WI Travelogue – Part 1

It was 98º outside the day we left Milwaukee to return home to The Great Land. We’d looked forward to our visit, to see family of course, but also to experience some summer. But 98º? It was like stepping into a blast furnace to relieve a chill.

Needing to pass a couple hours before heading to the airport, we (Sister Gail, HW and I) drove to Milwaukee’s Third Ward to seek relief inside the Uber Tap Room, where upscale beers and gourmet cheese plates are served. Amid the hipsters and up-and-comers at the bar I felt a bit out of my element. Things sure have changed since the days I used to carouse here while in grad school at the U of W. Back then is was Pabst, pool, and darts. Cheese plates? The only thing we topped with cheese was beef, which few of us could afford being we’d spent all our money on beer and other treatments.

A big Wisconsin thank you to sister Gail for schlepping us to Milwaukee, in the luxury of her new wheels no less, which at night when you open the car door casts an affluent emblem of excellence on the ground

You’ve made it Girl! You can buy an aftermarket kit for this at Amazon, $112. Such a deal. Remove all identifying features from your Ford or Chevy and install it. Impress your date. S/he will never know you’re a poser.

Earlier in the week, before tripping north to visit family, I treated Happy Wife to two nights in Milwaukee at the Kinn Guesthouse in Bayview. A big shoutout to this place. It was the first glamtel I’ve ever stayed at. As with the Third Ward, Bayview has changed some in 30+ years. Not the safest area of town back then as I recall, but during our visit it felt quaint and friendly, with pocket parks, bike lanes, and boutiques filled with vintage knick-knackery that women purchase to place here and there in the home where it is meant to be simply, enjoyed.

Favorite likes in our room at the Kinn – the high ceiling and cream city brick walls. And free wine in the communal kitchen!

The next morning we walked, and walked (and walked) all the way down Kinnickinnic avenue to the lakefront (~7 miles). We were just strolling along the sidewalk, the heat of the day coming on full bore, when all of a sudden we hear the bum bum bum of rap music get louder and louder until…wait, what’s this

If you think you’ve come up with a novel activity that’s never before been done while drinking beer, fuggedaboutit. Trust me, somebody in Milwaukee has already done it.

Finally we reached the lakefront, strolled along a path enjoying a mercifully cool breeze coming off the lake, then trudged up the bluff and slogged a few more blocks to my favorite east side watering hole, Hooligans. The streets were cordoned off for a street fair, complete with (of course) beer tents, but also food and a bandstand with a surprisingly good local band bangin’ out some good jams, just outside a Whole Foods market. I’m tellin’ ya, all the gentrification made me feel a tad melancholic, my old haunts were nearly unrecognizable.

A notable exception was Ma Fischer’s, good to see it’s still open. Back in the day it was the only place a pickled night crawler could get a satisfying plateful of grease at 2 am

Eventually the heat of the day was too much for us doughy Alaskans, so we Uber’d back to the glamtel.

Two refreshingly cool showers later, we Uber’d to dinner at the Sandford restaurant. Very good food and service, and a notably unpretentious atmosphere. Recommend.

The next day Sister Gail arrived to pick us up and we were off to Appleton! Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Natural Order of Things

A curious fella

HW rescued him from our deck where he’d fallen after crashing, apparently face first, into the window glass. This was at our Nest in Seward, specifically, Lowell Point, a known hangout popular with migratory hummingbirds (“hummers”) in Spring. I’m no expert, but supposedly the males are more colorful. Although identifying the winky on a humming bird to confirm gender is, as you might imagine, challenging. HW makes her own nectar to fill the feeder that hangs above the deck. It’s nothing more than sugar water, aka simple syrup, a common ingredient in cocktails. I postulated that perhaps a bit of gin may have made it into this batch, leading our bitsy hummer to Fly Under the Influence? More likely the window glass had just been cleaned. Poor guy, high on a sugar rush he probably mistook our living room for open air.

Limp and motionless on the deck I figured him for dead, but sure enough HW succored him back to health. In the cradle of her hands his tiny wings eventually began buzzing a hundred times a second. She took him back outside and put him on the feeder, where he was able to hold on. Back inside we both watched, fingers crossed. It wasn’t long before another hummer showed up and perched on the feeder, not to feed, evidently, but if you’ll permit me to anthropomorphize, to show concern for what HW believed was her mate. After a half minute or so both hummers suddenly lifted off their perches, swooped down below the window, and were gone. Was he going to make it after all!? Did we perturb the natural order of things, violate the ethos that says we, qua humans, may observe nature but ought never to interfere with it? As I finished my martini I wondered, watched one hummer after another drain the nectar from the feeder, eventually gaining confidence that HW had done the right thing. So what if we altered the state of the universe. Have you never killed a mosquito? Besides, who will ever know?

The next day we hiked with Black Dog to Tonsina Point, a favorite of ours, an oft-photographed destination I’ve shared with you too many times I’m afraid (e.g. here, here, and here). And yet, would you have a look at this not-too-frequent sighting along the trail

A clearly vital specimen of Western Skunk Cabbage, aka Swamp Lantern, aka Lysichiton americanus. The thing I find most interesting about this plant is how sparse it is. We spot two, maybe three specimens along the entire two to three mile trail, where you’d expect many more given the ideal conditions supporting its growth. Supposedly, after hibernating, bears eat the roots for its laxative properties. Makes sense. I can imagine myself after sleeping five months straight wanting to take a good dump first thing after getting up.

We’re tripping back down to the Nest this weekend with friends. Weather is predicted to be fair! Alas, I will face a Honey-Do list that includes the installation of a new countertop/sink and replacement of a water valve on one of our (three) tankless — I call ’em thank-less — water heaters.

Catch up with you later…

Tales from the North Country

Happy Wife was challenged by a black bear Thursday, a sow with a cub nearby. Out came the bear spray. Away went the bear. It occured in a park where we’ve walked dogs for years and years. A park where we’ve seen black bears before (never a grizzly), but even so a rare occurrence. She was enjoying an ordinary walk with Black Dog, who cowered behind her when she sprayed the bear.

The Black Dog at the park a few weeks earlier sampling the water from a spring melt

Black Dog’s a fine beast but when it comes to bears he’s no Airedale. In my experience (and Other’s) Airedales don’t brook bears, and they don’t bring ’em back.

School is out. Grades are in. Some students are dismayed, others proud, some relieved.

We are traveling to Wisconsin the end of June to attend an outdoor pool party. Imagine — water, outside, warm enough to wade in.

Busy Bees

This is where I lecture, twice a week, seventy-five minutes each. Some of my students here, just beginning to shuffle in for another rousing lecture by yours truly

Listen to me, my students. It sounds possessive, I know, but I do feel a responsibility toward them, all forty seven, even though it’s rare to see them all attend lecture. Usually only 25-30 show up, unless there’s a quiz or exam scheduled. Spring break next week, so no class. I asked a few of them if they were headed to Mexico or Florida for the week, someplace warm where water exists in the liquid phase. “No Professor Nibbe,” they said, “we plan to study genetics.” (Uh-huh). Right answer, though!

I’ve never been so busy as I have since the start of the semester. Let me tell you, spring break isn’t only for students. I’m looking forward to a week off from preparing lecture slides, quizzes, exams (makeups), grading, office hours, updates to Blackboard, etc. etc.. But overall I’m enjoying the experience. It’s rewarding teaching a course I myself have never taken.

Happy Wife as well is busy as ever. She regularly sees twelve patients or more a day. Some can be complicated. Most days she’s lucky to get a lunch break, like if there’s a no-show, but just as often she’s fortunate to find ten minutes between appointments to snatch a bite.

Being busy-bees we still find time for ourselves, dinner out and a drink or two at our favorite watering holes. A new pot store went in near one of our favorite downtown haunts. It’s now legal in Alaska. We stopped in recently to have a look around. Happy Wife appearing a bit furtive

There was a wide variety of product attractively displayed beneath spotless glass countertops, like you’d see in a jewelry store. The names of some varieties were pretty amusing – Dark Star, Kimbo Kush, Pineapple Haze. In the end we passed on the pot, but HW did find a wearable she liked, as do I

We’re off to France later this year along with several friends. After that, a week in Barcelona, or possibly to Austria to visit a friend, haven’t decided yet. More on that as the year unfolds. For now, March is here, and our local weather forecaster, Jackie Purcell, said she expects a 40% of Spring this year! Pretty good as Alaska goes. Wish us luck.

Dog Down

Our dog was shot. When, we don’t know, but the x-ray showed a BB lodged in his side.

I commented to HW recently during a walk with the dog in the low mountains how easy it’s been having a young dog again. In terms of no daily aches and pains, medications, vet bills, etc. Not that I wouldn’t trade a month of weekends for another day with Lucy, Rufus, Harry, or any of the other beasts that have enriched our lives over the past three decades. I would. Just sayin’ it’s been nice to be in the company of youth again.

“In fact,” I said, “in the two years we’ve had Chester I haven’t seen him barf, have you?”

Fast forward a few days to yesterday, Thursday. I come home and he’s his usual alacritous self, bounding down the stairs, tail wagging. Like always, I shake a couple treats from the bag into my hand and toss ’em outside in the backyard. They barely hit the frozen ground before he finds ’em and gobbles ’em up. All is good. I let him back inside and go upstairs to my office to work. He follows, as usual, and lays down on the rug. He can stay there for hours while I work. If he’s lucky, I’ll knock off early and we’ll go to the park together for a walk. But yesterday, he gets up and starts nudging my arm, which is weird, he never does that. I ignore him, he lays down next to me briefly then gets up and goes downstairs, where I hear him barf. I go to investigate and find a two-pound pile of undigested kibble on the rug. Special. I clean it up, let him outside in case there’s more, then let him back in and console him. I notice black flecks of plastic in the barf, and then recall that when I got home earlier there were two pieces of colored felt on the stairs, like the fuzz wrapped around a tennis ball. Okay, he ate a toy ball, but he has never done that. He has lots of toys which he might destroy and eat, but no, he has never done that before.

Turns out it was left on the floor by the pet-sitter. Probably had an odor of food or something he couldn’t resist. He wretches a few more times until nothing more comes out. I figure by now he’s dehydrated, possibly hungry. I offer him a treat. He doesn’t want it.

HE HAS NEVER NOT WANTED A TREAT.

That’s it.

I call Happy Wife, we meet at the vet. By now he’s lethargic and not himself. But not in any obvious discomfort. As we wait for the doctor to see him he does drink some water, and even takes a couple small treats from HW. Good sign. The doctor examines him and recommends an x-ray, just to see if there’s an obvious blockage in his gut. No evidence of that on the radiograph, but there was this bright white, perfectly circular spot outside his right rib cage. We look at the Doc, “What’s that?”

“This dog’s been shot.”

WTF?!

“Looks to be a BB gun,” she says.

She goes on to say it might eventually work its way to his skin, to the point where you could feel it, or it might stay in there forever. We’re guessing he was shot before we adopted him, at the Palmer shelter north of Anchorage. I’m guessing it was some heartless kid out plinking with his new Daisy pump action.

Anyhoo, ol’ Chester was given fluids and an anti-nausea drug and we took him home. He’s all better now, drinking, eating, pooping, sleeping…copy/paste, copy/paste.

Adios ’17

Another tragicomic year in review by Dave Barry. Happy Wife and I consumed it this morning, each of us reading alternate months out loud.

A personal favorite excerpt from September

September

. . . international tension continues to mount as President Trump, speaking to the United Nations, calls Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and says the North Korean leader is “on a suicide mission.” In response, Kim calls Trump “a frightened dog” and “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At this point Trump and Kim have no honorable choice but to meet in person, strip to their waists, and settle their dispute by flailing at each other with their pudgy fists until oily rivers of sweat mixed with hair product run down the quivering mounds of flab that constitute their bodies.

Be safe tonight ya’ll. See you next year!

Know Your Domain

Been thinking lately I read too much. It leaves me little to no time to write. When I was really interested in writing well, especially fiction, instead of working hard at it, coming to the keyboard every day for several hours to write the bones down – a habit all real writers agree is a must to get good – I read. For sure, if you want to be a good writer you do need to read, and read a lot, but it’s not sufficient. It would be like thinking you could learn to play guitar well simply by listening to a lot of guitar music. You need to practice too. A lot. Maybe not 10,000 hours, though in some cases it may take more, depending on the amount of native talent one has.

When I’m honest with myself I don’t think I was ever really talented at any one thing, and average at most. Math came easy but I was never going to set the world on fire. Likewise computers. Funny, the only reason I ever enrolled in a Fortran course — way back when —  was because it was a prerequisite for numerical analysis, a 400-level math course I dared take as an undergraduate, which made me feel a little superior at the time, especially around fellow classmates (would-be geologists), many who dreaded having to take even two semesters of calculus required for their degree. By then I’d already passed three, plus Diff-Eq, with relative ease. Physics and chemistry? Average. Geology, my major? Lackluster. Humanities, so-so (though I do recall getting a shout-out for one or two of my term papers). But then came the computer programming course, Fortran, I breezed through it. It was like English for me, an innate language, one I mastered quickly with little to no effort. This was about 12 years before Jeff Bezos arrived in Seattle to start a business in his garage selling books on the World Wide Web.

Oh, what futures pass us when we are blind to our own boon.

By which I do not mean I think I could have started Amazon. Unlike Jeff I was never a national merit scholar. I did not graduate Phi Kappa Beta from Princeton with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. I knew next to nothing about starting a business, and even if I had, probably lacked the guts to try. I only mean that when you find something you’re good at, consider sticking with it. Strive for expertise. Don’t spread your interests too thin. Avoid becoming a dilettante, a master of none.

Example: I once applied for a job at Amazon. Back in 2014 I think it was. I don’t recall the job title, but it was a technical, senior-level position involving the development of novel algorithms to maximize online ad revenue. The only reason the job popped on my radar was because it invited a wide variety of specialists to apply, including Computational Biologists, which by that time is what I was calling myself. I passed the initial phone interview okay, but stumbled on the second one, enough that I was not invited for an in-person interview. The interviewer was very generous, said something like, “I think you understand the technical stuff okay, this just isn’t your particular domain is it?” I had to concede he was right. Ask me about genes, proteins, biochemistry and such, and I’d have been all over it.

When I returned to school in 2002 my grades did improve, though by the time I finished the academic portion of my PhD I had to concede academic excellence would never be mine. By all other measures of success, though, I did quite well.

Fast-forward to now. I’ve been invited to teach genetics at the university. I’m excited about this. I expect the class will be mostly biology majors being it’s required, but also pre-med students and others pursuing degrees in health-related fields.

As I look out over the lectern on day one, gazing at all the expectant faces, it will be humbling for sure; but also, I hope, rewarding, to be back in my domain of academic expertise.