The closest to Normal (Illinois) that I've ever been.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apple and Pork Festival

Last weekend we went to the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton. We had apples. We had pork. The kids pet farm animals and learned about how corn is milled. I found out that a taffy apple is just a caramel apple made by an old person. Here are some of the highlights.

There were many many craft (and crap) booths. You got your birdhouses made out of license plates, homemade candles, and lawn pigs

Reenactor brass band? Was the civil war between the apples and pigs?

Sam was really into the tractors. Joseph not so much.

An antique steam tractor.

Click here for the local newspaper article on the event

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kid art

Here are some of Joseph's latest drawings. As described by the artist:
"This is Robin and Corndadorn. They are babies with superpowers. Robin is good, and Corndadorn is bad. Robin is in the good army and Corndadorn is in the bad army. They are in the superbaby movie."

"This is female and male firepincherbugs. The female is trying to catch a fly, and the male is devouring a ladybug. They both buzz."

The angry young artist

But what does it all mean? Robin and Corndadorn look very similar. Is that meant to demonstrate the artificiality of a dichotomy between good and evil? Why does Robin have wings on his hips while Cordadorn has wings on his shoulders?
Why does the female firepincherbug have two wings while the male has four? Why is the female bug struggling to catch a fly while the male is succeeding? Is this an illustration of the struggle of women to achieve gender equity?

Monday, September 24, 2007

My softball injury

The Department of Biological Sciences at ISU is divided between two buildings, and a softball game was organized to settle the rivalry. I was playing third base, and I managed to block Bill Perry who was the runner. He is a big tall athletic guy, and his knee must have smashed some muscles in my leg. (I have since found various other minor bruises.) It was a very public venue in which to get injured, so it created quite a response from people. Everyone automatically blames Bill because of the size and status difference, (he is faculty) which is kind of funny, because it was clearly both of our faults. It is Monday, now, and my leg is still killing me. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow--I haven't run Argos in three days, and he is getting kind of squirrely.

On a related note, I used to play softball quite often when I was larger, and I never ended up getting as seriously squashed as I did on Saturday. I presume that this is just a F= m x a kind of thing. Since I have been smaller, I find it harder to carry heavy loads. I also tend to get cold more easily than I used to. Everyone makes such a big deal about being fit and healthy, but if being fit means that you are smaller, there are some definite disadvantages. Everthing else is still the same size, but is larger relative to me. I also have a larger surface to volume ratio, and less insulation, which would explain the problem with cold. At the softball game, I was also bummed out to realize that although I get a lot more exercise than I used to, and I have some visible muscles in my arms, I STILL can't throw a ball from deep outfield to the infield.

The most recent photo booth pic of the family

Fell Fest

Saturday was the Fell Fest in Normal. Jesse Fell was the founding father of Normal: he was kind of like Johnny Appleseed, developing parks and planting trees. As it happens, we live one block from Fell Park, the oldest park in Normal. It is a cute little 2-acre park with a newish climbing structure, and some cool old things like an excavator toy in the sandbox, metal horses and one of those go-rounds that kids like to use to get nauseated/break bones jumping off of. (Who was I talking to recently about the fact that most parks no longer have working go-rounds due to litigious parents?) There is also a softball field, a basketball court and horseshoes. At the center of the park is a brick water tower that the local kids claim has a witch living at the top. Our kids are regulars at the park and were asked to participate in the children's parade. Attached are some pics of the event.
A Jesse Fell re-enactor delivering a stirring speech. Note the woman in old-timey dress with the video camera.

The car show, complete with the winner of the 1944 soap box derby

The children's parade with Sam and Joseph. (They won a prize!)

Sam playing a little corn-hole (they call it "bags" here).

Argos had a great time at the Fest meeting people and dogs. He especially enjoyed drinking the soapy water for making bubbles.
Click here for the local newspaper article on the event

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Re: the previous post about walkability, here are some stats from the LA Times about commute times. (Click the picture to make it larger.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why is my desk the center of the universe?

As part of the graduation and leaving process, I consolidated and organized all of my work and home office files to minimize redundancy and inefficiency. I also dumped my file cabinet full of papers in favor of pdfs. Now, if I have a wireless signal, I can work pretty much anywhere. This week I abandoned crashy EndNote for Bookends ( as my reference software. Bookends lets you download citations and abstracts and also attach pdfs to your references and sort them in whatever groupings you want. I strongly recommend it over EndNote!

When I moved to Normal, I set up a nice home work space for myself in Danny's office. My desk is in a picture window with plenty of light. I think that the fact that people are constantly passing by my window motivates me to be (or at least look) busy. (Also, I have to remember to sit like a lady when I wear a skirt.) Lately, however, I have noticed that I have been having trouble getting work done at my desk at home. The assorted gremlins hiding under my desk and sleeping in the curtains may explain this problem. I have always had a rule that no one (other than me) is allowed to put anything on my desk, or take anything off of my desk. I guess that I should have also stipulated that no one is allowed to put anything under my desk either. The kids like to set up a fort of pillows under my desk so that they can wave to all the ISU students passing by. The dog also likes to wedge himself under the desk to watch squirrels.

My desk; desk gremlins; curtain gremlin

Got ticks?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why be Normal?

Another frequently asked question is: why would anyone name a town "Normal?" Well, the city of Bloomington was here first, with the Illinois State Normal School, a teacher training facility in what was known as North Bloomington. ("Normal" schools are schools devoted to the education of teachers.) The town of Normal was incorporated in 1865. After I got here, I was perplexed, because there was no Normal School. As it happens, Illinois State Normal School was turned into the four year college Illinois State University in the 1960s.
Random facts from Wikipedia:
ISU is home to the world's tallest residence hall, Watterson Towers, which houses 2,200 students. The building, which consists of a pair of towers, was completed in 1967.
ISU is also home of the Gamma Phi Circus, the oldest collegiate circus in the United States. The Gamma Phi Circus, founded in 1929, is one of 2 collegiate circuses in the US. (The other is at FSU)
The only famous person from Normal is McLean Stevenson (from M.A.S.H.), however, famous alumni from ISU include: Sean Hayes, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise and Laurie Metcalf.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Walkability and extracurricular activities

Well, I have been living in Normal for three weeks and working at my new job for two weeks. First, I have to say that I never realized how big an impact commuting had on my life in California. Our house was only 25 minutes from UCR, but carpooling together, it took an extra hour in the morning to drop the kids off at their schools and an extra hour every evening to pick everyone up. There was always a big rush to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed on time every day. In Normal, I live a half mile from ISU, Sam only has to walk to the corner to catch the schoolbus, Joseph's school is less than a mile from the house, and Danny works at home. My friend Don clued me in Google's walkability index at Google estimates how easy it is to walk to basic goods and services. Our new house in Normal has a score of 80/100. Our cute little house in Riverside scored a 22/100, which explains why errands and pretty much everything was such a pain on a daily basis. Evenings in Normal are much more relaxed. I have a full hour to cook dinner, rather than 20 minutes. I have started doing random time-consuming cooking like making pizza dough from scratch and roasting peppers. Hopefully, when my research projects get up to speed, I will stop attempting to be Martha Stewart. Before grad school and kids, I used to spend a lot of time and effort decorating my house in a unique and tasteful way, but that ship has sailed. Currently, I aim to just have an efficient and clean home.

One of my roasted peppers; satin bowerbird--the Martha Stewart of the bird world

However, with my recent surplus of time, I am starting to have more sympathy for the "competitive mommy squad." (In every school that my kids have been enrolled, there are always some moms who will make you feel like a selfish loser because you aren't devoting 3-4 hours per day to extracurricular activities: sports, scheduled playdates, music, foreign languages, etc.) I guess that if I were permanently as underoccupied as I am now, I would probably try to keep myself busy and engaged in meaningful activity like "enriching" my kids with extracurriculars. Sam and Joseph enjoy reading, drawing and building things. They like to play at home and at the park with each other and with the neighborhood kids. It is unclear to me that they would benefit from being dragged from one scheduled activity to another. I think that it is probably a good thing for all concerned that I devote my excess energy to work, rather than the educational development of the kids.

I love this picture of a fakey mom and her nervously compliant kid; a rare picture of Sam with his real smile; family picture in Bloomington storefront window

Monday, September 10, 2007

Name that butt!

I sometimes give Sam the digital camera to take pictures of whatever he wants. Apparently, lately he has been taking pictures of people's butts. So, I challenge you to identify these hindquarters.

Hint: in the first picture, note the spiderman foot sticking out of the pocket.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The crickets

The question that I am most frequently asked is: why did you move to Normal? People usually ask this question with this uncomfortable kind of a cautiousness, as if they are expecting me to overshare some tragic personal event that led to my appearance here. When I say that I am here to do research, they perk up a little. However, when I tell them that I do behavioral research on crickets, they generally look at me as if I were crazy. Perhaps they assume that nothing short of research to solve the energy crisis/stop world hunger/cure cancer would justify moving from California to Normal. So what is my research about, anyway? Here's the short version:

It is usually assumed that males benefit more from mating with many females than females benefit from mating with many males. However, we now know that females that mate with different males can gain benefits from doing so, including having offspring that are more genetically diverse. In one part of my PhD research, I found that female field crickets prefer to mate with new males rather than previous partners. Further, females bias sperm use to favor novel males over previous partners.
I am now working at ISU in a lab that uses decorated crickets to address similar questions. Previous work in Scott Sakaluk's lab found that female decorated crickets identify and avoid previous partners by marking the males with their own scent. I will be investigating the female scent cues, as well as whether males use similar scent cues to identify previous female partners. So, no, my research will not save the world (unless the earth is overrun my giant alien cricket overlords), but it will provide info about the evolution of behavior.

Grylllodes sigillatus mating; hypothetical giant alien insect overlords

Friday, September 7, 2007

Situation Normal

Hey there!

After years of stalling, I finally started a blog! I just moved from California to Normal, Illinois to start a post-doctoral research position. I uprooted my kids and husband from the glorious golden wasteland of Riverside, CA to start anew in this blandly pleasant midwestern college town. I have often thought about my adventures in graduate school as being similar to Odysseus' travels. If I were to continue the analogy, I would say that Normal is less of an adventure, and more like running aground, or stopping to clean the barnacles off the boat or whatever--there is not much to do around here.
On the plus side, (1) our house is HUGE compared to our tiny 900 sq ft place in CA, (2) there is a nice park a block away from the house, (3) both kids really like their new schools, (4) I am very excited about my new research project, (5) Danny has his own office with all of the peace and quiet that he wants and (6) Argos is obsessed with the squirrels and rabbits.

Sam at the public pool; Who needs Santa Claus when you have Abraham Lincoln? The Bloomington Farmer's Market; A picture of squash taken by Sam