Category Archives: The Rest of Life

Lumps of Clay

Do you ever think much about what clay really is?

A while ago, we were at Bald Head Island, NC and spent some time on the beach. I enjoy walking on the beach and looking for interesting shells, etc. Something unusual caught my attention this time. A moist, brown/grey lump, roughly oval, covered with sand.


I kept walking. Then I saw another, and another. Most people ignored them, or thought they were probably some kind of animal feces. I’m just too curious, and besides, I didn’t think it was fecal material (there were no flies). So, I picked one up. It had more weight to it than I thought by just looking at it. I broke it apart and saw uniform texture and what appeared to be clay inside the sandy coating. I started to gather these “clay” blobs… much to some other visitors’ stupefaction.

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Tiny Kaleidescope

If you know me, you know I love tiny things. This little silver kaleidoscope was a gift and it is a treasure. It has real glass & gem pieces that create the delicate, colorful images which are amazing when you consider that the diameter of the kaleidoscope is only 4mm. But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a look yourself (via my iPhone!).






Another Balancing Act

I went away this past weekend for a private retreat after ScienceOnline2012. During some of the time I worked on balancing some rocks. These rocks are smooth, round, river rocks and are much more difficult to balance than the rocks I usually try to balance. I love the focus that it takes. I close my eyes and “feel” the weight of the rocks, move them until they “sink” into balance with gravity. Simple pleasures. Fleeting works of art (the wind or other vibrations will knock them over soon enough).

Looks simple... but there is only a small area of contact.

Here's the point of contact. Kind of like balancing two balls.

Blogging with the Animal Keepers

Working in the Farmyard (scooping poop!)

I’ve been working with the keepers in the Animal Department at the NC Museum of Life and Science recently. I love it. I was thrilled when I was asked to join the blogging team for the Animal Department. I want to direct you to two recent posts I’ve written over there.

What’s for Dinner? A Photo-journal of the food preparations for the animals.

The Scoop on Snake Poop
. I wrote this while I was volunteering, before I started officially working part-time with the Museum.

Bears at NC Museum of Life & Science

Yesterday we arrived at the NC Museum of Life and Science in Durham just in time to watch one of the animal keepers (Erin) providing the bears with some enrichment activity. She filled some balls with syrup and then tossed them into the exhibit for Yona, Gus, and Mimi to retrieve, play with, and snack on. Ursula and Virginia (the other two bears in the exhibit) must have been taking a nap somewhere.

In Praise of Pollen

We’ve lived in Durham, NC, for a full year. While we were somewhat prepared to endure the hot and humid summers, we had no idea what we were in for with pollen. But we have learned quickly. We are fortunate because we don’t have allergies to deal with. But we still had to learn to keep our windows closed (even when tempted by the delightful warm temperatures and soft blowing breezes) to shut out the fine particles that infiltrate the smallest cracks and tolerate the ubiquitous yellow powder that coats everything outdoors. Still, without pollen, we would be in a dreadful state. Each grain so full of potential. So necessary for the cycle of life to continue. But, so many complaints are lodged during this time of the year against pollen, that I felt I should stick up for the minuscule yellow guys (just a little).

In honor of pollen, a haiku:

Promiscuous plants
Propelling plumes of pollen
Promised potential

That last line was suggested via by new friend on Twitter, @amfulay… thx! Other suggestions were “Perturbed Proboscis” from @stalwartEd and “Pale Powdery Paint” by @binghypo. Leave your own suggestions in the comments.

I know, I know, some of our friends elsewhere in the world are saying that they have allergies and pollen too, surely our NC event can’t be that bad. Ha! Here are some pictures to show a typical day during pollen season.

Pollen on the wetlands of the NC Museum of Life and Science

The wetlands of the NC Museum of Life and Science had a thick coating of pollen floating on the surface. With a little help from the wind and the ducks, beautiful swirls of pale yellow began to appear on the watery canvas.

Tracking through pollen

Not snow, nor volcanic ash, but pollen deep enough to reveal the paths of those who visited the lemurs.

car covered in pollen

A neighborhood car with its daily (!) coating of powdery pollen.

Inspiration (Where I work)

I was inspired today when I viewed this blog: Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in their creative spaces. I started to wonder what the things you keep around your office say about you, your work, your inspiration. Then I decided to get brave. I took some photos of my own office space… without any tidying up first. This is a major breakthrough for me! As I looked at the images, I saw many things that I didn’t realize were in the room and other things that brought back a flood of memories. Mostly I wanted to share with you images of the “little things” that I love so much. All of the bits and pieces from all over the world that have come home in my pockets, my collecting bags, etc. I realized that each piece of ephemera has a special tale to tell. I have resolved to photograph some of these and tell their stories. But for now, I’ll just let you take a peek into the place where I spend more time than not (and please do not judge me for the mess!).

After you take a look, tell me about your own office space. What makes it “yours”?

Ephemera: my office
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Giving cancer the one-two punch (and trying to keep up with my reading)

What have I been doing lately? Reading, reading, reading (or at least trying to). So I can post reviews, reviews, reviews. Thanks for your patience! But that’s not the really important stuff that has been going on.

Here’s what we’ve been up to while I’m trying to do all that reading. Spending time at the awesome Duke Cancer Center. Mark just finished 168 pills of chemo (his “weapons of ass destruction”) and 28 days of almost daily radiation. Some folks are curious about how all this works. So here are some links to help you understand what has been going on in Mark’s body, and what “radiation” is all about. It’s really pretty cool.


So, the chemotherapy that Mark is using is an oral drug called Xeloda. The 3-step activation process of XELODA preferentially generates 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) through thymidine phosphorylase (TP) at the tumor site. Did you get that? Well, for you visual learners, here’s an animation of how the drug capecitabine works. Cool, huh?
click the image to see the video (not able to embed in my blog)

If you are really curious (and I know a few scientists in my family who are), you can download the 43-page PDF with all the details, including the detailed mechanism of action, a diagram of the molecular structure and the metabolic pathway of capecitabine to 5-FU (and the requisite mind-numbing list of potential side-effects). Come on, you know you want to read it. Download it here.

In addition to the chemo, Mark has had radiation treatment. Here’s an animation of how the Clinac linear accelerator works. If you are really interested in the physics, read here, here, and here or you can email me. But I think it is pretty cool that there is a linear accelerator in there! This first animation shows the target area as the head region. But it still gives you an idea of how the machine turns. You can’t actually see the rays, this animation just demonstrates how it works.

Here is an actual video of a machine (without a patient). The machine turns so easily, even though it is very large.

Here’s Mark, waiting for positioning.

Here’s the “command central” for the technicians:
Command Central

The software is programmed to open the multileaf collimater fingers in a pattern that allows the beam to leave the machine in a specific shape that the oncologist has programmed for Mark’s body and tumor. On the left you see the photo of the shape the machine is opening to (the gold sections are the collimator fingers that slide in and out, the white area is the open section which shapes the beam). On the right you see the shape of the beam superimposed on Mark’s radio-images (from the on-board imaging apparatus).


Note the cute little figure that reminds the technicians which way the image is facing. See the red nose? So, this setup is for the radiation to enter from the patient’s right side.
The technicians line up the image of Mark on the bed of the machine, with a CT scan (with contrast) taken at the beginning of the treatment, and which was used to set up the software. When everything is lined up, they give him the ol’ zap. Well, actually, he gets the radiation three times… once from each side, and once from above. The positioning actually takes longer than the dose of radiation.

Our machine was the “Green Machine” (there is are four machines, all different colors). The machines aren’t actually painted different colors, it’s just a way to keep everything organized and easy to identify. The Green Team of Eddie and Jen was awesome. Here we are with them on “graduation” day.
The Green Team

Duke’s Rad Onc department is really and truly RAD!!!!

Now, Mark gets 4 weeks off until a new round of CT/PET scans and consultation with the Medical Oncologist, Radiation Oncologist, and most importantly, the Surgical Oncologist. At this point they will decide when he will have his surgery to remove the cancer. After that surgery, he’ll have some more chemo. The type and duration will depend on how things go with the surgery. At least, that’s the plan for now! Stay tuned for updates.