Life in the Lab
I started my third week with a missed Monday morning metting. I did not oversleep, neither forgot about it. But I remembered the last week discussion about postponing the lab meetings a bit, being so sure there would be none until July 3. I was wrong and felt bad about it. Once Mrs. C said it was good I felt even worse but obviously could not do much about it.
It was a rather slow week caused by circumstances such as waiting for plants to grow (and glow), waiting for photography stuff to be ordered and delivered. However, I could still get involved in some task here and than: I helped D transferring plants from plates to soil and from one kind of plates to another, I joined Big E to plant young rice seedlings with him and finally on Wednesday, I isolated DNA from 4 sample which was partially successful (50 %).
In the lab Tuesday night was a big moment as one of the photography projects entered its testing phase. While it looked promising after some testing, the first problems occurred as soon as the first night and grew bigger by Wednesday evening. Lots of troubleshooting will be required and to be honest, I am not quite sure where to start. However, both D and Mrs. C are very smart people and I am sure that thanks to them, we will be on the right track pretty soon. I hope so – I want to contribute some before my time in Raleigh fills up.
During this week, I apparently became sated with much slower working pace than I normally have to handle. Thus the risk of eventually getting bored got too high and I had to see Mrs. C and ask for some more tasks to work on. In her rich portfolio of currently ongoing projects, she found some nice tasks for me. They should provide me with chance to try something rather new to me as well as refresh stuff I have not done for several months. I am glad to see there is enough to do, so I can be kept busy in between taking pictures for the two projects I have got involved in so far.
Happened out of the Lab
As I stayed in the lab much longer than planned on Monday and as it again screwed any chances to go skating, I asked Mrs. C for permission to come later on Tuesday morning. She encouraged me to do so (“(…) but only let me know, so I am not worried”) and I appreciated her reaction very much. So, on Tuesday morning I got up as early as 6.15 am, hoping I would make it to lake Johnson, be back home in about two hours and would not come to the lab terribly late.
Being outside so early in the morning was very pleasant and there was even dew on the grass leaves – neither one I ever expected to happen in North Carolina. However, I never reached the lake’s shore because I was not able to find my way. After doing two circles through wetland just to show up on campus again, I gave up and decided to remain loyal to the portion of the Walnut Creek Trail that I liked so much the other day. My loyalty paid off greatly: 17 km of nice skating with only minor discomforts such as a few dark and little wet tunnels and a pile of sand in the middle of the trail. Little more serious issues were the three crossings of roads of which two were rather busy. Yet, I do not think that an “usual level of danger” was exceeded significantly. The best of all is that by far I have not reached the trail’s end, in fact, when I reach the Walnut Creek Wetland Center the next time, I will have to make a decision which branch to take from there.
Having an ongoing time-lapse project, reduces the time available for non-lab activities. Literally, plants have started ruling D’s and my lives. However, Friday brought a great compensation for any skating, photographing or even grocery shopping missed this week.
DAY OF THE WEEK: July 3 – Independence Day Observed
Even though it was technically a holiday, I still had to be in the lab from 7.30 AM to about 4.30 PM. Unfortunately, majority of my “free” time was sacrificed to flight tickets purchase, so it definitely was not one of my most productive days. However, what made this day special was my involvement in Independence Day festivity.
Mrs. C was so nice to invite me for her family’s Independence day celebration. Other than meeting her cute daughter I. and her parents, who came from Florida, I was also exposed to a variety of food – most of the time, funny or mysterious names were hiding meals I never had before. Here is the (hopefully) complete list of what somehow ended up on my plate in various amount:
- white and dark fried chicken
- sweet potato fries
- green beans
- fried fish (probably flounder)
- macaroni & cheese
- North Carolina authentic barbecue
- fried ocra
- pork rinds
- corn sticks
The dinner was such a culinary experience (probably one of the strongest in my life) that I cannot be satisfied with a plain list of dishes. Let me therefore comment each of them with a few sentences. Fried chicken – Mrs. C and Mr. R decided this might be the safest option for me and on top of that, it is supposed to be appropriate for this occasion. It was very tasty and it was plenty of food – I will not have to cook for a while as I was going back home with a box full of chicken. Sweet potato fries – vegetable of my choice 1 and an “official” part of my dinner. Why do they add sugar to potatoes that are sweet already? The more of it I ate, the more suspicious I was that there might have been some cinnamon, too. Green beans – vegetable of my choice 2 and the last “official” part of my dinner. I normally like them but not when prepared in an American way. I made this mistake a second time and I do not plan to repeat it any soon. Fried flounder fillet – a bite from I’s plate. I am not normally a fan of fish but this one was very very tasty. Macaroni & cheese – without having a tiniest chance to decide about the destiny of her food, they also originated from poor I’s portion. I was told this is a must of any US kid. Now I know what I missed because of growing up in Europe. Ribs – generously provided by Mrs. C herself. My suspicion that the meat was sour was correct. Barbecue – kindly provided by Mrs. C’s father. Mr. R (Mrs. C’s husband) has told me a lot about this local speciality, namely, how weird it is. Indeed, the vinegar they use to make the meat super tender could not be overlooked. While I sure was glad that I did not have to deal with the whole portion, it definitely was not as bad as I imagined it to be. Coleslaw – I have no idea whose food I was eating but from all what I tried that evening, it was the most similar food to anything Czech – the common cabbage used as a veggie side dish. Except for it was more sour. Fried okra – another food of not so clear origin, it might have been Mrs. C mother’s choice. I have not heard of this vegetable my entire life and than from all of the sudden, had it twice in only two weeks. The first time I encountered it was an Indian recipe and honestly, with all the spices, I was unable to tell how okra tastes like. I compensated for this imperfection this time and decided that I liked this pepper-like looking and cucumber-like tasting vegetable. Pork rinds – for a long time, I though that only Czech cuisine can utilize pretty much any part of the pig. However, now I know that there is a nation that makes puffy chips-like looking snack out of pig skin. Encouraged by I’s appetite for this one, I also dared to try a piece. If you manage to ignore its origin, it probably can go to the “tasty” category. Hushpuppies and corn sticks – probably somewhat similar in ingredients and both fried, I liked hushpuppies way better. I only need to do some research on the origin of the name.
When driving us there, Mrs. C described the place (Carolina Barbecue in Garner) as a dive (I had to ask for the meaning of this one) but I liked its interior very much. Fancy restaurants can be found all over the world but those with a special atmosphere are much more rare. To me, Carolina Barbecue was the proverbial needle in the haystack. Thanks to bunch of writings on the ceiling and signs and old (I have barely any history knowledge, yet imagine those posters were printed in early twentieth century or during the World Wars times at the latest) posters advertising chocolate, coffee etc., it looked so American!
The peak of the evening were supposed to be the fireworks. Unfortunately, the North Carolina showed me once more how cruel it can be when it comes to weather. By the time we reached the town of Fuquay-Varina, it started to be clear that the rainy weather forecast would be completely fulfilled. The rain caused some delay of the fireworks show beginning and also was a source of minor discomfort, yet I cannot really complain. We saw some fireworks before it good too smoky, we had a nice umbrella hiding place and while waiting for the show to start, I could practice my English skills on a variety of topics – from Czech tennis players, to beer drinking and beer making and to introduction to the US history. While driving there, Mrs. C also showed me the critical point on the bike trail when I try to reach lake Johnson the next time. It was very much appreciated and I hope it will make my next “search for the lake” easier.
I was dropped off back home rather late, feeling sleepy (and not far from the moment when little I. would not be the only sleeping passenger) but also well fed and very enriched. Today was definitely one of my best days in the USA and when I was finally falling asleep in my bed, I felt very grateful for a supervisor who cares not only for my laboratory experience but also for the cultural part of my stay here. I have to work super hard next way to pay her off.