There She Goes…to Madagascar

It’s true. I am. I’m spending the next 48 hours traveling to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, better known as “Tana”. I’m meeting another young woman at a hotel in Tana to begin our 10-day adventure. Did I make it sound sketchy to you? Good. That was the point. Because, it’s not; I wanted to grab your attention. Let me take you back and tell you why.

Me and Bryanna snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef near Heron Island, Australia in 2013

In 2013, I spent part of the year studying at the University of Queensland with 38 other students. It was on this trip, that I met Bryanna. She was radiant, intelligent, with long brown hair and soulful eyes. She spoke her mind and did so with poise. She was brilliant and well-traveled. She yearned to continually explore this world. We learned that we both attended the same home university, both lived in East Africa for some time, both spoke a plethora of languages to some capacity, both loved dancing, the list goes on…

Gosh, I could write a great wedding toast to her. But, back to the story. Bryanna and I would part ways in November of 2013; she to Costa Rica and me to South America, Antarctica, and back to California. We kept in touch via technology–Skype mainly. We’d rant about our major frustrations and congratulate each other on our accomplishments. After some months, we’d end up in California for a year or two with overlap and spend time dancing, dyeing our hair, and studying for ornithology (birds) exams. When you’ve danced to the point you’re a sweaty mess, washed out henna in the same shower, and cried over how to distinguish bird species together, you’re close. I’ll vouch for this because most of you probably haven’t experienced that magical combination. Bryanna would later move around more, first to Nevada, where I visited her after learning I hadn’t been accepted to a grad school program, and then to Scotland where she is pursuing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. When school breaks permitted, we’d do anything to see each other. However, living across the world makes that challenging. Add in the fact that both of us are now pursuing doctoral degrees, it’s a struggle.

Nonetheless, as you can imagine, we put in the effort. We both have degrees in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology (she was a double major in English…) and are passionate about traveling. So, somewhere over the past 5 years, we made it work. We both wanted to visit Madagascar. It’s been on my “bucket list” for years and I know it’s disappearing. Home to over 25,000 endemic (only found in this location) animal species and 11,000 endemic plant species, Madagascar is a place that wildlife biologists dream of visiting. Unsurprisingly, Bryanna and I were pumped to go! It took a few years for the logistics, economics, politicos, and academics to align, but it finally happened. Finally.

So, today, I’m starting my two-day journey to meet the lovely Bryanna at a hotel in Madagascar. I’m still not exactly sure where we’re going. Many of the places on our rough itinerary don’t exist on google maps. Add in that neither Bryanna nor I speak Malagasy or French, the national languages, and it’s almost comical. We should’ve pitched this to NatGeo or the Discovery Channel or in the least, a film student, because I guarantee you we are entertainment. We are memory-makers.

As I sit in the San Diego airport, the La’s song, “There She Goes” plays on repeat in my head. When people see Bryanna or I, that must be what they think: there she goes. We’re constantly going, constantly making memories. And for once, we’re going to a foreign land and we’re going to explore together.

To all of the young women out there: go. Be the one that people see traveling. Be the one that makes people think, “there she goes”. Going is good. Going is progress. Going is exploration.

~@

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The End of Year One: A messy, beautiful, glittery beginning

It’s over. The 2017-2018 academic school year is finally over. Because I’m a PhD student, the end of an academic year means almost nothing. However, I’m all about celebrating the small victories. Therefore, I’m taking a whole 10 minutes (OK, probably 30 minutes) to blog and then to finish preparations for a lab meeting tomorrow. Sometimes I think my blog posts give the illusion that I live in a world of rainbows and butterflies and unicorns and glitter. I do. Only, my rainbows are blurry, my butterflies are tattered, my unicorns are missing their horns, and my glitter is freaking everywhere. There’s a reason glitter is known as the herpes of crafts.

Accordingly, I’m going to show you my reality…in images that I can easily access. Fear not, more photos will grace this blog soon-ish (heavy on the “ish”). And now, let me briefly demystify the glamor of marine biology fieldwork.

When people see gorgeous sunsets at sea like this:

A late spring sunset off the coast of Oregon on the R/V Shimada.

They don’t realize it means that I’m dressed like this:

A red species of Oompa Loompa, known to frequent the open oceans aboard sea-going vessels. AKA: me on the R/V Shimada in May 2018.

When people see a ship under the Golden Gate like this:

Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, CA on the R/V Shimada in May 2018.

They don’t realize that I’m working like this:

On my daylight hour shift from 0600-2000hrs in my sailing foul-weather gear. May 2018 on the R/V Shimada.

I’ll keep it short and sweet for now. In the meantime, check out my more science-y posts because I blog for our lab as well! Here are a few topics to explore: why we study the Northern California Current Ecosystem, applications of marine policy in conservation, and how we use geospatial analysis (maps and charts) for marine mammal science.

Good morning, good afternoon, and good night.

Sunset from Bald Hill Natural Area, Corvallis, OR. May 2018.

~@

A Frazzled Ms. Frizzle

“Seatbelts, everyone!”, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”, “Get out there and explore!”…all fantastic quotes from the marvelous Ms. Frizzle. She captivated my attention as a child and she sums up my life as a young adult. Life is messy. Life requires precaution. Life deserves exploration.

These past couples of weeks have been heavy on the messy and frazzled and light on the explorative and frizzled. Not my favorite combinations.

Heaps of homework, piles of projects, dump trucks of data, and a few heavy handfuls of general anxiety on campus and this scientist feels the frazzle. Maybe this is what I get for coloring my hair again with henna and going reddish. Or, maybe, just maybe, this is part of life.

Either way, I have faith in Ms. Frizzle. She never led me astray. Sure, ArcGIS (computer software program used in mapping and analysis) continues to defy my every command and my oceanography class has morphed into a hellish version of physics and calculus and engineering and chemistry, but, I’m still living, still exploring.

Sometimes these mental checkpoints remind me that activities like hiking to Tamolitch Falls…and then jumping in the icy, glacial water…help me to balance out all the “messy”. Rest assured, you’ll still hear me sighing from frustration and see me roll my eyes out of annoyance when I’m in front of my computer 10+ hours per day. But, you’ll also find me exploring–whether that means deep in the forest or a familiar dance club.

So, thank you, Ms. Frizzle. Thank you to all the “Ms. Frizzles” out there. I hope to be like you some day.

~@lexa

Happy Galentine’s Day: The Best Day of the Year

February 13th: Galentine’s Day AKA The Best Day of the Year, at least according to Leslie Knope.

Seeing as Leslie Knope is partially my spirit animal, with other parts Ron Swanson, April Ludgate, Ben Wyatt, and Donna Meagle, I too believe it’s one of the best days of the year. Also, if you didn’t notice, I’m fluent in Parks and Recreation. I’ll refer you to my quote about my incredibly talented bestie (scroll to the quote about her that is lengthy and obviously from me). So, yeah.

And this is the perfect segue to say, “Thank you” to the wonderful gals in my life. A few, close…OK, very close, gal pals have really helped me make it through life.

Cheers to my gals! Poway, CA. (New Year’s Eve 2017/2018) PS-that’s club soda

You have all brought overwhelming joy and endless love and true kindness and deep-bellied laughter and heartfelt tears. You are my emotional back-brace: you help me stand with confidence. When I’m down, you pick me. When I’m sitting in a hospital bed for weeks at a time, you wash my hair and pretend I’m not acting insane. You drop everything to help me submit my PhD applications when I’m tethered to an IV. You keep me grounded. You lift me up.

 

Deb showing me that New Year’s Eve is better outside the ICU. Poway, CA. 2017/2018.

 

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Lauren brining me hot chocolate in the hospital. La Jolla, CA. Winter 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to the wonderful lady-friends who have kept it real forever. To the ladies who’ve known me the longest (and spent the most time in a car with me), thank you for putting up with me.

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Elizabeth, me, and Paige road-tripping through California in my bug, Jada (another powerful female). Yellow-jacket Ranch, CA. Summer 2010.

To the women who will shamelessly quote children’s movies, thank you for keeping me young at heart.

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Ramona and I acting more like kids than the kids around up. Escondido, CA. Summer 2017.

To the gals who have proven that enemies can become besties, I’m incredibly grateful for your unconditional love and open-mindedness.

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Laura and me. San Diego, CA. December 2016 (in between ICU visits).

To my nerdy women in science who will critique my papers, grovel with me when I’m frustrated with my projects, and high-five me when I achieve success.

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Me, Michelle, Holly, and Keiko at the Southern California Marine Mammal Workshop. February 2017.

To my family of strong, beautiful, empowering women who help me to laugh at the little things when I’m struggling to get up in the morning, thank you for giving me strength.

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My cousins: Lisa, me, Katie, and Lauren with our grandmother, Edith. Seattle, WA. Thanksgiving 2017.

To women who overcame the odds and instilled self-determination as a fundamental value, thank you for never giving up.

Me, my mom, and my grandmother. Whittier, CA. July 1993.

To my fellow female adventurers who fuel my whimsical ideas, thank you for embracing wanderlust with me.

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Katie and me exploring…and getting a little lost. Somewhere on the Pacific Crest Trail, CA. November 2016.
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Me and Bryanna on our way to more fun. Actually in the USA. October 2015.

To my sisters from other misters and adoptive mothers and grandmothers, thank you for being my found family.

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Me and Brie at dinner with my parents. Sacramento, CA. September 2010.
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Elizabeth, Kati, and Brick at my high school graduation (making fun of my senior photo). San Diego, CA. June 2010.
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Abigail riding around on my back (this is the most “normal” photo of us). San Diego, CA. July 2017.
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Kimmie and me at our college apartment. Davis, CA. 2013-ish.

 

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Erin, Natalie, me, Haley, and Melinda at my high school graduation. San Diego, CA. June 2010.
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Me, Chelsea, and Kody (2nd cousin-ish in-law) post-wedding celebrations. North Carolina. May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the women who mentor me, thank you for guiding and encouraging me in the face of adversity.

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Jazzy (former TA/lab supervisor/friend) and me. Sonoma, CA. Summer 2017.

And, to all the women who I didn’t mention because I’m spending way too much time writing this instead of working, you are my life blood. You give my life meaning. You ease my pain. You experience life with me. You rock.

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Bads$$ women I met on a beach. Bermuda. 2008-ish
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Eva, me, and Amanda. Dead Sea, Israel. December 2017. Photo: Kasey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the words of Leslie Knope, “You are a beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox.”

~@

 

Dance Dance Evolution

Dancing. I think everyone who knows me, knows I LOVE dancing. My soul dances instead of speaks. It’s how I communicate, learn, and listen. It’s me. Any form of dance, I’ll try it and I’ll enjoy it–guaranteed. What does this have to do with my trip to Israel? Only everything. (Justin Timberlake gets me).

At the beginning of the trip, we spent a night learning Israeli dance. The teacher asked for three volunteers, so naturally my hand shot up. It’s an instinct at this point. Making a fool of myself is a favorite past time if it involves dancing. I was instructed to put on a long, fuchsia dress and a head covering. Then, I was shown how to dance the Yemeni-Israeli dance called the Temani. The following two volunteers were shown dances with origins in Europe and Africa. Together, we saw how dance brought the people of Israel together; they spoke different languages, but would gather and dance because it was universal. So, by the end of the night, all forty of us danced in a very warm, bomb shelter below the main floor of our hotel/hostel (casually dropping in the fact that every hotel has a bomb shelter).

Me dancing and smiling.

A few days later, in Tel Aviv, we were given the opportunity to go out to a club. This was a gift for us because we had a packed schedule that was strictly abided per the rules of the trip. This was my time to shine. I got dressed up and brought my A-game. We got sweaty, we got our booties shaking, we laughed, and we had a fantastic night. I hope it’s a “we” at least.

Ready to dance in Tel Aviv, Israel!

As I mentioned, our days were full of group activities–one of which was learning an Israeli pop song and choreographing a dance. We got to bring in our style and modern music–while *attempting* to understand the Hebrew that we would be singing and performing.

This was our song:

And this is our group (Video: Denise B.):

Then, it was time for Jerusalem, the city known for its current political controversies, and yet, beloved by so many religions and cultures. I was hesitant to be in a city well-known for being deeply religious and conservative, when, here I am, secular and liberal-ish. Fortunately, the group I was traveling with (my mispacha), bonded together; we were a diverse group of people–in terms of religion, culture, ethnic backgrounds, political affiliations, sexual orientation, etc. We visited the Western Wall–the Kotel–on Shabbat (Friday evening, when the city shuts down for a time of rest as part of a Jewish tradition). At the Western Wall, men and women are split by a large fence divides the Western Wall into two sides (and yes, there were discussions on gender equality). All of the women from our group shuffled to our side in what I can only describe as a sea of people. The Kotel was jam-packed because of Shabbat–when even more people come to the wall to pray. We were surrounded by the unfamiliar faces of women, and also, an equally comforting feeling that we were all there for some common reason–to worship, to respect, to see–this incredible place with a rich history. So it was no surprise that, with the help of an Israeli friend, Noa, we started dancing. Soon, concentric rings of women–some with elaborate head-coverings, some with gray hair and smile-lines, others with youthful innocence–all from different countries, joined in song and dance.

This is one of my favorite Hebrew songs–and one that we sung many times, including at the Kotel. Be sure to listen after 0:30 because that beat and feeling is what the song is all about. Because we were there on Shabbat, no electronics were used and I didn’t film out of respect. We sang everything from Salaam (Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu) to Hallelujah. Mind you, I don’t speak Hebrew. I now know a few songs and a couple of phrases, but that didn’t matter. We all joined arms, we all danced, we smiled, we hugged. It was beautiful. This made me feel like I was in the right place. I had made the right decision to join Birthright and journey to Israel.

Back at the Kotel (Western Wall) a few days after Shabbat. Jerusalem, Israel

During one of our many check-ins on the trip, I shared that these experiences of dancing and singing without having language as a barrier were the highlights of my trip. It was a full circle moment.

There was more dancing on this trip than I can even describe, but here’s a peek into a “Mega Event” with thousands of Birthright participants around the world. Please notice the dancers…us…the people who brought the party (Video: Meir C.).

And finally, to really tie everything together, I took on a Hebrew name. You’re probably thinking, “Huh? Wait, what? I thought she’s not religious. How does she choose a Hebrew name? What does that have to do with dancing? Explain.” Gladly. In Judaism, it’s customary for a child to be given a Hebrew name. See, I never had a bat mitzvah, nor was I given a Hebrew name because my family is non-practicing and does not identify as Jewish. I’m the only one in my family who, although secular, identifies with the Jewish culture (and is also genetically Jewish). In many parts of the world, it’s customary for a Jewish girl at the age of 12, to become a bat mitzvah (for a boy it’s age 13 and a bar mitzvah). It’s a concrete point of adulthood in Judaism when the person becomes accountable for his/her/their actions.

On our trip, a rabbi gave us the opportunity to have a bat or bar mitzvah. As he said this, the song “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John immediately popped into my head and I proceeded to cry tears laughter. I was hesitant to have one, until the moment at the Western Wall when it all clicked. I was going to have a bat mitzvah and I would choose a Hebrew name that translated into something about dancing. After searching, I found the name “Mahola” (Ma-ho-lah) which means “one who enjoys dancing”. It’s uncommon, but can be found dating back to ancient times when the Jewish people danced and rejoiced. Sounds fitting, right?!

The rabbi addressing me as I’m given my Hebrew name, Mahola. (Photo: Michelle M.)

As part of the bat mitzvah ceremony, I was asked how I would help others using my skills. Without hesitation: through dance. Since being back at grad school, I’ve introduced people to socializing, to letting go of worries, to being free through the power of dance.

All of use who chose to have a bar or bat mitzvah.

So there you have it: my dancing evolution. Me and dancing and Israel, all wrapped up in one package of jubilant rhythm!

~@

Israel: A Trip of Self-Discovery (And dancing. There is always dancing.)

This December I was given the opportunity to discover a land in a faraway place that is laden with a rich history, a diverse group of people who call it “home”, layers of intricate controversy, and more hummus than you can ever imagine: Israel.

Just landed in Israel and our first stop was the beach at the ancient city of Caesarea. Note: the airplane hair.

There is a program called “Birthright” or “Taglit” that gifts people, who identify as Jewish and are between the ages of 18-32, a trip of discovery to Israel. Prior to this trip, I referred to myself as Jewish, light on the “Jew”, heavy on the “Ish”. I am secular (not religious) and only discovered the Jewish culture in the past 8 years as a college student. But, I still qualified and took the leap. I signed up for a trip led by Israel Free Spirit (which is run through the Orthodox Union) that was specifically for “Young Professionals” AKA people in their mid-20s.

Fast forward to a Saturday morning in December. It’s 6am and I have 6 hours to pack everything into my backpacking pack, shower, submit paperwork for my scholarship, send out last-minute emails, and eat lunch. I preface this by telling you that the official packing list includes, but is not limited to: 12 shirts (long-sleeved recommended), 2-3 nice going-out outfits, 4-5 sweaters/sweatshirts, bathing suit, pants, shorts, 3+ pairs of shoes, 2 scarves, then all the usual. Therefore, you can imagine me cramming, literally cramming, clothes into my pack the morning of, and making many executive decisions about which pants were not going to make it. After that arduous process, which involved more internal struggle than I was prepared for, I made my way to a hotel nearby LAX International Airport. On any other trip, I would simply commute from San Diego to Los Angeles the day of my flight. But, here’s the catch: we had to meet at the airport FIVE hours prior to our flight…which was at 7:40AM. Do the math. That meant a 2:40AM check-in with the group at LAX. So, I chose to get in a quick 5 hour nap at a hotel for my sanity.

So, at 2:40AM on a balmy, Sunday morning in LAX, I met 32 new people. These 32 people would morph into 32 new chosen family members who would know more about my life than people I’ve known for years because after traveling with them for 13 days, I think we’ve seen and heard it all.

This is my mispacha (Hebrew for family).

The whole fam-bam.

I debated whether or not to make one REALLY long post about my trip or a few more manageable posts…I’ve decided on the latter. With that in mind, you can look forward to hearing stories/seeing photographs about: dancing (obviously, this is me, after all), learning, friendships, Judaism, the Middle East, and so much more.

~@

 

 

What a difference a year makes

Today I’m writing from an airport, on my way to visit a country far, far away. My life consists of grad school, outdoor activities, and laughter. If you see me, I look healthy and happy. Candid laughter while snowshoeing in Oregon.

It’s hard to imagine a life where I’m not snowshoeing or hiking and smiling ear-to-ear (or actively laughing, like I am in this photo). The PhD program I’m in feels natural–like I’m meant to be here with a bunch of outdoorsy nerds and their respective pets.

But, a year ago, I wasn’t. A year ago, I was fighting multiple infections in my wrist incision that became septic. I was delirious with a high fever (I faintly remember being asked who was president and the date, but not being able to answer), I was bedridden in the Intensive Care Unit with central lines and IV medications infusing 24/7, and I was trying to apply to graduate school. I was a mess.

As you can tell by my face, I was frustrated, generally pissed off, and in pain. This, by the way, is a gorgeous photo of me in the hospital when compared to every other one. I look like a million bucks here–and I’m not being sarcastic.

After months in the hospital, where I fluctuated between fully conscious and borderline comatose, I made it out. I was weak, I hadn’t eaten in weeks, and I was nervous about my future. And yet, today I could be a model for REI complete with backpacking pack, hiking boots, and down vest. I’m at peak fitness, I’m healthy (minus a torn meniscus), and I’m ready to explore.

From the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX,

@