Monday, December 21, 2009

Career Day

Friday I took part in a 7th grade Career Day. It was a large event. There were at least 50 professionals ranging from military and medical to hair stylist, animal rescue and dental hygienist. The afternoon was set up on a 20 minute rotation. I was told to expect no more than 6 kids at a time and I had 20 minutes to discuss what a typical day entailed, schooling involved, salary, as well as likes/dislikes about the job. I had my own classroom, complete with white board, computer and projector.

I was a bit apprehensive about this career day. Usually people's eyes start to glaze over when they ask me "What do you do for a living?" How was I going to make this interesting for a bunch of 7th graders? So I put together a power point presentation of photos of my mistnetting and checking nest boxes. I began telling the kids about my field project and the things they were learning in Science Class (I used the terms Scientific Method, Independent Variable, Dependent Variable, Hypothesis, Habitat, Predator in every talk) were going to stick with them long after school was finished. I showed them the photos and peppered my talk with personal stories and tidbits on bird behavior.

The questions from the kids were what made each presentation interesting and entertaining. I can only hope I was as enlightening and entertaining as they were. Here are the highlights from my afternoon.

What was the funniest thing that happened to you?
I learned the hard way to not just stick your hand in a nestbox without looking first. Once I stuck my hand in a box and when I pulled it out, it was covered in ants. This is my favorite funny story. It's disgusting and I still get the chills when I think about it, but it was funny.

What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
I went up to Alaska to work one summer. We were camping near a stream in the mountains when we had a bear come into our camp. Another favorite story of mine. I love the reactions I get. There was no real danger here. The bear barely entered our camp perimeter when he saw us, turned tail and ran.

What do you like about your job?
The first thing I love the most is being able to have the birds in my hand to look at them and learn about them. It's neat to see their colors up close. The second thing I love about my job is being outside. I like being able to watch the habitat I'm studying change...the growth of flowers, grasses. It all changes in the spring and summer. Nothing stays the same.

What do you hate about your job?
Doing the math calculations for my reports. There is a lot of math involved.

The discussions on bird behavior and resulting stories were entertaining as well. In one group the topic of aggressive Canada Geese came up. I told them that most geese were aggressive because they were usually defending chicks and sometimes territory. When I advised the kids to simply walk further away when they saw adults with their young offspring, one girl raised her hand and said she had a story. Thinking she was going to talk about young geese, I agreed to let her speak and this is what she said.

This one time, um, I think I was 5, it was winter and I was outside and there were mom geese on one side of a pond and dad geese on the other side of the pond and I fed them and there was a sign that said don't feed the geese, but I couldn't read so I didn't know and then these 10 kids came up and picked me up by my shoulders and threw me in the pond.


In another rotation we were discussing songbirds. I learned that one girl's grandmother had bird feeders out and she "made the nectar juice for the hummingbirds." As soon as she stopped talking another boy piped up that his mom screamed and freaked out when a bird flew in their house.

I think my favorite discussion was on birds not being able to count or smell. We were talking about baby birds in one group when one girl mentioned her family taking care of a baby bird that fell out of its nest.

You know what? Birds can't count and they can't smell. So if you happen to find a baby bird on the ground and there's a nest nearby, you can put the bird in the nest. The bird won't know if she has 4 or 5 babies. She'll take care of it. And it can be a different species too. It's ok to put a robin baby bird in a cardinal's nest.

Wait. But won't the momma bird abandon the nest?

Nope. She can't smell, remember?

But, she's going to know you put it there.

No she won't. She can't smell the scent from your hands.

But how is she going to know that you put it in there?

One boy grew tired of this exchange and said in an exasperated tone: SHE CAN'T SMELL. SHE DOESN'T KNOW!

Then the light bulb went off in the girls head. It was so obvious that I almost expected to hear the click of the switch. Ohhhhh.

I smiled at her and said "The only birds that can smell are turkey vultures. They can smell dead animals and that's important, since that's what they eat."

Can they smell us or other living animals?

Hmm, I don't know. That's a good question actually. I'll have to look that one up and you can as well.

During the last rotation, I found myself in a debate with one boy who was convinced turkeys had their nests up in trees when in fact, turkeys are ground nesters. This went on for about 2 minutes when I found myself saying "Dude, I've been working with birds longer than you've been alive. I know what I'm talking about."

Did I just say THAT?

In any case, it was a fun afternoon and I hope I sparked an interest in some of these kids.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A field of fire

Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch the annual prairie burn at the Ecology Center. The Ecology Center has been managing 12 acres of Tallgrass Prairie since 1989 through planting Mo native grasses and forbs and yearly burns. The prairie is divided up into 3 plots and each plot is burned every other year. Last year the North Prairie was burned and this year the South Prairie was due for its burn. (Next year will be the North and Pasture prairies)

Historically speaking, the Native Americans burned the prairies and woodlands on a regular basis as a way to fireproof their villages, prepare planting sites, control undesirable pests, control movement of game (especially bison), encourage berry production and expose acorns for food collection. This tradition was continued by European Settlers but US gov agencies such as the Forest Service began to discourage the practice in the early 20th century and by the 1950s the custom was extinguished.

The Ecology Center take these burns very seriously and employ a number of safety measures to ensure the success of the fire. All burns are conducted within a "prescription": a set of guidelines for weather and fire safety, taking into account factors such as humidity, temperature, wind speed, and wind direction. The Fire Department is on hand and the Ecology staff and volunteers don water tanks, rakes and flappers to control small fires that may try to burn too close to the predetermined fire breaks. (areas that serve as buffer zones between the burn site and those locations that must not be burned, such as the woodland and nearby homes). A 65 gallon water container follows the Fire Starters in the event the burn gets out of control.

The fire is started with a drip torch, an aluminum canister that holds a 2:1 fuel mixture of diesel and gasoline. The torch slowly drips fire once lit and has 2 safety mechanisms to prevent flashback.

The fire starters wear fire resistant suits made of Nomex or other similar material.

It was a beautiful day for a prairie burn. The sky was clear and there was a gentle breeze. The ground may have been a bit damp from the October rains, but there was enough dried vegetation on the ground to get the fire going.

The grasses (Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, Switchgrass) caught fire quickly and produced the exciting towers of flames but the Cup Plant and Goldenrod plant species appeared to have retained moisture from all the rain and did not easily burn. Ecology Center staff later told me these plant species normally do not burn well.

The tall plants in the middle are Cup Plants.

Fires play an important role in the Prairie ecosystem. Fire cleans and fertilizes. Most prairie plants grow from just below the surface, not from their stems above the ground so a fire will not kill these plants. However burning will clear out those unwanted plant species not adapted for a fire, plants that may have been prohibiting prairie plants from growing on their native grounds. After the growing season, prairie plants store minerals in their stems, leaves and bark. When these plants are burned and reduced to ash, the minerals in the ashes of the plants return to the soil.

The burned, blackened soil is quickly heated up by the sun's rays and stimulates seed germination, sprouting and growth.

Here is a photo of Nestbox #5, taken last summer

And here is Nestbox #5 after the burn

The burn took a little over an hour to complete and the plot will be carefully monitored for the next few days for signs of smoldering flames. In a few months there will be no sign that this burn ever took place.

Let the growing season begin!

Monday, November 23, 2009

"I pity the fool!" Mr. T and World of Warcraft.

You may have seen the infamous Mr. T from the "A Team" do the Night Elf Mohawk commercial for World of Warcraft last year. It's a 30 second clip where Mr. T proclaims he is a mighty "Night Elf Mohawk" and hollers "Shut up fool!" when the director tells him there's no such thing as a Night Elf Mohawk. William Shatner, Ozzy Osborne and Verne Troyer (Mini Me) also did commericals for World of Warcraft.

Mr. T has crossed the TV threshold into video game land. World of Warcraft is promoting the ingame Night Elf Mohawk grenades.

Are you intrigued? Would you like to know how to get your very own Night Elf Mohawk grenades? Here are the 3 easy steps to get your very own grenade.

Step One
You can easily find Mr. T (aka Night Elf Mohawk) standing outside the starter zone in Elwynn Forest.

Step Two
Simply talk to Night Elf Mohawk and listen to his story.

Step Three
Voila! Night Elf Mohawk will give you a stack of 5 Mohawk grenades you can throw at other players.

Soon everyone (well 5 people anyways) will be running around looking like Mr. T and pitying the fools who don't sport the same awesome Mohawk.

Doesn't this make you want to run out and buy the game? ;)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sometimes there's a wildlife adventure in your backyard.

It has been an overcast day here and I let the semi-darkness lull me to sleep this afternoon in the Family Room. When I woke up my black-and-white cat Samantha was chittering with an unusual intensity at something outside the sliding glass doors. I got up in time to see a Cooper's Hawk perched atop my bird feeders. The thought to grab my camera occurred when the nap induced fog lifted from my brain. But as with all things in wildlife, only the fast are rewarded and the slowest are denied. I was too slow and I missed my opportunity. The Hawk lifted and was gone.

The Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is a medium sized bird of prey in the Accipiter family. They inhabit woodlands, parks and even urban areas. Their food of choice is other birds, preferably those that are dove-sized. Their smaller size and wing shape allow them to zip through trees and shrubs to pursue their prey. Once they capture their prey, this Hawk will squeeze it to death, rather than biting to kill, as Falcons often do.

About 30 minutes later I passed through the Family Room and found the Cooper's Hawk in the neighbor's tree in the yard directly behind us. She (I'm calling the Hawk a "She" based on the size. Females raptors are generally bigger than their male counterparts. Of course size is difficult to determine when you cannot compare two of the same birds together side by side) was perched among a handful of Cardinals standing guard.

I was surprised the smaller birds were so close to the Hawk, but reasoned she could not easily reach any of these birds just out of talon's reach. I was also surprised that the activity at my bird feeders resumed, despite the Hawk's presence. But when it's cold and you need to consume as much food as possible to survive, you take your chances. I decided to sit and watch the Hawk. For awhile, she perched comfortably, unmoving and uninterested in her surroundings. But then she began to perk up, looking up at the sentinel Cardinals, surveying the yard before her and then looking back at my feeders.

When the Hawk shifted to face my feeders, some of the birds in my backyard scattered and the Goldfinch still at the finch feeder barely had enough time to escape with his life by the time Cooper's Hawk launched from the tree.

It has been my experience that most people tend to believe the exciting wildlife drama happens outside of suburbia and I was once one of those believers. You may not always witness the excitement of a Cooper's Hawk hunting for food at a bird feeder, but if you pay careful attention to your surroundings, you can see the predator-prey food cycle at work. You may find a Praying Mantis sitting on a flower stalk, waiting to ambush the unsuspecting bee, or find a Harvestman with a dying butterfly in its grasp (True story! I watched this!).

I experience mixed feelings each time I have an encounter with a Cooper's Hawk. The presence of this raptor is usually the demise for some poor songbird, but I can't help but admire their beauty and adaptations for hunting. She was a beautiful bird and I'm grateful she livened up my afternoon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Holy crap. Has it really been 2 months since I've last posted an entry? Wow.

Well, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. I've been following my favorite blogs and have even thought about posting but I've been a bit...preoccupied.

The Bird Sanctuary is hosting the Inland Bird Banding Association conference this year and yours truly is presenting a paper. As most of you know, I have spent the last 2 summers studying the songbird populations on a piece of restored prairie(Entries here and here and here). I narrowed my focus (because there are a few things I'm studying) on the nest boxes on the prairie and whether or not prescribed burns affect the predation rate on the nest boxes. Eurasian Tree Sparrows were the birds predominantly using the boxes

I began writing the paper in August, right around the time I stopped blogging as a matter of fact. Academic pursuits bring out the worst of my neurotic tendencies. The paper started easily enough. I breezed through the introduction and procedure portions of the paper but the difficulties began with the results section. I had to review and interpret 2 years worth of data: numbers of eggs that hatched, chicks that survived to leave the nest box, predation numbers. So...many...numbers. The panic began to trickle in but it was quelled with a call to Shark Girl (who is now in Grad school I might add :) )

"There's so many fricking numbers!" I exclaimed during our first of at least 3 calls

"Indeed. A lot to interpret." She agreed.

I know that first call lasted at least 3 hours. I'm not exaggerating. But we did get a lot done.

The hill of difficulty progressively got steeper over the weeks, as did my level of anxiety. What was I going to do with all of these percentages? How did I make sense of and organize the numbers? The words "T-test" began to float around and I panicked. T-test? I didn't even remember how to do a T-test. Then my self esteem tanked. What kind of field biologist was I that I couldn't do a T-test, much less think of running one? What the hell was I doing? I felt like an impostor. I had no business preparing a presentation! Danno's dad came to my rescue that time and helped me break down my numbers into a more manageable size. He also walked me through some simple calculations that could be performed on Excel. Heck, he almost made it look like fun!

An odd combination of excitement, panic and low self esteem formed and filtered into my thoughts, sleep and stomach. I often fell asleep only to wake up with thoughts about the numbers, what they meant and wondering how to put them all together. Eating resulted in heartburn and looking at my data on Excel only drove the panic.

It wasn't long before Beetle Guru and Shark Girl became my Sparrow Champions. They listened to my thoughts and ideas on the paper, critiqued my paper and researched potential stastitical tests that could be run on my data. They also offered a great deal of emotional support. They became common recipients to the "I can't do this I give up" panic, (received either through email or texting before the subsequent phone call) They told me I was doing Graduate level work without the help of a professor or a university.

I LOVE field biology but the math really does turn the anxiety up for me. Honestly, it's the main reason I won't touch graduate school with a 10 foot pole. I'm not sure I could pass any population statistics or other class devoted to interpreting ecology-oriented numbers. It amazes me the number of people (like Beetle Guru and Shark Girl) who believe that I can accomplish the feat of Grad School.

After 2 agonizing months, the paper is finished and the presentation is ready. I'm happy it's finished and I'm already wiggling in anticpation of beginning my work again in the spring. It's funny how the paper took a life of its own and how much I learned in the process. I learned a different way or two how to interpret data, improved my scientific writing skills and discovered there are a few causes that need to be ruled out in terms of predation for next summer. But the biggest thing I learned is that it's ok to seek help and obtaining that help doesn't mean I'm no less intelligent

My next goal is to secure funding for next year's research. I still need to write another report for the mistnetting and bird census results. Put your seat belts on ladies and gentlemen. We may be in for a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Adventures in (mis)reading

I don't like cooking. Most people who know me are aware of that fact. However, because of some silly New Years resolution I made about losing weight, I'm faced with the fact that I will need to cook. Home made dinners are better for you than the premade TV dinner type stuff. For the last 6 months, I've tried finding loopholes around the home made dinner fact and I'm giving up. What really broke the last straw was the book In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Foods prepared without all the added vitamins and minerals are really better for you. There's nothing wrong with plain, wholesome vegetables.

I let my dirty secret out at work (that I hate cooking and don't really cook all that much) and there are at least 2 of my coworkers who have been peering over my shoulder on occasion on my progress of cooking, or lack thereof. (You know who you are and I know you're reading this. *Grins*)

I don't enjoy cooking because the directions usually intimidate me. I have ADD and sometimes reading directions is challenging for me. If directions are written simply and each step has a separate line, that is great. I'm a happy girl. (The 4-Ingredient Cookbook is AWESOME in that regard. That's my favorite cookbook) However, most cook books write their directions in paragraph form and that's where I run into trouble. I lose focus after the second line of the paragraph and I more-or-less need to read the same paragraph several times before it sinks in. That makes me feel stupid and I hate I avoid cooking.

But I need to get over that. For my health, I need to work past my little idiosyncracy. So...I cooked today. And as with most of my experiences with cooking, I adventure.
I made Chicken Enchiladas. The recipe called for chicken, sour cream, chopped chilies, cheese, chopped onion...all of the usual ingriedents for enchiladas. I read the directions several times before assembling the ingriendents and needed utensils.

Step one, saute onions in skillet. Check. Step two, add chicken and chilies. Hmmm, the chicken is still raw, but ok. I paused to reread the directions. It did not mention stirring this concoction under heat. How long was this going to be in the oven? Is that what cooks the chicken? I scanned down to the end of the directions. The directions read to cook for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. Is that going to long enough to cook the chicken? It IS cubed, but still...

So I continue mixing the second half of the ingriedents (mostly sour cream and cream of chicken soup) and pour it over the chicken and chilies. I glob a spoonful of the mixture on to a tortilla before I stop again. Really? Raw chicken? What am I missing? Maybe I should COMPLETELY read the directions again. So I begin to read the recipe again from the beginning and I see this in the ingriedent list: 2 cups of cubed COOKED chicken. Geezus.

I drop the glob back in the skillet and proceed to pick each and every piece of chicken out of the mixture. I shook off as much of the sour cream concotion as I could before dropping the chicken into a new skillet to COOK.

Once the chicken was cooked I reassembled and placed the enchiladas in the oven. I just finished eating one and it wasn't too bad. A little on the bland side, but considering the fact that I can't cook something right the first time, it was pretty good.

I won't allow the mistake to stop me. It's not the first time I've goofed something up in a recipe. If anything, my adventures in cooking will be blog fodder.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obsessed with the weather

I have a nightly ritual that I perform Sunday and Wednesday evenings. I check the weather, sometimes repeatedly, until I go to bed. I come home from work Sunday afternoon and hop on to check for the chances for rain and the temperature for Monday morning. I watch the early evening and night news, scarcely paying attention to the news until the weather pops on. Then I'm all eyes and ears, turning the TV up and keeping my eyes glued to the map of the city and the radar, searching for rain clouds or other weather warnings that may keep me indoors.

You're probably thinking I'm a little on the OCD side and maybe I am. You're probably wondering why I'm obsessed with the weather too. It's a mistnetting thing. As you know, I mistnet on Monday and Thursday mornings and the rain and even the temperature dictates whether or not we put the mistnets up for the birds. In the spring, if the temperatures are too cold (below 35 F), we either postpone our mistnetting session until the temperature rises or we cancel. The birds use an incredible amount of energy to stay warm (I read during the winter, a chickadee can lose 5% of its body weight overnight.) and as much as we love mistnetting, we do know that it can be stressful on our feathered friends. No sense on adding stress to a bird running on limited energy.

And the rain. Rain is our foe for many reasons. Human safety is the biggest reason we obsess over the weather. As you know, lightning often accompanies a good storm and our mistnets hang from aluminum poles. Many of our nets are also located on hills and in valleys where you often climb up and over nature-made obstacles like fallen trees and bushes. Imagine dashing to close a net in the pouring rain where there is mud and limited visibility. It wouldn't take much to slip and fall or twist an ankle. And of course there is the birds. Imagine yourself hanging upside down, tangled in a net with the rain pouring down your body. Birds have hollow bones to enable flight. As you can imagine, it can be difficult, if not impossible for a drenched bird to fly. A wet bird also has a lowered body temperature. So now the bird has to use twice the energy to raise that body temperature and attempt to fly to a safe place.

So I watch the news and check the internet before retiring to bed. In the morning I get up and look outside the window before sitting in front of the internet again to check the radar. Most mornings you know without a doubt whether or not you're mistnetting. But there are those mornings when you see a patch of rain looming on the radar horizon, but it looks far enough away that you could probably get a mistnetting session in but it's a gamble. I've been on the wrong side of the dice on that bet but I'm sure most field biologists have miscalculated their odds on the weather. There have been a few times my cohorts and I have gone running in the rain to close the nets.

Then there are the near misses. Last year a thunderstorm appeared from nowhere with a tornado in tow. That was an exciting morning. Fortunately the tornado went a different direction and we got the nets down before the rain hit. Just last week a cold front blew in while we were mistnetting on the prairie. Initially we marveled over the beauty of the clouds that accompanied the front, but when the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and the thunder began to rumble, we got a little worried. While debating on whether or not to end the morning, the clouds continued to swirl ominously and the wind blew, but the rain was scarce. We took a gamble and only took down 2 nets, leaving 3 nets open. We won that gamble. We received a smattering of rain before the scary clouds passed on. Turns out the storm hit just north of our location.

Yes indeed the weather is a frequent topic of discussion amongst us field biologists, especially the bird biologists. Bird watchers are also obsessed with the weather but the parameters are different, not to mention tolerance for things like temperature and rain. That topic is also a whole other blog entry.

In the meantime, I just got my weather report. Tomorrow will be sunny and pleasant. Perfect weather for mistnetting.

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Sis

Today would have been my sister Penny's 33rd birthday. On November 19, 1995 she was killed by a drunk driver. While time and life experiences have helped me tremendously to heal, the grief never leaves. There is a scar and some days it aches. Today it ached.

I woke up with the ache and fought it off in decluttering and cleaning. But I thought of her amidst the sorting, recycling and vacuuming. I wondered what she would be like today. She certainly was a pistol from day one. She was born 3 weeks prematurely and created such a ruckus in the operating room (she was born c-section) that a few nurses ran down the hall to see what was happening. She was cute, but full of fire and knew how to push everyone's buttons.

She had a way with words, facial expressions

and gestures...

Happy Birthday Sis. I think of you often and miss you just as much. I still search for any resemblance of you in unfamiliar faces and look for hints of your personality in interactions with strangers and friends alike.

Here at home we keep your memory alive looking at old photographs, reminiscing over times past and keeping a few your things out in the house. I may not talk about you often, but know you're always in my heart.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Young Ones Among Us

There are two times of the year that I favor for birdwatching, one being spring, the other, summer. Songbirds from the tropics fly in a flurry of color and song to pause in our trees for respite before traveling to their breeding grounds, giving us birdwatchers a welcome break from the drabs of winter. Mid to late summer is my other favorite time of the year because of the young birds, who have recently left the nest. It is here you see the efforts of the adult songbirds come to fruition; the defending of territory, effort in attracting a mate, nest building, incubation, feeding the young and defending the nest when necessary. The adults spend all this time and energy with the goal of insuring the future of their own kind and the young birds (aka juveniles) are now out and about, learning the ropes of survival.

Young birds are entertaining to watch. I have often found on the restored prairie and even in my backyard, a group of young birds hopping or flying after a harried parent, begging for food in a series of rapid wing flutters and high pitched chips. Everything in this world is new to these birds and I have found some of these youngsters are just as curious of you as you are of them. With patience and care, it is possible to come within a few feet of these young birds for several moments, allowing you the opportunity to study or photograph them.

The juvenile American Robins are my absolute favorites.

They are clumsy but unabashed in their attempts to explore their new abilities and the world around them. I have seen young robins bounce and flop among the top limbs of trees. I have seen a robin or two awkwardly hover in mid-air before doubling back to return to their original place in a tree. I've watched juvenile robins eye the ground before making an exaggerated pounce to obtain a worm, or a blade of grass. I've listened to these birds try their new voices that sound like squawks rather than the pleasant warble of the adults. Just last week I had 4 young Robins, probably all siblings, nearly collide into me because they were not paying attention to what was in front of them.

I think I like these young birds because in an odd way, I can relate to them. Every time I see a juvenile robin, I reflect back on some of the more awkward learning stages of my life. These young birds remind me that it's ok to not do a task perfectly the first, or even fifth time. It's the process that counts. And it's nice to see that reminder in action, rather than hear it from a friend or colleague.

Keep on learning my little Robin friends. You'll get the hang of life and before you know it, you'll be teaching your tricks to the next generation of your species.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'd pass out but my legs hurt so bad I'm not sure I'd be able to get up! Week one of the new exercise class

Monday I started a resistance/cardio exercise class that I heard about through a classmate I reconnected with on Facebook. She mentioned it from time to time and recently my curiosity got the better of me. With nightmarish flashbacks of High School PE, I sent her a message, asking what the exercise class entailed. She reassured me that the class was designed to allow each person to do the exercises at their own pace.

The last time I took an exercise class was probably 5 years ago, maybe longer. Any exercise I've done in the recent past has been in the form of walking or hiking. With a recent lecture from the doctor still ringing in my ears, I decided that it was now or never with getting in shape. So Monday I showed up at the city park where the class was taking place.

To my relief the class was small and predominantly women. (There were 2 men) The instructor greeted me warmly and repeatedly told me to take the class at my own pace and to listen to my body. There were bench squats, body lunge walking, jogging and pushups. There was arm lifting and curling with weights, modified sit ups (plain ole' situps are too easy) and leg lifts. It was hard work but I did ok keeping up. I was a little sore when I finished, but it was manageable.

I got the first inkling of pain in the middle of the night. I woke up when I shifted in bed and every time thereafter and when morning finally broke, my thighs hurt so bad I had to roll out of bed. Roll out of bed.

All of Tuesday I hobbled around at a snail's pace. Sitting and standing were difficult to say the least. I had no idea how much you depend on your thigh muscles to sit and stand! When getting ready to sit, I would lean on objects and then arrange my body in such a position that relieved my thigh muscles of most of the work. I usually landed with a hard thud in a chair, or...ahem...on the toilet. (I will spare you the details of how much work it was to use the bathroom) And stairs...oh geez. Stairs were not in the cards on Tuesday. I could not walk down the basement stairs.

The class was a discouraging experience for me Wednesday evening. The instructor started out with cardio exercises and right off the bat I got tired and winded. We weren't into the class 15 minutes when I felt light-headed and maybe, if I pushed myself too hard, I would faint. I immediately stopped exercising. If I fell over, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get up because my legs were still so sore! I did what I could but took it easy. I worked out harder Monday night than I did Wednesday night. Again the instructor was supportive, telling me a lot of beginners take a period of adjusting to the class and also to exercising in the heat. But I was discouraged, very discouraged.

This morning I mistnetted at the Bird Sanctuary and talked with Bird Whisperer. She's an exercise fiend. Despite the teasing she gave me, she told me her husband had the same experience of sore leg muscles and the inability to walk up and down stairs (thank goodness!) when he started exercising with her. She offered advice that ranged from leg stretches to the suggestion of eating protein after a workout in the thoughts that it builds muscle and perhaps cuts down on the soreness.

I felt a bit better after our talk, but I'm still feeling, well, discouraged. I'm not giving up on the class, but I've got a lot of work ahead of me to get back into good shape.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Travelin' boots

I bought a new pair of boots a few weeks ago. This is my third pair since 2000. With each pair of boots I develop an attachment. I catalog the places I've traveled on those boots, and each of those places in turn, have their own special memories.

I bought my first pair of boots in the summer of 2000, before I went out to my first field job in Oklahoma and New Mexico. I was hired to work for the Sutton Avian Research Center for about 6 weeks. The field biologists were monitoring several populations of Lesser Prairie Chickens in Laverne Oklahoma and Causey, New Mexico with radio telemetry units. The batteries attached to the Chickens were only good for about one year and it was our job to gather the birds up and replace those units. The biologists timed the chicken wranglin' with their summer molt, so the birds couldn't fly very far when spooked. And for reasons that I cannot recall, we captured the birds at night. We worked from 10pm - 6am.

Those 6 weeks were an eye opener for me. I was immersed into a completely different world that was physically demanding and required me to work in close quarters with complete strangers. For 4 of those weeks, we snuck around in complete darkness, with only a few head lights and a series of electronic blips on the telementry unit to guide us around the uneven terrain of farmland and prairie. When it was determined we were close to the birds, we would switch all lights off and with nets in hand, allow the biologist with telementry device to lead us in closer. The biologist would still have his headlamp on and he would point us in the direction of the birds we were following. The birds would burst into flight with loud whistles from their wings and we would chase and scoop the birds into our nets.

Night time on the prairie was amazing. It was walking under a vast sky filled with countless twinkling stars, maybe witnessing a dozen falling stars or watching lightning blink between clouds in the distance, all while listening to the distant yips of coyotes. In New Mexico the prairie had the added bonus of Barn Owls ghosting across the midnight blue sky.

Those first pair of boots also went up to Alaska for my third field job in 2002. That was an amazing, yet incredibly physically demanding trip. I spent the month of June in Denali National Park, assisting the field biologist with a bird census of the park. For 2 out of the 4 weeks I was there, I camped in an ecological zone where the trees were gnarled and dwarfed by the intense winds and short growing season. The mountains filled up the sky and there was no night.
Like a mountain goat, I scrambled up scree and crossed icy cold glacial streams that ran waist high. I watched Caribou graze on fireweed, observed a female bear climb up a hillside with her cubs, had a brush with a fox and saw a wolf carefully pick its way across several tumbled rocks in the pouring rain. Mt. McKinley loomed over the park like a silent guardian, always present, always in view. The mountain was usually shrouded in clouds but I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the peaks when the clouds cleared for a moment one morning.

Those boots had also been to the North Woods of Wisconsin, the Swamps of Louisiana, and walked the great city of Seattle. I loved those boots. I felt almost as if they were an extension of my body. But I was hard on those boots and the soles began to separate from the shoes. I used Gorilla Glue to adhere the soles back on, but that only works for so long.

In 2006 I bought my second pair of boots. I was saddened in replacing my first pair of boots, but these new shoes were marvelous. They were lightweight and water resistant. They were comfortable and I loved them. However, I bought the boots around the same time we rescued a certain kitten by the name of Olivia. Her momma gave birth to her and her 2 other littermates in our backyard. I was planning to retrieve Olivia and her littermates around 6 weeks of age and tame them but urban nature rushed my hand a bit. When they were 4 weeks of age, Dan heard a ruckus around midnight and went outside to investigate. The adult male cat that was hanging around had killed one of the kittens and was working on a second one. That following morning I found Olivia and her brother and immediately set to taming them.

To make a long story short, I found a home for the male kitten, but was having trouble placing Olivia. Dan felt sorry for her (well, probably more for me) and conceded we could keep her as long as she was declawed. Initially I was bothered by the declawing bit, but Olivia seemed to go out of her way to convince me she needed the procedure. She climbed up doorframes, screen windows and the speakers. And my poor BRAND NEW boots. Olivia loved my boots. She played with the shoestrings and scratched her razor sharp claws across the sides and within a month, my new shoes looked like this.

I knew I needed to replace the shoes, but I was stubborn. I had just bought these awesome boots and wanted them to follow in the stead of their predecessor. So with boots on foot, I returned to Seattle, went to the beaches of Alabama, traveled up to Canada and hiked through Big Bend National Park before I decided to retire them.

What new adventures will be in store for me and the new pair of boots? Where will we travel? What will we see? I shouldn't get ahead of myself. First I need to make sure the boots stay safe from the little beast known as Olivia and it looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Flame Warden: Midsummer Event Achievement

During certain times of the year, Blizzard throws events for the World of Warcraft players. Week(s)-long events such Hallow's End, Winter Veil and Noblegarden celebrate the holidays while Midsummer Fire Festival and Harvest Festival herald the onset of the seasons. Each festival contain events, collectible items and ingame decorations and NPCs that add to the celebratory atmosphere.

In the past I've half-heartedly participated in the events. I had been more focused on leveling characters and running the dungeons. However, with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Blizzard added Achievements to the list of quests, reputations, dungeons and raids to be had. Of course, there is an achievement (and quite a nice reward) for finishing all the quests, pvp requirements, and collection of related items to all of the ingame festival events.

It began with Hallow's End. I collected all the needed candy and costumes. Fought and won against the Headless Horseman, cleaned up the stink bombs thrown by the horde and killed 50 hordies while under the influence of a buff (among other things). During the Lunar Festival, I visited all the Elders to collect the coins of ancestry, fought and killed Omen, shot off fireworks and acquired the festival garb. You get the idea.

I have been feverishly working on the Midsummer Fire Festival achievement, which began on Father's Day. I ran all over the place, honoring Alliance Flames and desecrating Horde Flames, I danced on the fire pole and juggled lit torches in Dalaran. But I saved the most difficult for last, stealing the flames from the major Horde cities of Undercity, Orgrimmar, Thunder Bluff and Silvermoon.

Desecrating the flames is easy. The flames are just outside the smaller towns and all you do is click on the bonfire to extinguish the flames. You are flagged pvp after you do the dirty deed. However, stealing the flames requires you to run into the city, filled with guards and players, find the bonfire and snatch a flame, all while flagged pvp. The bonfires are usually located deep within the city's perimeter and at any time players of the opposing faction (the Horde) can strike and kill you.

I got up early this morning, before work and nabbed Undercity, Thunder Bluff and Silvermoon with no troubles. As a druid, I shifted into cat form and stealthed my way past the city guards and a handful of players on at that time of the morning. I decided to wait and do Orgrimmar when I got home. For some reason, the guards are difficult to get around in stealth form in Orgrimmar and the city is usually heavily populated with other players.

I returned home around 9:30 this morning and mentioned to Danno (who decided to work from home today) that I was going to try to hit Orgrimmar. He perked up and asked if his shaman could accompany my druid on the task. When it comes to pvp, the more the merrier.

We didn't have a plan past getting into the city. I was worried we wouldn't be able to get past the guards to reach the bonfire. My druid is a healer and her off spec is spellcasting. For Orgrimmar I decided to go the healing spec and heal our way through to the bonfire. Danno's shaman is a killing beast so I knew we'd be ok in the damage department.

We entered the city with a stream of guards at our back. But we did make it to the bonfire.

I reached the bonfire first and had no trouble stealing a flame. Danno however, was getting his ass handed to him and couldn't click on the bonfire. So I stepped in and got their attention with a hurricane, as shown here.

For some of you tech savvy wow players who read my blog, I did not do the alt-z to clear the screen of chat and action bars. There wasn't any fricking time! I just screenshotted like an idiot. LOL.

Well, once we did Orgrimmar, we could not just leave the other cities unattended! We refined our plan and set out a course of action. I decided to forgo the healing abilities and concentrate on inflicting damage if needed. I was there to grab the attention of the guards and other players so Danno could steal flames from the bonfires.

Next we went to Thunder Bluff.

This time I summoned my allies, the Treants and brought the stars down from the sky to distract the guards from Danno's thievery.

Boy did we piss the guards off! We had EVERYONE running after us. They followed us to the lift

and down the big tall hill. To quote Danno, "RUN BITCHES!". And that's what we did.

Undercity was the only city that had their bonfire pretty much out in the open. However, their city is ahem, the sewers. So that's just as well.

The only concern I had was that of horde players who decided to kick our asses as soon as we entered the city's walls. But my fears were unfounded. There was one level 80 deathknight whom I made a point of standing next to while Danno clicked on the bonfire. The player wisely left us alone. He watched for a moment before riding away.

Our last stop was the Blood Elf city of Silvermoon. This is a posh city, complete with flowing curtains, lavish resting areas and clean walkways. It's my favorite city when I'm playing my horde mage. (Oops, did I admit that outloud?)

I sooo love it when the sexy boy elves chase me. :)

And here is Danno, getting ready to steal the last of the horde flames. Hooray!

Friday, June 19, 2009

June Book Club: Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Tuesday was my monthly book club meeting and Breakfast with Buddha was the book we read. Several months after his parents are killed by a drunk driver, Otto Ringling, an average, working man living in the Connecticut suburbs, plans to return to his childhood home in North Dakota to finish family business.

Otto invites his sister on the trip but she dupes him into taking Volya Rinpoche, her spiritual guru and boyfriend. Thus begins a week-long trip of cultural and spiritual immersion for both men, especially Otto. In the beginning, Otto is furious at his sister and wary of Rinpoche, whom he suspects is nothing more than a quack. But as the days pass along with the miles, Otto's walls of distrust begin to dissolve. A friendship blooms between Otto and Rinpoche and Otto begins to find the answers to his questions about life.

The author gently guides the reader through a smattering of beliefs held by Christians, Hindus and Buddists. The author does not quote from any holy books, but rather he mentions the teachings of Jesus Christ and Buddha. He delves into the subjects of meditation, reincarnation, prayers, morality and the "golden rule".

Merullo uses vivid imagery to describe physical surroundings ("There is no feeling like walking through the old cement bowels of a place like Wrigley or Fenway or the House That Ruth Built, then emerging into the artificial light, seeing the flat, perfect emerald city of the playing field, the players themselves like gods in their white uniforms..."), Otto's internal conflicts (..."I was a well-off white man in a poor black neighborhood, my social standing stamped on my car, clothes, face and posture as clearly as any mark of poverty, and I felt disliked, guilty, and vulnerable." "...With their empty interiors and dirty plywood eyes, the fine old stone buildings on Youngstown's main drag somehow seemed to mirror me: nice enough on the outside, architecturally pleasing and structurally sound, but with some hollowed out places where the rats ran."), and memories invoked by simple encounters.

The loss of Otto's parents remains in the background of the story, but Merullo does a good job of linking Otto's parent's death with his resulting spiritual crisis. The book does not preach religion at you, rather it invites you to probe your personal spiritual beliefs. The story is not heavy nor is it overly light hearted. I highly recommend the book.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cricket Posteriors

I did a program for a handful of girl scouts this past weekend. The program consisted of the scouts solving a "crime" allegedly committed by an insect. In this particular case, there are dead crickets involved. The kids go into the "neighborhood" to "walk the beat" to learn how to "build a case profile" of the various suspects before going to the scene of the crime in search of clues and suspects. The kids also meet 4 insect "suspects" and learn of their behaviors before solving the crime.

The girls were a lively bunch but well behaved and very interested in the program. After they walked the beat they met the "family members" of the deceased cricket victims. Each girl received a cricket in a small jar they could examine while I discussed cricket anatomy (antennae, head, thorax, abdomen, etc). One of the girls asked if you could tell the difference between the male and female crickets and I promptly explained that female crickets had an ovipositor, a thin, sword-like projection on their posterior whereas male crickets lacked the long projection. So the girls spent a minute or two examining their crickets to see if they had a male or female.

For some reason, the girls did not want to relinquish their crickets when it was time to move on to the next portion of the program. In the 5 minutes the girls had their crickets, they had named them and professed great attachment to these insects.

"Why do you want to keep them?" I asked, "They smell!"

"But I love Lou!" one girl exclaimed, "I don't' want to let him go!"

Next it was time to investigate the crime scene. Each girl was given a magnifying glass, a booklet to take notes and a plastic baggie to pick up evidence. Did I mention there were real cricket pieces scattered across the crime scene? Of course the girls asked if the cricket bits were real, to which I replied, "Of course!"

The girls took it in stride and this is when they applied their newly acquired knowledge of cricket anatomy, namely, the...ahem...posterior end.

"Oh look! I found a cricket posterior!" one girl said. (they didn't really say posterior. We're using that noun here so no perverts who type in the b word can find my website)

"This one's a girl cricket posterior." another announced, writing the info in her notebook.

At least 3 girls claimed to have found cricket posteriors but I knew better. I had placed mostly cricket legs or heads across the floor, not posteriors.

After examining the crime scene, the girls met the "suspects" one of which included an african giant millipede. Most of the girls wanted to touch or hold the millipede but there were the predicted 2 or 3 who wanted no part of the arthropod. One girl in particular absolutely loved the millipede and touched it and then wanted to hold it...or so she thought. Each time I'd try to place the millipede in her hand, she'd flinch and jerk her hand back. This occurred 3 or 4 times before I stopped and said, "ok, well I'm going to put him back now."

"No! Just give me a second." She paused, took a deep breath and then enthusiatically said, "Ok. I'm ready this time. I'm really ready."

She was convincing. She convinced me that this was it, she was really going to hold it and I think she believed it herself. But as I extended the millipede and touched her hand, she squealed and jerked back saying "No! Wait!."

Oye. Eventually she did hold it, but it required her troop leader's assistance. And then once she held it, she didnt' want to let it go. Silly girl.

After the girls solved the crime, 2 of the girls wandered up to the table where the crickets were sitting.

"Can I have Lou? Please?"

"No! You really dont' want to keep a cricket trust me." I replied.

"Oh but I do!"

"You can go outside to your backyard and find a cricket."

"But it won't be the same!"

I gave her a stern look to which she replied with a pout.

I dont' think I've ever seen a group of girls as obessesed with crickets and their posteriors as this bunch.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oh Noes! Where did the time go???

So I just realized I haven't posted something...anything...since my trip to Canada.

So much has happened and nothing at all at the same time. How does that work?

In a nutshell, I applied for and secured a grant to study the birds on a restored prairie. I began checking nestboxes last week. In the process of gathering supplies for the second part of the study, which begins in May.

I went hiking/camping in Big Bend Texas National Park a few weeks ago. I kept a journal and when I can get my shit together I'm gonna place it on this blog with pictures.

Came home from Big Bend to a very sick cat. I kinda thought she was going to die. She's mostly ok now. She enjoys meowing to see how high she can get me to jump to her every whim.

Mistnetting at the bird sanctuary has begun and this year we're having a "bird migration mistnetting blitz" beginning Sunday. We'll mistnet every day through May 5th. It's like Christmas for us bird nerds right now.

I'm playing World of Warcraft like an addict...been in Ulduar 25 and now leading 10 man Naxx raids. This weekend a few of us are going to try to lead a 25 man Naxx run. Wish us luck!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Falls - Day 2 of the Canada Trip I'm a bit behind on blogging my Canada trip. I'm home now...actually I'm at work right now. But I wanted to share highlights of the trip.

As you recall my last post consisted of our first day in Canada, which was Tuesday the 17th. We flew in from Dearborn Michigan, drove into Ontario and stayed at the Armory Suites. (I'll find a link to it, just won't be in this post)

The second day, Wednesday, March 18th, we headed off to Niagra Falls. I heard that the Canadaian side of Niagra Falls was prettier than the New York side soI was picturing a tasteful Information/Nature Center overlooking the Falls. Imagine my surprise when we drove into the equivalent of Wisconsin Dells. A big Casino building greets you right as you drive in and for several blocks there are tacky building fronts sporting haunted houses, mazes, hot dog stands, pizza joints, games and souvenir shops. Oh.My.Gawd. There were also advertisements offering tourist sightseeing packages and right there on the Waterfront is the "Maid of the Mist" boat tours. Sigh.

But the Falls were amazing. Two huge waterfalls roaring over large rocks covered with ice. One of the waterfalls billowed with mist, obscuring the falling water. The roar of the water was almost deafening. It was worth the trip.

We had lunch in a little restaurant next to the Falls and afterwards we went to a Butterfly Conservatory just down the road. The Conservatory was wonderful, but there were a few things about it that I did not like. (Being that I work in an insectatarium which supports a Butterfly conservatory, I'm a bit of a snob on these things) To begin with, too many of the butterflies came in close contact with the public. For example, not all butterflies eat nectar from flowers but rather they obtain their food from rotting fruit. There were several fruit trays scattered across the conservatory within arms reach. I can understand the Conservatory wanting to give the public the opportunity to see butterflies up close, but as you well know, people do not respect rules or boundaries. There were at least 3 people with butterflies on their hands, not to mention the countless morons I saw trying to "catch" the butterflies. It took everything in me not to point out to these inconsiderate people that not only were they disturbing these insects from eating, but they were risking injury to the butterflies in trying to "catch" them. LEAVE THEM ALONE. The emergence case (place where the butterflies are still in their chrysalids and emerge from them) had large holes in the glass, which I assume was to allow the butterflys to fly out of, but it also allowed people to poke their fingers into. On the upside though, the Conservatory was beautiful, the butterflies plentiful and their hands-on exhibits were awesome. The exhibits focused on native butterflies, anatomy of butterflies, butterfly gardening and there was even an exhibit with live caterpillars.

After the Falls we drove into Toronto and checked into another ritzy hotel that overlooked the lake. After all the walking and driving we were wiped so we didn't do much Tuesday night.

I'll post another entry about Toronto later!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Detroit Jerkwad and Canadian Yellow trees - Day One of our trip to Canada

I'm sitting at a computer in a fancy hotel so I've got to try and make this brief, but I've got to blog about our first day here in Canada.

We flew in to Dearborn, a Detroit suburb this morning and quickly became acquainted with the residents of the city. We had "Dennis" the menace from Hertz driving the bus to take us to the rental car office. He started off nice enough, picking up our bags and what not, but like a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde persona, he switched personalities as soon as he started driving. He developed a surly attitude and talked outloud to no one in particular. It began as soon as he started rolling.

A National Rental bus pulled in front of him and Dennis said rather caustically, "Yeah that's right National. Don't use your side mirror." and then pointed at the driver who must have finally looked in his side mirror once he was in front of us.

Dennis the Menace then proceeded to stop on top of everyone's bumper and then once we were on home base, he yelled "Come on Anthony!" at a fellow Hertz employee crossing the pedestrain crosswalk.

I think the bus may have still been rolling when I jumped off.

Detroit and surrounding suburbia consisted of endless walls of graffitti, trash on the side of the roads and in the trees, battered houses with broken windows, , run down factories and junkyards piled with cars and scrap. It was dirty and depressing.

As soon as we hit the Michigan/Canada border we started using our "Canadian Accents", which meant we ended every sentence with the word "eh". (ie. Look at Lake Huron. It's beautiful eh?")
When we hit the traffic jam that lead to customs, Dan commented "We better not make fun of the Canadians and say 'oot', 'eh' or sing the South Park Blame Canada song, eh?"

We inched up the long line of cars with passports in hand, anxiously waiting our turn and reading the signs that sternly told us to stay in our lane and not to throw objects off the bridge. When it was finally our turn, we pulled up to a somber young man wearing a bullet proof vest. He asked our citzenship, destination, whether or not we owned the vehicle, had guns, firearms, mace or over 10k in cash.

"You're free to go." He said.

"Wait. You dont' want to see our passports?" Dan asked, sounding faintly disappointed.

The man did not crack a smile and in a serious tone of voice, replied, "No. I believe you."

We pulled away and Dan remarked "After all the trouble for these passports."

"I wanted a stamp." I pouted.

"We're not going to get a stamp for Canada." He said with an air of superiority. "You need to go someplace like Africa to get a stamp."

"How do you know?"

"I just know these things."

"Well," I said, feeling somehow that he was outdoing me and not wanting to be outdone, "I know TWO people who went to Africa and I'm going to ask them."

I know. This was a dumb conversation, but there it is.

Enroute to the hotel I pointed out all the "canadian" birds - Hawk, Crow, Cardinal, Pigeon, Starling. And commented on the trees with yellow branches and the other trees that contained branches and twigs that were thickly packed together. What were these trees and what did they look like in bloom?

The road signs also seemed polite. "Please refrain from using air brakes." and "Maximum speed 100km"

That is all I have for now. I feel guilty taking as much time as I have typing all of this up on a public computer.

And I have a husband who has suddenly reverted to a 15 year old, standing behind me, wiggling my chair and poking my back.

Tomorrow we're off to Niagra Falls.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Product Review: Biobag

As mentioned in a previous entry, I bought a box of Biobag kitchen trashbags and I'm writing now of my results.

Biobag are trash bags made from the biodegradable material Mater-Bi. (I have no idea what Mater-Bi is, nor does the website explain this mystery material) The website claims the bags biodegrade within 2 weeks if placed in an open landfill, but will take longer to decompose in those landfills that use an anaerobic method of handling their waste.

As a side note, landfill companies use a variety of techniques in managing garbage. A common method is placing a plastic liner under the landfill site to slow wastes leaching into the soil and underlying river systems or aquafiers that would otherwise pollute the water. However the EPA has stated this method of waste management will "ultimately fail"while the landfill site remains a threat for "thousands of years". In other words, the liners only delay, not prevent, the leaching of pollution into our water systems. Another waste management technique currently under study are Bioreactor Landfills. According to the Waste Management website, A Bioreactor landfill is a waste treatment landfill with technology that accelerates the decomposition of organic wastes in a landfill. This is accomplished by controlling the addition and removal of moisture from the waste mass, the collection and extraction of landfill gas, and in some instances the addition of air.

But I'm getting off track. For the last week or so, I put the Biobags to use. The website claims the bags to be sturdy, but I found them flimsy and ripped at least two unused bags in the process of tearing a new trashbag off the roll. Biobag claimed their kitchen trashbags to be strong enough to hold paper, food and other biodegradable waste items in addition to outdoor waste. I had no complaints about the durability of the bags in the kitchen, though I would be reluctant to place heavy duty trash inside the bags. The bags ripped like tissue when filled with an estimated 5-10 pounds of used cat litter. But the website did not claim their bags would withstand the rigors of cat poo. In my opinion, the Biobags are best for those people who are on the light side of trash, those people who throw away more wrappers and non-recyclable paper products than say those who do not necessarily recycle all their products and tend to fill their garbage bags until they can't lift it out of the trashcan.

I think Biobag is a pioneer product for trashbags and hope advances in technology and experimentation will allow the company to improve their product and encourage other companies to create their own version of biodegradable bags. But honestly, I will not buy another box of these trashbags. It pains me to state that fact, but the bags are expensive and using multiple bags for one job defeats the purpose of the product.

I would like to try a few of the Seventh Generation products, beginning with the trash bags, paper towels and laundry detergent. Their items are a bit pricey but I'm hopeful, because the products are beginning to leak into the mainstream retail world.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Viva la Vida

I love Coldplay and have all of their cds. When Viva la Vida came out, I bought it without listening to any of the songs and I was not disappointed. In fact, I think this is the best of their work to date.

Since Viva La Vida has been nominated for Record, Album and Song of the year, I thought I would put my 2 cents in on some of the music on the album.

The album cover is the 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix. The painting depicts the French Revolution of 1830 and lends itself to the overall tone of the album. A great deal of the music on this album focuses on death, religion and war. Dreary subjects indeed, but some of these songs take on an almost cheery quality.

My absolute favorite song on the entire album is Cemeteries of London. Cemeteries blends death, the afterlife, history and spirituality into a song with an almost ethereal tone.

At night they would go walking ‘til the breaking of the day...
Through the dark streets they go searching to seek God in their own way...
God is in the houses and God is in my head… and all the cemeteries in London…
I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what he said,
For my heart, it wasn’t open…
Not open…

Viva la Vida is the song up for all the grammies and is catchy, yet melancholy tune. The song is about a king who has lost his kingdom and there are historical references and religious undertones as well.

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringings
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Viva la Vida hit the number one charts in the US and the UK and Coldplay's only Trans-atlantic number one hit. The album also topped the global sales list and has been named the biggest selling album of 2008.

Violet Hill is yet another song on religion and war, but throws love into the mix. Strawberry Swing has been said to have Beetles overtones. The song is bit Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds-ish, but other than that,I do not see the similarities. However I will let you judge that for yourself.

Coldplay does sing the usual songs about love and heart break but they are not afraid to tread on the topics of spirituality, self awareness and man's affect on the environment. These are topics near and dear to my heart. Perhaps that is why I love their music.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Girls rule! Boys drool! (My weekend at work)

It was a weekend of scouts for me at work. As some of you may know, I wrote up a lesson plan for Webelos and Junior Girl Scouts and we've been running the program free of charge to those troops who agreed to be our guinea pig.

Saturday morning I had a group of boys who were surprisingly calm...and bored. I was off my game and had a difficult time holding the boys' interest. I hate the experience of trying to capture and maintain the waning interest of kids. I always feel like I'm a magician holding an empty bag of tricks and I'm digging around in that bag, looking for something, anything to recapture their lost interest. I was hoping the arthropods, who were the stars of the show, would be able to revive the lagging enthusiasm. I wanted to show off our beautiful praying mantis but she was forced to remain within the confines of her container after half the boys freaked out when I pulled out a millipede, the first star, to show around the room. Sigh.

After that disaster of a program, I left the classroom open for the public to wander in. A group of special needs girls came in and I recognized them from a previous visit. They were just what I needed to restore my faith in my own teaching abilities. Each girl held the millipede and oohed and ahhed over my other arthropod stars. We chatted away as they examined the bugs and the books in the classroom. Of course, just as with any other kids, they had to tell me their bug stories...

"This one time I squished a bug and her eggs came out..."

"Once I chased my brother around with a worm..."

One of the girls was flipping through a book that focused on the different cultures that ate bugs (Entomophagy) and from her squeals of disgust, the others had to see the book too.

"Ohhh look at that! What are those? Worms? Who would eat worms?"

"Is that a spider in his mouth?"

"I would eat fried chicken every day of the week over eating some dead bug."

I love these girls. I hope they come in again soon.

Sunday afternoon I had a rather large girl scout group but they were awesome. They were an active, chatty group, but it was relatively easy to redirect their attention to the subject at hand. They came in knowing key definitions and concepts and it was easy to prompt and maintain appropriate discussions, with a little extra from the girls thrown in. This one was the most memorable.

"Once there was a praying mantis in my closet!"


There is one more guinea pig scout group next weekend then we go into full time mode with it. I will have my own scout schedule. I hope I'm ready.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Travel with me back in time...(Wow entry)

In Wowland, our group of heroes like to visit the Caverns of Time to defend events of the past against those who wish to change it. In other words, a core group of us guildies like to run the Culling of Stratholme instance and make fun of Arthas.

So travel with me back to a time when Prince Arthas was a noob who reigned with a marshmallow mace. The instance is actually depressing, but our running commentary on the Prince more than compensates for the dreary overtones.

For those of you who are new to Wow and to those who tolerate these entries, I'll give you a brief history of Arthas and Stratholme. The main character in this story is Prince Arthas, paladin, soon to be king of Lordareon. Uther the Lightbringer is the head of the Silverhand Paladins and mentor to Arthas. Lady Jaina Proudmoore is his, ahem, lady friend. They're not really a couple for complicated, young people drama reasons. During this period of time, the Dreadlord Mal'Ganis unleashed a plague of undeath to turn the unsuspecting citizens of Stratholme into an army of zombies (aka The Scourge). Arthas wants to stop the Scourge at all costs and orders Uther to destroy the people in Strat. Uther refuses and Arthas disbands the order of the Silverhand Paladins and sets about the task of burning down Stratholme and killing the citizens to stop the plague.

Back in the present time, you begin with Chromie, who tells you agents of the Infinite Dragonflight want to kill Arthas before he destroys Stratholme but Chromie believes for better or worse, the timeline must be preserved.

You come in right before Stratholme is destroyed, meeting up with the Arthas, Uther and Jaina.

It is here you get an inkling that Arthas is an idiot. He's got that whiny, chip on the shoulder attitude and he throws a hissy fit when Jaina and Uther refuse to do his bidding.

This is where we come in. We become Arthas' minions. Luckily we are assigned to kill the existing Scourge and not kill the innocent people, which Arthas seems to enjoy a little too much.

We briefly part ways with the prince to kill zombies ala rodeo style and we meet up again with Arthas in the City Hall. This is where the Infinite Dragonflight begin to interfere and you are increasingly tempted to aid them in their task.

Here's a portrait of Arthas.

He looks like an okay guy until you zoom in on his face.

We all think he's ugly, but Prom says it best. Quoting her verbatim. "His face is all fat and the wrinkle between his eyes makes him look like a Cromag."

I said I hated his fat lips and his smug look. Jha makes fun of the way Arthas' hair flips up when he runs. And his mace! It looks like a marshmallow and when you see the way he fights, you begin to believe that it really is a marshmallow.

Then you begin running with Arthas and fighting the Infinite Dragonflight agents and zombies. YOU are fighting, Arthas is noob-pulling. Noob pulling is grabbing one group and rather than fight that group, you run ahead to grab another group, shown here.

This is when the name-calling begins. To me, this is the best part of the game. I came up with "Art's ass". Prom calls him "Noobthas."

Here's a typical conversation during the Arthas portion of the dungeon.

"Well, there he goes, running off again."

"Is he ass pulling again??"

"Lich King my ass. He doesn't even fight the mobs! Look how he just stands there or runs back to his starting point. Dumb ass."

"What a noob paladin. Noobthas."

Recently I took my rogue in and during one of the fights, I inadvertently ended up helping Arthas fight a mob.

"Hey!" I barked accusingly over vent, "You left me alone with Art's ass to fight this zombie!"

"No, I helped...for a second." Mal replied before breaking off into laughter.

"I hate you guys!"

The dungeon concludes with the appearance of Mal'Ganis, the Dreadlord who originally released the plague upon the city. Arthas claims he's going to fight Mal'Ganis...alone. Look, I have proof.
I took a screenshot

This is what I'm looking at as he claims to be the only one fighting Mal'Ganis.

Yeah, the only one Arthas. Mal'Ganis would pawn your butt if we weren't there.

Maybe we should be fighting with the Infinite Dragonflight Agents. They've got the right idea.

Dumb ass.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Things About Me

This has been going around the Facebook community. I decided to post mine on the ole' blog.

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

1) I am a quotation hound. When I'm in the bookstore, card store or any type of gift shop, I will look for quotes and write the ones that resound within me.

2) I'm also a TV rerun junkie. Right now Fraiser, Seinfeld, Stargate SG-1 and King of Queens are on the roster but I also love Matlock, Bernie Mac, King of the Hill and Star Trek Next Generation.

3) Everyone knows I love birds but my Grandma was indirectly responsible for my passion. She had parakeet that we played with growing up.

4) I keep lists, phone numbers and dates of events on scratches of paper, notebooks, the back of receipts and whatever paper I can find. And then I wonder why I lose them.

5) I am the QUEEN of procrastination. The bigger the project or the more intimidated I am by the project, the longer it stays on the backburner.

6) I have ADD. I think this explains #4 and 5

7) I love traveling. A few of my dream destinations include Alaska (again), the Galapagos Islands, Australia, Scotland and Ireland.

8) I'm a SciFi/Fantasy girl, always have been, but didn't realize this fact until I met my husband. Growing up I had so many Star Wars figurines, played Star Wars with the boys in the neighborhood. In my early adulthood I picked up reading fantasy books.Then I was introduced to the world of D&D gaming and it all fell together.

9) I have a secret dream of getting my fiction published.

10) I am a spiritual person though my relationship with my Creator and the spirits ebbs and flows.

11) I hate wearing makeup because it makes my face look oily. I've tried all types and brands of makeup over the years and it all has the same effect. So I only wear makeup during special occasions.

12) I can't decide which habitats I love more; the desert, mountains or the ocean. It is truly a tug of war within my soul. LOL.

13) I am very much a loner. I love my alone time and find it difficult to explain why being with friends/family for more than a few hours becomes emotionally draining.

14) I HATE talking on the phone.

15) If I'm reading a good book, sometimes I will skip ahead and read passages and yes, read the end. :P

16) If the book I'm reading is REALLY good, I will plow through it, but slow down something fierce the last 30 pages or so. I don't want the story to end!

17) I shower with the lights off. I usually shower in the morning and there's a window in the bathroom that throws out enough light. Why waste electricity?

18) I hate Wife Swap and American Idol-type reality TV, but gobble up programs like Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch and Ice Truckers. Are those programs considered documentary reality TV?

19) I enjoy reading career (medicine, teaching, etc) and family-type blogs. The teacher and parents with small kids bloggers usually have funny stories.

20) I wish I could have been more accepting of my sister and her lifestyle before she died, instead of acting judgmental and trying to change her. Maybe things would have been different.

21) I used to hate eating fish but now enjoy the taste of it.

22) I LOVE chocolate and HATE sharing it.

23) I admit to enjoying burp and fart humor. I know it's juvenile, but the sounds get me howling with laughter.

24) I am a worrywart and can sometimes worry to the point I make myself sick, though I don't do that as often as I did when younger.

25) I LOVE taking naps. But who doesn't?