Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Two Cafes in One Day

Been doing more of the same. On Tuesday I met Cara and Aimee for lunch and I tried "Gazpacho" for the first time. Am I the only vegetarian in the world who has never had gazpacho before? It was okay, but not my favorite. That is surprising, considering I have been known to eat salsa with a spoon. Tuesday evening I went to running club. Cousin Don (not my cousin) brought sweet corn from his farm, and I took home 2 ears. It was really good-- I guess Cousin Don is as good at growing sweet corn as he is at running ultra-marathons.

Today I biked over to school to take "Pablo" out for coffee. Pablo (who I often claim is my thesis advisor even though he actually is not) introduced me to Nicaragua more than 2-1/2 years ago when I went with him to be a teaching assistant for his course on primate behavioral ecology. Pablo drinks more coffee than anyone I know. I asked him one time how much coffee he drinks per day and he estimated it to be about 16 cups. Talk about excessive. At any rate, I'm still off caffeine, so I had a decaf, and we split a cranberry scone. Tasty. We went over my data collection protocol, so now I know what to do when I get to Nicaragua. Its amazing-- I've spent about a year and a half working hard core on the proposal, but dealing with all that theoretical background and significance has somewhat made me lose sight of the project. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, I guess.

When we left the café it was pouring down rain. I waited around school until the rain let up just enough so that I could bike home without getting completely drenched. Later in the afternoon, I left in Iris (my car) to go to Frida's. The rain had stopped, so Frida and I left, on foot, for my second café of the day. Keeping with my caffeine avoidance, I had an orange juice. While we were chatting (40% Spanish, 60% English, and an occasional French word thrown in there), the rain began again. We briefly and hilariously attempted to run through the rain, but Rob ended up rescuing us in the minivan.

Although its continued storming all night, Rob backed the van up to the garage so we could load up a bunch of things. The kitchen table and chairs, my desk, my filing cabinet, the TV and its stand. Tomorrow it will all go up to Nana and Grampy's. At last, the house is beginning to look like we're moving.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Books to read?

Had a busy last few days. On Saturday night, Aimee threw us a fabulous bon voyage party. We had a lot of fun and stayed up really late! I brought my camera so I could take pictures to post on the blog, but I guess I was having too much of a good time-- I didn't really stop to take any pictures.

Today we packed up another load of our stuff and took it to Rob's grandparents (we're storing a lot of our stuff in their basement). Had some time with Rob's fam-- it turns out they are avid readers of the blog, so hello to all.

Just wondering if any of you out there could suggest some good reading material for me while I am in Nicaragua. When I was there doing my pilot study in the summer of 2004, someone had left a copy of The Mists of Avalon in my room. Reading that book provided me with hours of entertainment during nights when I couldn't sleep and days when I just couldn't go out into the forest. My space is limited so I must choose wisely. Let me know if you have any favorites that you think I would enjoy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The "Ragfields" are going to Nicaragua!!

Yesterday a big box from Forestry Suppliers arrived at school for me. I went to go pick it up and then Rob and I met at Travel Cuts to see about our plane tickets. Travel Cuts made it so easy!! Months ago, another travel agency had told me that the maximum I could buy a plane ticket for was 120 days. Beyond that, I would have to buy an "open-ended" ticket that cost around $2000. This had caused me a great deal of stress. Either I come home every 4 months, or not at all. At Travel Cuts, they told me they could get me a plane ticket for any amount of time: 4 months, 6 months, 8 months... whatever. Also, they were incredibly nice. We ended up deciding to initially depart on August 8 and return on December 20. We're coming home for the holidays!! We'll be with our friends and family for the winter solstice, Christmas, New Years... the whole she-bang. I am so so happy about that!

So we have a day of departure now. August 8. We're leaving super early in the morning, but that puts us into Managua at around 12:30pm. This is great because I'd like to take a taxi to Granada (about 40 minutes away) and stay there overnight. It will be really nice to relax in Granada in the afternoon, and then we're much closer to the ferry the next day.

That's all for now. I'll post a picture of the big box of supplies that arrived yesterday...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This is why....

Saw a link on Grist magazine this morning about a mother from Normal, Illinois who is giving up a car for a month. She has her very own Blog on Blogspot. I wish more people would try this, instead of driving SUVs.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Sandino vive

Today is Sandinista Day, (or National Liberation Day) in Nicaragua. On July 19, 1979, the Sandinistas won control of the government after Somoza fled the country. ¡Vive la revolución!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Another day, another zucchini

After reading Bugaboo's helpful, pep-talk comment from my last post, I went to school today to try to find this ThinkPad computer she mentioned. Once I was at school, Bugaboo continued her pep-talk in person and she helped me find the ThinkPad in SL's office. Bless you, Bugaboo.

When I came home this afternoon, I found another zucchini perched on the fence in the backyard. I went out to retrieve it and left a note that said: "Thank you! Please help yourself to cucumbers and tomatoes!"

Rob also brought some type of Tablet style computer home from work. That was the one we ended up using, because it was faster. So, I set everything up (load cell, test jig, scissors, etc) and it just worked! I have no idea what the problems were supposed to be, but it didn't seem to be having them anymore. They had said the "start signal" wasn't working... I didn't really know what that meant, but I assumed that it meant the machine would not start or record any data points. Well, tonight it was definitely recording data points. I sliced up some leaves, using some of our plants as specimens. Petunia leaves were the toughest thing I sliced-- over 1200 J/m^2. I'm thinking.... am I really doing this right?? Could it be that there is some problem and I'm so clueless about this machine that I just don't know it?? I will have to email B and see what he thinks about this.

For the time being, I am cautiously optimistic that everything is sort of beginning to fall into place!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Toughness tester update

I picked up the toughness tester (TT) at school, and later in the afternoon I brought Cousin Dan over here to have a look at it. Dan was totally in his element. His degree in engineering physics (with a concentration in electronics) was really put to good use as we set to work on the tester.

Here's the box the TT came in:

And here's Dan taking out the load cells. He looks so happy!!

Here are all the components. Dan is looking excited.

So I trained on this thing for a few days back in September, but I don't think I ever assembled it myself with it being in quite so many pieces. There's a "manual," but it does not really say much about how to assemble it, and there are no pictures. Luckily Cousin Dan lended a hand and we had this thing put together in a couple of minutes. Here's Dan putting together the load cells:

This photo nicely shows off the stainless steel test frame and the scissors used to conduct leaf toughness tests.

The beige box with all the cords coming out of it is the electronics box.... This is likely where the problem with the tester is.

So, at any rate, we have the tester set up. To actually do the toughness tests, it needs to be hooked up to a computer that runs the appropriate software. We can't test it out to figure out what is wrong with it because we have just realized that the data integration card cannot be plugged into our laptop. We had thought that Rob's newest Mac had a port for this device, but it turns out that it does not. Rob is telling me not to freak out and trying to come up with a solution. At the moment, it looks like I may have to buy a PC laptop. I don't know if I can buy this on the grant (which hasn't actually arrived yet)-- I didn't ask for money for a computer because I didn't think it was necessary. I am seriously, seriously distressed about this, but am trying my best not to freak out. Am hoping we can borrow a computer to at least test it out. If the start signal malfunction is a result of a problem with the electronics box, then it will have to be sent back to Hong Kong so the guy who made it can repair it. Oh, and I also have to buy some kind of special suitcase in which to transport the machine. So... even though the machine is here, my stress level is still at an all-time high. Will post as soon as I have any more info.


Well, just got a call from the department secretary that a very large package from UPS arrived for me.

Its the toughness tester!!!!!

Gotta hop in Iris (my car, not my bike) and run over there to get it. I hope hope hope hope that the problem is minor and we can figure out how to fix it without shipping it to Hong Kong!

More later....

Friday, July 14, 2006

5 years and counting

Today is our 5th wedding anniversary—where does the time go? I guess that means we’ve actually been together for almost 9 years. And honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever had a real, true fight. I don’t think I could ever be mad at Rob for longer than about 2 seconds.

When I woke up this morning, I noticed that someone had left a nice, giant zucchini on our back porch. I went out to investigate and there wasn’t a note or anything, so its a mystery. My guess is that its one of our neighbors—an older fellow who has a big garden in the community garden plots over at Parkland. A nice gift. I will have to think of something good to make with it. My mom suggested that maybe I could leave a thank you note out in the same spot, in case they came back!

I spent much of the afternoon hanging out in the coffee shop with Frida. I rode my bike over there, and on the way I was really happy to notice that it looks like they’re done with the road construction on John Street. Hooray. I hated riding through that when the road was all torn up. At any rate, I feel like I did a much better job speaking Spanish that the last several times Frida and I have chatted, but I guess she will have to be the judge of that! On his way home from work, Rob swung by and picked up Frida, me and my bike (Iris 2) in the mini-van (which his parents have kindly loaned us for moving).

Now there is talk of going out to dinner... Indian food perhaps, yummmm. Just wanted to post something in the blog today--July 14! In addition to our anniversary, its Bastille Day. Vive la France!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Back on the wagon (or off the wagon?)

Went to the public health center this morning to get my second dose of Twinrix (the Hepatitis A and B combo) plus a typhoid immunization. I’ve been to Nicaragua twice with absolutely no immunizations (come to find out, not even a current tetanus shot—which is really the only thing I might need). The typhoid shot kind of hurts and my arm is fairly immobile, but at least now I am vaccinated for just about anything that could go wrong.

I’ve hardly been able to sleep the last couple of nights, and its really taking its toll. Am starting to feel like a zombie during the daytime. Also, I haven’t had any coffee in over a week. You’d think that would make me have less problems sleeping, but apparently not. I didn’t really try to give up coffee, I just stopped wanting it. And then I decided to see how long I could go. Well, that ended today. Actually, it was mainly decaf (and shade grown, organic, and fair trade imported from Nicaragua of course), but I guess I am back on the wagon (or off the wagon? Isn’t that from a Seinfeld episode?). Whichever the case, I’m just going to try to drink less coffee from now on. Giving up the caffeine addiction would definitely help me roll out of bed at 4am and follow monkeys all day.

This afternoon Rob and I went to a lawyer to go over the legal issues of selling our house. The whole thing has been pretty smooth actually. We’re selling the house to a couple of our closest friends (hi C and J if you are reading). I love our house and I am sad to leave, but it makes me really happy that C and J are going to live here after we are gone. It also makes me happy to have a lawyer. When things go wrong in movies or on TV, people are always saying, “You’re going to hear from my lawyer about this.” Now I can say that too. Watch out, Greg and Martin!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A bit more detail

So in case any of my non-Grad school friends are reading at this, the whole basis of my dissertation is to look at how resource toughness impacts feeding behavior of primates during different stages of development (ie, infancy, juvenility, adulthood). I could go on for hours about why this is theoretically important, but I’m guessing no one really wants to hear about that in the context of the blog. At any rate, actually measuring the toughness of monkey foods requires an extremely specialized, complicated and exorbitantly expensive piece of equipment. Getting ahold of one of these machines was a long and rather nightmarish experience. I finally got it all worked out and supposedly had a machine lined up, to be shipped to me this summer. Well, a few weeks ago I found out that this particular machine is broken. Its going to be shipped to me alright, but I was told that I’d have to send it back to its manufacturer in Hong Kong and pay to fix whatever is broken.

Receiving such news has definitely put a damper on things. But as more details of the problem have emerged, it seems like any number of my local, engineer friends might be able to fix it. Am trying to remain optimistic about that. Otherwise, this whole shipping back to Hong Kong thing will definitely delay the project. Either I wait around here indefinitely until the machine is fixed and returned to me, or I go on to Nicaragua without it. I’ve looked into having it shipped directly to Nicaragua, but have been advised against doing that—what with the bribes I would need to pay and the length of time it would get held up in customs. A better option would be to have Rob bring the machine back with him in October, after he returns to the US for a work thing.

This morning I received word from my friend and “colleague” that he has shipped the tester to me. Hooray. Maybe this vomitous feeling in the pit of my stomach will subside a tiny bit when the machine actually arrives. Am so hoping that the problem is minor and we can fix it and get on our merry way. I also received permission from the grad college to make a minor change to my budget (I am paranoid about this after the ordeal Bugaboo went through), so now I have confirmation that I can use their money to buy a ticket for August-December. It makes me feel a lot better knowing that I’ll be able to briefly see my friends and family again after 4 months!

In other news, I had a lovely lunch with Frida today... after she had a not-so-lovely 1.2 mile walk in the swelteringly oppressive heat. Oops. Lo siento. Next time I will ask if you are in a car or on foot before I tell you something is "cerca de..." (ie, nearby). Afterwards, I went to the department and saw Greg and Martin moving large carts full of Christmas decorations down the hallway. I'm still not sure what they were doing or why, but it was good to see them and chat for a while!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

And so it begins....

When my dear friend Bugaboo went away to do her dissertation research, she made a blog of the whole experience so that we could all follow along. It was so cool that I decided to make my own blog when it came time for me to do my fieldwork.

Well, I haven’t left yet, but in a few short weeks, Rob and I will be leaving for Nicaragua, where I will follow howler monkeys through the forest for a year. Rob will be able to keep his job and work remotely as long as we’ve got electricity and an internet connection. We’ve supposedly worked out a way to have both, so I’m hoping for the best.

Please stay tuned as we finalize our plans for departure and embark on fabulous Nicaraguan adventures!