’t truly capture The View, which comes with The Soundtrack, The Smells and The Air.  It’s a complete picture that doesn’t translate well to electrons and pixels.  Just take my word for it that it is spectacular and healing.

Argh, too much more of this and I’ll never get back to Madison to finish Project #2.  Back to work, Heidi.

Goose, Goose, Duck!

It’s been ages since I last posted.  Spring has finally arrived in Madison.  In addition to the beautiful flowering trees and carpets of lilies and tulips, spring has also brought the return of the Canada geese.  The geese are busy raising gaggles of little goslings.  The sheer number of  goslings is staggering.  Each pair of parents I see has at least 10 little fuzzy chicks, and many have over 15.  I counted one pair with 17 chicks!  Of course, I’ve also seen quite a few hawks enjoying a fresh goose lunch.  Canada geese are pests – there’s no way around that.  They chew up lawns and poop everywhere when they aren’t wandering stubbornly into traffic.  They stand around on the bike paths and prevent anyone from going by and they’ve been known to attack folks who get too close.  So, like many towns, the “kill all the geese” factions here are at war with the “we WUV the cute widdle geese” factions.  There are families out by the lakes feeding bread to the geese while neighboring families are campaigning for the city to take more lethal action against them (the geese, not the bread-feeders).  This gets back to the questions of what do we conserve and why do we conserve it?  Canada geese have moved into a niche that we have created for them (open, grassy shorelines).  They are (I assume – I’m not too up on our local lake ecology) displacing other creatures that would live there.  Do we not conserve them because they are pests?  Because they are upsetting the “natural order” of the “appropriate” species for manicured parks?  Or are the parks themselves unnatural?  Do we kill animals just because they are annoying?  Do we kill them to promote a different idea of what “should” be there?  Do we save them because of our respect for living things?  Do we save them because they are so cute in their little tuxedos?  I have no answers.  I wish they’d stay off the bike paths and institute some family planning, but those seem unlikely in the foreseeable future.

My research is having its ups and downs as usual.  In good news, my samples are weighed out and ready to start my first fermentation trial.  The bad news is I couldn’t get them dried fast enough this week to do my first run today, so now they have to wait until next Thursday.  I’m itching to have actual data, with real NUMBERS.  4 years gone and I have almost no data to show for it – just bags and bags of samples cluttering up my office and lab.  Fortunately, my lab and office mates have been polite about living with bags of monkey food and monkey poop (dried and sealed in baggies, but still).  Of course, one officemate did disappear to California for the summer, but she was polite and said it was for “field work”.

My current plan, since I know you all are wondering, is to finish my lab work here this summer, then put my stuff in storage here somewhere and take the cats and myself down to Marian’s for a retreat/writing time.  The caveats to this are that I need to finish all my lab work this summer and the remaining time for that that is getting smaller and smaller.  This latest delay just makes it even harder for me to get done on time, although I think I still can if I don’t have any more big delays.  If I’m not done in time, I’m hoping I can go down to TN, drop off the cats, and then couch-surf back here for a few weeks while I finish up the last bits of lab work.  If I am really behind, maybe I’ll find a month-to-month sublet or something.  I don’t have a job anywhere yet, but I’ve got this part-time editing job that I could spend more time on and get paid enough to live on. If all goes well, I’ll write up in the fall and defend in November or December.

I hate shopping and I hate clothes shopping in particular, so it was a low moment last week when I realized I needed to buy something fancy for formal dinners on a cruise with my family next month.  I therefore summoned my best will and marched over to my only favorite boutique – St. Vincent du Paul’s thrift shop.  In the process of squeezing myself into 72 different dresses that were clearly made for 6-foot tall anorexic women with DDD breasts, I managed to break the bra strap on my last decent bra, so then I had to go bra shopping (while I do buy most of my clothes at St. Vinnie’s, I draw the line at underwear).  Apparently, I hadn’t done this in…ahem…a while.  I walked around today in my new bra feeling like my boobs had migrated quite a few inches north.  It is quite apparent that my old bras had lost more than a bit of their elasticity.  The salesperson asked if I wanted a pushup bra.  I declined at the time, but now I’m wondering what a push-up bra would cause my boobs to do…attack my chin? do actual pushups?

On the bright side, I found a few dresses that even appear as if they might not wrinkle once I wad them up and throw them in a suitcase (of course, I do actually fold my clothes when packing, it’s just that they always appear to have been wadded up and thrown into my suitcase.  I’m going to blame it on TSA.).  Of course, now that I’ve got the dresses, I realize that my favorite clunky sandals probably won’t “go” with such glad rags, but the thought of shoe shopping gives me nightmares, so I might be wearing sneakers with my ballgowns.  Sorry Grandpa.

In other sadder news, it was a bad month for disasters both national and personal.  My pregnant friend N was traveling to her field site in Nebraska with some other students when the driver of her car lost control, jumped the highway median and plowed head-on into a car in the oncoming lane.  The oncoming driver was killed and N ended up with a broken collarbone, a fractured vertebra, and unfortunately, lost her baby.  N’s husband and I drove down to pick her up from the hospital in Iowa where she was.  However, she couldn’t come home immediately, so we stayed there for a few days.  The hospital was so nice – they brought in cots for us to sleep on, let us eat the food from the lounge, and would even have let us bring N’s dogs!  The Holiday Inn it was not, though.  We all discovered that if you want a good night’s sleep, the LAST place you should go is a hospital.  Someone was in to check on N several times every hour.  The first night they were worried she might have an unnoticed brain problem so they woke her up every hour to shine bright lights in her eyes and ask her 20 questions.  N was a trooper though – funny and upbeat despite all the horror around her.  She’s home now,  in a full neck and torso brace and can’t move one arm.  However, all her injuries are temporary and once she heals, she should be fine.  Despite all her trauma and the horror of the huge neck/back brace, we took a boat out on the lake this weekend and have been working in her garden.  I hope I’m never in an accident that bad, but if I am, I hope I have half the positive attitude she has!  Also, M & M’s stepmom, a woodturner, was working in her shop with her lathe and had a horrible accident that crushed her skull.  She was in a coma for a week, but her brain activity stopped and the family finally decided to pull the plug.  Fortunately for many other families, she was an organ donor and her organs helped save many lives.  Please, please, make sure you sign your organ donor card.  That could be your mom or sister or son who gets a new lease on life.  For the record, I want every last bit of me donated if it can be of use to someone or for education or research.  I don’t need it when I’m gone and I’d rather my body be used where it can do some good.

This post was briefly interrupted by a bat in our stairwell, but he has been safely escorted back to the outside world again.

I’m off to bed now and will try to dream of a way to harness the reproductive prowess of Canada geese to speed up my research, provide organs for needy people, and do my bra and shoe shopping for me.

Decisions, Decisions

My research is making slow and steady forward progress, which is exciting and a welcome change.  My ideal plan is to finish all my labwork this summer and to spend the fall writing.  So far, I seem to be on schedule for doing that.  Now I’m trying to decide what to do about next fall.  Maybe my helpful blog readers can offer some advice.

So, should I stay or should I go?…

Funding: My funding ends in August, after which all tuition, fees, and expenses are out of my own pocket.  If I stay and teach, my net costs for fall are around $2000, while if I go (or stay and mooch off folks here without teaching), they are at least $5,000 (or more if I have to travel to WI regularly).

Teaching: I like teaching, but I applied late to the various positions, so it is likely I’ll get the dregs of the jobs – ie, the ones that require the most work.  On the bright side, I could finally finish my teaching certificate which I’ve done all the requirements except for the mentored practicum.  If I taught in the fall, I could do that.  Or, I could maybe get a job in the Smokies teaching…

Insurance: If I teach in the fall, my health insurance will be paid for by the university through December, so my COBRA coverage will start in January.  If I don’t teach, I’ll start COBRA earlier (in August) and it will therefore end 3 months earlier.

Housing: If I teach in the fall, I’d have to find a place to rent here for one semester that takes cats, which is hard in this town, and will likely be much more expensive than what I pay now.  Or I could live on someone’s couch…

Writing: If I stay, I’d have the benefits of being here with access to my advisors, stats consultants, libraries, and other folks on campus.  On the other hand, I’d also be teaching, and that will take a big chunk of time away from writing.  If I go, I’ll have more uninterrupted time to write, but also less support for doing so.

Timing: At the moment, it seems like I will be able to get my work done here this summer.  But, things have a way of not always working out as planned.  If I stayed for the fall, I would have more flexibility with finishing all my labwork and not be under such intense pressure to finish everything this summer.

Looking for advice dear readers…I really want to go hang out on Marian’s front porch in the Smokies and write – it sounds idyllic and much more pleasant than staying here.  But, at what financial and academic cost?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts!