Monday, March 30, 2009

10 Things to do in St. Louis in April

Well, I'm home sick today. I've been feeling rather run down due to being incredibly busy at school, working some long days, and the constant running in preparation for the upcoming half-marathon on top of my usual workouts and I guess it's all catching up with me. After sneezing all day yesterday, I woke up this morning and wanted to die. It's time for me to take a break, although I hate doing it because I have so much work to do at school. Blah. Anyway, I apologize for not commenting on blogs lately, but I haven't even gotten my computer out of its bag many nights. Things are going to get nuts pretty soon at school (more in another post), so sorry if I'm MIA.

After taking a break for the last few months, the "10 Things to do in St. Louis" post is back for April.

1. ALIVE Magazine Bartender Contest (Apr. 5th): This event is waaaaay to hip for the likes of me (and late-the second round starts at 9pm! Yeah, I'm old), but I thought you cool people might like to check out some of the area's hottest/most talented bartenders compete Top Chef-style (according to the website) for a cash prize. I admit I am intrigued by Lauren Zoanetti's picture and bio, which simply states that Lauren is "Pepper Lounge's hottest bartender!" Well, good for her! But can she mix a drink?

2. Cardinals Opening Day 2009 (Apr. 6th): The weather is supposed to be nice for this year's home opener. Even if you don't have tickets, dowtown is one big party on opening day. I went a few years ago and definitely had my fair share of fun. Too bad if you have to work on Monday, or Tuesday, for that matter. You'll probably need a day to recover.

3. Adult Easter Egg Hunt (Apr. 10th & 11th): There are many Easter Egg Hunts in the next few weeks (for adults, for children, even for dogs), but I've heard about this hunt in Queeny Park and have wanted to attend for the last few years. Apparently thousands (!) of eggs are hidden throughout the wooded park at night and great prizes are awarded. I'm going to try to make this one.

4. Italian Film Festival of St. Louis (Apr. 10th-25th): Watch Italian movies for FREE at Wash U during this film festival. Eight recent releases will be screened in Italian with English subtitles. Go to the link above to check out the films and a synopsis for each.


5. Repeal of Prohibition Beer Festival (Apr. 18th): I'm going to miss this event at Schlafly Bottleworks because it's the day before the half-marathon, but it sounds like so much fun. There will be 20 beers to sample, including some microbrews from Tennessee. You get unlimited tastings for only $25, plus you take home a commemorative glass.

6. GO! St. Louis Family Fitness Weekend (Apr. 18th & 19th): Although I'm somewhat dreading this weekend because it culminates in the half-marathon, there are actually fun events occurring as well. There's a fitness expo where they have a lot of vendors and freebies and various "races" like a children's mile and a mature mile. Or, you can come early Sunday to watch me grasp my butt and cry out for mercy from the scourge that is my bursitis (hey, my doctor gave me the green light).

7. Greater St. Louis Book Fair (Apr. 23rd-26th): Love to read? Love movies? Love music? Love bargains? This book (and CD, DVD, record, tape, etc) fair is the biggest "book" sale in the midwest. It's held in the parking lot at West County Mall and is free! Stock up on books to read for the year and save money at the same time.

8. Chinese Culture Days (Apr. 25th & 26th): Come celebrate Chinese culture, art, and cuisine (yummy) at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The festival features a 70-ft dragon! That dances!

9. St. Louis Earth Day (Apr. 26th): Held annually in Forest Park, this Earth Day event is huge. I know because in the past I've forgotten about it and sat in traffic in Forest Park while trying to cut through to the other side. There will be food, demos, education, and entertainment. I can't believe I've never attended, but am going to try to make it this year.


10. Twilight Tuesdays (Apr. 28th): I've written about Twilight Tuesdays before, but these concerts in front of the Missouri History Museum are worth mentioning again because they are free and are delightful if the weather cooperates. They run every Tuesday through June 9th, so you have time to check out one of the local bands playing.

Happy April and Happy Easter. I'm off to take some more cold medicine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Last Night I Dreamt of San Pedro...

You know that song, "La Isla Bonita" by Madonna? It is rumored that the song was written about Ambergris Caye, Belize. Well, it appears as though Jason and I will be checking out the scenery for ourselves when we head to Belize in June! After much soul-searching, evaluating of bank accounts, reading of Trip Advisor reviews, and countless time on the internet, we have settled on Belize as the destination for celebrating our second wedding anniversary. Like I've said before, we have not traveled alone as a couple for a week in almost four years! That's nuts!

Several factors influenced our decision to go to Belize. First, it's easy to get to. We seriously considered going to
Dominica, but redeeming our miles called for overnight stays in airports. Yuck. We can leave St. Louis at 6:00am and be in Belize before 2:00pm and they are even in the same time zone.

We also were interested in having a very active vacation. And boy, will it ever be. The photos I
posted before were of Francis Ford Coppola's twin hotels, Blancaneaux and Turtle Inn. The idea was that you stay inland at Blancaneaux for a few days and then head to Turtle Inn to experience the beach and water. Although the package looked amazing, it was just more than we wanted to spend right now.

Turtle Inn is located in southern Belize, in the town of Placencia. We also considered the aforementioned Amergris Caye, which is renowned for its diving and its proximity to the
Great Blue Hole. We decided in the end that Ambergris Caye sounds too touristy and we were looking for something more off the beaten path. We also don't care about nightlife or restaurants, especially if the hotel food wins rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Jason came across a hotel called Hamanasi in the very small village of Hopkins. I read all 46 pages of travel reviews on Trip Advisor and this hotel sounds amazing. In fact, it was rated 4th for "best bargain," 2nd for "best hidden gem," and 1st for "best in romance" in the Central/South America category in Trip Advisor's 2009 Travelers' Choice Awards.

The nice thing about the location of Hopkins is that you can do both inland and shore excursions all from one hotel. We chose a seven night package that includes five excursions that you choose from a list. We will pay extra to do some of the specialty dives. All meals, the short flight from Belize City to Dangriga, transfers to the hotel, welcome drink, and some dive equipment are included in the package. The main costs will be upgrades for diving, diving equipment rentals, alcohol, and tips. Here is a map that shows where we are going:


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We are in luck in terms of the timing of the trip. In the months of April, May, and June, Mutton and Cubera snapper spawn during the full moon. The behemoths of the sea, whale sharks (the biggest fish!), congregate in the waters to feast on the delicous snapper spawn. Yummy! So, we are going to take advantage of this opportunity to see these spectacular creatures since our visit will coincide with spawning. Here is a pretty cool video taken by people staying at Hamanasi. Can you freaking imagine seeing one of these guys? They can grow to 40ft long!




I realize that we may not see them, but we are going to keep our fingers crossed.

We also plan on diving the Great Blue Hole, which is a whole day affair. I'm sure I'll lose my breakfast on the boatride there through the rough waters. But it will all be worth it, right? On this trip, you also make a pit stop to Half Moon Caye Bird Sanctuary where I hope to see some Red-footed boobies.

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There are various other diving trips available, but those are the main two we have our sights set on. We will dive one other time with location TBD.

We also plan on doing a hike that is very rigorous according to the hotel website. This hardcore hike involves steep treks to see Antelope Falls

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Source: jamyam

and the Five Sister Falls:

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For our last excursion, we will probably choose the "Magical Mayan History Tour" where we will visit the Mayan ruin of Xunantunich.

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Source: jamyam

The following pictures are from jamyam's spectacular flickr set of his/her honeymoon trip there.
The infinity pool adjacent to the beach:
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Just some other pretty shots:
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The hotel has its own flickr photostream and these pictures are taken from there.
Aerial view of the hotel:
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How romantic!
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I cannot tell you how excited I am. Now that it's booked, all the trepidation about spending money is gone. We really need some time away alone together, away from the routine, away from the birds, away from cleaning and chores, etc. I am, however, probably going to sob when I leave my puppy dog. I get sad just thinking about it:( We might try to spend a few hours at the recently-opened Hopkins Belize Humane Society to get our dog fix and to give back a little bit. At the very least, Hamanasi does outreach with the shelter and encourages guests to bring pet supplies, which we will no doubt be doing.

So, after that very long post, are you still with me? Anyone been to Belize and want to share your experience?

ps-I hate blogger sometimes! It has a mind of its own and it drives me nuts (see spacing issues above)!

Spring Has Sprung

The weather here has been spectactular. There have been some unseasonably warm days, but I'm simply loving the 60-degree temperatures. You know who else is loving this weather? Lola. You already know about Lola's neverending yearning to be a cockatiel mom. We have taken winter for granted; we have had our sweet baby back with us instead of the hormonal megabitch she becomes when the amount of daylight increases and the temperature rises. The constant screeching is driving me insane, but she has already layed two eggs in her first clutch of the year, so hopefully she will start sitting on those eggs and leave me alone!

She does exhibit some interesting behaviors when she's preparing to lay an egg. She seems to be searching for just the right place to deposit the fruitless fruits of her labor. While she sometimes takes up residence on a high bookshelf, this time she's been inexplicably drawn to the "warmth" of the energy-saving lightbulb of the floorlamp. No matter how many times we shoo her away, she comes back for more.

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I can't say for certain that Levi is enjoying this weather. It's a little warm for his taste and he has been more pokey on his walks than before. I hope that he gets used to it. Last weekend we took him to Queeny Park where we again practiced some jumping over the horse jumps.

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I also took some pictures of him in Forest Park as well as just some of the beautiful things in the park right now.

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We have found one really good way to tire him out. There's a little creek that runs by The Muny and we can get him to do some good jumping, up to four jumps per run. We stand on opposite sides and call to him so that he has to jump the creek and run back and forth to get to us. It's such a fun game for us and for him. I took some video, but don't want to make you all barf with the shaky camera shots, so you'll have to make do with photos until I can take better video.

Here you can see how the creek winds, which is why he can get so many good jumps in:

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Just a one-jump series:

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Coming from afar:

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Finally, a good action shot:

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See, don't you think he might have a future in agility?

And even though I look hideous in this picture (not to mention my 10 chins), here we all are with me wearing what Kristal refers to as my "bird sweatshirt." Ah, my life is a zoo.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sperm in Motion

You might recall that part of my dissertation involves taking various measurements of guppy sperm and artificially inseminated female guppies. Well, thanks to a new toy, I can now capture some swimming spermies to share with you. Jason and I decided to buy the Flip Mino HD, mostly to capture video of our animals. I decided to see if I could just hold the camera up to the eyepiece of a microscope to record guppy sperm. And as it turns out, I can! First let me say that we ordered our Flip from BAD RAP, the same place where we got our Pet Parade t-shirts so that it would have a fun decal. Yes, we realize we have a problem.

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Anyway, here's a little sperm background for you. Guppies have sex. Males transfer spermatozuegmata, or sperm bundles, into the female using a gonopodium, or modified anal fin. These sperm bundles are basically neat little packages comprised of thousands and thousands of sperm. When I strip sperm from the male (no males are harmed; they are anesthetized), I look at the sperm bundles under a dissecting microscope. I tried to get some footage, but it didn't turn out so great with this scope. You might be able to see the oblong objects that look like eggs, which are the bundles. Numerous bundles are in each ejaculate.




Next I suck up one bundle (or try to at least) with a pipette tip and apply it to a different buffer on a microscope slide. The second buffer activates the sperm. You can see them moving inside the sperm bundle in this video, trying to break free.




This video shows them breaking free even more (ignore that giant crack down the center of the slide)






And they're off! Sperm escaping left and right!







This is what's left of the sperm bundle after it has mostly disassociated







Here are the sperm under a higher magnification. There's a lot of junk in the sample/on the slide. Also, it was hard to focus while looking through the viewfinder on the camera, so I apologize about that. You can really see how they differ in their velocity, something I will be measuring (hopefully) for all my males.






Just for fun, here are two bundles side-by-side. I uploaded this video in HD, so the quality should be better. Vimeo only allows one HD upload per week, so here it is.





So, there you have it. You have absolutely no idea how long it took me to put this post together. Between editing the videos, figuring out how to compress them, finding a videosharing site that actually talked nicely with blogger, internet explorer quitting on me over and over again (with unsaved material on blogger-boo), and resizing the videos, well, it took a long time. I'm not even going to fix the spacing issues. I hope that everyone can see the videos. I don't know why some of them say 'private,' and some don't; I'm still getting acquainted with vimeo. If anyone knows, I'm all ears. If you can't see them, I will keep working on it, so check back. I'm also a little nervous about privacy because some info that I didn't want to show up was showing up at first, but hopefully I took care of that.

As far as the Flip goes, it's incredibly easy to use and I really like it so far. It's small and lightweight and just hooks directly up to your computer-no cords needed. I have some video of Levi, but have something in mind that I want to post later. Wow, I feel like I just gave birth or something considering how much effort this post took. Time to publish!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Interview Me

The lovely Kristal sent me five interview questions as part of the tag that's been going around. Thanks, Kristal, for sending me such thoughtful and funny questions:-)

1. If you could have dinner with one famous/influential person, who would it be?

I'm going to be cliche here and say President Obama. It's not that I'm a superliberal person, but I would welcome the opportunity to talk to such a powerful person about the causes I believe in-namely the sorry state of funding for lung cancer research, breed specific legislation, and issues relating to the pet overpopulation.

2. Hollywood is making a movie about you. Who will play you? Who will play Jason? And more importantly, who will play Levi, Monty, and Lola?

Well, I'm not sure why anyone would want to make a movie about me. I'm pretty boring! But you're right that my animals would have to be featured because they're pretty much all I talk about.

Hmm, who to play me? I'm going to go with Rachel McAdams. I wish I could say I resemble her, because she's gorgeous. I just think there's something very likable and down-to-earth about her. She doesn't seem to have a huge ego, is funny, and is a talented actress.

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There's no question as to who would play Jason: the chairman from Iron Chef America. They are practically twins. Hopefully he will accept an acting job.

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I have no faith that Hollywood would feature a pit bull in a starring role, so I suspect Levi's role would be played by a much more audience-friendly breed. A golden retriever or yellow lab, perhaps?

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No one can play Monty but Monty. He is one-of-a kind. I suspect that with the right about of bribing with cool whip, crackers, bread, and yogurt, Monty can be persuaded to accept a starring role.

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If the budget is overblown, they might consider replacing Lola with an animatronic cockatiel or maybe a statue with a recording of constant chirping. That would pretty much capture her essence.

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3. If you were a genie, what wish would you NEVER grant?

Gosh, Kristal, this is a hard one. I'm trying to think of what people normally wish for-money, power, looks, talent, world peace, that Paris Hilton gets eaten by a band of rabid monkeys. Well, there you go-I just answered my own question. I would never grant the wish that Paris Hilton never gets eaten by a band of rabid monkeys!

4. What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

I am very proud that I was awarded $12,000 from the National Science Foundation to fund my dissertation research. I came up with the project myself and writing that grant was a gigantic pain in the ass. I never thought I'd get it, especially on the first try, because the award is incredibly competitive. They also usually only fund students that have preliminary data, which I didn't have. They funded me based on the novelty of my project, the strong theoretical background I wrote about, and I guess I demonstrated to them that I could carry out the project. I was even more proud when I read the comments from the reviewers-I will spare you the details, but I received two "excellents" and one "very good," categories created to help them prioritize which projects to fund. Okay, I'll stop tooting my own horn now:)

5. You have to sum up your life on a bumper sticker...what would it say?

I'm a worrier and am constantly thinking of things that can go wrong in any situation. I'm also incredibly boring and don't like taking risks. You might called that personality trait something else that I don't want to write on a mostly family-friendly blog, but I'm going to go with boring. So, sadly, my bumper sticker would probably say:

I'd rather play it safe!

If there's anyone else that hasn't been interviewed yet and wants to be, leave me your email addy in comments and I'll send you five questions.

Monday, March 2, 2009

America's Next Top Model: Ghosts of Cycles Past

Can you believe the 11th cycle of America's Next Top Model is starting this Wednesday? I got sucked into the marathon on Sunday and was reminded how stunning Heather from cycle 9 is. That got me thinking-how many times has the person I rooted for actually won? I decided to go back to Cycle 3 when I started watching regularly to remember who won my vote to win and who won over panel.

Cycle 3

Who won: Eva
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Who should've won: Ann
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Cycle 4


I had to post two pictures of each girl because this was one of my favorite photo shoots in ANTM history. Remember how each girl portrayed one of the seven deadly sins?

Who won: Naima (envy)
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Who should've won: Kahlen (wrath)

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Runner-up: Brittany (sloth)
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Cycle 5

Who won: Nicole
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Who should've won: Nik
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Cycle 6

Who won and who should've won: Danielle
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Honorable mention: Joanie
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Cycle 7

Who won and who should've won: CariDee
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Honorable Mention: Melrose
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Cycle 8:

Who won: Jaslene
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Who should've won: Natasha
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Honorable mention: Renee
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Cycle 9:

Who won: Saleisha

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Who should've won: Heather
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Cycle 10:

Who won: Whitney
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Who should've won: Claire
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Honorable Mention: Lauren
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Cycle 11:

Who won: McKey
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Who should've won: Analeigh
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Honorable Mention: Elina
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I think the two wins that made me the most angry were Jaslene and Saleisha. Jaslene was a little tranny, like they often said in panel. And even for a model, she is sooooooooo thin. I just didn't get Saleisha at all. Her bowl-cut makeover had to be one of the worst in ANTM history, so maybe they were making up for that? Moreover, she did go to Ty-Ty's camp when she was younger, so that could have had something to do with it. Any fans out there that agree/disagree? Are you excited about the new season, er, cycle?