Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Remember when? - aka watch Helen try and break the record for the most embeds in a sngle post...

So anyway yesterday was one of those awful write-off days (I'm in a bit of a slump and need to get my act together!). I've become used to working while at work and getting a lot done in the mornings and now that I'm back to full-time studying I'm missing the structure (if not the early mornings).

Anyway to cut a long story short we were kicked out of the lab so that the cleaning staff could turn everything upside down, flood the place and then polish the floor, leaving everything sparkling clean! And so we did what any self-respecting postgrads would do when confronted witha barrier to work: we went and got coffee while grumbling about having to pay for it, when we usually spend all our money on coffee grounds and milk (which doesn't count!).

And so we got chatting and it left us in a not-working frame of mind and so when we were finally allowed back into the lab I mentioned to Luke that I remembered this song from back in the day:

Catchy, no?

And so it degenerated into a long nostalgia session, which I felt that I must share with the world in general. I'm working on a playlist at the moment but it's taking a lot of sifting through the giant pile of cassette tapes I found in my cupboard recently. These are some of the songs I've come across that have given me flashbacks (and byt that I mean some, not all as the ist is very very long!):

Don't judge me (and if you weren't a teenager in the late 90's then don't watch this one, it's AWFUL!) - sadly enough I saw them live and thought they were fantastic!

I struggled as a kid because I had so many very different musical influences. On the one side I had my brother who educated me about grunge and gentle alternative rock (I have memories of listening to Green Day with the volume turned as low as we could so that our parents wouldn't hear the lyrics to 'Brat' Or giggling whenever someone in The Offspring swore. I was also trained to play classical music from before I could even read and I still listen to that from time to time.

I also had the world's most awesome radio show to educate me: The Night Zoo of which I was an avid listener from when I was 12 and got my first radio ("If it's too loud... you're TOO OLD!"). It was always fun to try and hde my headphones from my parents when they came to say goodnight and I often taped the show in case I fell asleep (I think it started at 9 or 10 pm?).

From there, most importantly Thursday night's modern rock chart where I learned to love gems like this:

not to mention going through the obligatory Nirvana, Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins phases. I must admit, I never did the whole Pearl Jam thing, and I still can't bring myself to listen to them much, although their lead singer has a song out that is AMAZING and I had it on repeat for days.Check it out:

Eventually I moved on to The Prodigy and vaguely dancy music as well - to tell the truth as long as it was loud and had a beat I would listen to it.

At the same time I was a teenage girl, and so I had to go through the requisite stages of listening to these guys:

Scarily enough as much as I cring now, I quite liked them then and had many many posters on my walls which had to be burned as soon as I passed that stage. I was also about 13 when Britney Spears released her first album and I was a participant in many Britney vs Christina arguments (I think I switched sides often just to annoy people).

Which leaves me with one last memory (for now). How is it that whenever this song came on people would start line-dancing? I mena I get it that the music is right for line-dancing but how did everyone always know what to do? I always felt like I'd skipped out on a special class or something...

Of course there are so many other songs and so many other memories!

Anyone keen to share the soundtrack to their childhood? Particularly if it was the 90's!

Monday, June 29, 2009

The mystery of the Silver Scissors

Not really, when I was younger and gave up playing hockey in favour of ice-skating classes we used to drive past the 'silver scissors hair salon' every Saturday morning on the way to skating classes. and thus ends the mystery. The true enigma though is the way that my hair can transform completely, with no help from me at all!

The scenario is this: You go to get a haircut, for whatever reason. I have a LOT of hair so it's usually when the thinning from the last cut has grown out and I end up looking like a season 1 X-files character :
Until I give up on styling and just try to tie it back which results in another x-files impression (fortunately my clothes are generally NOT made out of old lace curtains):

(photos from here and here).
Eventually, in terror of ending up like this:
I book a hair appointment.

I love going to the hairdresser! You get your hair washed for you 9the ultimate in pamperage I think) and if I go to the right place I get a scalp massage as well that leaves me very happy wth life and so relaxed I can't stand up without wobbling slightly. And then the stylist asks what you want.

There are two possible answers to this questions. I tend to alternate between option 1:
"I want a (insert type here) cut with (insert specifics) and make sure that if I dry it (insert dream styling method of minimal effort) way then (insert ideal style) will happen. And make sure when you (insert style - layer, feather, fluff or whatever) that you avoid the small family of black widow spiders living behind my left ear!*** Ok thanks, I'm going to read my magazine now!"
and of course option 2:
"You are a stylist, which means I trust you around my head with a pair of scissors. Make me pretty! "

Now that Joey's husband's sister's husband's aunt is out of the question I went back to the lady I used to have cut my hair. I generally let her do whatever she wants, and if I give her direct instructions she has been known to refuse (and while I appreciate her stopping me from getting a fringe, or a mohawk (not that I've asked, but I'm pretty sure she would draw the line at shaving my head)) and do something that actually suits me, I was in a giving instructions mood.

Besides, she refused to dye my hair blue, and I really loved having blue hair!

So anyway they cut and trim and use the scary thinning scissors (they scared me so much I screamed "WHAT THE HECK DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?" the first time when she put the scissors right next to my scalp. And eventually they finish and you leave feelng all pretty - enough so that you might even skip a day or two of gym just to avoid sweating and having to wash it any sooner than is absolutely necessary.

Eventually you wash it and style it and voila: you gone from this:

straight back to this:

No effort required!

Is it a miracle? What's te word for a bad miracle? Maybe it's karma getting me back for all those years I didn't check if my shampoo had been tested on animals.

***(for the record there are no spiders, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention)
Oh, and if you want a good giggle check this out.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I love failblog.org! After wasting far too much time on it today I thought I'd share the love a bit... Enjoy!

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

Anyway, I'm off now to get changed and stuff to go for dinner with Chief Goth and (I hope) Lara tonight, and maybe head off with Jo and Z (the makeup artist) clubbing after that.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Falling slowly

I was supposed to go and visit Jo at her new job today- she's working
at a photography studio quite close to the vet.

I spoke to her on the phone to confirm, and to mention that I'd
forgotten my camera- very annoying as I got a new lens a little while
ago and I've been having some trouble with it- it shows a lovely
picture on my camera screen, but when I put the photos on my computer
they come out very very dark.

The plan was to try it on her camera and see if it was any better.
When I explained that being at work at 8am was not conducive to me
remembering ANYTHING she said "Don't worry, you can use mine!"

She phoned me a few minutes later to ask if I had my laptop. When I
said yes she said I should get some of my better photos together.

I explained that that might be a problem as in all of the several
thousand pictures I've taken, there might be two that have people as
the subject, and maybe another ten where I've used people to help
provide a focus in a landscape shot.

After many phone calls she asked if I could come any earlier- and as I
was having a haircut I could skip the blowdry and she'd do my hair.

Finally she explained the situation- their freelance photographer
basically drop-kicked the studio camera on a shoot on sunday, and
they're desperate for someone to do the odd shoot on weekends. And
she'd told her boss that I was coming and I was a great photographer
and he'd rescheduled his day in order to meet me!

After a mild freak-out on my part I met the guy, who was really nice
and basically offered me a job if (and he stressed this point a LOT)
IF I can actually shoot.

So I spent my afternoon observing Joey in action- she's really good at
her job, despite my reservations at her technical prowess- and doing a
trial shoot. They made me shoot her so that I wouldn't try and pass
her work off as my own (as if!) which was awesome as she is SUCH a

It was so much fun! I'll elaborate tomorrow, right now I'm exhausted
and going to get some very much needed sleep!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the plus side

Did you know that:
"Whiterashes is a hamlet in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, that is northwest of Newmachar and 3 miles southeast of Oldmeldrum."

On the other hand:

"Laguna San Lorenzo is a lake in the Beni Department, Bolivia. At an elevation of 178 m, its surface area is 26.2 km²."

picture from here

Thanks Wikipedia!

a long whining session about everything

So I drove past the lady from yesterday, and while she gave me a look that would have stripped pant, she seemed otherwise OK! Admittedly the glare could have been a response to me wide smile at seeing her alive and not bleeding from the head...

I'm tired at the moment. Working during the week at the vet, followed by dashing to the lab to get some more work done has been taking its toll on me. I have a friend (who is really awesome) who has greeting me with some variation on "You look tired" every time I've seen her in the last month. I hate to respond with an explanation because it just comes out sounding whiny!

I spent some time with a friend last night. It's a weird friendship in that it literally went from acquaintance to one of the most honest and insanely-deep friendships overnight. I think a lot of it is that we have very similar issues to deal with and he picked up on it pretty quickly. To risk sounding incredibly cheesy, it's like he 'gets' me. And he's not afraid to tell me I'm full of crap if I need to hear it, and not in the "shut up and grow up and tough it out" kind of way that a lot of my other friends do. Instead he tried to make me figure out what's underneath all the crap that I show the world in general.

To tell the truth the first time we had a really long conversation (like 6 hours of it) I left feeling exhausted, incredibly vulnerable and a little bit angry that he could suggest certain things. A lot of it was me being defensive and holding on really tightly to my security-blanket behaviour that I think is definitely valuable but maybe not very nice.

Fortunately I followed that conversation with three weeks in the middle of nowhere (remember all those fun stories?). Well between facing off leopards and snakes, falling down cliffs and generally acting like a zoologist there is a lot of quiet which makes your brain kick in to introspection-mode. I over think a lot, and when I have no conversations to rehash in my head I start to think about issues a bit closer to home. By the time I came home I had kind of thought through a lot of what we'd talked about and realised that the reason that a lot of it made me angry was because it was true. And the clinging on to the security blankets in the way that I do is a bad thing - it keeps me safe from a lot of very real things (which I'm terrified of dealing with) but it turns me into a person that I don't really like very much.

Anyway the point is that I've been battling with things lately. I haven't been happy in a long time, and I haven't felt like there's anywhere I can go with what's happening in my head. And last night I was prepared for what was going to happen and so I forced myself to keep my mind slightly more open than otherwise and I left afterwards feeling OK about life.

Now there are a few things I have to sort through: I had Lara's voice in my head last night saying something she told me once: "there are two categories of behaviour, acceptable and unacceptable. If someone around you behaves in a manner that is not acceptable according to your standards, then don't let them anywhere near you. You have to have the strength to tell them that they're behaving badly and if they don't rectify the situation then cut them out of your life. They'll only damage you."

Does ignoring the 'deal-breakers' happening around me make me a bad person? I guess I've been sacrificing my self-respect a lot lately and that's not OK. And as much as I can pinpoit where thngs started to go wrong, I finally figured out that it's not about making sure that the person/people to blame get ther come-uppance. It's the fact that if other people let themselves be so easily manipulated, is it worth my sticking around?

My friendships have been dwindling lately. I spent a Saturday night in the gym for crying out loud! I'm kind of reaching a state of not knowing whether it's me or them - I am changing, introspection does that, but at the same time, my security-blanket behaviour works. Its given me friends, achievements, accolades, confidence, basically the life I wanted. To cast it off and be a real person rather than a robot means that the people I associate with might not like me anymore. And that scares me. A lot.

And maybe I shouldn't work to revive friendships that are floundering. if the other person doesn't seem to care, why should I? Is spending a Saturday night alone and lonely, but self-actualised all that scary?

Oh yes it is.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

shoes and guilt

First things first: the people in our lab eat popcorn almost every day. We love it and there's a place on campus that sells it relatively cheaply aand they make it really well as long as you don't look very closely at the oil... So when I was getting quotes for a coffee machine I got one for a popcorn maker as well (an air-popper not needing oil and all that nasty stuff) but we decided against it. Then I saw it on special for next to nothing on the weekend, Leia is super-keen to chip in and get it, Luke not so much...

As the deciding vote I can't make up my mind (no pun intended) so I have put up a poll (top right hand side of this page). Please vote and help me on this! It's not as arduous as commenting (although you are more than welcome to eplain your choice) and is totally naonymous so all you lurker out there are welcome to click a button and make your voice heard, but not identified!

Ok, so to the point of today's post... I got new shoes, and NO I don't feel guilty because they were on sale and therefore better-than-reasonably priced! I actually picked a different pair and was already at the checkout when I saw the shoes that I REALLY wanted, and the long-suffering salesman let me try them on. And what are the chances that the only pair left fitted me?

This is them:

Aren't they awesome? They come with a choice of black and pink laces, so I went with the pink, which make people visibly recoil at their brightness, but I don't really care, I like them! The best part is that I don't have to lace them up, and the padding which makes them super-comfy also makes them really nice and warm! And they match my pink paper-clip earrings!

So the guilt? well today I worked at the vet and from there went to the centre where I used to work to return DVDs that I hadn't got around to watching yet. I figured as I was going to go straight to the lab I'd get spinach and feta pie while I was at it and of course I walked past the hairdresser that I used to go to.

I moved from them to my friend's husband's sister's husband's aunt instead as she's much cheaper and really good and she works from home which is conveniently near to where my friend lives and so she used to come and keep my company while I got my hair done. She was also awesome enough to dye my hair blue and organise blue extensions when that didn't work!

Unfortunately since my last haircut, my friend divorced her husband, which made his family really angry and makes me scared to have Renee anywhere near my head with a pair of scissors. but as it's been a good six months since my last haircut and I'm in desperate need of one I figured I'd make an appointment considering that I'm working less than a kilometre away this week. Renee thinned my hair a lot last time so I've been able to have it loose, but lately that's grown out and it's too thick to do anything, even if I straighten it. and all the layering and stuff has mostly grown out which means it's just...everywhere!

So anyway, back to the guilt, i was on my way to the highway when I saw a woman sitting at the side of the road. She wasn't begging, she was just kind of sitting there. She held a blanket that might ave contained a baby, but I think was actually just strategic padding (I hope so anyway) and just sat, in the sun which was pretty warm right then.

I never give money to beggars, but I often keep food in my car that i hand out, or clothes or something. I've heard the stories of begging being more lucrative than working and all that but at the same time I worry that they're usually told by people who have jobs. At the moment there is NOTHING available, even the government-run companies aren't hiring people (despite dear Jacob promising 500 000 new jobs) and lucrative or not, to cast off your dignity and sit at the side of the road has to be totally soul-destroying. I don't often give stuff away, but I try to make eye contact and say hi and apologise, and just treat people like humans rather than pretending that they don't exist while revving to try and make the light change faster.

but today i didn't have anything, so I figured who was I to have made an expensive hair appointment while this woman was sitting there with nothing. The robot (traffic light) was red so I sat there for a while, until I decided that she could probably get more from my pie than I would and so I opened my window and offered it to her. It was still warm and she seemed really grateful and the light was about to change so I said it was a pleasure and to have a really good day and she went back to her seat.

As I changed to first gear I saw her settle back with bit more gusto than I'd expected, to see that she'd FALLEN down a hole that had obviously been dug to change cables or something for the robot! There was the plastic orange mesh stuff around the perimeter and I think she was using it for shade and it ad given way or something and she literally fell in backwards, head first!

The robot was green and people were hooting and I must admit my first thoughts were of whether I could leave my car, bearing in mind that my laptop was in the boot and that was probably a bad idea as I hadn't backed up this morning's work... so I waited until she stood up and waved that she was okay (although she seemed somewhat wobbly) and I had to go.

I can't believe it happened! And maybe if I hadn't tried to give her a pie she wouldn't have hurt herself!

I mean really, what are the chances of that happening?

And yes, I just wrote a post about homeess people and shoes. I am officially shallow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

geocaching 101: spending hours looking for sh*** for no real reason

So after the comments on the last post, I figured I'd write a little bit about the 'sport' that I love so so much! The title is what a friend of mine calls geocaching - she's really not a fan!

Basically, geocaching is treasure hunting. People hide little containers all over the world and then publish the GPS coordinates online. Then other people (like me) download the coordinates and go looking for them. Simple enough really! Here is a picture of our first ever geocache, complete with our mascot, Elvis the travelling penguin!

There are some slightly more complicated twists to it: there are contests where teams race each other to find a certain number of caches in an area. There are different-sized caches, from tiny magnetised boxes or boxes that can fit half a pencil and a piece of paper (you sign a logbook to prove you were there) to huge - the biggest I've found so far was probably big enough to hold two loaves of bread quite comfortably. They're usually in Tupperware containers or jars, but some are in old ammo boxes, which completely flummoxed me the first time when I was halfway up a mud-bank, under a tree, trying to look inconspicuous while trying to figure out how on earth to open the thing!
Believe it or not, there is a geocache in this picture!

That's another fun thing- a lot of the caches are in places where there are a lot of non-geocachers (referred to as 'muggles') and the whole point is to avoid them seeing what you're doing, so you have to do all kinds of things, from trying to explain to security guards that you aren't a terrorist (in the UK a lot of caches are labelled with "THIS IS NOT A BOMB!!!"), to trying to walk casually past an area while scraping rocks out of the way, to creating strategic disturbances to hunt in an area without being spotted. My particular skill has aways been getting into restricted areas by being polite to security guards. That and organising geocaching trips by sorting through sites and listing them by distance and direction from point A as well as complexity, ideas, hints and any other information I might have.
Some geocaches are called 'multicaches' these can be very rewarding but also pretty nasty. I don't look for them often. They involve solving clues along the way to get the final coordinates, either by finding clues hidden along the way or by getting information from sign-posts or something and then solving riddles. We tried looking for one once, which resulted in Luke and I taking a swim in a lagoon and ultimately finding out that the cache had been hidden UNDERWATER and had been washed away in recent storms. This is where we ended up swimming:

There are also things called 'Travel-Bugs" which are basically bar-coded items that get moved from cache to cache and logged on the website. Some have tasks (like going from Africa to Asia or going from island to island) and some just kin of float around. You can track them online, which is always fun if you get one and then you can see where it's been.

Ok, so now that the admin side is done, let me tell you some of the reasons that make it awesome:
Because we all love a treasure hunt!
It's a lot like being a kid again, solving riddles, planning adventures and hunting around for things. They can be buried, hidden under/on/in things, up trees, under water you name it! A commercial GPS has an accuracy of up to about 3 metres or so, less if it's really cloudy or you're under a lot of trees, so it usually involves searching quite a bit (considering that your GPS leads you to within 3m of where the first person saved the coordinates and then there's still a good 3m to play with. In a forest, that's a LOT!

The feeling of adventure
Trying to look inconspicuous while following an arrow on a huge brightly coloured GPS is always a challenge, I've had several occasions where I've had to pretend it's a phone and had a conversation with it, while holding thumbs that my real phone won't ring! Pretending to take photos while trying to find a casual way to look under a park bench for a magnetic cache container, telling a security guard that you're visiting 'Steve' in number 58...
Or hunting around in this graveyard, feeling a bit guilty...

Having a purpose
Maybe it's just that I finished school a year younger than everyone else and I rushed through University skipping masters along the way but I find it hard to spend time being purposeless. If I go hiking I take pictures or try to walk faster than other people or just plain do something other than walk for the sake of walking. Geocaching means that you're looking for something, so I find it easier to relax, particularly when I go away and the lack of work makes me feel guilty.
Finding new places
People often put geocaches along routes that aren't well known, I guess as a weird publicity type thing. So if you're going somewhere and you don't want to stick to the tourist route, it's a great way of getting to the local 'gems' that aren't necessarily published in the guide books. When I was in Jersey (the island) last year I spent the most amazing afternoon hiking about 10 miles along beautiful cliff paths (I had to run the last bit because there was only one bus scheduled for the rest of the day, and then I got there an hour earlier and spent a lot of time on a bench, appreciating the beauty of Bon Nuit Bay and helping a passing motorist rescue a duckling from the middle of the road). Anyway it was probably my favourite day of the whole trip, I got to see a lot of beautiful scenery, find places and appreciate their history as I'd read about it when I found the coordinates. A bit better than spending a day making pottery or visiting yet another gift shop.
This was the view from a firing range (it had lots of danger signs, very exciting!)
This was at a sand-castle exhibition, which was absolutely incredible! There were dozens of sculptures like this one, this one was about my height and about 3 metres in diameter, with every detail absolutely perfect, even the tiny trees and windows that were literally smaller than my smallest fingernail!
Collecting random stuff

If the geocache is bigger than the tiny micro-containers they're filled with random knick-knacks. The usual protocol is to take something out and out something in when you find it. Some people get VERY enthusiastic and have personalised items or stickers or whatever, I take a pocketful of stuff with me in case I want to keep something, otherwise I just swap stuff between caches. When I was in Jersey I actually took took things home (I had taken a TON of stuff to leave in caches) and gave them as gifts to my family, complete with photos of the area I found them and a description of the area and any adventures I had while finding them. I figured that was a much better gift than yet another postcard or keyring. Some of the cooler stuff I've found in geocaches: Yugoslavian money, a complete incense set, a 40 koki-pen and crayon kit (it was in the mega huge cache), key rings of all shapes and colours and sizes - most of which have been moved to other caches, several compasses, photo-frames, Brazilian money...

Finding caches in the places you pass every day
I love the idea of a secret parallel world. Kind of Harry-Potterish I guess, but the idea that these things are all over and nobody knows it and I've been 'let in' on the secret thrills me! Maybe it all goes back to my childhood when we all wanted to know the secrets while stopping anyone else from finding out? About a year go I had a really bad day, plugged my home coordinates into the website and found about four geocaches in an afternoon, all within about a 10km radius of where I work! Two of them are within walking distance, and I've driven past them at least one a week for the past few years without knowing! And now I get to drive past them and grin to myself because I know the secret! Of course the flip-side is that you have to poke around a lot to find things - which is quite often a bad idea in the city, and so the first order of business is usually to find a decent stick before you discover that you've been searching in the 'toilet area' of the local vagrants, or (and Candice discovered) at the site of a rendezvous that ended in her holding up a used condom, looking puzzled, dropping it and shrieking!
This is a dog-walking route around a reservoir! I wouldn't have found it without the hunt for a geocache, and it was one of best walks I've ever had, it was really beautiful and peaceful!
Wow, this has become a HUGE post, my apologies! I'll see if I can find some other photos to illustrate my points. My apologies for the limited range, I'm usually the one up a tree looking for things, not sitting sedately with a camera!

I guess this could be a new section: fun for the family! I took this photo while hunting on the cliff for a geocache with my Dad. Having geocaches to look for made my trip to visit him awesome, and it gave us something to do together other than the usual sight-seeing! He was amazingly patient with me hunting around, although he also liked to wait until I was in a particularly ungraceful position to take photos... (so is that where I get it from?)

I climbed this tree in the hunt for a cache. It turned out it was in a different tree, across the road... and at about shoulder height!

I took this after climbing the mud bank to find the very tricky ammo box!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The adventures over the weekend

Once again fate struck and a whole ton of awesome stuff happened over the weekend and before I got a chance to write about it, other stuff happened. And once again I found myself promising to go back and tell the stories and the chance kind of slipped away...

So I'm going to write about it now! Photos to follow as soon as I beg Leia to let me post pictures of her...

So anyway as you may know, Leia is a labmate. She's a masters student working on mice. We have a long history, all starting when we were kids and our parents used to sit inside and chat while a whole troop of kids played nicely outside. Well on one such occasion I was stuck with a bunch of boys (Leia would have been a baby being cooed over inside at this stage) so I had brought my 'My Little Pony' collection out and was constructing a quite scary scenario in the sandpit involving giant horses against little green plastic soldiers. My collection consisted of three ponies, a purple one a yellow one and a blue one. I think I still have them somewhere.

One of the boys took one of my ponies (the blue one) and pulled its tail out! I was devastated as I'm pretty sure it had been on an aquatic adventure at some point and didn't smell nice like the others anymore and so all it really had going for it was its tail. One of the other boys was angry on my behalf and beat up the nasty child (who went on to be head boy of his primary school...). This was Leia's brother. And that is my history with their family!

For the record, Leia's parents are not crazy Star Wars geeks or anything like that, it's not her real name, any more than my real name is "Brother T" even though Luke's been calling me that for years (and I'm still not quite sure why). We renamed her when she arrived in the lab with a giant pair of noise-cancelling headphones that resembled the famous 'Chelsea bun' style made so famous in the first star wars movie. I even labelled her headphones 'Leifyers' when I got an awesome label-maker from the lab cleanup upstairs.

So anyway on Friday evening, while having amazing hot chocolate with the IT guy we decided that I would go with her to her field site on Saturday afternoon so that we could both take out big scary SLRs along and spend some time taking photos.

I had Saturday morning off to help my brother on a photo-shoot which was amazing. The people were very cool, and one of them in particular really made me think about how I see the world. And so on Saturday we went to her site which is basically a field of super-tall grass. We went in search of trees to find that they were all fenced OUT of the property, so we ended up lying on the grass taking photos of power-lines, grass, trees from a distance, blackjacks... it was actually quite fun!

The next morning I went along again, this time with a bundle of geocache information and we caught a mouse which was very exciting and headed off in search of geocaches. This was more for my benefit - I picked up a travel bug on the last excursion with full intent to drop it at the next cache. Problem being we didn't find anything else that day and I haven't been geocaching since. Travel Bugs are pretty expensive and I felt guilty having it sitting on my desk rather than floating around the world having adventures, so I was determined to get rid of the thing!

we found a cache really nearby in a specific tree (it was huge and right in front of it,and when I pointed it out she went "Where? I don't see it? Where?) but it was tiny and so the silly thing didn't fit in it and I had to keep the bug until the next site. After much exploring and not getting
anywhere close we decided to head back, stopping along the way at a place that I used to go to often as a child that a) has a geocache nearby and b) I remembered their meringues as being incredible and wanted to see if they still were.

Anyway, long story short, after accidentally invading a staff village, nearly climbing a fence and ending up falling in a river and making friends with a local dog but not so much with the rather dodgy owner who zoomed off on a creaking KTM (it wasn't in bad shape either, but there are certain people who shouldn't get sport bikes) we ended up quite far from the meringue place at a paintball course!

Leia REALLY needed the bathroom by then. I think she'd been needing to go all day, and we'd had coffee while she disinfected her car by accident which didn't help, so after taking laminated flyers for wooden decking and panelling from a car guard she went in search of a bathroom to find that they were BOTH labelled 'Men Only' and the only alternative was a portaloo. She refused the portaloo option and I didn't really want to go in because there was a bike there that very possibly might have belonged ton someone I didn't want to see while being covered in trapping grime, having a bad hair day and just... I didn't want to handle it on a weekend that had
been pretty good thus far.

So she decided to tough it out and so we went off in search of the elusive geocache. I taught her the best trick of geocaching - the 'walk-with-a-purpose-so-that-nobody-asks-any-questions' trick - and we went on until we realised that we'd have to hop a fence INTO the paintball course. For the record, the course is basically a forest with the odd hay bale tossed in, it looks AWESOME and we have to play there one day! The cache was about 80 metres away, I couldn't see any paintballers and the shots sounded relatively far, so I figured we would run for it. Leia kindly obliged and so we went sprinting through the trees until we got to the spot and couldn't find the thing.

By this stage Leia was jumping up and down and spinning in circles and trying to ignore the sound of rushing water from the river nearby. I didn't want to give up (do I ever?) partly because I'd picked up a SECOND travel bug at the previous site and really wanted to get rid of both of them (I had a reason for taking it)! so I said that we'd do one more sweep and then head back. She gave a tense nod and carried on dancing from foot to foot.

I was almost at giving-up point when I leaned down, poked with my toe and realised that they'd BURIED the thing, so I looked up to say we'd found it to see her walking away very briskly. I figured that as she had mentioned her preference to a bush over a portaloo it might be best to avoid following her and so I put the travelbugs in, grabbed a yoyo and a magic bean thingie and signed off on our visit. In the meantime Leia had very kindly sent me a message to say she was taking the portaloo of horror option and so I headed back to find her trying to shower in waterless hand sanitiser in the parking lot.

For the record, the meringues are still amazing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How to make a decent cup of hot chocolate

It's been a weird day - turns out (I think, I still need confirmation from my boss) that I had myshift times confused and have been arrriving at work half an hour late for the last two weeks! I found that out while chatting to one of the other employees while arranging shifts this morning. Of course nobody had said anything, which means that either I was right and therefore not late (pleasepleaseplease!) or else that they were being the lovely people that they are and thikning I've been sleeping in and as I'm working during the week to help out they're being polite about it.
So anyway we have a lab party tomorrow (yay!) and so I've been baking choc-chip and cranberry cookies which are awesome! It's a recipe I got from my super-awesome sister-in-law and I made them on the weekend. They went down relatively well with all the random people I gave them to so I'm hoping the second attempt will go well! Unfortunately last time I made two dozen and this time I made them a bit bigger to try and conserve the chewy-centreness and only ended up with 15, which is a problem because I wanted to take some to work tomorrow afternoon to shield myself with when I ask about whether or not I've been very consistently late in the mornings.
While I'm waiting for them to bake, I thought I would teach the world something that a few friends and I discovered in first year. Of course very few ideas are original and so I apologise if someone else thought of it first, but I know of it purely by experimenting between Chemistry and Stats, while we were trying to get out physics lab prep done.
So to make a really awesome cup of hot chocolate:
  1. Forget about being healthy. Close your eyes and force all thoughts of Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Tai Chi or Yoga.Take a deep breath through your nose... hold it... and out through your mouth... Open your eyes. You are ready to begin.
  2. Take a mug and put the requisite amount of hot chocolate powder in it. Add a tiny splash of milk (type of milk isn't important, I have tried it with soy milk as well as good old cow mammary fluids and they both work equally well).
  3. Stir the milk/powder mix really vigourously with your teaspoon. The mixture should almost make a paste and you want to get as many air-bubbles in as possible, so stir like a maniac until the water has boiled.
  4. Add boiling water and stir. The whole milk-paste-stirring thing should have made it all nice and foamy.
  5. Now, for the best part: find some plain milk chocolate. You need about two squares (like you get in those cute little party-pack chocolates). If you have a big block then break off a strip which should be two or three squares. Whatever makes you happy (short of getting a blender and adding a kilogram of the stuff. That wouldn't fit in a mug, and I expect you'd feel pretty darn sick afterwards).
  6. Drop the chocolate into the hot chocolate.
  7. Now you have two options. Some people like to give it a minute or two to melt and then they stir it in. I prefer to drink the hot chocolate and then eat the melted chocolate off the bottom with my teapsoon when I'm done, while giggling like a sugar-high kid who found the stash of christmas presents. The chocolate does melt and dissolve into the hot chocolate which makes it get stronger as you drink it.
And voila! Awesome hot chocolate with very little effort!
I'm off to harvest biscuits, good luck with the hot chocolate, and remember that it might be hot, so be careful to avoid chocolate burns!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The twilight zone!

So after about six hours of phoning that silly chemical company every ten minutes on Monday I finally managed to get them annoyed enough to help me! I was super-polite, which just annoyed them more. What can I say, they suck, and I've worked enough jobs that have a customer-service component to know what works and what doesn't...
Yesterday was a public holiday, although I spent a big chunk of it (I was there until after 7pm) in the lab, it was nice, as my labmates were there and as absolutely everywhere on campus was closed we went exploring for lunch and ended up getting Falafels which are really amazing... We also went off to Candice's birthday picnic which was just down the road at Zoo Lake, which was fun, but freezing. And I was stung by a bee. On the plus side we learned about edible glitter!
Seriously, how does a bee (in the middle of winter) manage to fly around, find me, crawl UP my pants and I didn't notice a thing until I felt a stabbing pain in my leg? I DID learn that I'm not allergic which is a huge relief as a few members of my family are and I'm very allergic to honey. Either way I ended up sitting in the lab with my spreadsheets for a few hours just to be sure, before I drove home (and away from a very conveniently located hospital!).
Anyway the point of my story is that this morning, after much bustling around the lab and organising blood samples, Luke arrived with chemicals in hand (he had super-kindly offered to collect them for me as he lives a bit closer than me and I have absolutely no sense of direction and would have got lost).My supervisor appeared at a reasonable hour and we managed to get the samples prepped and ready to go which took a few hours as we're both relatively useless in the lab and I'm sitll in the field mentality of understanding the logic of a task and adapting accordingly, which is awesome when you're alone, but a bit tricky when you have to try and convince someone else to do the same.
I was also panicking because the samples had to be couriered off TODAY and I had noticed my drivers license was about to expire (I can't believe I've been driving for five years!) and although I'd planning on going on Monday, things hadn't worked out (thanks, stupid incompetent chamical company), and I have work tomorrow and lab-meeting/work on Friday so I started stressing.
I stressed enough that my supervisor agreed to sort out the courier and let me go and I sprinted off to my car. Bear in mind that this was about 2:15 pm and it takes a good 20 minutes to get to the licensing department and they close at 3 pm. There are two strategies: arrive at 6am and 'beat' the queue, or go right before they close and hope you make it in time and they agree to help you. The alternative is to stand in a  queue for several hours before you find out you were in the wrong one/filled out the wrong form/ didn't use the sparkly glitter-pen/used a full-stop instead of a semicolon or even just wore a shirt that annoyed the people working there.
So along with my rather stringent deadline, I was worried because I haven't really gone to the licensing department since I got my license (my car isn't in my name and so they won't let me renew its registration there every year) so with my sense of direction I'd probably end up in Bloemfontein, and while I'd drawn a ridiculous sum of money (always take at least three times what you expect to pay, if you don't have what they want you get sent home) I didn't have my mandatory 4 photos and photocopy of my ID book. To be fair, the last time I was there they tolkd me that my photos didn't meet regulations and that they were going to take my license away, at which I freaked out and nearly passed out, and my examiner shoved me over to her cousin's photo booth where they took new photos where I was so pale my license photo was literally eyes and hair, and everything else was invisible. My left leg shakes when I'm nervous and it was a miracle I managed to control the clutch at all, and the thought of doing it again was not even worth considering!
I got there successfully twenty minutes before closing time, ended up in the wrong building (my sense of direction never fails to dissapoint) and was pointed to the right place by a very kind random member of the public who had obviously been queueing for the last two days. The guy at information displayed his lovely teeth in something between a grimace and a smile, interrogated me on why I didn't have photos and explained that they no longer keep a photo place on the premises and I would have to drive off, get photos, get my ID book photocopied, drive back and get myself well into the process before 3pm. This was about 2:43pm at the time, which I realised in a panic once I'd whipped myself out of the trance his teeth had drawn me into. They were amazing, wi---idely spaced and resembling corn kernels, even down to the little fuzzy bit at the bottom!
He gave me directions to the photo place (thanks, THAT'll help!) and then grinned and leaned forward whispering "I hope you make it!" I smiled, backed away slowly and said "Me too!" before sprinting to my car, where the car guard gave me more directions which seemed roughly similar to the first set, albeit with a few extra left turns. I thanked him, and promised to pay him when I came back and got my license sorted.
So I screeched out of there and nearly followed the directions when I saw a sign saying "photos!" and an arrow. So I followed that. Turns out it was wrong, but fortunately it only required me going around the block, and when I'd nearly made it back with no sign of a photo place when some guy ran out of a crowd of people sitting by what looked like a cross between a hotdog stand and a caravan yelling "PHOTOS! PHOTOS!!!!!"
And I demonstrated my superb driving skills by driving past, registering what he'd said and doing a stunning three-point turn on the spot. They were very efficient, forced me to tie my hair back (apparently it's illegal to have a photo where they don't see your ears, so now my drivers license will display my paperclip earrings proudly for the next five years! Good thing it was the green ones, I like them!
They also whipped out a scanner/photocopier and printed off a copy of my ID book, while the photo guy cut out the pictures. We had a weird conversation, it went like this:
Photoguy: Oh look! You're also an Aries! I was born on the 14th!
Me: That's awesome, I'm on the 16th!
Photoguy: I know, I'm holding your ID book.
Me: haha, of course (mildly freaked out)
Photoguy: We should talk some time (pause). In a park.
Me: Let me get my license first. Bye!
Of course then was the moment he snapped out of it and remembered to charge me and it was R15 more than I had budgeted. And there was much stammering as I dug around my bag looking for small change.
After all that I went back, found out that there was a one way street and a several kilometre detour between me and the licensing department (which was all of a block away) did an amazing three-point manoevre dipping into the one-way street and waving cheerily at angry taxis and made it back by then to three. I then demonstrated an elegant form of athleticism where I vaulted out of my car grabbing everything, managed to lock it and sprinted into the offices dodgy little old ladies, cars in the parking lot and several high-school kiddies who had just got their learners licenses, and came to a rather abrupt halt in front of the guy with the teeth.
After all his moral support he didn't remember me, but gave me a form and told me to go and fill it out and sit in a queue (he waved in the general vicinity of three different queues at this point). This was when I found that the pen I'd kept with me all day for this VERY purpose was no longer in my pocket. Probably in the lab. Otherwise I'll have to interrogate the photo people. Ew.
So I sat next to a random guy and asked if I could borrow a pen. He didn't have one, and said he'd lended the one he had used from someone else (South Africans don't understand the difference between 'borrow' and 'lend' and just kind of alternate. Drives me nuts!). I thanked him anyway and suddenly the random guy and about four of his friends started canvassing everyone there until someone gave me a pen! It was SO bizarre!
And so I filled it out, got my eyes tested (it's so revolting, you have to put your forehead against this thing to activate the test and you just KNOW that a million others have put their foreheads there), fingerprints taken by a psycho lady who kept telling me to relax and then freaking that my thumb wasn't straight and then she made me stand up straight because she saw the outline of my bag on my hip and thought it was a gun.
When I went to the queue number three (at last!) to pay, there was some guy watching stand-up comedy on his PSP and he invited me to sit and watch with him. As I said, bizarre. I declined as I wanted to pay and get my temporary license, and he was just waiting for his grandmother and I didn't want the cashier to get confused and go home.
Amazingly the cashier was friendly! Besides the standard ignoring me for a while while I stood on the other side of the glass feeling helpless, she was relatively efficient, let me take my own fingerprint for the temprary license, smiled when I paid in exact change (thanks to the photo people) and sent me on my way. I walked out cahtting to the PSP guy and his grandmother and then went home.
Not counting driving there and the little photo-dash, the whole process took 15 minutes! And the person who had lent me the pen had gone home or somehting so I got a free pen! Unfortunately all I had was a R100 note and so I spent quite a while looking for something smaller for the car guard and ended up apologising profusely as I gave him a handful (literally) of coins. He didn't seem angry.
Of course when I got home I was famished as I hadn't eaten since dinner last night, as I only wanted coffee for breakfast and the lab work took longer than expected, so I tried to camping trick of making an omelette in a ziplock bag, and it came out really nicely!
And now I'm afraid to go to bed, because everything I've tried has worked today, and I don't want that to end!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Some more randomness

So as I don't really want to talk about my life at the moment (maybe tomorrow) I thought I would point you guys in the direction of a really adorable story about what those supermodel barbie-dogs SHOULD be doing!

The link is here, and here's the basic gist of the story:

In a small town in Germany, people kept losing shoes. A lot of shoes. Like over a hundred (in the town, not per person. Do you have 100 shoes? I don't!). One day a forest worker stumbled across some in the forest and went to investigate. He found more shoes, and, upon closer inspection, realised that they were basically strewn around a fox den.

The authorities got involved and tracked down the shoe owners and returned them, mostly in good condition, but a few missing laces. Apparently, there was a fox who stole shoes for her cubs to play with.

Isn't that the cutest thing ever! Although I wonder what they've been doing with the laces, playing 'England-Ireland-Scotland-Wales'?

*Picture from here

Monday, June 15, 2009

Better than FTV

" I'm not a puppet!"

Anyone able to figure out what the heck that outfit is supposed to be?

The one on the left is thinking happy thoughts in the hope that it'll all be over soon...

So there was a pet fashion show in Moscow! I don't think they painted their cats, but they dressed them up in insane outfits! There must be some really calm pets out there to put up with this!

(pictures from here and here)
I don't know, I guess as long as there are crazy pet-lovers there will be pet-couture. I remember working at the pet-shop when someone threw a tantrum because the (designer branded) dog jackets didn't match her Yorkie's accessories.
At the same time, I spent yesterday trying to stop my dogs from tracking mud all over the floor, while one of them snuck off with all their toys and buried them. I think that would be a lot more fun. At the same time, the people who dress their cats and dogs up really do care about them (a bit excessively at times) and I guess I should be happy that they look after their pets.
Except those silly people who buy tracksuits for their dogs so they can go running in matching outfits, and then the dog gets heat-exhaustion.
I just don't know.

Why do I even bother

I had a partly horrible and partly awesome weekend. I was in a good mood this morning. I even did laundry.

I was going to recount the adventures of the weekend, but right now I'm in the middle of a crisis.

You think that organising something two weeks before you actually need it would mean that it would be ok? Turns out not, the company that I've been negotiating with for the last 10 days, decided to forget my order until today when they phones to say that they haven't even processed my order yet because none of the reps talk to each other. And the stuff that I need by today, is going to take another 3 working days to organise IF I can get them to cooperate and put the order through. Bearing in mind that tomorrow is a public holiday and I have to courier my stuff across the entire country by Thursday.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Guilty pleasures

It's freezing, nobody is happy (except Luke) and I figured I would tell you all about the little things that are keeping me going at the moment!

  • Spider Solitaire or hearts. This started as a lab lunchtime exercise where we would play hearts together and take great pleasure in screaming at the virtual players ('Ben'or 'East' is particularly vindictive). Spider Solitaire is particularly addictive, maybe I just like the fake fireworks at the end if I win? I also play before bed when I'm on fieldwork so that when I go to bed I don't close my eyes and see rocks and lizards, which means that I wake up exhausted from dreaming of chasing lizards all night...
  • Scandinavian metal. How can you not love someone who experiments with different beard-braids? Plus the music is a lot of fun to exercise to! Just be careful or you'll overdo it and end up in pain... Or is that the point? And yes, being Scandinavian is a total bonus, it's so much more fun if they don't really understand what they're singing, just watch Nightwish singing the Pahntom of the Opera live - where they sing beautifully about the "Phantom of the Oprah!" What would that phantom look like? Would it host a talk-show about reconnecting with your family when the medium might not be all that good?

  • This blog. It has made me laugh so hard I've cried on occasion, particularly the fireman cake...

  • PHD comics! I know, I'm terribly nerdy, but the guy who writes it is really good at capturing what life as a postgrad is like, and almost always makes me chuckle, while thinking "I though it was just me!"
  • Britain's got talent: admittedly I can only watch snippets on youtube, but when I was in the field I spent an entire evening doing just that, to the point where I got very emotionally involved and had a few nailbiting session while watching the final results (not just this year either!). I guess there's something in watching the ordinary man on the street show amazing hidden talents, and that makes us all dream a bit. I found the stories that hit me hardest were of the people who had to work really hard through difficult personal problems just to be there, I find it hard to sympathise with the kids with stage parents who kind of get forced into it and have a million lessons and choreographers and singng teachers and everything, it's so sad that they are really talented and they'll probably rebel and quit at some stage.

  • Tea. Now that it's freezing I can't really indulge my coffee habit as much as I'd like as I just keep drinking it until I feel sick. There's something really awesome about a hot cup of tea when it's cold outside! The front-runners at the moment are regular five-roses (I do like Fortnum & Mason but we only get that when my dad has been in the uk recently), spiced-chai tea (like drinking hot-cross buns!), ginger rooibos, peppermint tea and of course cranberry and cinnamon!

  • Watching terrible 'science' based crime shows on TV. I'm not sure what appeals to me more, the bad bad science, the worse portrayal of scientists or the stylish CGI effects. I'm really not into crime shows, but I kind of got sucked into CSI when we started playing "spot the dead-guy breathing" when I was working at the video store. Don't judge me!

  • Green Wing! That show makes me laugh even though I've rewatched the funnier scenes WAY too many times!

I'm sure there are a bunch more, but I think I'll stop there for now! Here's hoping it warms up a bit tomorrow so I can start living again!

Before my fingers drop off from frostbite

It's FREZING in joburg right now! So cold in fact that people are letting their animals heal by themselves or something because I was at the vet for four hours this morning and I think we saw one animal and I sold two bags of dog food, and did some data analysis. Getting up and getting to work is awful because besides the cold and wind, today it's also raining, which makes life totally miserable...

At one stage I was freezing, despite the heater and several layers of clothing, and so I took the opportunity to make a cup of coffee. At that stage I had been sitting round for about two hours. Of course in the two minutes it took me to make coffee people arrived and one of the other employees helped them, leaving me feeling rather guilty that I'd only helped three out of four potential clients in the morning!

Anyway I was reminiscing about some trips today and I figured what better time to talk about where I would really really like to be right now (rather than trying to resurrect my calculus skills on a data-set that is way bigger than I had thought...)

The obvious choice: the beach! Lying on the hot sand, sleeping off the last dive. Walking along the edge of the surf. Digging around in rock pools and looking at the weird and wonderful animals there. Building random sculptures out of sand, digging giant holes and making wind shelters and then falling asleep against the temporary wall of sand...

Namaqualand - the most beautiful place in the world! Going exploring in the evenings where it's light until late because it's right on the west coast. Climbing rocks (and fences...) and trying to navigate when everything is so huge that any kind of distance perception is lost and estimations are way off every time.

Sitting in the kalahari, watching the random wildlife. I can't take credit for this photo, it's Luke's (The rest are mine). This was actually while waiting for our friend and his research assistant to fetch some giant mealworms for the owls.

The Kalahari, a bit further south. Something about the desert makes me want to climb rocks and watch the sunset.

Beautiful, no?

A road between Namaqualand and the Kalahari, where we saw desert dunes for the first time. Basically any road that is somewhere warm, stretching away further than I can see...

Like this one, on our way up from the Western Cape towards Namaqualand.

Or this road in the kalahari.

I'm really feeling the need for a road trip!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why I have the best job ever!

I'm working a few extra shifts at the vet this month because the morning receptionist has gone away for a few weeks. It's awesome, I enjoy working there, it's pretty quiet and they let me bring my laptop, so I get a surprising amount of work done and I get paid pretty darn well considering that I basically answer the phone and sell the odd bag of dog food.
Admittedly there were two people in tears this morning and I never handle that well, but it's been totally freezing lately so nobody has been going near the vet because it involves being outside at some stage. The problem is that I think I watched Green Wing too quickly, and I'm often very tempted to do a Sue White to the difficult clients and either smoosh my face into a chocolate cake, or just yell "F%#@ OFF!" and point to the door... Life would be so much easier if I had a squirrel outfit.
Of course I do like my job and that wouldn't be the best plan... but it's fun to think about! 
Of course I as all enthusiastic to sign up to work before I realised that my being-in-the-city-induced insomnia made being up and vaguely presentable as well as driving in appalling traffic to be at work by 8:30 was probably not going to happen. The fact that it's FREEZING at the moment and I have an amazing new blanket that makes my bed super-inviting early in the morning doesn't help either.
So I staggered through after all six alarms went off this morning (I take precautions) and zoomed off to work to find that a) my boss was fiddling with something on the computers, b) I finally have my own login! It's been two years..and c) there was nobody in the form of a client to be seen.
So my boss said "aren't you cold? Why don't you go and make yourself a cup of coffee or tea?"
Which is why I love my boss. Both of them.
And I was in a ridiculously good mood all morning as a result!

Monday, June 08, 2009


Sorry I've been so quiet, this weekend was the sudden return-to-reality that I tend to get whacked with when I get back from fieldwork... I haven't been sleeping well because I'm not used to the noise of the city (even in my peaceful and leafy suburb) and because I've been flying through Green Wing, which I finished watching now and I'm at a loss for what to start next. Suggestions?

So anyway besides dozing off periodically, taking epic naps and falling asleep on my feet, I spent time with friends, went back to work and basically had a nice laid-back weekend. The weird coincidence was that I got a message last week from someone I hadn't spoken to in years.

We were at the same school, but in different years, so our mothers knew each other from school functions, and we had the same music-teacher and so we were put into our first orchestras at the same time (I think she started a year or so after me, I started at 10, and for my first concert I didn't know anyone, which made it rather scary!)

For our first few years in various orchestras (we were in our school orchestra together as well as the local junior orchestra) we were an absolute nightmare for conductors. We giggled constantly, played practical jokes, and often had contests where we would see who could play correctly with more bubble-gum n their mouths (wild-cherry flavour was the best, and I still can't eat it without feeling mildly ill as I remember the record-breaking 12 packs at one time from 1997).

The orchestra community is horribly cliquey, and this extends to children's groups, so there were two 'cool groups' one of them run by the two of us, and the other run by two horrible girls called Alexis and Whitney. We would audition every year for our orchestra and seating placement (you sit closer to the front if you're better than the others) and one year I did pretty well and moved up into the Youth Orchestra, while she stayed back in the junior orchestra for another year.

I doubt we were any different ability-wise, but I played the viola, while she played the violin, so I think I was more in demand, plus I was older and getting closer to the end of high-school and so they wanted to get me into Youth a bit faster. Either way as it happened, I went through, along with one friend who was desperately shy and didn't actually talk, and Alex and Whitney and their entire little group.

It was horrible! It took me almost a year to settle down, the music was difficult, the people were mean because you can't be a cool clique unless you exclude somebody and I was all alone there. it got better after a few months when a new violist arrived and we made friends very quickly and so we began to form a whole new gang, and by the time I was too old to be in the youth orchestra I was very sad to leave.

Anyway the girl I hadn't seen in ages was promoted up to the youth orchestra after a year or two, but by then we'd kind of grown apart. She'd moved schools in the interim and I hardly ever saw her, and as the baby orchestras performed first at every concert and we performed at the end, I don't think we'd spoken for ages. We stayed friendly, but not really close at all, and when I finished and went to university we kind of lost touch.

So anyway on Thursday or so I got a message from her asking if I remembered her and to see what I was up to. As it happens she's off doing community service (a year of community service is required for all health-science professions, two years if you're a doctor) in the middle of nowhere and was coming back this weekend. As she studied in Cape Town she doesn't know many people in Joburg and so she figured she'd get in touch.

We went for brunch on Sunday and it was awesome! As it happens, she's living in the middle of nowhere about two towns away from the middle of nowhere where I do my fieldwork! It was really nice to chat, particularly as she's as shell-shocked to be back in Joburg as I am and we were able to commiserate over the headaches, nosebleeds and insomnia that come with coming home. She also goes into Nelspruit quite often to use equipment at the hospital and to get meat (apparently she has a grocery store near her, but their meat selection is limited to feet, beaks and bones, heaven only knows what they do with the rest of their animals) so we know the same part of the world pretty well which lead to lots of

"And then you go and there's the two women in the car-"
"With the choc-chips! And then the people by the-"
"orange farm with the tractor! and the guy who takes his shirt off and-"
"He drives the tractor down the highway! Who is he?"
"He makes the broken-pot water-features things they sell them-"
"Oh I know that pace, I think they're quite pretty although the-"
"Guy with the shotgun is insane!"

And so on. It was very cool.

And now I'm so excited to go back on fieldwork because there's someone I can coordinate with so we can have shopping/town trips at the same time and coffee...

Thursday, June 04, 2009


The internet is being amazingly slow today, and of course today being the day when I have to try and order lab chemicals and stuff means that I'm doing a lot of nothing while waiting for pages to load. I'm also slightly worried about the several thousand rands worth of equipment I ordered before I left... It was supposed to arrive three weeks ago, but as far as I know it isn't anywhere to be seen. Yay, I get the admin of tracking it down!
Ordering chemicals and stuff is always fun for me. Being a zoology/ecology major from pretty early on (I co-majored in physiology for a year, but there was a timetable clash and so I didn't carry on with it in my third year) meant that I did a lot of practical work, but relatively little of what most people would consider lab work. I was in honours before I found out how a micro-pipette worked, have no idea what a drop-slide is (unless it involves broken glass) and saw an agar plate for the first time as a post-grad, when I was expected to use them as teaching aids to the first years in a prac on fungi. That was pretty much the definition of steep learning curve!
So hanging out in the microbiology or physiology labs is always awesome because I get all excited about the stuff they have. Like 2-ply paper-towel! It's soft and strong and you can blow your nose without removing a layer of skin! You can get a spring-loaded lab-stool (for short scientists) specially designed for stability during those tricky procedures.
And of course, the day I was looking for lizard traps or something totally unrelated, and stumbled across the website for the Hazmat suit supplier... lets just say I didn't get much work done and I really really want a Hazmat suit! The models have the least impressed facial expressions as well! It's like they're trying to convey the seriousness of working with contagious viruses while in the bright yellow or blue or whatever suits, but they just come across looking sulky, bored and oh so stylish! Check it out here. I LOVE the first guy (top left).And for Zoolander's competition check out these ones. The guy in the black pants really cracks me up! And this set, with their no-nonsense expressions, features a nun right at the bottom!
I'm sure if I had to wear one the novelty would wear off quickly, kind of like getting a lab coat when I was in first year, or wearing overalls and gumboots in quarantine...
But at least I can say that online shopping for me is slightly different. And I'm easily entertained!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chocolate mouse

I haven't forgotten about you guys, but I wrote a whole long post and then I went off to have chocolate cake and commiserate with the IT guy and Leia and then I got back and IE had frozen and blogger hadn't saved much of a draft... so I give up for today! On the plus side the cake was awesome (they labelled it 'chocolate mouse') and we made Irn-bru by mixing fanta orange and creme soda!

In other news, I helped clean out the lab today (the old lab) and put aside my equipment. I've been ok about my supervisor leaving, but after today I'm kind of sad. As much as we don't really get along sometimes and he drives me nuts, I've still worked with him for four years, and I chose to work with him twice along the way (honours and PhD) so I guess I'm' just sad that it's the end of an era in a way.

And how close I am to having to take the last three eyars of work and turn it into a PhD is scaring me, a LOT!

So I'm going to running and ignore the issue!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Home again!

So I left yesterday at around 5:30 pm - it was a beautiful day, I wanted to take some extra samples, and I figured that I'd rather skip[p the traffic and come home in the dark than drive into the sun the whole way home. I also had the chance to catch up with one of the neighbours, an awesome guy called Johan, who usually checks up on me every now and then and sends people to clean the house before I arrive.
Driving west at that time was really nice because I basically followed the sunset, and so I got to look at it for a good hour and a half or so (the farm is also in a valley, so the sun sets at about 4 there, so every time I went over a hill I got a whole new sunset!). I got fuel and a bunch of imported junk food from Nelspruit (people give me shopping lists because it has things like Cherry Coke, Kool Aid jelly, Curly-Wurlies (my favourite) Root Beer and Poptarts) and was on my way.
The drive was ok, except for a few trucks who tried to race me, which is just annoying. I took the Schoemanskloof route again - it's totally better than the Watervalboven route! It has fewer trucks, more passing lanes, less traffic in general and I think you skip going past the paper mill which smells so horrible, although I could be wrong, it was dark. the only problem is that going from the lowveld to the highveld means that you're going uphill a lot, and the poor vehicle was battling, being fully loaded with me, a bunch of equipment and a full petrol tank. There were hills where I was going up in third gear and battling to stay at 80km/h, and the only way I got up some was to floor it on the way down the previous hill.
I was almost at Middelburg (about an hour and a half from home) when I noticed a pretty glow on the horizon. I was pretty sure the sunset had long since outpaced me, and I figured it was the lights of the town. As is, I'm so used to not having lights around me, the whole world was looking vaguely orange. A little bit later I realsied that the glow was from firebreaks or something that had burned out of control and so I had a very pretty view of fire for the next 40-odd kms. At one stage it looked like they'd been writing out letters in fire.  It was really pretty! Do they have synchronised fire-setting as a sport? I bet I'd be good at it!
Anyway, I had to stop and unpack a lot of clothes (it's really cold here compared to the lowveld, and by the time I got home I was wearing about five layers) and I got a cup of horrible Steers coffee from the petrol station in Middelburg (Steers is a restaurant chain, makes really good chips covered in MSG-laden salt.) and went home.
Right now I've been home for 19 hours and counting, I have girlified myself by taking a very long bath, cataloguing tick-bites (left leg: 68, right leg:62 left arm: 5, right arm: 8, neck:1 back:7, hair: 4) wearing decent clothes and makeup for the first time in almost a month, catching up with a few people, getting the vehicle cleaned and returned, having fights with security guards, and catching up with the people at work.
It's good to be back! I'm exhausted and I have a headache from the noise and pollution, and I've been talking like a maniac and it's generally just plain awesome!
And I got the rest of Green Wing! I'm so excited to start watching it! Excuse the grammar. Re-entering society-related exhaustive disorder (RESRED, it's real! I promise!)
I'm going to stop right there, I'm afraid a side-effect of RESRED is that I get so used to being isolated that I reflex-rebound a bit and don't shut up when I get back!