Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas goodies

One of the best things about Christmas are the cookies. I mean, there is nothing like spending time in the kitchen on a cold, winter day with the oven on and the smell of fresh baked goodness filling the air. My mother and I would always spend a day making cookies and fudge for Christmas parties and little gifts. So, I am always on the look out for great recipes. And I believe I found one and I was surprised that it was a sugar cookie recipe. On of my least favorite recipe to make (just ask my mother). I just never liked the rolling and powdering and decorating of them-- sticky dough and me don't mix. Fortunately these cookies lacked rolling and there was a way to avoid the sticking. These cookies came from a recipe in Southern Living and they are simple and delicious!!! The recipe is listed below.

Chai Tea Eggnog Cookies (recipe from magazine)


* 1 chai tea bag
* 1 package sugar cookie mix
* 1/2 cup melted butter
* 1 large egg
* 4 tablespoons eggnog, divided
* Parchment paper
* Cinnamon sugar
* 1 cup powdered sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Remove tea from bag and pour into bowl.

2. Stir together tea leaves, cookie mix, butter, egg, and 2 Tbsp. eggnog until well blended.

3. Drop dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets. This was the easiest way to remove the cookies. Flatten dough with utensil dipped in cinnamon sugar. (I used the bottom of a measuring cup)

4. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from baking sheet to a wire rack, and cool completely (about 10 minutes).

5. Whisk together powdered sugar, nutmeg, and remaining 2 Tbsp. eggnog until smooth. Then decorate cookies-- allow to dry.

These cookies cook up quickly and have a unique taste. I made a couple batches, wrapped them up in plastic wrap, tied with bow, and placed in bag for a gift. In addition to cookies, my mom and I always make red hot spiced tea. Yum, yum. I love this stuff. It is also a quick thing to mix together and makes a really pretty gift.

1 large jar of tang mix
1 large jar tropical punch mix
1/2 to 1 cup instant tea mix
1 8 ounce bag cinnamon imperial candies (red hots)
some cinnamon or nutmeg for added flavor

Mix ingredients together and put in container (tins or glass jars!)

Hope everyone has a great holiday.

Oh-- and here are the pictures from my latest swap. I love the color of the yarn. It was surprising that it was a tea swap and I didn't receive tea-- but it is called tea and more-- so no complaints.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Joys of knitting groups

So I enjoy ravelry- I liked perusing the projects of friends and unknowns, wishing I knew everyone and could gain knowledge from them. Currently I have been meeting Heather (trifarina) at waldo's coffee shop on sundays. It has been a great way to meet someone new and also a great way to learn new things. I have been pretty much a self taught knitter. I learned from my two roommates, Brooke and Patty, when I was in grad school in wisconsin. The idea of knitting never really occurred to me until I lived in a very, very cold climate. Of coarse it was a challenge for them to teach me, because I insisted on learning left-handed. So, for my first 2 years of knitting I didn't quite do it right-- it was as if I had made up my own backwards stitch. But those were great times, sitting around drinking tea with them, knitting, and just talking.
After I left wisconsin, I tried to continue knitting, but it was hard starting a new PhD program and finding time to knit. It wasn't until my 3rd year that I really picked it up again. This time I corrected my wacky stitch and eventually found two lovely ladies to knit with, Jennifer and Valerie. During that time we drank lots of wine, laughed and cried over work, life, and school, and knitted a few projects. Once again I learned a lot and grew in certain skills. I miss them terribly now that we are scattered across the US (colorado, louisiana, texas).
Now that I live in houston I am once again trying to build a nice knitting group. Heather is a step-- she and I are trying to meet new people having both finished our degrees and taken a jobs in industry. Anyway-- I was just thinking how much joy such a small activity could bring me and how it really brings people together. Someday I should take a class to get to know people even more (maybe socks).

On a side note:
Right now I am going to participate in a tea and yarn exchange. Hopefully this will provide me with the opportunity to meet someone new and learn about the cool projects they create using needles and fabric. My first exchange was fun, but I didn't feel like it got people closer to one another. Hopefully this one will!

Here are some recent projects I have been working on for months-- I have been trying to get this pillow done, but was hampered by the button sewing. I kinda like how it turned out, but am not too happy with the button selection-- still fun to make.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Knit projects and reunions

Both reasons to celebrate (i.e. babies, wedding, etc.) and reasons to mourn seem to be the only things that brings friends together these days. That is one thing that is slightly melancoly about the wide-open world today. Instead of friends growing old together we have to watch from afar as our best friends from each period in our lives grow older- fall in and out of love, get married, have children, get jobs, find new jobs, finish school, lose family members and/or loved ones, travel, etc. In fact, the biggest life events are often followed via e-mail, facebook up-dates, or a chain or phone messages. I have recently come to understand how important all these friends from my life have been and are today only to also discover that we have all grown away and live in places either far from our original home or close-by. The sad fact is, even if we live in the same area we all find ourselves lost in the busy 'older, grown-up' lives that we let those friendships slip away.
I have been coming face to face with this reality more recently with brief events in my life that have caused me to reach out and ask for advice and an ear from those people in my life that I used to get advice from everyday. The funny thing is- even though we hadn't spoken in months or even years, the ease of catching up is so easy. One of these friends told me great news-- that she was gonna have a little boy in the end of november. This made me go out of my way to travel to her baby shower to catch up and see her and her family. It was great to see how respected she was in her resident community (she is finishing her residency as a ob-gyn). It was so amazing of me to think of us a silly little teenagers so full of angst and cynicism only to see how we have grown up to be successful adults so far. It just made me beam. Anyway-- enough pontificating-- these events just made me want to make some little project for her new little baby-- and also made me crave more 'reunions'. In fact, I also discovered that an old dorm roommate of mine is getting married in may and that all the suitemates are going to try to travel to her wedding-- this will be quite a reunion where we will all get to meet each others partners, children, and catch up a bit. I am looking forward to it (and hopefully more reasons to remain in touch and connected). On a sadder note though, one of my friends just watched her mom pass away from lung/brain cancer. It has made everyone have a reason to come together- to help support her in her time of need. It has also made us think to ourselves- 'we are too young to have to be dealing with our parents dying-- or are we?' We are in our 30's and during this time we start to discover not only the miracle of new life, but the inevitability of death. As this happens we start to think about life a little more seriously, understanding the importance of the relationships we have.

Anyway, here is the bib I am trying to finish. I need to sew on the patch and button. I wasn't too thrilled with the yarn (Bernat cottontots), but it was in my stash and I needed to try to use it up.

I am also trying to make myself something a little more challenging than a scarf or headband-- here are the beginnings of a lace shrug-- hope to finish it before it warms up again.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My new love of DIY terrariums

I got inspired to make a few terrariums when I saw this etsy seller, weegreenspot, featured a couple of weeks ago. She made the cutest terrariums with lichen/moss from the redwoods of the northeast. Often she would include a little creature like a deer or hobbit to live in these mini-forests. I wish I could get a'hold of some of this soft beautiful moss, but alas-- Houston is not really overflowing with moss. I was still inspired, however, especially since the cooler weather is upon us and I like the feeling of living in a lush surrounding even in the bleakness of winter (as bleak as the south can get). In case you are interested, terrariums are basically small ecosystems created in a container. They usually require low light and little watering.

I started picking up pieces of terrarium materials with my purchase of a square glass terrarium from Smith & Hawken. Don't worry, it was on-sale because they were having a store closing so I picked up a $50 terrarium for $24. Awesome!

Hence, the terrarium constructing began. Also, in the madness of terrarium supply shopping I also decided to pick up some winter greens plants that included kale, arugula, butter lettuce, and spring greens mix. These were later placed in my little red container after I cleaned out the dead okra and cucumber plants from the summer container garden.

Back to terrarium construction....

Materials needed:
- glass container with top (i.e.; jars, clouche, aquariums)
- soil (I got organic soil from the local garden store and combined it with some sand for draining)
- pebbles (I got them at Pet Smart)
- activated charcoal
- plants of choice (I picked up an african violet, tillandsia, and different fern varietals and also found some pre-packaged moss)
- In addition, I went to target and picked up a glass candy jar for a second terrarium.

Basically it is a layering construction method with pebbles on the bottom, charcoal, then soil, plants, and finally water.

I had a great time making mine and now they have added a splash of color and comfort to my house. Honestly I could make more and more of these, but may have to stop at some point.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Close to the gulf coast

One of the greatest joys I have gotten from living in Houston is the fact that the gulf coast is only 1 to 2 hours away just south of small towns like Clute, Lake Jackson, and Freeport. The short drive allows me to take the opportunity to visit this dynamic environment at least 2 times a month. I get great joy out of this because the coast is filled with all the things I love- water, fish, birds, vegetation, and geologic processes. Whenever Matt and I visit the coast we normally go to Surfside Beach, a quiet beach community away from the clamor and crowds often encountered at Galveston, TX. There are about 20 miles of open beaches that are open to the public where you can drive feet from the waters edge, park, and then relax by fishing, wading, swimming, kayaking, or just plain sitting. Matt visits a lot more often than me- leaving at 4 in the morning with his fishing poles and kayaks. Sometimes i go with him to just watch the sunrise and focus on the waves slow movement into and out of the coast. Every time I go there I wish I had 2 things 1) a shorebird id guide and 2) a seashell id guide, both things I could pick up at a used bookstore if I remembered.

This weekend was a little different- Matt explored Matagorda peninsula and really liked it, so he took me there. The peninsula is 51 miles long and is crossed at the mid-point by the Colorado River. It is a strip of land separating the gulf from Matagorda bay. There is beach access and hardly anyone is there, which makes the beach quite a bit cleaner than most of the other beaches.

Even though it is clean, there is still quite a bit of interesting beach trash for those who love collecting (a place my grandpa would have loved visiting). The trash ranged from televisions, hardhats, plastic shipping crates, and balloons- lots and lots of balloons. I think one of the main reasons it is a less visited beach is that beach access is slightly more tricky. The sand is cleaner and can be very fine at places making it hard to drive without a 4wd vehicle. my favorite parts are the groups of brown pelicans that take to flight whenever you get to close to them. For a second you feel as if you are flying right by with them. There are also oyster banks that are slowly being eroded by the waves. So I sat looking for shark's teeth and shells most of the day, in addition to helping Matt spot fish. I didn't find any exciting shells or teeth, but Matt caught several lady fish, whiting, and a black tip shark.

I love this little secret vacation spot close to home.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well I got my yarn package!! Thanks Karen. My secret pal is from Washington and she got me some lovely linen yarn-- something new and different. The yarn has a great texture and is a beautiful color. She also gave me some great lavender honey and a pillow case from Red Barn Lavender farm in Ferndale, Washington. In addition, she gave me a packet of suggested patterns. I look forward to tackling the tank top lace pattern after I finally finish my Prayer Shawl for the UUMC 'made with Love' ministry. (which for some reason is taking me a long time to finish).

Here are some pics and I hope to continue doing yarn swaps in the future-- they are exciting and get me connected to new people around the US working on knitting project. These both inspire and motivate me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yarn Swap #1

I noticed as a member of Ravelry that there are several groups that come up with and participate in yarn swaps. I wanted to join in on one because it looked like a great way to meet people. Of course the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be fun to start my own yarn swap with friends of mine who were not on

So I talked with my friend Brooke, who lives in Madison, WI and was a former roommate and great buddy of mine while I was doing my master's degree, to see if she would be interested in co-hosting a Yarn Swap. So we both e-mailed the friends we knew who knitted and came up with a small group of 6 people who showed interest. Three people were friends of mine and three people were friends of hers-- so we had eight in total. Now I know this is small, but i think it is a great way that friends from my part of the world (the south) could meet some knitters in the great north and northeast. So we picked a 'theme'-- knitting in the summer-- made a survey of questions, and exchanged names and addresses. The packages should be leaving the houses this weekend and arriving on everyones doorsteps sometime next week. One of the things we wanted to emphasize was local products and quick summer projects.

So I finally have my package put together and will be sending it off on Monday. Here are some pics. It is for someone who loves BBQs in the summer and gardening.

It includes: 1) a chipotle pepper marinade purchased at the arts market and made in sugarland, TX, 2) some lotion samples made in the woodlands, TX, 3) some of my favorite tea, 3) some spicy cajun seasoning not to be without!, 4) and some fall seed packs. I also made some stitch markers to go with the bamboo and silk/bamboo crystal palace yarn. Even though my knit buddy requested local or reused yarn I couldn't help but get her some bamboo yarn since she had never used it before....a special treat.

I hope she enjoys and pictures of my secret package to come!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Kale-- delicious, forgotten greens

So when I moved to Houston I decided I wanted to try to support the farmer's markets in the area. Unlike, Baton Rouge, Houston has a lot of farmer's markets, but I have yet to be as impressed with them I am of the Red Stick Farmer's Market. It may be that the red stick market was so close and so full of people and vitality. Zydeco music in the background and old farmers selling traditional Louisiana fare such as file, pecans, greens, Louisiana satsumas, strawberries, blueberries, and fresh gulf shrimp. I just loved the produce. So I assumed the produce in Houston would be similiar-- but it has its differences. More focused on peppers and salsas, texas citrus and grass-fed beef. Even with the close proximity to the gulf there is an amazingly high degree of disengagement from the fresh gulf coast culture and seafood. So after my disappointment with the farmers markets I looking into other ways to participate in the local produce.

So I discovered the Central City Co-op. This co-op is great. It is a local, organic co-op ( I won't go into the details, but you can purchase weekly co-op shares (I got a small) and pick up the shares on wednesday. The first (and only so far) share I have picked up contained 3 potatoes, 1 onion, 2 apples, parsley, 1 cucumber, lettuce, carrots, and last but not least- kale.

Now I am pretty unfamiliar with Kale. In fact, I don't think I had ever cooked it before. So immediately Matt and I looked for a recipe, excited about adding another green to our diet. Kale is in the Brassica family (includes cabbage, brussels sprouts,and collards) and is rich in vitamins (such as A, C and K) and minerals. It is a dark beautiful green color and has a sweet, savory flavor.

So, in short Matt and I (mostly Matt) modified a recipe found on Fettuccine with sausage and Kale.

Ingredients included:
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 lb hot turkey or pork sausage, casings discarded and sausage crumbled
* 1/2 lb kale, tough stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
* 1/2 lb dried egg fettuccine
* 2/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
* 1 oz finely grated Pecorino Romano (1/2 cup) plus additional for serving

Our modified or added ingredients include:
* mushrooms, sliced
* pepper (I used a sweet carmen pepper from my garden, but an orange or red pepper would add both color and flavor)
* shallot or small white onion, chopped
* 2-4 tablespoons of tomato sauce
* red pepper flakes for flavor
* instead of chicken broth we just used the water used to blanch the kale and cook the noodles in. The noodles we liked in particular are these all Amish Naturals garlic parsley noodles.

We followed the remaining steps as followed:

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook sausage, breaking up any lumps with a spoon, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch kale in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water (I didn't salt the water) , uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove kale with a large sieve and drain. Return cooking water in pot to a boil, then cook pasta in boiling water, uncovered, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.

While pasta cooks, saute onions, pepper, and mushrooms in skillet that sausage was cooked in. Then add kale and sausage to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Add tomato sauce and boiling water that was set aside. Eventually combine pasta and any additional reserved cooking water to skillet, tossing until combined.

Serve and sprinkle cheese on top.

The meal is delicious and healthy and is now on my permanent list of recipes. This could also be cooked without the sausage and be just as flavorful!

Friday, April 17, 2009

More gardening

So I am finally getting things a little more organized in the outdoor container garden. This weekend I worked on adding an additional, re-purposed piece of furniture as a container for some cucumbers and okra. First let me say that I had almost run out of the fuel to get these plants and this container off the ground and completed. I was inspired by my visit to the Quality Feed and Garden Company store on N. Main St. near the Houston Heights. This feedstore is awesome-- like stepping into the parts of Arkansas my family grew up. They had ducks, chickens, and parrots, and pigeons, and fancy chickens, and feed, and more feed and lots of vegetable plants. So I bought 6 cucumber plants with the help of the owner ("Do you burp after cucumbers? Then you don't need the burpless") and 6 okra plants, and this beautiful purple basil-- mmmm.

After the plants were bought I was committed. So I took this wonderful coffee table/record holder my dad made over 30 years ago. I remember growing up with this coffee table, eating dinner, storing books in it. For several years it held my aquarium- the one where the goldfish committed suicide by jumping out of the tank (all three together- like beached whales) Then for several more years it held a tank full of mice, then when I was 21 my dad got me Dolomite- my White's tree frog. He and I have been together on and off for 10 years. I left him in a 3rd grade classroom when i lived in Wisconsin, but when i moved back to LSU reclaimed him and put his terrarium on this coffee table. Anyway-- I thought I could fix up the table and put Dolomite's new tank on it (pictures of his new home to come), but instead I just decided to re-purpose it. So I sanded, spray-painted, and then stenciled it.

After the box was dry I went to the hardware store and bought some 'straw' lining, lined the bottom and filled 2 cubbies with a slow release potting soil and peat mix and planted my cucumber plants.
Tomorrow I will get more soil, and plant the okra.

Now to chart the growth of the vegetable and wait for the bounty.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring distractions

I had these grand plans to write a blog about the stuff I do-- the food I cook, knitting projects I make, science I find exciting, but in the end I have realized I just don't enjoy being a how-to person or guide-to-_____ person. I just talk about things that are on my mind. Even knowing that nobody is really reading what is on my mind. So maybe this is just an outlet for me. I would love to inspire people, but think I may not be inspiring. I have no original home projects, my recipes are only slightly altered recipes from the original, I don't write original music, my knitting projects are taken from books, magazines, web-sites. So once again I do things half-heartedly. So often I wish I had an amazing passionate drive to do things and leave a mark in this world. I am not sure where I read this or heard this, but apparently humans have a drive to leave a legacy of themselves on this earth. Be it a child, an idea, an art, touching someone's life, etc. What if you don't have this desire to leave a legacy? Does this make you less 'human'?
I don't have this desire very often- I mean it sounds grand, but all and all I just wanna fade away. I don't mean this in a depressing sense, in fact I am so content. I find such beauty in everything around me, that really I would just rather that beauty engulf me and overshadow my existence.

Today I spent all day in my backyard planting plants into containers for my little container garden. I am so amazed by plants- so much more so than I am by mammals. Everything from their reproductive processes, their evolution from sea to land, their diversification to fill and compete in diverse ecological niches. I love that they provide food and/or beauty and that during the spring they burst forth every year like a symphony reaching a crescendo of vibrant greens. I love this about spring. This is what harkens a renewal, not anything humans have ever done, no religion, no industrial creation, but nature itself. So this Easter I think I really understood the meaning of the season-- what happened that humans became so far removed from the natural world that they always think in terms of the afterlife-- what about the amazing life that is lived and breathed on this Earth. The blooming, sprouting, sweet beauty of nature.

I will probably document the progress of my potted plants-- maybe something sweet, delicious and beautiful will come from it. Even if it doesn't it has already provided me great joy.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A visit to California

I have always wanted to visit the Californian wine country (along with the Argentinian/ Spanish/French/etc.) so as a little treat to myself for finishing my PhD I decided to make a trip out of it. Matt and I weren't really sure where to start, but I think we did a pretty good job and will probably go back since we have done some trail blazing.
Day #1- Benziger winery
Benziger is a beautiful winery in the hilly valley of a small volcano that was active prior to the 1907 San Fransico earthquake. It is located close to the little quaint town of Glen Ellen and just down he road from the Jack London State Park. All in all a beautiful setting and I would recommend it to anyone. I particularly liked their 2006 Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in the Russian River valley, the 2005 Port, and the 2006 Reserve Chardonnay. I especially liked the winery tour. This winery is a certified biodynamic winery, meaning that it goes beyond organic in the sense that all their practices try to be self-contained and use all aspects of the environment. I especially liked their usage of compost tea (a practice I have been meaning to investigate and learn for myself). This was a great little winery to begin with in the Sonoma Valley.

During our trip our homebase was this cute, hidden away B&B called Beltane Ranch. I loved everything about this place. It had such character and charm and was removed enough from the towns and highway that i felt like I was visiting a less traveled country-side.

The moment we stepped onto the grounds I felt like I was in a peaceful spot. The grounds were beautiful and were abound with olives trees, grape vines, horses, and cows. The ranch immediately gave the feel of a southern antebellum home with it's full wrap around porch and moss covered oak trees. I also loved that it lacked a TV and phone in the room, making it more of a little escape. In addition, the ranch house was ours for the night, being the only guests. This is one place I would love to return to.
That night for dinner, Matt and I went to the Glen Ellen store in town, bought a bottle of wine and dined at The Fig. I had a delicious meal of Spring lamb stew on couscous and Matt had the special which was a duck entree. Everything about this place was nice. I only wished i would have gotten the baked goat cheese- but alas.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where to begin and when to end

So I will make this brief. I defended my dissertation and defended it successfully. So now I have a few hours of revisions and some little graphs to be made and I am done. Finished with this chapter of my life. Unfortunately it is never done. I now have the ever nagging expectation to publish, with my advisors suggesting publishers and journals and who to submit and when to submit, etc. And i want to, I feel obligued to, but at the same time......I don't. I have spent 6 years of my life doing what I am supposed to do in the academic world. Right now I want to live in that other world. The working world, where I go somewhere work for 8 hours, go home and participate in other activities such as cooking, reading, knitting, sewing, gardening, music listening, music playing, etc.

So I have been taking a few days to contemplate this all, only to realise that on Monday I have to put together a report on dinoflagellates from 3 sites in the GoM. Dinoflagellates are a large group of flagellate protist that thrive in marine environments (also found in freshwater). Dinoflagellates possess a unique nuclear structure at some stage of their life cycle - a dinokaryotic nucleus. The cell wall of many dinoflagellates is divided into plates of cellulose ("armor") known as a theca. These plates form a distinctive geometry known as tabulation, and is used for identification. These cysts of dinoflagellates are what make them so identifable. Also, they are highly sensitive to temperature, water pH, and water depth and their distributions are dependent on these factors.
So the project I am working on is a little assessment of dino populations in 3 sites in the GoM. At these sites I have been working on identifying the cysts present and then interpretting the environmental significance of their populations. In the next week I need to put together a cohesive story and report for this area. I just need to get it done so i can have some time to relax before i start my job in late April.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

square foot solutions

I was talking on the phone with my mom when she mentioned to me that she and a friend are going to attempt to 'square foot garden'. I asked her what it was, and she explained that the general concept involves using a small rasied space to produce a high yield, easy to care for garden. Perfect!
Especially since I rent a house with a little backyard, but plenty of sun. My mother always has the best ideas in terms of gardening and I have always been so impressed with the garden she and my dad have had over the past few years. They have managed to get a good harvest every year from relatively poor, limited mountaintop soil. So I figured why not try this square garden experience with my mom.

Hopefully by the time April rolls around I will be able to start construction on the garden or covince matt to start construction of the frame. Maybe I will make 2 frames.
This is exciting to me and I think will be a great way to get the everyday basics that Matt and I use in cooking- tomatoes, squash, peppers, basil, beans, and maybe cantalope! (Matt can sometimes eat a whole cantolope and call it dinner--me i am slowly starting to enjoy melon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Science in reality

Every since I was young I have loved the outdoors. Maybe I can attribute it to my upbringing. My parents never had large amounts of money so the majority of our vacaitions involved camping and roadtrips. And those happen to be two of my favorite things-- trips that involve a good ole fashion sightseeing roadtrip and a nice healthy hike up mountains, down valleys, in caves, along riverbanks, just about anywhere you can think of. So when I went off to college my first few years all I knew is that I wanted to do something that involved the outdoors- camping, hiking, climbing, star gazing, fire roasting, night swimming, all these great outdoor activities. To top that off I loved nature writers- Thoreau, Dillard, Carson, Abbey. My first English class in college focused on a ot of these nature writers and I was in love. During my time in Missouri I sat on bales of hay, star gazed, camped in every imaginable locality, and imagined a life of the outdoors. So naturally when I transferred to LSU I thought-- Geology, why not-- you study the earth and I love living in the earth.

Well that is where it ends. You spend 3 years working towards a degree where they tease you with the outdoors. You spend countless hours hiking in great localities, looking at rocks and every field trip involves a camp ground, a good fire, some beer, and the stars overheard-- rain or shine. It was great. Then you finish those years in the classroom with a 6 week experience in a small wooden cabin and tent in the mountains of colorado. What a dream science-- who could ask for more.

So of course I thought, graduate school! Why not! Then I discovered what I liked most in geology-- fossils, and not just any fossils but marine microfossils (forams). So I traveled to Wisconsin for graduate school and picked a thesis topic that involved no field work and no traveling except to conferences to present papers. Thus starts my life as a graduate student-- indoors, starring at computers and down a scope. You suddenly forget why you loved geology-- no field opportunities arise -- well I did get to go to the Guatalupe mountains for a few days, but that was the extent. And then you think I will do a PhD, sure why not, new opporutnities for the field, for camping, for hiking, for rocks in the field, for new earth experiences-- only to find yourself 6years down the road- having a field site in Louisiana and spending the majority of your time in the lab, looking through a scope, and then finally the culmination of your passion typing on a computer, processing, plotting, and interpretting data. Is this science? Now it is? All those geology history books about Steno and Smith, the adventures of Mary Anning and her search for icthyosaurs and mosasaurs in the Lyme Regis limestones, the notes of Lewis and Clark as they collected plants of the US, the expedition of John Wesley Powell as he charted the unknown path of the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon. All these adventures are but a stroke in history as geologist and paleontologist struggle to survive in a changing science where success involves cutting edge geochemical data, amazing computer generated GIS maps, and impressive graphics. Granted I love the scope, but I also love the observations made outdoors, the pure collection and describing done by a naturalist. So I am looking forward to leaving behind the glare of the computer, which surrounds me on my free time- work during work-- exploring during free time.
And yes-- free time. i can finally release the shackles of the computer typing and revive the hiking, observing, breathing of the outdoors.
I look forward to moving from this setting- a dingy computer in an unfurnished room.

to this setting- a lake full of possibilities, again.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Louisiana in January

It seems every year I get tired of the cold (and for me cold = temperatures less than 60 degrees F) I rejuvenate by simply getting on my bicycle and realizing the beauty of Louisiana in the 'winter' months. As most of you know, I try to bike to school everyday. It takes about 20 minutes and the majority of this bike ride is on a poorly maintained path around the LSU lakes. These lakes are man-made but quite beautiful. They support a wide array of birds, turtles, and plant life. Often times biking to and from campus I had some of the best 'eureka' moments concerning my dissertation. It helps that my study site (Catahoula Lake), the largest, natural freshwater lake in Louisiana, is about 2.5 hours north of Baton Rouge. So all in all the vegetation is not so different from the vegetation I see around the LSU lakes everyday. Now Catahoula Lake has this fluctuating hydrology that causes the lake to drawdown and expose the lakebed on a yearly cycle. The LSU lakes on the otherhand have relatively stable lake levels. There are areas, however, that over the duration of my time spent working on my dissertation, have periodically dried up due to short periods of drought. When this happens I am able to watch and observe the changes that occur with regards to the vegetation.

For example, in this area there is a stand of Taxodium distichium (bald cypress) trees. These trees grow in an area that periodically floods and has standing water. This standing water has decreased the presence of a permanent grassmat and has also encouraged Salix sp. (willows) and algae to grow on the saturated ground. As most people know, my research consists of reconstructing vegetation based on the presence of pollen assemblages. So when I look at this area I see visions of pollen grains floating in my head and often use this 'modern analog' as a way to interpret the pollen I see in my lake cores. I won't bore anyone with the details, but let's just say I love that when I look at these things everyday it causes the wheels to turn in my brain and makes me appreciate the surrounding environment and the subtle changes more than usual.

So in short, I just love this about my bike riding and about my research. So as I spend the last few weeks biking in Baton Rouge I may use this as an opportunity to document the things I see everyday. This will serve as a remembrance to me of my time spent surrounded by the beauty of Louisiana and also possibly inspire others to bike to work and notice the small changes that occur everyday and the things that stay the same.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blog in the making

So I have been druelling over the various knitting and craft blogs that I see on a daily basis and i thought that as I come to the final days of my PhD program, anticipating my defense date, that I would start to put together a blog where I can document the adventures I am having in the world of knitting, cooking, gardening, traveling, and science. I am not sure what sort of things I will talk about and if anyone will read this, but I am realized that when I do finish this graduate school chapter in my life I would like to open a new chapter where I can continue to explore all the things i have placed on the back burner for the past 5 years.

One of the things I have a deep love for is Botany. I must have gotten this love from my father. He is a ornithologist and I used to go bird watching with him. I always had more of an attraction to the trees and plants that the birds were in and my father was always great at telling me about the vegetation surrounding me. He also has an amazing collection of orchids (~30-35) that are growing and blooming. I am not financially ready for the orchid investment, but this weekend I picked up a nice bromeliad, Tillandsia (aka Air Plant). It was only $2 and I just like the idea of having it already. I grows on the nutrients in the air and only requires misting or 2 hour submersal in water every 2 weeks. I may start a collection of these.

Right now, I may simply talk about how I feel as the day to my defense sneak up on me, but as I finish I would like to start traveling down another road. Speaking of roads-- here is a little robert frost

The Road Not Taken (1919)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I memorized this poem for 7th grade english class and have remembered it ever since.