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Flecka

I do not want to write this.
I do not want to write another eulogy to a beloved pet, lost to cancer, so soon after our last.
I do not want sweet Fleck to be gone, with her unbridled affection and easy purr which could brighten any day.
I do not want to be deprived of her limitless ebullience, so uncharacteristic for felines.
But today's gloominess will not be brightened by her cheerfulness, nor any coming day.
I do not want to think that she will never jump up on the counter and put her paws on my shoulder again, insisting on being held.
That she will never again curl in a lap and cover herself with her fluffy tail, her tortoiseshell fur almost impossibly soft.
That she will never sleep under another Christmas tree, more precious than any present.
That she will never play with another dog the way she played with Roscoe, knocking things off the counter for him to destroy.
But she is gone, and these things are true, even if I do not want them to be.
We find comfort in the fact that she was not suffering for very long, even if she must have had cancer cells in her little body for months.
Still, two weeks ago, no one would have thought there was anything wrong with her, besides a small bump on her chest so unobtrusive I thought it was matted fur.
Even last week, when we knew it was breast cancer, we were optimistic that surgery could remove it and she had years and years of happy life ahead.
It was only the last few days, when she stopped eating, that we began to worry.
Only yesterday, with the results of the lung X-ray, when we knew for certain this would end her life.
This morning, when she looked up at us with her big yellow eyes to let us know that she knew it too.
She was so young, only eight years old, it seems so unfair that she would be with us for such a short time.
So unfair that we wouldn't even get two months to grieve our last pet before piling on more grief.
So unfair that by the time I found the cancer, it was already too late.
But, of course it isn't fair.
Life does not include a fairness clause, guaranteeing that losses will be evenly distributed in time and space.
And if it did, ours would not be the first or strongest case against such a promise.
So, all we can do is remember her beautiful spirit and how much joy she brought us.
Remember that she was loved, and her life -however short- was full of happiness and thus worth living.
And we can hope that we will be granted a respite; that this will be the bottom of the gully and things will start looking up.


I remember when we picked her out in 2008, Eric and mom and I at the humane society looking for a companion for Posie, who was despondent being the only cat in the house after we moved out with our cats. She was so sweet, even then, I couldn't believe that no one had snatched her up in the weeks it took them to make the decision to get her. She had always lived with other animals in the house; Posie, Roscoe, Calypso and Kai, Asha and Shakira, and I was worried how she would do with Roscoe gone when I took my cats away. Now, it is my dad that I am worried about, who will be alone in the house when I leave, without any companions. My parents have had pets for my entire life, and it is so depressing to think that now they won't.

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First real day of the field season

My goal for the next few weeks of my study is to try to get wild Jackson ravens addicted to Cheetos. Like any good dealer, I want to start my clients off on the cheap, so today I drove around distributing handfuls of Cheetos on 17 of the raven nesting territories in town. I went through almost an entire bag, and I'm sure several people now think I am the crazy Cheetos lady, who just stops at random locations and deliberately places Cheetos on the ground and then leaves. Tomorrow, I am hoping that my Cheetos piles will have been consumed by ravens, in which case I will replenish them. Eventually, once the ravens come to depend on me for their Cheetos fix, I am going to make them work for it. Watch out, ravens, the stuff is free now, but soon you will have to pull on strings and solve complex puzzles to get your handful of unnaturally orange corn-product produced by the fine people at Frito-Lay.
After four hours driving around listening to disco with an open bag of diminishing Cheetos next to me, I may have sampled the product. Just a few, now and then, I don't want to literally eat my research budget! But they are just so cheesy and crunchy...hopefully the ravens can't resist them either.

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Bring On The Corvids

My cats and I have safely arrived in Jackson, and tomorrow I am going to have my first pre-field season meeting before I start nest-searching. Even though I know about the high density of ravens here from all the papers I've read, it still surprises me that you can hardly turn your head without seeing a member of the Corvidae family. Asha likes to watch the magpies (a species who passed the self-recognition mark test at the same percentage as chimps) wandering around in front of our condo. One thing Asha did NOT like was traveling in a car for two days, particularly having to leave the EconoLodge in Mitchell, SD on the morning of the second day. Due either to the quality of the establishment (i.e. unpleasantly low) or the efforts of her sister during the night, there was a cat-sized tear in the lining of the box spring that stuck out beyond those wooden barriers they put under hotel beds to prevent toddlers from losing their toys. Incidentally, these barriers are also useful in preventing cats from hiding under the beds when they have to go in their carriers, as long as there aren't any other modes of escape, such as torn box spring linings. Asha discovered this hole at just the moment when we were going to grab her to put her in the carrier for a grueling 14 hours in the car, and she scurried through it into the box spring. Yes, INTO the box spring, with the wooden supports and the metal springs and other potentially dangerous objects. We were hoping that she would come out on her own while we gathered our suitcases and got Shakira into her carrier and into the car, but no, Asha had decided that she wanted to live in the box spring at the EconoLodge in Mitchell, SD for the rest of her life. She was not coming with us if she had any say in it. Since she is now safely here watching magpies, it should be obvious that she did not. In the end, we had to prop the box spring up on the chair while Eric lay on the filthy carpet and cut a hole in the bottom lining near the Asha-lump with my mini Swiss Army knife. Then, I had to pull her out of this hole while she struggled and tried to go further back into the box spring. Overall, it was not an enjoyable experience for anyone involved, to say the least. When the upstanding employees at the EconoLodge Mitchell find this hole at some point in the future, they will no doubt think that someone hid illegal substances in the box spring, not that it was created to rescue a cat. For all we know, the original hole that she climbed through was created just for that reason. This occurrence is largely the reason that we decided to push through all the way to Jackson on the 2nd day even though it was 14 hours, and also why I am never doing more than a single days drive with my cats again.
Now, everyone seems reasonably content. There is still a good deal of snow on the ground, though it has been warm enough the last few days that the parking lot outside the condo is basically a giant and treacherous slush-puddle. So far the magpies haven't done anything remarkable, though the condo rental agent did tell me a story about the ravens riding the ski lift at Jackson Hole Ski Resort and eating hot dog buns. Stay tuned for more fun corvid stories!

running

I have been running after school with my friends for the past two days. They are all training for the Warrior Dash (a 5k/obstacle course), but I'm just going because I am a little starved for company since Nikki lives at Ben's now. I am not very fast and my endurance is shit, but it's still fun and it's definitely good for me. Here's how a typical run goes for me:

Mile 0.1: Oh my gosh! I am running! I rock! I am the pinnacle of fitness!

Mile 0.25: Everyone is getting ahead of me. Must try to stay with group.

Mile 0.5: My lungs are collapsing! Why am I torturing myself? I am not being chased by a ravenous animal. Time for walking break.

Mile 0.6: I feel embarrassed walking. Back to running.

Mile 0.75: I am fine now. I can do this forever. I am an awesome runner!

Mile 1.O: Lungs collapsing again, and now legs feel like lead. Try to push through it.

Mile 1.25: We're only halfway done? How can I quit now and not look like a total lame-head? Can't be done. Must keep running.

Mile 1.5: Can't. Breathe. Need. Walking. Break.

Mile 1.6: They're so far ahead! Must run to try to catch up, even though this is impossible.

Mile 1.8: I have found my stride. The world is my running track. I am unstoppable.

Mile 2.25: Really want a walking break, but now I am too close to the end. Everyone is waiting. Must not show weakness.

Mile 2.5: Success! I am the king of the world!

The following half hour: beta-endorphin overload makes me feel like Superman. I am invincible! I will rock my quiz tomorrow! My PhD project will change the face of science! The world will bend to my whims! I am flooded with chemical optimism.

One hour later: My God. Quads feel like death. Please shoot me. Why did I willingly do this? All my friends are psychopaths. I must find new friends who don't have serious mental issues.

Three hours later: Overcome by absurd sense of pride for running 2.5 miles. Write post about accomplishment. Vow to do it again tomorrow.

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Grrrrr....

I just found out my car actually costs $450 more than I paid for it because Lafayette Parish enjoys sadistically charging their residents sales tax double that of the rest of the state (8% instead of 4%). The worst part is I chose to buy my car in Louisiana instead of Florida to SAVE money on sales tax, but it ended up costing me more money, not to mention hours of phone calls and hassle. I should have done nothing instead of jumping through all these stupid cross-state purchasing hoops.  But I have no choice at this point except to pay the extra money, because otherwise I can't get my license plate. I hate you, irony.

And it's not like the parish uses their extra money in observable, benefical ways. For example, most of the roads could use repaving, they don't have a comprehensive recycling service, the public buses run once an hour, and in general much of the city could be featured in an article on the decay of medium-sized towns. So, where is my extra $450 going? Probably to line some city officials pockets. I am not pleased.

blast from the past

Today, on Pandora, a song came up which I liked but didn't recognize. The voice of the male vocalist sounded vaguely familiar, somehow, so I stopped working on my paper revisions (which I HAVE TO finish, but more on that later) to check who it was. The artist name was Jason Myles Goss, but instead of a bio, there was just a list of similar artists. At first, I just thought, "why doesn't Pandora have any more information about the artist? Stupid Pandora." But then I realized. Jason Myles Goss. The Obertone. The person who (along with the rest of his acapella group) I'd jokingly mentioned wanting to keep in my closet so that they could sing to me at my leisure.  The one who had kissed another Obertone for 25$ at one of the 5 parties I went to during my 3.5 years at Oberlin, and then mentioned how that was the only person he'd kissed in 6 months. The one who had smiled at me in the basement of Norlin once and it had made me happy for a week. But I was never able in 4 years of being mildly obsessed with him to ever actually say a single word to him. Even when he made such a self-effacing comment about his lack of game in my presence. And now he's on PANDORA. With U2, and R.E.M, John Mayer, Iron and Wine, The Decemberists, Death Cab For Cutie, and many other bands of well repute.
My first instinct (ridiculously) was to find his e-mail somehow and send him an e-mail saying "Hi, My name is Rhea and I went to all your Obertone concerts for 4 years at Oberlin. I just heard your song Twilight Serenade on Pandora and I just wanted to congratulate you on making it as a songwriter. I've always thought you had a really beautiful voice, and it makes me happy that you are still singing." Of course, I can't do this. I couldn't talk to the guy for 4 years and now 6 years later I want to send him an e-mail? I'm not that girl. I don't know what would come of such an e-mail, or what I even would want to come of such an e-mail. I guess maybe it would make him feel good, and that would be something. But also it might make him feel slightly stalked, and that would be bad. Probably, I wont do anything.

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Sunburns

Yesterday, Eric and I  drove down to Sarasota (Lido key, particularly) to go to the beach. It was about an hour and a half, and there are certainly much closer beaches, but it was recommended to us by a professor in Eric's department, so we thought we'd check it out. It was very pretty, and I was reminded that I LOVE the ocean, the sand, the waves. We were there for about 2 hours, and even though I put on copious amounts of sunscreen and spent the majority of the time in the ocean up to my neck, I STILL got unevenly sunburned on my shoulders, chest and back. It's not too bad and should be gone in another day or so, but the irony of the situation irritates me to no end. When I was 13, all I wanted more than anything in the world was to be tan, and so I would try every possible way to get away with not wearing sunscreen whenever we went on vacation somewhere sunny. My mother was always there to thwart these efforts, and thanks to her diligence, I didn't get sunburned very often (and I certainly never got a tan). Now that it's 15 years later (a thought that in itself makes me a little uncomfortable) and I have no interest whatsoever in getting a tan, I seem to get sunburned whenever I go outside for long periods despite my best efforts to prevent this.  It makes me angry. And my first thought when this happens is still: "I have to hide the fact that I'm sunburned from my mother". Which also makes me angry.  Blah. So, I am giving up. You win, UV light rays. I am just going to get a T-shirt which I will wear over my swimsuit at the beach. Sure, I'll look like white trash, but at least I wont increase my risk of skin cancer and end up with weird uneven burn lines after having fun in the sun.

But, I'm not a complete failure at sun protection. I am now an avid hat advocate (thanks also to my mother's often-irritating insistence that I wear a hat as a child) and so I haven't been sunburned on my face in a long time. I am also a huge proponent of sunglasses. And I do wear sunscreen, but it's just not enough of a barrier, and I can't ever seem to get it on evenly. Now that I'm trying to maintain my pale Irish skin, I can't seem to do it. Grrrr.

To Do

 Summer in Boulder is one of my favorite places and times. So here is a list of things I want to do before I leave Boulder:

1. Submit this paper to Nature

2. Finish counting all the Relict channel slides

3. Eat at:
         Hapa
         Khow Thai
         Lucielles
         Noodles & Co
         Glacier ice cream
         Boulder Cafe
         Spicy Pickle (even though they changed their pricing which makes me unhappy)

4. Go to Rocky Mountain National Park

5. Go camping

6. Go to trivia to Connor O'Neils and at Fado's

7. Go for hikes with Roscoe

8. Have Saturday lunch with my parents

9. Go to the farmers market

10. Karaoke at the Outback Saloon

11. Go dancing in Denver

12. Go to the Boulder Outdoor Cinema Theatre

I guess it's not a crazy long list, but I actually have less than a month that I'm going to be here, so we'll see if I can get it all done. Other people who want to do these things are welcome to call me!: )

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reward centers and sociality

I voted yesterday, which gave me a lovely little feeling of contentedness. This got me thinking about why spending an hour of my day to spin a navigation wheel maybe 50 times would stimulate the reward center in my brain, since really I didn't gain any personal advantage from voting. In fact, it caused me to miss my favorite TV show. Still, it made me feel good.
Basically, every living thing is in constant pursuit of ways to stimulate their neural reward centers, at least on the proximate level. When we eat a good meal, when we exercise, when we have sex, when we figure something out, when we feel like we look attractive, when we do well on a project or give a good presentation, all of these actions send hormones to our brain cells that say "you are happy!" And it's clear on an ultimate level why we should feel good after performing these behaviors, since many of them directly influence our ability to live and pass on our genes. It's easy to imagine that organisms back in evolutionary history which didn't get the neural reward from eating would be more likely to die before reproducing, which of course leaves fewer organisms with that trait in the next generation. Same goes for sex; the more the organism is rewarded for reproducing, the more likely it is to try harder to reproduce. If we are rewarded for looking attractive to the opposite sex, we are more likely to put effort into doing that and therefore more likely to actually attract them for procreation. This is also true for raising offspring. If offspring are more likely to survive with larger amounts of parental investment, it benefits the parent to receive a neural reward from investing in their offspring.
However, organisms can get carried away in their pursuit of triggering reward centers, to the point where it actually hinders their fitness. Owning pets is an obvious example of this. People enjoy raising and caring for pets because it is similar behavior to raising and caring for offspring (which is evolutionarily beneficial to enjoy). However, having pets does not help get your genes into the next generation, on the contrary it takes resources AWAY from offspring. But more people have pets now than children because it's a way to trigger that reward center that is easier than actually having children. Drugs and alcohol are another example of ways our reward triggers can actually work against us. In that case we ingest chemicals which cheat our system and make us feel rewarded, even if there was no behavioral trigger. Through classical conditioning, the behavior of taking in the chemicals becomes the behavioral trigger.
There are also behaviors which are rewarding only in a social setting. These are things which relate to our ability to be part of a group. That's why people feel good when other people approve of them, because we are social mammals in the end and intra-group approval means that we can continue to garner the benefits of the group. People are driven to succeed at work, to interact with friends and colleagues, and to participate in group activities because these actions trigger a reward in the sociality center. And these can also be overdone. For instance, we feel good when we're able to help a lost stranger find where they're going. Why? Because it triggers our sociality reward center, even though this person isn't part of our group and really we just wasted resources helping them. And people are variable in the strength of the sociality reward, which is why some people are "nicer" than others. Same with voting, or giving money to charity. This behavior is counter to fitness in every possible way, but we do it because it makes us feel good. Sure, it's beneficial to the group as a whole, but group selection doesn't work because only individuals can pass on their genes. And that's where recognition comes into play. When people do things that benefit the group be cost them individually, they are generally very communicative about it. And that can help them be more accepted in the group, which does have benefits. Thus, sociality is a pathway to alturism.
I keep writing these journal entries about behavioral ecology. If only I could redirect my efforts to writing PAPERS on behavioral ecology, I would be a lot farther along in my plan for this semester. Ah well.

good neighbors

Last weekend, Eric and the cats and I moved into our apartment. It's almost entirely new (new carpets, new hardwood kitchen floor, new bathroom tiling, new kitchen cabinets, new paint) and it's very spacious and overall I'm very fond of it. The only complaint I have is that it sometimes smells like cigarette smoke. When we first moved in we thought this was a remnant smell from the previous tenant, and that it would fade with a little airing out. In retrospect this seems silly since there is all this new stuff and very little left that could hold a smell. After living here for almost a full week, we've realized that it is actually coming from the apartment below us. I've been able to discern that our downstairs neighbor smokes in the front room in the mornings and afternoons, and then below our bathroom in the evenings. It's not an incredibly strong smell, but it's definitely noticeable and unpleasant. Also, I'm worried about long-term exposure to dilute secondhand smoke as a health issue, especially since E's had a chronic cough for almost a month now and I'm sure this isn't helping. My Dear Abby/Miss Manners question for all of you is; what can we do about it? 
Obviously this person is allowed to smoke in their own home. Even if they aren't actually allowed to smoke inside, if they go outside to smoke it will STILL be right below our front door and the smell will still come into our apartment. On the other hand; it hardly seems fair for us to be unwillingly exposed to the smell of cigarettes for the next 9 and a half months. So, what can be done? Do we just have to deal with it, and try to cover up the smell with candles and air fresheners? Should I go downstairs and ask them to close their vents or something when they smoke? Should I talk to the resident manager about it? I really have no idea. It's not like it's so awful I want to move out, but it does make our apartment somewhat less pleasant to be in and that makes me sad. I've never had this problem before in an apartment, but maybe I just coincidentally never lived above someone who smoked. It's not something we could have known before we moved in either, since it smelled more like construction than anything when we came to look at it (they were in the process of fixing the kitchen and putting in the carpets). So, yeah. I'm at a loss. Any suggestions?