Category: updates

and now, little fish

i have a lot of time-sink hobbies.  reading, knitting, music, scrabble, fish-keeping, napping, gardening, photography, facebook, blogging (ok, let’s just go with ‘the internet’), spider-watching…  all are very effective at using up non-working hours and eating into sleep time.  travel planning (and dreaming) is another good one; more on that shortly.  but never before have i had a time-sink in my life of this caliber:

yep, that’s my kid.  she’s been out in the world now for about four months and i’m just introducing her here now, which is a pretty good indication of her time requirements.  there have been longish pauses here in the past, but nothing quite like this.  what can i say — nothing prepares you for parenthood.  you think you’re ready-ish (as ready as anyone ever is; here’s one of  my favorite pre-parental checklists); you think you have a vague idea of what to expect and you know you’re not going to get a lot of sleep.  but oh man, ‘not getting a lot of sleep’ on paper (or electrons) is nothing like really, actually, NOT. GETTING. ENOUGH. SLEEP. EVER.  i guess we are sort of used to it now, but it does take some steam out of blogging motivation — especially when you are living a groundhog-day-like new parental existence.

but i don’t intend to become a mommyblogger; there are enough talented, witty women (and some such dads) doing that already, and i enjoy their work and will leave the niche to them.  i imagine ‘little fish’ (or LF, as we will continue to call her for blogging purposes) will make occasional appeareances here, and posts may be more infrequent for a while, but the (new) inkspot’s mainstays — travel, nature, spiders, science — will stick around.  in fact, i have high hopes that our upcoming trip in october-november will tick all of these boxes; we are going to the US for two weeks and then on to south america for a squid conference and to visit some fine people.  just imagine the travel mishap potential with a six-month-old!  each day could hold countless stories.  and i make a solemn vow that none of them will be about poop.

look, we’re even training her for camping already:

… and no, we’re not actually going camping on this trip; we’re not completely insane.  we’re getting her used to sleeping in here so that she has portable, familiar surroundings doubling as mosquito netting, a brilliant idea we got from some scandinavian friends.

so there you go; we’re parents, juggling one more huge thing on top of all the other things (work, cats, house, hobbies).  why not take the whole show on the road — after all, she’s going to have to learn to travel if we’re all going to get along.  :)

we are actually new parents in another respect, too — our fresh-water aquarium, which has been ticking along quietly for six years as of this month, also has some new arrivals.  in the past we’ve had platies, danios, and even a baby glass cat (see here and here), although i just learned that they’re probably actually ghost cats (Kryptopterus minor).  in recent months i’ve been worried about the water quality as something has suddenly and completely wiped out our once-luxuriant sword plants (but no other plants and we’ve had no fish casualties), but i haven’t had the time to do much about it other make some concerned noises and do a few water changes.  now it turns out that someone, at least, finds the in-tank conditions most agreeable: our bristlenose catfish (Ancistrus sp.).  we have a big female (affectionately named ‘mrs sucky thing’ by a good friend of ours; less affectionately named ‘that horrible ugly fish’ by my mother) and a small golden male with beautiful snout-bristles, who has evidently matured into enough of a stud now to catch her eye.  behold, a few days ago we found these:

they’re about 3/4″ inch long and i’ve counted about 18 of them so far.  so, congrats to everyone, i guess — the pebbles and i aren’t the only ones with a growing family!  although from what i can tell, the bristlenoses have far-less-time-demanding offpsring, even though they outnumber their parents nearly ten to one.

maybe i’ll crawl into the fishtank and have a nap.

new beginnings

i realize that it looks like the sand people got us in the end, since we disappeared in the middle of death valley and have posted nothing in the intervening [wince] nearly three months.  oops.  all i can say is, my laptop died the blue-screen death, locking the remaining trip photos inside until recently, and with it perished my photo-processing software, so visual aids to the posts i’ve had in mind have been a little paralyzed.  add to that the fact that the pebbles and i will be joined by a small new human in june, and a semester-start with 1500 first-year students, and you get the idea — not as an excuse, but by way of an explanation.

but it’s time to begin 2012, however belatedly, as i have intended all along — with butterflies!

– – –

in our back yard, we have a large swan plant (Asclepias physocarpa), a species of milkweed that has become well established in nz, probably by dint of playing host to the beloved monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.  while neither is native, monarchs most likely colonized nz under their own steam, and were later assisted in becoming established by the increasing popularity of swan plants in gardens.  both seem to be well tolerated although i can’t find much information on the weed status of Asclepias.

in any case, we had some caterpillars last year, but only a few made it to adulthood due to a combination of wasp predation, aphid infestations and probably also a very fat praying mantis i discovered lurking under one of the leaves late in the season.  so this year, when i noticed tiny caterpillars starting to munch the swan leaves, i decided to bring a few inside for observation once they got larger, and hopefully save them from predation while enjoying some living-room science.  i selected a few nice fat ones a few weeks later, as well as some of the earliest chrysalises, and set them up in a small terrarium.

over the next few days, the ones i had brought in pupated obligingly, although i was amazed at the speed with which it happened — so quickly that i didn’t get a chance to photograph the metamorphosis, although a nice series can be seen here.  one in particular took up the telltale j-posture one evening, was still in it the following evening, and then had already changed into its smooth green chrysalis when i checked back an hour later, although still somewhat elongated and contracting gently.  i had not realized previously that the pupa forms inside the caterpillar skin; the latter splits open and peels back, falling as a tiny shriveled husk once the chrysalis emerges; this was one of several fascinating revelations i had while watching the process.  another was the gorgeous detail of the chrysalis structure — edged in black and iridescent gold, with the patterns of the future wings already visible as soon as the chryalis forms.  (apparently it’s not uncommon for pre-schoolers observing the monarch life cycle in new zealand to mistake the chrysalises for green lollies… an error i don’t imagine is often made more than once by any given child.  EW)

about two weeks later, my first butterfly hatched, again with astonishing speed: the chrysalis turned black and transparent overnight, was still whole first thing in the morning, and half an hour later had a trembling butterfly clinging to its emtpy membrane as the wings slowly filled.  we kept it inside until the wings appeared stiff and finished and the butterfly began to climb, and then took it outside to make its maiden flight and contribute to the next generation.  the remaining three followed over the next week, allowing me a good look at them as they hung to dry, but never actually emerging while i watched.  at last check, the swan plant still had new caterpillars appearing on it, although it is now mostly stem and strange seed pods, the voracious first generation having mostly decimated its leaves and the aphids busily finishing the rest.  but hopefully our monarch population will return each year, so we can share the amazing details of their transformations with our own next generation when it joins us.  :)

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the small cat with the big name

introducing: solstice friday XIII.  more often known as solstice, soli, friday, sophie, smooches, or fuzzkin.  as of three weeks ago (tomorrow), we are back up to a two-cat household… following the loss of our beloved levi, we had friends staying with us for a few weeks, whose two little cats kept tanuki busy (and vice versa).  after they left, it was fairly evident that she was lonely and in need of much crazy chasing-time when we got home from work, so we eyed up the ‘available cats‘ page at the spca (warning — that is a dangerous link) for a few weeks and noticed a few we were interested in meeting.  as it happened, the day we made our visit, only one of those was still up for adoption (yay for the others!) and he wanted to be an only cat.  however, in cage 13 (where else?!), we found this little girl hanging out with her two sisters.  they were 8 months old, a little younger and smaller than tanuki — just about perfect.  and she pretty much chose us.  we had our eye on her anyway, with her gorgeous black coat and tiny sprinkling of white throat-hairs, but her constant purr and head-butting of our hands and legs made it so that we didn’t really need to meet anyone else.

she settled in quickly at home, living in our room for a couple days to give her a secure smallish space, but we did allow tanuki to come in a few times and say hi.  overnight, they happily shared us and the remaining space on the bed, and have since settled into an easy friendship that alternates between napping in close proximity (though not touching), eating side by side, and frantic chasing up and down the hallway and stairs (as i type).  when friday came down with cat flu (or some other similar respiratory ailment) and spent a few days hunched in on herself with eyes mostly closed, sneezing pitifully (and juicily), tanuki already showed signs of play-withdrawal and was overjoyed when friday began perking up (the result of two pills and two applications of eye ointment a day for a week; not the best way to get your new cat to trust you).

her personality is already quite distinct; she is not a lap-cat but will happily curl up next to warm legs (at night) or on the arm of the sofa, to be happily encircled by a person’s arm.  when dozing, any human touch will elicit an adorable brrt!  she is far more vocal than either of our other cats and chats cheerfully with anyone in the room who talks to her.  she does not mind her (still naked from the spay) belly being stroked.  she likes to chase fast-moving toys where tanuki prefers the ones that creep slowly and erratically across the floor; the chasing may be to offset friday’s impressive appetite, which has allowed her to put on 400 grams in the three weeks we’ve had her.

so here she is, the newest member of the family.  hope you like her — she’s sure to be a recurring feature.  :)

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eulogy for a black cat

i found levi at a garage sale, on what must have been a saturday morning in april, 2003 (the heyday of my garage sale habit, as i worked on furnishing the empty flat i had rented in march).  this particular assortment of second-hand furniture and knick-knacks held nothing appealing, and i was turning to leave when i spotted a gorgeous, ink-black beast lounging in the sun, every hair-tip afire and obviously the king of all he saw.  i asked the smart-ass question ‘your cat’s not for sale, is he?’ and what do you know – it pays to be a smart-ass.  for sale, no; free to a good home, when the owner moved to australia in five weeks, yes.  she called me a month later and we arranged a pick-up, which turned into several pick-up attempts as he demonstrated his strength and unwillingness to travel in a cardboard box.  eventually i drove her son to my house, hugging ‘tom’ to his chest in the toweled kitty-burrito method we would use to transport him ever after.

he lived in my room for several days, getting accustomed to me and his new home; by the second night, he came out from under my bed to sleep on top of it, a post he would faithfully keep every night for the next eight years.  we tried out a variety of names on him: spades, scutus (which was perfect except that it just didn’t stick), others i don’t remember.  eventually we settled on ‘levi’; he seemed to like the long ‘ee’ sound.  he introduced me to the anxieties of ‘outdoor’ cat ownership, including despair when he first escaped outside and didn’t return for 24 hours, a non-negotiable need to live on a quiet street to minimize the risk of car danger, and the joys of regular flea prevention (or else the consequences).  on summer nights, when i turned the light out from reading, he would patrol my windowsills and snack with appalling gusto on the hapless ‘christmas’ beetles that had trapped themselves inside the panes.  in future houses he would chase flies, and when he grew too lazy (or spoiled) to chase, he followed me when i took the fly-swatter in hand, and hoovered up the twitching carcasses.

he was black, black, black from nose tip to whiskers to his tail and his pads, with one tiny white freckle on his lower right eyelid.  following some minor scuffle later in life, five white hairs sprouted over a healed scab on the top of his head, but otherwise, his fur was a moonless night and nearly impossible to photograph.  he was my hallowe’en kitty, silhouetted sentinel in the window waiting for me to come home, a pool of deeper darkness guarding my dreams at night.  he was the only exception to a friend’s dislike of felines, earning the name ‘stealth cat’ from an idealistic admirer who chose to ignore his companionably steady sleeping half-purr, half-snore.  he had impeccable instincts for the moment i had finally resolved to get out of bed, arriving inevitably to re-settle his rumbling bulk on my chest.  he was hopelessly conditioned to make use of any lap covered in a shark-printed fleece blanket that my grandmother made (probably for the still non-existent great-grandchildren).  he followed us through four houses, learning where the sunniest spots were in each within a matter of hours, and greeted us at the door, waiting to smell everyone’s breath in turn.

he hated the rustle of plastic bags; the sound of someone talking when he wanted to sleep on a comfortable, quiet lap; and, to my endless amusement, my phd supervisor.  he had little love for tanuki when we adopted her, but had begun to play with her (claws in, no hissing) over the last several weeks, and may even have had a little soft spot for her in that outwardly growly old heart.  he was crazy for raw meat scraps and would streeeeeetch his right paw up to the counter (a good meter in height) when he could smell it; a rare snack of wet food would send him into a focused ecstasy of slurping.  he tolerated brushing only while being liberally bribed with cat treats.  his warm, inert, heavy body was the best insulator by miles, through a series of chilly houses, and only with great regret and (unaccepted) apologies could one put him aside once he had chosen his nap site.

these are some of the memories, and none of them do him justice.  we wrote him into our wedding vows, loved him deeply, spoiled him, missed him whenever we traveled.  his steady, loyal presence throughout our entire relationship cannot be reconciled to the knowledge of his body now curled forever in the sunniest part of the garden, under the bench where he basked.  his clear green eyes never faded, never clouded over; his purr grumbled on until the end.  bedtime is incomplete without his settling-in routine and mornings without his early awakening; arriving home to an empty front window is heartbreak anew.  yesterday there was time for snuggling, following the sun, saying all the important things and countless strokes of his warm, sable, purring side, but it was nowhere near enough.  today there is peace for him, and only the ache of his departure for us.

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smitten kitten

tanuki is 7 months old now, and it’s incredible to think that when she first arrived with scuttle and neenish, her whole body would have fit into the current volume of her head.  she is a total lap cat, a goofball, a shower-water-drinker and a tireless teaser of our older cat, who usually tolerates her but does not hesitate to growl and swat when he’s had enough.  i will not gush on about her (at least not right now), but a few recent portraits are worth sharing.

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i suspect no one will be surprised that we ended up keeping one of our foster kittens – perhaps only that we were able to hold out until the second batchthe first litter will always hold a special place in memory, and we love that we can visit one of them at bumbly’s house, but when this little girl came along, we were goners.

already, on the way home from the SPCA as a foster, she distinguished herself, albeit by getting one claw stuck in a litter-mate’s head.  she was the most active, the most coordinated, and consistently the most affectionate, being willing to be picked up and held, purring, for nearly an hour at a time.  it got to the point where, when visiting the kittens, i would have to make a conscious effort not to pick her up first, because the others would get bored and go back to sleep waiting for their turns.

when she got cat flu a few weeks into her stay with us, she was the most pathetic thing ever.  not visibly affected in terms of energy or health, but more congested than i have ever heard an animal, she wheezed and snorkeled like – and i’m sorry for the mental image – a sucking chest wound.  it was awful.  on the worst day we called the SPCA to find out what to do, couldn’t get ahold of them, and rushed her to the local vet.  the upshot was that, apart from the breathing difficulties, she actually seemed to be fine, and as long as she was eating, we should just monitor her and keep up the antibiotics.  we steam-tented her several times a day – she always came out damp and panting, but breathing more easily, managing to raise a piteous string of meow-oooos by the end of each session, and as i would towel her off and hear the big purr come back (between gurgling snorts), i knew it would be very, very difficult to give her back.

luckily for me (and her, i like to think), the kittens’ return date was three days before valentine’s day. the SPCA wanted them at that time because they had a big adoption initiative on.  so not only would they most likely be adopted within 48 hours… i also had good cause for campaigning to keep the one we were calling ‘diva,’ because although she would surely be snapped up instantly once returned, i assured the pebbles that she would also be at the top of my valentine’s wish list.

so here we are, two months later, with the most beautiful adolescent ‘torbie’ cat i’ve ever seen.  her coat is a tapestry of interesting markings, from her orange back knees, ear-spots and eyelashes on one eye, to the leopard-spots bordering her white belly, the symmetrically striped front legs that she likes to keep daintily crossed, and the white tip on her tail.  although still a kitten in my mind, she is already more than full lap-length when stretched out, and nearly as tall as our larger, senior cat when she arches her back upward.  the big purrs and joyful morning smooches continue, but her behavioral repertoire has expanded to include an adorable staccato meow-growl hybrid when stalking bugs, a fascination with leftover shower-water and the faucet in the bathroom sink, and a frenzied delight in plastic bags, mouse toys, string, flax leaves, ping pong balls and cardboard boxes.  she will happily sleep on laps, recumbent chests, and in the circle of protective arms, even in the car.

after much discussion, we settled on the name ‘tanuki,’ for the mischievous shape-shifter of japanese folklore and for our favorite japanese restaurant in auckland, tanuki’s cave.  and although this statement is probably moot, given the rapturous post above – we are smitten.  :)

crickets and balance

see those rocks up there?  see how they balance in strikingly improbable columns?  that’s my metaphor for the moment.  bit of a stretch, but it seems appropriate… one unlikely thing stacked on top of another, in a way that looks like it should fall over but somehow manages to stay standing against gravity and all odds.  i saw these stone stacks in vancouver in 2008, by the way, on a bike ride around the perimeter of gorgeous stanley park — a rather talented man was piling them up just as you see, searching out the ones he wanted and positioning them just so.

so, things being balanced.

the university semester has started and i’m heading up a course with 1100 students in it.  this requires continuous juggling of lectures, tutorials (32 2-hour tutes per week, spread among 7 staff), and sometimes hundreds of emails per day.  let’s not dwell on it.

grant application.  going for a bit of funding for some squid projects, that would support preparation of some new papers and some museum visits at the end of this year.  fingers crossed.

new kitten!  we kept one of the most recent batch — the tabby — and have been settling her in, training her (mostly to keep off certain things), and keeping an eye on the irritation levels of our senior cat.  in the space of typing that sentence, the little one dodged close enough to him for a hiss and a swat, climbed the screen door, and knocked some things off the couch.

new grad students.  two master’s and one phd student have arrived from canada to study — guess! — squid systematics! i’m co-supervising, and it’s very cool to have them here.  we’re planning a few lab sessions and field trips to visit local collections.

upcoming trip.  bestema turns 100 in april!  this does not require much attention at the moment, but its impendingness (i made that up) does mean that things have to be organized to run smoothly in my absence.

couple those things with the fact that BOTH my cameras are in the shop (and it’s kind of killing me), and that makes for a quiet inkspot.  but i hope to be back to the regular hijinks soon!

well, this is a bit unexpected

wow –  we’ve been planning to move house for thirteen weeks, but i didn’t think the inkspot would be moving this weekend as well!  wordpress has been under consideration for a while, but apparently vox had to actually close down for me to make the jump.  so here we are!

everything seems to have transferred across, although any links to other posts still go back to vox and i don’t know what i’m going to do about the videos.  but i do like the ‘categories’ method of organizing, and will be taking the opportunity to make some indices for easy navigation.  here’s to embracing change!

comments also appear to be much more open to the public here… what do we think of that?

life, in a nutshell

really, it’s been three months since i posted anything – anything – other than spiders?  wow.  i do love them, but i never really intended to become an arachnid-only site.  amazing how time gets away from you, when you’re busy, oh, buying houses and finding new jobs.  that’s right – first-home-ownership is  on the horizon for us, with a new job starting for me two weeks before.  i suppose some of this requires a bit of explanation, so let’s see…

when i returned from the ship last november, i discovered that my ‘definitely to be renewed upon expiry’ one-year research post-doc, which finished halfway through the voyage, had in fact not been renewed, and that i’d been unemployed for three weeks already.  surprise!  actually not entirely a surprise, given the extreme dearth of funds in our research institute.  but anyway, to skip quickly past all that messiness and the politics of being moved to a different building, and make a long story marginally shorter, i haven’t been working full-time since then.  i picked up some teaching, on a first-year paper (course) that introduces students to university-level writing (can you hear my hands rubbing together gleefully?) and literature reviews.  that was good fun on many levels, and paid a reasonable part-time wage.

i did apply for some overseas jobs, just to try my luck, but (again, not so terribly surprising), no one anywhere seems to be serious about hiring.  the pebbles and i decided to wait for a response from one final overseas application, and then get serious about a house instead.  when that last rejection came in, we’d already done a fair bit of house research, and we’d had enough fun poking around open homes that the prospect of owning one really was a good plan B.  (reading that last sentence again, i wonder  whether the home-buying process is a little like giving birth, in that you suppress the memory of it so thoroughly that you can eventually be convinced to try it again.  every time we drive past an open home we don’t have to go to, we still chuckle sadistically.)  so, yes: to spare you some more details, we found a place.  it’s on the north shore, which means we’ll be leaving our beloved mt albert after seven years, but the location is still pretty good, and there will be plenty of room for guests!  and this is where the house and job tie back in together (other than the neat congruence of starting the job in late august and settling on the house two weeks later – paycheck and mortgage, probably a useful combination).  the new job, which is really a full-time extension of the part-time teaching this semester, is also based on the north shore.   it involves further work on the same paper as last semester, extended to full-time employment and encompassing some research time.  pretty much ideal.  it starts the day after we return from our annual sojourn to the states (goodbye, august in nz!  we won’t miss you!), although i was already invited to my future department’s midwinter christmas party, which bodes well.

so here’s the first house photo – the tip of the iceberg, no doubt.  9.5 weeks until moving day!

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it’s 2010! woot! … aw, crap.

crickets and tumbleweed, begone!  let the archives sneer ‘2010 (0 posts)’ no more.  yes, it’s been a very quiet month over here, but that’s just because i’ve been letting everything pile up into a huge backlog, waiting to burst through the dam of inertia and bad metaphors into the new year like a really big, bursting thing.  coherence is my middle name – tinten coherence fisch.
(how’s this for a brilliant start – glad you waited around?)
so, by way of a quick catch-up (and some thinly veiled excuses) the last month has involved: adjustment to non-full-time working schedule (sometimes optimistically called ‘early retirement’ or ‘between contracts’); surprise christmas visit to family in nelson, followed by three-week visit from parents, followed by weekend visit from the final remaining set of parental figures; interspersed visits from belgians and germans; hikes, beaches, barbecues, scrabble, food food and more food, a lot of presents; not enough spiders.
unfinished business on the inkspot that i hope to attend to within the next few weeks will include:
– the final photos and sealogs from my time on the ship in november
– the resurrection of webnesday, which i intend to see through to the full 52 episodes, even though this will stretch over more than the planned calendar year
– the supremely overdue conclusion of last summer’s trip to the US
– other bits and pieces as they crop up.  for example, opportunistic additions (i typed ‘addictions’ first – what does that suggest, hmm?) to the occasional 2×2 photo series.
– photos of the moon!  if i can improve my technique for shooting down the barrel of my extremely shiny new telescope (thanks, pebbles!).  initial results are not bad but could definitely use some refining…

so here we are, silence broken and first post out of the way.  bring on the tigers!

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