island time

I went to Hawai’i for a week.  I intended to post but then I didn’t write anything in advance, and I thought I’d write while I was there, but that didn’t happen either.  Shocking.

the milky way, several shooting stars, and a little moon aurora from partway up mauna kea
the little red glow in the bottom is the lava pool at kilauea

We went to the actual island of Hawai’i.  It was beautiful, in an unfamiliar kind of way.  The whole island is lava flows from several rather large volcanoes (as are all the Hawaiian islands), and it’s very strange to see the jutting, rocking A’a lava flows across the island.  They look like someone did a terrible job of discing a field, but of course, you can’t really disc lava.

I wish we’d had time to go to the Hawai’i botanical gardens — I’m such a plant nerd.  The plant life in Hawai’i was already amazing, so it would have been extra neat to see it all collected in one spot.  Next time.

lava tube coming out of the kilauea eruption

What we did get, before we even left, was a rather alarming wake-up call.  We stayed overnight at my in laws’ place (it was a family vacation so we were all driving to the airport together), with luscious plans to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and drive to the airport for our 7:20 flight.  At 3:15 in the morning, MIL knocked on our door and I bolted upright in bed, afraid we’d missed the wakeup call.

“You don’t need to get up right now,” she said, “but the toilet’s been overflowing for hours and the hallway is full of water. Your carpet will probably be wet.”

there are thousands of feet of waterfalls in the more heavily-forested regions of Hawai’i
this one was in a valley over from the Waipio valley

I mean, there’s no response to that really.

The house is on septic, being out in the boondoggles, and the leachfield on the side of the house where our bedroom is situated has been struggling this winter. The heavy rain and waterlogged ground just don’t drain the water from the toilet and shower away the way it should.  It was actually two plumbing problems at once that caused the issue.  Someone used the bathroom late at night and didn’t notice that the bowl was filling.  Normally this would never crest the bowl of the toilet, but the tank also malfunctioned and kept running. And running. And running.

Boyfriend’s sister got up in the middle of the night to pee and thought, at first, that she’d stepped in puppy pee.  But when she put her second foot down on the carpet she knew it was no pee spot.  When she opened the door to the hallway, an inch of standing water greeted her.

We spent from 3:15 to 4:20 mopping the hallway and drying off anything that we needed for the trip.  We still made it to the airport, and fortunately there’s nothing left of the incident but a vaguely mildewy smell that should go away soon.

Nothing like country life, amirite?

#sunrise on the peak of Mauna Kea

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dissertation vacation

I told my friends and colleagues that I was taking my Dissertation Vacation over Christmas and they shouldn’t expect to hear from me until I returned from Oregon in the new year.  Everyone seemed to understand immediately and agree it was a good idea (and a few even said they took a few months on theirs, though others didn’t take a break at all).

Jumping forward in time (we will go back shortly), my secret Santa gift was awaiting me when I got home on Wednesday evening!  Micaylah sent a package with a big toy for Jelly, a darling set of studs and matching necklace for me, and cookies for Murray.  Murray will get his cookies when I go to the barn on Thursday, but Ellie got her present immediately.  Because she deserves it.


She loved it, obviously.  And I love it and so do my roommates, because it has a quiet squeaker!!!! Ellie will go to town on squeaky toys for hours and hours minutes on end (we have never let her go as long as she wants).  Most squeakers are loud and obnoxious and this one is pretty quiet – but still entertaining enough that Ellie wants it. The newspaper also does not have stuffing (major requirement of my boyfriend’s as he doesn’t find cleaning clouds of fluff up from the floor very appealing), and I can already tell it will last.  Micaylah wins for puppy toys!  And the way to my heart is 100% by treating Ellie (but not too much, because then it’s like you’re trying to steal her love from me, and that is unacceptable).


So, back to vacation.  I went with my boyfriend to see his family in Oregon where we ate a lot of food, drank a lot of beer, I played a lot of pokemon, and packed on the pounds.  Like a lot of pounds.

I spent most of my time sitting in front of fireplaces and heaters, only opened my laptop a few times, and read a lot.  I got most of the way through one book (Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, only giving it like a 6/10), and finished another (Taming the Truffle, Ian Hall, 9/10 if you’re interested in growing Truffles).  We went snowmobiling and the snow was PERFECT for playing in — soft and fluffy and not too deep.  About a foot of dry powder, but not so dry that you just fell through.  Boyfriend and his step brother (a fair bit younger) had a great time throwing me around in it, I did not object, and managed to dump them a few times myself.


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It was seriously lovely to be able to relax and not worry about not working on my thesis for fifteen days.  I still have to re-analyze data and prepare for publication, but at least the first big deadline is behind me!


We also spent a few days in Portland hanging out with my friends from graduate school.  Almost everyone from my lab has ended up in Portland in the last three years — so perhaps I was just looking into my future?!  Food was central to our Porland detour.  We made a crown roast of lamb for NYE, a crispy roast pork shoulder the next night, and fried chicken for our last night in Portland.  I failed to go to the zoo (oops), but did spend lots of time

wp-1483593271096.jpgFried chicken – gluten free on the left, regular flour on the right. I 100% recommend Bob’s Red Mill GF mix for fried chicken — it was so crispy and delicious! The difference in color is a little unfortunate, the brown rice flour just doesn’t golden up as well as AP wheat flour.  I will probably do a 50/50 mix with regular flour for added crunch for my own fried chicken in the future.

img_20170102_145051Lompoc brewing.  If you look carefully, you can see standing rings in the surface of the dark beer (LSD – Lompoc Special Draft), because our table vibrated the entire time we were there. This bemused us mightily until I realized that the family on the other side of the booth had a portable compressor of some kind.

I did not get to meet up with Megan (boo, sadness), as we couldn’t quite get our schedules to sync up.  Portland was just too big and interesting for both of us!  However, based on past experience, I rate Megan 10/10, will hang out again.


Now that I’m all rested and rejuvenated I’m ready to attack 2017!

Africa Fridays: Blaboons

Baboons were omnipresent when I lived in Kenya.  They hung out around the research center, nibbled on grass and leaves on the soccer field and landing strip, filled the trees around the chimpanzee sanctuary, and foraged for scraps from human garbage and chimpanzee garbage.  If you want to read a really amazing book about baboons (also: research, growing up, biology, Kenya/Africa, and the amazingness of the field in general), try A Primate’s Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. (10/10, have read multiple times, recommend without hesitation.)

img_3005lives dangerously

It’s a good thing too, since they were my early-warning system walking around.  Baboons are loud, gregarious, sassy, and pretty much always let you know what’s going on around you.  I loved walking “in” the group of baboons.  Sure, they gave me a wide, 10 foot berth, but I was still within their center of mass as we traveled from place to place.  If there were no baboons, I knew that I needed to be a little more cautious than if I was surrounded by a large group of romping, grunting, galloping fuzz balls.  On more than one occasion I saw baboons running panicked through the bush from my observation vantage point, and sure enough not far behind them would be a lion or hyena.

Baboons rank right up there in terms of the scariness of males.  An adult male is about 2′ tall, though much of that is a big mane of hair goes from his neck down past his shoulders.  The thing that’s really scary care the canines — long, 2″+ canines that he proudly displays whenever he smiles or yawns.  And those canines can do some serious damage given the opportunity. I mostly saw that opportunity exercised upon other baboons, though a few small mammals became the victims of those teeth.

img_4941like when lions casually visit the gate that I needed to get out of my car to open and then close behind me; this only happened like 10% of the days I needed to open this gate

Inevitably, male baboons are always the ones who get tangled up in human business.  Classic boys-are-young-and-dumb syndrome.  Big males would always be the ones that had to be, um, humanely relocated for breaking into houses to raid the kitchen.  The staff I worked with told me about male baboons that would plunge their hands into boiling pots of ugali (corn meal) in order to get the ugali before it was distributed to the chimpanzees when cooled.  One afternoon another researcher and I walked into the research center (a converted barn, we slept in the stalls, I know you’re jealous) and heard strange noises coming out of the kitchen.  We approached the kitchen door with trepidation only to have a HUGE male baboon explode out of the kitchen, shit all over the floor, and run out of the door with his hands and mouth full of our food.

That was obviously not the only time that happened. Because our windows didn’t close all the way (or lock, frankly).

One afternoon I climbed up the stairs to the roof to my regular observation point.  I always walked up to the wall that edged the perimeter of the roof to look down the wall to check for chimps sitting at the base of the wall.  The roof was about 18 feet up, and 15 feet up the wall (aka 3 feet below me) there was an overhang of electric fencing to prevent the chimps from using branches (aka tools) to climb the wall.  (I think that’s also called a kick in, but you know what I”m talking about. It’s the stuff that stops people from climbing over fencing because you have to go upside down.)

img_4931sassy baby baboon is sassy

As I leaned over the wall and looked down I found myself staring into the open-mouthed face of an adult male baboon at the exact moment that he leapt from the overhang wire back up towards the wall.  I can still see his face — his mouth was open, canines on display and flying toward my face.

I bolted.  Without thinking or looking, I ran anywhere but there.  Within about three steps I had tripped on a skylight grate and sprawled across the roof, winded, binocular strap snapped, camera grazed and lodged somewhere in my ribcage.  The big male baboon had, it seems, also looked into the face of terror and was sitting on the edge of the wall about 15 feet from where he started, panting and staring at me.

img_3354so tiny and new!

On the same roof, weeks later, I convinced one of the chimp caregivers to give me a 1′ piece of sugarcane to gnaw on.  The chimps got sugarcane to eat sometimes, and I’ve had sugarcane before — it’s delicious and sweet — and I figured I deserved a snack.  Turns out there are two kinds of sugarcane: soft and hard. I had previously consumed soft. The hard sugarcane tasted fine, but was essentially impossible for me to bite into.  I placed the piece on the wall next to me as I continued my observations.

A few minutes later something drew my attention to the right, and I looked over to see a subadult male baboon standing Right. Next. To. Me. He had adopted his sneakiest possible posture, one hand outstretched and reaching for the stick of sugarcane, eyes darting between me and the sugarcane.  I’m not going to pretend I didn’t scream.  The baboon grabbed the sugarcane and bolted.  I did not run away and trip over the skylight this time.  I may have soiled myself a little. (Look, live in the field for long enough, and you just accept these occurrences.)


Baboons sleep high in the trees at night, snugged into forks in branches and piled up on their sisters and mamas when it’s cold.  Often they do this over water, and in the morning after they get up but before everyone comes down from the tree, they have morning ablutions.  By which I mean, they crap all over the place.  But over the water the plinking and tinkling is astonishingly musical, like nature’s first set of wind chimes.  I loved it.

Sometimes two groups would come together and fight on the rivers edge, all the males from each group getting growling, screaming, and barking at one another in a giant ball of bodies rolling and cascading down the riverbank.  It defied physics — it was like a cartoon of animals fighting with a lot of dust and way more limbs and size than seems possible.  But it happened more than once when i was watching, and from the sound of things happened at other times too.

img_5699let me nom you tiny baby

One afternoon I climbed into a bush Euclea to visit the facilities.  It was the same bush that an adult male baboon had climbed to the top of while looking for his friends.  When male baboons are lost they let out an alarmingly loud, barking contact call.  I did not know that Mr. Baboon was in the tree and a contact bark sounds a LOT like a carnivore.  A carnivore who is really close and really in the same bush as you.  And di I mention that it is REALLY loud?

Let’s just say it’s a good thing my pants were already down, because those pants would have been toast.

just go toward the light

Murray and I took a personal day on Sunday to go to a local event derby, where I planned to ride in the BN derby division and school a Novice jump round in the field for practice.  I had just one goal for the weekend: to actually ride through my dressage test (and stadium round, though dressage especially).  This meant getting Murray to a connected, rideable place at the show and not freezing up and backing off the second he decided to be slightly an asshole/a horse.

spooking at a spot of light in the arena

Fortunately, the assistant trainer/my friend who was coaching me gave me the same advice, and encouraged me to stop falling into the trap of twiddling with Murray’s face when I could solve my issues from actually activating his hind end (I knowwwww).  She also reminded me to keep my right shoulder back/straight and not break over my right wrist.  These two little position pointers were perfect — they effectively changed my position and connection, and were just enough for me to think about without freaking out over positional things entirely.

Murray warmed up pretty well.  At one point Murray tried to run off at the walk instead of play along with an almost-on-the-bit walk, but I convinced him to stick around.  He tried again when he saw a horse cantering past in the derby field and got excited, but I just tried to keep my reins consistent and the horse moving forward.

dear dog please don’t let it touch me

Overall, the test had some nice moments but was behind the leg, tense and somewhat choppy, with borderline terrible geometry and one massive spook at a patch of light.  Murray spooked in the third quarter of a 20m circle, and then in the fourth circle experienced some after-shock spooks where he apparently thought he was reliving the light-spot experience.  But it turns out that when I use my seat, leg and core, and try to keep pushing my horse forward into a consistent connection, I can get some pretty legit results*.  A test that felt like it should score in the 42-43 range got a generous 35.3 from the judge, with the verbal comment that we visibly improved as the test went on.

* Compared to previous results!

It’s still over there!!!

Our BN jump round went well, though I struggled to ride Murray at a consistent pace due to him looking at a few things and me erring on the side of slowing him down.  We ended up with one rail down and one circle between two fences (not an associated distance), and I honestly don’t know how the round was scored.  I opted to go back in for another BN round and Murray was the perfect ride. He was totally forward, happy to move to the fences, rateable, and listening.  We had no jump penalties or time penalties that round either.

I opted to scratch my Novice jump round in favor of some light adulting (meeting a new tutoring client).  I really would like to get out and jump some Novice in a foreign location, but will have to wait for a few more weeks at least before I can finagle it into the schedule.  But we had two great rides and one good ride, so I was happy to end with that.  To have Murray listen to me and respond so reasonably in the dressage court was fantastic, though I’m equal parts ashamed that I have been riding so poorly in the past and elated that the changes I’m making are having an effect.  And our jump rounds were fun and awesome, even if I did make some questionable choices that led to a rail and (maybe) refusal.

but still, some nice moments

To top it all off, my generously-scored dressage test and jump round with one or two (let’s split the difference and call it 1.5) faults landed me a sixth place ribbon and a jar of cookies!  Which Murray hates.  Because of course.


idle hands are the devil’s playthings

Long blog silences = impending completion of my thesis.  The next two weeks are going to be cereal.

Friday the 12th – Fly to Minnesota, goat roast with my Kenyan field work friends (TIA)

Saturday the 13th – Best Friend’s Wedding (luckily I’m not in love with the groom)

Sunday the 15th – Fly home

Monday the 16th – Drive Ellie to the in laws to reunite with boyfriend and for their amazing dog babysitting powers (14 acre ranch and puppy are a  full time babysitting job for Ellie!)

Wednesday the 17th – THESIS DEFENSE

Friday the 19th – Job interview at UCSC

Saturday the 20th – Fly to Chicago for a conference

Tuesday the 23rd – Oral presentation at 3:45. Poster presentation from 7-9.

Wednesday the 24th – Probably still drunk

Saturday the 27th – Fly home

Monday the 29th – Friday September 2 – Prep for two day event!!  And also move houses somewhere in there…

September 3rd – Dressage and XC day at WSS

September 4th – Stadium day at WSS

September 16th – All paperwork due to grad studies

This is a good approximation of my affect over the next month

HOWEVER.  Bloggers — anyone in or near Chicago between the 21st and 27th of August?  I will be there and after the 23rd I will probably be a lot of fun!  Conferences are way better after you’ve gotten the presentations out of the way.  I’m legitimately not sure I’ll make it through the oral presentation and the poster on Tuesday, but I can sleep for the rest of the week after that, right?

Also, if anyone local is interested in (/ willing to, we need more help than we can get from only interested parties!) coming out to help with the one-day at WSS I can offer you a place to stay over night and the truly magnificent company of my cat, Ellie, and my super stressed out self.  But!  We will have a beer garden at the event.

seasoned professional

I’m not sure if there’s anything more first-world-problem than this: after a lovely schooling outing on Saturday at a new venue, my phone died in the heat and proved to be irresurrectable (like the word I made up there?) so the only evidence I have of the schooling outing ever happening are my OWN MEMORIES.

deadphoneIt is pretty upsetting though.

But such is life when you are technology cursed.  My phone will be replaced under warranty and I will never see the videos again, and my juju for phone killing will live on.

Schooling was a nice outing though, even if it was a bajillion degrees.  We went to Eventful Acres, which is up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  Murray stepped off the trailer with a little trepidation, but quickly settled in after I let him munch on some delicious irrigated grass.  He even tacked up with minimal complaint, stood at the trailer while I dicked around with my hair net, and stood to be girthed like a professional.  That was when I first suspected something was wrong.

IMG_3333Murray was behaving like an adult.

We walked out and schooled a portion of the course that was buried in the woods, and despite taking the uneven footing and smattering of pine cones as an opportunity to spook, he didn’t try to dump me and run.  While we waited for other people to school the elements, Murray calmly ate grass and then perked up when I pointed him to the jumps.  He jumped things and landed happily and cantered on or turned to eat grass as I directed.

He was…. scarily grown up.

Multiple people commented on Murray being the Steady Eddy of the group, and I was pretty impressed with him myself.  While the greenies in our group were tucking their heads between their knees or wiggling around and unable to focus or broncing for the first time in living memory, Murray was like “… can we eat some more of those clovers please?”

It was weird.

We schooled much of the BN course and a little of the Novice course, including a nice big turkey feeder and a really steep creek-to-log-out that utterly terrified me.  I was like “are you serious that you are supposed to be galloping along then cross this path and go down this creek at a walk then trot out and jump this log ARE YOU FOR REAL?!?!”  In truth, I felt that a few of the jumps were a little bit… odd for the terrain/level, but I understand that you have to use your terrain as you can!

Murray was jumping fantastically.  I used my newly re-found skills of not driving into the saddle the entire time and stayed up in a teeny half seat and only sat (but lightly) a few strides prior to the fence.  I could really feel this working as I pushed Murray toward the fence and prevented him from just shrinking his stride up beneath me*.  And repeatedly, in response, Murray jumped the fence from a good spot, not his preferred spot deep to the base of the fence.  We jumped in stride and it felt awesome!

* Interestingly there was a pony in our group who really exemplified Chris Scarlett’s statement that a shorter stride is faster/a longer stride is slower.  I could quite literally watch and hear her squeezing those extra strides in.  It was very interesting.


We had one truly disasterous set of refusals at a up bank to four stride to log with a downhill landing.  Murray was first made quite uncomfortable by the turn to the up bank, as we had to pass by a small dam and a big willow tree with a scary shadow, and then he was busy staring at a tall hedge of Italian Cypress on our right.  Once we got up the bank, after a couple of tries, Murray was like “yeah, no” to the big log.  So I listened to him.  He was so adult and reasonable for the entire schooling up until that moment, and I wasn’t riding particularly well.  So I figured it was a good idea to trust the fact that Murray wasn’t willing to go out on the limb for me, and not jump that log.  If I’d been in better riding shape and had a stronger trust bank, perhaps I would have been willing to push the issue.  But after hardly jumping in two months and riding only a little bit more than that in the time, I was happy to take whatever Murray would give me.


We await to see if my phone will be able to give me the videos back if it ever connects to wiffy.  My guess is no.  So Murray’s most adultest** expedition will just have to live on in our memories!

**Not like that, get your mind out of the gutter.

home again

I got home from Australia on Sunday and promptly drove from my parents’ house (near the airport) to my house so I could sleep in my own bed and see my creatures.  Murray was my first stop, and while he wasn’t exactly pleased to see me, at least he didn’t totally run away.  But I was interrupting his supplement finishing and hay eating with my desire to scratch and pat him and tell him all about my adventures, which is clearly inappropriate.  I should keep my silly human stories to myself.

Once home I did all the adult things you have to do when you get back from vacation — unload the car, water the plants, clean up after pets, take a shower, get out the gifts, have a nap, regret your nap because jet leg, etc.  Fortunately for me, my lovely boyfriend came to my rescue with a happy Jellinore to wake me up, cooked me dinner, and let me watch Masterchef until the wee hours.

image2 (1)Murray was kept incredibly well in my absence.  It is huge to know that you can leave for an extended period and your horse will be more than perfectly happy in your absence.  I got lots of messages with pictures of Murray napping luxuriously in the sunshine from my friends, and of course an awesome reminder that my friends came to visit.

Murray and I also had a terrific first ride back from vacay.  The girl who rides him for me when I’m away must have all the same foibles as me because he felt exactly the same as when I left — in a good way!  He was soft and flexy and very reasonable.  This is especially encouraging considering that my last ride with Murray I really crossed the line from “insisting” to “bullying” about getting him to bend off my inside leg (entirely my fault).

Also, thanks for the encouragement re: when Murray decided to turn the bad behavior up to 11 away from home.  One day he’ll be a really reasonable, broke horse.  I swear.

yves7Murray response: NEVAR