Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A swing with a view

Let me say first, I apologize about the emo-ness of the last post. A wise woman *cough* Emma (my college roommate) *cough* once told me never to send an email after she was asleep. I suppose the same could go for blog posting. My second apology is for the length of time that has lapsed between the last post and this one. So a little bit about my life…

Two weekends ago I returned to Cape Palliser, the Southern tip of the North island that has all the seals that I visited on my tour of the Southern North Island. I went with a few people from my office to celebrate one of my officemate’s completion of her masters thesis. It was a lot of fun. We saw a lot of seals, including baby ones which were playing on the rocks in this little cove. It was really cute, but kind of smelly. Seals smell bad. There were seals all over the sides of the roads. I got a few pics of them at sunset – very artsy; see the picasa links at the top of the blog. We also climbed up to the lighthouse at Cape Palliser, the one that I mentioned Microsoft used for its Vista ads. The lighthouse itself is really cute – red and white striped. We walked up 249 steps to get from the bottom of the hill up to the foot of the lighthouse. The OCD in me was screaming for someone to build just one more step. I know some of you guys can empathize. We camped near these rocks called the Pinnacles. These formations are stacks of small rocks that have remained because of large anchoring rocks on their top while the rest of the rocks have eroded around them. Hard to explain. Look at the pictures. They were really cool. And yes, this was yet another place where Peter Jackson filmed a LOTR sequence. Probably the road to some fortress or part of the endless wandering that goes on in the movies.

The research update: Things are still kind of stuck. I finally got in contact with this guy who’ll help me identify my cell types but he hasn’t emailed me back about what day I can come up to visit him. I was at a welcome party tonight hosted by the Fulbright NZ alumni association and a retired professor from my university was there. I started talking about my project and he looked extremely skeptical and basically told me (in a much nicer way) that he thought my project was ill conceived. Wasn’t really that encouraging, but I’m confident that my advisers won’t lead me astray and, to a certain extent, I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. This is also not my PhD so if it’s not the most brilliant work of my career, I’ll just have to forgive myself.

To distract myself from counting cells that I can’t even positively identify, Nicky, my primary adviser, has got me starting on permit requests/ research proposals to the Department of Conservation. As weird as it sounds, filling out these pieces of paper has been quite fun. It’s given me a chance to reconnect with how cool these animals are and why I’m excited about my project. I’ve also never had to write “I will be walking and talking” so much. “What consequences of your actions do you foresee for: Native plants? Um, I might step on them, but I’ll try really hard not to. …Historical sights? I’ll be walking around looking for tuatara.” … “What of your project will be visible? Me. I’ll be walking around looking for tuatara.” …“What noise will be produced? Human speech, at normal speaking volume.” You get the idea. I swear whoever reviews my application at DOC will think I’m slow. I’m kind of contemplating using (not entirely appropriate) synonyms for “walking” and “talking.” E.g. “I anticipate that in the process of traversing the island, I may cause disturbance to the animals with my orations.” I also spent yesterday and today frantically trying to cut down my thesis for an anole newsletter. I managed to get it from 44 pages to 11. I was pretty proud of myself. (Of course, single spacing helped a bit.)

The most exciting piece of lab news, however, is that I got to hold a tuatara!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His name is Spike. Danielle, one of the grad students in my office, is looking for antibodies to salmonella in their blood and she and Sue, the woman who takes care of the tuatara (in addition to running field trips, etc. and being amazing) let me tag along. I was pretty stoked. I’m going to a nature reserve with them tomorrow when they’re bleeding more tuatara. I’m extremely excited. :D

Outside of research and work, life is good. I have discovered that New Zealand has swings with the most amazing views. There are few things I enjoy as much as swinging. It’s very relaxing just breathing in the fresh air and swinging back and forth. Last Monday after rock climbing, Julie and I stopped on this playground on the waterfront and played on the swings. There was a beautiful view of all the lights around the harbor, the water, and Te Papa (the national museum) which was lit up. It was also a nice warm night. I’ve been pretty happy here but that was a definite high point. Then Sunday, Julie and I took a walk around the botanical garden. Again we gravitated to the swings (although the zip line was also a blast. I’m a big fan of Wellington playgrounds.) This time the swings looked out onto a beautiful forested hill with lots of big trees. It was just nice and peaceful. (Everyone knows how much I love green. How could I not love it?)

Amazingly the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano has managed to affect my life, even here on the opposite side of the globe. My mom was supposed to be on a flight out of LAX 9 hours ago heading to New Zealand to visit me. Unfortunately she had made the decision to accompany my dad on a business trip to London first and they got stuck there. They managed to make it out today, which is very exciting. My mom had to postpone her trip a week but I still get to see her next week. I’m really excited!

I also had the experience of celebrating my birthday for the first time not in North America and on a different continent than my family and friends. I got homesick for the first time since my second day here, but the silver lining is that I’ve gotten two birthdays. Very few people worked out the time difference between here and the States, so I’ve gotten to enjoy my birthday all over again today with the onslaught of facebook messages and emails. Thank you to everyone. I also went out with my lab last night, which was nice. Everyone sang happy birthday to me; it made me feel loved, especially as I was missing my loved ones. The Kiwis are wonderful. I ended up going over to one of my labmates’ flat to play Cranium. Remind me to do my Victoria Beckham impression for you some time…

Finally, the Fulbright NZ alumni association had a welcome party tonight for the Fulbright grantees, which I mentioned above. The American ambassador was there with his partner. I’m pretty sure we’re besties now, the ambassador and me. I talked to him about the tuatara, explained that it was a reptile and then went on to explain what makes a mammal a mammal and the system of Linnean classification to him. (Which he then asked me to do in front of the entire group when we, the grantees, had to introduce ourselves. I swear he asked for it. I didn’t do all of this completely unprompted.) He’s also from LA. (His partner, Dwayne, and I were talking about my high school and our rival school, where their godsons went.) As soon as I told the ambassador where I was from he said he’d pegged me as a valley girl. Do I really sound that ditzy?

- Seals and lighthouses and OCD make for an interesting mix. A smelly mix with lots of counting.
- Research is stuck and possibly ill conceived anyway. But at least I got to hold a tuatara!!!
- I have rediscovered my love of playing on swing sets and New Zealand’s got some amazing ones.
- My mom’s coming to visit soon!
- David Huebner, the American ambassador and I are tiz-ight. Or, like, I mean, like, he, like thinks I’m like cool. Like, ok?

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