Thursday, August 27, 2009

One Demon at a Time

The crap ass journal that rejected my brilliant treatise shall remain nameless, but this is what the cover looks like. And just let me say, I'm getting my subscription to the OTHER ecological restoration journal TODAY!

With the end of the summer field season, the passing of the yearly government budget cycle, and the departure of all my summer seasonals, I find myself at work with sufficient time to confront one of my personal demons. I can't say that digging into this dark drawer of my subconscious, and literally the dark drawer of my desk, has been pleasant. In fact, I would say that it is down right unpleasant.

Here's the deal. One of the many, many factors that drove me out of academia and into the arms of public service (although I will always claim that academia was clamoring for me and I turned my lonely eyes to the government...) is a dread of the journal article writing process. I love designing experiments, testing hypotheses, collecting data, analyzing data, even writing the broad outline of the paper. I loathe all the incredible work that it takes to get a manuscript from 90% done to ready for submission. And beyond that, I also fear, loathe, and despise, REJECTION!!

Two years ago, yes, two full years ago, my Christmas present to myself was to finally complete a manuscript on a field experiment I did testing the effects of small scale species richness on restoration success. It was a pain in the ass to make sure all the stats were right, to generate all the figures, to get the bibliography in order, and to format the thing to the journal standards. But I did it all and even had my friends Tiffany, Erin and Kelly provide editorial comments. Finally, three days before Christmas, I loaded it into the journal's web browser and sent it off into the ether.

Four months later, I got the rejection e-mail. Despite the fact that two out of the three reviewers loved the paper (one recommended accept with minor revisions, the second accept with major revisions), the managing editor decided to reject the paper. I wrote a rebuttal (their problems with the study were CRAP!) but still they rejected the paper, and me, and my scientific credibility, and my scientific soul, and completely undermined my sense of self-worth. So I put the manuscript, and the rejection letter, in a very dark hole in my filing cabinet, and left it there.

But now, I have gotten it back out. I am determined to work through this manuscript in short order and submit it to the other, kinder, gentler, BETTER ecological restoration journal. And then I have a whole plan for making short work of the not one, not two, but three other datasets that I have that are ready to become journal articles to be welcomed into the world of scientific legitimacy.

I have no confidence that it will go any better this time around. But I do feel better about taking back my scientific self and trying to get my little piece of knowledge back out into the world. If the poor baby gets rejected this time then what the hell, I'll write it up as a government technical report. One way or another, it will get out there.

I would like to say that I am not a complete failure as a scientist. While this particular paper got rejected (despite its obvious brilliance....), I have published two other papers and two notes in academic journals on my work in the NPS. I also have another paper with a student in review right now. So while I am clearly not at the level of many of my scientific kung-fu master friends, I am trying to at least stay in the game.

One demon at a time, one demon at a time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Float like a ...

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Muhammad Ali

"Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beamer." Lightning McQueen

"Look like a Cadillac, sting like a Beaver." Lucy Allen

Monday, August 24, 2009

Relay for LIfe This Saturday - Donate!

Front of the luminarias decorated by Lucy and Josie with a little help from me.

Back of the luminarias. It's hard to read because of Lucy's intense coloring but the one on the left is for my dad.

I'm participating in the Relay for Life this coming Saturday to raise money for the American Cancer Society. More later. For now, here are pictures of the luminaria bags that Josie, Lucy and I made for my mom (died of cancer complications), my dad (successfully fighting cancer) and our neighbor Loretta (died of breast cancer). These days I am thinking of all the people I know who have or have had cancer. Here's sending healthy vibes to all of you.

Here is a link to my relay for life page

Not Enough Time in the Day: Weekend Update

I spent the weekend hanging out with the girls so that Mitch could make some progress on the little house. We actually had to go backward on the little house a bit since it turned out that it wasn't as weather-proof as an outbuilding should be ideally. Mitch talked to a general contractor friend of ours and he said that one should really put some kind of waterproof material between the plywood walls and the siding. So Mitch had to take off the metal siding and install this tarpaper like stuff and then replace the siding. I had to work Friday AM so that left Friday afternoon, all Saturday, and Sunday morning for Mitch to work on the house. He did a great job and got us back to where we started - one side of siding finished but this time WITH waterproofing!

What did the girls and I do?

Friday afternoon - the park. No biggee.

Saturday AM - Farmers market, bakery, and then THE BEACH! It was overcast and at first I thought the girls were going to stay out of the water and just build sand castles. No such luck, after an hour of sand castles it was everyone into the water. With a life jacket each and a life guard nearby, I felt relatively relaxed about the whole thing. Trying to de-sandify them for the picnic lunch and van ride home SUCKED.

Saturday PM - the park. No biggee.

Sunday AM - YMCA Swimming Pool. Lucy tried out her new swimsuit from Grandma Jo since the ariel swimsuit was still sandy. The green stripes and sassy skirt were a big hit.

Sunday PM- Catching roly poly bugs in the garden before releasing them, harvesting lettuce and tomatoes, watering the side yard, and planting peas.

It was a busy but good weekend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Half the Sky

I have written before about the under-appreciation of girls and women worldwide. I do think women in the U.S. have an incredibly good situation with lots of opportunity for education and economic advancement and certainly it is clear this is the case when you compare how women do in the U.S. to many foreign countries. I do think we still have some lingering sexism issues especially when you consider how little the oppression of women and girls worldwide makes it into the news.

Mitch pointed me in the direction of an amazing article in today's New York Times chronicling the many ways in which girls and women are mistreated worldwide and how this poor treatment is a loss for these women, their families, their local economies, their countries and the entire world. It is an amazing article and you should read it.

Sometimes I think about what I will do in another life, or in my second career after I retire. Sometimes I think I would love to work in a progressive zoo (how cool to interact with the animals that close up), or work to return orphaned otters to the wild (ahh the furry people), or form an over 50 female rock band (first I've got to learn to play an instrument). Today I'm thinking, volunteer for an international non-profit that works on iodizing salt, or giving school girls in Africa new uniforms, or fixes obstetric fistulas. Anything to be the small amount of oil that lubricates the global economy to give girls and women just that little bit of hope and opportunity that they need to help hold up their half of the sky.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who Is Afraid of the Big Bad Public Option?

O.k. people, I've got a few things to say here. First, I admit that I don't fully understand what the public option of the proposed health care plan even is. I've done a lot of reading and listening and I'm still not sure I understand it. That said, not understanding something has never kept me from having an opinion in the past and it isn't going to stop me now.

1.) What do you not understand about the word OPTION? If you don't want a government insurance plan, then don't sign up for one you freaking moron. It's an OPTION no one is going to force you to sign up for the public option and if it sucks and fails miserably, it will go away because no one will sign up for it. Since when have we been opposed to OPTIONS? I, for one, love options.

2.) What do you not like about the government? Who do you think we are? I work for the man, I AM the government. And I am here to tell you, we are darn nice people. We may not always be as efficient as you would like, and there may be a lot of us, but we take our obligation to SERVE the public seriously. If you really look at the government, the real government - not the imaginary shadow government with its black helicopters or the government of old white men that comes and goes, but the real government. The people who go to the government offices every day and file the papers and answer the phones, the people sitting at the lotta lotta nice desks and chairs at the government center, you will find out that we are YOU. We are your sisters, your uncles, your aunts, your weird cousins and your disfunctional step-niece. So I don't who you are that you think we can't do a good job with insurance, because we can.

3.) Regarding point number two, and this is a philosophical point I admit, but ask yourself, who do you trust more to have your back in health care, the government, or a bunch of for profit corporate types? I know the government but I don't know your corporations, your shareholders, your bottom-line profit people. Maybe they will all do a good job. But shouldn't we have options? And I for one would like to have my by the people for the people public options.

4.) And finally, several months ago I heard Robert Reich on Morning Edition talking about health care reform. Bob is a lot smarter than me and he said we should be leery of any health care reform without a public option. Bob said we shouldn't accept health care reform without a public option.

So I say to you, co-ops are great, I love co-ops. Let's have them too. But GIVE ME MY PUBLIC OPTION!! There is nothing to fear but insurance company lobbiest. Get thee away from my health care reform and GIVE ME MY PUBLIC OPTION.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Birthday Parties, Swimming Pools and I already Forgot what we did on Friday...

Lucy with her dagger and crown - birthday party spoils

It was another busy weekend around here. I seriously already can't remember what we did on Friday. I guess I took the girls to Marina Park to play while Mitch put in a couple of hours on the little house. We barely made it through Friday since both Josie and Lucy kept us up Friday night. I was pretty much hating life on Friday. We're back at sleep training Josie (for the forty billionth time) since I really enjoyed sleeping through the night while they were in Colorado and I'm not prepared to give it up. Thursday night was hell and Friday pretty much sucked.

Saturday was much better. Friday night was a little better in the sleep department and Mitch and I managed to get up and go to PILATES in the morning! That was great fun. I think that was the first organized exercise class that Mitch has ever been to and it involved the use of a yoga mat...

Saturday afternoon we went to this amazing kids birthday party where the mom of Willow (whose birthday it was) had made all these amazing home made games and prizes. The kids stayed busy for three hours fishing for toiletpaper roll fish, throwing home made bean bags through holes in the hand-painted mushroom, playing kiss the frog, and other games. Lucy spent a good 40 minutes decorating her crown and dagger (although Josie drove her crazy by calling the dagger a "jewel leaf").

On Sunday we went to the YMCA swimming pool, had a nap, Mitch took Lucy to the movies and Josie and I walked to the grocery store. The day wrapped up with a trip to the park, some tofu dogs, a bath, and some quality time watching Ratatouie.

Here's hoping the sleeping goes well tonight.

Two funny Josie notes for the weekend. I let her walk half-way home from the grocery store before I finally couldn't take walking at the pace of a two year old any more and put her in the stroller. When she started walking she had her hands clasped together until I told her that on the sidewalk she didn't have to hold hands. She always says, "I want to hold mine own hand."

Her big thing right now is to say, "That's all I need." So she'll pick up three books and head out of the living room with a jolly, "That's all I need." I hope you all have what you need, and as Bono says, I also hope you can get behind the statement, "What you don't have, you don't need it now, don't need it now..."

Some Washington Trip Photos

Lucy and Josie really play together well these days. Here they are sharing an airplane ride at a playground on Whidbey Island.

This is only day two of the shell collection on Camano Island. By the end, the house cleaning folks sent the Ranger over to make sure that we weren't going to leave the entire beach on our deck for them to clean up. It did warm the cockles of my heart to have BOTH Josie and Lucy love shell collecting as much as my mom and I do.

The girls and I waited in style in the Sea-tac airport for Mitch to take the bus away from the airport to pick up a cheaper rental car. The girls are watching Cars on the DVD player and drinking smoothies from starbucks.

This is the house on Camano Island where I spent some of my happiest summer hours as a kid. Our family friends the Bushells owned this house and we spent many happy days here playing kick the can, catching crabs, and collecting shells on the beach. Not to mention visits to Elger Bay Grocery. I re-found this house on our recent visit to Camano Island.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Dream Versus Reality: Vol. 2

While Mitch and the girls are gone one of my major projects has been working on the side yard. I can't work on this area at all while they are here because you can't go outside without the girls wanting to go. And if you go in the side or the front, that means there are no real barriers between the girls and the street and the girls and the neighbor's yard. Thus instead of working on the yard you spend your whole time trying to keep Josie out the street and trying to keep Lucy from collecting each and every one of the ten thousand white rocks that make up our neighbor's front yard.

Why would a person need to work on their side yard you might ask? Well one might want to work on their side yard if a) it was covered in nasty weeds b) it was full of cat shit and piss so that the entry to one's house smells like a sewer or c) it is full of foxtails that have the potential to lodge in your cat's or your children's skin and then travel into their bodies causing all sorts of problems. It turns out in our case that all of the above are true.

In my dream world (the dream) the side entrance to our house would be a fantastic wall of wonderfully tall and amazingly colorful flowers that greet you at all times of the year and shepard you in a tunnel of color and floral smells into our house. This is the dream only for several reasons. First, the space available for planting is 7.5 inches on one side of the sidewalk and one foot on the other side of the sidewalk. Second, this tiny real estate is north facing and lodged between the canyon walls of our house and the neighbor's house so it doesn't get much light. And third, it so happens that Mitch's dream of this entire area is that it be paved and interfere in no way with the passage of strollers, bicycles, scooters, etc. and require no maintenance. I already tried to fix this area up twice: once by planting flowers that unfortunately were trailing and had to be seriously pruned back about every three weeks or they overtook the entire sidewalk. I then ripped these flowers out and replaced them with some low growing flowering plants that have been o.k. but I only had the time and energy to plant them in the first five feet next to the door.

One final note on the dream. Even within the current physical constraints, I figured I could get close to the dream by creating a vertical planter bed on the narrow side of the sidewalk (we also have crappy soil so we need a better planting medium). I considering getting some of the corrugated roofing material (plastic not metal) and bolting it with brackets to the wall that runs paralell to our sidewalk and then filling the whole space with dirt. This way I could create a planter bed that was 7.5 inches wide but about two feet deep and then plant this area with some spectacular, vertical growing plants like gladiolas or bamboo or something. Thus creating a green tunnel towards our house. This vision is also a dream because I am not very handy and feel unable to accomplish this feat by myself, it doesn't really fit with Mitch's vision for the area, and finally, its not very practical as long as we are still in the stroller phase of life and need room to move out there. This dream may still become a reality if we are in this house for another five years.

So, what you ask, is the reality? Well I can promise that the entrance to our house is no longer a weed infested litter box. Nor, however, is it a tranquil tunnel of flowering green beauty. Instead, it is a little like the patio at your grandmother's apartment at the old folks home. It contains a lot of grey concrete pavers, with scattered small flowers like marigolds and alyssum, and a smattering of kitchy garden decor in homage to my own grandma's garden including frogs on a leaf, four little birds, and a big lizard. Unfortunately I couldn't find any garden gnomes that weren't breakable (with the strollers and the girls, only kitsch that was made out of weird modern plasticine type materials were selected). I will post photos this week sometime after my camera battery finishes charging and when I am home during daylight hours to take a photo.

I must say that I don't love the reality of the new side yard, but it is still a big improvement over cat pee and prickles.

The Dream Versus the Reality: Vol. 1

Mitch, Lucy and Josie are gone for a week to Colorado visiting family. When we initially made the plan for Mitch to go without me on this trip since this is my busy time of year with summer interns and student employees, when I realized that this meant that I would be alone for a full week and a three day weekend, I thought, "Woo-hoo!! This is going to be GREAT!!" I'm sure as a parent and a loving wife I was supposed to feel only total loss and desolation at the thought of a week without my awesome family but seriously, a week without kids - I was psyched. I thought, "ah my chance to do all those things that I can't do because they aren't amenable to the little people."

Then the reality slowly sets in. First, what are those things that I personally don't do because they aren't amenable to the little people? Well, first you have things like spend twenty minutes browsing in the really cool paper store that I saw in Westwood. Well, I'm not going to drive all the way to Westwood just to go to a paper store and many of these "oh if only I could go in there for twenty minutes" experiences are from even farther flung places like Newport Beach or Seattle. I'm definitely not going to fly to Seattle for twenty minutes in a paper store. So those specific shopping moments were eliminated. Second there are activities like rock climbing and road bike riding. I haven't been rock climbing seriously in several years and I'm not about to rush out and go climbing (with who?) on my free friday. So those are also pretty much off the table.

Remaining on my list were the following items: sleep through the night, take long naps, read lots of books, shop for hours at the Ventura Thrift stores, check out other local shopping locales like Patagonia, and do a bunch of really tedious crap around the house. So that is essentially what I have been doing. Other than working, my week has been almost entirely taken up by the following activities: re-working the side yard (see Dream vs. Reality vol. 2), trimming the front yard, trimming the garden, cleaning the house, organizing the girls room, and finally various forms of shopping.

What have I learned? First, I now remember that I never really liked shopping. It was fun for the first hour but then I felt compelled to continue since shopping with the girls is nearly impossible. I know this sounds insane but seriously, if you knew your only chance to stroll unmolested through various shops was THIS weekend only, wouldn't you feel compelled to get it all over with? I did find some awesome bargains at the thrift store in the adult clothing vein - lots of cool shirts for work, but still, I now no longer feel the need to shop for another four years. Second, I realized that although I frequently have those "wow I sure do love my kids but it would be great to have two hours to myself right now" moments, in general life is a lot more fun when both of the girls and Mitch are around.

So now my house is almost in perfect order for Mitch's return and I am looking forward to the girls completely trashing it within fifteen minutes of being home. Being a single person for a week was fun (although not as much fun as I thought it would be) but bring on the family!!

Three other final notes. First, I could have more time to myself than I get if I would take Mitch up on his solo parenting offers but I don't because a) he does that all week long so how fun is it for him to be solo dad guy on the weekends? and b) I don't have that much time with the girls as it is so it doesn't sound that great to have an hour to myself if it means that's an hour that I don't get to hang with the little people. Second, one of the other reasons that I felt compelled to spend at least 50% of my free time while Mitch was gone was some sort of single person guilt. Mitch is working for the greater good taking care of the girls so I should be working towards the greater good doing something productive on the home front (neurotic I know. what can I say, I'm a team player). Third, the one other thing that I fully took advantage of my non-kidness for was to go to either yoga or pilates every single day except one that they have been gone. You should be able to feel my buffness and positive energy all the way from here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who Says You Can't Go Back?

The cabins at Cama Beach are right on the beach. The sound of the surf was wonderful and having a beach full of rocks and pinchy crabs for the girls to play with, not to mention all the non-native clover for picking, was simply fabulous. I was too busy having fun to take pictures of Lucy's ten thousand clam shell collection or Josie spending hours picking up and discarding rocks. You'll have to take my word for it, it was magical.

Last weekend we went to Camano Island for Peter Hodum and Nathalie Hamel's wedding. The wedding was at Cama Beach State Park. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my family used to go to Camano Island every summer to spend a week with our family friends, the Bushells, who owned a house on the island. My memories of those weeks are full of leisurely walks along the beach collecting rocks and shells with my mom and my brother, trying to catch crabs with sticks, picking blackberries, games of ten thousand dollar pyramid, back scratches, and naps. I was worried that after all these years, Camano Island would have lost its luster and my fondest memories would lie in a tarnished heap on the ground.

Not so. Cama Beach State Park is wonderful!! The state has done a fantastic job converting this old fishing village/family vacation place into a simple state park. The facilities are all very new but understated. The cottages have been renovated but are still super simple and rustic. No cars are allowed down by the cabins and the water which makes this a wonderfully quiet and safe environment. The forest rises uninterrupted up from the stone covered beach.

We had a fabulous four days on the beach. I was able to collect rocks and shells with Lucy and Josie - who both love beach combing as much as I do. Lucy and I swam in the sound. We all spent a couple of happy hours picking blackberries with me picking some for Josie and Lucy eating most of hers as she picked (a long Brigham family tradition). There were lots of other pleasant adults with pleasant small children at the wedding so there were many eyes around to watch the kids and lots of playmates for both Lucy and Josie. The wedding was simple, heart-felt, and lovely. All in all, we couldn't have had a better time. If I could go back to Cama Beach State Park every year for a week I would. It was just like I remembered.

After the wedding we hooked up with my brother, dad, step mother, and her son Corey for a short family get together on Whidbey Island. It was great to see everyone and the girls loved spending a few days with their Grandpa Tom, Grandma Sue, Uncle Jerm, and Corey. Josie was particularly taken with Corey and wanted to know when she would get to hang out with him again.

Now Mitch and the girls are off for a week to Colorado to visit Grandpa Jim, Grandma Jo, Uncle Stu, Aunt Kelly, cousin Aidan and cousin Vincent. It is super odd not to have them here. I was initially very excited to have a whole week to myself but now although I'm sure it will have its moments of excellence, I will also be happy to have them back. It is lonely without all my peoples (especially without a dog...).