40, belated, and onward from here

Sometime during the dismal winter from hell, I heard that my favorite band ever – Rush – was doing a tour to mark their 40th anniversary. Although the show was months away, I told Michael that tickets to R40 were pretty much THE perfect birthday present for someone who’s also turning 40. And because he’s the best ever, he not only made that happen, but he made sure to get comfy club seats for the occasion.

i truly wish my phone didn't take such shitty low light photos.

i truly wish my phone didn’t take such shitty low light photos. on the other hand, i felt justified to just bliss out and enjoy the show, rather than fight to get anything better than this.

I spent my Tuesday evening having my mind blown, again. Just like the last time I saw Rush, I don’t even really have words for what an amazing experience it is. They say they won’t tour again; there’s also rumors that they will. I hope it’s not the last time I get to see these virtuosos work their musical magic on a laser-lit stage. But if it is, as my husband put it, I could be content with what I’ve seen, because that show was BREATHTAKING in its awesomeness. Just… wow.

(For fellow Rush fans – and posterity – a setlist is at the end of the post.)

And the belated-birthday fun didn’t begin or end with the epic show (though it certainly could have – seriously, what a show!). After weaving our way through the hordes leaving the Garden, we stopped in Quincy Market for a nightcap and a delicious flatbread pizza dotted with prosciutto and figs. The evening began with, among other things, a dozen of my favorite bivalves, at a cute little joint called Rabia’s, in the North End.

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mmm, mollusks

I’ve spent the past 2 years researching CRISPR-Cas systems in Enterococcus species. Since I’ve decided to stay on for a PhD (OH YES I HAVE), my focus will have to shift along with our new funding, and I’ll soon be working with oysters. Yep, oyster microbiology. Because there’s these nasty little bacteria you may have seen popping up in the news – Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus, cousins of the bacterium that causes cholera – these bugs can kill the oysters and sicken the people who eat them.

(Also, if you have a sensitive stomach, do not Google V. vulnificus. It’s been nicknamed the “flesh-eating bacterium” for a reason.)

Anyway, I work with people who have sworn off eating the mollusks they study. I know others who steadfastly stick to the conventional wisdom of only eating oysters in “R” months (colder waters = fewer vibrios).

I, on the other hand, like to live dangerously and deliciously.

After all, throwing caution to the wind seems to be my MO. I see opportunities, and I think, “Why not?” Five years ago, I ditched my life, drove 900 miles to Boston with a pair of screaming cats in the backseat, and my crazy life has never been better. This latest opportunity became more and more tantalizing, the more I thought about it, even though it means a complete change of focus, and even though it also means that all of my work for the past 2 years “doesn’t count,” in a sense.

So, here’s to crazy new adventures – can’t wait to see where this takes my next 40 years!

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Setlist for 6/23/2015 in Boston, MA:
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I GET IT NOW.

On a much lighter note…

I have largely dismissed the mason-jar-lunch craze as the domain of over-enthusiastic environmental zealots. I think I can be forgiven for that. There is an awful lot of fuss about plastics, most of which I ignore because, well, I’m lazy. If you talk about toxic things leaching into my food, you’d better also hand me something scientific to back it up (or I will lump you in the same category as people who refuse to eat corn, sugar, or gluten, for no reasons other than some bullshit they heard on The View). I spend an awful lot of time in my 7 days/week looking up microbiology-science, and what little time I have left is generally not spent looking up any other kind of science. You know?

But I love to eat, and you can get my attention very quickly by promising to improve the quality and/or convenience of my lunch. I like salads for lunch, but you just cannot pack them ahead of time, because everything goes wilty, soggy, or slimy. And, like I said, I’m lazy. Who the hell wants to go through the work of making a fresh salad every single morning?

Somewhere – I can’t find it now – I read that I could pack my salad in a mason jar, and it would stay fresh all week. What?! Really? Intrigued, I bought a pack of pint-and-a-half jars, and I filled them with a simple veggie salad: celery, radishes, cucumbers, snap peas, grape tomatoes, and a mix of baby kale and spinach.

kinda pretty, actually.

kinda pretty, actually.

That was last Sunday, June 7. I had a weird week of not feeling great, and so I still had one salad left yesterday, a full week after they were packed.

How did it hold up?

pardon the shitty phone pic; i was far more interested in eating the salad than taking photos of it.

pardon the shitty phone pic; i was far more interested in eating the salad than taking photos of it.

I had to throw out one leaf of spinach. That’s it. The greens were still crunchy, the tomatoes were still firm, the radishes had not turned everything pink – even the cucumbers, which I’ve had go slimy in salads within a couple days, were totally fine.

So, color me converted! Viva la mason jar! Now my head is a-whirl with other possibilities – will they keep cut fruit fresh for a week too? Is this a better food storage option for leftovers, in general? I mean, it’s not like I don’t have 64925693462 half-pint canning jars kicking around, from back in the day when I used to actually have time to preserve things.

What other nifty ideas have I dismissed as dumb fads?

this should never have happened, but…

By now, most likely, you have encountered at least one account of scientist Tim Hunt, who referred to his female counterparts as love-hungry crybabies. He later apologized for offending people, but not for being a chauvinist a-hole. Unsurprisingly, he also doesn’t acknowledge that he got a Nobel, at least partly, thanks to the work of women. (Clarification: He thanked said women in his Nobel acceptance speech, but seems to have forgotten about their contributions in the 14 years since.)
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I’ve been on the internet since 1997. I’ve said a lot of dumb things to a lot of people. But it took me referring to a Nobel laureate as “a disgusting prick and an embarrassment to science” on Twitter to finally get my very first troll, who reminded me that I have accomplished nothing with my life, and told me to “Get. A. Grip.”

I get a grip every day, babycakes… on a pipettor, in my lab… teaching and mentoring some of the brightest young women I’ve ever met. These girls are not swooning and crying. They are studying what turns bacteria into pathogens, and sequencing viral genomes. These girls are badass and, someday, they’re going to save your life or improve your planet.

Yeah, I probably should have picked a more politically-correct descriptor of Sir Tim Hunt, and I hope that doesn’t bite me in the ass someday when I’m trying to get published or tenure or whatever. But trust me, what I called him was very tame compared to what I was thinking.

I have been in this lab since January 2013. In that time, myself included, we’ve had 13 lab researchers, 9 of whom have been women. This is no “affirmative action,” no conscious effort to include girls in STEM. My PI uses his undergraduate course as a screening tool, picking out the best, brightest students to be in his lab. (That’s how I got there.) It just so happens that those students are predominantly female.

I have directly mentored 11 of them. The women have been highly motivated, conscientious in the lab, obsessively precise in their analyses. They are driven. We demand a lot, and they never complain. They work hard, pulling 10-hour days, giving up nights and weekends for research. They take criticism in stride. They motivate and inspire me with their dedication to getting the project done, and done right.

So, I thank Tim Hunt for being a sexist asshat (in front of journalists who promptly made sure it went viral), because it was a perfect reminder of how fortunate I am. My PI, and my university, believe strongly in encouraging good science, regardless of the gender of the person performing it. This has not only given me the opportunity to do my science;  it has also provided me with the honor and privilege of guiding other awesome women to do their science. I take all of that for granted, and I should not.

It all could have been very, very different. Sadly, there are a lot of Tim Hunts in this world, and in science.

If you’d like to see the brilliant response of scientists to these blatantly idiotic comments, check out this summary, or the hashtag #distractinglysexy on Twitter.

A P.S. to my troll: In case this was TL;DR for your wee little third-grade brain, I am a scientist who, in addition to my own work in pathogen evolution, trains other scientists, men and women. I may never win a Nobel, but one of them very well might. What have you done for the world lately?

wrapping up may

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summer colors! pity they didn’t last.

Another month down… and only 3 months to go! The scarf is 3/4 finished! Part of me is shocked at my own self: I never would have imagined that I’d last this long on such a monotonous project. Then again, I suppose that mindless knitting has been perfect for the past 9 crazy, hectic months.

Although we had a few hairy moments (like discovering the day before the poster was to be printed that we’d made it the wrong size), one of the students I mentor finished up her project, presented her research, and graduated with honors.

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Lab material completely graded, lab grades calculated and sent to the professor, all that was left was proctoring and grading the final exam. That was an unexpectedly positive experience, thanks to the “gimme” question that the professor tacked onto the end of the exam.

if 2 students out of 19 thought that i did a good job, i feel like i probably really DID.

if 2 students out of 19 thought that i did a good job, i feel like i probably really DID.

I even managed to ace that microbial ecology class.

With all of that done, I’d earned a few blissful days off – Wednesday through Sunday, to finish off May. Miracle of all miracles, even the weather cooperated, so I got my first beach day of the year.

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I spent most of the 5 days simply laying around the house, though, honestly. It just felt so damn good to be doing absolutely nothing. I didn’t even think about science.

And on Monday – a barely-50-degree, rainy June 1 – May over, break over, back to campus, and “summer” begins.

ahh, the first scientific failure of the summer!

ahh, the first scientific failure of the summer!

University-wide, the summer internship programs started on Monday. Our intern is – how is it put in Mary Poppins? – practically perfect in every way? Yes, that would be her. She’s responsible and willing to work, she’s genuinely nice, and she’s had so much prior lab experience that, on Day Four (today), she’s already working in the lab unsupervised. Bonus? She knits! I mean, as a mentor, how can I get any luckier?

Being completely serious, she’s making my job very easy this summer, and that’s always a welcome thing. Maybe I’ll even have time, energy, and focus to knit more! (Right!)

happy birthday, dad

Dad would have been 62 today.

After we all bailed from the Jehovah’s Witness thing, and he and my mom split up, his birthday celebration became a big cookout for family and friends on Memorial Day. He loved his cookouts, let me tell you! All the cleaning and cooking and prep was irrelevant. He loved few things more than cooking for the people he cared about the most.

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i was going to caption this “dad’s birthday cookout, 2000″ and i realized you can see that. because he “ruined” all of his pictures by date-stamping them. it took me *forever* to convince him to stop doing that.

This year it’ll be 9 years since he died – so this is the 8th birthday he’s been gone – and none of this has been a problem until this year. I was a gloomy, weepy disaster on Memorial Day. I cried watching our town’s hilariously tiny parade, for fuck’s sake.

Part of this, I think, is that I’ve been agonizing over the PhD decision, which is no longer a “maybe,” but a real opportunity. It’s something that will directly affect the next 3-5 years and, undoubtedly, alter the direction of the rest of my life – in other words, the kind of dilemma I would have talked over with Dad, the person who knew my brain better than anyone else.

After discussing 2 weeks of semester-endings and life-altering propositions with my therapist, I spent yesterday afternoon on the beach, soothed by warm sunshine and rolling waves. Walking home, I knew exactly what Dad would have said about the decision, clear as day. I could almost see that ridiculously-proud, ear-to-ear grin. I could almost hear him say, “There is nothing you can’t do, Little Girl.”

I miss him in a hundred small ways every week, and I’m sad when I think about all that I’ve accomplished since 2006 that he never got to see. But I’m surprisingly okay today. I think he would have liked that, too. Happy birthday, Dad. <3

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april

Check out those warmer temperatures, finally!

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Life since my last post has been… well, a whole lot of writing. In the interest of sanity, I worked ahead on the final paper for my microbial ecology class; it’s due in chunks, but I wrote the whole draft in one shot. I analyzed a TON of data that I finally – FINALLY – can call completely finished. Then I knocked out the first draft of that manuscript.

Not surprisingly, this has been murder on my hands and wrists. It’s not so nice to my brain, either – after spending literally 14 hours straight writing, the last thing I want to do is ANYTHING other than staring blankly at the television. Following a chart, even a simple and intuitive one? Fuck that (and too painful, anyway). But after a few days of rest, I could manage plain stockinette while watching playoff hockey, so I got through April on the temperature scarf, after falling 3 weeks behind.

Honestly, getting those drafts done, and out from over my head, felt better and more therapeutic than any amount of knitting. AHH.

At this point, my semester has come down to 2 class days, 1 meeting to discuss 1 day of final-exam proctoring/grading, 38 lab reports to grade, and 1 final paper to revise & submit. Oh yes, and wrap-up for the project 1 student I mentor is working on. The Tuesday after Memorial Day, I’ll go to campus to see her present her work, and then I’m taking a well-deserved week off, to do absolutely nothing.

But by then, I think, I’ll have some hard decisions to make. My PI has had me rethinking my “no PhD EVER” plan, and might soon be in a position to offer me funding that would make it a genuinely attractive prospect. That said, it’s a huge committment, and one that involves a whole lot of pointlessly stressful things that I won’t be able to avoid, so I have a lot of thinking to do. How much you wanna bet that my “downtime” is anything but?

that time again

It’s that point in the semester again: the home stretch, the “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the point where I start thinking of my days in terms of how many more.

…7 more class days (and 4 more weekends wasted on homework).
…8 more days of teaching.
…2 more days of coming in on a day off just for teacher meetings.
…2 more batches of lab reports to grade.
…2 more afternoons spent proctoring & grading exams.

It’s not the end, of course (except for classes, FINALLY and FOR REAL THIS TIME, NO exceptions!), but I do get a break from teaching until early September. My workload is so dramatically decreased by that one thing (which is really the last 4 things on that list) that it feels like a summer break, even though it isn’t one.

There’s still a lot to do in these last 4 weeks, but I’m allowing my brain to settle into “vacation mode,” at least a little.

Lace knitting never used to be that big of a deal. This semester, though, has brought super-early mornings and long days, in frantic (and sometimes futile) attempts to get caught up after way too many snow days. My yarn-craft has definitely suffered. Instead of the lace I love to make, it’s been mostly-mindless projects that don’t require charts, things that won’t suffer too much if I literally fall asleep mid-row, which happens more often than I’d like. (And that’s when I do it at all; I go entire weeks without touching yarn, too exhausted by 8pm to even lift the needles.) Lace knitting has become something I can only do while on break.

Last weekend, this yarn practically jumped out of my stash.

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And, it informed me, it wanted to become this shawl. IMMEDIATELY.

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Triangular shawls are no longer my favorite thing – I find them awkward to wear as scarves, which is pretty much the only way I wear shawls – but this design is so pretty, and the pairing of yarn and design so springy, that I couldn’t argue.

I’m pleased with the result so far.

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It’s been a lot of fun to knit, too. The pattern is broken up into 7 small charts – none of which repeat – and the lace is so intuitive that I’ve managed to knit both sleepy and after a couple glasses of wine, with no mistakes. Perfect! I still don’t get to work on it as much as I’d like, but it’s been a relaxing, happy-making* knit when I do.

And with that, it’s time to take a deep breath and dive back into the chaotic whirlpool that is this time of year… here’s hoping I have opportunity to surface again before it’s all over!

* Michael was watching me work on this shawl yesterday, and commented on how happy I look when I’m enjoying knitting something. It’s true! Curled up on the couch in the middle of the day, yarn and needles in hand, is definitely my “happy place.”