Saturday, July 29, 2006

Six Months Ago

Six months ago today I did the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. I drove to Moffitt Cancer Center knowing I was going to say good bye to my friend forever. I didn't know Randy would pass away that day, but on that excruciatingly long trip (which in reality was a little over a mile long) I realized I just couldn't do it again. I decided to make peace with my decision and say good bye.

They say that time heals all wounds, and for the most part this is correct. I am able to think about Randy and smile, dream about him and enjoy it. I am able to recognize that there are milestones that he should have been a part of (like Cheesehead becoming Dr. Cheesehead) without my angst completely ruining it for me. What I never expected was that six months later there would still be the occasional moment where my grief washes over me like a wave, eroding a piece of my hard exterior.

After Randy passed away, his mom gave me his digital piano. She felt he would have liked for me to have it. I can only hope she was right. This was a selfless and generous gift and I attempted to express my gratitude despite my already raw emotions. I am now aware of where Randy got his tendency to share whatever he had. I told her I would never ever play Randy's piano without thinking of him. Six months later that is absolutely true.

The day the piano came home with me, runnergirl helped me move it. Since it is a digital piano, it has features like recording and playing back music. We plugged it in to make sure it was working properly. I think we simultaneously looked at the playback button wondering if Randy was still there somewhere. She pressed it and there he was, playing some unidentified but dramatic and glorious chords on the pipe organ setting. How a propos.

I didn'’t blog about the piano when I first got it. I meant to, and I brought it up once in passing, at which time one of you called me on it. Very honestly, I was at a time when I was getting sick of being depressing- all gloom and doom. I use this blog to express myself, but I do have an obligation to my readers to not make all you as sad as I was. So I figured I'’d wait awhile and that I'd know when the time was right.

I knew having the piano would make a difference in my life. I never guessed that it would bring so much joy to my whole home. When I am alone before Dean comes home in the evening, I play with abandon, sometimes opening up the glass door to the balcony to let the music be as free as I feel in that moment. When Dean is home, I am still meek, playing somewhat tentatively, quietly, deliberately. But no matter how many times I stumble over my own fingers, I finish a song and see Dean looking at me amazed. "That was beautiful!" He never loses enthusiasm or awe for my talent and passion. But at all times it is Allison that seems to get the most from the piano. As soon as the lid comes up she is weaving though my legs, purring furiously.She'’ll jump up on the top, rub her face on the books, and roll around on her back, looking at me with nothing but pure happiness on her sweet face seemingly saying, "Thank you! Thank you!"” Without the piano I would have no idea she was so musical. Dean would have little appreciation for Beethoven, Lizst and Chopin.

I was afraid that I would be too overcome with grief and flooded with emotion to enjoy the piano. I thought I would always associate it with the horrible feeling of losing a close friend. I resolved to not let that happen, so it never has. I've always thought of it as a present from Randy to me. And Dean. And Allison. Thank you, Randy, from all of us.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Your Tax Dollars: Scientific Progress through Inebriation

I was sitting in the lab the other day when the program manager (Mr. B) for my fellowship and another NSF fellow came in. The reason they came in is unimportant.

Mr. B: "Hey, Natalie."

Me: "Hey! What's up?"

Mr. B: "Tom, you've met Natalie, right?"

Tom: "Of course! Natalie and I got sauced together at the spring poster symposium!"

Me (blushing): "Gotta love the free alcohol at those things..."

Mr. B: "That's exactly why we supply it. So you scientists will actually talk to one another."

It works.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Emotional Wreck

I am not a happy girl. Postdoc's last day is Monday. He is going back to India on Thursday. I think today was supposed to be his last day but he isn't close to finishing up all he wanted to before leaving.

Postdaoc is my closest friend in the lab. I have my boys that I joke around with and make crude jokes with, but Postdoc and I are like research soulmates. We think on the same wavelength as well as compliment eachother's strengths. We've published several papers together and he always remarks what a great team we make. Plus I've grown extremely close to his wife and young daughter who is about the cutest kid ever.

I know that I should be happy for him. He got a good position at his alma mater, the University of Hyderabad, and he'll only be a couple hours from his parents which makes it wonderful for his daughter. But doesn't he care about me?! I can't believe he'd give up shitty pay, a small apartment, poor health insurance, very little prestige, and a neurotic, whiny co-dependent graduate student (ahem) to go back to his homeland.

We have liquid helium this week and he has told me to try to manage it without his help. Everything is screwing up. The computer keeps crashing. It took me 24 hours to reaalize I mounted my sample wrong. When the magnet works it's giving me noisy data. I just can't do it without him. I don't understand why he won't stay just for me.

Last week we met with another research associate, Dr. W, in the department that has done some collaborating with us before. He's supposed to help out with a new batch of samples from Spain. He, Postdoc and I outlined a stratedgy which I am supposed to complete while staying in close contact with Postdoc. Then I realized postdoc had contacted Dr. W with the intention of gently handing me off to him. When this dawned on me, I called him on it.

"Did you get Dr. W involved just to hold my hand?"

Dr. W, "Well, don't think of it like that. Not that I wouldn't mind holding your hand..."

"I can't believe this. First you're leaving me and now you're shoving me off on someone else."

Postdoc spent quite awhile consoling me after that. Don't get me wrong. I adore Dr. W. But he's not my Postdoc and we don't have a research groove yet. I know I will have to be patient and give it some time. And try to be happy for my friend.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Time to Get Political

I don't normally go on political rants, but I am so upset right now that I just need to vent.

President Bush just exercised the first veto of his presidency,putting a stop to any hope of government money going to research on stem cells taken from frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics. Not that this is directly related to my rant, but the religious right likes to use phrases like "murder" to describe doing research on a mass of approximately 100 human cells. If you are deeply religious and this is what you believe, I respect that (disagree, but respect). Unfortunately because our leader subscribes to this belief system, scientific progress on stem cells in this country will be stunted. And our leaders wonder why we are slipping from the ranks of international scientific super powers.

Lets look at this logically. The senate (technically) exists to carry out the will of the people. They work for us, right? So when they pass a bill with a 63-37 vote, they are basically saying that the American people want this bill passed. Sorry to the more religiously inclined folks, but majority rules. Especially in a democracy. So why should the President impose his religious beliefs on the lawmaking process? Isn't that pretty much the definition of a violation of separation of church and state?

I don't want to go in to things like when life begins, or if and when the soul exists. That argument gets very ugly very fast. I don't even want to go in to how many millions of people could someday benefit from stem cell research because the bill doesn't ban the research per se, just the federal funding which is itself a HUGE deal.

Let's look at it from another perspective. I think the president (besides kissing the great big hiney of the religious right) is going with his gut instinct on this one. I think he truly believes embryonic stem cell research is wrong. If he comes away with anything from his terms in office, it should be that he has about the worst gut instinct of anyone on the planet. With the war going as it is and his approval rating the lowest of any president since Nixon, at this point he should be doing the exact opposite of what his beliefs are.

On NPR's "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!" Sunday, they described Stuart Baker, a man at the White House who's title is "Director of Lessons Learned". I think he had better be taking careful notes today.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


"More often a king weds a commoner
Than a physicist makes a housewife,
For they only are versed in phenomener
That have nothing to do with real life."

~Tom Lehrer
Don't Major in Physics

Monday, July 17, 2006

Too Busy to Think for Myself

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Sorry, readers. I've been too busy to have a chain of coherent thoughts and write them down all at once. Until I can collect myself, take a deep breath and communicate in a reasonable manner, stimulate you mind with this article out from the St. Petersburg Times this Sunday. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Law a little fuzzy

Courts aren't inclined to consider what's best for the animal when ownership is at issue. Legally, that lovable sack of fur is just a piece of property. Some new cases will test that.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published July 16, 2006

Every evening, Maximo the Afghan hound gets fresh meat and vegetables. His weekly bath includes two shampoos, conditioner and a blow-dry.

“This dog is treated like a kid here,” Joan Beerman said of the care Maximo gets at her Tampa home.
But when a judge considers later this month whether Joan and Fred Beerman violated a verbal custody agreement they had with Maximo’s breeders, the dog’s welfare won’t have much legal standing.

People may treat their dogs like children, but the law doesn’t.

The issue of pets as property is playing out in courthouses nationwide as people separated from pets during Hurricane Katrina now are trying to pry loose their animals from adoptive homes.

In a highly publicized local case, Hillsborough prosecutor Pam Bondi will go to trial in November to fight to keep a St. Bernard from owners she believes didn’t properly care for it before the storm.

Cases like hers are being closely watched by animal rights activists and animal law experts, who say judges could carve new precedent if they consider a pet’s best interests when deciding who gets to keep it.

“There is a major problem right now,” said David Favre, who teaches a course on animal law at Michigan State University. “Whether or not you treat something right, if it’s property, simply is not relevant.”

Try convincing adoring pet owners of that. The law may check emotion at the door, but people who endure hefty legal bills and prolonged court battles on behalf of their animals don’t equate them with a car or a couch.

Take, for example, the Beermans. The couple, both in their early 70s, have spent $5,000 on attorney’s fees since getting served with an injunction three years ago by their dog’s breeders. The breeders, Michael Cuevas and Jesus Llano, said the Beermans were planning to sneak Maximo out of town and have him neutered.

The Beermans, who wanted to groom Maximo as a show dog, said they had planned no such thing.

The two sides settled last year on an agreement that required the Beermans to allow Maximo’s semen to be collected twice a month and to notify the breeders prior to visits to the vet, Joan Beerman said.

The couple stopped showing the 5-year-old champion dog because they said they feared that Cuevas and Llano would try to nab it.

Now the Beermans are headed back to court. Cuevas and Llano want the dog back, alleging that the Beermans violated the agreement.

“We’ve gone through a lot of aggravation and expense to keep this dog,” Joan Beerman said. “We just want to keep him and keep him safe.”

A few areas of the law have distinguished pets from property, but not always with success.

Some judges in divorce cases have set up visitation schedules for divorcing spouses quibbling over custody of their pets, which don’t fall under child custody rules.

Such agreements run into two problems: They’re frequently violated and appellate courts often overturn them. In a 1995 case out of Duval County, the 1st District Court of Appeal said a dog named Roddy must be evenly distributed like any other marital property.

“It’s really quite a step to abandon the property mode and treat the dog like a child,” said William Reppy Jr., a law professor at Duke University, one of about 60 law schools in the country that offer classes on animal law. “There are some cases where this is happening but it is by agreement” between the spouses and their attorneys.

In the Duval case, appellate judges did not mince words on the difference between pets and children.

“Our courts are overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation and support matters related to the protection of our children,” the opinion read. “We cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.”

As animal rights activists continue to push for what they believe the law should be — that is, animals are different from property — folks who love the furry critters among us carry out their own versions of justice.

Last November, Tara Hood rescued a flea-ridden, food-starved kitten off the street outside her building contractor business in Tampa. She cleaned it, got its shots and made an appointment to have it spayed.

Two weeks later, a couple showed up claiming she had stolen their pet. Within days, there was a warrant out for her arrest. People picketed outside her office at rush hour. One protestor’s sign said “Tara Hood is a thief.”

Facing arrest, Hood still hesitated to relinquish the cat. She believed its initial owners should have had it spayed and kept it inside, away from the busy city streets.

“People are like, 'Why don’t you just give the dog or cat back?’ ” she said last week.

Hood, who has fostered cats for five years, returned the cat, mostly because she began to worry for her personal safety. Hillsborough’s animal services department also promised to keep an eye on it.

“My concern was for the cat,” she said. “It’s honestly a true love of animals.”

In the tangles between Katrina pet owners and those who took in their lost pets, similar fact patterns are emerging, said Favre, who runs a comprehensive Web site on animal law.

On one side are those who argue they never intended to abandon their pets. They include Steven and Dorreen Couture, a New Orleans couple who sued Bondi of Tampa and Rhonda Rineker of Dunedin for refusing to return the dogs they were separated from during the hurricane.

Same goes for Thomas Exnicious III, a New Orleans man who is waging his own court battle to reclaim his chihuahua named Tricksy. The North Carolina woman who adopted Tricksy won’t give it back out of concern for the dog’s well-being, court records show.

“It is regrettable that we have to take this severe an action on behalf of a family that has already suffered enough,” said Carrie Ryan, a Charlotte, N.C., lawyer who is representing Exnicious.

On the other side are the adoptive owners like Bondi. She said she would have driven her adopted St. Bernard back to New Orleans herself if it didn’t have heart worms, which she believes indicates the dog didn’t receive needed medication before Katrina.

If judges stick to a strict construction of dogs as property, the new owners’ argument won’t go far, experts said.

“They have absolutely no right to keep the dog,” Reppy, the Duke professor, said of post-Katrina owners. “You can’t lose your ownership in an emergency when the state of mind is so clear. It’s just preposterous.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

You Know you're a Physicist When... put the ground coffe beans in the basket, fill the coffee maker with water, set the pot aside (rather than under the dripper), turn the coffee maker on and proceed to go take a shower.

You Know you're a Cat Owner When...

...after mopping a huge puddle of coffee up off the floor you absentmindedly toss the roll of paper towels aside into the hallway and grab the Lysol Sanitizing Wipes (by the way, possibly the best invention of the 21st century) only to later look up and see Nellie, resident huntress, tearing at the roll of paper towels, shredding it with her teeth and raking at it with her back claws.

I think it's going to be a messy day today.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I Just Called to Say I love You, Baby Jesus

In a previous post, I alluded to the fact that my stepdad's sister lived next door to Joe Mauer (or as Deano calls him, Baby Jesus). I say lived because she sold her town house recently. I am furious about it. I had a small connection to the best player in baseball right now. And he's hotter than hell. And he lives with Justin Morneau, who is on pace to break Harmon Killebrew's single season homerun and RBI records for the Twins (now I call Justin "Baby Harmon"). My aunt let that all slip away when she sold that house. I don't even care that she doesn't like baseball.

When I was in Minneapolis I was giving her a complete verbal beat down about selling her house. "How could you do this to me?!" I kept asking. To soothe my pain and pacify my ranting, she flipped open her cell phone and and looked up Joe Mauer (she's called him several times for autographs to auction off for charity through her work). Then she gave me his number. So now that she doesn't live next to him anymore, I still have a little connection with him, and I am satisfied with it. But I promised myself I would never ever call the number. Well, maybe once from a pay phone during a game just to hear what his outgoing voicemail message sounds like. Maybe.

Anyway, I've sort of thought of having his number in my cell phone as my little secret. My one-up on the other Twins fans. And I've been responsible with it.

Well tonight, we went to eat at Tijuana flats and then went to Barnes & Noble. Our usual Friday date. At Barnes & Noble I realized I didn't have my cell phone. I assumed I had either left it at home or at the lab, so I wasn't in too big of a hurry. When we got home, I used Dean's phone to call mine to make sure it wasn't in the apartment. I let it ring a couple times and then headed to the lab. In the lab I didn't see it, so I called it again. It rang once and then I heard,

"The Cingular customer you are trying to reach is currently on the phone."

My stomach dropped. Someone has my phone, and they are talking on it right now.


Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. That person now has Joe Mauer's phone number and is obsessively calling him to the point where Joe will confront ME about it. He will hate my guts, as will my aunt and then Joe will change his number. All because of me having to have his number in my phone, which I managed to lose. Less than a week after I got the phone. And the number. Oh my God.

Well, I haven't heard anything from Joe, even though he's been busy getting his ass kicked along with the rest of the team by Texas. But My dad called Dean to say that a woman had found my phone and called him from it to find out who/where I was. I finally called my phone and got a hold of her. She found it in the Tijuana flats parking lot. Interesting tidbit: The Motorola RAZR is very resilient and can handle being dropped.

I met up with her at a bar to get it back. She told me she was drinking at the bar she usually works at. I thought it would be dumb to buy her a drink since she probably drinks for free anyway. So I brought her a small bag of my coveted truffles. I hope she appreciates them. She was very nice and it's great that there are people like her in the world.

And I'm changing Joe's name in my phone book from "Joe Mauer" to "Baby Jesus". Just in case.

Excitement for grown ups

Tomorrow I'll be 27.

While I was in Minneapolis many people chose that time to give me birthday presents, which as usual included a couple Target gift cards. When I was a much poorer struggling graduate student (it already feels like lifetimes away) the gift of getting an entire Target trip paid for was luxurious. But now that I am a prestigious NSF fellow, I decided to use my Target gift cards for a couple things I didn't actually need but could use nonetheless. This included a new cutlery set which I am waaaay too excited about. When Dean suggested we go to Tijuana Flats for dinner tonight, I responded with, "But I was hoping to chop stuff tonight!" I used the balance to pay for a salad spinner which I am also distrubingly excited about.

Also for my birthday Dean bought me a short, long bookshelf for me to put my piano books on. It is in the same finish as the piano itself so that even we have have a house someday (hopefully...) even if it doesn't match the woodwork it will match the piano.

The other part of my birthday present consists of attending the Ft. Myers Miracle game to obtain a Bill Murray bobblehead. This was purely my idea. I cannot pass up an oportunity to get a bobblehead in the likeness of Dr. Peter Venkman. I know, the bobblehead isn't Venkman, but I love Bill Murray and the story behind the bobblehead day is kinda cool.

We are spending the night in Ft. Myers for three reasons.

1. To not have to drive two hours after the game.

2. To drink beers at eat Uno's pizza because we don't have Uno's in Tampa.

3. Because every year for my birthday we stay at a different beach.

Runner Girl took me out to lunch today for my birthday and my undergraduate student is taking me to lunch on Monday. I am loved and spoiled. And almost 27.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another Battle Lost

Sue's official title was Office Manager, though it could have easily been Mother Hen the way she took care of us grad students. Every question we had, every time we felt lost in bureaucratic hoop-jumping, it was "Go to Sue. She'll know what to do." She cared about each one of us. No matter how fast the family grew, she kept up, even asking us senior students about alumni, "What's So-and-so up to? Did So-and-so's wife have the baby? How's Dr. So-and-so doing at the new job?" She organized the holiday parties and the summer picnics (and made sure we never ran out of beer!). And since she went into the hospital, diagnosed with cancer a couple months ago, us chicks have been lost.

It was nearly six months ago now that I was sitting in her office, giving her details of Randy's memorial service, directions to the funeral home, where to send donations so she could pass information to faculty and students. Both of us still in shock, we proceeded to do what too many of us do nowadays. We exchanged stories of people we have known who have succumbed to this horrible disease, not knowing it was killing her as we spoke.

She was one of the first people I met in Florida, one of the only people who truly made me feel like there were people watching out for me in this big, new scary city. As such, I am certain she is still looking out for somebody, somewhere. But right here, right now, Sue is missed very much.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Bitch is Back

Hey Faithful Readers!

Thanks for coming back and hanging in there while I was gone. I had every intention of blogging while I was away, but my time was absolutely packed and I didn't want to miss seeing any one of my family and friends. This vacation was not just wonderful, it was essential. I hadn't realized just how stressed out I was from work. I don't think I need to say this: I love being a scientist, I love being Dean's fiancee and the kitties' care giver. But it was so wonderful to just step out of those roles for awhile and step into some of my old roles- daughter, big sister, friend, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and Minnesotan.

I have struggled with my feelings for my former home for close to four years now. There are many things I missed, but just as many things I was happy to get away from. This trip though, I rekindled some of my love for the city of Minneapolis. I was able to appreciate the lakes, the independent restaurants, the culture and the zoo! I also made it to TWO Twins games (Johan pitched and won both of them) and got revved up for the new stadium. For the first time since I left, I could actually entertain the thought of moving back.

I spent lots of quality time with my family. My (not so) little cousin graduated high school and I scheduled my trip to coincide with his party. My grandpa is the oldest of thirteen, so family functions are always big and lively. This one was no exception! I also was able to spend some alone time with my aunt (cousin's mom) and her daughter. We went to the lake and had a picnic with their party leftovers and watched a female turtle crawl up on the beach to lay her eggs. The next day I spent the day with my grandpa and grandma catching up and playing with their new kitten.

Of course I spent lots of time with my parents as well- lots of shopping and baseball with Mom, drinking wine and buying truffles with Dad. And a day with my future in-laws!

And I couldn't go to Minnesota without seeing my dear girlies. We had a long and extravagant dinner at the Melting Pot followed by a few hours at the piano bar, where they requested the name of this post for my welcoming tune. It was a fantastic time.

I don't want to spend too much time with details of my trip, many of you were there for it. But as I hinted at earlier, it opened my eyes a little bit and gave me a new perspective on things. I have a feeling you will be reading more about that later .