Monday, June 29, 2009

So you want to sample a village dog's blood....

Actually, likely you really, really don't. But I do, and so I'm going to explain how you actually do it here. It's one of those grunt work type parts of science (that is, it's data collection) but relatively pleasant and interesting, since it's often pretty challenging. Plus, the perks (international travel to places way, way off the beaten track) are excellent.

So, here's how we actually do it.

First, we put all of the following into a large duffel bag, and throw that into the back of a 4x4:
  • butterfly needles (needles with wing shaped handles and tubing attached)
  • Vacuum sealed test tubes
  • Tube holders and needles (plastic holders and needles to puncture vacuum sealed tubes)
  • alcohol swabs
  • measuring tape
  • data sheets
  • sharpies
  • pens
  • leads (the kind you slip over a dog's neck)
  • muzzles (in about eight sizes)
  • camera
  • a cooler with ice
  • fish scale (suspensory scale)
  • goat sling (a mesh sling for holding dogs from the scale)
Step 1: Find willing helpers. People looking for coauthorships and recommendations tend to be particularly good people to work with, as they're cheap and enthusiastic.

Step 2: Find dogs. If people keep them as pets or guards, this means driving around the countryside with translators (sometimes more than one) to explain your pressing need for blood from rural dogs. After many strange looks, most people are willing to help if only out of curiosity. I've often thought that it's probably particularly helpful that I'm female, as I get some especially strange looks diving onto riled up dogs with thick bite proof gloves. Novelty gets you a lot of interest.

If people don't keep dogs, we usually rely on shelters. Shelters are awesome because they usually have very calm, well-socialized dogs and enthusiastic staff. Also, it's great to be able to compensate people by donating to a dog shelter and helping the animals too.

We've also tried driving around looking for dogs, but this usually doesn't work as well.

Step 3: Restrain the dog. Get the owner or any other foolishly helpful soul (ie, me or Ryan or our collaborators) to put a lead on the dog. If it freaks out, let it do so until it runs low on energy. Then cautiously put a muzzle on the dog from behind:

If the dog is chill, that last bit is less necessary, which saves loads of time.

Step 4: Measure the dog. For breed dogs there are more than 30 of these measurments. We take six: body length, height, chest girth, chest width, face width, and snout length. Usually I call out these measurements to Ryan, who writes them down along with a number of other types of physical descriptions and takes pictures.

Step 5: Get the blood! Get someone strong and confident to hold the dog still and hold a forelimb so that the cephalic vein is obvious after an alcohol swab. Insert butterfly needle attached to tube holder and needle. When there's blood in the butterfly needle's tube, attach the vacuum tube. Wait, trying desperately to instill patience in a figity dog, for the tube to fill with five cc's of blood. Fiddle gently with the needle and pump the dogs paw to increase the speed of the flow.

Step 6: Weigh the dog (if it's under 50 lbs) using a fish scale and goat sling. Ignore the local people's laughter as the dog slips out of the sling for the third time before you can suspend the sling from the scale.

Step 7: Carefully release the dog, making sure no one lets go of the lead or muzzle before everyone's clear and they've really been removed from the dog. Losing one of four leads to a dog running away is not fun in the middle of a busy sampling day.

Apparently, with loads of helpers, tons of chill dogs, and an efficient system, you can take blood using this method (ie, steps 3-7) at a rate of about one dog every three minutes or so. At least, that's what we did today--seventy dogs in less than four hours.

Step 8: Mail blood home. Talk to people repeatedly about the lack of danger from healthy domestic dog blood and attach loads of letters making it clear that there is no value nor any troubling regulations on shipping this stuff.

And then we move onto the next country! That's how I'm spending my summer, and while it's exhausting and not fabulously intellectual, we're having a blast.

Driving in Lebanon

[Guest post by Ryan]

If driving at rush hour in Boston is coach pitch and driving in Southern Illinois (where I learned) is t-ball, then driving in Lebanon is the 9th inning of game 7 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees. I actually kind of like it---good driving skills are rewarded in a way that doesn't happen in America. You can make lanes wherever you fit, travel in whatever direction you feel like you can safely do so and make any maneuver you can successfully pull off. Traffic laws are either absent or unenforced, which is odd given the number of men with automatic weapons standing around the streets and the number of fortified positions featuring machine guns, tanks and grenade launchers that are sprinkled throughout the roads of the country (but they just politely waved us through all the checkpoints---it wasn't actually scary at all).

There are no limited-access divided highways in Lebanon. Most major highways are two lanes (sometimes expanded to 3 or even 4 lanes if people try to squeeze their cars into available spaces) each way with only a faint yellow line separating traffic that is supposed to be driving one way and traffic that is supposed to be driving the other way (see figure). Of course to pass or position themselves for turns, people enter the oncoming traffic lanes, even if they are on blind curves (it's pretty mountainous here). The furtherst lane on each side of the road is not only for slow traffic going the correct way, it's also nearly equally for slow traffic going the wrong way. Because left turns take a lot of skill and luck, people will avoid them by driving on the wrong side of the road for awhile. Add to that the people walking in the street, the people stopping their cars at random locations to chat to the people walking on the street, the barracades sprinkled along the roads and the double and triple parking, and you start to get the picture. While you frequently have to travel relatively slowly, as soon as there's an opening you're expected to speed up to 130-140 kph (around 80-85 mph). It's hell on the brakes and engine, but hey, it's a rental car.

Driving on the side streets is, if anything, worse. Though the odds of a catastrophic accident are lower due to lower speeds, the odds of a fender bender must be much greater. More than once I've actually had to fold in the mirrors to drive down the streets avoiding parked and slowly traveling cars.

Driving here is certainly not for the faint of heart or the non-aggressive, but the payoff for being a confident, good driver is so much higher than in the States---traffic laws are enforced only by natural selection; you don't have police unnaturally selecting against efficient drivers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

USA v Brazil

[guest post by Ryan]

Since our hotel's satellite went down today, Cori and I are at a nearby sheesha bar where they have an enormous projection TV set up for the big USA v Brazil FIFA Confederations Cup final due to begin in 10 minutes. This is huge---the first time the USA has ever played for a major FIFA championship. Of course we're the huge underdogs, but we were last time too against Spain. The 3rd place game earlier today (South Africa v Spain) was a thriller---hopefully this one will be too. While the commentary is in Arabic, it's kind of fun since the only words we routinely understand are "Gol" and "Kaka" (the latter being the name of one of the Brazilian attackers).

I may update this post with commentary as the game progresses (or maybe not, depending on how engrossed I get).


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lebanese Shepard Dogs

[guest post by Ryan]

I never thought I'd muzzle a bear until I met a 110-pound (about---he was too big for our scales) monster of a dog today. He had enormous, powerful jaws and a disposition that left a little to be desired (to be fair, he was being approached by three strangers carrying a leash, a muzzle and needles). But we got the job done with no problems.

While that dog was extraordinary, the shepards' dogs here in Lebanon are all large, powerful, not fond of humans and many have fairly long hair (alpine meadows get cold---we were sampling in the shadows of some mountains that still have snow on them in late June). I've had to use all my dog handling prowess learned over the course of sampling several hundred dogs previously to avoid direct bites and other damage. This is in stark contrast to the dogs in Qatar who were all well-socialized since they were shelter dogs. But we've been able to sample just about every dog we've been able to leash here in Lebanon, a testament to Cori's, my and Mounir's prowess with mammal handling (Mounir is a mammologist who frequently works with wild animals). One dog bit through a leash in 3 bites and then almost bit through the 2nd leash we got around it despite our best efforts.

Still, these have been some very cool dogs. They have been very healthy (in sharp contrast to the dogs in many places), they seem very good at what they do (guarding sheep), they are beautiful animals and they seem very confident and happy with their lives.

I'd love to write more about Lebanon and the dogs here, and to post pictures, but that will have to wait until we find a faster internet connection. Plus it's Saturday night in the most happening city in the Middle East and I don't want to spend it just in a loud internet cafe.

Does your summer job involve searching yourself for fleas?

Apologies for the sudden silence--while our hotel in Qatar had very convinient internet, our connection here is both slow and not in the hotel, so we've unfortunately had to blog slightly less obsessively. This is actually a real shame as Lebanon has been an amazing country so far.

We arrived safely Wednesday night and Ryan got to work on his aggressive driving skills. Rules of the road are decidedly optional here, and I say that as someone who just came from Qatar after having their car hit. Otherwise, after Qatar, Lebanon is wonderfully warm personally and cool temperature-wise. You can definitely tell it's on the Mediterranean Sea, in no small part because every part of Beruit and its suburbs seems to be positioned for an ocean view from the top of a hill. But even without the views--the food is wonderful and central in the way it ought to be in a good country on the Med--our collaborator here, Mounir Abi Said, has been trying to expose us to as many different Lebanese foods as possible, and knows what is the most delicious everywhere. We've also had a wonderful home cooked meal with him and his family, and were treated to awesome goat's meat pastries and fresh picked cherries in the Beqqa Valley yesterday.

Mounir has also been incredibly good at helping us find interesting shepherd's dogs in remote locations. He's worked previously with many of the shepherds in the valley and so they've all been super helpful in part as a favor to him. We have insane pictures that we'll upload as soon as the internet situation improves of us in the middle of picturesque meadows in the Lebanese mountains, surrounded by sheep, Lebanese and Bedouin herders, their dogs (many of which look like my dog growing up--a husky-sheltie mix named Romeo), and our collaborators. Not a place I could've ever imagined being, but wonderfully beautiful and enjoyable. The only downside is that most of the goats, sheep, and dogs have fleas and ticks, which doesn't leave one with the cleanest feeling after sampling, but so far, we've not had any bad luck with them, touch wood. A shower after a day of sampling is one of the nicest things ever.

In any case, tomorrow is our day off and so we're hoping to do some touristy things like drive up to Tripoli. I'll tell more about the country after that, but after three days, I'm pretty sure that I'll want to come back and really relax instead of working: the food and scenery alone would make that worth it.


7 flights

7 time zones

42 traveling hours

11,599 miles

5 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)

3 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Hello to any new readers coming by here via Pharyngula! Welcome!

Today is our last day in Qatar, and we'll be spending it packing up and shipping samples home. Lucky for us, this leaves us some time to address some of the issues discussed in the comments here. Therefore, without further ado, Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Have you ever been bitten?
Nope. Neither of us has ever been bitten, nor has any of the assistants or dog owners who help with the project. While Ryan and I both have pre-exposure rabies shots as a precaution, it's never been an issue. Any dogs that aren't well-socialized pets, or any pets showing any signs of aggression, we muzzle. Ryan and I were both trained in how to do this safely and we have dog handling gloves (big thick un-bite-through-able gloves) for extreme cases. Ryan's pretty adept at getting a muzzle on just about any dog so long as no one gets in his way, but we like our 0 bites record more than we like a perfectly unbiased sample. We think first about keeping people safe, and then consider trying to get as interesting as a sample (ie, with both aggressive and calm dogs) as possible. So far, we have far more trouble getting blood from shy or skittish dogs than mean ones. A mean dog you can get behind with a muzzle--a shy dog is off and running before you even get out of the 4x4.

2. What about cats?
Alright, I know that no one was really asking this question over in the comments, but we actually get it a lot, particularly in Muslim countries, where dogs are considered bad luck or dirty. Cat domestication is in general pretty well understood to have occured in the Middle East, and there's a lot fewer questions that we're interested in that can be addressed with them in terms of shared history with human beings. Also, we're just not cat people.

3. What about the really interesting dogs I saw in [insert country here]?
Tell us about them! We're always fascinated by the diversity of pups we see around the world and are also interested in breed formation in general. Not only do we sample village dogs, we're also always on the look out for interesting "local breeds." Some places do have very distinct dogs, like the Armanti dogs from a village outside Luxor in Egypt, built like wire-haired afghan hounds with slightly furnished (ie, mustacioed) muzzles.

4. What about other ways of getting DNA?
Blood is particularly awesome, because it's pretty easy (you try cheek swabbing a pissed off village dog) and also managable to stabilize. We are banking this DNA for future study whenever possible, so stability is important.

5. Have you heard about the domestication experiements with silver foxes?
Yes, we have! This was actually one of the studies that got Ryan and I interested in domestication in the first place. In fact, because of this study, we pay particular attention to pedomorphic traits like floppy ears and indicators of domestication like white patches of hair on the forehead and chest.

6. Have you heard about testing dogs for breeds using DNA?
Yes, and use similar methodology to ensure that we don't wind up looking at dogs whose genes have gone through a breed bottleneck.

7. How do you get the dogs?
It depends on the country. In Uganda and Namibia, we pulled up to random villages, had translators explain what we were trying to do, and people came out of the woodwork with their dogs. It's apparently quite a spectacle to see a dog weighed in a goat sling on a fish scale. In Egypt and Qatar, we worked mainly with local animal welfare organizations. These are great places to work, as they have very enthusiastic staff used to dealing with animals and the animals themselves are often better socialized than most pariah dogs. In Luxor, Egypt, we worked with Animal Care in Egypt (ACE), a charity that provides free veterinary care to animals of all shapes and sizes, but particularly the horses and donkeys that work in Luxor's tourist industry. In Qatar we've been working with Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS), a great organization that houses a really ridiculous number of dogs and cats. Both of these organizations are incredibly supportive of animal welfare under really tough conditions, and have also been really supportive of our science. The people at ACE and QAWS all work their butts off every day of the week, and they took time to help out a couple of random grad student researchers on top of their already very full schedules. They more than deserve any support anyone can throw their way, and we're proud to have been able to donate to them through this project.

Okay. I think that's enough for now. Other questions, such as the ever important "How did you guys wind up doing this?" will be addressed in later posts.

As a final note, while we would be quite jealous of us if we weren't doing this with our summer, really, we're not trying to brag about what we do. We're proud of our ability to do it, but mostly we're just really grateful that our wonderful collaborators have given us this opportunity, and really, really, really excited to be able to travel the world and meet loads of amazing dogs and even more amazing people.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why are we sampling village dogs?

This is a guest post by Ryan.

One of the questions we frequently get is why we are taking blood from mostly unwanted, "village" or "pariah" dogs. These questions come from those who have a real interest in the science and those that just dislike dogs and can't imagine anyone would be interested in them, let alone in unbred street dogs. For the purposes of this post, I'll assume readers fall in the former group. First, let's start with the basic theoretical justification.

For the moment, ignore the 15,000 years ago bit. What we know is that dogs are most related to Eurasian grey wolves and therefore were domesticated from them, presumably somewhere in Eurasia. Sometime in the past, when dogs were intially domesticated, a population of wolves became dogs through either selective breeding by humans or "self-domestication", where some wolves started to hang around human settlements, presumably surviving on their trash. Over time some of these wolves became less afraid of humans and became so specialized in their habits that they essentially stopped interbreeding with wild wolves (though dogs, wolves and coyotes can all still interbreed). Now, we have no idea how large this population of proto-dogs was, but we do know that it was probably much larger than the number of dogs used to start most modern breeds ~200 years ago (most breeds were founded by about a half dozen sires and maybe a dozen females).

After initial domestication, dogs probably lived "breed-less" lives as human commensals (hanging around humans, not really helping or harming them but living off their trash) for many thousands of years. During this time, dog populations quickly expanded and spread across the globe. In the last few hundreds of years, several hundred dog breeds were formed from local dogs in many parts of the world; these breed dogs have entirely replaced the non-breed "indigenous" dogs in some parts of the world, notably in Western Europe and the USA. However, most dogs throughout the world still live their lives as non-breed, indigenous, commensal dogs. We refer to these dogs as "pariah" or "village" dogs. They tend to be smallish (25-40 pounds), often tan, short-haired dogs, though the type varies a bit according to the region you're in. The important point is that these dogs have not undergone the intense genetic bottleneck associated with breed formation. Thus, while breed dogs have only a small subset of the total genetic diversity of all dogs, it is likely that village dogs have a much greater range of the total diversity. Thus, they are very useful for looking at the original domestication event. They are informative of the original genetic bottleneck that led to the formation of domestic dogs many thousands of years ago.

By sampling village dogs from across the world, we get an idea of how diverse these dogs are in different regions of the globe. Then, we can look for patterns in the amount of diversity. Specifically, we look for a region with very high genetic diversity and then look for the surrounding regions to have gradually less and less diversity as it gets further away. This is what is seen in humans, with the highest diversity seen around Ethiopia and diversity decreasing gradually as one moves further and further away from Ethiopia. That's how we know modern humans evolved there. The idea is that the region where a species formed will start out with all the diversity of that species. As some animals move away from that site and colonize other areas, they bring with them only a subset of the total diversity. Then as animals move even further away from the site of origin, they take with them only a subset of a subset of the diversity, and so on. This is why breed dogs are not useful for uncovering the site of origin of domestic dogs: all modern breeds across the world have only a tiny subset of the total diversity seen in all dogs, so it's hard to compare them and know that you're seeing an effect of the origin domestication and colonization events and not some artifact of recent breeding.

In future posts I'll explain more about the controversy over how long ago dogs were domesticated and cover other aspects of the science behind our research, but I have to leave now to collect more samples.

Conspicuous consumption?

[guest post from Ryan]

So don't get me wrong---Doha is not nearly so bad as Dubai for conspicuous consumption and men trying to building the tallest buildings and largest man-made islands and hotels with the most stars, etc. However, there are a lot of very nice gas-guzzlers on the road and people (at least the Qataris) have some very nice things. One sign of the opulence: when using the "Fast Cash" option at the ATM, one of the amounts you can take out of the bank is $1400. They basically don't even bother with having currency in denominations less than $0.30.

Qatar in four photos

My first stamp in my new passport. Note that Arabic numerals are not actually the numbers they use in Arabic speaking countries. That top row of pen is written in the modern numbering system in Arabic and says 542-9179735

Ryan and I stand in front of the Museum of Islamic Art. I'm not wearing the scarf because it's required (although it does attract less attention than my very blond hair) but because the sun was bearing down on us and a white thing on your head keeps you cool. Also because it makes me feel a bit like a movie star, which is never a bad thing.

One of the things I found most interesting is that very little in the collections is just art for the sake of art--there aren't loads of paintings or even tapestries or sculpture. A few, but it's maybe 15% of the extensive collections on display. There is, however, a ton incredibly intricate and and gorgeous functional art--carpets, lanterns, doors, ceilings, tiles bowls, helmets, Qur'ans, and a whole room full of scientific instruments. All of these were both recognizable as art and absolutely amazing in the level of intricacy displayed, even in the earliest pieces. It's fitting then that the museum itself is a work of art. This is a picture of the main atrium--the star motif is used throughout--even in the shape of the building itself, if you look at google earth.

And, of course, as always, dogs:

That's our assistant Yehia on the left, and this is Ryan with Pipette, a very friendly stray puppy found some distance away, who was quite happy to donate a bit of her blood.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A 4:25am thought...

Don't ask me why I'm up at this hour; my body won't tell me either.

One strange thing that always startles me the first time I see it: cell phone etiquette in developing countries. I suppose Qatar only barely falls into that category, but the cell phone manners are the same. I've yet to see anyone ever turn of their cell phone ringer, or refuse to interrupt a given conversation and call a person back, or otherwise acknowledge that a conversation in person might be more important than a conversation on the phone. I'm sure this has something to do with the fact that nearly all cell phones overseas are prepaid, and you don't get charged if someone calls you, only for calls you make.

Still, it takes some getting used to to see people talking on cell phones in nice-ish restaurants, and everywhere else as well. Who wants to eat a meal where you spend half the time either on your own phone or waiting for your dining partner to hang up? Shrug. Bizarre.

In Doha

This is a guest post by Ryan.
Apologies for the delay in posting; jet lag, sampling and exploring have taken all our time lately. I've finally found some time to write this post---at 3AM!
First things first, we've now collected nearly two dozen dog samples in Qatar, with more sampling arranged for Monday and Tuesday. Sampling your first few dogs is a very nice feeling; at least we know the trip will be at least a partial success! The street dogs here generally look and act much like salukis, an ancient desert-dwelling breed whose spindly body fits the climate here (humid, 115 degrees F and sunny every day with lows somewhere in the 90s during the summer). It will be interesting to compare these dogs to other Middle Eastern street dogs and to American salukis. We will write much more about the dog project and the science behind it as time goes on, but for the moment I think I'll use my time to talk a bit more about the travel.

The trip over here was a gruelling 24-hour (32 with the time differnece) affair during which we saw the sun set twice from plane seats high above two different continents. To make a long story short, a clerical error forced us to fly this leg on less-convenient and much less comfortable American carriers (Gulf carriers know how to treat their passengers). The lack of free alcohol, the poor entertainment system and the uncomfortable seats limited my sleep, though it arguably increased my productivity. I started out trying to watch Coraline but for some reason it was not working on that flight so I tried the next-best Bride Wars next (sad but true). After twenty minutes I couldn't take it anymore and got to completing a review for a journal that was due within a couple days. It was one of those papers that clearly involved a lot of long-term data but was plagued by problems in its theoretical development and data interpretation. It's the kind of paper that is all too often written, and all too often published, in primatology. Hopefully my review can help produce a stronger, more meaningful contribution.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Doha via Riyadh we were on Lufthansa which meant free drinks and more entertainment options---Meerkat Manor and Discovery Channel specials all the way!
Instead of giving a play-by-play for our trip to Doha, I think I'll just list some of the highlights so I can get to bed soon.

  • The first morning we walked at 7am for an hour and wound up drenched in sweat even at that hour.
  • Doha is nice in a bustling-but-not-overly-so, rapidly-expanding-but-with-some-forethought way. The city is clearly alive (but not overwhelmingly so, like Cairo) and is incredibly multicultural: more than half of the people in Qatar are not local Qataris (this results in some amazing ethnic food being available). People dressed in traditional robes freely mingle with Westerners, Indians and other Muslims from around the world. While conservative dress is expected and the sexes are frequently segregated (e.g. many restaurants will not serve women, or will only serve them in special “Family” rooms), it usually doesn't feel oppressive. Women can and do hold jobs, drive (since 1995) and there is a vibrant free press (it is, for example, the headquarters of Al Jazeera). It's also a fully welfare state with very high per capita income and decent income distribution parity.
  • Our first rental car's air conditioning died, so we had to use windows and frequent rehydration for one day before we could trade the car for a new one.
  • Shortly after getting our second rental car, on our way to sample dogs, we were involved in an accident. Another car left its lane in the middle of traffic circle and hit directly into us (we were in its blind spot and the driver never looked). On the bright side it was a fairly minor accident; we both drove away to the traffic police, spent an hour filling out paperwork, swiped our credit card to pay a processing fee and we were back on our way, albeit having lost half of our sampling time because the shelter is only open from 4-6pm.
  • We drove all the way to the tip of the Qatari peninsula---nearly an hour's drive! One can cross the whole country north-south in about 1.5-2 hours and east-west in about 45 minutes. The scenery doesn't change much though; a lot of beige with the scattered small tree every now and then. It did give us a chance to take our 4x4 off-road on the beach and see our first Qatari wildlife, a recently deceased large lizard.
  • All the bulidings here are the same shade of sand beige (except one very pink house we saw).
  • If you should ever want to adopt a dog (or cat, donkey, chicken, guinea fowl or just about any kind of animal imaginable) in Qatar, QAWS is the place to do it. They have a very nice volunteer staff and do wonders to help unwanted and maltreated animals here. In general, Qatar has very few dogs as most Muslims do not like to keep dogs.
  • The Islamic Art Museum in Doha is awesome and free. They even give you a golf cart ride from your car to the entrance and back. The architecture (like many buildings in Doha, including Cornell's medical school) is interesting and, in this case, gorgeous. The museum is very under-utilized resulting in a very pleasant, unrushed experience. The art is amazing; intricately designed vessels, rugs, Qarans and other artifacts from across the Muslim world, stretching from Spain and Morocco to India and spanning 1400 years.

Well, there's much I could say, but I think I should go to sleep now. Just one more thing: go USA! We've miraculously made it to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup---we watched the last game versus Egypt in a sheesha restaurant here.

Cumulative stats:

6 flights

6 time zones

36 traveling hours

10,469 miles

4 countries (counting all landings and time spent on the ground at all)

2 countries (counting only those countries we left the airport)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cause for celebration...

...they revised the high forecasted for Doha, Qatar for while we're there--instead of a high of 115 degrees F every day, it should only be 110 degrees F. Woo hoo!

Monday, June 15, 2009

In which the adventure begins.

Ryan and I took our first flight segments of the summer (of the year?) on Friday, flying from Sacramento to Salt Lake City to St. Louis. That alliterative journey logged us two flight segments, three time zones (on the ground), about twelve traveling hours (counting from when we left for the airport and then arrived home), and 1,975 miles. Thus begins this summer's journey. We'll keep track of similar stats at the end of posts from now on.

Moving out of our cute house in California was an adventure on its own, in no small part because, with an inspection scheduled for Thursday morning, I woke up one week ago with the worst case of strep throat I've ever had. Because you know, moving with one-year-old Oisin was't gonna be crazy enough. My throat was so swollen I was worried about breathing (yes, probably an overreaction), I had a 103 degree F fever (chills and hallucinations oh my), and I could barely swallow liquids. Because of that last factor, I let myself get so dehydrated the gave me IV fluids, which, shockingly, are a great pick me up when you can't drink. After those, getting the fever under control, and some hefty meds for the pain, I was at least able to sleep, but I spent much of Tuesday out of commission while Ryan tried to pack the house and the incredibly gracious Ant 1 TA's finished my grading. Wednesday and Thursday were nutty, but thanks to wonderful friends and family helping us, we managed not to lose our whole deposit, get most of our stuff into a VERY full storage locker and pack the things we'd need (albeit rather chaotically) into bags for the flights Friday.

As for those flights, I gotta tell you, if I didn't love Oisin before, I would now. He's at an incredibly sweet age right now and I'm really having to work hard to supress the realization of how much I will miss him this summer. He slept the whole first flight after watching us take off, then peacefully and mostly quietly played the whole second one. Gearing up to be a great world traveller someday.

Now we're at our first base camp, Ryan's folks' place in southern Illinois. I'm sitting in a guest bedroom surrounded by field clothes, vaccutainers, backpacks, muzzles, toiletries, cameras, power adapters for the whole world, travel guides, and compression sacks. I'm packing most things first thing tomorrow morning, then making a trip to the mall for Oisin's one year portraits and a few last minute necessities. Ryan and I are both at the point where we're antsy. The last 48 hours before a the field are the weirdest mix of tempos--everything goes rushing by, but it still takes ages to get out the door...

'till next time.

Cumulative stats:
2 flights
3 time zones
12 traveling hours
1975 miles
1 country