Saturday, July 31, 2010

An ode to the Poudre

When I worked for the City of Toledo doing environmental education, it was a pretty urban situation. The park, Ottawa Park, had been there for 150 years, and was a gem in the midst of the city. The exception was the Ottawa River, which went through the park. We didn't think much of it at the time, but we weren't allowed to do much in the river because the E. coli counts were too high.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Mr W and I hopped on our bikes with the inner tube I bought recently, and rode over to Lee Martinez Park, to play in the Poudre River. People have been tubing the river for years, and this was our first go at it. We need another tube, as Mr W rode for short stretches, then I'd help him out of the river, we'd walk upriver and do it again. As we were getting ready to go back to the bikes, we saw this little stream in the shade that fed into the river, and we played there for 30 minutes or so. It was here that I thought about how great it is that there are a lot of people who want to protect this river and keep it clean. And also how great it was that it was easy to use the river. There's been some talk lately of changing the laws that currently let people use a waterway here in Colorado, even if it goes through private land. I don't think a person can own the ever-changing water of a river.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Can you hear it? It's coming. The onslaught of zucchini and tomatoes is approaching and, frankly, I'm a little worried. You all know or can imagine the optimism at the beginning of the season, when two zucchini and three tomato plants didn't sound like so much. Using my garden's bounty is a challenge for a couple of reasons. This sounds like complaining, but I guess my biggest complaint lately is that I feel like I don't have enough time. OK, on to the reasons.

First, it's been hot. That doesn't stop the stuff from growing because it's on a water timer and it takes care of itself. And I love walking around my gardens no matter what the temperature. But I don't have air conditioning, and I am loathe to turn on the oven. This has kept me from cooking the two nice chickens that are in the freezer, and limits what I can do with the produce. I know, I should suck it up and cook at night - I'll get there.

Second, let's just say my kid is not a fan of either zukes or 'maters, and I'm not counting on a lot of help besides what we call the "no thank you" bite. Thankfully, I'm fairly certain that B will be a happy recipient of part of any dish I make, so that's good.

Third, and I don't know if this is a challenge, but the obligation not to waste this food does make me a little anxious. I mean it's not like I'm growing doughnuts out there, but the prospect of having a lot of food around the house makes me think I'll overeat. I guess the key is to make stuff and palm part of it off. I know a few people who are willing to take the veggies themselves, and if I make stuff that can be frozen or given away, I won't have a big pan of cheesy lasagna beckoning me from the fridge.

And the time thing. I think this is mostly because x and I have changed Mr W's schedule around for this month, and I've had him during the week for the last two weeks. I forget how much I use my kid-free weeknights to get stuff done. Hopefully next week, we'll get back to normal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Weekend Recap

It was a good and busy weekend. Mr W and I did make it to Rocky Grass, and above is the Infamous Stringdusters. I confess I don't know enough about bluegrass music to be discriminating, and everything I heard, I thought sounded great. We were about 2/3 of the way back, and the picture is blurry because of that.

The downside of these festivals is that they favor people who know the system and have been there before. At some predetermined point, people get in line to get numbers (which are randomly assigned) to get in line to get tarp space on the lawn. Some friends of mine go every year, and Mr W and I mooched some of their hard-won space - shaded space to boot.

This is looking to my left, and the other crowd picture was looking to my right, where you can see the path that people use and dance on as well. I'd love to go again, but don't want to work so hard to get a good spot.

On Sunday, Sally and I hiked another dog-friendly trail called Young Gulch. It was hot (again), but we did the whole thing, 4 miles out and turn around at the little hill below and go back. The weird thing with this hike was that it took me just as long to get back as it did to go out. I'm rethinking the hiking shoes I got a few months ago. About 1/2 way into the hike, I can really feel the stones under the balls of my feet. I need to use my trusty old hiking boots next time and see if it's me or if it's my footwear. A good hike nonetheless.

Someone needs to get to the groomer one of these days and get a beard and eyebrow trim, but still had a good time. Here, she's waiting for part of my sandwich - such rapt attention!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This and that, weekend edition

Mr W and I are going to RockyGrass today, and as soon as I'm done with my coffee and collect a few things, we're outta here. The weather is supposed to be nice, and that's always welcome for an outdoor thing in the sun. It's going to be a busy day for the kid, he got invited to a sleepover tonight, so I'll drop him off as we roll back into town around dinnertime.

B is going on an unbelievably long bike ride today, and has promised to call when he gets to his destination. It's not a particularly treacherous route, and he totally knows what he's doing, but I still had a bit of a restless night last night thinking about him on the road today. I've promised dinner tomorrow night if he's capable of sitting upright in a chair without falling asleep.

Work is a bit wacky. That wonderful master mix I made last week doesn't work. It simply doesn't do what it's supposed to do. I spent the day yesterday going over my calculations to scale everything up and I can't find an error. This stuff works out, but it's frustrating while it's going on.

I enrolled in something called Online Instructor Certification, through the community college where I was teaching. I'm a bit behind, and need to pick up the pace over the weekend, but it's been very interesting so far. Forget the notion that online courses are less work. And that people can't intereact and collaborate. I'm excited to learn more about the process. One of the pieces of it is to have a course website on their online class management system. I've already started this for my classes (yea foresight!) and will only need to add things to my existing site.

Mr W and Sally the dog are signed up for an obedience class at the place where Sal goes to dog school (aka doggie day care) once a week. The class is for kids and dogs, and they are doing great. Mr W likes the prospect of handling an animal that outweighs him by 10 lbs., and Sal's just in it for the treats. I've been pleased (really pleased, actually) to see how much she already knows, and the class is more an exercise in getting she and Mr W to work as a team.

So, life is, as my dad would say, humming along. I feel like I'm getting near that elusive feeling that I call contentment. It's a moving target, it seems. I've been trying to ride my bike more, and that feels good. I'm girding my loins (I love that expression) for the onslaught of zucchini and tomatoes by getting one book of recipes on each vegetable from my library. I think I'm ready!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


This summer's been pretty normal in terms of changing Mr W's parenting schedule around. It seems to go to 'one week here, one week there' during the summer and that seems to suit everyone. But with both his dad and I dating someone now, it can be a challenge to work around everyone's schedule.

Yesterday, I realized that I'd have Mr W during the week for two weeks straight, as well as bringing him to the RockyGrass festival on Saturday when he's technically supposed to be with his dad. This is in addition to the week of vacation we took. So naturally, I emailed x and said I needed a couple of days next week.

And he said no.

I was so angry at this! I had no leg to stand on because I had agreed to it previously. However, B is busy this weekend (when I'm free), and I very much want to see him, and I should have a sitter handy for times like these and don't, and the whole thing just made me seethe.

I huffed, I stomped back to my desk to look at my calendar, and, most importantly, I made myself NOT send a reply right away when x said he was going out of town and couldn't switch. That's a good thing. Overall, x and I enjoy a lot of flexibility in the parenting schedule and we often get to do what we want by switching things around. If I had emailed a nasty gram right away, I'd be sure to have trouble the next time I wanted to switch things around to suit my calendar.

What I did do was to send x an email saying I had watched Mr W for more days over the last two months than he has, and would he please pick up a few more days at the beginning of August. Diplomatic. Mature. Grown up, even. But not without the petulant child making a showing first.

I talked to B later and he saw this as a non-issue. People are busy, it's hard to coordinate schedules, we'll work it out. He's good that way.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Take a hike - take 2

I went hiking today on a trail called Hewlett Gulch. It's up our local canyon, the Poudre, and although it was a warm one today, Sally and I had a good time. One can either go up three miles and turn back, or continue on a loop for a total of about 8 miles. I missed where the loop started (funny it looked so obvious on the way back) so we did the whole thing.

There were about 8 little river crossings, and the trail is so heavily used that there are rocks across the water so hikers' feet don't get wet. But the loop was pretty warm and dry, so the above picture is what Sally did at the first sign of water on the way down.

A fire when through this area a few years ago, and there are still a bunch of scarred trees around.

The little orange spots are butterflies getting a drink or minerals or something close to one of the stream crossings.

I saw Sally's paws when her legs were wet and thought that she's got Poodle legs, but Lab feet. This trail allows hikers to have their dogs under "voice command", which means leashes are optional. Sally had a ball. The unabashed joy of her first 30 minutes on the trail made me all warm and hummy that I was doing something that allowed her to have a great time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Hans Rosling

More from a master in presenting data visually.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Master Mix

This post is about work, so be forewarned...

Since I work with mosquitoes, which are usually quite abundant when we collect them, I process lots of samples at one time. After they are ID'd, each bug is ground up in a bit of liquid, and I use a robot to extract the DNA of 96 individuals at a time. Once we have the DNA, we can run various assays that tell us about what genetic markers they have. My job is to compare populations of mosquitoes for these markers and try to get taxonomic information about them.

I've been working on getting more markers. We had 8, which isn't too bad for this kind of thing, but 2 of them were kind of wonky. I was able to develop 11 more, and I expect about 6-8 of those to be suitable for what we do. To save on materials, we group the markers into something called multiplexes. I have two multiplexes, with 8 and 9 markers each.

The markers work by using primers, little stretches of the A's, T's C's and G's that make up DNA. These have particular sequences that correspond to a spot on the mosquitoes' DNA, and we then amplify enough copies of this stretch of DNA to be able to see it using a DNA sequencer that is able to tell us how big the fragment is.

For whatever reason, (gremlins, chemistry, something) one has to vary how much of each primer that is used in the multiplex. Getting that right takes a while - weeks, usually. But when it's done, each marker in the multiplex gives its signal at roughly the same strength on the DNA sequencer. It should look like the bottom panel of this picture I found on the web.

During this process, the primers (two for each marker, because the DNA is double-stranded) are in little capped tubes, and getting one assay together means lots of uncapping and capping little tubes that hold each primer. When it finally works, one can make Master Mix.

Master Mix is lots of 96-well plates' worth of reactions made at one time and frozen, so then when the assay needs to be run, I can just thaw a couple of tubes and do it, as opposed to measuring out each primer. It cuts the time down by 80-90%, easily.

The point of this post that is longer than I wanted it to be is that I have gotten to the point where I made Master Mix for one of the two multiplexes yesterday, and will hopefully make MM for the other multiplex today. It's the culmination of a few months of work, so it feels good to get those tubes of stuff made and in the freezer. Yea!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More vacation pictures

Here's my brother John standing in front of one of the installations he was commissioned to do at the library where he teaches. They were working on this one to put lighting behind it, but I liked it (no surprise) because of the DNA. What I really liked about it was, although the images were pleasing and interesting, there was an explanation of each panel posted next to it. I'm very appreciative of this sort of thing and think the viewer gets more of what the artist intended her to.

Prairie!! Just a tinge, a smidgen, a wee little bit. Iowa, I'm here to tell you, ROCKS in terms of not herbiciding the native wildflowers on the sides of the highway, at least along I-35 south out of MN. My eye was drawn and I was delighted to see this kind of thing for a couple of hours. We stopped at a roadside rest where I took this picture.

And last, here' s Cap'n W. He was thrilled (is still talking about it) when his Uncle John suggested that we rent a pontoon boat and go around their local lake for a while. This was such a nice gesture. It was weird, living in CO for the last decade, to be around this much water.

Graycie did great throughout the trip. I didn't push her past about 68 mph, so it took us longer than I thought to get anywhere. There is a certain freedom in that, though. I dutifully checked the oil and coolant every fill up (which at about 17 mpg, was several times a day!), and only had to add half a quart of oil the last day. The A/C worked just fine, and was much appreciated - I'm glad I got it. The cruise control was a disappointment, though, and pooped out the first time I used it.

This sort of felt like a working vacation, in that I did all the driving, and had to tend to my mom and pet owner duties such that there wasn't a lot of down time. That's OK, it's what I expected. This time around was a lot easier than in 2005 when Mr W was 5.

I did have time to think about big picture stuff, muddling over career stuff, money stuff, travel stuff. Although I did get renewed for another year at work, I don't like feeling so dependent on something so out of my control. Yes, I have skills, but if I jump careers, I'd likely take a pay cut. Mull mull mull - things to think about. Heavy stuff for another post. The vacation was a success and I'm looking forward to getting my house in order AND planning the next weekend away, where I'd like to stay at a campsite for more than what feels like a few hours.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some vacation pics

Mr W on the giant Jackalope at Wall Drug. I hadn't remembered how Wall Drug takes up almost the entire downtown area of Wall, SD. I don't think we need to go back...

Mr W at Mount Rushmore. I wasn't going to pay to get in, but he wanted to, so we did. It was only $10 to park, and it was cool enough to leave Sally in the van. The light is much better in the morning, than it was when we were there, but it's always impressive to see the stone prezzes.

Yesterday we went to the MN Science museum. Here's Mr W with his Aunt Mary in front of a cool installation with mineral oil filled tubes and timed bursts of air. I loves me a good science museum.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Annnnnd, we're off

OK, so we won't be paying to get in to see Mt. Rushmore, but we will be camping in the Black Hills tonight. I hope to find a spot so we can see the fireworks from town and not have to join the crowd at the park where the things are fired off - apparently the beetle-killed trees make it impossible to have fireworks from Mt. Rushmore this year.

I've spent the last week getting things together, and I think that about 70% of that stuff is stuff I only have to do once and then I know how to do it (like setting up the new sun shade) or it stays in the van (like bedding). It's been busy, and I'm hoping to log a bit of knitting or reading time after my mom and dog owner duties are fulfilled.

Safe travels and a happy 4th to all. I asked Mr W yesterday about what Independence Day means - who were we trying to be independent of? He was clueless, but I remember being the same way. Historical information didn't made sense to me until I had some kind of framework to hang the dates and events on.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Garden Pics 7-2-10

Cool double flowered Black Eyed Susan. This one flower is unlike the others. Also, these are volunteers (note they're just outside the mulch), and maybe hybrids between the two types I've planted. Pretty and tough, those BES.

I don't know if the hot weather will curb pea production, but here is at least one that I hope waits until I return.

And here's a bunch of red and pink annuals to go with the red Yarrow. Planted about a month ago, but just starting to take off.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Slightly slacking

On blog posts, that is. Things have been busy here, and I'm gearing up to load up the kid and the dog and head east to MN (near St. Paul) to see my brother and sister in law.

Graycie is in the shop, a new repair shop, as I called my mechanic and he said they couldn't look at it until next week. I understand that shops get busy, and was grateful that one of the guards at work had recommended another shop in town. I dropped Graycie off yesterday and the mechanic and I talked for about 30 minutes about Vanagon campers in general and mine's issues in particular. I walked away feeling like she's in good hands, and if they do a good job, will likely give them my business for the van as well as for my Civic, which I hope to keep running for a few more years. It's kind of a shame, but the other reason I'd switch is that the new place will give me a ride after I drop off the car, and my other mechanic doesn't provide that service.

My garden looks awesomely awesome, and I'll take some pictures today to post here. I need to get a new water timer set up and cut the grass before we leave for the trip. I'm very happy with how things look. My peas finally bloomed, and I think it's too late - they look tired and heat stressed.

I'm also quite happy with how things are going in general at the moment. I'm enjoying getting to know B, who will henceforth be known as M due to an inside joke about internet anonymity.

I've come to terms with the teaching thing for the moment, and emailed the lead instructor at the community college yesterday to tell him I'd be unable to teach in the fall. It was with regret, as I really enjoyed teaching. I got my evaluations back from Spring semester, and they were overwhelmingly positive. Compared to the first semester that I taught, where I was figuratively eviscerated, comments this time around were generous and constructive.