Wednesday, September 12, 2012


 Its officially a girl!!!  (who would have thought..)  9lbs 5oz!!! Name?  We are thinking Rebecca Jane or Sarah Jane.  Emily is pushing for Erin Rose.  Any other suggestions?
 I am officially way outnumbered.  Everyone was very excited to see the baby.
 Except Emily, kinda.  She has mixed feelings about babies - she sees them as spit-up machines and is a little leery.
 She warmed up to this one though.
 Kate and Colleen really wanted to hold the baby.
 Aleah is happy to have someone else to snuggle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kind flight attendants from AirFrance

The first time I flew I was 19.  I was leaving the MTC and going to my mission in Nicaragua. The MTC rounded us up at like 3 or 4 in the morning to go to the airport and I was giddy from sleep deprivation and excitement.  I remember asking if I could trade seats for a window, fumbling with the seat belts, and the rush as the plane took off.  The flight attendant gave her safety schpeel and no one paid much attention.  I noticed they didn't pay much attention to take off either, or the view from the air.  I thought to myself - why, they could be on a bus on the ground, and they wouldn't notice the difference.  The flight attendant asked me about my upcoming mission and gave me a whole can of pop. It was awesome.

I have flown enough that I could give the safety talk in my sleep.  I no longer look out the window, much. And there is so much about flying that is annoying and frustrating.  I hate security and getting to the airport early and then waiting for the flight.  Taking off my shoes makes me irate. Airline employees have become surly and impatient.  They don't feed you anymore and I swear the seats are getting closer together.  People try to shove their over-sized carry-ons to avoid paying over-priced baggage fees.  A TSA employee once confiscated my bike lock and my bicycle patch kit -". . because those two ounces of glue are flammable and I could hit someone with that lock," he said.

Flying with AirFrance was actually enjoyable.  They served nice meals - I had pasta with chicken on the flight to France with brie and a cup custard.  On the return flight, I had beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, Camembert, and chocolate cake. The flight attendant saw that I had finished my cheese and still had bread, so he brought me another sliver of cheese - so it could all come out even.  On the way back I felt quite ill - the first time I have thrown up on a flight.  The plane didn't have turbulence, but seemed to roll like it was at sea and not 30,000 ft.  They were kind enough to let me stand in the back near the restrooms most of the flight and patted me sympathetically and never asked me to sit down, just if there was anything they could get me to help me feel better.

The highlight was on the flight from Clermont-Ferrand to Paris.  Two young sisters were flying alone to Paris.  The oldest seemed to be around 10 years old and was terrified. She gripped the seat and cried as the plane started to take off.  One of the flight attendants sat in the aisle next to her and held her hand.  He joked with her and wiped her tears.  When the drink cart came by he asked the woman across the aisle to hold her hand for him.  What what impressive was how this act of kindness changed the rest of the flight.  Other passengers patted the attendant on the back as we got off the plane and thanked him.  It made me think.

I usually talk to the people I sit next to on a plane, but this time I really met some interesting people and had fascinating conversations:

Claire - Ex-Pat from Halifax - 10 yrs in Clermont.  Husband researches health and safety of chemicals used in tire production.  She doesn't speak much french, most friends are expats.  Two children, back in Halifax.  They will retire back in Canada.  She told me about so many people react to her because of Anne of Green Gables. She met a Japanese woman once on a plane that wept with joy as she talked about Anne of Green Gables.

Lebanese biologist/investor.  Startups with genomics data. Has lived in Detroit most of his life.

Fatima - Sick woman from Palestine, scared and worried about the trip and treatment.  Doctors were meeting her at the airport.

Alaia - Financial grad.  First new job at Dubai Aluminum going to visit sister in US.  Loves rural Ohio, the nature.  Compared Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai is apparently way more fun.

Math professor - conference in Germany on kernel density estimations.  People often tell him about how hard proofs are.  His son is very americanized.

Victoria - Argentine.  Her father helped discover Mal de Rio Cuarto Virus and I am pretty sure that I spoke with him when we were planning our trials in Sampacho.  He helps with the trials each year.  She works for IA state finishing masters in public health at vet school.  Came back from visiting her sister in EU.

Shaimaa - Egypt.  Research Associate for Pioneer- Dupont in France.  Daughter is 4, beautiful curly hair. She came for training at headquarters.

Patrick - South Africa. son Sean, divorced. His wife is a vice president for a company in Des Moines.  He had begged her to have a family, but she never was comfortable with it.  Sean was a hoot, playing video games on his iPhone.  6 yrs old.  Computer programmer that used to work for Monsanto as a contractor.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Plant Biomechanics Conference and visit to France

This was the view from my hotel room in Clermont-Ferrand.  It is a relatively small town in the center of France.  
Compared to the US, everything is old.  The cathedral was built in the 1300s - 700 years this street has been pretty much the same.

The city has an electric monorail as well as buses for public transportation.  The funny thing about this tram is that it has bus tires as well as the track. Someone told me it was because they make Michelin tires here.

The even older Basilica had great stained glass windows and downspouts that looked like crying people.
The building across from the Basilica was built in the 1200s also and had the original fresco of an elephant still on the outside.  It is faded and the back half of the elephant appears to be missing, but for something 800 years old, on the outside of a building, amazing. 

I bought my breakfast here on the way to the conference.  This is exactly what Huxley needs for a shop - somewhere to get fresh produce, milk, cheese, bread, and a wide selection of French pastries.

Here are some of the people I met at the conference.  It was on plant biomechanics and had a diverse mix of engineers, physicists, and botanists.  I was the only plant breeder and Doug and I were the only ones working on corn - or even grasses.  There were a lot of tree biologists and some Arabidopsis folks looking at cell wall mechanics or specific mutants.  It was very international - French, German, Austrian, Russian, Finnish, Chinese, Japanese, Argentine, and American researchers.  One guy joked that at least his research wasn't funded by an evil corporation like Monsanto - on his first slide.  The guy on the right in this photo is Dmitri - a Russian scientist that kind of latched onto Doug and I.  I think we ate every meal together.  He was full of stories about the Russian and Belgian research organizations. Doug brought two potential post docs to the meeting and the French woman knew the town and took us to a tiny restaurant called "Le Petit Grille" that was probably the best food I ate in France.  
The last few days I rented a car and drove to Peyrehorade where there is a Monsanto breeding station.  It was a six hour drive through the mountains to get there and the rental place gave me a GPS that only worked in French.  It was an adventure, especially before I figured out the french words for right and left.  (A la gauche - to the left, A la doite - to the right).  I got very lost close to Peyrehorade because they were repairing the bridge and I had to ask at a farmhouse for directions.  I mimed where I wanted to go and she drew me a confusing map with lots of handwaving to explain where to go at each landmark.  But I got there. My colleagues were mostly on vacation, but Romain and Pierre came in from vacation to meet with me.  Both were Basque and were excited to show me the Basque country.  Romain took me to San Sebastian in Spain for tapas for dinner and drove me all over the French basque country.