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Honoring my mom through art

Honoring my mom through art

Since my mom passed away in April, I’ve been constantly reminded by how many lives she touched as an art teacher. So many students considered her a major influence on their life, even if they didn’t end up going to art school. I wanted to share an example of one of my mom’s favorite students, Surbhi Agarwal, who recently honored my mom in a wonderful way. Me and my mom were super close. We did everything together and I loved her very much. I remember when she first got the diagnosis, I decided to contact some Sydney granny flat builders, as having my mom live close to me would be ideal. It was a big decision to make but I know it was the right thing to do. A granny flat seemed like a sensible option in my opinion though and I think mom loved living in my garden. It was better than having her in a care home being looked after by random people.

In addition to being a wonderful artist, Surbhi is applying to medical school to be a cancer researcher. She founded All Things Pink, “an organization founded by young women, for young women, to empower them with the knowledge and resources to reduce the risk of breast cancer by implementing prevention, early detection, and awareness into all aspects of their life.” Even when my mom was bedridden and barely had the energy to use the computer, she made sure to personally go online and make a donation to Surbhi’s organization.

Surbhi used that donation to honor my mom in the most appropriate way – through art. She hosted an event where in addition to some information about breast cancer prevention, yoga, and some good wine, everyone painted. It was a mother-daughter event, so a number of families attended.


I want to close with this beautiful statement Surbhi wrote about my mom:

“Mrs. McCreight was not only my art teacher, but an amazing mentor and friend. Her contagious spirt, love for art, and creativity rubbed off on me and all of her other students. She taught me not only art, but the importance of passion and creativity in every aspect of my life. Even after spending two periods a day with her (one in regular art and one in honors art) I would make sure to visit her after school because those two hours were never enough time with her. She always put up with me with a big smile, and I never wanted to miss school because I couldn’t bear the thought of missing her class. The few months she was gone from school when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer were so dull and empty, and the day she came back everything seemed right again. She was so lively and happy, and she never once let us get even a glimpse of the hardship I knew she went through. Her strength and courage inspired me, and those values she instilled in me have gotten me through every difficulty that has come my way. Words can’t describe how much I miss her and the enormous impact she has had on my life.”


Hola, Puerto Rico

One of the perks of grad school is that I occasionally get to travel to some amazing destination that I couldn’t otherwise afford. It’s enabled me to travel to Alaska, Portland (back when Oregon was exotic to me), Dublin and by proxy Paris, and Moscow. …Okay, it was Moscow, Idaho, but close enough.

If you’d have told me at the beginning of grad school that I would have the opportunity to travel to some amazing destinations from all corners of the world, I’d never have believed you. I definitely think that something of that magnitude would be hard to believe. Even though I’ve traveled to some great places already, one destination remains on my list – Jamaica. I know that this is a stretch, but wouldn’t it be great? All of those beautiful beaches and accommodations, like these villas in jamaica are out of this world, and just being able to relax and unwind in this country is exciting to me. My friend went not so long ago and said that if my grad school ever gave me the opportunity to go, that I shouldn’t even hesitate in agreeing. But this hasn’t happened yet. I’m just trying to look forward though, as I have a brilliant destination to visit next.

My next grad school adventure is taking me to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in June. I’m giving a talk about my research for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which was a great conference when I attended in Dublin. I’ll be able to vacation in Puerto Rico for three days after the conference since my department doesn’t mind if you take personal days, as long as it doesn’t make the flight more expensive. I have read that Puerto Rico is the perfect destination for cheap solo travel (click here to see my source) so I am very excited to be able to explore and relax.

Considering they allow us to enjoy some vacation time while away on these trips, it’s making me want to give a talk at a conference in Costa Rica with these Guanacaste excursions catching my eye! I feel like I’ll want somewhere exotic again after I’ve spent some days in Puerto Rico.

So the big question is…what the heck do I do while I’m there? Other than sit on a beach sipping rum, of course, which is how I plan to spend at least half of my vacation time. I’ll already be hiking in the El Yunque rainforest, which is a trip organized by the conference. I’m excited because not only have I never visited a tropical rainforest before, but I get to do it with other nerdy evolutionary biologists. I’m also considering visiting the Arecibo observatory. Contact is my favorite movie of all time, so I feel like I kind of have to visit the gigantic telescope.

Do any of you have suggestions on what I should check out? I’m still debating if I’ll stick around San Juan, or if I’ll rent a car and be more adventurous. I will be traveling alone, so I don’t know how brave I’ll be about heading to the opposite side of the island or a totally different all together. But if you’ve been to Puerto Rico, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Heartland is Heartless

One thing hasn’t changed since I last blogged – my home state of Indiana is still completely terrible. A federal judge ordered Indiana to recognize the out-of-state same sex marriage of a couple with one terminally ill individual. Indiana, showing it’s true Christian love and compassion, has asked the judge to put a stay on the ruling and also has filed a formal appeal. Because allowing one lesbian couple to be recognized as a couple is one too many for this bigoted state.

The Indiana attorney general’s office said in court documents that recognition of the couple’s marriage now could raise false hopes for others because courts might eventually uphold the state’s gay marriage ban.

“The traditional definition of marriage has been around for a long time. Its validity is hotly contested, but the outcome of these legal disputes is uncertain,” the state said in its request for a stay.

So let me get this straight. Indiana doesn’t want to get false hope to LGBT couples, because it knows it’ll be the one personally squashing their hopes. How…considerate? And don’t even get me started on the outcome being uncertain. If you look at the wave of states legalizing gay marriage and the fact that the majority of Americans now support gay marriage, and you don’t see the inevitability of the whole situation, you’re in denial.

This case makes me sad on a personal level. Again, the couple is from my home town of Munster, Indiana (what are the odds?). Not only that, but the woman is dying of stage four ovarian cancer, which is what my mom passed away from. Watching my mother slowly waste away and have her life destroyed by this horrible disease was so painful to watch. Her only solace was having her family around her and knowing we would be well taken care of when she was gone. I can’t even imagine dealing with that nightmare while also wondering if you’ll be able to visit each other in the hospital or receive any death benefits to support your children.

But good job, Indiana. Because you stuck by your “values,” you’ve managed to make a dying woman’s last months of life even worse, a truly impressive feat. A couple of years from now when gay marriage is legalized everywhere and you’re dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, I’m sure your decision will be completely worth it.

2014 is going to be a great year for video games

It seems like every week I hear an announcement for yet another amazing video game that’s going to be released this year. I thought 2013 was good with the Civ5: Brave New World expansion, the X-COM: Enemy Within expansion, Pokemon X&Y, and Fire Emblem Awakening…but it’s going to get even better!

The good thing about most of these video games is that they can be played almost anywhere, such as on a PlayStation or Xbox, as well as computers, which could still be as popular as ever. Plus, people looking to play a game on a console or platform they don’t own can get something like a PSemuX Download and enjoy gaming on their PC. I also relish in the thought that children in ten years will still be playing these games. The proof is in games such as Mario Kart 64 which are being downloaded from sites like Gamulator to this day. For computer gamers, I would recommend that you have a look for the best video game graphics to ensure that your gaming experience with these new adventures is truly one to remember. So, what do we have to look forward to this year?

  • Final Fantasy X HD Remaster: Okay, I know, this technically isn’t a new game. I played this back in high school, and I’m currently playing through it with Sean (who has played pretty much every Final Fantasy but this one). Man, do the updated graphics look amazing. The game always had beautiful worlds and fantastic looking monsters, but now it’s absolutely gorgeous. So gorgeous that we still haven’t disabled the five minute long aeon summon intros. I technically never finished FFX – like most RPGs, I got to the final dungeon, took a break, and then couldn’t figure out where I was or what I was doing and gave up. But this time I’m committed to seeing the ending! But even though I know the plot, it’s still a lot of fun watching Sean’s reactions as we play. Watching him go through the rite of passage of stupendously failing at Blitzball was pretty satisfying (sorry, Sean).
  • Peggle 2: I still don’t quite understand why this game is so addictive, but it is.
  • Tropico 5: My first Tropico game was actually Tropico 4, so I’m a newcomer to the series. But I instantly fell in love with planning out my cities and what industries would support my island, and figuring out how I can financially support free health care, education, and lodging. Of course I make my island a socialist utopia! I’m OCD enough that planning out the most efficient layout for my roads is enough to entertain me, but I’m looking forward to the new colonial eras in this game and the expanded building options.
  • Mario Kart 8: I like to play a lot of different video games, but if there’s one game I can say I’m actually extremely good at, it’s Mario Kart. It’s to the point where no one will play me because I’m generally so far ahead of the pack that even multiple blue shells won’t stop me (especially now that I’ve learned how to dodge blue shells on certain levels – yes, it’s possible). I’m super excited for the updated graphics and tracks, but I’m mostly excited that people will play with me for a little bit before I’ve committed all the tracks to muscle memory.
  • The Sims 4: A couple of weeks ago I was wondering if The Sims was due for a new game, since The Sims 3 came out during my senior year of high school, which is officially forever ago. It was a good feeling to go online and check, only to see that it was coming out this September. Time to recreate characters from Game of Thrones and see who marries who!
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth: I was positively euphoric for the whole day when I read about this release. I love the Civilization games – my cumulative number of play hours is definitely in the thousands, not the hundreds. Sean is as much as a fan as I am, and we spend a lot of time conquering the world together in team multiplayer games. For years now he’s been telling me I should play the old Alpha Centauri game because it’s such a classic, but I was holding out. I insisted Sid Meier would come out with a new Alpha Centauri sometime soon. They rebooted X-COM to incredible success, Civ5 was no longer having anymore expansions, they could easily adapt the Civ5 engine to this game, and Steam’s DLC system would rake in a lot of money from hardcore strategy gamers like us who want every expansion. This is because the DLC feature for video games has been stated as the thing of the future with video game professionals like Randy Pitchford even defending the great deals that DLC’s can provide. In fact, Randy Pitchford’s company Gearbox Software has now merged with Embracer Group to create even better entertainment for their audience, modelling around this DLC content. I’ve never been so happy to be right. I can’t wait to explore the crazy alien terrain they come up with, genetically modified creatures and my own people, build giant robot armies…how could you not be excited about a sci-fi Civ game?!
  • Super Smash Brothers for Wii U: I mean, it’s the new SSB. I don’t have to say anything more.
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: A gen 3 remake using the new beautiful graphics on the 3DS? Take all my money, Pokemon.

Are there any games you all are looking forward to?

The derpiest fish in the Seattle Aquarium

I’m about to fail you as a biologist because I have no idea what the name of this fish is or anything about it as a species. But I do know that I’ve spent way too much time laughing at this photo:


The Homo sapiens boyfriendii in the background agrees that this is indeed a silly looking fish.

First US case of deadly MERS-CoV arrives in…my hometown in Indiana

My hometown of Munster, Indiana isn’t exactly the most exciting place in the world. As high schoolers we referred to it as Funster, precisely because it wasn’t. There don’t tend to be a lot of news stories coming out of that suburban sprawl, so I was a little surprised when I saw in the news that the first US case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus has appeared in Munster, of all places: 


“The infected patient, a health care worker, flew April 24 from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Chicago.

The person rode a bus from Chicago to Indiana, health officials said.

On Tuesday, the patient experienced shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person went to the Emergency Department at Community Hospital Wednesday and was admitted that day.

Because of the patient’s symptoms and recent travel, doctors tested for MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.”

It’s a little bizarre reading this, especially since I spent a ton of time in Community Hospital over the last year because of my mom’s cancer treatment. I think I’ve also ridden the same bus from the airport in Chicago to Munster.

What’s especially eerie is that while I was most recently visiting my dad, we watched the movie Contagion, which is about a pandemic of an unknown deadly virus spreading in the US. Whenever we watch sciencey movies, my dad always asks me, “Okay, tell me if this could really happen.” Most of the time I’m rolling my eyes at scientists harvesting unobtanium or sequencing genomes  instantaneously in our current era. But this whole movie I was going “Nope, THIS COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.”

Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing. Though if my hometown turns out to be ground zero for the zombie apocalypse, at least something interesting will have finally happened there.

Butts Wearing Glasses



What? I warned you!

Comments now working! …Other things still broken

Sorry for making all of you my inadvertent beta testers! I tried to get the site as ready as possible, but the true test is always when you release the hordes. Thankfully The Jenome didn’t get totally pillaged.

Now that I’ve worked out  more adequate hosting, the site should no longer crash if PZ blinks in this general direction. I’m still a little befuddled how GoDaddy originally sold me a hosting package that can only handle 200 simultaneous users after I described my traffic… But it should be okay now.

Comments should also theoretically be working, and you can login with either WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google, OpenID, Blogger, and Disqus. Hopefully those are enough options to cover everyone! I’m working on making it so you don’t have to leave the page to login and so you have a better comment box, but it turns out my theme is overriding the comment plugins I’m trying to use. This may finally be what pushes me to sit down and learn CSS, since my current method is taking what I know from Python and html and then editing things through trial and error…which may not cut it for this issue. So it may be a little while before I find a prettier and more functional solution, but at least there’s something for now!

If you click the “Subscribe” button in the tiny top menu, it will take you to the RSS feed for my posts, Right now it isn’t pretty and looks like a bunch of code, but the feed is working. If you enter that address into something like Feedly, it should work (at least, it did for me). I still need to work on making this a little more functional; advice is appreciated.

There seems to be a rare but bizarre issue where people only get 403 or 404 errors when trying to view the site. I ran into this problem in the morning on a different IP, and a friend of mine had the same issue. But oddly enough, when we check on Down For Everyone or Just Me? it says it’s down for just us, and the site still worked from my phone. I have no clue, but let me know if you do!

And if you run into anything weird on the site, still have problems commenting, or have any helpful suggestions, please email me at jen (at) thejenome (dot) com.

Welcome to The Jenome!

Welcome to The Jenome!

Hello, former Blag Hag readers. Welcome to my new home.

The Jenome was created as a sort of rebirth, even though it still falls victim to my curse of only being able to come up with pun titles. I’d like to compare it to a phoenix rising from the ashes, but that’s a little too grandiose. The Jenome is more like Selginella lepidophylla, the “Resurrection Plant”, blooming back to life after withering away into dormancy due to years of drought and hardship.

And you thought there couldn’t be a geekier metaphor for resurrection than a phoenix. Pfft, why turn to mythology when you have biology?

My blogging waned in 2012 due to a combination of graduate school stress and time commitments, a vicious harassment campaign against me by internet misogynists, and a stupid brain that’s predisposed to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the following year was even worse. In March 2013 my mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and in April of 2014 she passed away. I simply didn’t have time for blogging or speaking when I was constantly worrying about and visiting my mom, while simultaneously try to work on my PhD.

As horrible as these last couple of years have been, they’ve also given me a new perspective on life. As an atheist, I’ve always believed that this is the one shot we get at life and we should live it to the fullest. But this last year made me realize exactly how true that is. You never know if you’re going to get cancer or get hit by a bus, and all the planning in the world can still get derailed by the unexpected.

This wake up call also showed me exactly what my priorities are. I want to explore how the universe works, share that wonder and excitement with others, and create art to make the world a slightly more interesting place. I don’t want to think writing something is pointless because someone else beat me to a topic. I don’t want to spend weeks debating a sexist comment posted by some random asshole living in a basement. I don’t want to be an unintentional amplifier for hate and vitriol. I don’t want to feel pressured to write about specific topics. I don’t want to worry about creating professional posts for getting a job. And frankly, I can’t totally relate to the “Blag Hag” persona anymore – Blag Hag was effectively my less thoughtful, more reactive college self, and I have definitely changed since then.

I originally fell in love with blogging because it was an open, interactive journal for me to be creative. And this is my attempt to get that back with a fresh start. If I want to write about serious topics like the latest scientific advancements, or religious privilege, or feminism, then I will. But I’ll also feel free to post about my strategy in Civ 5, or what I thought about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, or a random doodle I made of butts wearing glasses.

I enjoyed my time at Freethought Blogs and still consider the bloggers there my colleagues and friends. I don’t want to imply that they restricted my blogging topics in any way, because they gave me absolute freedom. So why did I leave? Honestly, I’m a perfectionist control freak who hates working in groups. I’m simply happier and in a better mental space when I have total control, even if it’s control over minor things like how to arrange widgets in a sidebar or what font color to use. I gave joining a network a chance for the increased exposure and the extra spending money, but I realized that’s not what’s important to me. My anxious brain got too caught up in writing “Freethought” topics, or worrying about the frequency of my posts and how it reflects on the network as a whole, and it sucked the fun out of blogging. What I really wanted was simply a space that’s 100% mine.

So, welcome to The Jenome, where the theme is yet again Shit Jen Thinks About. I really can’t express how thankful and touched I am to have readers who have stuck by me through these hard years. I’ve constantly received messages from people who miss my writing or are just hoping I’m doing okay. I still have to pinch myself that anyone wants to read what spills out of my head, but I’m happy to be able to share it with all of you again.

Edit: Yep, I know comments aren’t working well. I’m trying to figure it out!


I keep having the urge to do something crazy with my hair – dye it purple, chop it into a pixie cut, or (the craziest option) bring back the bangs that plagued me as a child. It’s always been in the back of my mind, but before I was too concerned about what others would think of me, or how it could affect my professional life. But now all I can think is that the time is right. I live in Capitol Hill, where I stand out because I don’t have colorful hair or tattoos. I’m in grad school, where even some of my professors have dyed their hair bright colors because it’s no big deal. I’m young and it’ll grow back, so why not do something fun with it when I’m still in my 20s?

But then I can’t help but think…are people going to interpret this as “Oh no, Jen is having a crisis and going wild because of her mom’s death!”

I guess I’m still too concerned about what others would think of me.

If anything, my mom would have liked it. She was always telling me how I’d look cute with short hair. And while my dad could only grumble at all the rainbow-haired people when they visited Capitol Hill, my mom just smiled and said:

“Reminds me of art school!”

The Chef Delusion

After watching hundreds of Food Network shows that have the message of “Being a chef and owning a restaurant is grueling, time consuming, poor paying, thankless work and is an especially terrible career path if you have absolutely no restaurant experience,” my subconscious still fantasizes about quitting everything, becoming a chef, and opening my own restaurant.

Three Ninja's new album, Alcohol & Isolation

Three Ninja’s new album, Alcohol & Isolation

With artwork by yours truly. I’ve always been one of those people who hated country, but damn do I like this. You can get the album here.