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|I was born November 11, 1966 at 11:55 in Detroit, Michigan. I spent
my first 4 years living in Warren, Michigan (suburbs of Detroit) with my
parents, Robert and Audrey Roda, sister Renee and eventually my brother,
Kirk. I only have a few memories; of the fire place and sticking my hand
through the fence.
In 1970, we moved to the country into an "old" (100+ year) farm house. When I was four I got glasses. They were usually held together with at least 3 pieces of tape. I was not the most graceful child. With my dog, Suzie, I romped through swamps and the neighboring abandoned apple orchard. I would peer for hours at the life in the water, happy in this world of nature. I learned to ride a horse and raised chickens. My savings went to buy exotic breeds such as chochens with feathered feet and anacondas that laid blue and green eggs. They would come in the mail; a wonderful box full of soft, peeping bodies. I proudly showed them at the county fair along with my knitting and sewing projects.
We took many trips, traveling to the Atlantic and then the Pacific in a van. I enjoyed camping, exploring the beaches and the rock shops that I persuaded my family to visit. I also convinced them to stop at Petrified National Forest, AZ and the La Brea Tar Pits, downtown Los Angeles, CA. I still remember my excitement of seeing the fallen forest that had turned to stone and the mammoth, dire wolf and sabertooth tiger skeletons. Images I hold more precious than seeing Micky at Disneyland or Jaws at Universal Studios.
school, I did well in science, especially biology. In high school, I exchanged
my scratched glasses for contact lenses. I also started to become more
involved and interact socially. I played clarinet in the symphony and suffered
through marching band. I also worked on the year book and organized the
ski club. I was not very coordinated but wanted to participate in a sport.
So I ran track with my events being the 200m sprint and 880 relay. I graduated
from Lapeer West Senior High School in 1984.
When I was seventeen I entered Kalamazoo College to study biology. At this small private college (<1200 students) I could easily participate in many extra-curricular activities. I joined the cross country, swimming and soccer team. I played bass clarinet in the concert band, co-ran the environmental cub and had a late night radio show.
My interest to become a medical doctor gave way to the desire to study the natural word. For my sophomore internship, I counted ducks and geese at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge located in Cheney, Washington. For my senior thesis, I learned to scuba dive in order to study kelp bass in the kelp forests off the coast of California. What I was learning from these internships, my classes, friends and activist involvement made me aware that my actions had consequence. I believed I could do something" (personally and socially) and I knew I wanted the environment to team with life. In 1987, my junior year, I studied at Hannover University for six months.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (biology major and environmental studies minor) in 1988, I joined Peace Corps as a Aqua-culture Extension Agent in Zaire, Central Africa. I lived in a small mud hut in the Mayombe forest. I taught subsistence farmers from the surrounding villages to dig ponds and raise fish. In the middle of my stay, my father was diagnosed with cancer. I went back to the US for my fathers brain surgery and then returned to Zaire. My father's condition did not improve and he died while I was in transit to the US. I returned to Africa once again to finish my commitment.
After finishing with Peace Corps, I traveled, primarily in Zaire. With my friends, I road motorcycles across the Bandundu savannas and paddled down the Zaire river in a dug out canoe. I also traveled to Kenya and was finally able to see the animals I collected pictures of as a child.
Assimilating back into 1st world culture was difficult. But after a couple of months of applying for all sorts of jobs, I accepted a position as an Natural Resource County Extension Agent. For 3 years I helped county officials develop waste management plans and taught adults and students how to recycle, compost and reduce the amount of household hazardous waste. I enjoyed the job because I was given the freedom to persuade people to change their wasteful habits in creative ways. I especially liked teaching about how to raise worms to eat compostable garbage. Some of my best rewards were to see once squealing girls respectful place their worm in their classroom worm box. I also learned about local government. I was surprised to discover how many important decisions are made based on who and how many people showed up at the meeting.
I rejoined Kalamazoo College's Ultimate Frisbee team and spent many weekends traveling to tournaments around the mid-west United States. Our team was not competitive and we were happy to score. I think the best part, besides playing until complete exhaustion were the Bell's beers I drank discussing the great plays of the day.
I enjoyed my extension work, but realized that my passion was for the natural world. I decided to become an Entomologist and began my Masters as part time student at Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI), but eventually quite my job to study full time. I studied the behavior of an insect pest, the potato leafhopper, in a mixed stand of alfalfa and forage grass. I spent many long hours watching leafhoppers stick their mouth parts into a plant then making very careful notes 15 min later when they took them out moved a bit and stuck them in again.
At Michigan State, I was again involved in many activities outside of my studies. I sat on the Board of Directors for Urban Options (a group focused on making homes energy efficient), co-ran the Sustainable Agriculture Discussion Group, and joined the Michigan State Ultimate Team (Ultamayhem). This team was a more competitive team, but with the same spirit to play hard both during and after the game.
One windy practice, I twisted sharply to try and catch a throw. I heard a dull pop, saw starts and found myself on the ground. I called for substitute and hobbled off the field. On the sidelines I tried to turn on my leg, and found myself on the ground again. I suspected it was serious. I found out that I had completely torn my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, one of the ligaments that keeps the knee together). I had reconstructive surgery and now have two screws in my left leg. I was determined to play again. I did and also organized Michigan State University's woman's Ultimate Frisbee Team (the Throwing Muses).
In 1996, I graduated from Michigan State University with a Masters of Science and continued my PhD studies at Cornell University. I lived for a summer doing research in Geneva, New York then moved to Freeville, New York in order to be closer to the Ithaca campus while taking classes.
I played on the Cornell Women's Team (the Roses). A totally different experience in that we regularly won games and played to win the tournament. I kept up well enough to be on the starting line-up. My competitive playing came to an end when at practice a woman trying to block a throw dove into my right knee. Again the pop and the stars and again ACL surgery (this time I got to watch on the video monitor as the doctor added another screw). I smile grimly at the thought that I at least scored.
I focused more on my classes and research. I decided to participate in more sedate activities such as the Cornell Entomology Debate Team and coordinating the Entomology Department seminar series. (I still could not resist playing a little ultimate so I organize a small group in Geneva).
On September 24, 1997, my housemate, Jody received a visit from a highschool friend. I remember very well the entrance of Arne Labeeuw. That night at a bon-fire under a full moon, I became enchanted with this fine Belgium man. Fatefully, Arne forgot his expensive sunglasses and so had to return to Freeville. After a wonderful weekend, Arne left again but sent an e-mail before leaving for California. Ecstatic by seeing he shared similar feelings, I called leaving a message on his machine in Belgium. Arne came another time to Freeville and stayed an extra day. That extra day was where I fell in love.
Arne had returned to Brussels. I promised to visit. I did the following month. 1998 started with a kiss from Arne. From there we have journeyed far together.
We toured through Belgium to the Ardens and to the Netherlands to meet his family. We ice-skated hand-in-hand on the canal behind the house where he grew up. We sat for hours pouring over his photo albums and treasures. I was delighted to be so easily welcomed into his world.
Arne came to the states. I introduced Arne to my family and showed the woods where I played. Not having much money, we did not do many lavish things. The simple picnics we had in a pasture, on the banks of Lake Chauhaga and on cliffs above Lake Ontario are a few romantic momements I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience.
Even with the visits, living with the Atlantic Ocean between us was not easy. We found ways to shorten the distance between the two continents. For our first Valentine's day Arne bought a modem. E-mail and eventually IRC chat (a simultaneous conversation on the computer) became our mode of communication, a way to share each day. I learned to change my ambiguous letters to ones that described my day and my feelings in detail. Every noon, I joined Arne (6 pm Brussels) for a chat on the computer. Knowing he was there, by his computer, like I was, made me happy to have a tangible although remote link.
Despite the daily e-mails and chats, I was not satisfied. I needed to hear a voice and have an interactive conversation. As a result, our phone bills became quite spectacular. To earn money for these bills and for the flights, I worked at a gas station. Luckily another opportunity arose for me to work at small New York vineyard. Later, we worked together harvesting grapes.
Two years to the day since we first met, Arne proposed to me in New York City. We continued our search for ways to be together. Working constantly, Arne made money for airfares and I applied for grants to study in the Netherlands. I received a Fulbright to work at the University of Wageningen. Now only 3 hours train ride separates us. Every weekend, we can (at last!) join our lives together. I now enjoy Arne's lively conversations and wit regularly. However, the weekends are too short and still only a shadow of the life I want. After the wedding, I must return to New York to start my summer research. I know that I will not delay to finish my degree. I'm all to ready to experience life with Arne.
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