Monday, December 31, 2012

さようなら (sayounara) 2012!

I used to be able to hold a very basic conversation in Japanese, as well as read a fair amount of it,  but now I'm reduced to looking up how to spell "goodbye" in romaji (roman letters). I was actually only a class or two away from being able to minor in Japanese at Eastern. Bah. I also took 3 or 4 years of French in high school and at least 1 full year of it in college. Can't remember much of that now, either. Maybe I'll try to re-learn some of that stuff in the coming year. I was always very good at quickly picking up foreign languages.

Although it's New Year's Eve, we're pretty much treating it like any other weekend night. I don't think we've ever procured a babysitter so we can go to NYE parties or anything - the last time we went to such a party was, I think, in 2002 when we were newly married. I'd probably feel more deprived if I hadn't spent the night at my friend Mary's house the other night. A few of us watched several episodes of Girls, we drank lots of wine and generally had a good time. When I woke up in the morning, however, I wasn't sure if I was still drunk or just really really hungover. After I managed to get stuck in the snow - for a good 30 minutes or so - trying to leave Mary's, I decided that I was just really hungover. If I had still been drunk, the whole stuck car ordeal probably would have been far more amusing than it was. Stupid German car with no snow tires. Grrr. Thankfully, Mary and a friend of her brother managed to push me free of the snow drift I was sort of wedged in. I thought that since I bought Elliot all new snow gear from L.L. Bean super early this year, we were sure to have a dry winter. I thought wrong.

As far as Phudland goes, I've survived the first six months in my chosen thesis lab. Yay! Now, I need to define the goals of my project, in consultation with the PI, in order to come up with a decent proposal over the course of the coming semester. One of the new students will be rotating in our lab starting in January. I think the PI mentioned that he will have her working on some aspect of the fish project, but no one knows exactly what just yet. I'm a little excited at the prospect of quasi-mentoring one of the first-years. For eight weeks, at least, I won't be the newbie and maybe I'll get to feel smart again, like I did when I taught at Eastern and Washtenaw. I can hope anyway.

In 2013, I hope to continue settling in and really start to think of Wayne State as my home away from home. I'm looking forward to going to the national ASM conference in Denver, as well as the Cold Spring Harbor conference in the coming year. I'm also going to try to incorporate more activity into my life and maybe get to the point where I can run a little bit - for exercise and not for my life, as in running from muggers in Detroit or bears up north. That might be nice. I'll have to get my bum knee looked at to make sure I don't injure it further (I have a probable torn meniscus), but it'll be okay. Everything will work out the way it's supposed to. More patience, less twitchy-ness, good health, safety, and happiness; those are a few of my major hopes for 2013 and beyond. I wish the same for everyone reading this, and even those who don't. Be safe and have a Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The worst is finally over!

Christmas is done, bitches! And I couldn't be happier. Ok, I could always stand to be happier, but whatever. I really dislike the stresses of shopping and increased social interaction that come with the holidays. This year, I just couldn't make myself do any shopping until nearly the last minute - after the last "guaranteed delivery for Christmas" shipping deadline for any online retailer had passed. I finally decided to start, yes - start - my Christmas shopping at about 6:00 pm on the 23rd. I took with me a short list of stuff to get, a box of Kleenex (and I'm still sick, even now. This is fucking ridiculous.), hand sanitizer, and I stuffed my driver's license and credit card into my back pocket. I hate wrangling a purse - plus it makes me more of a target for thieves and other ruffians. I think I've actually thwarted one would-be purse snatcher at Meijer by not carrying a purse to be snatched, but I digress...

I started at The Rocket in Ypsi and worked my way over to Target in Canton, then I took a break for dinner around 8:00. Around 9:30 or 10:00, I went to the Westland Mall to check out Kohl's and Macy's, which both totally sucked. I tell you, Macy's is certainly no Hudson's or even Marshall Fields. After the mall, I went to the Toys R Us across Wayne Rd., which is where I probably spent most of my shopping gusto. I love, love, love that Toys R Us is open 24 hrs during the several days preceding Christmas, only finally closing at 10:00 pm on Christmas Eve. I really enjoy shopping late at night, a time when mostly only frantic dads are doing their shopping. Fewer whiny kids with their bitchy overworked mothers. I like it. Anyhow, the moral of the story is that I finished my shopping and was home by 2:00 am. Boom. Done.

Traditionally, we spend Christmas Eve with Chris's dad's side of the family; then on Christmas Day, we open presents at our house before heading off to Chris's mom's house for dinner and gifts. Finally, we go to my mom's house and visit with her and my brother before calling it a very looong day and going back home. I won't bore you with details, but here is a very short pictorial chronology of Christmas celebrations.
My very first Christmas Eve with the Visels. My (then) future father-in-law took this picture of me. I was 16 - note the pink hair.
Elliot at my mom's late on Christmas Day this year. This may have been the last smile we got out of him that night before the "tired tantrums" set in.

There was a very cute picture of Chris at his mom's in a paper crown holding up a Lego set he just built, but he forbade me from posting it online. Although I'm not happy about it, I suppose that I should abide by his wishes. Such is life.

There is nothing worth watching on TV right now. Perhaps I will pop in the first DVD from my Golden Girls box set that Chris gave me for Christmas. If that gift isn't a sign of a man's true love, then I don't know what is.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ms. Crabbypants

Cranky is not really the emotional state I expected to be in after the big department holiday party, but cranky/grumpy/pissy/grouchy, etc. is what I most certainly am right now. I'm guessing there are actually several reasons for this, now that I'm sitting and thinking about the day. A caveat - my reasons are likely not great reasons, but they are mine nonetheless.

I am an introvert and social situations/people in general really stress me out. Unfortunately for me, I am half of the social committee and was responsible for putting this holiday party together. This included food (was up until 2:00 am making the cookies I had stupidly promised to make), drinks, decorations, and all the time-consuming minutiae that goes along with that - standing in line at Meijer longer than it took me to shop, loading the car, unloading the car, hoping I didn't get ticketed, towed - or worse - while parked in front of a "Fire Lane - No Parking or Standing" sign. To be fair, I was the last and least obtrusive of 7 or 8 vehicles that were clogging this fire lane.

Once the party got underway and I got a hold of some social lubricant, the day was mostly enjoyable. Oddly though, as the last handful of us wrapped things up and started leaving to go home, I neither felt happy that I'd had a good time, nor was I even relieved to finally be alone with my thoughts again. I simply felt empty and unconnected to anyone or anything. All I could think was that there really is nothing new under the sun. This is the way my life is going to be until I die - a parade of new faces that come into my life and that I become very fond of and attached to, until it's time to leave and I have to tear myself away to go start the painful process over again somewhere else. Over and over again ad infinitum. And this is the way it's supposed to be, so I'm told. I don't like it.

So that was a vague and rambling diatribe. The seed for it was planted earlier today when an even more cantankerous friend of mine advised me to be careful what I write in my blog posts, lest it come back to bite me in the ass later on. I'm accustomed to being told what to do by this person, who I know only has my best interests at heart, but for some reason today the message really grated on me. Aside from that, there were stupid little things that didn't work out the way I had hoped today. I really wanted to talk science with my PI for a bit, but he had to leave earlier than I expected. I stupidly texted him while I was on my second or third gin/juice/pop concoction, asking if he'd be around tomorrow to discuss my project. No typical "drunk" texting - just science. Now I'm thinking that I'd really rather sleep in and stay home during the day tomorrow, especially if we are supposed to be getting snow. Driving to and from Detroit is enough of a challenge with the usual crazies zooming, drifting, and swerving all around me - I don't feel the need to up the ante with some weather event.

I thought there were more reasons for my shitty mood than what I've just outlined and maybe there are. It could simply be that I'm cranky because I'm old. And old people get tired and cranky late in the day. That must be it. I hope this blog post doesn't come back to bite me in the ass someday, but it probably will, and likely sooner than I think it should.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday lab madness

Today my PI is treating our lab to lunch at The London Chop House somewhere in downtown Detroit. Apparently, it's a yearly lab tradition to go somewhere kind of fancy for lunch before Christmas. I'm not sure how long we'll be out - lunches here tend to run really really long. As in 2-5 hours long. Should be fun once I toss back a drink or two.

Tomorrow is the annual department holiday party. Since I am head of the social committee (I'm really only a puppet for the more socially-minded grad students), I am at least partly responsible for pulling this thing off. Ha! Essentially, people tell me what to do and I (eventually) go do it. We are getting pulled pork and chicken from Slow's BBQ, as well as their macaroni and cheese. The most controversial part of the party plan this year is that we are hiring a bartender. The deal is that unless we hire a bartender ($125 flat fee, 4 hour minimum), our department can be fined $4000 for unauthorized alcohol consumption. The problem with the bartender is that everyone has to supply the alcohol they want served AND each person gets only 2 drink tickets before being cut off. So that means if I bring in a six-pack of beer, this douchebag bartender will only let me have two of my own beers. WTF??! Excessive regulation tends to drive people underground, so in the spirit of fighting unjust oppression my lab mates are planning to hoard liquor in the lab and run our own speakeasy (at the opposite end of the corridor from the party). Bartender or no, there will be drunk grad students. Anyway, I said that I would make cookies (that was a dumb move) and pick up some other supplies, so I have to go to the store after lunch today.

We are also having a white elephant gift exchange, which should be fun. I have a box of rejected Christmas gifts in the basement (any gift that we haven't so much as looked at in at least the last year or longer) that I can choose from. I think I'm going to go with a giant mace gun I got for Christmas last year. When I say gun, I'm not kidding. This thing looks like a starter pistol (it's all black and doesn't say "mace" or anything on the grip, unlike the picture in the link) and it comes with a giant cartridge of mace. Working in Detroit, it sounds potentially useful. However, where the fuck am I going to keep a starter pistol full of mace and still be able to get to it if I need to use it?? Although now that I see how much the damn thing cost, maybe I'll hang on to it. It just looks ridiculous and thus perfect for a white elephant gift exchange.

Ugh. I still have two hours until lunch. I guess I should start catching up my lab notebook. I know that I've threatened to do this before, but I mean it for real this time. I think I've located all of my note scraps and put them in relative order. That's huge. Now let's hope that it all makes some kind of sense when I write everything down where it was supposed to go in the first place.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Recovery and stuff

Nursing a man cold is hard work. It's also extremely boring. I've spent pretty much the entire weekend in bed, with occasional breaks to strap on my feed bag. Never one to settle for mediocrity, I likely took the adage "starve a fever, feed a cold" way too far. Today I felt well enough to get dressed at least. Unfortunately though, I missed Elliot's field trip. His class was going to the Discovery Center in Garden City to conduct a "CSI"-type investigation. When he got home, Elliot told me that it was kind of like Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Hmm. I didn't catch what part of the field trip he was referring to, but I think maybe I should limit his exposure to the police procedural shows.

I think I'll be well enough to go to school tomorrow, but I am really not looking forward to going. I have an IMSD (Initiative for Maximizing Student Development) meeting tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, which is essentially an hour and a half of listening to other students present their research. I need to leave the house between 7:00 and 7:15 to make sure I get there on time, which means that I need to set my alarm for 5:30 and out of bed no later than 6:00. Waaaahhh!! Once I get there, I expect to receive a dressing down for not having registered for the obligatory 10 credits already. I'm supposed to do this 6-8 weeks before the start of the semester, but I always put it off. Then my PI was in Japan for two weeks, and yada, yada, yada...

I need to sit down with my PI and talk about defining the boundaries of my project. One of the classes I have to sign up for is basically the same thing as Proposal Development at Eastern. During the course, I am supposed to write up my actual research project proposal. In June or July of 2013, I am supposed to defend my proposal to the committee I will have chosen. If my proposal is accepted by my committee, then I'll be promoted to doctoral candidate from doctoral student. This promotion is supposed to come with a $1000/year raise. That comes out to roughly $35 a paycheck. I guess that will pay for my parking permit, so I shouldn't complain.

The rest of this week is going to be busy and I don't expect to get much, if any, actual lab work done. I'll write more on that tomorrow or Wednesday, but right now the boys have just come back from the store and my concentration is shot.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Man Colds

I think I have come down with my first official man cold. A man cold is just a regular cold with a lot of unnecessary whining, complaining, and languishing. I can't breathe through my nose, but mouth breathing makes the phlegm rattle in my chest. Sleeping is a thing of the past and I wish I could die and be reanimated when this cold is done with. I don't have the energy to keep typing, so here's a picture of the demon cat under our new Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I should have known...

I should have known by the way the other grad students chuckled when they volunteered to help me load returnables into my car that the job was gonna suck big sweaty donkey balls. Let me back up a little. Our department is having its holiday party next Thursday, and tradition dictates that the new second year student (just me, in this case) is responsible for returning a year's worth of bottles and cans in order to have extra money for food and whatever. My initial thought was to just give the bags of returnables to a bum (never in short supply in Detroit) and give the secretary a wad of cash that I thought would cover the money I would've gotten had I done it the right way. A hot wave of lapsed Catholic guilt washed over me and pushed that really good idea out of my head in favor of actually taking the goddamned bottles to the store like a good girl. First of all, the returnables hardly all fit in my car. My trunk was full, as was the back seat. I just hoped to God that they didn't leak before I got to Meijers. More problems: a full grocery cart only half-emptied my car and I apparently hadn't noticed that the bottle return had been moved from the back of the store to its own separate entrance in the front facade several years prior (runonsentence,anyone??). Chris always takes the mountains of our empty beer bottles back, so I don't even remember the last time I got within 20 feet of a bottle return machine. I think I'll go thank him profusely for taking that one for the team as soon as I'm done with my rant here.

Anyway, after I'd finished storming through the whole store muttering about how upper management must think it's damn funny to hide the fucking bottle return - I had to call Chris to ask where the hell it was - I quickly figured out the reason for the earlier chuckling. Mold. If you've known me for more than 30 seconds, you'll know that my two biggest phobias are mold and parasitic worms - not necessarily in that order (the order tends to flip-flop from day to day). I could (barely) deal with the relatively light coating of mold on the cans in the two single-ply bags. I did have to work really hard to hide the look of horror on my face as I gingerly picked up each disgusting can and tried to throw it into the machine. The machine actually told me to stop throwing cans into it! What?!?! I almost punched it at that point because it just seemed like it was trying to mock me. Then I got to the last bag in my cart. Inside, I found year-old multicolored, dry, sometimes fluffy, and now airborne, mold inside nasty fermenty beer cans, and on the outside of the cans. On the potato chips someone had dumped in, thinking it was trash, as well as in the styrofoam coffee cup. I should have known something wasn't right from the way this bunch of returnables was quad-fucking-ruple bagged!! I almost thought I was trying to rip through a set of Russian nesting dolls. Okay, I thought to myself - this is far beyond my mold-tolerance capacity. I must have stood there for a good two or three minutes deciding what I should do with this bag full of nasty because I was damn sure not touching anything in it. I ultimately decided that I would grudgingly load the bag back in my car (there were no dumpsters around), drive it home, and put it in the trash toter. Sorry Mother Earth, but I think the thick coating of filamentous saprophytes will have to do the recycling here because it ain't gonna be me. I decided that the biohazardous waste I disposed of was worth about $10, which I gladly took from my wallet and put in the envelope with the money from the things I could actually stomach returning. Shhhhh!! No one (except for you, lucky readers) has to know about this little indiscretion. That is, until the holiday party when I will inevitably get wasted and want to tell a funny story. Ugh.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Back Again

Hey, what do you know? I'm not dead! I know I haven't written in a very long time. I guess I felt kind of burned out on all the introspection I had to do in order to write. I just didn't want to think about anything substantive and I got wrapped up in doing mundane lab stuff. I've discovered that I really enjoy stuffing pipette tip boxes. It's monotonous, I don't have to engage my brain at all, and I manage to get something accomplished for the lab. It's win-win for everyone. Two things I really don't care for, however, are taking care of the biohazard waste and filling the water carboys. Biohazardous waste is gross, the bag is heavy, and it usually leaks so it really isn't a surprise that I don't like it. Because the fancy Milli-Q water machine is in the fish lab (one floor up from me), we have to schlepp the carboys upstairs, fill them, then try to get them back downstairs somehow. The first time, I used a cart. That took too long because I had to call the elevator and wait. The second time, I carried the full 50 pound carboys downstairs, hoping that my messed-up knee wouldn't give out and I wouldn't fall down the stairs and die. Fortunately, I didn't fall down and die, but my arms and hands felt like spaghetti for quite a while and were sore through the following day. 

I don't know what to say about my research or how to say it so that it makes sense to anyone, including myself. I need some time to think about what the hell I'm doing before I commit anything to "paper" (blog post). My PI said that we need to sit down and clarify the bounds of my project, but he's in Japan until next week, so...I need to figure out what I should do this week. One thing I'm doing that I'm really excited about is learning how to do histology on zebrafish. That includes all of the fixing, embedding, slicing, staining, and imaging. I asked the tech in the fish lab to show me how to do it. I think tomorrow I learn how to slice the fish I fixed last week into sections. I really like the fact that I get to do stuff that goes beyond culturing bacteria and doing molecular genetics. I feel like I'm learning some valuable skills that will make me a more well-rounded scientist. And a more marketable one to boot.

One thing writing apparently does NOT do is deter Chris from trying to talk to me about Christmas gifts for my mom and my brother. I don't want to think about Christmas and I wish it would just go away. I am ready to just buy a Festivus pole and get ready for the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength. Ugh. I go through this every year and I wish I didn't have to. I wish I was happy and easy-going like other people seem to be. But I'm not. I suppose that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence - until you jump the fence and see that the grass there is just as brown as your own.

I've had enough and I suspect that you have too. Here's an idea for you to ponder. If there's something that you want me to write about, tell me. The topic could be anything, but even I'm up for a challenge now and again.