Sunday, July 18, 2010


So, Emma told me I needed to write another blog post. She has a point. I haven’t written anything since late June. I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed my readers (all 12 of you) – I know how you wait with bated breath for my blog posts. So here’s what I’ve been up to:

The stuff that confirms that the Frank neurosis is immune to even New Zealand’s laidback approach to life: I spoke with this amazing vet who does conservation work in Africa. Basically he has what I consider to be a dream job. He asked me about my future plans and why I wanted to get a DVM, why I wanted to do a PhD, etc. I’ll spare you the “Hannah insanity” but basically I’ve never been more confused about what I want to do with my life as I am now. I need to make decisions about applications for next year but I can’t figure out what I want to do a PhD in or where I want to go. *heavy sarcasm* I love confusion. I was at lunch this afternoon with Julie and the family that hosted her for a bit when she was waiting to move into her original flat. I had just met her host dad and he asked me what I want to do after New Zealand. Took him all of 2 minutes to figure out that I actually have no idea. Love it.

Anyway, that makes it seem like my life is a lot more stressful than it actually is. (Most of the time I just ignore the vet school stuff. Yay procrastination.) So one highlight of the past few weeks: (I’ll post again tomorrow. Scout’s honor. – That still counts if I quit in 7th grade, right?)

I got to go sheep herding! I felt like a true Kiwi. One of my coworker/ advisor people at Vic has 11 sheep up on some land just north of Wellington. They were in a paddock across the street and down about 100 yards from their land and Sue needed to move them back to her land. Because of all of the potential wrong paths the sheep could take, she needed a lot of people to help her move them. It was so fun. I got to stand next to this bridge and make sure they ran onto the bridge instead of next to it. (They thought about trying to run past me but I was too scary.) After they were past me I chased them. There’s something very fun about running after livestock. Yes, I am 8 years old.

After we got them into the paddock, we needed to treat their feet. I helped by holding the sheep as Tom, Sue’s boyfriend of 18 years, trimmed their hooves. It was kind of like what I did at the vet clinic, only with sheep. I was even able to lend my professional advice about styptic powder. I felt special. Even better, Sue lent me a jumpsuit to put over my clothes. That made me feel really official. (I was also really cold. There was a lot of frost on the lawn when we initially got there in the morning. I thought I was going to freeze.) Unfortunately I stupidly charged my camera in preparation for the sheep and then left it on my bed. Sue’s invited me back to see the lambs in the spring and for any other visits to her land so I’ll get pics then. I’m so excited! I think they were pretty surprised that I was perfectly happy/ really excited to lie on the ground subduing a sheep. (Doesn’t really jive with that whole “cultural ambassador” image.)

It was also really fun spending time with Sue outside of the lab and getting to meet her partner and his family. (Side note: The word “partner” is very popular here and means any significant other that’s long term, regardless of sex or marital status. This confused my mom a lot. She spent a great deal of time convinced that the vast majority of the New Zealand population is gay.) Back to the sheep: I LOVED the sheep but it was also really fun just to hang out with a family. (Siblings, parents, nieces, etc.) I felt very privileged to be able to crash their family party. And Sue made carrot cake. I love carrot cake.

Sheep were not the only animals I hung out with that Sunday, either. (And I’m not counting the 3 girls under 10.) The former owner of Sue’s land still keeps her horse there and Raider and I became good friends. (Confession: I’m not quite sure if the horse’s name is “Raider” or “Radar.” They sound pretty much identical in the Kiwi accent and for the first time, I think, I was surrounded by only Kiwis.) I was standing in the paddock watching the sheep tending and this horse comes up to my shoulder. I started petting him and got to scratching his back. He did that funny thing where he stood really really still and held his head out at an odd angle. If you’ve ever hit the perfect spot on your dog’s back, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I half expected the horse to pick up its foot and start scratching the air the way my puppy does. When I did stop to go watch the sheep again, I was promptly driven into the fence by a head butt to the butt. He eventually gave up, sniffed my head a bit, chewed the fence and then walked away to be antisocial.

I was also a huge hit with the dog. And there were tons of kereru (large native bush pigeons – very pretty) feeding in the trees above the sheep. I had never seen so many in one place before. Add on that the weather was bright, sunny and crisp and it was a thoroughly perfect day. The valley we were in was gorgeous: one slope was covered in pines (a Californian species that is farmed here – nonnative but still pretty) and another was covered in native bush and almost glowed in the sunlight.

Despite all of the amazing things I just described, the highlight of the day was a brief moment on the way home. We had just pulled out of Sue’s land and had gone down the road about 70m when coming down the opposite side of the road is one of the fanciest Jaguars I’ve seen (and certainly the most “flash” – another Kiwi word – car I’ve seen while being here)… pulling a trailer with two sheep.

I love New Zealand.

- I’m crazy. But you knew that. And confused. But you knew that too.
- How many people does it take to move 12 sheep? Answer: 11 Kiwis, 1 Irishwoman and a crazy American.
- Even Fulbrights enjoy getting a little dirty (especially when it involves looking ridiculous by wearing 3 layers under a blue jumpsuit).
- I miss family gatherings so much I’m willing to go to them even when it’s not my own family.
- I’m tight with a horse whose name I don’t know. Language difficulties continue.
- Apparently Jags come outfitted with trailer hooks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Congratulations and coughs

Ok, the alliteration in the title kind of sucks, but I couldn't think of a significantly better title.

The biggest news since I posted last is that we had our Fulbright mid-year report event. We got to meet all the US bound Kiwis and present about our research. This was mostly a lot of fun but also kind of an anxiety inducing kick in the pants. I realized I'm half done with my Fulbright and I feel like I've accomplished very little. I did not anticipate it would take me almost 2 months just to figure out what I was staring at under the microscope. This was amplified by the fact that I am now filling out veterinary school/ PhD apps and realized that I do not have any publications to my name. I guess I'll just have to get used to the constant nagging of publications. I am working on that toepad stuff with Luke; I'm excited to get some of my research out there.

It also made me want to get out and see more of the country. Julie and I tentatively have plans to go to the South Island. I also need to see more of the North Island. I did get out to Cape Palliser again, though, and saw lots of seals a couple weeks ago. It was gorgeous.

But as I said, the Fulbright event was mostly a ton of fun. The Kiwis headed to America are brilliant, hilarious and really kind. And exceedingly patient. They had to sit through 15 minute presentations by each of the Americans. I was told I managed to make my presentation quite funny; plus, everyone loves tuatara. It might also have helped that I "enhanced" all of my photos in MS paint (scarves on tuatara, angry faces on blood cell parasites, etc.) Last Wednesday there was a big ceremony at Parliament where all the Fulbrighters were presented with certificates by the NZ Minister of Science and Technology, pins by the US Ambassador to NZ (see pic of me and Ambassador Huebner -- with Mike, another US Fulbright peeking through) and a lei by the head of the Fulbright NZ board. The Fulbright woman gave me a lei that matched my outfit. I was pretty psyched. The graduate students (Americans and Kiwis) then went out to dinner and out for dancing and drinks. I'm sure some of you have seen my facebook pictures documenting the event. I'm just sad that the Kiwis aren't going to be around much longer to hang out with us. If anyone's still in the Cambridge area, I can introduce you to two awesome kids who'll be at Harvard next year.

On a completely different note, it's amazing I finished my presentation in 15 minutes since I had to stop to cough several times. I've had this cough for about 2.5 weeks now. I finally went to the doctor today (who turned out to be the husband of one of the Fulbright senior scholar people!). He told me I had a virus and the cough'll go away in 1-2 weeks but he also gave me an inhaler to help me stop coughing. My fate as the athletically inept, dweeby, weakling nerd is sealed.

Being sick sucks but it has had its funny moments. Two weeks ago I was woken up by a stomach ache and the sound of my chattering teeth. At 4am I finally decided to call my parents. (The benefits of being 5 hours "behind" the west coast.) My dad assured me that I was probably running a fever but before I took some tylenol I should take my temperature. 96 degrees F. Thank you, Wellington. I bought an electric blanket the next day.

- I now have a spiffy certificate to hang on my wall, along with pins and a lei.
- I am an expert with microsoft paint. If you think you'd look better in a picture with a drawn on scarf or possibly a third eye, I'm your gal.
- The Kiwis headed to the US are the best. Now if they would only stay in their country instead of fleeing to mine...
- I'm starting to understand the meaning of "publish or perish."
- Being sick sucks. Especially when it forces you to realize the persona you thought you ditched after 5th grade PE.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Aren't you bored of my life yet? If not, read on...

I don’t know that I knew the definition of the word “sleet” before. I know it now. I walked home in it. I’ll stop bitching about the weather eventually but know that I’m jealous of all of you who are currently enjoying summer! It’s been raining with the exception of one sunny day since May 22. (Yes, this is actually something that makes it into the newspaper. There is a formal definition of “decent spell of sunshine.” Who knew?) Also, as Julie pointed out, you can’t tell if it’s an earthquake or just the wind shaking our house. Yes, I’m cold again. It was 5 degrees all day. I’m actually coming down with a cold too. My first in New Zealand. I spent all of yesterday sitting in my flat (Monday off for the Queen’s birthday!) and didn’t make it out of my pajamas. (Well, technically I was only half in my pajamas since I did put on jeans before I got distracted.) I felt like a complete bum.

It was nice for one day, though, and we took full advantage of this to go visit Martinborough, the wine region that you might remember from my first couple weeks here. Julie braved the Rimutakas (many kilometers of winding road that’s cut into the side of a mountain) to get us there. She was driving at about half the speed limit and at one point we pulled over to let the other cars pass. There were 20 of them. We got a lot of appreciative honks for finally getting out of their way. Ah well, safety first, right? The Kiwis apparently have problems with traffic accidents and have very freaky ad campaigns to get people to be more careful. It’s worked on me. Speaking of driving, New Zealand has the best road signs, my favorite of which is simply “!”. Usually there’s another, smaller sign explaining what one should be cautious about, but often that sign is missing, so you’ll be driving down the road and hit an exclamation point. I’ve taken to making up my own (usually inaccurate) explanatory signs in my head, something like “flying sheep” or “giant moa crossing.”

In other news, just because we’re miles away from, well, anywhere, doesn’t mean New Zealand doesn’t get the latest movies. With all this rain, there hasn’t been a lot to do other than sit inside, so I’ve been watching a lot of movies. I went to see Iron Man II with some friends. I don’t even recall if there was a plot – I would watch Robert Downey Jr. eat a sandwich. I also went with some women from the school of biological sciences to see Sex and the City II. It was a lot of fun hanging out with the ladies outside of lab. As for the movie itself, I’m a little scared by Liza Minelli. And impressed. But mostly scared.

In the world of science, things are moving along. Luke, the graduate student I worked with at Harvard, put together a newsletter of papers about anoles which included a submission from me. We’re going to try to modify it into a real paper. I’ve finished my initial blood counts after having had to recount them. I’m not really sure there’s a pattern, but no pattern is still results right? Also, my lab is moving buildings tomorrow so I spent a bit of today helping pack chemicals. I realized, after looking at all the warning labels on the jars, that, in trying to find ways to cure cancer, we’re all going to get cancer. Guess we better work fast.

Other than that, I have actually started filling out my vet school apps. In a classic move to which facebook groups are dedicated, I stopped after filling in the name and address part and started cleaning my room. I haven’t seen this much of my floor in weeks and I put up enough pictures to make a dent in the otherwise unbroken stretch of fluorescent green.

- It’s cold! (…still.)
- Julie drives like an old lady. But in a good way.
- Kiwis have fun road signs, but they’re funnier in my head.
- Sequels are all the rage right now. Robert Downey Jr. is incredibly charming. Liza Minelli is just, um, yeah.
- My life is full of lizards, leukocytes and lead acetate.
- Classic procrastination techniques work in the Southern hemisphere as well as the Northern.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Pretty/Ugly

The pretty:
- the weather. I know I was just bitching about it, but sometimes you actually can see the sun and it’s really nice. The sky is gorgeous. There’s an autumn crispness in the air. It’s lovely. Note: this is increasingly rare.
- the scenery: Michael, Julie and I went on a walk up to the top of Mt. Victoria one nice day and you could see all of Wellington. It was gorgeous. Also, there was a fun swing in this pretty forest, that I couldn’t resist. For all the Lord of the Rings fans, this is where they filmed the escape from the Nazgul in the inner Shire. Also, my mom and I saw some beautiful forests and tree ferns on our trip. One of the resorts we stayed at had the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen. Breathtaking. Another place we went had a beach completely covered in pink shells; you couldn’t even see the sand. Also, Julie, Dara and my road trip up the Kapiti coast was fabulous. The paddocks with the sheep were adorable, the beaches spectacular and the sunset divine.
- my mom: She looks a lot healthier and happier. We walked quite a bit and she’s getting a lot stronger. I even dragged her up the Wellington hills. She looks especially good with a tuatara in her hands.
- the autumn leaves in the botanical garden: turns out New Zealand does have fall. Um, sorry, autumn.
- my play-doh stegosaurus: I went to a quiz night with my officemates and one of the contests in between rounds was for the best play doh stegosaurus. I made a masterful blue stegosaurus, the right balance of cute, cartoon and scientific accuracy. Alas I did not win. I maintain I was robbed.

The ugly:
- my soccer skills: I have apologized literally every time I kicked the ball anywhere near anyone. It makes passing awkward.
- my rock climbing attempts: My awkwardness and clumsiness can’t possibly look better when viewed from the bottom. Nothing more glamorous than hanging sweaty and red from a harness while staring at a wall.
- rain, rain, rain, rain with a dash of Antarctic wind: The good news is we often can’t see this because every time we attempt to warm up our flat it immediately fogs up the windows.
- wild pig eradication: New Zealand has a thing about protecting its native fauna by killing the invasive fauna. This is most obvious in the popularity of hunting possum (an activity at both resorts my mom and I stayed at!) and possum fur accessories (stay warm while helping New Zealand!). NZ also has a problem with feral pigs that were released by Captain Cook himself. When my mom and I were horseback riding, our guide’s dog found and injured a piglet. Our guide put the piglet out of its misery (and later brought the meat home so it didn’t go to waste). This horrified my mother. She relayed this story to Sue, the senior technical officer in charge of tuatara at Vic, who owns a sheep farm. My mom was expecting Sue to be horrified; Sue was pleased that there was one fewer pig and that it was not going to waste. Guess I’m not the only American getting a cultural lesson.

- Oh, c’mon. You’re really reading this? The entire post is in bullet point form.
- New Zealand is a gorgeous place full of trees, ferns and beaches. And the sun occasionally shines.
- Unfortunately New Zealand has been burdened with an uncoordinated American out to make herself more sporty.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/Ugly: the Bad

Ok, so it’s not all tuataras and pretty mountains, there are bad sides to New Zealand. Admittedly, there are many fewer bad things than good things, that having been said, here they are:

The weather:
Question: What’s worse than reading on your friend’s gchat statuses “OMG it’s so hot.” Or “90 degrees in Boston!”
Answer: Reading those statuses when you’re in two sweatshirts, under two blankets, in your bedroom, at noon and you can’t feel your feet but you can see your breath.

Turns out the Kiwis don’t believe in insulation. That’s all fine and good except I’m from Southern California and windy Wellington ain’t nicknamed that for nothing. Especially fun are the Southerlies which are winds (last week up to 90km/hr) that come straight off Antarctica. I’ve been sleeping in 2 hoodies, 2 pairs of socks, under 2 comforters and a sleeping bag every night. I’m usually still cold. I’m starting to understand why everyone’s got a partner here. It’s just plain economical – warmth and no increased heating bills!

The landlord: I know. I know. This isn’t unique to New Zealand, but New Zealand certainly is not the exception. Our landlord is a special type of flake. The kind of flake whom you can’t reach via any known methods of modern communication, (No, I haven’t tried carrier pigeon quite yet.) who shows up unannounced at 9am when you’re in the bathroom (yes, that’s illegal – he’s required to give 48 hours notice), who still hasn’t filled out the tenancy forms so we can pay the bond (yes the papers required to be completed before we take up residence and filed within 2 weeks of us moving in), who comes in, makes a mess and then leaves muttering to himself only to appear at 10pm, 6 hours after he left asking to hang your curtains. He’s the kind of landlord that has to be reminded by his tenants that he’s required to put up smoke detectors in the house, who needs his tenants to explain to him how to insert the battery in a smoke detector but insists he can turn off the water and fix the laundry machine by himself, the kind of guy who thinks telling people “You see, it just comes down to the fact that I’m lazy” is an excuse for not doing anything. That’s Stephen.

Vet school/ figuring out my future: Ok, also, not a New Zealand problem. This is all me. I’m going to try to apply to vet school this coming fall. The problem is I still don’t really know what I want to do. Everyone tells you that at 23 you should be confused about your future and excited about a number of different things. For some reason, these same people don’t really seem to grasp how hard that makes figuring out one’s future – where, what, how, etc. I’m currently thinking of applying to DVM/PhD programs (combined veterinary medicine and PhD) or just plain DVM programs. Barring that, I’ll just continue to lose my mind with indecision and join the circus. … better start stretching now.

Bioterrorism: I guess this is really good news. I won’t have to deal with figuring out my future because I won’t have one. I went to a lecture by a Fulbright senior scholar last week and he was talking about how vulnerable we (as godless Americans) are to bioterrorism attacks, especially from “non-state agents” aka those guys with no rules, whom we can’t deter, who just want to inflict mass casualties. He also talked about how easy it is to make this stuff. Turns out even I can weaponize ebola. Yippee!! Off to buy my gas mask…

- There’s really only one bad thing about New Zealand and it’s really only bad because I don’t have a boyfriend … or an electric blanket.
- Landlords are the same everywhere. I can’t wait for more life in the real world.
- My neuroses caught up with me. Apparently they caught a boat over the Pacific so it took them a little longer than the rest of me, but they’re definitely here.
- Stock up on heavy duty antibiotics and pray. Alternatively, kiss your butt goodbye.

The Good, the Bad and the Pretty/ Ugly: The Good

Tuatara/ Science: On April 22, I got to go up the Kapiti coast (West coast of the Southern tip of the North island) with a grad student and Sue, the technical officer to get blood samples from tuatara at the Nga Manu nature reserve. I got to hold nine tuatara (!) including a Sam, the largest tuatara Sue’s ever seen (980 g) and a 2 year old toot named “Lucky.” The staff at Nga Manu found him around the enclosure as a baby; they didn’t even know the pair had laid an egg. He is named “Lucky” because tuatara don’t have any parental care and are visual hunters – basically they eat anything small that moves, often baby tuatara. In short, Lucky was lucky he wasn’t lunch. He’s also lucky because he features prominently in my facebook picture.

Other good stuff on the science front: I got to go up to Massey University in Palmerston North to talk with a vet there about my cells! I finally know what I’m counting and have whipped through the smears. I had a great meeting with my advisers yesterday and it looks like I’ll be doing some cool stuff. Also, we’re planning our two field trips to get blood from wild tuatara in November. I’m so excited!

Mom: This could be an entire blog post to itself but I’m going to keep it short. My mom came to visit me for a week and a half. It was amazing!!!!!! As most of you know, my mom has had some health troubles over the last year and a half so I was excited that she could get here at all (especially since she was ashed into London causing her trip to be postponed by a week). We went to a great resort near the Bay of Islands, which was gorgeous. We also went to a resort near Rotorua and went on lovely horseback ride around the property. They had a really beautiful waterfall with delicious spring water. I also took my mom on a little hike up to the top of this hill! I was SO SO proud of her for being able to walk up and down hills for 2 hours straight. :D Also in Rotorua we saw thermal hot springs, NZ falcons and a kiwi which was vocalizing!

My favorite part of Rotorua, though, was getting to chat with some of the people who work at the resort. I went with the chef, Eru, on a walk through the forest and he pointed out all the plants that the Maori use in their cooking including pikopiko, a young fern shoot; manuka (the plant which most of the NZ honey is made from); horopito, a peppery like leaf, kawakawa, a basily plant and this vine which tasted like asparagus. It was really interesting getting to chat with him about the different uses of the food and about his family and culture. Also, another guy who worked at the resort was so touched that I was working on tuatara conservation that he gave me a prayer in Maori from his iwi. I framed it and it sits beside my bed.

The best part of the trip, though was in Wellington. I got to introduce Mom to all of my friends and colleagues at the university and Sue showed us around so she got to see all the tuatara at Vic! She even got to hold Spike (the big male tuatara at Vic), see incubating eggs and see a week old hatchling! We also saw the botanical gardens, Te Papa and I took Mom to a rugby game. We agree, much more interesting than American football. Sorry, Dad. We also just watched a lot of “Firefly.” (Read: the entire series.)

Miscellaneous: It was Julie’s birthday a couple weeks ago. We had a lot of fun making tons of cupcakes. They were delish. I am actually learning how to cook and bake. Who knew with my genetics that it was possible for me to make something edible, let alone yummy. To further this food knowledge, Julie took me to my very first food show. If you’re ever going to go to a food show, you should do it in a country that specializes in cheese, wine and olive oil. I’m still in heaven… On Julie’s birthday she bought a car, so the following week we took it up the Kapiti coast for a road trip. We saw some beautiful forests and beaches, and also ate nationally famous Kapiti ice cream. (Are you sensing the trend yet?) I am working off these calories though, hilariously, Julie and I play soccer every Tuesday with a group of people who work at the rock climbing/ kayak place. Suffice it to say, I’m certainly the least sporty person in the group.

- I have a plan for research!!!! Plus I’ve gotten to hold lots and lots of tuatara. My study organism is cuter than yours. And it comes in all different sizes.
- My mom loves me. New Zealand is gorgeous and I’m falling in love with Maori culture. Mom’s falling in love with Spike.
- Rugby >>>>> American football
- Be on the lookout for flying pigs: I’m cooking. And exercising.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Good the Bad and the Ugly/Pretty: An introduction

My apologies for not having posted on this blog in a very very long time. I know that you have all been dying without news of my adventures in Kiwi land. (Ok, one person commented to me that they were having trouble procrastinating without my epic blog posts. Glad to know that my Fulbright is leading to a decline in productivity in the States.)

In order to keep from writing an incredibly lengthy ridiculous blog post with an epic summary, I am giving you three blog posts. I realize the overall length can't be changed but at least it won't be a solid block -- more summaries for those of you with busy lives.

So here they are: the good; the bad; and the ugly/pretty.

- my blog is good for procrastination
- 3 blog posts instead of 1!