Monday, September 24, 2007

Ragfields on the Atlantic

This weekend, Rob and I went to Wilmington, North Carolina to the wedding of Rob’s friends Meryl and Joe. Its on the Altantic Coast—that’s a long way away from Urbana. On Friday, we loaded up Iris and drove as far as Greensboro (about 12 hours away), where we stayed with our friend Matt, who we haven’t seen in ages. Then onto the wedding festivities (3-1/2 hours more driving) on Saturday.

The wedding was in a beautiful, historic cathedral in downtown Wilmington. The ceremony was a little weird—the priest told a story about his brother-in-law who died of liver cancer, and at one point he called Meryl “Marl,” which is not her name at all. Everyone in the cathedral, including the bride and groom, was trying not to laugh.
Congratulations, "Marl" and Joe

Ragfields at the wedding. We clean up real good, I think.

After the wedding, we had about 2 hours until the reception started, so Rob and I and his friends hung out in downtown Wilmington. We found a super-ritzy ice cream shop, and Rob made a bee-line for it. That surprised me, since he usually only eats ice cream about once or twice per year. But I guess this was his big splurge. The choices at this shop were overwhelming; you could get all sorts of mix-ins and flavors, etc. I could not make a decision faced with all these options and told Rob to pick out something for me. He chose plain vanilla, and for himself, chocolate. It was a wise choice—the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, as it ought to have been with a $4 price tag!

By the time the reception started (at a fancy historic mansion downtown), it was pouring down rain! The bride and groom had to enter underneath an umbrella, and the party—which was supposed to be outside—had to be moved indoors. The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits though; we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning.
Melissa and Erin sharing a slow-dance at the reception

On Sunday, Rob and I went to the beach, and I got to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Those who are familiar with my obsession with the ocean will understand how much I enjoyed this. In addition to hanging out at the beach, I ran about 7 miles and Rob rode his bike (which we had packed in Iris). The ocean was just a bit chilly, but it felt especially good after all of this. After taking a salty dip, I lay out on the beach and actually fell asleep for a while (nice, considering my recent bout of insomnia), although this did result in me getting quite sunburned. Oh well, I guess it will probably be my last sunburn for a while.

Ragfields at the Atlantic Ocean

We drove back to Greensboro on Sunday night to stay with Matt again. We watched him play a soccer game, which was fun, and I actually had to use Rob’s nifty new iPhone to do some work (catching up on emails).
Matt and Rob

Ragfields on the way home

We spent the day today (Monday) driving back to Urbana. The party is officially over, and I’m back to the manic levels of stress that keep me up all night. I’ve traded in my “block grant” this semester (a stipend for doing nothing except readjusting and working on my dissertation) to TA a course, and next semester I have accepted a position to teach a course all by myself. As in, there is no other professor… I am the professor. I am excited but terrified and hoping this is a good opportunity that will help me get a job when I’m finished, rather than something that is going to prevent me from ever finishing. At any rate, its been a very long day, and its time for me to take a Tylonol PM and try to get some sleep so I can get up and work tomorrow. Thanks for reading.
Back in Urbana, where they're proud of the truly important things in life....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


You know, there’s really nothing on TV past 3am. There’s not a whole lot on at 2:30 either, but last night I did catch the last 10 minutes of some Animal Planet show about paternal behavior in penguins and seahorses. That was pretty cool, except for the overzealous narrator, who seemed to be gearing this towards people with extremely short attention spans. When that got over, the next show was about scorpions (with an equally overzealous narrator) and all the other channels just had infomercials selling weight loss products.

Its been over a month since I’ve been home from Nicaragua, and I’m still not sleeping. I wasn’t really sleeping that well in Nicaragua either… and come to think of it, that whole year of proposal-writing prior to going to Nicaragua was wracked with heart palpitations and insomnia as well. Let it suffice to say, I really need some sleep.

Last night I did some reading to make me sleepy, but that just got me all riled up about my dissertation and the fact that I’ve been home for over a month and haven’t even started it. TV didn’t work (watching a show about scorpions wasn’t helping), so I finally started cleaning the house. I scrubbed the bathroom from floor to ceiling (by the way, I’ve found that baking soda is the best thing to clean the tub with—it lifts grime, is cheap, and is environmentally responsible) and then moved onto the kitchen. Having scrubbed myself into the living room (and not wanting to track across the wet kitchen floor), I finally laid down on the couch about 4 or 4:30.

If I’d just stayed up a couple more hours, I would have been awake to receive the email Eduardo sent me when he got to “work” at the Hacienda at 6am (Wednesdays are his day to work). I’ve gotten about 3 messages from him since he mentioned that he had a problem with his kidneys, and none of them have returned to this issue despite the fact that I have asked him about it repeatedly. He just says “Hola Melissa, como estas?” and that’s it.

As a result of getting very little sleep, I felt like a zombie all day and looked like I was either hung over or strung out. But surprisingly, I’m not tired; I just kind of feel like I’m stuck in a loop. I keep starting things (like a load of laundry or reading a journal article) but interrupt myself to go to something else (like clean up a mess or begin reading a different journal article), so I’ve gotten nothing done all day.

This weekend is the big 10 year high school reunion, but I won’t be revisiting the past. Instead, Rob and I are going to North Carolina to the wedding of one of his friends. I’m hoping that Amy will fill me in on all the reunion details; maybe I’ll get myself together and try to make it to my 20th.

At any rate, I’d better get going and try for a good night’s sleep tonight. Oh, and for those who read my last entry about the bike crash—I am all healed now except for a scab on my knee. And Pat, don’t feel bad about laughing! I realized that that’s why I write these things. Its like the wise poet Emily Saliers once said, “You’ve got to laugh at yourself; otherwise, you’d cry your eyes out!”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Like riding a bike

To tell you the truth, I never really liked riding a bike. When we were little, sometimes Amy would ride her bike and I would jog along beside. I just never felt all that comfortable on two wheels. Over the years, I’ve managed to increase my comfort level, but the problem is, I am just not very good at it. I do pretty well on Iris II—my “hybrid” bike (it has intermediate tires), but my road bike…that’s a different story.

A few years ago, Rob found me the teeniest, tiniest, fastest little road bike with the skinniest tires you can imagine. I call her Ida May. She kind of terrifies me, because her light weight makes her more difficult for me to control, plus, you can get going really fast really quickly on this super skinny bike. Despite my fears, I’ve taken Ida on some pretty tough rides, including up (and down) the tallest mountain in Tennessee. Don’t get too impressed though—I am not very good at it.

I haven’t ridden Ida May since we’ve been back from Nicaragua, and I’ve been growing ever more eager to do so. Yesterday I jumped at the chance when Rob told me that he and cousin Kevin were going for a ride after work, and I was welcome to join them. I had Rob make some last minute adjustments to Ida (including raising the seat), and off we went. Well, off they went. I actually fell off my bike while trying to start it—as I was coasting down the driveway. Hm, maybe that seat was too high afterall. Thankfully the guys didn’t see this, though they probably did wonder what was taking me so long to catch up to them. I’d landed squarely on my left knee in the mini-crash and to be quite honest, it was a little bloody and didn’t feel so great. I pushed it out of my mind best I could and just proceeded onward.

As we came to a 4-way stop on the way out of town, I realized that my feet were miles from the ground and in order to stop, I was going to have to leap off of the bike. I felt queasy. Luckily, we didn’t have to make a complete stop, and soon we were out on the open road. We kept going for a while, but I felt terrible. In fact, I had an intense desire to get off the bike and never ride again. I sidled up to Rob and said that I thought my seat was too high; he said no problem, we would stop and adjust it. So there I was, coming to a stop, when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make it happen and I flew off the seat—landing very hard on the bike frame—before toppling over onto my left knee (for the second time). Ouch. At that point Rob realized that he did not have his Allen wrench with him, so my seat would have to stay where it was at. I was trying to play it cool, but believe me, I was in a considerable amount of pain. Five miles from home—what can you do? We looped around to head back to our place, and I struggled to pedal onward, into the driving wind. As we got back towards town, I became increasingly nervous about the 4-way stops and stop-lights we would encounter on our way in. Suppose I should have another unceremonious dismount and end up on the pavement in 4 lanes of traffic? I did not relish the thought.

Just about a quarter mile from home, I decided I had to get off the bike. So I pulled off and slowed myself to a stop—no problems, even graceful this time. I have no idea why the high seat and/or toe clips had proved problematic to me before, but I was just glad to be off the bike and within walking distance of home. I encouraged the guys to continue, so they ended up heading out for another loop while I hobbled home. I hadn’t thought that 2 slow-moving crashes could cause such damage, but—without getting too gory—I discovered that I had shed a fair amount of blood. I actually felt quite wretched, but that didn’t stop me from making dinner for everybody (okay, it was just black bean garden burgers), though all the while I wondered why it is the curse of my gender to feel the need to prepare food for others even after enduring 2 bike crashes and substantial blood loss.

I was hoping it would all be better in the morning, but I think I actually feel worse. My weekly bike trip to the farmers market is out, as is my plan for a 12-mile marathon training run. I’ll be as good as new soon enough, it will probably just take a couple of days. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And so it begins

I finally got S.L. to read an abstract I wrote for this big conference (an abstract is like a mini-version of the paper you will present), and he said it was no good. Well actually, he said it needed to address larger theoretical issues in order to be worthy of the meetings. That’s all well and good, but the abstracts are due on September 15th, so it doesn’t give me a whole lot of time to work out a grand theory (note, this is something that I initially wrote in June, because I like to plan ahead). To say the least, last night was unpleasant. I was trying to make my case-specific report of Scooby’s death fit into some theoretical paradigm, hating it, and sobbing hysterically because I wished was a physical therapist instead of a grad student. If there’s one thing I hate (actually, there are a lot of things I hate), its trying to pull something together in the 11th hour (Amy, was it Mrs. W who always said that…”The eleventh hour..?”) I’m a planner. I plan everything, and I do it ahead of time. Its just the way I function. But 99.9% of the world prefers to fly by the seat of their pants and do everything at the last minute. S.L. is extraordinarily busy (this is the kind of life I can look forward to if I actually make it through this thing) so he doesn’t have any time to go over my stuff until it becomes absolutely necessary. Hence the 11th hour. So I spent an vomitous evening of self-doubt, but in the end I somehow managed to emphasize the theoretical issues raised by the dog predation incidents I observed on Ometepe, and S.L. gave it the thumbs up. {{Big sigh of relief}}. For the moment everything is calm.

Then this morning I had an email from Eduardo, my first in a couple of weeks. He assured me that the Hurricane had not harmed Ometepe, he said that he missed me, and he asked if I could send a photo of Rob and me with my family. He also asked if I could sell him a “little” computer to help him learn English. Well, I was willing to “sell” him my flashlight and hiking boots for a smile, but I’m not sure that a computer transaction is likely. We’ll have to see. He would look really cute working on a little iMac though.

I had asked him if he’d climbed the volcano yet (he was planning on doing this around the time I left) and in his reply he said that he could not climb the volcano because he has a problem with his kidneys and the hike would cause him too much pain. Hearing that sent me into a state for sure. I kept hoping that I misunderstood his email (it is difficult to decipher his little words, since he doesn’t know a lot of spelling or grammar rules), so I had my Spanish-speaking friend Frida look at the email, and she agreed with my interpretation. What could be wrong with the kidneys of a 12-year old little boy?! I haven’t been very productive today—I just keep pacing around thinking of poor little Eduardo and wondering what it is that is wrong and hoping that it is not serious but trying to figure out a way to get him cured if it is. Let’s everybody keep your fingers crossed on this one. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Biking with flowers, running in the rain

All week I worked really hard writing a report worthy of publication in a scientific journal about the dog predation incident leading to the deaths of Scooby and his mother. There is a conference next month, and it is really important that I get this written up so that I can present the results. I kept writing and writing but would end up deleting everything because it just didn’t sound right. Finally I realized: this incident is not about predation. Its an issue of human encroachment on primate habitats, rather than about dogs per se. So, I re-cast the whole framework of this thing and started over, for better or worse. On the plus side, my old blog Nicablogua actually helped me in this endeavor. I was able to go back through my entries and create more of a time-line of the gringos’ activities on the land: when they dug the water line, when they began construction on the cabin, etc. So it was kind of cool that I was able to pull some data from the blog. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on producing a publishable paper though.

Many have asked for an update concerning the on-going saga of my hair. Earlier in the week, my mom found a product called “Color Off” that was supposed to restore your hair to its natural color if you’ve accidentally done something to it that made it too dark. So I applied Color Off, and to my surprise, it worked quite well. You’re supposed to leave it on for up to 20 minutes, but when I saw my roots turning red after just 10, I decided to wash it out. The end result is that my hair is definitely lighter than immediately after the hair coloring incident but not quite like it was before. I’m somewhere across between myself and Anne of Green Gables. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures yet but maybe someday I’ll remember to take one.

My latest thing is going to the Farmers’ Market, which is held in downtown Urbana every Saturday morning. We live only about a 1/2 mile away, so it is a much speedier bike ride than when we used to live some 7 miles farther west. I am somewhat obsessed with arugula, which is actually kind of hard to find (and expensive) at the grocery store, but the Blue Moon Farm of Urbana sells fabulous bags of organic arugala at the farmer’s market. Another current favorite of mine is Green Zebra tomatoes, also grown by the Blue Moon Farm. In addition to produce, I’ve also started buying flowers at the Farmer’s market. It makes for a picturesque sight—me riding home on my bike, loaded down with a basket full of produce, and sticking out the top is a bright bouquet of locally grown, pesticide-free flowers. This is Urbana though—so pretty much everyone else is doing the same thing. I love it here.

After my farmer’s market excursion on Saturday morning, I went for a brief run. The sky had been a little bit gray before I started, but about 2-1/2 miles into the run, it started to pour. It was great. For the first time in forever, I finally felt like me again. Instead of heading for home I went farther. Its been so long since I actually felt good while I was running that I had to take advantage of it. Plus, it was a good excuse to be outside in the rain. We’ve had rain a couple of times since we’ve been back home, and I always have this urge to go outside while it is raining—I guess its just another hold-over from spending a year in the jungle. When I finally came home, I was soaking wet but felt better than I had in a long time.

I followed it up with doing a 10-mile run today. Yes: if I am serious about attempting marathon #6, I need to do these long runs. While in Nicaragua I did maybe 3 or 4 runs amounting to 9 miles, but I haven’t done anything in double-digits for well over a year. I was afraid I might be disappointed in my performance—comparing today’s endeavor to my former self who could bust out a 20-mile training run like it was a cake walk. But I must say, I did quite well. There was a slight amount of bleakness around mile 4.6, but I just kept going and got through it, and I even ended the run feeling great. So I’m pretty happy at the moment—I think I can actually pull this off, as long as I can manage my time to fit in all the training runs.

Rob and I ended up the weekend by having dinner with some friends. They’ve got two kids, who have reached the age where they’ve just started playing musical instruments. After dinner, the kids entertained us with their musical stylings—one on bassoon, one on trombone. It was quite precious really. The little boy on trombone made me think of my friend David B., who used to play trombone when we were kids. Remembering this made me feel kind of old, but I was also glad to have come this far.

Alright, I’d better get going for now; thanks for reading!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

So here is what happened

I'd had so much trouble using Blogger from Nicaragua and so many of you had trouble commenting that I vowed I would not use it again. I tried something different when I started the "Almost PhD" blog, but it turned out to be a total disaster. Last night there was a complete meltdown and the application (iWeb) pretty much destroyed my blog for no apparent reason. What is there to do but pick up the pieces and go on? I've gone back to Blogger, so the format and everything should look pretty familiar to those of you who followed Nicablogua. The official website of this is: but if you go to the website I originally gave you in the farewell entry of Nicablogua, it will re-direct you here.

Okay, that's all for now. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Technical difficulties

We at are having some technical difficulties. Somehow all of the comments got erased and I’m not sure if we can get them back. We’re working on fixing things, so stand by for further updates. I am so frustrated with this system now that I about ready to go back to Blogspot--which might have been slow and lame, but was at least consistent. I’ll let you know what the final outcome of this is. Thanks for reading

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor day weekend

Rob, repairing some shingles. The neighbors were quite impressed with his roofing prowess. And the extension ladder (its a long story) was borrowed from none other than S.L.

This happens to me every time Martin goes back to Argentina. The last time was in November 2005, during the new moon, the night that Bryn was born. I was freaking out about my Leakey Grant and the toughness tester, and in the middle of a nervous breakdown, I decided to color my hair. The results were disastrous. I ended up jet black instead of a lovely “medium golden brown” like the girl pictured on the box. The color was “semi-permanent” and supposed to wash out in 28 shampoos. I must have washed my hair 28 times in the first 24 hours following the incident, but to no avail. I was still jet-black at Andy and Kim’s wedding in April. It had barely faded back to my natural color by August, which was when we left for Nicaragua.

Well, Martin is back in Argentina and—I don’t know if its some strange coincidence or not—but I reached the breaking point with my hair and decided that I needed it cut and colored again. Nothing drastic, just a bit of a trim and coloring to even out my sun-bleached ends and dark roots. This time I vowed that no mistakes would be made, so I enlisted the help of my trusted hairdresser of the past 25+ years (my mother). My hair has a mind of its own though, and I ended up about 10 shades darker than the smiling girl on the box. After my mom went home, I took matters into my own hands. The internet suggested a Prell treatment to lighten hair color that is too dark. You are supposed to apply Prell shampoo to your hair while it is dry and then let it set for 45 minutes before rinsing. I rushed out and bought some Prell to try this: when I did the rinse, the water was black, so I thought, hooray, the color has been lifted. But when it dried I could only see only a negligible difference. Another remedy was to wash the hair with Dawn dish detergent. I tried this too, but I’m not sure that it did anything. Maybe its because I used lemon-scented Dawn instead of the original formula. At any rate, the moral of the story is that Melissa should not ever, ever color her hair again-- or at the very least-- she should not use Clairol Natural Instincts products to do so. Its not so bad though. I love my new haircut, and the color--now slightly faded--is starting to get pretty cute too.

I wasn’t the only one to get a new ‘do this weekend. Rob finally took the clippers to his lovely curly locks. His shaggy look was a result of his going without a haircut for the last 4-1/2 months in Nicaragua (he elected to not bring clippers with him). For all 10 years that I’ve known him, he’s had a buzz cut, and this was the longest I’ve ever seen it. Here are some Before and After photos:

Who would have thought? After all this time, it turns out that Rob has curly hair.

Quite a change! Here’s the two of us, looking fabulous, with our new haircuts:

I tried everything: vinegar, olive oil, Prell, and Dawn dish detergent.

Other than haircuts, it was a weekend of many parties and seeing friends and family. Both of our parents came over, and we even had a surprise visit from Greg and Rachel, who have moved on to bigger and better things now that Greg has finished his PhD. I explained to my parents (who were here when they dropped by) that Greg is what we all aspire to be-- an anthropology PhD with a job.

On Sunday, Rob and I had a great time at Aimee and Brett’s cookout, and then on Monday morning, we went to a neighborhood coffee hour. I cannot really think of another way to describe it other than saying that it was a real hoot. Well first of all, I had gotten the time of the party wrong and Rob and I ended up showing up almost a half hour early--the first guests to arrive. No matter, the hosts were ready and waiting. Within two minutes of our arrival, they were showing us family photos and exclaiming how lovely it was that a nice young couple had moved into the house on the corner. I felt like I had known these people forever, and it just kept going on in this manner. As everyone else arrived, they all exclaimed over us too. I kept thinking, is this for real? I mean, how can people really be this nice? But they are! For example, just the third time we’d talked to our next door neighbors, they told us that whenever there is a tornado warning, we can come to their basement (because we don’t have one) and they also told us they would have a key made for us so that we could get in even if they aren’t home. The people here are so nice, I feel like I must be in Wisconsin or something. I guess this is the way life is in Historic Urbana. As one of the younger mothers told me, “Its a fish bowl here, but there are some good things about living in a fish bowl.”

We finished out the long weekend with another cookout at Cara and John’s, and since I just can’t shake this insomnia, I decided to blog it while it was all still fresh in my mind. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Blog must go on

Rob and me in Granada, just before we left Nicaragua

By popular demand, the blog must go on. For more than a year, I chronicled my adventures in Nicaragua (see Nicablogua for the unabridged version) while I was there conducting my dissertation research on the feeding and foraging behaviors of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). Wrinkle Belly, Uno, Wilma, Mabel, Scooby and all the others taught me valuable lessons about life and death in an extremely degraded and seasonal forest habitat on La Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. Now I am back in the US, with all my data in hand. Thus begins the long uphill climb of weaving together all these seemingly disparate strands of information and—if not answering the questions I set out to answer—at least answering something.

I can’t promise that this new endeavor will be as entertaining as my daily adventures in the jungle, but I will do my best to highlight anything interesting that comes my way.

For now, this is all. Thanks for reading.