Friday, February 24, 2012

Flash Fiction: Inspired by Callie Leuck

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Shadows crept across the wall--sinuous tendrils elongating, pursuing each other.  One grows darker, more ominous, its black maw gapes open and devours the other, briefly burning an amorphous image into the matte paint.  It seems to gag and a small lump crawls its way from the depths and emerges...a bunny rabbit.  Mary giggles at her older sister’s antics.  Lyssa puts a finger to her lips, a reminder they were supposed to be asleep. 

They take turns, Lyssa shaping her sister’s hands--helping her form dogs and ducks against their makeshift storyboard.  Together, they weave a silly shadow play, which Mary narrates in a lisping whisper.  Eyes gleaming, she wends a tale about a swan princess vanquishing a vain dragon. 

The tiny swan timidly tiptoes into the dragon’s lair.  Inching closer, she distracts him by complimenting his scales.  When close enough, she stuffs ice in his open mouth.  The dragon splutters and immediately keels over, fainting from an ice-cream headache!

Their silent laughter jars the flashlight, which clatters under the bed.  Wide-eyed and somber-faced,  Lyssa scrambles up the bunk beds.  The girls dive under covers, feigning sleep. The door opens, orange light from the hallway washes the walls, and everything faded.  


Rules of this flash fiction challenge: Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format. Begin the story with the words, “Shadows crept across the wall”. These five words are included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), do one or more of these:

end the story with the words: "everything faded." (also included in the word count)
include the word "orange" in the story
write in the same genre you normally write
make your story 200 words exactly!

I like it! It took longer than I thought it would, but it is the first piece of fictional writing I have done in a loooooong time. It was hard to get started, and I thought I would never get to 200 words...then by the end I was at 400 and had to pare it down! What a challenge! Thanks Callie, this is a great step forward for me to have written something just for the challenge of writing again. It feels good great to stretch my writer's brain and strive for something interesting, while wrestling with lots of boundaries that keep me from including superfluous flowers in my sentences.

What About You? Have you/do you write fiction in any form? What is your favorite genre of fiction to read?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Many people give things up for Lent, but this year I'm thinking of doing things a little differently.  In past years I have given up numerous things: meat, chocolate, candy, coke, and the like.  Giving them up made me a grumpier, less-likeable me...that is not what Lent is about.

This Lent, my plan is to incorporate into my life that which brings me closer to the best version of me.  I am not sure everything this entails, as I am sure that some of the things I choose to do will come to me during the course of the Lenten season.  However, I do know a few things right off the bat that I am going to try to do better:  I am going to go to mass every Sunday instead of the ones where I am not too busy with work.  I am going to pray more for myself and others, especially the people who make me angry.  I will get enough sleep.  I will try to always see the positive side of things, even on the worst days.  I will argue less and hug more.  I will learn to (correctly) pray the rosary and try to make it a habit.

So many people see Lent as a season of denial, of sacrifice, of suffering, and of waiting.  While it is these things, it is also a season of awakening, of wonder, of forgiveness, and of becoming something better than we were.  Moving toward the best version of ourselves.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

FLYing High

I mentioned FlyLady in my "mission statement", as my friend Callie dubbed my first post. Today I want to share some of her methods and what they've done for me.

First things first, when you start following Marla's (FlyLady's) system you become a FLYbaby.  FLY stands for "finally loving yourself".  FlyLady's motto is jump in where we are and do what you can, don't try to catch up (which I have to admit is hard sometimes, but if you try to catch up you will probably get burned out and it won't work for you).  She insists you start small until you've established good habits, then work your way into the routines (it's not overwhelming at all if you follow her advice!) it's all about babysteps, babysteps, babysteps!

Once you establish good habits you begin working through the routines that she posts online, which are often in a specific zone (master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc), most of them take less than 15 minutes a day, and if they take longer you can just stop when fifteen minutes is up!  The best part is there are online support systems for those who follow the system (I use the facebook support page), and you can share your triumphs and follies with other FLYbabies like yourself (who often have tips and praise for you when you need it).

This system is so focused on being reasonable and on the big things in life: time for yourself and your family.  It has made me realize I am not alone in my battle against clutter, sentimentalism, and time!  It reminds me to take time to pamper myself, to make myself relax and do something just for me...even if it is read a book and have a cup of tea, or something simple to just take a second away from it all.

I started using the system when I moved to Pennsylvania, and I have gotten rid of so much clutter (things that do not fit/do not wear/duplicates of things/paper clutter)!  I went through my bathroom and found I had probably ten (or more!) tubes of lotion!  I promptly gave away the ones I would not use and organized the others from smallest to largest and started using them.  I will NOT buy anything until I can see feasibly running out in the next week, lol.

I have even begun implementing the FlyLady cleaning style into my laboratory at work and it is making a HUGE difference in everyone's ability to find what they are looking for as well as have enough space to do their work.  And it just looks brighter and more organized, which makes me

What About You?  How do you like to pamper yourself after a rough day?  What do you do to keep your living space nice for yourself/guests?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Caterpillar Week!

Okay, for those of you that do not know...I work as a Research Technologist in an entomology lab, and I work with gypsy moth caterpillars.  These cute little guys:

Gypsy Moth Caterpillar (Lymantria dispar) ©Pawel Bieniewski

This week, a very knowledgeable and friendly, past-technician visited the university to train me in a some new techniques, as well as familiarize me with techniques I had seen but was not very familiar with.  There were some long days and nothing seemed to work quite like we wanted (the themes of the week were: hindsight is 20/20 and everything takes longer than you expect the first time).  Despite these small setbacks, I learned a LOT! Some of the techniques we went through were: freezing and thawing cell lines, ways to determine the titre of a virus (we did plaque assays and endpoint dilutions), infecting cell lines with baculovirus, obtaining virus from cells and caterpillars, dissecting caterpillars and recognizing organs, the function of the LdMNPV (Lymantria dispar multicapsid nuclear polyhedrosis virus) the baculovirus we are studying, and I got to show off my cool new skill of operating the TEM microscope to view some of the virions.

Gypsy Moth were introduced to Massachusetts in 1869 by those who were trying to crossbreed it with the asian silkworm, which was not thriving in the North American climate.  Lacking natural predators, the gypsy moth quickly spread through the Eastern coast and have had a few major outbreaks leading to tree defoliation, especially in Pennsylvania (where I now live and work!). I have heard that in years where the outbreaks are bad, when the gypsy moth larvae hatch they literally rain from the sky (the neonates engage in a behavior called ballooning which is when they let out a thread of silk and let the air carry them, this is an attempt to spread out the population and reduce competition for food and space).  

BEWARE ZOMBIE CATERPILLARS!  Not exactly, but close enough :).  It is both cool and a little unnerving...the baculovirus we are studying causes changes to the egt gene (the gene that involves climbing behaviors) in the infected larvae to make the larvae crawl up the tree when they are about to die from the virus and then the caterpillar bursts open and spreads the virus over the widest possible area to increase virus proliferation...very cool, but weird...

Other neat things:  gypsy moth females are really large and flightless and thus the males have plumose antennae (the really fluffy feathery antennae in the second picture) which help them catch the pheromones of the females and track them down!

Attribution: ©entomart
One last thing I learned about some caterpillars (gypsy moth is one) in the entomology course I am sitting in on to learn more about insects, which are more amazing the more I learn about them, is that some plants when stressed by the damage caused by feeding caterpillars release a chemical which attracts a parasitoid wasp, which comes and lays an egg in the caterpillar.  This egg grows and uses the caterpillar as a food source until it is ready to hatch and then it breaks out of the caterpillar (killing it) and continues on its way.  This is the plant's natural pest control.  Awesome, if a little grisly, right?!

What About You?  What is your favorite insect and why?  Do you know something cool about insect behaviors or illnesses?  Feel free to ask any questions you might have about gypsy moth as well, I will do my best to answer them.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why I Started Blogging

First and foremost, this blog is for me.  It is for me to hold myself accountable for all the things I said I would do this year (lose five pounds, exercise more, learn new things, get out and about, and my progress as a FLYbaby) It is for me to keep in touch with those near and dear to me--not that I would say no to some new blog friends!  It is for me to get back in touch with my inner writer and write about a variety of things, in a variety of styles.  It is for me to share what I am doing/learning/writing/reading with others who will find it funny/interesting/helpful/a good way to keep up with things in my life.  It is for me to broaden my horizons and become more knowledgeable about...well, anything and everything!

I was also tremendously inspired to try blogging by a few of my friends, whose blogs I read: who is a riot, as well as a writer extraordinaire and fantastic friend; who is a brilliant, scientific swing dancing friend with a flair for what tastes great; and who is a hard-working mom with lots of great craft ideas and ways to make your home look great!

I do not have a set schedule of postings yet.  I will be working on figuring out when I have time in my weeks to write in the first month.  I already have a few ideas of things I would eventually like to do with this blog (set up a few days each month that have set themes for postings/do an A-Z series of posts).

What About You?  Why did you start your blog/if you do not have a blog what would you write about if you did?  What are your favorite blogs to read?