Wednesday, November 25, 2009

11 Things to do in St. Louis in December

I'm getting this out so, so late, but here is your list by popular demand!!! I am lazy, so I basically stole my list from last year and made a few additions. I may or may not have been spending all my free time lately playing Wizard101. Hey, don't judge, okay? I never said I was cool.

Since this list is by no means exhaustive, here is a link to even more holiday events around the area.

1. Skinker-Debaliviere Wintermarkt (Dec. 5): Can't get away to Europe for the holidays? Pretend you're there anyway at this outdoor festival in a cool little area of the city bordering Forest Park. This one's for you, hot chocolate fans! Sip on some cocoa as you peruse the artisanal items for sale, take a carriage ride, or watch a blacksmith work his holiday magic. Whatever that means. This event is FREE!

2. Cherokee Antique Row Cookie Spree (Dec. 5): I'm not exactly sure what this event entails since the website offers few details, but since it involves cookies, I thought I'd throw it on the list. Who doesn't love cookies, right? I'm guessing it's an open house of sorts for all the shops and vendors on Cherokee Row and you get cookies at the shops.

3. Stray Rescue's Hope for the Holidays Gala (Dec. 5): It's here again! If you remember, we attended last year with Levi and met the very warm and friendly John Garcia from Nat Geo's Dogtown. This event is a big one-food from 25 area restaurants, an auction, open bar, and pictures and videos of dog rescues and befores and afters that make me tear up just thinking about them. The Moto Museum is very cool as well. We were there over the summer for another Stray Rescue event. It's a guaranteed fun time!

4. The New I-64 5K Run (Dec. 6): EEEK!!! Can you believe the hell of the last two years is almost over!?!?! I would definitely be doing this run, but see "open bar" in the last entry. Come celebrate the end of the Highway 40 construction by doing a 5K on the fresh pavement. This year's run is on the eastern segment that's been closed for the last year. So exciting!

5. St. Louis Holiday Magic (Dec. 4-6): This is a new event in the area and is held at America's Center. I may have had to google that to see what it was. It's the Convention Center downtown, the name I know it by. Anyway, this event sounds pretty cool. There's so much stuff happening, so be sure to check out the website. A few highlights include a culinary stage, a beer and wine garden (YES), and a Purina area where adoptable pets will be featured, raptors will amaze you, and the Incredible Dog team will perform for your amusement.

6. Lafayette Square Holiday Parlour Tour (Dec. 13): Another holiday season, another holiday parlour tour in gorgeous Lafayette Square. I went for a run in that neighborhood yesterday and had fun just gawking at all the beautiful holiday decorations and peeking into people's houses to check out their decor. We went on this tour last year and some very impressive homes were featured. So, if you like to be nosey and poke around other people's houses, this is the tour for you.

7. U.S. Bank Wild Lights at the Saint Louis Zoo (weekends in December): If you haven't been to the zoo for any of the evening activities, I highly recommend going. There's something very unique about roaming around the zoo in the evening. And the light display really is remarkable. Fun for the whole family and it's only $5 for non-members.

8. St. Charles Christmas Traditions (through 12/26): Again, something for you county folk. Stroll around historic Old Town while listening to carolers, shopping until 9:00, and watching the Santa parade every Saturday and Sunday.

9. First Night Saint Louis (12/31): The family alternative to boozing it up and passing out on New Year's Eve. This year, First Night is at Grand Center in Midtown and the theme is "Wonderland." All of the areas of Grand Center will be transformed. Seriously-go check out the website. The event sounds really cool. Don't believe me? Go read about the 40' wall made of Post-Its, fireworks and glow-in-the-dark juggling.

10. Tilles Park Winter Wonderland (through 1/3): Once again, Tilles Park will be all lit up for the holidays. I was there in October and they were already setting up, so you know it's going to be huge. This is a drive-through light display, but they also offer carriage rides.

11. Gardenland Express at the Missouri Botanical Garden (through 1/3): Last, but not least, the Botanical Garden is holding its annual holiday flower and train show as we speak. Do you think the people from I Love Toy Trains will be there?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Husband is a Saint

Sometimes I wonder how my husband stays married to me. I haven't exactly been easy to live with lately, with all the drama going on at school. There's other stress in our life that I can't talk about here (yet), and it all adds up to Mary being grouchy, having a short fuse, and in need of time to exercise and sleep. Last Monday, after all my fish died, Jason came home with flowers and chocolate. Of course, I told him what an ass he was with every bite of that Reese's Christmas tree and how he's just trying to fatten me up, but it was all with love. Unfortunately for Jason, I go home and kiss my dog and scowl at my husband. I guess you take it out on the people closest to you. I'm just so lucky to have him, especially since he is so understanding and listens to me complain ad nauseum about my problems at school. I don't know what people do when they have no partner and no friends and no outlet for their stress.

So, here's to Jason, the best husband in the world! And to prove it, I'm going to show you in picture form some of the reasons why I love him so much.

I love Jason because we have fun together. And sometimes having fun involves alcohol.

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I love Jason because he convinced me to try SCUBA diving and we are now creating such fun memories together.

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I love Jason because we do fun stuff in the outdoors, like hike in the snow outside Vegas.

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Speaking of Vegas, I love Jason because he indulges my love for that city and agreed to stay at the Wynn last year.

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I love Jason because he convinced me I could be a runner when I couldn't run a mile and has encouraged me through training for three half-marathons.

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I love Jason because he makes a pretty great uncle.

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And he puts up with the birds.

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I love Jason because he stood in front of this giant movie screen on our cruise so I could get a picture of Orlando Bloom.

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I love Jason because he's the best dog dad ever.

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And because he loved my dad.

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And because he hates dancing as much as I do.

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Photo credit: Robert George Studio

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Photo credit: Robert George Studio

And because he found the perfect location for our honeymoon.

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I love Jason because he surprised me with the most romantic and thoughtful marriage proposal imaginable.

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And we have amazing memories from our wedding.

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Photo credit: Robert George Studio

Thanks for everything, Jason. I promise that when I am finished with my dissertation, I will be a nicer person:)

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to salvage a dissertation?

That's the dilemma I'm facing right now. As you know, I work on fish. While I have tanks that house my general population, I have to raise the fish I use for my project from babies because I need virgin females. That takes a few months. I keep my project fish (e.g. the ones I've spent hours photographing, color analyzing, doing mate choice trials, doing molecular work on, etc) in individual little tanks because I have to know who is who. Some of my experimental fish have been alive for almost two years. I am always growing babies so that I have enough fish for my project and was taking care of almost 60 fish in individual tanks until two weeks ago.

The week before last, 10 of my fish died. All were fish that I had done some sort of water change on that week. By the time Monday rolled around, 19 more were dead. Twenty-nine dead fish, 28 remaining. I was devastated, not only for the loss of life (I do actually feel badly when my little fish die), but the enormous amount of resources in terms of time and money I had invested in those fish. I need at least 60-70 fish to complete my project and I was left with 28. How do you recover from something like that? I'm supposed to graduate in May and I can't do that with 28 fish. It will take months to grow up more fish, much less repeating all the steps I'd already completed with the dead fish. Fucking water.

I've been thinking a lot since Friday about the next step. What would my committee say? Would they tell me I've had ample time and even though this was out of my control, why wasn't I farther than this in my project? You see, I've had pretty much every setback in the book on this project. Literally every step has come with great difficulty. When I was on the verge of exploding with progress in September, one critical step began to fail. I won't get into all the details, but somehow my reagents are contaminated and I cannot for the life of me get rid of the contamination. Every day, I try something new, and every day, I fail. I'm getting tired of failing. And having over half of my fish die was just about all I could take. What else could possibly go wrong.

So, I have to decide what to do next. Continue on? What if I don't get rid of the contamination? Is it worth it to spend more time trying to troubleshoot that problem? The worst part is that this technique is very basic-Molecular Biology 101 stuff-and it kills me that this is what is tripping me up. Do I give up my whole project over something that a high school student could do? I've talked to numerous people, followed various lines of advice and while I had some temporary success, the contamination always returns.

The members of my committee whom I've talked to so far have basically said that they will support me in whatever I decide. If I keep going with this project, I'm aiming for a summer graduation. Or do I follow plan B and possibly finish in May? I have a few ideas for alternative projects, but nothing nearly as cool and novel as what I'm doing now. Something that I can't even guarantee I can make work even with more time. I feel like such a failure. I would hate telling people how I had this great project and came so far, but have nothing to show for it. Frankly, this whole process has really killed my love of science. Failing day after day does not boost my confidence in my abilities, nor does it stimulate my curiosity about biological processes.

I made a timeline for my advisor two days ago that assumes everything works perfectly. I wrote a daily plan of attack. Best case scenario, meaning everything works (yeah right) and I come into school seven days/week and work like crazy: I finish labwork at the end of March. And I am already behind on that schedule because of the fucking contamination and because I can't start raising babies until the water problem is resolved. The question is, do I still have the motivation and drive to continue to push forward in spite of my continued failures? Ugh, I don't know. It's a lot to think about.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Separated at Birth?

My favorite Top Chef contestant this season Kevin and Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? What do you think? If only we knew what was going on under Yukon's hat.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween at Patty Creek B&B

I'm easing back into "normal" life now that my dreaded presentation is over. It's over, it was fine, and thanks to all my Facebook and StLWed buddies that cheered me along. I'm slowly catching up on my Google Reader. I was horrified to learn I had over 400 posts on Saturday. Yikes! Anyway, I'm enjoying catching up on everyone's lives, including your home improvement projects, pregnancy progress, baby updates, and other miscellany. Not that I don't have a little thing called a "dissertation" to worry about, but I need to have some fun, right?

And fun I had on Halloween! A friend of mine, Angie, from grad school (she wisely stopped at a Master's and graduated a few years ago) invited Jason, Levi, and me to spend the weekend at her parents'
B&B near Fredericktown, MO. Did you get that? Dogs are welcome at the B&B. And I'm fairly certain it was the best 24 hours of Levi's life (we only stayed Saturday). There were four other large dogs to play with, no leashes, and 100+ acres to run around on. I can't believe how much he ran around. Just when I thought he'd be down for the count, he would start up again. The property is located so far from the road that you don't have to worry about the dogs being in any danger. It was bliss!

Here are a few pictures of Levi playing with his new buddies. Angie has two dogs, Ally and Schaefer, the shepherd/lab mixes; her parents have Rosie, the hound mix; and their friends have Roscoe, the rottie (?) mix. Ally and Levi were definitely joined at the hip the entire time. Surprisingly, he kept up well with her even though she still has a lot of puppy energy.

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Levi tormented Shaefer on the trailer until Shaefer finally played with him.

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This is pretty much how Levi felt by the time we left on Sunday.

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The property consists of two main houses and a rustic cabin. Angie's parents have done a tremendous job renovating the property. The main house sits on a picturesque hill and boasts three bedrooms and a lovely deck that is perfect for sunset-watching while enjoying some wine.

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The farm house has one bedroom and a cool loft area. Both houses have full kitchens, living areas, and bathrooms. The farm house overlooks the most peaceful little creek.

Here's a view of the farm house from the main house and from across the creek:

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There's also a rustic cabin if you feel like roughing it without plumbing or electricity. Inside, it has all the other comforts of home-a bed, furniture, and two old-time stoves to keep you warm.

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The property also has woods for hiking, fields, and the meandering creek.

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There's also an old barn that I got really carried away with while taking pictures. I'll just post a few:)

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What else did I take a million pictures of? The sunset, of course! Although the peak for fall colors had passed, the way the light fell on the trees was spectacular, nonetheless.

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Angie and her parents were fantastic Halloween hosts! They had cute decorations all over. If you look again at the pictures of me above you might notice the Halloween-themed glass I'm drinking out of! It was just cute touches like that all weekend long that made everything so much fun. We were even treated to a "haunted" Halloween hayride! Dogs and all-check it out.

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But that wasn't all the entertainment, folks! They even put on a firework display, built a bonfire (I needed a rest after dinner because I ate SO MUCH of the delicious food Angie's mom made all weekend, including vegetarian chili just for me), and we played games as well. The houses are equipped with every game, book, and movie imaginable.

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And again, a tired pup is a happy pup:)

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I can't recommend Patty Creek B&B enough if you are in the St. Louis area! It's an easy drive-less than two hours from St. Louis. You can go with a group of friends, just your husband, or maybe just you and your dog:) Bob and Pat Weber are incredibly warm hosts that want to make your weekend memorable. We will definitely be going back at some point. Thanks again, Angie, for inviting us! Here's a link to the rest of the pictures I took if you're interested.