2.28.2010

Life is a funny thing


For the past two days, I've been in mourning. My weekend began with a shock when I came home Thursday evening and found my Jake dead. He was a very sweet dog. I didn't even realize how well known and how well loved he was until people came out of the woodwork to comment on my Facebook notification and I realized, nearly all those people had actually known Jake. He was the kind of dog who made an impression.

Jake really was a great dog. And that's not just normal owner hubris talking. Unusual, yes. Quirky, no doubt. Jake was, as they say, a special needs dog. (If you look, there he is listed under his rescue name "Keifer".) But Jake was a special dog in more ways than one. I was told when I adopted him that he had lived on the streets in Chicago for about two years. With the passion he held for counter surfing for loaves of bread when I first got him, I was certain that he had survived the lean times during those two years on day-old bread handouts at the bakery and restaurants in Chicago.

He was in rotten shape when they found him. He had three kinds of worms. Most likely from injuries resulting from trying to bite through chain link fencing during thunderstorms, he required several root canals. His canine teeth were worn down to nubs. I was told that if he further injured his teeth, he'd probably have to be put down because his mouth would lack stability and he'd be unable to eat. So for those of you who wonder why I never once boarded Jake at a kennel, that's the reason. He also had a collapsed lung. The fine folks at Wisconsin Border Collie Rescue (an organization I intend to remember in my will) saw something in Keifer worth more than the price of some dewormer, dental surgeries, and antibiotics. A volunteer at WBCR took in Jake, rehabilitated him, loved him, and found him a forever home. They had to talk me into Jake. I'm glad they succeeded.



The funny thing is that when I got Jake, I was in a very dark place in my life. I had lost my beloved Dakota in January of that year, and was going through a particularly nasty divorce. I was being terrorized by my soon-to-be ex, and my whole life was in flux. I was trying desperately to find a way to stay in my home, but when my husband began threatening me, I asked my mother to come and take the dogs until I could figure out what to do. So after only three weeks with me, Jake headed off to another house. As it turned out, I ended up moving to my mother's, returning to school, and that is where it began to sink in with Jake that he was "home". And that was when he really started to emerge from whatever dark place he had lived so long.

My fondest memories of him during this time were the way he regained his health and his strength and, my golly, you never saw a more dedicated tennis ball fetcher than this one. When he would finally wear out, he'd lay in the yard and no amount of activity could cause him to step foot away from our door. It was almost as if he was saying "this is MY yard". He actually looked proud.

The other funny thing about Jake was the way he enjoyed toys. He had a basket full of all sorts of balls, bones, and squeeky toys. One in particular was his favorite. Squeeky was his first toy. Given to him by the folks at Wisconsin Border Collie Rescue. No matter how many toys I bought, no one ever dethroned Squeeky as the mother of all squeeky toys. Over the years, Squeeky got old. It began to get sticky. It began to get gross. I washed Squeeky until I thought it would fall apart. Finally, I decided that it was probably leaching all sorts of awful chemicals into Jake and put Squeeky away.


Yes, Jake had thunder fear and it was pretty severe. Jake tore up more pillows, comforters, curtains, window blinds, screen doors, door knobs, and dog beds than I care to remember. I am sure the cost of replacing those items far exceeded any money I ever spent on his health care. But those were only things, and the money just didn't seem all that important. Jake taught me patience, tolerance, and unconditional love. Because, let's face it. Sometimes it can be hard to love a dog that has just eaten through 5 doorknobs, an expensive set of blinds, and has scattered the innards of a down comforter over three floors of a house.

He jumped out of windows during storms and I had to track him down in the rain. And hail. And howling winds. That dog hated any weather except snow. He loved him some snow.

But that's my Jake.

Jake never demanded anything. He never begged for food. He never hounded me for attention. He just wanted to lay in the yard. If I asked him for "huggy loving", he'd just sit right down and let me hug him until I got tired of doing it.

He loved traveling. He tolerated my research trips. He even tried to make the best of the sea shore. Ok. Barely. That dog did not like the sound of the ocean or the way the wind blows there. But he was happy to be along for the ride. He loved to hike. He loved chicken. He knew it was time for dessert every night at 10 pm. He loved getting snuggled in his bed at bedtime. He loved laying in the sunshine. He enjoyed chasing squirrels even if he never caught one. He was an expert mole catcher.

I got tennis elbow and a rotator cuff injury in both shoulders from throwing the ball for that dog. I accept the pain for the love of that animal.





The weekend before he died, we headed out to Pyramid State Park for a hike. This video isn't from last weekend, but I was sure reminded of it as we walked.

video

We had a great day. The night before he died, he and I played with his baby just like in this video from last October.



The morning he died, we threw some ball in the backyard. Jake played right up to the moment he died. My only regret with this dog is that he had to die alone. But honestly, I don't think he minded. He knew he was well loved.

Jake arrived with two passions. His favorite toy, Squeeky, and playing tennis ball. I had him cremated with both. I hope they serve him well in the afterlife.

And when I die, if there is a heaven, it will be where Jake and Nevada and Dakota are.

2.21.2010

A Few Lovelies


Today, D-friend L and I went to the orchid show at Mobot. Lunch at Schlafly's, a little Crate and Barrel and some Trader Joe's and what a day it was!

















2.20.2010

New Camera

Welcome to my new world of Canon EOS Rebel XS. I think I got a pretty good price. I like the guys I bought it from. They are a real camera shop, with real knowledge, and real service. That's hard to find these days. Sure, its not the newest model on the market, but it is a solid perfomer. Today, I took it out in the wilderness to take some shots. It is such a shame there are no flowers up, but winter is winter. Jake enjoyed the walk.



2.16.2010

Weekend Culinary Adventures, Daktari-style

This past weekend, I did some lifestyle rearranging. Starting with my pantry. I had to get the no-no food out of my line of sight so I could actually see what good foods I had to work with. There wasn't much after all was said and done. It appears I've been hoarding an extraordinary amount of jams and jellies, and there was dried fruit in there that I didn't even remember buying. Oh how my heart broke when I saw that unopened bag of dried banana chips. (And thank God the package had never been opened. I'm not sure my willpower would have held out that long.) Once the rearranging was done, I saw that I had an abundance of tomato products and beans. So time to try out some new recipes. Diet and lactose intolerance are often two very difficult masters to serve. Put them together and things can get tough. Either the food is high fat or the food tastes bad. So after a few hours of food blog and internet browsing, I bookmarked some interesting, low calorie, dairy-free recipes. Here's the first one I tried.

Creamy tomato-basil-tofu soup. I give it 4.5 stars on a 5 star scale.

Assemble the ingredients. Amazingly simple. Oh, add an onion to this mix. I always forget one ingredient.

So you dice the onion and sweat it in a pan with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Then you add the can of tomatoes and one or two cloves of chopped garlic. After this has heated, you add a half teaspoon of white pepper, half teaspoon of salt, and it was supposed to be a tablespoon of fresh basil leaves, but it's wintertime so I used dried leaves and added two tablespoons. I think you are supposed to add less dried spice and not more, but I remembered this concept too late. Don't worry, it turned out ok.

Ok, after heating the tomato-onion-garlic mixture for a minute or two, I added a cup and a half of plain, unsweetened soy milk. You know, the stuff you DO NOT want to make the mistake of drinking, but it is only good for cooking with. That stuff tastes AWFUL all by itself. Turn the heat off and let it all cool for a few minutes and then add 1 lb. of silken tofu. I used organic tofu by Nasoya. (See J? I'm trying.) Put all in a blender and puree. You can eat this hot or cold.


I ate it hot. It was completely yummy. Notice all those bubbles? Pureeing in the blender adds air. So it was especially light tasting. I assume that after it rests in the fridge for a day, those bubbles will burst and it won't have that wonderful light, dancing on your tongue action and just be regular old tomato soup. But one can dream.

So this recipe makes six 1-cup servings. According to my calculations, it has, per cup, only 110 calories, 5 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein, and thankfully only 413 milligrams of sodium. That's about half or less the salt you'd find in a can of Campbell's soup. It doesn't taste like salt and it doesn't taste like soy. It tastes like a very light, very fresh cup of tomato soup. The color is a little pale by most tomato soup standards, and it's not the wintertime go-to soup for when you've just come in after shoveling snow. I sort of liken this to cold cucumber soup I've tried before. I really do think it would be great cold and I may try it out like that this week. I actually think the extra basil made is taste more....well summertimeish, if you know what I mean. But. It was really great. And I'd bet your grandma would love it. If I was a grandma, I'd love it. Hell, I'm not a grandma and I love it.

So there it is. My new lactose friendly, semi-organic, reasonably salted tomato soup recipe. Not a bad find.

2.15.2010

My Five Year Plan

I realize that I'm going to have to graduate eventually. I assume that I will teach eventually on a collegiate level. With any luck, I'll land a tenure track position somewhere and get busy making undergraduates love science.

My five year objectives include:

1. Developing a course on evolution that moves beyond a presentation of the scientific evidence. The greatest weakness that I see today in the teaching of evolution at the college level is that it doesn't deal head-on with the social, political, and religious attacks against it. We teach kids the principles and expect them to connect the dots. I am convinced that it takes more effort than most kids are willing to invest to connect those dots and thus, most strict science-based courses on evolution fail to make any real inroads into the public controversy surrounding this "hot topic". I hope to develop a course that teaches those scientific principles, but also details the way evolution has informed other branches of science, especially medicine, and to dispel some of the most popular social, political and religious arguments against evolution. Until the majority of people understand what evolution is and is not, unless scientists can use that understanding to adequately address false arguments against it, science will continue to flounder, people will continue to see their faith as a viable alternative to "accepting" scientific evidence, and our country will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

2. Helping undergraduates take the bold step into adulthood and personal responsibility. This means I will be understanding but I will not coddle them. I will not be swayed by lame excuses that seem to cloud the otherwise competent thinking of many professors I've seen. I will demand and reward excellence as well as personal responsibility. It is my ardent desire that any student who fails to perform well in my courses will not see ME as the problem, but rather their own behavior.

3. Creating meaningful, exploration-based labs for any course I teach. I have taught more labs than I care to mention that depend on tired high-school level rote experimentation (if one even dares to call it that). If we are to make students critical thinkers and skeptics, we need to challenge them to think critically and be skeptical. Handing them a lab exercise that has only one possible outcome is not the way to achieve this. It is my belief that any course with a lab has a responsibility for that lab session to be interesting and advance the course objectives. If we aren't going to do something worthwhile, we shouldn't waste our own time or that of students. Those times that I was given a chance to develop lab activities, the response was always positive. I think it IS possible to harness the creative juices of graduate assistants. Give them some rope and let them lasso a new approach.

4. Find new, meaningful research avenues. I know that I am hamstrung in this effort now by virtue of this not being a particular strength of my mentors and department. But I hope to be able to foster that in myself and through my colleagues. I would like to collaborate on big picture projects that are cross-disciplinary in nature.

5. I see myself becoming more politically active/outspoken regarding scientific issues. Not that I'm slouching on that now.

6. I would like to begin to reach out to the general public through writing when possible to advance public understanding of science.

2.14.2010

You Kids Get Off My Lawn: The Remix


Today, I ordered a hat from Steep and Cheap. It didn't read the description very well until AFTER I had ordered. If I had read it, I never would have ordered the product.

Here's the description Steep and Cheap offered for an Outdoor Research brand fleece hat:

Outdoor Research Fleecy Hat - Women's

Pull on the Outdoor Research Women’s Fleecy Hat for everything from a chilly stroll through town to a day making turns on the mountain. This versatile stretch-fleece beanie also features a hidden zippered pocket inside the ear band, so you can stash a doobie for the extra long lift ride.

Yes, I wrote them a letter of complaint. Yes, I told them that skiing is a dangerous sport that requires mental alertness, coordination and dexterity. I reminded them that people die on ski slopes every year. Do I think my complaint will fall on deaf ears? No. Do I think it will be addressed in any meaningful way? No, I don't and I'll tell you why.

Below, I am including the entire conversation that I had with a rep of Steep and Cheap a while back. I was looking at products on their web page and saw a product description that included the word "shit". I wrote to the company then, just as I did today. Here is the conversation that I had with the Steep and Cheap rep. Great guy, but apparently a lone voice of reason in the company of 899 stoners. Here goes.

D: Ok, I'm an adult. And a pretty opened minded one at that. But you guys have GOT to get a clue and realize that adults are not the only ones looking at your web site. I like Backcountry.com and I like getting a good deal on Steep and Cheap, but I have just about reached my limit with your off-the-wall, cool kid-kid approach to sales that now has you cursing at me. When I read a product description like the Canada Goose M-Tech Bomber Jacket and I see the word "shit" in the description, I have to ask: whatever happened to common courtesy? Some people still believe that you don't talk like that in public or in front of strangers and certainly not in a professional environment.

Between that and the privileged, white male cluelessness of the Daily Dose, I'm just about done with the bunch of you. Can someone please tell that guy that being able to use epithets against different groups and not cause a bar fight over it does not herald the beginning of a post-racial America? I'd get truly angry except that it's obvious the guy is just ignorant. Why in the world you would want an ignorant oaf sending out emails daily to potential customers is beyond me. Maybe someone else should read his "column" before he whips them out to your readership. You know, and ask the obvious question....is this really going to help sell our products?

But cursing in product descriptions? Really, aren't you guys just a little more grown up than that?

The response came quite a bit later from Fred.
Fred: I have taken it upon myself to respond to any question regarding our content - whether it be the accuracy of a product description, or the nature of our language. First, I thank you for taking the time to express yourself.

I realized yesterday that your e-mail fell through the cracks, as I had two surgeries during January in a 7 day period - the second surgery falling on the day after you wrote to us.

To be totally frank, like you, I'm an adult (actually at 61 the oldest employee here) and pretty open minded. However, since I arrived here last May, I have been, myself, somewhat conflicted about the language that has always been characteristic of backcountry - so I have given lots of my own internal thought to this topic. and I wanted to give serious thought to the matter before writing back to you - six weeks should be more than adequate :-).

I joined the company last May as Content Manager, and I've been in corporations for nearly 25 years - but never in an organization like this one.

You are not alone in voicing concern about our language and our approach. I have always tried to reply to people with compassion and understanding. We may get 2-3 such e-mails a month on this topic.

However, the fact of the matter is, we get a exponentially greater number of e-mails from people who love our "non-conventional" approach.

(See this recent Blog Post for example: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2009/02/10/tramdock/

I've been worked over a few times for my stances on these issues, and in general, I have personal issues with the degeneration of the English language that has been abetted by the Internet. The one consolation is that we never go to the extremes that you can find nightly on television in HBO, Showtime, or any other number of venues.

We are far more circumspect about language on the backcountry site, but dogfunk and our ODAT sites really push the edgy and irreverent style. No matter what my personal feelings are, I cannot argue with the fact that this approach has worked for backcountry, the vast majority of our customers love it, and it is difficult for me to argue with success. We've grown from 3 employees in a garage about 9 years ago to over 900 employees today.

As for the guy who writes the Daily Dose - he works remotely from NY - and I've struggled to relate to his humor, his attitude, his logic and, most of all, non-linear thinking. At first, I chalked this up to being at least one or two generations off the mark. However, again, I can't tell you how many totally dedicated readers of this daily message we have - or how very many e-mails we get from customers raving about the Daily Dose and saying that they never start their day without reading it. Go figure?

So, I'm truly understanding of your position and your feelings. I'm also trying to be honest about my own conflicted thoughts on these matters, but I'll also be honest in saying that it is not likely to change in the future.

If we lose you as a customer over this issue, I am truly sorry. I, like you, have been trying to "elevate the conversation" not only here but at all times in my 60 years. Most times, I feel like the world is winning, but it doesn't stop me from trying.

Also signed
Not a prude ...but a thinker
Fred L.

Regarding the link Fred offered. It is an interesting read. The most interesting comment made there, I think, is this:
Play to your core. If you deserve to be bigger, your fans will spread the word. And don’t be afraid of offending those not in the loop. They don’t matter.
In any event, I wrote Fred back with my afterthoghts.
D: Fred,
I appreciate your response. It was kind of you. I can't recall when I have ever received a more heartfelt response to a letter (or email) to any company.

I, too have given some thought to your response and I have only this to add. It is possible to be hip and irreverent even "nonconventional" without cursing at people. I don't think the cursing adds anything to the mix that wouldn't be sufficiently hip, irreverent, or nonconventional otherwise. Furthermore, there are words that are more accepted in our society (I'm thinking things like "damn" or "hell") that could be substituted and not raise an eyebrow from me.

But "shit"? That is not an image I want brought to mind when I'm deciding whether to spend a lot of money or not.

As for the daily dose, I have not struggled to relate to the non-linear thinking. I have struggled to understand why this gentleman would select topics to discuss that in no way relate to selling outdoor gear. And honestly, some of his topics reveal a disturbing lack of empathy or even cognizance of other's perspectives and feelings. Truly, his column does nothing but scream of incredible white privilege. Just because the writer doesn't see it, doesn't mean it isn't slapping the rest of the world in the face.

I just purchased a $200 sleeping bag from backcountry.com. I worked with the folks on your live chat to achieve that order. I had to return it, so I talked to your reps on the phone. I got my replacement bag and was very happy. Very happy. Everything about your company is top of the line--except this. And I am sorry to say that despite your best efforts, I'm not willing to continue to deal with offensive language.

So yes, you have likely lost a customer. Best of luck with the hip crowd.

And in fact, I hadn't ordered anything from the company since then. But recently, I guess I forgot about my stance and reloaded the Steep and Cheap notifier on my new computer. And I hadn't really ordered anything from them until today when I saw a good deal on this hat I liked. And wouldn't you know it, the very first product I order includes language that I find offensive.

So do I think that Steep and Cheap will change its ways? No. I'm not hip. I can be ignored. However, I did also write Outdoor Research this time. I asked for their ideas on how their products are being marketed. I anxiously await some sort of response from the company whose product I actually ordered.

Until then, there is nothing for me to do but get older, less hip, and more irritated by the younger generation. There is a change happening everywhere that I just don't agree with. Examples here. Here. And here. I fear I've become obsolete and my morality is out of fashion. Sucks to be me.

Love is in the Details

It's Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day celebrates the Feast of St. Valentine on the Catholic calendar (although apparently, it has been removed from the calendar since so little is actually known about St. Valentine). It is not the day St. Valentine died, but rather the day he was buried. One and the same? Who knows? There appears to be no real reason that St. Valentine, whoever he was, was associated with romantic love, but the period of February 13 to 15, was traditionally the time for a pagan rite associated with fertility. So, in an apparent religious slight-of-hand that we see over and over, the Christian calendar adopts the pagan festivals in an attempt to convert the pagans to Christianity. How Christians becoming more pagan is meant to advance Christianity has always perplexed me. It appears that our association between St. Valentine and romantic love was simply a Victorian invention.

In any event, Valentine's Day is now a secular celebration of love and lovers. Since I have so few of the latter and so much of the former, I thought I'd list my great loves.

I love....

the smell of freshly baked bread and tobacco shops.

the sound of bowling alleys and grandfather clocks.

all puppies, most dogs and quite a few cats.

sleeping late.

breakfast.

silence and solitude, particularly when outdoors.

uncontrollable laughter.

traveling.

taking photos.

writing.

a great work of fiction, my definition of which seldom if ever includes literary giants.

my work.

beer in the backyard on lazy summer afternoons.

laying in the grass.

camping, and camp fires in particular.

great homemade pizza.

cooking.

Monte Python skits.

Indian accents.

that feeling you get in your stomach when you're about to kiss someone you really like for the first time.

pineapple and grapefruit. Not together. I just like them both.

passing out warm, homemade cinnamon rolls.

flannel pajamas and a warm bed in the winter.

swimming.

roller coasters.

the way barns smell. Of course, that might depend on the kind of barn.

beginning a new adventure.

moving.

building stuff.

planting gardens.

home-grown tomatoes

violin music

the first warm day of spring.

hot fudge sundaes

pizza

old newspapers

junk shops

store-bought ice

board games

barbecues

Like the past twelve that preceded it, this Valentine's Day I don't have a lover. No one sent me cards or chocolates or asked me to dinner. But don't feel sorry for me. This isn't a lament and I didn't want to make this a wish list. I find happiness in life despite being alone. I don't need roses or chocolates or cards at all. Love isn't about those things. It's about finding joy in everyday life.

Happy Valentine's Day.

2.13.2010

Yawn


It is amazing to me how going on a diet and starting to work out has turned me into a total hermit. The problem is two-fold. I understand that I can't be eating out and hanging out at the bar all the time. I might as well walk around with a sugar IV hanging out of my arm if I was going to do that. Secondly, most of my free time seems to be involved in working out or tending to my responsibilities at home or work. And I'll be honest. I'm getting older. Working out is hard. I need more rest than I did before. I no longer entertain myself by wandering around stores. I don't go to the grocery every day. I'm just more inclined to actually rest my weary muscles. I enjoy working out. I feel better, but I didn't think that an hour a day workout was going to consume all my time. Working out, apparently, is my new hobby. Sure, I run into people I know who are also working out, but it's not exactly socializing. And my go-to person for socializing now has a baby and I haven't seen her since the day the kid was born almost a month ago!

I think I need a movie night. Or a regular card game. Or a game night. Or a trip to St. Louis to the orchid show. Or just something to get me interacting with people again.

Any ideas for ending my self-imposed isolation?

h/t Ananova for pic.

2.12.2010

That's two

Yesterday, a second person told me that I looked like I had lost weight. That's two people, folks, which I think is pretty good if you consider I've only lost 11.5 lbs. Oh sure. I still have cellulite on my ass and no one can see the muscles I'm building under that thick layer of winter fat, but I will take my achievements wherever they present themselves.

It makes lunge day so much easier to bear.

2.06.2010

Why not?

Sometimes, I just need this.