Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It's all a bunch of tree-hugging hippie crap!

I was watching Animal Planet last night when it suddenly occurred to me that nature is both amazing and really, REALLY odd. For example, consider the flying squirrel. Cute, but really fucking weird when you stop and think about it.

It must've sucked to be one of the missing-link flying squirrels whose flying membrane genes just weren't strong enough to be selected. I sort of hope that the de-selection didn't involve test flights.

Consider also otters, who are cute and snuggly-looking and will apparently pose for photos in pails and will also--according to Animal Planet--prey on beavers.

Finally, let's discuss the capybara, which the Vatican seems to have declared to be a fish back in the 1600s. These real-life R.O.U.S.-es have yet to receive a Papal re-classification.

In real life, I've been able to observe the not at all bizarre but amazing transformation of four baby robins who hatched in a nest that was built on one of the sculptures on the lawn at work. Here is the nest on May 6th, when the mama robin was still sitting on eggs whenever there was a decided lack of ginormous bipeds and flashy silver things the size of her whole body:

Here is the same nest yesterday:

I was going to write something sappy and thoughtful about how pleasant and Zen-like I've been able to become just by deciding to appreciate the simple elegance of day-to-day life, but it all seems a little overwrought now, so I'll just let you look at the cute birds.

Reading: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett and Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, which the cat apparently finds as enjoyable as I do:

Either that or he's trying to tell me to get my nose out of the book and get out the damn feather toy already.

Playing: the soundtrack to Monsoon Wedding

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I'm almost sure I had something important to say.

Damned if I remember what it was, though.

How about a long list of random and unconnected items? I was informed today by a third party that my boss objects to things being referred to as "random" in the context that I use the word. I tend to say things are "random" if they are sitting around for no apparent purpose, or are in a certain place for no obvious reason. I submit this piece of evidence that my usage is correct.

the one who is good at spotting wildlife

I have begun to suspect that one of the cat's missions in life is to prepare us for parenthood. He is demanding, he tends to throw tantrums and act out when he doesn't get his way, he cries when he wants something, he dislikes being told no, he sometimes has issues with pooping in the potty, and he'll wait until the litterbox is totally cleaned out--say, right before company comes over for dinner--and then he'll take a big stinky dump, and smirk on his way out of the room. He's also so adorable that he could do just about anything, and I'd still be head over heels for him. How could I not be totally bonkers for a guy who can get himself inside a closed-up paper box without taking off the lid?

the one who is the love of my life

MB returned from a four-day trip to visit some old friends, and brought me a small package of chocolates from the local fine chocolate store. They are are the cinnamon sticks I was treated to from Pizza Hut tonight. At least I don't have to wonder why I can't seem to lose weight.

He also brought me a sandwich at work this afternoon, since I worked twelve hours today, and attended one of my public science presentations. He's pretty darn cool, even if he does ask me plaintively why I haven't washed his jeans yet, and even though he doesn't spend much time in office-supply containers.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm one of those scary girls.

While I do not specifically seek out and purchase items to stockpile for the children MB and I plan to have one day, I must admit that every now and again I do procure items to "put away for the kids." I almost can't believe I just typed that out. I feel like I'm telling a dirty secret or something. They have to be really cool things, though. And really good deals. For example:

Come on...seriously...Classic Pooh and a very cute Tigger? For 50 cents each at a rummage sale? Who could say no to that?

Also, even though in the last couple of years I've become pretty good at not accumulating non-specifically-child-intended stuffed animals, occasionally I get ensnared by one from which I cannot walk away:

these two items made me feel a little teary

Dear Lord, I'm just all kinds of embarrassing today. But these are really good:

essay on motherhood by Anna Quindlen, cited by Sweetney

happy birthday message to her one-year-old daughter, from HollyRhea

best movie insult of the month (an old favorite)

Me: "Your words are feeble and twisted as an old woman's, Kitty!"

Kitty: "Meow!"

Reading: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell; Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett; Frindle by Andrew Clements. (Clearly I'm feeling a bit...multifaceted this week.)

Playing: Within a Mile of Home by Flogging Molly. I'm a bit hooked on it right now. Also, the soundtrack from The Last Unicorn--a much-beloved favorite film from my childhood--which was a very thoughtful and much-appreciated Christmas gift from my sister.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ten Reasons Why My Mom Rocks

Even though she'll probably never read this blog, I think it's appropriate to give a shout-out to my mom.

1. She's the most well-read person I know.

2. She won't take crap from anybody. I suspect that used car salesmen and telemarketers all over the state have her photo in their "to be avoided" files.

3. Though she is extremely un-sentimental, she is kind. Once she took all of us kids trick-or-treating at the Family & Children's Services office (there was a reason), and on the way home we passed a boy, maybe 14 years old, selling papers on the street. My mom pulled over and handed him the handful of candy we'd given to her and told him Happy Halloween, because she felt bad that he was just a kid and had to sell papers instead of going trick-or-treating. One day one summer, a drifter-type guy was sitting across the street from our house. I don't know if he was hitch-hiking or what, but she took him a glass of ice water.

4. She (along with my dad, of course) was a foster parent for years. I don't know how many kids they fostered over the years, but they started when I was four and continued to take in children until my sophomore year in high school. People often ask me if it was strange to grow up in a house with ever-changing siblings. Maybe, but it wasn't strange to just was the way things were at my house. There were only two things that my sister and I got that the foster kids didn't get. We went on one one-week vacation a year, just the four of us, and we went to Catholic school while they went to public school. Other than that, everything was fair. We got the same movie-renting privileges, the same amount of books from the library, the same number of Christmas presents. She may not have been a sappy Hallmark-movie foster mom, but she was a damn good one. (This is also why we went trick-or-treating at Family and Children's Services in addition to our own neighborhood...the case-workers liked to see all their case kids dressed up, and they'd put candy bowls out on their desks in the cube farm every year.)

5. She raised my sister and me to be competent, confident, capable women, and to believe that girls can do anything boys can do.

6. She is nearly all-knowing. If I need advice, I call her. She also knows lots of random facts and pieces of information.

7. She is exceptionally good at reading people.

8. She didn't bury me in the flower garden when I was a kid, even though I mostly deserved it on many occasions.

9. She's funny. I left the house today after stopping by to bring her some ice cream, and on my way out I commented on the neighbors across the street having random furniture and possessions on their porch, for probably the second or third week running. We discussed our theories--they were painting one room...the last owner or tenant had left the stuff behind...they were saving it for a yard sale once the weather warmed up--and then I said goodbye. Mom leaned out the door and called out, "That pink thing on the side there looks sort of like a fetus." And damned if it didn't, all of a sudden. I stared at it as I walked to my car, and Mom's voice floated after me: "Now, everytime you look at it..."

10. She's the coolest, most loving, most awesome mom anyone could ask for, and I'm lucky enough to be her kid.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom...even though you're internet-impaired and will never see this. I love you!

Friday, May 12, 2006

don't say nature has no sense of humor

Last Sunday, I went canoeing with my friend Danger. We go at least once every summer.

There are always dozens of turtles sunning themselves on logs along the sides of the river channel, and they usually bail out when a canoe goes by. We were coming around a bend, and I noticed some turtles dropping off of a log that was angled up about two feet above the water. I started to point it out to Danger, and then we heard this giant "PLOOOOMP!" from over near the right bank. We whipped around to look, in time to see a big splash falling back down, which only could've been made by something dropping from a tree limb about three or four feet up.

We started to say, "What was that?!" but before we could finish, something reached the bank and clawed its way out of the river.

It was a squirrel.

kayaking, part three

The day after the pool and lake practice, we went to a local stream to practice our mad skillz on moving water. It was the perfect place to try it out. The current was moving, but wasn't overwhelming; there were fast places without any honest-to-God rapids; there were some great eddies; and we had one short portage.

We practiced eddy turns (paddling at 45 or so degrees to an eddy line, then turning and bracing into the current while leaning to pull your kayak around quickly into an eddy), peel-outs (pretty much the opposite of an eddy paddle out into the current at a sharp angle, then plant your paddle and lean downstream as soon as you feel the current catch you), and ferries (angling the boat upstream at just slightly off of 90 degrees and catching the current in such a way that you glide straight across the river and move slightly upstream instead of barreling on down the river).

We got to practice the eddy turns and peel-outs a LOT, which was good since they're used a lot when paddling whitewater. I loved peel-outs, and got pretty good at eddy turns, though my ferries always seemed to require a little more work than they should've.

All in all, it was an uneventful but enjoyable trip. I'd never paddled the stream we were on, even though I've volunteered for cleanups and logjam breakups before, so it was great to see it on a good day, with the water up and the trees beautiful and the birds singing.

The following weekend, most of the class went out to the St. Francis River in Missouri. I was feeling pretty nervous, but I was determined to face it and see what happened. MB and I drove over on Friday night, because everyone had said they'd be getting there early and camping out. We drove through rain and fog and along the windiest road EVER, only to find out that only the two main instructors were there. We got the tent up and roasted some hot dogs (I find it amusing that I won't eat hot dogs at home, but love them when camping.) and went to bed. We slept pretty good, and didn't get too wet even though it rained all night. The rest of the class arrived sometime in the night or early the next morning. We got decked out in colder-weather gear because it was still rainy and breezy the next day, and then headed for the river.

There were enough instructors and volunteers from the whitewater club to pair up each student with one experienced paddler. My boat buddy rocked. He was funny and patient and watched after me really well.

The first half of the river wasn't too bad. There was definite current, and some riffle-type stuff, but no real rapids. It was intimidating at first, and I learned right away that you really do have to paddle a lot in a whitewater river (even a class I river), or you just get pinballed off of every rock in sight. The instructors told us over and over that if we weren't sure which side to paddle on, it was best just to paddle. Better to paddle on the wrong side than to not do anything. By the time we got to the end of the first half, I was feeling a lot more confident. I asked my boat buddy if he thought I could handle the second half of the river, and he said I could, so I decided to trust his judgement over my own insecurities.

We got out at the halfway point to take a pit stop and stretch. That's where we saw this incredibly cool tree:

Then it was back into the boats for the second half of our trip. I didn't know it until later, but the second half of the trip is apparently Missouri's "premier whitewater run." Please note, also, that all the photos in this entry were either taken the next day, or found on the American Whitewater site about the run. The river was a LOT lower the day we ran it. That presented its own set of challenges, but I don't want anyone to think we were out there ripping class III/IVs when we were really doing IIs and maybe a few IIIs.

The first part of the run was what I would've called rapids at the time. Then we came up on the first big rapid, the confidence-inspiringly-named "Big Drop." There was a plan for how we were all going to get down Big Drop. We were to go down the smaller rapid, pull into an eddy under some willows, and then wait until we got the go-ahead from the instructor who'd already gone through.

Here's the rapid above Big Drop:

One of the main instructors went down first with his student, a guy named E. who had consistently been nailing everything through the whole class. A few moments later, my boating buddy headed down and I followed. Imagine my surprise and concern when I come around the bend above the first big rapid to see E's boat wedged sideways against a giant rock in the middle of the rapid and E. standing on the side of the river. I had to wait in the eddy for about 10 or 15 minutes. First, I waited while the instructors and my friend A.--who is an experienced whitewater canoeist--worked to free E's kayak. Then, I had to wait while the other students came down, because they'd apparently decided it was time to run.

The whole key to making it through the rapid was to go to the left of the big rock and then paddle hard all the way down. I got to wait and tell everyone, "Go to the left, and then PADDLE!" The instructors were sitting at the bottom and yelling, "Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!" There were two random guys who were kayaking with us and I think one of them made it down without flipping, but the other didn't. I think my friend R. made it and didn't flip, or if he did flip he rolled back up. The only other girl in the class got stuck on the big rock on the wrong side, got free, then dumped at the bottom. I think the one guy who was good at everything made it.

Then it was just me, A., and a guy named B., who had flipped in the rapid above Big Drop and was still getting back into his kayak. I told A. she could go first. I said, "You've done this before, right?" A. said, "Yeah, but it was a year ago and I was scared shitless." And then she was gone. Thanks! Way to make a girl feel confident! So I sat there, with a literal lump of fear in my stomach, waiting for the go-ahead signal, but not sure I wanted to see it. Then it was my turn. I figured, what the hell...I'm either going to make it or I'm not! I powered out of the eddy, squeaked by the rock on the left side, and then paddled like hell. And I made it! I didn't even come close to flipping! Holy cow.

Running the rapids wasn't a big adrenaline rush or a roller coaster stomach churning ride, but through the whole day, there was a definite cycle of challenge and accomplishment. It was GREAT.

There was a consistent pattern of smaller rapids and eddy-catching, and occasionally a bigger rapid. In one large eddy where the whole class was congregating, I noticed a snake swimming up against the rock at the bank, trying to crawl out but getting sloshed around. Apparently the kid who was good at EVERYTHING is afraid of snakes. He's behind me going, "Get away from the snake! Stay away from the snake!" My friend R. came into the eddy and said, "Oh, hey! A banded water snake!"

Then someone bumped the rock right next to the snake, and the snake said:

And we said, "Hello, Mr. Copperhead!" and got the hell out of the eddy.

The next major rapid was called Double Drop. The key to Double Drop was to go between the large rock in the middle (hidden) and the gigantor rock on the right side of the rapid:

I got to the right, but then as I passed the gigantor rock, my kayak decided to tip me completely INTO the rock. I saw the rock coming at my face, I felt the kayak sliding out from under my center of balance, so I did the only thing I could think of...I let go of the paddle, reached out and pushed off of the rock, got myself upright again, and kept paddling. I figured I'd get teased for it, but it seems I did my very first "unintendo"...doing something cool totally by mistake. My boating buddy was impressed, and I was still right-side-up, so all was well.

I actually made it through the entire trip without flipping one time. No one else in the whole class managed that. I wasn't the best paddler and certainly not the most technically skilled, but I was the only one who didn't swim at all. Both instructors and my boat buddy complimented me, and I just wanted to run the river again. It was a really great trip. A lot less scary than I had expected!

Reading: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Playing: Within a Mile of Home by Flogging Molly

Friday, May 05, 2006

I don't know much about Cinco de Mayo...

I was cleaning the apartment today (and GOD was it ever overdue. EMBARRASSING.) and I tied up the curtains that cover the sliding glass door so that I could vacuum. As I was working, I noticed that the cat was in his twitchy-tailed low-to-the-ground intently-staring predator mode. I went over to see what he was watching, and saw this incredibly awesomely cool 7-inch-long LIZARD on our back patio! (And this is an actual picture of the lizard, after I snuck up on it to get a photo.)

Actually, I'm not sure it was a lizard at all. I think it was a female broadhead skink. I love how nature just busts out badass stuff when you're least expecting it, in the most unlikely places (like the teeny tiny backyard of my apartment in the middle of the city!). Nature rules. For real, dogg.

I'm never sure what it's all about.

My dad dropped this off today:

I'd like to think my chub is cowering in fear. Truthfully, though, I think it's shaking with laughter.

I say I want you, and you don't believe me; you say you want me, but I've got my doubts.

Three cheers and a gold star for MB, who cooked the most delicious dinner tonight, just because. He so rocks.

Oh, baby...I was bound for Mexico.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Teeth and bones and vertebrae, appear before my eyes today...*

A few days ago, a friend of mine IM-ed me and asked if I'd be interested in some bones she found behind her backyard air conditioner. I'm not obsessed with death or with overly morbid things, but bones will get me every time, especially if there's a skull involved.

I think my interest in animal bones may be related to the fact that from as far back as I can remember until I was about 20, I wanted to be a vertebrate paleontologist. I even started my geology degree with the intention of going on to a masters program in paleontology, only to become sidetracked and interested in environmental geology around my sophomore / junior year.

I still think it would be awesome to dig up dinosaur bones, and I tend to dig animal bones, especially skulls. There's something cool about skulls, after all.

Anyway, the mysterious skeleton behind the AC unit seems to be the earthy remains of a rabbit:

"What is this, CSI?" says MB.

Just Finished: A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

Playing: some Flogging Molly, some System of a Down, some Johnny Cash

Coming Soon: (I hope) the final part of the kayaking tale

* I believe this comes from The Dinosaur Heresies by Robert Bakker

Monday, May 01, 2006

kayaking, part two

So, unfazed by the twenty minute discussion of the many ways to be killed or maimed on the river, I returned the next day for the second portion of the class. Okay, not quite unfazed...that morning right before I woke up, I dreamed that my class was out on a river and saw the telltale horizon line of a low-head dam. One of the instructors, Z., pointed it out and said, "See, there's that horizon line we told you about. Let's take a look." We all got out of our kayaks and walked over to the side of the river and stared in disbelief at the 9-foot drop into roiling water at the other side of the horizon line. Then I woke up and thought, 'I can't believe I just had a dream about a freaking dam,' and went to class.

We met at a local indoor pool, where we spent a good half hour out in the parking lot selecting our gear: lovely brown polypro shirt; spray skirt; helmet; paddle; waterproof spray jacket; life jacket; and of course, kayak. Somehow, I ended up with nearly every piece marked #3. My kayak, helmet, and gear bag were all marked with a 3. I started out with paddle #2, and the instructor helping me choose joked that I should have picked #3. About five minutes later, another instructor told me to trade #2 (a plastic paddle) for #3 (wooden). It felt like fate. I chose lifejacket #13--my lucky number.

We went inside and stretched, and then it was time to get in our kayaks. They showed us a nifty move where you can lay your paddle across the boat just behind the cockpit with one blade flat on shore. Then you can sit with your weight on the paddle, and your hands holding both the paddle and the back of the cockpit and slip into your boat without tipping over. This was surprisingly easy, though I found that you have to keep your legs straight during this part, or your knees get stuck against the kneepads and you get stuck and have to start over. Once in our boats, we paddled around a bit without our spray skirts attached. Luckily they warned us that kayaks are very hard to paddle in a straight line, because otherwise I would've been seriously frustrated. I did not demonstrate mad straight-line skills...or even mad going-in-one-general-direction skills.

Then it was time to practice escapes, rescues, and rolls. We had the option of using clip-on nose plug thingies, and it really helped. This was the part I was nervous about (remember?). Without our skirts on the boats, they had us practice rolling the boat over, thumping the sides three times (kayaking language for "Help, I'm upside-down!"), rubbing our hands along the boat (to check for a rescue), and then escaping from the kayak. To get out, you grip the back edge of the cockpit and slide yourself out as if you're taking off a pair of pants. It works amazingly well...turns out it's a lot easier to get out of a kayak than it is to get into one. Go figure. I practically fell out of mine, in fact. Anyhow, once I knew how easy it was to get out of the kayak, my nervousness melted away. With the nose clips on, I could comfortably hold my breath long enough to practice all the manuevers. They had us fasten the skirts on and practice escaping again (roll, thump, rub, yank on the grab loop to pull the skirt loose, and take off the pants). Cake.

Next, we practiced the technique known as the Eskimo Rescue. This website has a great description of this move, with pictures. I was really freaking good at this part. The instructors told me I have an "excellent hip snap," and predicted that I'd be able to learn to roll as well. Alas, it was not to be. We moved on to Eskimo Rolls (see the same website). I could do the paddle setup just fine. I could glue my wrists to the boat; kiss the deck; roll upside-down; wait, Zen-like, until I felt air on my hands; and rotate my paddle to the proper position. But I couldn't get my hip snap and paddle tug to align properly. I tried and tried and tried. After everyone else either mastered it or gave up, I kept practicing. I never did get it. I went into the class assuming I would not be able to roll, but left the pool feeling like I should've been able to do it, and that I was just missing one key shred of understanding that would allow me to put the elements together.

After lunch, we drove out to a lake for another round of practicing. We practiced paddling around, did a few laps around the island in the middle of the lake, and did some timed and relay races. I did not win any races, but I didn't come in last place either. We played a game that at first had me worried but turned out to be really fun. We divided up into two teams. The teams gathered on opposited sides of the "field" and waited until a red playground ball was tossed into the middle. Then, both teams paddled forward and tried to get the ball and carry it close enough to toss it into the hula hoop "goal" on the opposite side of the "field." Instead of using kayak paddles, we paddled with our hands. My team came really close to winning, and I think we would've had it if the other team hadn't played a lot dirtier than we did. It was great fun, though.

There was one bad thing...shortly after a long drawn-out battle for the ball--which started when my friend R. blatantly stole a ball I'd caught fair and square, by literally pulling my arms above my head and snatching the ball--I flipped over. Now, I'd like to say I remained completely calm and managed to execute a perfect Eskimo Roll. I'd be happy to say I remained completely cool and waited for an Eskimo Rescue. Sadly, this was not the case. I held my nose--and my panic in check--for a few moments, but then I let go and the instincts took over. The good news is that it's really easy to get out of your kayak even when all you do is try your best to swim out of the damn thing. Everyone was cool about it, but I was pretty embarrassed. But I got right back into the game, and we would've won if a toss to me hadn't been about 20 feet short. Bollocks.

After the game, I tried some more Eskimo Roll practice--with nose clip this time--but nothing came of it except this lovely bruise, which I didn't notice until almost a full week later: