Monday, August 29, 2011


Wow, I've been a really slow blogger these days.

Anyway, after hanging out in Penasco with Dennis for a few days, Olivia, Abby, and I loaded the car and headed off for Texas. I rented a Kia Soul, which was advertised as an "intermediate" sized vehicle. I would argue with that. It was pretty darn small. But as we didn't take any dogs or camping gear with us, it all worked out. We left on Saturday at around noon. The first few hours of driving were gorgeous. Mountains and canyons and rivers and beauty. Then we hit Texas. Boooooorrrriiiiinnng. Abby thought so too. Since I had neglected to add Olivia as a driver when I rented the car, she was left with the task of "keeping Abby entertained." If you have kids, or have ridden with Abby, you know this is no small feat. Even though I was pretty sick of driving, I was secretly happy not to be the one straining my neck to read Slinky Malinky for the hundredth time, or the one playing games with folded toilet paper, or the one to get yelled at--"DON'T LOOK AT ME!"--repeatedly. After a couple hours we decided to let her watch a movie on my ipod touch.

After a good 6 hours in the car, we stayed at a hotel somewhere near Lubbock (a hotel that took about an hour to find and that had the weakest air-conditioning ever). That was the night that I called Alex to say goodnight, only to find that he was in the emergency room in New York (on his way home from a bike race) because he felt like he was having a heart attack. Wonderful. Don't worry, his heart is fine. Turns out he has gastro-esophogeal reflux disorder, or GERD. No biggie, just means he can't drink coffee, shouldn't drink too much beer, eat tomatoes, go biking, wear tight clothing, eat too fast, eat too much, or generally do anything even remotely normal or fun.

The next morning (Sunday) we took off for Austin. It was another long haul, about 6 hours again, but with the reward of not having to drive for another week and awesome air-conditioning. Rachel arrived later the same afternoon and my mom arrived the next day. Mostly we just hung out at the hotel room, went to talks, and went out to eat. It was much too disgusting outside to do much else. The first morning there I decided to walk with Abby to Whole Foods to buy some snacks. It was only 1.2 miles away. What a horrible experience. At 9 in the morning it was already like 100 degrees and was about 80% humidity. I was dripping sweat on my soaked through clothing by the time I arrived. I didn't walk very far after that. Rachel went running the same morning. I don't think she ran again after that. The highlights of our eating experience were Stubbs BBQ, Uncle Billy's Brew and Que, and The Gingerman. The crepe place was good too.

Hanging in the hotel room.

Eating Rachel's plum.

We did manage to do a couple of non-hotel, non-eating things. One day we decided to go to a nearby lake (because the nearby spring was closed for cleaning all day). The lake was surrounded by dead grass, litter, and vultures. Not very enticing. But we were so hot we got in anyway. A lot of good it did. The lake was probably 90 degrees. It felt like bath water. Abby seemed to like it, but the rest of us were pretty disappointed. It wasn't a total waste though, there were hundreds of pretty little dragonflies hanging around, just asking for their picture to be taken.

Drying off. (It didn't take long.)

Taking pictures.

Some pictures.

And of course, we had to go see the famous Congress Bridge bats. There are about 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats that live there and they egress from under the bridge at about 7:30 pm every night.

The Bridge.

The Bats.

The Girls.

Here are a couple of short videos I took. (By the way, the scientists and the general public were distinguishable because the public said things like "EW! They're pooping on us!" while the scientists said things like "Did you know they forage almost 20 miles away?")

Video 1

Video 2

Oh yeah, and I guess Rachel and Olivia and I all gave talks at some point during the week...they were phenomenal, as I'm sure you guessed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pre-ESA Fun

I've recently returned from a conference in Texas--the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America--book-ended by a few nights at Olivia's new digs in Penasco, NM. For the first 9 days it was just me and Abby--Alex didn't join until the final 4 days.

Where to begin. Well, Abby and I flew in to Albuquerque on a Thursday. The trip went very smoothly thanks to my iPod touch and an iTunes rental of Winnie The Pooh. Abby had her own seat for the first time, which although I complained about the extra cost, was so worth it. The saved elbows in the boob and pulled hair were worth about $400. When we landed, I told Abby "We're in Albuquerque!" Her response? "Where is it? Want to eat it!" It took me a moment to figure out that she thought I had been saying "Albu-COOKIE." Poor girl, she was very disappointed.

Olivia and Dennis' house is about 2 hours north of Albuquerque and is located in an amazingly beautiful part of NM. Bald peaks just out the back door, hidden mountain lakes a mere three mile hike away (straight up hill), and cool evenings with stars galore. This is a sunset from town. The bald peaks are behind me. It doesn't do it justice. At all. But I was too busy soaking it all in to take lots of pictures.

Abby quickly discovered that Aunt Olivia is highly entertaining. She had bought Abby some new books, some blocks, some stuffed animals, and two toy cars! And on our second day there she brought out the Bubbles. Man. Those are fun (see also)

Look at Jack in this one!

As an additional surprise, Olivia's had arranged for her cat to have kittens the night we arrived! Incredible!

Olivia's other animals were cute too. What a good dog. (If you don't believe me, look here.)

On our last evening before departing for Texas, the three of us and Dennis went to the Penasco Fiestas. That's right, it's plural because it's so much fun! You're going to have to use your imagination for this one, since I didn't take any pictures. The festivities were centered around, um, the only paved street I am aware of in Penasco. There was about a quarter mile of road lined with tents selling knick-knacks, shoes, cowboy hats, strange lawn pottery, and wonderful, greasy food. While we stuffed our faces with said greasy food we watched as the local men drove up and down the main drag in their low-rider or extremely-lifted vehicles, dangling tattooed arms out the window and blaring "cool" tunes from the radio. Near one end of the main drag was a small vacant lot, about 200 yards square, filled with carnival games and various carnival rides, including....A FERRIS WHEEL! Dennis bought us all tickets for a ride. Abby and I got on the otherwise empty wheel first. We rotated up to the top of the ride where it stopped while Dennis and Olivia boarded below. Abby was grinning while at the same time death gripping my arm. She gave a nervous laugh and then said "All done!" Hmmmmm.... Knowing there were at least 20 more rotations to go, I turned on my inner enthusiasm. Let me tell you, I can force enthusiasm like no other when necessary. "LOOK! LOOK AT THAT TREE! WOW!" "ABBY! CHECK OUT THAT LIGHT! ISN'T IT AMAZING!" You get the idea. Much to my delight, Abby stuck out the whole ride, smiling the entire time. I love that girl. We next tried out a twirly-ride that made all of us except Abby sick to our stomachs. We rounded out our Fiestas experience with Dennis blowing a huge wad of money to impress a girl at the carnival games. No, not Olivia, Abby. Together, he and Olivia won Abby a giant stuffed dog. The good news is that Abby LOVES that thing. She slept with it the entire trip and is still sleeping with it now. She named it Allie.

Thus rounds out the first bookend of my conference travels. Stay tuned for more!