Monday, June 30, 2008


For the first time ever, I dog-sat last weekend. People, don’t start getting excited and planning to board your dogs at “Camp Ragfield”: this is not something I plan to do regularly, as I emphatically maintain that I am not a dog person. But I do make exception for one 8-pound mini-pinscher/Chihuahua named Ravage who belongs to my friend Derek.

The whole thing went pretty well: no mishaps. Ravage was as good as gold the whole time. He is a perfect lap dog, so whenever I was sitting, he would invariably curl up on my lap to cuddle with me. Ravage also has an expansive repertoire of tricks. At one point he even began doing his tricks unprompted, which I found hilarious. I assume he had a craving for a T-R-E-A-T and thought I would give him one if he performed all of his tricks for me. (His strategy worked).

Melissa and Ravage on the way to the park.

Rob also did a bike race this weekend. It was a “crit” or criterium race. On his blog, Rob said this was his least favorite kind of bike race, and it is my least favorite kind of bike race for him to do. These races are typically a 1 mile loop that is repeated for a zillion laps at extremely high speeds. With 40 or so riders zooming around tight corners at a million miles an hour, this is a recipe for disaster indeed. Thankfully Rob managed to stay upright this time (he’s crashed at crits before), but he had a difficult race despite the air-tight strategy of Team Wildcard (his cycling team). Early on in the race, a rider directly in front of Rob had a tire pop and then crashed. Rob stayed on his bike, but he had to come to a screeching halt and ended up getting separated from the lead pack. He really did make a heroic effort to bridge back to the fast group, but he just couldn’t do it on his own. He passed everybody that had gotten cut off from the lead group as a result of the crash, and he ended up totally by himself for the remainder of the race. I felt really terrible for him because I knew how hard it must be, to be completely on your own without anybody to work with you, in a race as tough as this. On the bright side, however, all those tight corners were a lot safer when he was by himself instead of pack of other cyclists. Unfortunately, the race officials made a mistake in the final results and placed Rob much farther down in the standings than he belonged. When we finally got to talk to a race official about this, I was just this side of ripping off her head, but Rob very calmly and diplomatically explained the mistake that had been made. The race officials did in fact agree that a mistake had been made, and they (eventually) corrected the error. Oh well, better luck next time I guess.

Rob and Iris 2, pre-race

Rob is in the red/orange WildCard jersey and red socks

Rob, alone on the chase

One more thing: the baby cardinals are gone. The nest is completely empty. I had a very bad feeling about this, but then I checked a website that my vet friend Dr. C sent to me, and it says that cardinals fledge in 9 to 11 days. The first I noticed the babies was June 22, and the birds disappeared by June 29… I am hoping that they had hatched a couple days earlier and now they’ve gone on to the big, big world, but I guess I’ll never really know for sure. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The mother bird returned!

I tip-toed out to the nest this morning, and the mother bird was there! For the moment I am going to stop worrying about those cardinal babies.

Last night after Rob and I got home from our Tuesday night run with the running club, I made him go out and check on the nest. He's taller, so he could get a better look. He took this video clip of the baby birds while he was out there.

Thanks to Nana & Grampy and to Dr. C for their expert advice on the baby cardinals.

Got to run.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where is the mother bird?

At the beginning of June, I found a speckled egg, crushed and on the ground out by the peony bushes. When I looked up into the tree, I saw a female cardinal sitting on a rather shabby-looking nest. Sometime over the weekend, the remaining eggs hatched. I could see little fuzzy chirping things in the nest. But I didn’t see the mother bird. She’s been there pretty much constantly for a month, and now I haven’t seen her at all for about 2 days. I am getting really worried about the baby birds. I just tiptoed out to see if the mother had returned, and one of the babies stretched out its neck and opened its beak. The other baby was just sort of lying there without moving, but it was still breathing. I don’t know what to do for them, other than hope the mother bird returns very soon. I don’t want to be one of those people who messes with wildlife and makes the situation worse. I suppose it could also be that a predator bird ate the real cardinal eggs and laid its own eggs there for the unknowing mother cardinal to raise. I sent a message to Nana and Grampy (bird authorities) and my friend Crissy who is a vet, to see if there is anything I can do for the birds if the mother does not return.

At any rate. Last weekend was the summer solstice. Of all the solstices (okay, there are only 2), this one is my least favorite. I prefer the winter solstice, even though it is the shortest day of the year, and in my past life it was typically wrought with some tragedy of Dunlap Love. At least with the winter solstice, the days will be getting longer and the end of the cold and dark will be coming soon. But with the summer solstice, you are just being hurled back into shorter days and the reminder that winter is just around the corner. I’m not ready for this yet—my blood has not even completely thawed from last winter!

Rob did a triathlon over the solstice weekend, and we went to go stay with Aimee and Dr. Y. They moved away about a month ago, and seriously, life has not been the same without them here. They’re not too far away, but still. Not close enough to see every day, or even once a week. It was really, really good to see them and the kids again.

On Saturday morning, Rob did his triathlon. About 5 years ago, Rob was one of the biggest names in the tri-state area of triathlons. An ensuing knee injury put a halt to his budding triathlon career, but he definitely made his comeback last weekend. He did really well in the swim, bike, and run, and he ended up finishing faster than any of his previous sprint tri’s at that location. All of this was pretty spectacular, especially considering that he’s only swum twice since January (the Tuesday and Thursday before the race). Maybe he’ll blog about it on his website, you never know.



Cara and John also came over, so we had a bit of a reunion on Saturday after the race. It was so much fun. The guys did whatever it is they do, and Cara and Aimee and I busied ourselves around town. Much to my joy, we went to the Trader Joe’s. I got a bag of wild arugula—only $1.99.

It hasn’t been all fun and games though. I managed to finish a draft of a results chapter on activity patterns and now am about knee-deep (okay, ankle deep) in the results on diet. Speaking of which, I need to get back to work.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Home sweet home

Rob and I made it back from our San Francisco adventure around 11:30pm last night. For me, the trip home had started at 5:30am, so it was a long day indeed. The biggest calamity was that one of the airlines (United? American? Its hard to say) had decided to search the suitcase that the Dahon (folding bike) was in. They couldn't get it back in there properly (it is very difficult) so they did a half-ass job and couldn't get the suitcase to close. To remedy this, they duct-taped it, but because they had packed it so poorly, one of the spokes poked through the suitcase and essentially ruined it.

When we got home, the house was still standing and everything was okay. I don't know if our neighbors had been watering our garden, or if we've just continued to have an excessive amount of rain, but seriously, everything out there is about knee or waist high. The cucumbers and squash even have flowers on them. Aside from all the weeds that have sprouted up, it looks amazing.

Oh, and to answer a few questions that people (John) have left in the comments. About the captions on the photos. It does not seem that blogger actually allows you to make captions. I just go to the "compose" mode when I'm writing the post, and from there I can center and italicize the text. It only works when the photos are centered; ie, if you put them on the right or left side of the post, there's no way to make a caption under it. And about the chronology. If Rob's sometimes non-chronological posts are confusing, you can always check with mine; I can't imagine that I would ever write something out of order. Of course, if you are just looking at it now, you will have to scroll to the bottom, since Blogger puts most recent posts at the top.

Anyway, this post is boring me, and I've got a list of things to do today that include: laundry, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, returning emails and phone calls, oh and writing my dissertation.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Ragfields in San Francisco: Day 7

Rob got home safely last night from his ride up Mount Tam and decided that Italian food sounded good. I made the executive decision that if we were going to eat Italian in San Francisco, we might as well go to Little Italy. We took a bus up there and wandered around just a little bit before deciding on which place to eat. I ended up getting something really good: a basil tagliatelle in pesto sauce. Nice. I had hoped for some authentic Italian gelato for dessert but it was way too cold out for that. We ended up finding a sweet shop and getting a bit of chocolate to go. It was neat being in “Little Italy.” There were actually a lot of people speaking Italian, which reminded of Nico ☺

Today was our last day in San Francisco, so we knew we had to make the most of it. I had extreme apprehension that Rob was going to convince me to ride my bike somewhere and I would be miserable all day and possibly end up killed. Just thinking about getting on a bike again in this city made me have a panic attack, so we decided to travel by bus and foot today instead.

First, we had breakfast at a place called Café Mason, and then we took the bus over to the Haight-Ashbury district (ie, the Hippie District). We walked around in Buena Vista Park (the entrance had some flowers arranged in a peace sign) for a while and then wandered on up to Golden Gate Park.
Buena Vista Park

Windmill at the west end of Golden Gate Park

After some more wandering, we took a different bus to the ocean—which as you might imagine, was pretty much the highlight of my trip.

Pacific Ocean, Cliff House is to the right

Meli-- airborne and running into the ocean

We finally came back to the Union Station area to have a really great, really late lunch at a place I had seen on Mission Street called The Organic Coffee Company. This place was so fantastic I am going to be dreaming about it for weeks. I had a hummus sandwich that also had avocado on it, which was amazing.

Our time in San Francisco was drawing to a close. Several guidebooks as well as our next door neighbors had told us that a visit to San Francisco would not be complete without an ice-cream treat from the Ghirardelli’s at Fisherman’s Wharf. I was ready to pass on it, but Rob thought we might as well go. To let our lunch settle, we wandered in a few stores downtown and then took a bus up to Ghirardelli’s. The ice cream shop had a huge line out front. We thought, well, we’ve come this far… so we got in the line and tried to decide what to get.

Everything was ridiculously expensive and I do mean absolutely ridiculous. I ended up deciding on a vanilla shake that had some Ghirardelli dark chocolate and raspberry blended up with it. Rob got a chocolate ice cream in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone. It was good, but honestly, probably not worth the ridiculous price that we paid for it. Plus, I am pretty sure that even though I hadn’t been diabetic before, this thing sent me into a diabetic coma, and moreover, my skinny jeans are never going to fit me now. Waaaay too decadent for someone like me. Rich food just tends to make me feel awful. I seriously need to run about 3 marathons to work this thing off. Since we ate the ice cream probably around 4:30 or 5pm, that is probably going to suffice for our dinner.

Rob, waiting for his ice cream. This place was also kind of like a chocolate museum.

Fountain in front of Ghirardelli Square

At any rate, we are just about packed up and ready to go. Although part of me is definitely eager to get back to my real life and get away from the constant busyness and bustle of this city, I am sad to be leaving San Francisco. Already I am planning on coming back next year with Rob for WWDC.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Ragfields in San Francisco (Day 5 and 6)

Day 5 (Thursday 12 June)
In the morning Rob got up early again for a bike ride, and since I was up already, I attempted to run in this city for the first time. I ran up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back, about 4 miles I would estimate. One of the streets I came back on had such a steep hill (it was actually Nob Hill), that the sidewalk was a staircase. It was also a little frustrating because the whole way, I would run about 30 seconds, then get stopped at a stoplight for 30 seconds.

Laura and I met for breakfast after my run. Due to some unfortunate room complications on their first night, Laura and her husband were given complimentary breakfast passes to the swanky VIP lounge for the rest of the week. The guys get breakfast at the conference, so Laura took me as her guest. Very nice, but I am way out of my league here.

After intensive research, Laura and I figured out that there was a bus (actually we found out later it was a train) that would take us directly to the San Francisco Zoo from the big bus/train/subway station just a few blocks away at Union Station. Once we figured out that the L was a train rather than a bus and that we had to go underground to catch it, it was no problem and we zoomed to the zoo.

We wandered the zoo for a good chunk of the day. First we saw some giraffes and then some gorillas and then moved on to the rest of the primates. Laura loves zoos; in fact, she used to work at a zoo, and she knows a lot about many of the animals. I try to get excited about zoos, but really they just make me very, very sad. Even good zoos are still zoos. Animals belong in the wild, not captive and stared at by bratty, spoiled children.

The zoo had an exhibit of howler monkeys which they called “Black Howler Monkeys.” They were actually Alouatta caraya, which are the black and gold howler monkeys that Martin studies in Argentina. These are beautiful, beautiful howlers. They are dichromatic; that is, females are a golden color while males are black. I don’t know why it is, but a lot of zoos have this particular species. There are 10 different species of howlers (depending on who you ask), but for some reason if a zoo has howlers it is invariably Alouatta caraya.

When we came upon the howlers, they were resting in a box at the top of their cage, so we couldn’t see them very well. From what I did see, one of the females was sitting next to the male and grooming him, then eating whatever crud she picked out of his fur. That was amazing for me, because unlike most other primates, the howlers that I study do not groom. I thought this non-grooming was characteristic of all howlers, but Martin was telling me that his species grooms all the time. I couldn’t believe it. The whole year that I watched my monkeys, I only saw them groom maybe 3 or 4 times. Once, a male grabbed a female’s foot and kind of picked at it. She looked at him in confusion for a while, eventually snapped at him, and then he stopped and just lay down next to her.

Everything was pretty tranquilo as we looked at all the different primates. Then all of a sudden we heard this really loud whooping. We surmised that it was the siamangs (a type of lesser ape), which is where we had just come from, but we ran back over there to see and sure enough they were whooping up a storm. The howlers were caged next to the siamangs and eventually all the commotion stirred them from their resting. They started vocalizing and moving around. It was actually hard to hear them what with all the commotion the siamangs were making next door. There was one male and two females. The male's howls were definitely not very loud, and they sounded quite a bit different than my howlers back in Nicaragua. But still a howl is a howl. I stood there and watched them for a long time, totally tuning out everything but the howlers. I kept thinking of Wrinkle Belly and was so glad he had spent his life in the wide open air instead of behind bars in a zoo.

Whooping siamangs

Howlers and siamangs vocalizing

The thought of WB living in a cage like this made me immeasurably sad.

We continued through the zoo, seeing lions, tigers, and bears, oh my. We also flamingos and pinguinos (penguins). In the morning when we had been walking to the zoo from the bus stop, a man leaving his apartment had randomly given us tickets to a “puffer train.” He said he was a donor to the zoo and got all these free passes every month, but he could never use them all. Random. I began to notice that strange, random things like this happened quite frequently whenever I was with Laura. Either that, or people in San Francisco are just generally very friendly, I’m not sure.

The zookeepers hand-fed each of the pings and made sure that every one of them got the proper amount of fish.

Its the lioness that hunts... today she is relaxed though.

All aboard the "Puffer Train." I promise you that Laura and I weren't the only adults unaccompanied by children who rode the train.

After we had seen all the zoo had to offer, we left and boarded the L train back to Union Station. Its a direct ride, but takes something like 40 minutes to get all the way across town. We had plenty of time to plan our next course of action. We decided that we would hop on a cable car at Union Station and run up to the Trader Joe’s I had been to last night. I had seen that Trader Joe’s was selling a locally made, possibly organic (?) wine that was only $5.99. We decided that in the remaining time that we had left in San Francisco, the two of us would be able to polish off a bottle (neither of our husbands drink).

I should also mention that Laura and her husband had each bought week-long city transportation passes, but since her husband was in the conference all day, Laura had decided that the best course of action would be that I use her husband’s pass. So while traveling with Laura, I haven’t paid for any transportation. I have tried repeatedly to pay her for part of the pass or to buy her lunch or lemonade, but it has not been easy. Just about the only thing she’s conceded to was sharing a bottle of wine. The transportation pass has seriously been a huge saver for me. The cable car is $5 each way—as in, it would cost me $10 to take the cable car up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. The city bus is only $1.50 (I realized after my Golden Gate expedition that you’re supposed to get a “transfer” ticket from the bus driver that is good for your return trip… too bad I thought it was like the cable car, where you have to buy tickets each way, and I shelled out another $1.50 for the way home!). At any rate, Laura has been super-generous, and I have really enjoyed hanging out with her. Laura’s husband works remotely and they live far away, but they are thinking of moving to C-U, and I sincerely hope they do! Otherwise, we'll just have to meet in San Francisco once a year.

By the time we managed to catch a cable car back home (it was “rush hour” by this time, and we had to wait through a couple of trolleys before being able to get a seat), the guys were done with the conference, and it was time to figure out dinner.

Rob and I opted for an Indian place near the hotel, and after we got done eating, we came back to the hotel and fell asleep.

Day 6 (Friday 13 June)
I have pretty much done nothing today. Rob and I slept in, and then I paced around trying to figure out what to do for the day. I finally decided to find something for breakfast, and then I wandered through some of the shops in Union Station and in Chinatown again. I got a few little souvenirs, including a pair of red shoes for myself (see post below). I had decided I wanted a pair of these shoes, but was thinking I should get them in black, because that would “go” with more of what I have. The girl in the store told me that I should get red, because red is good luck in China and also because I probably had several pairs of black shoes but none of red and this would be fun and different. I actually don’t have very many black shoes (or very many shoes at all), but I did decide that she was right and went with the red in the end. I have them on and cannot stop looking at them. Red was definitely the right decision.

Around noon I met Rob at the convention center, where the conference was closing down for this year. We had some lunch and then Rob left for a long bike ride up Mount Tamalpais. He said he should be home “around” 5pm. I’ll give him until 6, and then I will probably start calling all the local hospitals.

I hung out with Laura again a little bit this afternoon (we had a glass of that organic wine with some fancy chocolate) and then came back to my hotel room to blog and attempt to learn Chinese from a podcast. (A lot of people speak Chinese here). It was really difficult; maybe I should just stick to Spanish.

Rob’s got about 1 more hour before I have to start to panic. Of course, I just remembered that today is Friday the 13th, and that really doesn’t make me feel any better. I am going to go back to pacing around the hotel room in my new red shoes and hope that the Chinese lady in the shop was right about them bringing good luck.

Thanks for reading!

New Shoes

Posting this just so that Rob gets the "New Shoes" song stuck in his head.

This wasn't exactly an impulse buy; I'd been considering a pair of these shoes since Monday but just hadn't found any in my size. The lady at the shop helped me pick a color by telling me that red is a good luck color in China.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ragfields in San Francisco (Day 4)

First, a couple of photos from last night in Chinatown:
Four apes sitting on a bench

"Uncle" restaurant?

This morning Rob got up before 6am and went for a really long bike ride. I don’t have the details; he’ll probably post his own blog entry about it, but here are a few pictures he took during the ride:
I presume he rode up this hill

Bike Friday on the Golden Gate Bridge

Classic Rob

I had a bit of a slow morning and then ended up meeting with my new friend Laura. Her husband and Rob work together, and Laura has also come to San Francisco to visit. We met with the guys for lunch, and then Laura and I hopped on a bus up to Fisherman’s Wharf. We went to Pier 39, which is apparently where everything is happening. Its got tons of shops and restaurants and sea lions and a carousel.

The Aquarium at the Bay is also on Pier 39, and this was the main reason why Laura and I had wanted to go there in the first place. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Part of the aquarium was a glass tunnel through the bay—as you walked through the tunnel, fish were swimming on all sides of you. All of fish were native to the region. The most interesting thing about this part was the sharks. There were several different kinds, including at least one very large one (I think it was a Seven Gill Shark). It was always really exciting when this guy decided to swim by. I couldn’t help but be retroactively paranoid about the time that Rob did the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and swam in these very waters.

Meli in the tunnel. Note the WFD bag, Aimee!

The very best thing about the aquarium came at the end, when they had all these different tanks of animals that you could actually touch. I petted a sting ray, some sea cucumbers, sea urchins, starfish, and yes, even a shark. It was a 2 year old leopard shark. It felt so cool. If primatology doesn’t work out, I would definitely consider becoming a marine biologist.

Meli petting a leopard shark

After the aquarium, Laura and I spent a long time wandering around the strip of shops on Pier 39. Among the most noteworthy was a place called Chocolate Heaven, where I tried to use restraint.
Something that you must know about me is that I love the bitter of bittersweet.

I got a few non-edible souvenirs at some other shops, again, trying my best to use restraint because of our limited luggage situation. But still, I think its necessary to have a few mementos.

There were a lot of really great views on Pier 39. One of the coolest things was the sea lions, who apparently live right on the pier. I seriously could have stood there watching them for hours. I don't know much about their behavior, other than males seem to be very territorial and aggressive. Here is a photo and some video I took:

And some more photos of Pier 39 and the views:

Laura and Melissa at Pier 39

Laura and I had some dinner (which included San Francisco Sourdough Bread) and then wandered south. We encountered a Trader Joe’s, which is truly the most amazing thing ever. I had never been to one, but I’ve always heard people from big cities like Chicago talk about how great they are. And it was. It was like I had entered my own personal heaven. I could have bought everything in the store. It was all healthy, organic stuff, and it was so (comparatively) cheap. I know if I had one wish, it should be for something like world peace, but I think instead it would be to live in a place with a Trader Joe’s.

We caught a cable car to get back home and planned our adventures for tomorrow. Tentatively it includes breakfast and a trip to the San Francisco Zoo. Stay tuned.