•February 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This Friday I had a conversation with a student I’ve been working with this semester.  She is a wonderful unique young women who came to UW from Milwaukee.  She’s hard working and generous with her time.  She also comes from a faith background that means she wears a headscarf.  In the recent past there have been so many repulsive hate acts towards people of Islamic faith, including the recent shooting deaths in Chapel Hill.   I understand that these acts are relatively rare, I know they come from people who are ignorant and terrible and would likely choose to hate some other person if no convenient person with a hijab was nearby to focus on. These types of events also seem so distant sometimes, especially to someone like me, who likely would never have to face this personally. However, my student mentioned two recent incidents in Madison: some random man followed a friend home (a Muslim woman) while yelling bigoted slurs and threats. In another disturbing incident, a college student was yelled at continuously on a full bus heading to Edgewood College. She was told she should die, told everyone like her should die. No one on the bus said a thing.

Madison Wisconsin, I expect better of you.

The vast majority of us in this town are privileged enough to have never encountered that particularly disgusting form of bias, but to ignore it when it happens right in front of you?  That is unconscionable.  Not doing anything to help that girl on the bus is almost as bad as the person actually doing the yelling.  At least that guy had the excuse of being a terrible human being.

I don’t feel like its productive to yell back at dudes like that, and I know there isn’t a whole hell of a lot a person can do in that situation, but I can take a page out of Australia’s book (http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-30479306). If you ever feel threatened or unsafe, or are being treated terribly by bigoted terrible people, I promise you I’ll ride with you and I’ll do my best to make you feel a little safer.


The Night They Saved Christmas Drinking Game makes Christmas a special time with family

•December 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Number one, if you haven’t seen the Night They Saved Christmas, it may make your whole year, or maybe your whole lifetime.  Jaclyn Smith, snowmobiles, elves, overly expressive children! The whole made for T.V, 1984 awesomeness is available on YouTube!

In fact, the only way to make this movie better is to make it a drinking game.

So, here are the rules

Drink anytime

1) They mention anything about explosives, dynamite, or blowing up Santa/the North Pole

2) They say “Mr. Murdock”

3) When C.B. can’t even.

4) When the most expressive person/new person in your group can’t even

5) 80’s moments

Chug When

6) When there is singing (including the grand finale)


7) everyone takes a shot if you can find the reference to Mr. T

Happy Christmas, and you’re welcome!

Open Letter to the Board of Directors, YMCA Camp Jorn

•August 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I mentioned in my previous post, the camp where I worked in my very early adulthood, has recently made a terrible mistake. The Board of Directors has requested that Dennis Lipp, the director of Camp Jorn for 23 years, to pursue other opportunities.  They have also declined to explain to the Camp Jorn community why this has happened, other than this brief statement, posted on facebook August 26th:

  • The Board of Directors has asked our Executive Director, Dennis Lipp, to consider other employment opportunities. This action was taken for the best interests of Camp Jorn YMCA and Dennis. Further information will be released shortly.

They have been deleting the many posts showing support for Dennis and requesting more information about this change, so I’ve decided to post my letter here, where it can be viewed by whoever would like to see it, I’ve also sent this to all of the Board Members, Liz Ulhlein, and a couple of letters to the editor in local newspapers.  There isn’t much I can do about this situation from so far away, but my heart is aching for the effect this will have on a place that meant so much to me.    If any of you have other suggestions, please let me know.

The letter is as follows:

Dear Members of the Camp Jorn Board of Directors,

When I think back to all the lessons I learned while working at Camp Jorn in the late 90s this is the most indispensable: we all make mistakes, and we all have a choice in how we respond to them. Let me explain how I learned this lesson, why it has been so vital in my life, and why it should be a lesson for the Board of Directors on the eve of the decision to ask Dennis Lipp to pursue other opportunities.

When I was 18. I was a mess. I’d grown up in an abusive home and I’d had very few positive adult role models. I had no idea how to be an adult.  When Dennis offered me a job as a counselor at Camp Jorn, I almost cried.  I worked at Camp Jorn for at least part of the next four summers.  Each summer I learned, each summer I changed.  Camp, in so many ways, gave me a home for the first time in my life.

At the end of my second summer I made a mistake. No one was hurt, no campers were nearby, but I was complicit and as the oldest in the group, I was responsible. My lack of attention could have led to more serious consequences.   Dennis didn’t make any decisions before he talked to me; in fact, he listened more than he spoke. I learned so much from the role that Dennis played in this interaction, more than I realized at the time.  His leadership and guidance, the obvious thought he put into handling the situation correctly, these are all tools I use now, both in my own life, and as an educator. He also trusted me to learn from my mistake, to react like the adult that I was still learning how to be.

I don’t think I ever told Dennis how much that trust meant to me; how much those interactions changed me.  That trust and belief made me stronger, and gave me the belief in my own possibilities.  Those early learning experiences have made me the Researcher, Biologist, and Educator I am today. Women with PhDs in science are still the minority; still more rare are those who come from my broken background. While, many turning points have led me to the success I have today, the first of those came from Camp Jorn, and I credit Dennis with giving me that opportunity.  I teach college students, the same age I was when I was under the tutelage of Dennis, and I can only hope that the example I set for them is as strong and positive as the one Dennis set for me that day so long ago.

Board members, I’d like to take a step back, use what I’ve learned from my interactions with Dennis, and tell you that I’m willing to listen.  It is possible that you think that these actions are what is best for Camp Jorn, and indeed for Dennis.

However, based on the information that I have available to me, I can say with certainty, that you have made two mistakes, and I hope you will choose to respond to them well.

1) The first is a mistake of openness and honesty.  The world of social media is fast.  I live in Costa Rica, and heard about this on the day it happened.  You don’t have the luxury of waiting to let the Camp Jorn community know why this decision was made.  Rumors fly fast and judgments are made in an hour.  We all think of Dennis as family.  There is no question that if it comes to supporting Dennis vs. supporting Camp Jorn, we will all support Dennis, with our money, with our recommendations, and with our time, particularly when we are left in the dark. I urge you to speak out.  Honesty and accessibility of information will go far in helping those of us who feel so frustrated.  You will lose much if you lose all of us.

2) The second is a mistake of being quick to judge.  I’d advise you to look at your actions.  Being hasty, making decisions before you know all of the information: these are things that all of us do from time to time. Based on the little information that you have given me, I think you’ve made a mistake.  I cannot imagine a situation in which Dennis Lipp is not what is best for Camp Jorn, and I cannot imagine a situation in which a single board meeting, without any current staff or any of the community present, is enough to decide to let Dennis go after 23 years of faithful service to all of us.

I will try to be patient, and follow the example of my mentor, Dennis Lipp.  I will wait for an explanation before solidifying my plans, and I will hope above all else that you are able to take these mistakes and respond in the way that is best for Camp Jorn and for Dennis Lipp.

The world, it is a-changin’ (and I don’t like it)

•August 28, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this week I was discussing with a few friends how easy it is to become out of touch with what’s happening in the real world while living at La Selva.  Field work can be so all-encompassing, and generally our conversations are geared toward science, complaining about the food/station/parasites/failure of experiments/whatever, instead of recent events.  Anyway, I decided it was due time to check in on the real world.  Here’s what I found:

In global news: US prepared to attack Syria.  Somebody in Syria used chemical weapons against hundreds of people, and while Joe Biden is sure it was the Syrian regime, not everyone is so certain.  So the US is ready to step in, and deliver our mighty justice. Awesome.  Can’t wait to see how this will turn out.

In local/State news for my current home state (sort of), Wisconsin:  protestors peacefully signing protest songs in the public state capital building are being arrested, sometimes forcefully: Protestor tackled to ground in charged with felony after officer was injured during arrest (Watch the video).  Those included in the arrests, 3 grandmothers and a 14-year-old girl  Watch the video here.  A local politician.  And in my mind, the most heinous of all, a reporter who was interviewing and observing the arrests, he reports on his arrest here.  Let me just repeat this, they arrested A REPORTER!  Maybe I’m a bit naive, but really thought that the First Amendment was created to stop suppression of this type of information from the public? I honestly can’t contain how frustrating it is to know that this is happening in my home.

In even better news, the man responsible for this, Scott Walker, is almost certainly lining himself up as a candidate for President in 2016.  I cannot wait.

To cheer myself up, I looked to facebook.  Hoping for some videos of cats getting baths, or funny anecdotes about sloths or a beloved science fiction character.  Instead I found that the camp where I worked as a child, YMCA Camp Jorn, has fired the director of 23 years, Dennis Lipp, with no explanation, and no warning. At the 60th Anniversary a few days ago all was well.  My next post will be the letter I’ve written to the Board of Directors regarding this, but in short: This sucks.  Dennis is a good man, and has helped turn Camp Jorn into a successful, accredited Camp, where thousands of kids, including myself, learn and grow.  I’m trying hard to patiently wait for them to explain themselves, but my assumption is that this is all about the money. I’m guessing the new director will be younger (ie. paid less), and more likely to toe the line drawn by camp’s main benefactor, Liz Ulhlein, click the link to read about some of her creepy,  thoughts on the world.

So, in closing, I’m so glad I checked in on the world, and now know more than I want to about the state of current events.

Neotropical Spider Outreach

•April 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Happy Dancing

•December 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been back at La Selva for a little more than a week now, getting settled in, finding office space, etc.  And mostly I’ve figured out all that normal moving in stuff.

I’ve also wandered around a bit to look for webs, and discovered there aren’t many.  I’ve recorded how many sites that normally have spiders have no spiders now, and all sorts of details about the places with no spiders. And looked for other spiders in places with no spiders, and in general notices how there weren’t all that many spiders.   Which is kind of interesting, maybe.

But today I saw something super-duper cool.  I saw multiple klepto spiders on a web of their own.  Hanging out, no host to be seen, and on a web that is likely a web they built themselves.  Neato!  I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see this.  Of course, I actually can tell you, but really even with a ton of explanation and over enthusiasm on my part, its pretty unlikely that anyone else will be nearly as excited about this as I am.  I totally realize that in the grand scheme of things, this just isn’t exciting news.  I saw spiders on a web. Whoot (or the more obvious answer from the general population: Did you kill them?)!

The work I do is pretty cool.  Generally I don’t have much problem talking to people about it, and most people think its kind of awesome, even if they aren’t really into science or spiders or whatever.

So many jobs have these little moment of triumph that when they happen, it feels as though you should get up and do a happy dance.

However, these are also the times when NO ONE GETS IT! So, my dear (five) readers. . .  tell me about a time when you were reallllllly excited about something that you did/found/accomplished and I will be inappropriately excited for you.  I promise, you will be blown away by how ridiculously, stupidly excited I am for you and your stupid thing that no one cares about.

Until then, I’m going to keep dancing my own little happy dance on my own in the forest.

Hasta luego!

The danger of being bored

•September 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

About a week ago, I started to feel the weird sort of suffocation I start to feel after  too much daily repetition.  La Selva is an amazing beautiful place, but sometimes it gets weirdly monotonous.  It isn’t because the rain forest becomes somehow less amazing, or because I dislike anything specific about the place, but two months in which I haven’t left the station for more than a few hours at a time is a little too long.

I started to feel a little bored.

So a couple of other researchers and I went to San Jose for the night.  I felt like I needed one night of eating food that I got to pick from a menu, rather than having to eat whatever the kitchen ladies decided to make, one day where I was actually cold while I slept, and that didn’t make me sweaty just walking a few hundred meters.

Sabine and I took the bus to San Jose, where Diego was giving a talk at UCR.  And despite the fact the we didn’t get the bus schedule right, and made it to the city an hour an a half after we planned, and despite eating dinner at nine and not really having a place to stay until the awesome Jenny suggested a nearby hostel, and despite a really low-key evening, I had the best time ever. It was exactly what I needed.  I ate sushi at Moby DIck’s.  I saw people who were not station people (though I really do love all the station people, I promise)!

I slept well despite the snoring and bed shaking and other weird sleeping-in-the-hostel-dorm things that one comes to expect when you don’t make reservations in advance.  I really liked the hostel, Bekou, in San Pedro. Its near the university, plenty of bars, etc, but still quiet, clean, and welcoming.

I woke up in my usual way: bolting upright, with a sharp deep intake of breath, sure that something has happened.  Otherwise-why would I be awake?   They have a sort of mini-breakfast at the hostel in the morning, but we ventured down the road a bit to Spoon, a chain restaurant with decent breakfast food and a nice porch.

But that was when things started to get a bit weird.

I drank my first cappuccino since I left the states (it was really a latte, but they called it a cappuccino, so I’m going with that) and it was lovely. The weather was gorgeous, clear and bright. It was the kind of morning that made the whole trip worth it.

As we sat there peacefully on the porch, I felt the wind pick up, swaying the building.  Except then I remembered we were on the ground floor, not crossing the swaying bridge to get to the station, and typically, when you’re sitting on the ground floor, that floor is stationary.  I don’t know that I would’ve realized what was happening, even then, if Diego hadn’t said, “that’s an earthquake,” to which my first response (possibly in my head, but I at least thought it was out loud) was “No Way!”

I’d never felt an earthquake before. I even was joking around with someone earlier in the summer about how it was on my bucket list, I wanted to know what it felt like to have to earth move under my feet.  Well, Costa Rica is fortunately located in an area known as “The Ring of Fire.”  This ring is an area of the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Costa Rica has the honor of being located near the convergence of three tectonic plates: the Caribbean Plate (most of Central America is located on this one), the Nazca Plate, and the Cocos Plate all touch just to the west of the country.  When those three plates move, so does most of Costa Rica.  So I suppose, if I really wanted to feel an earthquake, I’m spending my time in the right place.

I know intellectually, that it can be different for each quake, there are upwelling(s) and crashes, shakey quakes and waves (plus far more scientific sounding names for all of those!) but I had no real idea of what it actually felt like to have the earth move beneath my feet.  I imagine this felt similar to how I’d feel if I was up high in a tall tree, and a giant was standing next to the tree and slowly, slowly, shaking it back and forth.  Not violently, but sure and certain. Like I could probably have held on for a while, but maybe not forever.

As I looked around us, I saw a few strange reactions in the people around us, though no one was panicking, just being odd.  One man, apparently remembering the doorways are supposed to be stronger foundation-speaking than other parts of the building, went to stand in the doorway from the porch to the restaurant.  Which might have seemed smart, except the entire wall and doorway was made of glass.  Not so awesome if it broke.  Most of the cars kept driving, but a few stopped randomly on the street.  After maybe 30 seconds, it stopped.  We shrugged, and ate the rest of our breakfast.  I later found out it was the strongest earthquakes to hit Costa Rica in twenty years. Luckily, few people were hurt, the epicenter was deep and not very close to an urban area, and while there were some buildings lost and a few landslides/bridges/roads collapsed, it could have been far worse than it was.  In fact, it was probably far less exciting here than was reported by the news outlets in the U.S.  So it was awe-inspiring more than scary and a major check box on my bucket list, though I’m not sure I ever want to do it again.

That about covers weird thing #1, moving on to weird thing #2

After the earthquake and a quick trip to the Automercado for necessities (they have pita chips!) we came back to the station, and it was so, so nice to be home.  Everyone was chatting about their earthquake experiences (thank goodness I was not by myself in the forest, no doubt I would’ve been freaked out by that) and generally being interesting people.

In the evening we went for dinner at La Selva Verde for Ping’s birthday and because it was Matt’s last night on the station. Everyone that’s still here went to dinner, about 16 of us, which was nice because the kitchen ladies got a night off.

The restaurant itself wasn’t so nice unfortunately.  I know other people have gone there an enjoyed the food and the ambiance, but it was such a strange mixture of trying-to-be-fine-dining and Costa Rican normal that it just felt a bit confusing.

For instance:  They gave us yummy salty focaccia bread and olive oil to dip it in.  But they didn’t give us bread plates, so you kind of had to shove the bread over and pour olive oil on the bigger plate.  Really, not a big deal, but doesn’t quite match with the fancy linen napkins and need for a reservation (there were lots of us, but we were the only people there).  After the salty focaccia, (long, long after) we got our drinks-mine was sadly lacking some of the more awesome umbrella and sword collaborations found on some of the other drinks, but it was good, and then salads and pizza (at the same time for each order, but nowhere near the same time for the whole table-see where I’m going with the weirdness?).  The food was good, but entirely lacking in salt.  For some reason, one of the orders came with a salt shaker and olive oil, but not the rest.  And halfway through their meal, the salt was taken away to be given to another table. They must’ve had only one shaker in the enormous place, but why?  If we’d all been using La Selva manners, there would’ve been no problem. I wouldn’t have even found any of this strange, let alone worth taking about, but there was candlelight, linen, and water goblets. The combination of bad table manners + candlelight felt off.

Then, not too long after dinner, four of us got sick.  Awesome.

The morning watching pretty uneventful, no earthquakes, no strange animals, nothing unusual, just really hot.

I went to my cabina before lunch, changed my shirt, checked my email, the usual. The I went to lunch, said goodbye to Matt and wished him happy travels, and went to grab a few things from my room . . .

and found it covered, top to bottom, with army ants.

Next time I start to get bored, I’m going to try to remember the past 24 hours.  Apparently, there are consequences for trying to mix things up a little.  If those consequences include a shaking earth, an upset stomach, and large pinching insects, I think I’d rather just get a new book on my kindle and wait for the boredom to pass.

Also, here is a video of a porcupine that I took last night: