Monday, June 10, 2013


Sorry to have neglected this blog for a while. I've had a whirlwind of work, health, and life happenings that just made it a bit out of my way. But I'm back, with the sincere intention of writing here more often so that I can delete my Facebook after we move (heresy!). Other than being a place to share what is happening with us (me, Mister J, and the pooch), I'm a bit at a loss as to what my actual blog goal is... but that' s OK by me. For now it is just a nice way to share, in long form and with good photos.

Since I love lists, here's one regarding the current state of things:

- Health: My health has not been great over the past year, due mainly to my delightful guts. I'm still unsure how much of this I want to share with the world, but I feel it's important to acknowledge (and lend my support to others in similar circumstances). So, long story short, I have leaky gut and am currently eating very carefully due to temporary, plentiful food sensitivities. This is a temporary condition and one that I hope to be done with by next year.

I've learned a lot of fascinating things about intestinal flora and diet during this process, which is part of why I'm willing to talk about it. My own gut issues have progressed alongside new (and older, but newly popular) scientific information about the role of our gut buddies. I will write more about this in the future, if people are interested, but for now I recommend taking a listen to this RadioLab segment "Gut Feelings." It's fascinating, and was extra-fascinating while it was happening to yours truly.

- Moving/School: We depart Sacramento on August 9th for Ithaca, New York. I am attending Cornell for my M.S. in Human-Environment Relations (wwwwwhaaat?), a step forward and slight shift in my career that I'm really looking forward to. I've spent the past six years working in archaeology and, while I find it fascinating, my goal has always been to turn an eye toward the future and use my skills to help people in a more dramatic way. I'll be working on disaster/refugee resilience.

The move itself is thoroughly therapeutic. Mister J and I are not hot weather people, so we're looking forward to a climate where 80 degrees is pretty high... especially after the past weekend, when it was over 100 for several days in a row. We have always been "live with less" people, and when faced with the decision to rent a U-haul or ship most of our belongings across the country, we opted for neither. Instead we got rid of almost everything we own, paring down to clothing, about 1/4 of my books (sniffle), J's beloved gaming system, two boxes of assorted family keepsakes, and our kitchen gear. Everything else is going or gone, and when we arrive we plan to purchase only a bed, two chairs, and some plates. Even now we both admit that we still have a lot of stuff, or what seems like a lot. There came a breaking point for both of us, some thing* we each individually had to break with before everything else became easy, but after that we quickly realized how little of our belongings see any use. So we kept what we use, and the handful of aesthetic things that keep our environment pleasant.

- Life: At this point, my life feels mainly like work punctuated by moments of spare time. This is mainly a result of my commute, which is almost an hour long. We own our house and it seemed foolish to move closer to my office, when we knew we'd be moving later in the same year. I can easily see how important it is to be close to work, though, and if we were planning to stay here, I'd already be looking for our new place. In our new home, we will be a 20 minute bike ride from Cornell down a straight country road, and only a bit further from Ithaca itself.

One of my big obstacles, right now, is trusting that J will be able to support us. I've been working since I was a teenager, with an uncomfortable period of unemployment during the recession (much shorter than most, fortunately). Now it's pretty much expected that my job will be graduate school, and J will become the main breadwinner. We are renting out our house here in Sacramento, which will handily cover most of our living expenses in Ithaca, but it's still a nervous situation for me. I like being independent, and though I've cheerfully hitched my star to Mister J, knowing that I will actually be dependent on him financially is a weird feeling. I've listed myself for tutoring jobs and already have one prospective student, so I know I'll be bringing in at least a little bit of money. We're fortunate to be out of debt, unlike many Americans, and our goal is to stay that way. I don't doubt we can do it; we pretty minimalist people. But it all feels so hypothetical right now!

We're looking forward to life "starting" again. Right now it's pretty much on hold, with us doing the day-by-day to pass the time until our move. After August, the world is about exploration, new connections, and new experiences. Both of us agree, too, that we are looking forward to starting fresh in a new place, together. We've had ups and downs in Sacramento, individually and together, and we're the kind of people who traipse off around the world instead of putting down roots. Time to wipe the slate clean and learn a new home.

Before we go, I'm looking into buying a proper camera. My old Sony broke, and I'd disappointed with the lack of depth in photos taken by my Droid phone (go figure). I'm hoping that I'll have the new camera soon, bought with money from selling furniture, and I'll be able to share some great pictures along the road and from our new home base.

*His: A broken-down old steamer trunk that he always intended to refinish, only to realize that would mean replacing every single part of it. Mine: An antique desk that I've hauled with me for 13 years, through 3 states. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

40 Fast Facts

I've been in the field a lot lately, which is very nice for me but trouble for a blog. I'm also working hard on producing things that I feel actually matter enough to share in a blog. So instead I'm sharing a bit about myself with this list, pilfered from Maja Huse's fabulous blog (go read it ASAP).

1. How old will you be in five years? Thirty-six

2. With whom did you spend at least two hours today? My co-workers, a few people out walking the trails around the lake, and some distant Canada Geese

3. How tall are you? 5'6"

4. What was the last movie you saw? "Bridesmaids," finally. It was funny, but not as funny as it had been built up to be.

5. Who did you call most recently? My supervisor, yesterday.

6.What did it say in the last SMS you got? It confirmed a coffee conversation this evening with my friend Casey.

7. Do you prefer calling or texting? Texting. I am very hard of hearing and have trouble discerning specific sounds if I can't watch a person talk. The phone is very frustrating for me.

8. Are your parents together or split up? Split up. I have a bonus mom who has been in my life for a long time now.

9. When did you last see your parents? November of 2011. That may seem like a long time to some folks, but it's typical for my family. My mother passed away during that month, so that was the very last time I saw her.

10. What colour are your eyes? Dark brown.

11. When did you wake up today? 5:30 AM. Sigh...

12. What’s your favourite place? Outside somewhere, near water, ideally with a sandwich and my significant other.

13. Where do you think you’ll be in ten years? There are a few options. I will sum it all up with "quite far from where I'm sitting right now."

14. What used to scare you most as a child? Aliens, absolutely. The idea that they could tractor beam you up into the air while you were sleeping... awful!

15. Lately, what made you laugh uncontrollably? The last time I seriously lost it laughing was over a YouTube video of goats that sound like people. I laugh a lot, though.

16. What do you wear to bed? It varies.

17. Where have you lived? Washington (San Juan Island), Arizona (Prescott), and California (Los Angeles, Sacramento). Next up: Ithaca, NY.

18. Do you prefer shoes, socks or bare feet? Bare feet. I like socks and shoes just fine, though. I enjoy having to wear socks to be cozy.

19. Are you a social person? No. I am friendly, conversational, and generally interested in other people, but I am not really social. It isn't something I enjoy for the sake of it; it wears me out. I forget names pretty easily. I really like asking people questions, though, if they don't consider endless questions to be rude.

20. Favourite ice cream? We are a gelato household. I like things that involve raspberries and various shades of chocolate. I also like salted caramel.

21. Do you like Chinese food? Very, very much.

22. Do you like coffee? I really like coffee. I like the way it looks, the way it tastes, the way it smells, and the art and science of roasting and brewing it. But I'm only allowed about a cup of decaf a week, for health reasons. It has been a rather sad period of my life. I consider coffee one of the finest things to consume. Only being allowed a small amount makes it very special, however, and I find myself seeking out really great cafes for that one magical cup. I do enjoy it more, because it has been limited.

23. Do you sleep in a special way? Most of the time I don't, but about 10% of the time I have to sleep on my stomach, head facing right, right arm at my side, left arm crooked up by my head. I don't know why. It started last year.

24. Do you know how to play poker? Yes. I don't know the skills to succeed at it, though.

25. Do you want kids? No.

26. Have you ever been in an ambulance? No.

27. Do you prefer the ocean or a pool? The ocean.

28. On what do you spend the most money? Food. I see food like art supplies, and I'm always trying new things. Plus we like to eat out. It's actually pretty expensive and we should start budgeting a lot better, as I'm headed to grad school.

29. What’s your favourite TV show? We don't watch TV. We watch some things on Netflix and Hulu, and I get pretty excited when there's a new "Castle." Other than that, we only watch movies, read, or play games together. Nerds!

30. Who’s the funniest person you know? I'm pretty funny, to be honest. My boyfriend cracks me up a lot, because we've known each other for 12 years and he really gets my sense of humor. Other than that... I don't know Bill Heder personally, but he really speaks to my twisted sense of what is funny. His timing is impeccable.

31. What’s your ring tone? Something dorky from my phone's default choices. I never hear it (see: hard of hearing), so "vibration" is my real ring tone.

32. Do you have any garments from when you were a kid? No.

33. What thing do you have closest to you now that’s red? I really hard to look around. A brochure for Indian Grinding Rock State Park.

34. Do you flirt a lot? I rarely flirt intentionally; I have been with my man for some time now, and didn't even really flirt with him -- we were very close friends for a long time before we started dating. I don't know how to flirt, though I suppose my general good cheer, questions, and frequent joking remarks could be interpreted as flirtation.

35. Do you know how to change the tires on a car? I know how to put on a spare tire, yes.

36. What was the last book you read? I am currently reading "Zero History" by William Gibson. He's one of my most favorite authors. The last book I read and finished was "Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan" by Azby Brown. It's an historic look at Japanese architecture and land management, very interesting stuff with neat little sketches.

37. Do you read the paper? Not routinely. I'm certainly no fan of our local paper.

38. Do you sing in the car? Yes, loudly and poorly.

39. Can you tango? Yes, though I'm better at leading than following because I learned the "male" part for a dance choreography I created.

40. Are you happy? Extremely. I'm just not always cheerful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Galls and Nests

I have noticed in myself a tendency to become fascinated by things that I wasn't exposed to as a child. Squirrels are a great example; they are commonplace, but none live on the island on which I was raised. I've lived in a squirrel-infested city for over a decade, but I still get excited to see them playing, fighting, and stealing food right off people's plates.

Oak trees are another such thing. An oak blight hit the islands before I was born, and though some stands of oaks are making a comeback in the area, I wasn't raised with this type of tree. The variety of oaks in California is astonishing, and I love to see their various adaptations to arid, coastal, or mountain environments.

One thing I am particularly hooked on is oak galls. Galls are an abnormal outgrowth of tissue caused by a parasite, and in the case of oak trees that parasite is a gall wasp. Galls can form on leaves or branches; leaf galls are mostly harmless, but those on branches and twigs can harm the limb by rerouting resources from it to the gall. There are over 1,300 known species of gall wasp, and about 70% of them use oak trees as a part of their reproductive cycle. The female gall wasp lays an egg on the tree and, due to an unknown trigger (chemical, viral?), a gall forms around the eggs. When the egg hatches, the larvae feeds on the accumulated tissue of the gall. The gall also provides a sturdy shelter for the larvae.*

The thing that is incredible to me is that one can identify the species of wasp causing the gall by the physical appearance of the gall itself. Some of them are really, really beautiful, too.

I've been thinking a lot lately, as I try to articulate some of the opinions I have about design and aesthetics, about designs that echo nature -- not necessarily mimic, but reference in a more vague and even unintentional way. And while I was out walking yesterday, looking at oak galls forming along the trails around the lake, I realized that nothing reminds me more of an oak gall quite so much as NestRest shelter/swings (pictures here are from this site).

True, they are called NestRest and obviously mimic a bird's nest, especially the nests of orioles or weaver birds, and I won't deny that's probably what they're based on -- those nests are also really remarkable. But in concept, NestRest reminds me strongly of galls: an attachment to the limb with a hard shell and soft interior in which one can often find something squishy and alive. Maybe it's a person, maybe a cat, or if you leave your NestRest out all winter, maybe another forest critter. It is an organism glomming on to a tree limb; nest or gall, I think both apply... but one has a much better marketing potential.

This might sound a bit insulting to NestRest, but I assure you, it isn't. In fact, I though the big swings looked rather silly until I came to this perspective on them. Now I find myself really interested in hanging out in one. Maybe I'm more of a bug than a bird?

Have you ever been inside a NestRest or similar swing? Will you tell me about it? 

*Though, true to nature, another type of insect has developed a very long, sturdy proboscis and ovipositor that can penetrate the shell of a gall to prey on the larvae. Evolution: can't survive with it, can't survive without it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Updates from the Field

Spring is rolling along in Sacramento. Thanks to my daily walks on the trails around Lake Natoma, I've noticed some of the more minute changes that have happened since the official first day.

Wildflowers over the bank
Lupin, monarda, and other wildflowers are out. The series of blooming is always of interest to me; Dutchman's Pipe is long gone. It disappeared in a matter of a week or so, while tiny white forget-me-not type flowers have persisted since before the Dutchman's Pipe and are still going strong. On Monday I saw my first California poppy of the season. I'm still awaiting the blooming of the water iris. I see them standing like spears all along the lake shore. I'm very eager...

Patiently awaiting water iris.

Tiger Swallowtails are here. Spotted Imperials still account for most of the butterflies I see, but in the past week I have seen two of these beauties. They are larger and less frenetic than the Spotted Imperials. I wonder what the right mix of temperature and blooming is that has lured them out?

Duck and goose mating season appears to be solidified. There are no longer raucous territorial battles every day, no geese chasing each other across the surface of the water. I now see pairs of waterfowl bobbing together in the rushes at the water's edge, so I assume they are nesting. I don't want to get closer to find out.

Things are pollenating. My sinuses are quite sure of this.

And last but certainly not least...

Turtle time!
It's turtle time! Turtles are out basking on logs in the sun. I just adore them. I didn't grow up with certain critters, so things like turtles and squirrels delight me. They're oh-so-exotic, you know. Most of the turtles I have seen are the native western pond turtle, which is good! I can't resist creeping up on basking turtles, but they have very good Spidey senses, so they always plop into the water long before I get a good look. My creeping, however, has revealed that it is also frog season. There are big green ones lurking just under the surface of the water in weedy areas. I need to keep an eye out for them, too...


How has spring sprung in your area?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easy Anti-Aging

I'm quite keen to grow older. As a child, I got along very well with my mother's friends, and throughout my life I've found that people who are (slightly to much) older than me have a lot of things to say that I find really interesting. I knew some amazing older women in my youth, women with laugh lines, crow's feet, and gray hair. They were so fascinating and independent that I never really associated aging with anything negative.

I also have the personality of a grumpy old man on a porch, so aging helps me grow into that.

Now that I'm in my 30's, however, I do find myself not wanting to age disproportionately. I've done a lot of hard livin', as they say, with the drinking and the working in the sun, drying out in the desert, not washing myself for nine days on a trek, etc. So I do watch my face as a barometer of how well I'm protecting myself from the elements. I'm not a wrinkly gal (yet), but I do have the laugh lines and eye creases starting, plus my pleasant "squinty at the microscope" horizontal line between my brows.

Using myself as a guinea pig over the past several years, I have made an astonishing breakthrough (spoiler: not astonishing) in anti-aging face care. You ready?

Wear. Sunscreen.

Oh my gosh, I know, I sound like a mom! But it's 100% true. I have used eye creams. I have tried wrinkle serums. I've used retinols. And the only... repeating for emphasis, only... product I have used that has made a dramatic difference in my skin, in terms of helping the tone and reducing wrinkles (yes, reducing), is sunscreen.

Take a deep breath, my fellow product junkies.

I use an eye sunscreen around my eyes, then one for my whole face, and a goopier one for my body - I gotta protect all my tattoo investments! My body one is whatever I can lay my hands on that isn't too greasy, but here are my favorite face and eye sunscreens. For reference, I have pale and sensitive skin that gets dry at the edges and a bit oily by midday elsewhere.


Clarins Sunscreen for Eyes: Yes, it's expensive. But it doesn't irritate my sensitive eyes or contact lenses, it feels great, and it has really protected my eye area. A little also goes a loooong way. I currently use this product. I'm considering trying their face sunscreen because I like this product so much.

La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 50+ Tinted Fluid: The name of this is a complete mouthful of oatmeal. I barely even know what I'm ordering when I get it from my Amazon wishlist (I usually find it cheapest there). The key things to look for are "anthelios," "tinted," and "Mexoryl" in the description. Mexoryl is a physical barrier and is much easier on sensitive skin than chemical sunscreens. This product has a light tint, so it may not be good for darker skin tones, but I believe they make an untinted version. I get a kind of dewy finish from this, not my favorite look, but it's worth it to keep my skin feeling and looking better. I currently use this product (topped by a little Dream Matte Mousse for work, but otherwise unaided). Warning: it is a fluid, and it will go everwhere if you don't hold the bottle upright when opening it. Still worth it.

Pevonia Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30: This stuff is awesome. I got a bottle from a spa and was a little afraid of it being greasy, but it was one of the nicest things I've put on my face. I prefer it in winter or dry climates, when there's a bit less sun blasting my face. It's thicker than La Roche Posey, but it is so soothing and has never bothered my skin. I'm a big fan of it.

Neutrogena Stuff: No link, because this brand is readily available in whatever drug/pharma/grocery store you stumble in to. I wear this when I do field work, because that means reapplying sunscreen approximately 800 times per day, over layers of dirt, and I'm not going to flush $30 down the toilet every two days that way. I like the sheer fluid for the face and the dry touch tube for the body, the highest SPF I can get my hands on.

So there you have it. My secret to not only preventing, but reducing wrinkles. The rest of my skin care and make-up routine is pretty light, but I'll happily share it if people are interested.

Friday, March 15, 2013

This is Science

My current office is in a building beside a lake. A system of trails, paved and unpaved, leads around the lake on both sides. Every day at lunch time, I eat for about 15 minutes* and then set off from our parking lot, on to those trails, for the rest of my hour. I've walked from the winter into the spring since I started working here, on sunny days and rainy ones, in the wind and the warmth. I get to pick from about four branches of trails, and I try to go down each at least once a week.

When I walk, I look around. I look up into the tree canopy and at the sky, and I look down at the sides of the path and into ditches. I see squirrels, birds, moths, butterflies, and lizards. I don't listen to music while I walk, nor do I take phone calls or texts. I listen to the world around me and the people that pass by. I listen to the scolding mockingbirds and the whirring of bike tires.

Sometimes, I see plants or animals that I don't recognize. If I'm curious about them, I'll try to take a quick photo (the moment a cell phone is allowed on my walk) and look them up when I get back to my office. I don't always do this, though; sometimes I just let the strange flower or unknown butterfly linger in my brain, and look for it again on the next walk.

I started walking in late December. I wore waterproof boots and a coat with a warm scarf at my neck. Sometimes I carried an umbrella. I had the trails mostly to myself. I looked at the lake edges and saw the water level rise and fall, dictated not only by falling rain but by the activity at the dam that created the lake. I saw squirrels taking shelter. I slipped on rocks.

For a month and a half I braved the colder weather, the wind, and the drizzle. Braved is a funny word because, being a transplant to California from the Pacific Northwest, I really don't mind days like that. I enjoy the solitude it gives me and the bright, emerald wetness of trees and ferns. I like walking to warm up. The only person I saw regularly on these days was a quiet man, probably ten years my senior, in a dark red jacket. We never spoke to each other (and still haven't), but we gave smiles and nods in passing.

A few weeks ago, something changed. I started to get warm on my walks. I would walk out wearing a light coat or sweater, and walk back with it slung over my arm. As a big fan of autumn and winter, I wondered if my sweater-and-soup season was coming to an end...

It did, abruptly, over a weekend. In just two days of absence from my walking paths, everything changed. On that Monday that I will always think of as the real start of spring, I saw butterflies for the first time -- the black and iridescent blue of the Red-Spotted Purple, who loves to feast on oaks as a caterpillar, and who flits charmingly to animal droppings as an adult. I saw squirrels chase each other on looping routes up trees, chattering away. Ducks and geese were honking their loud calls of anger and lust (who can tell the difference with geese?), and frogs were piping away in the little ponds beside the road.

Only a week after the animal outpouring, the plants followed suit. Dutchman's Pipe cast its lime green tendrils over last year's dead brush, and the tender leaves of Liliaceae pushed through the dry, scrubby grass on banks. A few brief rains came and went, and suddenly catkins were out here and there, like little Christmas bulbs. Wild onions and mustard bloomed, the deli in the wilderness, and new grass started replacing old, tired blades.

The people changed, too. The few lone cyclists and frustrated looking joggers** multiplied, and more people were bringing their babies along for the ride. Single mountain bikers became pairs and packs, and the winter tights peeled away in favor of the ever-flattering Spandex shorts. Others started walking, too, and chatting, filling the air with conversation as well as goose rage.

I knew it was spring before the calendar told me. I knew before Daylight Saving Time. I knew because I was there, and I felt the undeniable urge to bounce back to the office with a flower behind one ear. I experienced the change and recognized it because of my familiarity with what preceded it.

This is science.

To walk in the world, to revisit the same ideas and routes over and over, until they are familiar enough that minute changes leap easily to our eyes. Science treads the same steps until they are predictable, routine, and then introduces one new element -- to witness the change and absorb the repercussions.

Science isn't dry, or boring, or removed from the world at hand. It doesn't exist only in a lab, and you certainly don't need a degree to do it. Some science looks stodgy, but that doesn't make the fun science any less real.

Science is alive, vibrant, and exciting. It happens when you cook, when you train your dog, when we meet, and all that we do. It is merely the act of observing a situation, thinking about the elements that make it up, and perhaps seeing those things play out, over and over, until a pattern becomes clear. There is power in that pattern, the power to predict and effect change.

I do science by walking around. Everyone can. We just need to clear away the distractions and not worry about being "bored," because there is plenty happening around us to keep our minds occupied.

Today, when I went for a walk, there were little orange flowers blooming. I need to go look them up...


*Don't worry, I don't scarf my food. I'm just a light eater... at lunch...
**Joggers always look unhappy, to me. I will ride my bike, walk, and hike, but jogging just looks and feels unpleasant! Sorry to any joggers reading this.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Return

I will admit to being a fair-weather blogger. My head is full of ideas, photos, and experiences I want to share, but I suffer from a life-long case of antisocialitis* that keeps me cagey and skittish. The Internet is a big, murky place, where everything you produce can live in perpetuity and be linked or Googled by, really, any mook with a computer.

This blog, which is a revival of the last one of the same name, is an attempt to keep my desire to share and produce quality material stronger than my skittish tendencies.

This year I was accepted into the Masters of Human-Environment Relations program at Cornell University's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis. Part of this exciting change means moving, with my partner and our dog, all the way across the U.S. of A. and leaving behind our friends, colleagues, and most of our family. I wanted to revive this blog, in part, to keep in touch in a way that I consider more personal and constructive than Facebook or Twitter. You can also find me blogging at the very sporadic, which I co-produce with my partner (who is even more antisocial than I).

Let's go!


*Not a real disease...