Sunday, December 12, 2010

Animal House

Ah, being busy. I began a new job in October, so now I teach for Phoenix and work for the Butler Hill Group as an independent consultant. Both jobs are part time, both are internet-based jobs I can do from home. This means that I rarely put on real clothing. Pajamas are my work uniform!

So now I am seriously busy. Remember when weekends used to be for doing fun things instead of cleaning the house? Yeah, that kind of busy. And cleaning the bathroom should not really be a major accomplishment, and yet...

And there needs to be a lot of cleaning right now, because we have a house full of animals right now. Leland and I both started volunteering for the Humane Society. We're part of the animal enrichment team, which means that we work with dogs that need a little extra help to become more socialized, learn self-control, become better walkers, or whatever. Between us we spend anywhere between 5-10 hours per week at the facility.

We're also a foster family for the Humane Society, and we have two animals of our own. I thought I'd introduce them to you all.

Fletcher

Fletcher is a two-year old cat and can you see the tiny puff of white on the end of his tail? So cute. We have had Fletcher since he was about 2 months old. He was a "free" kitten. Yes. So free. So free, the vaccinations and the neutering.

Fletcher has Irritable Bowel Disease, which is kind of like Crohn's Disease in humans. Basically, the digestive tract from the stomach through to the - uh - other end becomes inflamed, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. The condition can be life-threatening due to dehydration or poor absorption of nutrients, but it's easily controlled with corticosteroids and sometimes by diet
alone. We think Fletcher might have a chicken allergy, but it could also be an auto-immune reaction.

You don't want to know what we had to pay the vet to figure this out. Fletch's first episode happened about two months ago and it culminated in a bout of renal failure, a multi-day stay at the emergency vet, and stomach surgery. But he's all better now!

NovaNova is our brand new doggie, a two-year old Chocolate Lab (with something else thrown in there, but she looks almost purebred) that we adopted from the Humane Society three weeks ago. She is, shockingly, normal! Sort of. She is a glutton for attention, which is why the picture is so crappy. Normally she looks like this if you have her attention:

She loves attention so much that it becomes a bit overwhelming. Like, please, please just leave me alone for one TINY SECOND. We don't know much about how she got to be at the shelter. One report was that she was a stray whose owners were contacted but didn't want her back (!?), another was that she was being persecuted by the owner's other dogs and so the owner surrendered her to the facility.

Whatever the reason, she has a permanent home with us now.

TrustTrust is our foster dog. He's a 1 year old lab/terrier mix, and he has floppy ears yes he does. Trust and his three sisters were found as strays before the litter was a year old. Unfortunately, none of the litter had any contact with humans before they were brought to the facility, which for Trust was at about 9 months old.

I usually describe Trust as semi-feral. Before we began fostering him he had never been in a house before, or encountered things like stairs, TVs, fans, dishwashers, or an
y of the other pieces of normal human life. When I first met him in September at the facility, he wouldn't even look at me. When we first brought him home he didn't eat or go to the bathroom for three days! Now he eats from my hands and comes up for affection. He's got a ways to go, but he gets a little more confident every day.

Trust's Petfinder page

Trust's sister Hope is also up for adoption. Hope's Petfinder page

The Kitty Family

Rounding out the circus are Meadow and her three kittens. They live in our spare bedroom, making it the cutest spare bedroom you've ever seen, I'm sure. We haven't introduced them to Fletcher because the steroids he's on suppress immune system function.

Mommy Meadow was discovered late in pregnancy, and she delivered at the shelter. We got the kittens when they were about 3 weeks old, old enough to really begin moving around and pestering Meadow. We'll keep them until 8 weeks (I believe?) because it's not legal to have animals up for adoption prior to 8 weeks, and this gives them more room to play than a small
cage at the facility.

Meadow
I don't know how old Meadow is, but I doubt she's more than a year or two. When she arrived at the shelter I've heard she was pretty feisty. Pregnancy makes many female cats friendlier (ah, hormones), but we still weren't sure how she'd behave in a home. Shockingly, she is one of the friendliest, most outgoing cats I've ever encountered. Two hours after we brought her home I went into her room (we'd been leaving her alone to get used to the space), and she came up to me purring and wanting to be fed.

As the kittens are in the process of being weaned now (she still nurses, but they also eat dry food), I'm hoping her sweet nature doesn't vanish along with those hormones!

Meadow is a good, but strict mother. I've seen her pin one of the kittens down and give it a bite on the belly (not hard, and not enough to keep the kitten from getting right back up an
d going after her tail again). The kittens are clean and everyone uses the litterbox perfectly! Go, Meadow! She talks constantly, chirruping to us and to the kittens. Meadow will be up for adoption when the kittens are, in a few weeks.

Thistle
Because we're fostering them, we got to name the kittens. All three of them have plant names because Meadow is their mom. Of course their little personalities aren't really that developed yet, but there are hints of how they will behave as they grow up.

Thistle is the biggest and boldest kitten, and doesn't he have pretty eyes? He's always the first kitten to be physically able to do something - drink water, climb the scratching pole, balance on the windowsill... he is a handful.


Chicory
Chicory is the second boy in the litter, and he is entirely black with green-blue eyes. Chicory is a scaredy-cat. He took longer to become used to us than his siblings, and he is always cautious in checking out new things in his space. However, I suspect he may be an evil genius. He just looks like an evil genius in this picture.


Poppy
Poppy is the only girl in the litter, despite her white mustache. I think she's smarter than either of her brothers. She's smaller than either, but she is so curious. She's the first to do everything that doesn't require particular strength - the first to come up to greet me, the first to dash into the hall, even the first to figure out how to climb up on the bed. She also loves to eat camera cords, as you can see.

And finally, I have to mention our foster kitty Butternut. We found Butternut in someone's garage and thought he was our missing cat Pumpkin (still missing). But when we took him to the vet, he didn't have a microchip and he did have testicles. Whoops. Butternut is 8 months old and he is up for adoption! Here's his petfinder page

It's a lot of animals. A lot of filling water bowls, handing out food, scooping poop, and sweeping up hair. It certainly keeps us busy! But who wouldn't want to take a kitten break during work? Or spend their evenings watching this?

video

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Non-Cat Related News...

Lest this turn into "The Cats of Anna and Leland", I'll just give a quick Pumpkin update: still missing. We've repeatedly searched the yards around us and gotten to know our neighbors better, which I guess is good. We've even set up an all-night kitty stakeout to watch for her, but nobody showed up. Leland crawled around under our neighbor's house (bless his heart), in the best kitty hiding place of all time. No Miss P.

We have been setting out food at night, and we think she's been eating it. Next step is to set the food on the porch and set up my computer to film all night to see if she is actually the mystery cat. I hope we don't have to trap her but I fear that's coming.

In non-cat related news, I have become quite the little community member. I'm now in the Greenville Choral Society and it's nice to be singing again.

Also, I've started volunteering at the Pitt County Humane Society. I'm working as a general volunteer and on the Animal Enrichment Team, which is a couple of us volunteers who work with a dog trainer to give extra help and attention to the dogs that have the worst behavioral problems. Right now there are only about five or six dogs that I'd love to adopt, so that's pretty good.

We're working with two feral puppies that are skittish but adorable, some high-energy dogs with poor impulse control (including one who's been sent back to the shelter twice, poor thing), and a few cases of "kennel crazy" - repetitive, compulsive behaviors due to the stress of being in the shelter environment. These dogs would be wonderful in a home, but don't show well to visitors. One dog has been in the shelter for almost three years - his entire life. He is terrified to leave the grounds. When you approach his kennel, he starts to leap five feet into the air, over and over. When you get him out on the leash he is so calm and gentle, he is very smart, and he does that adorable thing some big dogs do of leaning into you while you pet them. He is clearly a special dog that would make a great pet.

So if you're in the Greenville area and you want a dog, let me know!! I want a dog. I've been looking for another job, and if I find one maybe then... but I don't want to bring a strange dog into the house while Pumpkin is still missing. So you see, we've come full circle to the cats again.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Stupid Cat

LOST: My idiot cat

Dashed from our new house on her second time ever outside here, immediately ran to a tree in the backyard, scaled it, and leaped over our fence. As if she had been planning it. Last seen two days ago, calmly trotting towards our neighbor's back porch.

Does not answer to the name of Pumpkin.

Does not have a collar because she takes them off in five minutes flat and I am not made of collars.

She does have a microchip - PetWatch has put out an APB.

Most likely is hiding somewhere, probably in our rear neighbor's house because their doors were all hanging open the day she vanished.

Now I will spend my day knocking on strangers' doors and asking them if I can crawl around their backyards looking for the little moron.

Stupid cat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Anna and Leland vs. the DMV

I started teaching last week, and Leland started his classes. Now I have a (metaphorical, it's an online course) pile of papers to grade, so naturally it's the best time to procrastinate with another entry.

Hey, I've graded 9 already. Time for a break.

I may not have graded all 9 today.

I may have only graded 3 today.

Break anyway!

We finally were able to bring our kitties down from where they've been living for the past year - Leland's parents' house. Mark and Phyllis acted like they were happy to see them go, but I know better... who wouldn't want animals that eat food off the counters and bring half-dead chipmunks into the house, claw the furniture and shed hair everywhere?

They're pretty good, but, you know - they're cats. You can teach them what wrong behavior is, but when you're not looking all bets are off.

Fletcher and Pumpkin did not enjoy the 9 hour trip from Pennsylvania to Greenville. Pumpkin let us know this in no uncertain terms by making the most pathetic little squeaky cries for the majority of the ride. Pumpkin weighs about 6 pounds and most of that is fur. The rest is eyes. She's pretty cute, and when she cries it is the most heartbreaking sound in the world.

Don't believe her. She's manipulating your sympathy.

When we got here, we shut the cats up in the spare bedroom, where they promptly burrowed under the blankets on the bed. Very sneaky - what could these cat-shaped lumps possibly be? Eventually we got tired of this and made them come out (what every website on moving with cats says you shouldn't do) to explore the house. They're fine now at night and even behave like normal animals, but during the day Fletcher hides under the couch and Pumpkin hides under the bed.

You can judge Pumpkin's mood by where she is under the bed. You see, Pumpkin isn't scared of things. I used to think this, but I don't anymore. She just hates to be messed with. There are five possible positions she will take up, depending on how certain she is that someone is going to come and mess with her (i.e., make her go into a crate).

1) Strolling freely about the house. Threat level - low. Low risk of being stuffed into a crate. This happens in the middle of the night when the potential crate-stuffers are trying to sleep. "Pumpkin jumped right on my face." Leland complained yesterday morning. That's it, Miss P. Get all that cat hair right up his allergy-prone nose.

2) Hunker position. Threat level - guarded. General risk of being stuffed into a crate. The strategy here is to keep low to the ground and sort of slink around, startling to an unnecessary degree at anything that moves, or makes a noise, or doesn't move, or doesn't make a noise. Not entirely sure what the hunker position is designed to accomplish.

3) Under the corner of the bed. Threat level - elevated. Elevated risk of being stuffed into a crate. You see, she's protected by the bed, but can immediately move to a more secure position should anyone try to, you know, touch her.

4) Under the middle of the bed. Threat level - high. High risk of being stuffed into a crate. This happens if anyone looks at her funny, particularly between the hours of 10 and 2, when she seems to be at high alert for crate-stuffing.

5) Under the bedside table. Threat level - FREAK OUT. SOMEONE IS GOING TO STUFF YOU INTO A CRATE. I'm amazed that she can even wedge herself under there. She does this when people come into the house, or if someone makes the mistake of trying to dislodge her from under the bed. In order to extricate her, I would have to literally pick up the table. It's pretty funny to be lying on the bed, with her under it, when someone opens the back door and then it's BATTLE STATIONS, with a lot of skittering claws and rustling, and then two little beady eyes starting at you from under the bedside table.

My cats have emotional problems.

We finally managed to get our driver's licenses (three visits to DMV) and license plates (two visits). The license plates were by far the bigger hassle.

We go to the license plate place (not the same as the driver's license place, obvi), and the lady says, "I need your title and Minnesota registration."

"We don't have a title." Leland says. "We're still paying on the car. There is no title."

"Your registration should say that," the lady says, in a tone that means "you'd better pray that your registration says that."

A brief reconnaissance of our documents shows that we have not brought in the registration. Anna is sent to the parking lot.

"There's no registration in the car." Anna says.

"Just bring everything in." Leland says.

"Fine, but unless our registration is a receipt from Lowe's, a U-Haul rental agreement, a bag of change, or some Sheetz napkins, it is not in our glove box."

"Just bring everything in."

"Okaaayyyy..."

Husband ascertains that Wife is, in fact, not a total moron and gives his own opinion on the situation. "There's no registration in the car."

"Mmm-hmmm."

The DMV lady suggests that we call the lien holder and get them to copy and fax over the title, providing there is a physical title. Leland gets on the phone. He is shuffled through several menus, is hung up on several times, but finally a woman promises to go look for the title. She'll call us back.

"I'll go home and look for the MN registration." I offer.

"It's probably in the cardboard box full of papers, or else in the bag of random crap." Leland offers.

(You know, the last-minute collection of random items that you throw together when they don't fit anywhere else. Ours is in a plastic bag, and contains a paystub, two tampons, unopened junk mail, little wooden disks designed to protect the floors from furniture legs, Canadian coins, and other stuff. It is still packed. Bag of random crap.)

Here is what I find at home:

1) Application for MN registration, with Ohio registration attached
2) Letter from MN regarding incomplete registration application
3) Forwarded letter from MN, reminding us to re-register car in September of this year.

And then I remembered...

We have no MN registration.

Oh, the car was registered. But we have no physical registration card. You see, Leland did not completely fill out the application. He did not include his middle name. The letter from MN (#2), informed us that the application could not be processed unless they received the vital information of Leland's middle name.

Leland has no middle name.

Crap.

"I told you to call them." I muttered as I drove back to the DMV.

It's a heavy load to bear, this always being right.

Fortunately, the story ends far less dramatically. Leland looked shifty-eyed when I reminded him of our lack of registration card. Luckily for him, the lien holder did indeed have a physical title, which they faxed over, thus eliminating our need to show a registration.

And we won the right to pay North Carolina 250$ to register the car.

We - won, right?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Adventures Continue - Now in Southern Flavor!

About two weeks ago we ended our field season and moved to the south. Now there's an adventure for you. I've never in my life lived below the Mason-Dixon line, and now my accent clearly defines me, identifies me, in a way that it never has before. It's strange.

The people here in Greenville, North Carolina are very nice. They smile and say hello as if they mean it - no, as if they know you, recognize you specifically. Their eyes will light up. "Good morning, ladies." A woman greeted my mother-in-law and I as we sat waiting for coffee. And she meant it. And so it became true. When I was caught in the door of the library by a sudden downpour, a teenage girl offered to walk me to the car underneath her umbrella. I'm accustomed to Minnesota Nice, where people smile and hold doors and are earnestly indeed very nice to you, but this is an entirely new brand of niceness. I can't deny I like it.

Greenville is Pirate country - symbolically and literally. We're on the Tar river (what's the pirate's favorite river? The Taaarrrrrrr. I made that one up), which empties into the Pamlico estuary just twenty minutes up the road. The Pamlico estuary ends up in the Pamlico Sound, which is the Atlantic ocean. Across from the Sound are the Outer Banks, delicate etchings of island that stretch protectively along the coast. The Sound is shallow enough to walk across in some areas. Technically, we're in the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, although we're a bit inland for that.

Pirates prowled these waters, including the big guy himself, Blackbeard. He was killed on Ocracoke, on the Outer Bank nearest to us as the seagull flies. It occurs to me that I've lived at the beginning and the end of Blackbeard's - Edward Teach's - life. He was probably born in Bristol, England, where I lived for a year, and he died here.

We've been brought here by East Carolina University's Maritime Studies program, where Leland will be working towards his Masters. ECU is currently excavating a sunken wreck tentatively identified as Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge. The school mascot is the pirate, and Greenville has names everywhere that sound like a theme park - Pirate's Point, Buccaneer Bay Apartments, Jolly Roger Convenience Store. The garish school colors, purple and gold, are everywhere.

I've never lived so close to the ocean. The Outer Banks are more than a day trip, sadly - they're geographically near but a long way to drive, as the roads skirt the long fingers of North Carolina that jut out into the Sound. But at Goose Creek State Park there's a free swimming beach. It's on the Pamlico, far enough inland that the estuarine mixing of the salt water with the fresh is quite dilute, but if you put the water in your mouth it tastes salty. And it smells like the ocean, but faded. The beach is sandy and the water brown but free of the slimy guck that makes swimming in rivers generally so unpleasant. The water is warm, and shallow, and calm, and the trees on shore drip with lacy Spanish Moss.

Our neighborhood is quiet and well-located, filled with retirees. We went to a neighborhood association meeting yesterday evening - we saw the signs and thought we should attend. After reading the minutes from the last meeting, the chairman began to move on to old business. "Wait," his wife stopped him. "Don't we need to vote to approve the minutes?"

"Don't see why." He drawled. "Everyone here heard 'em. That's what happened."

The resolution to approve the minutes passed with a chorus of murmurs.

The accent here is by no means impenetrable, but at times the words get so chewed on, so slurred over - like the speaker has a mouth full of caramel - we have to ask two or three times for something to be repeated before we understand it. I went to the Pitt County Farmer's Market with Leland's mother last Wednesday, and we came across a cake-like concoction in a plastic take-out container.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Pih pih pi." The kid working the booth informed me.

"What?"

"Pih pih'ih pi."

"Oh." I said, to be polite. Then Leland's mom Phyllis bent over. "What is this?" she asked him.

It took three or four more repetitions before we puzzled it out - pig pickin' pie. At least, that was our best guess. The kid made no attempts to slow his speech, to sound it out more closely for us ignorant Yankees, just patiently repeated the phrase identically each time.

"There's no pig in it." He said. "It's pineapple and whipped cream and stuff." Then he added, more mysteriously, "Usually the guy who makes 'em makes chocolate, but he decided to make this one today."

"And you didn't buy any?" Leland asked us, incredulously, when we told him the story later.

A week later we learned from a mattress salesman that pig pickin' is what I'd call a pig roast. Roast a pig for hours in a split drum or fire pit, then sit around pickin' off the tasty meat. Pig Pickin' Pie is a traditional dessert at these affairs. I'll have to figure out a way to get invited to one.

Leland and I just got back from our second visit to the farmer's market. We picked up fresh local peaches, shrimp caught this morning in Pamlico Sound, and some other odds and ends we'd never heard of before. "Po beans." The farmer told us. "You know, they grow up a po'."

"Pole beans." I said.

"Yes ma'am."

I've never been ma'am'ed so much in my life, by girls younger than me and by men of every age. And I find myself doing it too, throwing out ma'am's and sirs whenever speaking to a stranger and especially after replying to a question, in either the affirmative or negative.

We also purchased field peas, a kind of bean, and raw peanuts. Feeling dumb, we caught the attention of the farmer and asked her what you did with raw peanuts. The woman laughed, while her daughter and a customer looked at us incredulously. It was the sort of response you might imagine if you held up a tomato and said, "now what do you use this for?", but it was gentle.

"Boil 'em." The daughter said, a girl of about 11. "Then put salt on 'em."

"Is that it?" My husband asked.

The farmer recovered from her laughter and appraised us with the kind of benign expression reserved for the unbelievably uninformed. "That's it." She said.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

So Tired...

Pretty stream - much prettier if it didn't splash over the top of my shoes when I forded it...


You know what doesn't help when I am so tired? Having the computer crash in the middle of writing a post and everything getting lost...

The 60 hour weeks are really catching up to me here, but we're getting a break very soon. We'll be breaking from work beginning on Thursday, continuing all the following week, and then resuming on the next Monday. This is an official break - the office needs to get some preliminary reports in and get the next bit of work lined up. The good news for us is that the project is being extended, so we should have work through the end of July. August 1st we move to North Carolina!

Since the last post, we've moved from Owego, NY, back to Goshen, NY. We're in the same hotel as before. Living in a hotel you kind of get to know the handyman, the people at the front desk, the maids, etc. It's kind of like being back at home.

Lots has happened that I was too lazy to write about - we went to the Owego Strawberry Festival (fueled by too many strawberry daiquiris), and visited Ithaca for a day (gorges! Ah, I slay me) as well as the Skylands New Jersey Botanical Gardens. Luckily for me I have tons of pictures (uh, except from the Strawberry Festival - those all came out blurry for some mysterious reason). And we have been working. OH, how we have been working.

I need a vitamin water. I am addicted to vitamin water. I think I need an intervention.


Sunshiney...


Snake! Could be a rattlesnake - looked like one but has no rattle. I almost stepped on it - but I saw it in time. Can you see it?


My boss was like, "You like taking pictures. Take a picture of this moth." And I was like, "Ok." So here's a picture of a moth on the Trimble GPS.


Dig that hole, Leland


The best part of the week, Sunday lunch at this great French restaurant, Le Petite Cuisine, in Warwick, NY. We ate snails there. They are tasty.


We told them last Sunday that this was the last time we'd be there because we weren't going to be working in the area anymore, and they thanked us for our patronage and gave us a discount on our bill! I guess we're good tippers.


Goofing around in Owego


Leland stretching before the big run (note: there is no big run)


The bucolic little town of Owego, NY. Apparently it won some kind of "Coolest Small Town in America" contest. It's cute!


The bridge into town over the Susquehanna


Owego has an awesome little bookstore and here Leland displays his hefty purchase.



Oh, no, back to work! You can see the existing pipeline corridor that we're working along in the cut through the trees here (actual pipe is underground. You know, where pipes live). The pipeline is being widened.


The gorgeous view of a landowner who was angry at us until our boss charmed him into liking the idea of archaeologists on his property.


And this is what we've been trapped in for the past six days. Digging in the corn sucks. It's hot and the corn tries to eat you.


See? Deep holes! A meter deep, in fact. That shovel handle comes up to my chin, just to give you an idea of how deep that is. This area is on a floodplain, so there are lots of soil deposits to dig through here.


Stupid corn. The best sites are on floodplains, though (people tend to live by the water), so at least we have the potential to find some interesting stuff.


Us overlooking Ithaca. They have tasty Thai food there. Gorges!


And here we are at Skylands New Jersey Botanical Garden.


1920's era Manor House - once a private residence - at the heart of the Botanical Gardens. Like a Great Gatsby party waiting to happen.


Photographer fussily arranging specimens in the pond


So pretty!


The gardens were so peaceful and very well kept. And free!


Gazebo!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Moving Day!

Yesterday we moved from Goshen, NY, to Owego, NY. Owego is just north of the PA border on the Susquehanna river, in the Finger Lakes region. We'll be here more than a week, but no one's really sure for how long. We were supposed to do some shovel tests on a nearby large field, but now that the field has been planted we can't dig it up. Instead, we're walking the surface looking for artifacts, which should take a few days but not as long as anticipated.

We're reaching the inevitable point of job insecurity that always comes with these projects. Rumors are flying - we've heard July 4th layoffs, and then most recently by the end of June. Talk of more work at the beginning of August, but we were planning on moving to North Carolina in August....

This project was supposed to be 4-6 weeks. I was hoping that we'd have something through the rest of the summer, but I guess it's my fate to be laid off in July. I've been laid off in July twice before! We'll see what happens. We've been able to save almost 100% of our paychecks and live off of per diem, so we have a bit of a cushion.

On the plus side, we're in a great hotel here in Owego. If you are looking for a place to stop on a road trip or something, I heartily recommend the Holiday Inn Express. We have two huge rooms with tons of space (Leland upon walking in: "we could have a dance party in here!"), including a full size refrigerator, kitchen sink, and stove with two burners. Flat screen TV, pool and lounge - and, of course, an actual hot breakfast. Plus the grocery store is right across the street! Shovelbum heaven.

Before moving we were driving more than an hour from Goshen into the Poconos, which is gorgeous country but, seriously, we need to discuss the definition of "mountain". Being more familiar with the Rockies or the Bighorns, I didn't even realize that we were in the mountains here. Seriously. After a week or so I heard someone talking about the mountains and I was like, "Mountains? Where? Oh, we're on one? Um... where?"

We drove through the Catskills on our way from Goshen to Owego, and I was much more convinced that these were actually mountains, although really they are still way too rounded and green on the tops. But if it makes you feel better, East Coast, I guess we can call them mountains. The drive was fantastic, over windy roads and through great scenery, and I could even sing at the top of my lungs to the my music because Leland was driving a company vehicle so I made the trip alone.

I'm excited to be in the Finger Lakes, as I've never been in this part of the country before. I'll try to keep posting pictures, but our new internet connection seems to hate Blogger picture uploads. Perhaps we'll try an internet cafe to get some pictures up

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Angry Rant

Things have been kind of boring lately, and I didn't want to post a lot of complaints about enormous rocks, heat, insects - you know, all the other stuff I've been complaining about. Wouldn't want to get repetitive.

However... I have something completely different to complain about tonight. Or perhaps to rant about.

You see, this evening Leland and I had our dinner completely ruined by a table full of shrieking, self-absorbed hipster assholes.

We went to a Mexican restaurant suggested by one of our co-workers. (Every dinner comes with a quesadilla, sopapilla, and shot of Tequila! We're in!) The restaurant was cute, with Mexican murals across every surface. But as the waiter led us to our table, a strolling Mariachi began to play.

Uh-oh. I thought. We're going to have to pay this guy to go away or we won't be able to hear ourselves think.

Also, there was a baby crying.

Uh-oh. I thought. That baby will be crying and it will be annoying.

Oh Anna of the past. You were VERY WRONG to fear the Mariachi. And the baby.

For you see, our dinner was ruined NOT by the Mariachi, but by our fellow diners! Other adults! Yes! A table full of people yelling at each other!

Not angry yelling (most of the time). Happy yelling. Joyful shrieking. Celebratory ululating.

Yes. Ululating. You know, that yi-yi-yi-yi-yi noise that the Mexicans make in bad Westerns. Which, of course, is the proper thing to do when one takes a shot of Tequila in a Mexican restaurant.

And not racist in any way. Because, as I heard you all loudly reassure each other, you are not racist. Therefore, you are obviously able to do racist things. Because you know better, apparently, which makes it - ok? Somehow the logic was lost there.

Speaking of knowing better, I would honestly have rather had the baby screaming. Babies crying are annoying, but you can't really blame the baby and I always feel so bad for the poor parents, who want the baby to be quiet just as much as or more than everyone else. YOU IDIOTS HAVE NO EXCUSE.

Oh, and I was mortified for mankind when you, Mexican-shirt Girl, started to make up names for the waiters (who were all Hispanic). "Tom! Tom!" Yelling at the waiter to get over to you.

And then your friends thought you actually knew the guy's name but weren't, you know, pronouncing it correctly or something, so everyone chimed in "Tomas! Tomas!"

"I just made up that name." You say, evidently without a shred of shame.

That's it. Off. I'm voting you off the planet. Preferably via some sort of cannon.

And the reason you wanted the attention of the waiter? They screwed up your friend's bill. And the appropriate response to that incredibly important and rare occurrence is for you, Aggrieved Party, to pout, call the waiters names, and threaten to not give them a tip. Loudly. Not that you have any other volume level, I just wish to reiterate that this entire drama was conducted at decibels that exceeded OSHA safety regulations for workers without ear protection.

All with a quivering lip suggesting you might cry - cry! - at any second. Listen. I cry a lot. Without any real solid justifiable reason, usually. And I have never threatened to cry in a restaurant because they screwed up my bill.

So when your friend's bill is screwed up, what do you do? Yes, you, Skinny Guy who Probably Has Ironic Tattoos. You're the man, right? I think that you should stomp to the waiter's station and bully the manager into giving your friend a 25$ gift certificate!

Obviously you share this opinion.

Glad you're mollified, Aggrieved Party. And so happy that now you want the staff to take pictures of you doing shots of Tequila!

Air-Raid Siren Girl With Voice Who Cuts Through Glass, you should get in on this picture! Quick, yell for one of the waiters to get in the picture with you. Yes, literally yell at him. Make up a fake name for him, and insist that he sticks out his tongue in the picture, as you are doing.

Continue to order the staff around as you maneuver your party into different poses. Pouring salt onto your hand! Licking the salt! Shot glass, poised at your lips! And so on!

Please, now flip through the pictures on your camera and discuss between yourselves - and, by necessity, the rest of the freaking restaurant - which of these photos you will put on Facebook. Yell at each other about posting pictures with alcohol in them, and struggle briefly (and LOUDLY) over the camera.

What the hell is wrong with you? I'm not a real big fan of child abuse, but I have to believe that if someone kicked your ass a little more often at a crucial time in your development, you might not be able now to fit your head so far up there! Can you even see that there are other people in the restaurant trying to enjoy their meals?

You're rude, you're self-absorbed, and you're intolerable. You ruined my meal, and even though I yelled at you as I left the restaurant (yes, I did), I doubt that any intervention at this point will have any effect on your behavior or attitude.

I know that when you tell this story in the future, it will go like this: "hey, remember when we were at that Mexican restaurant doing NOTHING AT ALL and some BITCH yelled at us for NO REASON?"

Just know that when I reminisce about this little episode in the future, my version will go like this: "hey, remember when those assholes were being epically loud in that Mexican restaurant and I BEAT THEM WITH A BASEBALL BAT?"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's hot!

On our single precious day off last week we went to Sugar Loaf, an artist's colony in the little town of Sugar Loaf, NY.
Artsy! But in a commercial sort of a way!

Tucked into the green hills, the main street is lined with little shops selling anything from watercolors to candles to little sculptures of skeleton pirates. We spent a few hours wandering from store to store, happily content in the cool, moist air under an overcast sky.

Not pictured: my new kitty friend. Don't pet the tummy! It's a trap!

We stopped at the Barnsider Tavern for a beer, then went on to the nearby French cafe La Petite Cuisine for lunch.

Mmmmm. Nice to be back in civilization. Every morning I see on the weather channel that it's raining in Bismarck, ND, and I laugh a little bit.

It has been ferociously hot and humid this week. In fact, I believe that today we broke the all time record high - shattered it, in fact, by 4 degrees. When it's already 85 at 9:00am, you should just give up and go spend the day in a dark, air conditioned room. The weather channel recommended that us here in the 94-degree high, 90% humidity Northeast should stay inside and limit exercise.

So we went out to dig holes in the sun.

It actually wasn't so bad. I mean, it was bad, but it wasn't soooo bad. It could have been worse - we could have spent the day without any shade, like some people on the crew. Our unit was strategically placed to get shade by 3:00. Ha!

Leland found another way to keep cool during the lunch break...

Worth the wet boxer shorts?

The water was cold and wonderful (even though I only went in up to my knees).

We also had some wildlife companions to get us through the day.


Yesterday night we had a wonderful surprise when Leland's parents came to visit! They had just been in North Carolina... and they found a gorgeous house down there for us to rent!! More on that later...

Friday, May 21, 2010

How much to show?

Such a pretty part of the country:

Stream leading to the WallKill River

We're very near to the Black Dirt Region, which has unbelievably dark, rich soil that apparently can grow anything. It's the remnants of an ancient lake and was swampland before farmers drained it in the mid-1800s. Essentially peat, in fact. I'll try to get some pictures of it but I'm not sure my little digital can really do it justice. It looks like ground up oreos.

Our day today was very hot (high of 90, humid) and Leland and I dug a nasty unit. Full of rocks, clay bottom. Hard to dig, hard to screen.

Our gorgeous backdirt

See? Big!

Now, you may have noticed me being a little vague about exactly where we are and what we're doing. That's for a good reason. Of course, I want to be vague about company information, and so I won't reveal the company we're working for or post anyone's real names.

But besides that, archaeological sites can attract the wrong type of attention from people who don't understand the difference between archaeology and looting. We are careful about the way we dig - proceeding in levels, screening dirt, collecting all artifacts, mapping significant aspects of the site and each unit, lots of paperwork.

We're scientists, and each part of that work that we do in the field is a piece of the puzzle. When correctly assembled, we can figure out what happened at the site. Where we find things - horizontally and vertically - is just as important as what we find. In fact, it's more important. If we don't know where an artifact comes from within the site, it's useless to us. It's lost context, and therefore we don't know where in the puzzle to place it.

A lot of people have picked up arrowheads before, and many enjoy fieldwalking where they collect artifacts on the surface of a plowed field. I'm not crazy about this practice, but any artifact on the surface has been disturbed, meaning that it has been moved from the location where it was dropped hundreds or thousands of years ago. Usually in a plowed field this has happened because of the plow itself.

Some people take this habit a step farther and actually dig for artifacts. This is called looting. It destroys the context of the artifact and the site and takes away part of the puzzle from us, making it that much harder to figure out what happened. Instead of scientific information, the artifact becomes only a pretty curio. People who do this often don't realize that they're doing anything wrong, because they don't understand the other aspects of being an archaeologist - they think we just find stuff.

The worst offenders then sell the artifacts they find. Some rare artifacts (like certain projectile points / arrowheads or ceramic pots) can be worth a lot of money. This is part of the black market antiquities trade and it makes me furious. And don't get Leland started on people diving for underwater "treasures". Just like on land, underwater sites like shipwrecks lose most of their scientific value if they're ripped apart by looters.

So you'll understand that I don't want to identify specific sites or locations. The areas I have identified contained sites that are pretty well known.

Monday, May 17, 2010

10 Things

Mondays, man...

There is always a certain amount of standing around in archaeology, but this company has the worst case of standing around that I have ever seen. Especially at the very end of the day, when we get back to the hotel. I am no longer getting paid for this - why are we just loitering in the parking lot?

I treasure my few personal hours every day. Get up at 6, work 7-5, and then I have five precious hours before sleep. That may sound like a lot, but I have a lot of lying around to do to make up for all of the effort expended during the day. Leland is off on a bike ride right now, and that makes no sense to me. I just spent 10 hours digging holes. More physical exertion is at the bottom of the priority list.

I generally enjoy my job, but motivation is hard to come by in the mornings, especially Monday mornings.

10 Things I Tell Myself To Get Through Monday Mornings:

1) Just six days until my next day off.

2) Just ten hours until I'm back in the air conditioning watching T.V.

3) Just five hours until lunch!

4) At least it's not raining today. (Or, if it is: at least it's not supposed to rain tomorrow. Or, if it is: we might get a rain day tomorrow!)

5) Think of all the overtime!

6) At least I'm not working retail and therefore don't have to kiss anyone's butt today.

7) I still have a 40 minute car ride before any real work begins.

8) I get to live in a hotel, which, let's face it, every kid fantasizes about at some point.

9) I might find something really cool today.

10) I get paid to be an archaeologist! There are only about 3000 professional archaeologists at any one time in the United States, so I'm in a relatively select club.

We had a pretty good day today, actually. We were doing phase 1 shovel testing, which is very boring. 50cm round holes, 15 meters apart, for about 3 miles. But we're done and now we get to do a phase 2, which is much more like an actual excavation and is at a site that's already been found (phase 1 is how we find sites, phase 2 explores them further).

We saw the cutest little orange salamander today, and a spotted one yesterday, but my camera has run out of batteries.

More pictures soon, I promise.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day off

For those of you who were having trouble posting comments, I think I fixed it. You should be able to post comments now without creating a username for Blogger. Post away!

The flower in the last post is apparently a wild geranium. Thank Lisa for her horticultural knowledge.

Today is our day off. This is a bit exciting because we work 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, and have only Sundays off. CRM schedules are often bizarre - I've worked regular 5-day 40-hour weeks with weekends off, but also have worked "8 days on, 6 days off" - i.e., 8 ten hour days in a row and then 6 days break. No overtime in that scenario because you do two weeks work in the 8 days. I've heard also of "9 days on, 5 days off" and "4 days on, 3 days off".

Overtime isn't really common for the same reason it isn't common in other hourly-wage fields (no one wants to pay time and a half), but it is more common in CRM than in other areas except, perhaps, construction. There are two reasons for this:

1) Projects are usually rushed ("this pipe needs to be in the ground by June! You have three weeks to finish before the bulldozers arrive!")

2) Companies will make tons of money once the pipeline/well/whatever goes in, so they don't mind paying overtime up front.

As a result, we get 20 hours of overtime a week. Which is sweet. However, that means we work 60 hour weeks. Which is no joke when you dig holes all day long.

The long days make more sense when you think about the amount of time it can take to get to a project. We drive 45 minutes one way to get to the site - that's an hour and a half out of the day before any work has even occurred. One project I worked on had a two hour one way commute, leaving only 4 hours of actual work time each day.

Anyway, that means we have only one day off every week, and I intend to lay around and do nothing.

Well, not do nothing, because I have to devote a certain amount of time to scratching my bug bites. The area we're in is heavily wooded and we have a constant swarm of black flies and mosquitoes around our heads as we work. I had a very impressive itchy lump that pretty much took over my forearm, but it seems to be receding now. Not so much my ear, which I guess has a bite on it somewhere because the entire thing has been really swollen, red, and itchy for two days.

Most impressively, I got my first ever deer tick bite! I've lived and worked outside in several tick-infested areas and never even seen a deer tick (they're about the size of a poppy seed), but one showed up sticking into my hip two days ago. Deer ticks are the species that carries Lyme Disease. On the lookout for the characteristic bullseye rash, which should show up within a week or so if I have the disease.

Only about 1% of people bitten by deer ticks get Lyme Disease, and the percentage is down to basically 0 if the tick is removed within 36 hours (which mine was), so I'm not concerned - just alert.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Now, that's safety!

We are now in Goshen, NY, working for a pipeline project. The pipeline is being added to and so we are making sure that they don't destroy anything important as they do the construction. The past two days we worked in a state forest, and soon we'll be moving to a national park!

The scenery is gorgeous, both the nature and the little towns in this area. Lots of trees, cute old East coast houses, and culture. Possibly the biggest difference between NY and ND. For example, yesterday for lunch we went to a little deli right near the project and it was delicious. There probably isn't a restaurant that tasty in the entirety of North Dakota.

Last night we attended SAFETY TRAINING! And now we are SAFE! We know not to carry firearms with us or detonate explosives in our cars, and that we can't drink at work. Naturally, we were doing all of those things before so this information came as a huge surprise, I can tell you!

All of the contractors working for this pipeline have to attend the same training, and so the required safety video is 99% related to construction work and 1% related to anything we might be doing. Nonetheless, we shall not stand in the way of pointless bureaucratic rules! For our trouble, we got stickers for our hardhats showing that we passed.

Yes, we have to wear hardhats. Also, reflective vests and steel-toed boots. As our trainer reminded us, it is hunting season and we are in the woods, and so I am totally down with the reflective vests. But the hardhat and the boots? Are the hunters aiming for my feet? Am I in danger from falling airplane parts?

Leland demonstrates proper safety gear.

It's really not so bad, just a little silly.

The forests here are so lush, it's possible to completely forget that we're in modern New York, just an hour from the City.

North Dakota, this ain't.

We're also in a historically old part of the country. Out West, all the old homesteads and other historic features are already known (for the most part), and landowners certainly know what's on their property. Here, only foundations remain and no one living remembers who lived here.

Historic building foundations

See the rock wall?



Horticultural Quiz!

What plant am I?

Any guesses will be believed entirely, as I have no clue what the answer is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wildlife Report


Had to post this picture of a ground squirrel I took in North Dakota...

Closeup!

There are bears in our project area here... and apparently two new babies just out of the den. Wonder if I can take their picture without getting mama angry?

The Saga Continues...

Sorry about the lack of posts, but we've had a crazy few days.

Last Monday evening we were in Medora, South Dakota, on top of a gorgeous butte. Tuesday we got back out to the site (forecast iffy, but only 30% chance of precipitation). It was cold and windy, but we began work.

Then the clouds began to roll in. We had miles of visibility across the badlands from our perch, but one by one the hills were swallowed up by the white band of advancing nothingness.

Where did everything go?

We were screwed.

Not rain, not even sleet, but actual fluffy flakes. In May. At first it wasn't so bad - even though we were basically in the cloudbank, the temperature wasn't too bad and a few flakes were nothing to worry about. Better snow than rain, actually - you get less wet.

Making the best of things

When Leland's mom saw this picture, she thought it was him. It's me. I'm a supermodel in the field.

These pictures, of course, don't really do this justice. It was so windy that the screens were difficult to hold up, and snow was building up on my back and legs. The dirt was muddy and very difficult to push through the screen. Finally our boss threw in the towel, and decided that we would pack everything up, go back to Bismarck, and return in a few days when the weather was supposed to get better.

To say that I was displeased by this would be putting things mildly. Of course, it was ludicrous to continue to excavate. It was too cold and sloppy to do anything carefully, and our paperwork was quickly wet and encrusted with mud. And the decision to drive the two hours back to Bismarck was an easy one - why pay for hotel rooms for people to just sit around when you don't have to?

But I was dreaming about the hot tub and sleeping in a bed after excavating in the snow and wind all morning. Returning to the KOA - because we had no place to stay in Bismarck - was not what I wanted to do.

Then we had a change of plans.

We had only been planning to remain in North Dakota for a few weeks, because we didn't want to be local techs. Local techs are responsible for their own housing and do not receive per diem for expenses. Non-local techs get a paid hotel and per diem. After accounting for rent and not receiving PD, that would really cut into the total amount we could make this summer. And we're trying to pay for Leland's tuition next year without taking out loans.

We were very upfront with the company in Bismarck about our intentions to look for other hotel-and-PD work, but it was still bad timing when we received a phone call on the way home from Medora to Bismarck. Long project on the New York/PA border. Starting in 8 days. Lots of overtime. Were we available?

We decided to leave Bismarck for the new project, and we had to leave that evening. It was a little shitty to leave the Bismarck company in that manner (in the middle of the stalled excavation), but the benefits to us in leaving were too great to give up the opportunity. People in the Bismarck company weren't pleased that we were leaving, but we could tell that they would do no differently, given similar circumstances. "You have to do what you have to do." We heard that a lot.

That evening, after 8 hours of driving, we were back in St Paul. The next day we packed up all our stuff, rented a U-Haul, and took off for Pennsylvania. We had a weekend in PA, and then drove the final leg up to Goshen, NY, where we are now.

We had a half day today in the field and the location is gorgeous - in a state park and completely wooded.

A few of the crew members complained about the weather today, but Leland and I weren't phased. Sure, it was about 55 degrees and drizzling, but there were trees! And no wind! And NO SNOW!