Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: The Year in Books

Last year when I posted my 2006 book list, I was full of grandiose plans for keeping a list of movies I'd watched, but that never happened. I actually started such a list, but it became shameful to me that the movie list might be longer than the book list. Then my computer died, and all the lists suffered for it (as did the blog). However, there has been a fabulous holiday plot twist to this sad story. Drumroll, please... I was gifted a shiny new laptop. Joy of joys! So in celebration of unfettered computing, I am posting a reconstructed book list. It is sort of a pathetic little tally, but it is a list, and they are books; good things both. Happy New Year!

Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen
The Position by Meg Wolitzer
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
The Hungry Tide by Amitov Ghosh
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
A Mile in Her Boots edited by Jennifer Bove
A Midwife’s Story by Penny Armstrong and Sheryl Feldman
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Backyard Buck

We had a visitor yesterday. The impending storm must have emboldened the buck, because it was broad daylight and he came right down near the house to browse the English ivy.

I had no idea anyone ate that stuff. It must be a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures. The buck looks pretty healthy though, which is good, because it's only December... we are guaranteed to get a lot more snow.

It was fun watching the feline reaction to the buck. SodaBoy was able to sneak them onto the screen porch without scaring off the deer, so the encounter was a close one. The cats love the porch, but had no idea what to make of the dining deer. Much kitty poofiness ensued.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Island of Misfit Ornaments

This is the temporary staging area for those
ornaments rescued from the cats, but not yet re-hung.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nervous Nelly

We bought a fir tree from a local farmer this weekend, and set it up, but just with lights so far. This is the first holiday season for the kittens, and we aren't yet sure how they will handle the temptations. They have already proven themselves suspect by pulling at branches and chewing on lit bulbs. Squirting them with water seems to work only when we are home to wield the spray bottle, as evidenced by a broken lamp and shattered ceramics.

We have been unplugging the tree lights before leaving the cats unsupervised, and I am leaning towards skipping the most fragile ornaments this year. SodaBoy complained that those are the nicest ones, and of course, I agree (which is why I don't want to subject them to the spastic enthusiasms of these silly kitties). Our other cats never posed a threat to trees or ornaments. My hope is by next year these two will have settled down some.

I feel a little uncomfortable being such a nervous nelly about my ornaments. This is the only time of year when such decorations can be enjoyed, after all. However, I have had many of these ornaments for 20-30 years now, and they wouldn't bring me much pleasure smashed into smithereens. Decisions, decisions. I think I will stick with wait and see for now.

I can always toss caution to the wind next week.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Inspiration

I want to thank the good folks at FUH2 for providing the inspiration for this photo. I did not submit it to the website, since the subject of this photo is actually an H3, but the shot was readily available and I could not resist.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Surprise Darkness

Last night, as I was cleaning up the kitchen after our chicken parm dinner, SodaBoy called out to me that there was a power company work crew in the street in front of the house. He said, "I hope we don't lose power." I shrugged it off as an idle concern, and went about my business. Then, just seconds after I'd started up the dishwasher, the entire house shuddered into darkness. The crew had taken down half the block, starting at our house. The house right next door never lost power.

It seemed like an odd time for maintenance: it was pouring rain, with snow mixed in, and two very definite claps of thunder. We lit some candles and entertained ourselves by taking photos. Luckily our electricity was restored an hour later, but we never fired the computer back up, and I got to bed nice and early. I think I would sleep a lot more without the distractions of electricity.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Recap

We spent the holiday with the in-laws this year, as we do most. SodaBoy's parents live on a coastal barrier island in the south, a gorgeous location replete with white sand beaches and rippling salt marshes, miles of paved bike paths and recreational opportunities galore. SodaBoy's sister and her family were there as well, so we got to enjoy the antics of the nephews, always a good source of entertainment. There was much to be thankful for.

However, I always chafe a bit under the regiment of planned activities. Part of the problem is the trip was so short, that there was little spare time, but in general, free will is not a big part of spending time with the in-laws. Every activity is choreographed, with little tolerance for deviation.

We arrived Thursday, and SodaBoy and I begged off immediately for a quick walk to stretch our legs after the flights. We hurried down to the beach and snapped some photos, but quickly returned so as not to upset the balance. The rest of the day was spent cooking, eating, and cleaning the kitchen. At least by us womenfolk... the men were free to watch football, drink voluminously, and nap. Thrilling, no? However, hors d'oeuvres before dinner included shrimp fresh off the boat, a delight so sweet and crispy you wouldn't know they were the same creature marketed as shrimp in my local inland markets.

Friday: kayaking, followed by an oyster roast at the country club. Saturday: golf for the menfolk and biking for the women and kiddies, followed by dinner at a resort restaurant. Sunday: fly home. Busy, busy, busy.

I *love* the kayaking there. It is hands-down my favorite low country activity. We see dolphins in the tidal creeks, this year a mother and juvenile, and birds and crabs and all sorts of neat stuff. The funny thing is that SodaBoy's father is convinced that kayaking is dangerous, a daredevil pursuit akin to bungee jumping or skydiving. These are guided tours, with two guides assigned to each small group. It is not exactly life threatening. He just doesn't get it, though, and was all prepared to notify next of kin.

I am so glad I have today off to decompress before returning to work. Even though SodaBoy's parents live in a beautiful place that draws many visitors, and we get get to do some amazing things there, it never quite feels like a vacation to me. Puppets can't relax. Puttering around the house last night unpacking and squeezing the kitties? Now that is something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Placeholder

I have been completely overextended and overwhelmed of late, with too many commitments to stay sane, let alone keep up the blog. The madness continues for the next several days, but I requested Monday off from work, and that is the carrot I am dangling in front of myself: one lone day where I'll have naught to do but mundutiae. Hurray!

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Thermostat Wars

When I was an undergraduate, I spent my upper class years living in an off-campus apartment with a bunch of buddies. The flat was one of three in a big, old rambling house with lots of character. We loved the fire place with the built in bookcases and the big front porch, but the draftiness made heating a challenge, as did our lack of unity on what a reasonable indoor temperature should be.

The roommates didn't argue about it. Rather, we engaged in passive agressive thermostat wars, with each roommate secretly turning the thermostat up or down as he or she saw fit. I fell solidly into the camp that was constantly turning the heat DOWN. I abhor the practice some people have of heating their homes to the point that they can be comfortable wearing shorts in the wintertime. Put on a freaking sweater, already. I am wearing two right now.

So I was thrilled to stumble upon the Freeze Your Buns Challenge over at Crunchy Chicken. Basically, the idea is that participants will pledge to lower their thermostats this winter. People aren't being asked to literally freeze, just to think about their energy consumption, and to try to reduce it. Even one degree makes a big difference, and it is great to see so many people excited to participate.

We have a rule in our house that we don't turn on the heat before November. Last year, we succumbed on November 2nd, but it was partially just to make sure the furnace in our new home actually worked. This year we lasted a little longer: it was November 6th when I arrived home from work to discover that SodaBoy had turned on the heat. The very next day, we had the first snow of the season.

Our house has a programmable thermostat, which is awesome, because we can't forget to turn the heat down at night. Last year, I set it to 62 degrees during the day, and 56 degrees at night. Technically, I am not sure I am participating in the challenge correctly, because I haven't lowered the thermostat per se. But I did go into the program and dramatically reduce the number of "day" hours. We are dropping to 56 earlier in the evening, and kicking it up to 62 later in the day.

Even wearing long underwear around the house, layering the sweaters, drinking lots of hot tea, and huddling under blankets when reading or watching tv, I am not sure we can go lower than 62 in the evenings. I am tempted to try for a lower temperature at night though. I often wake up at night too warm, so I am not worried about comfort. My concern is that the pipes could freeze.

Is there a safe method for determining how low one can safely turn the heat without bursting a pipe?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Democracy Geek*

I just got back from voting, and am all a-flutter. I get such a buzz from voting, always have. This year there were several added bonuses to make things even more exciting.

First of all, my polling station had been moved to a student center at nearby Hometown University. After my experience last year voting in a church, I was thrilled to be at a more neutral location. I asked the poll workers about how polling stations are selected, but no one knew. They just show up where they are told. I made it clear how much I like the new location, although I chickened out and didn't admit why. My churchy neighbor was one of the volunteers, and I didn't want to offend her.

Unfortunately, this neutrality may not last. All the poll workers indicated that they, too, liked the new quarters--the building is bright and roomy and modern. However, apparently the elderly voters have been quite vocal in expressing their distaste for the new polling station. There is a traffic circle out front where parking is prohibited due to the frequent buses, and apparently the adjacent lot isn't quite convenient enough for the mobility impaired. This is really too bad, since the building itself is highly accessible. I really don't want people to not vote because of something so trivial as parking.

I also don't want to vote in a church. There must be some reasonable solution.

The other detail that pleased me was that I got to vote on the old fashioned, crank handled voting machines again. I treasure every opportunity to use these, since it may be my last. Unless, of course, I buy one for my living room. And don't think for one minute that I haven't fantasized about such a thing, because I most certainly have. I mean, seriously... how much would that rock?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* I shamelessly stole this title from The Onion. To be fair, I must acknowledge that I am not quite as much of a democracy geek as the titular David Haas. I do not vote in primaries because I cannot bear to declare allegiance to either political party.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Foxon Park: White Birch

As astute readers may have surmised from the name, SodaBoy loves soda. Coca-cola classic is his favorite, the old standby, the default. However, like any true connoisseur, SodaBoy enjoys sampling different varieties. I do not quite share his passion for soda, but I get in on the fun, too. For example, when traveling, we always stop to see if we can find local brands.

And then, of course, there is the tasting. We are not big boozers, but mysteriously possess a Hometown University shot glass of completely unknown origins. It is certainly not the sort of thing that either of us would buy, yet it is this shot glass that I use to taste each new discovery. It delivers a perfect size portion, is easily refilled, and adds fun to the ritual.

Photo by SodaBoy

Label Information
Contains: carbonated water, sugar, natural and artificial flavor, sodium benzoate (preservative).

"ALL-WAYS IN GOOD TASTE"

Foxon Park Beverages, Inc.
East Haven, Connecticut 06513
CT. LIC. #158
Visit us at: www.foxonpark.com

Soda Review
This is a very nice soda. The flavor is that signature wintergreen of birch beer, with some initial bite, then a smooth finish. It is not excessively sweet. [That sweetness assessment is mine, not SodaBoy's. He rarely find any soda too sweet.] Also, this soda gets automatic bonus points for using real sugar as opposed to wretched ubiquitous corn syrup.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Close Call

I had another few days of travel this week, delineating wetlands up north. Fall has most definitely arrived. We had temperatures in the 30s every morning, with hard crunchy frosts. Fortunately, it did not rain and the weather warmed up to beauteous sunny days. Yesterday, I got word from my boss that I won't be going back to this site next week. The delineation effort will continue without me, as I am needed elsewhere.

Of course, my initial instinctive reaction was disappointment. I love fieldwork: I love the intimacy with the land, being outdoors in all sorts of weather, the opportunities to see wildlife up close and personal. I love the variety and the travel, the country roads, the interesting people. However, we had a bit of a frightening experience this week, and the silver lining of office work is looking rather shinier than normal.

It happened about 5:30 Thursday afternoon. The sun was low in the sky, the fields infused with golden light. Because of the long drives to the sites, we tend to work long days, and were delineating a little seep wetland at the corner of a spruce plantation abutting an enormous hayfield. The wetland was isolated and sort of marginal in meeting the criteria, so we stood around debating the issue for a spell, but decided we'd better flag it. Soils were inarguably hydric.

Colleague was hanging flags while I dug the soil sample and recorded floristic data. I looked up across the hayfield and saw an enormous hulk of a man approaching us with a very large rifle. I alerted colleague, but we kept working, as he was still quite a distance away. When he reached us, the hunter was quite kind. He had hiked all the way over to tell us we shouldn't be there.

We had permission to be on the land, of course, as did he. The hunter worried for our safety. He said he saw distant movement, and had me in his spotting scope before the metal clipboard flashed in the sun. It was at that point that he realized we were human and lowered his gun. Apparently our orange field vests were not providing the visibility we had been banking on. We asked him if he knew of other people hunting that property. The answer was affirmative: there were hunters over there, there, there, and there. We were surrounded.

We thanked him profusely, and high tailed out of there. When we reached the safety of the rental car, we looked back into the field. There were several deer moving from the woods into the field, across a path we'd just crossed mere minutes before. We drove straight into town, in search of additional orange wear. We both bought orange hats, and oversized longsleeve orange shirts to wear as an outer layer. Those we wore in the field Friday, as we tried to safely navigate a landscape echoing with gunshots. It was eerie, to say the least.

I have never been asked to do fieldwork in rifle season before. Woodland Agency always pulled all field staff into the office for the duration. So even though the warm, stuffy office will have none of the adventure of field work next week, I think I'm ready for just a wee bit less excitement.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chestnut Conundrum

One of the things I bought at the farmer's market yesterday was chestnuts, a quart for $2. I have no idea if this is a good price or not, having little experience with chestnuts aside from snacking on a few raw that I've gathered in the woods. However, being slightly obsessed with chestnuts, I just couldn't pass them by. I am a huge sucker at the farmer's market.

It wasn't the first time I couldn't resist the allure of the chestnut though... several years back, I bought a very pricey jar and tried to follow an enclosed recipe for roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts. Moral of the story: never try new recipes at Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone smiled politely, but the recipe was dismal, at least the chestnut portion. It was a huge disappointment for me. The brussel sprouts were actually pretty good, though.

So this afternoon, with my lazy weekend, I turned to The Joy of Cooking to see what to do with my chestnuts. There was no recipe for roasted chestnuts, and precious few choices at all, so I opted for the chestnut puree. I scored each chestnut with an x on the flat side, and boiled them briefly as directed, then proceeded to pull them out and shell them, tossing the few wormy specimens out the window for the squirrels. This process took me over an hour.

Then I still had to boil them again, this time longer, for 30-45 minutes. The book suggested boiling them in milk for a sweet presentation, or in broth for a savory dish. Not having any milk, I went with a can of chicken broth. After the prescribed 45 minutes, the broth was essentially all absorbed/evaporated, but unfortunately, the chestnuts weren't mushy yet. Having no more broth, I decided they would have to be done. I added a few tablespoons of butter, and using a handheld pastry blender, tried to puree them.

It was only semi-successful. I suspect a food processor would have produced a better puree. My end product is a lumpy mash, pale brown in color. The flavor is very nice, but I am not entirely certain it was worth all the effort, especially since SodaBoy turned up his nose and refused to even sample the concoction. Joy said that the puree is traditionally served as an accompaniment to game meat, particularly venison. I am not a hunter and have no game meat handy.

What should I do with this stuff? Besides just eat it with a spoon, that is.

Nothing Much

Nothing much is going on here, which is kind of nice for a change. SodaBoy’s parents were here visiting last weekend, and the weekend before that we were out of town visiting friends. Add that to all the overnight travel I’ve been doing for week lately (2-3 days a week for the last 6 weeks or more) and I’m pretty grateful for a commitment-free weekend. I can’t officially call it a lazy weekend, as I’ve been pretty busy just catching up with chores and such, but it feels good to be knocking around the house, anyway.

Yesterday morning Nadine and I met for a trip to the farmer’s market, unsure what we’d find so late in the season. I guess one advantage of this non-autumn is there are lots of fresh, local veggies still available. I bought a couple local cheeses, too, and our dinner last night was all local except for the crackers we ate the cheese on. They were a product of Canada, a frustratingly vague label. Canada is not a small place after all: parts of it are rather nearby; others, obviously, are not.

No specific plans for today, although I’ve got another load of laundry chugging while we figure it out. It is another beautiful day, sunny and unseasonably warm. It would be nice to get out hiking, but many normal haunts are unusable this time of year: rifle season is officially open. We’ll figure something out. Or not. And for once, that would be OK, too. Being lazy has an unnatural appeal right about now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day for the Environment: What I Do

Although I have made many allusions to it in all my talk of the wetlands and the plant love, I am not sure I have ever revealed what exactly it is that I do. There is my whole wishy-washy anonymity complex to contemplate, after all. However, I have decided to come out in honor of the day: I work for an environmental consulting firm.

Environmental consulting firms and environmental consultants can get a bad rap. Sometimes our clients think we are a bunch of seed-eating treehuggers out to ruin them. Sometimes environmentalists think we are sell-outs in the pockets of developers, paving the way for all sorts of evils.

I am here to explain the situation. None of these things are true.

Every.single.person I know who works professionally in my field is there because of a passion for the environment. We all went to school and studied ecology, wildlife management, botany, hydrology, soils, environmental policy. We are not in it for the money; we all know we'd make more doing something else. I certainly had a higher income working at the chromatography lab, but I was miserable.

The sad truth is that some development is inevitable. It is barreling down on us. What we do at my firm is take that development, and make it better.

I admit I was a little unsure when I started at this firm. All my previous environmental work had been for various government agencies. I knew that system, and had some faith in it (although unfortunately the current administration is doing a magnificent job of dismantling every protection they can). But the same policies dictate what we do in the private sector, the same National Environmental Policy Act, the same Environmental Impact Statements, the same fieldwork.

Still skeptical? Allow me to present this unnamed creek, barely a dotted line on a topographical map:


I feel a little dramatic saying it like so, but I saved that creek. In the preliminary project designs, an access road and electrical lines were proposed to cross the creek. On a field visit this spring, I took photos. I was worried that blasting would be required to continue with the proposed plans, and that it would destroy the creek. I brought the photos to my boss, who shared my excitement about the beautiful site, and my concern for its future.

We got the ball rolling, and soon enough: voila! When I was up delineating wetlands last week at the same site, the new maps show no project components anywhere in the vicinity. The plans were re-worked, the road was re-routed, and the creek will no longer be impacted. It is but one example. When I find populations of rare plants, they are protected. The wetlands I delineate are avoided, and when impacted, compensatory mitigation is required at great expense to the developers.

The project goes on, but it is a much better project due to the involvement of people like me. It is satisfying to know that I am making a small difference each and every day.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

SodaBoy's Desktop

I was tagged for this desktop meme a few days back by Mary, and I love the idea. It gives us all a visual peek into each other's worlds, the scene of the bloggy crime, as it were. Except I am sharing SodaBoy's desktop instead of my own, since my computer officially died a few months ago. Close enough, right? Plus, his desktop is an especially fun one... how many icons can you find?


SodaBoy took the photo at Fantastic Canoeing Provincial Park, a favorite camping spot of ours. OK, now the hard part. I am tagging Woman Warrior, Aliki, Andy, purpleteardropsofhappilymarriedness, and anyone else who wants to participate. Show me what you got!

Monday, October 08, 2007

New England Weekend

I have been out of town again, this time for pleasure instead of work, although that will come soon enough: I leave first thing tomorrow for a business trip that won't have me back until Thursday night. I am really starting to covet a laptop so I can keep in touch a little better. It's good to have goals, right? Something to work for... In case I get impulsive, does anyone have a particular laptop they love, or conversely, one they hate?


We travelled this weekend to New England, to visit old friends who recently bought their first house. Their house is beautiful, a rambling old farmhouse that was built in 1790. I love the history in New England, how it is everywhere, and how it is valued. The area I live in was settled in the same era that J&S's house was built, but one must expend more effort to find the evidence. In New England it is everywhere, in the winding roads that follow the rivers, in the stone fences, in the town squares.

Every time I see those old stone fences, I am filled with admiration for the folks who dug them out of the rocky soil, eking a living off the land. I wonder about the character of the community in 1790, and the family who built the house. I could easily become obsessed with history in such a place, and not just the historical events we all learn about in school. I hunger for details of day to day life of the people who came before. J&S have joined the local historical society. Perhaps they will find out.


It was a gorgeous weekend. We hiked up a mountain along an old rail line that had been built in 1905 and abandoned after WWII. All the rail ties were rotted away, with only a few spikes left. The ground along the trail glittered with mica. We explored some ruins in the woods along the trail, fodder for another post if I ever have time at the computer again. This seems unlikely: by the time I return from the wetlands, SodaBoy's parents will be in town visiting.

These photos were both taken on the drive back home. A drive without scenic stops is hardly worth taking.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Cold Heat

Today was a gift of a day, work wise. My assignment was to drive to a distant county to collect plant and soils data at two wetlands along a dirt road. The wetlands had already been flagged, but somehow the data never got collected. I wouldn't need four-wheel drive, so didn't have to bother with the muss and fuss of a rental car. Driving there and back would take the better part of the day, so I could leave right from the house, and wouldn't have to report to the office at all.

The day didn't turn out exactly the way I'd planned, mostly because of the rain. It poured on most of my drive, which hampered my leaf peeping quite a bit and prevented me from dawdling with scenic roadside photo shooting. The rain let up long enough for me to use my field sheets instead of my almost full Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, and I didn't get soaked, which was nice, since I'd neglected to bring rain gear. The odd thing is that SodaBoy reports that it didn't rain here all day.

Unexpected rain, or no, I still love me a field day, especially a solo field day, since it is such a rarity with this job. I could listen to NPR on my car radio, and when I lost reception to the universal backwoods selection of country or Christian, switch to Radiohead CDs, and sing along at a ridiculous volume and pitch. No birdseed: I could eat a reasonable lunch whenever I chose. And I could control my own oxygen intake.

I hate automobile heaters. There, I said it! Shocking, I know. I will use the heater in my car, when absolutely necessary, to defrost the windshield, and then I'll shut it off again. [Full disclosure: I usually have a window cracked.] I live in a climate with pronounced winters, but hell. I wear a coat, why does the heat need to be cranked? Car heat smells bad, and makes me faintly nauseous. I feel as though I am suffocating, and get a little panicky.

Aside from the differences in eating preferences, this is another issue that can cause conflict within field crews. Some people actually like a hot, stuffy vehicle. A like-minded coworker of mine and I almost suffocated in the back seat of a crew cab pickup two weeks ago. The windows couldn't be down, because that was too noisy for the cell phone yakkers, and the air couldn't be on, because BossLady was cold. It actually eased my pain a little bit to see my co-worker in similar throes of agony. Then at least I didn't feel so crazy.

I have been in possession of this particular quirk my entire life. My parents report that as a toddler, I would grow cross when the heat was used in the vehicle, and demand "the cold heat" instead. The cold heat was just the vent, as we never had a car with AC.

Well, I ran the cold heat all through my rainy drive today. It was delightful.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Apple Time

Apples are a big crop in my region, with orchards blanketing the hillsides south of the city. Picking is a seasonal ritual that keeps us city folk tied to the land, in some marginal way, at least. We can drive out to the farms, ride a tractor into the fields, and feel a part of things. I swear it used to be a hay ride into the orchards, but somewhere along the way, they switched to empty carts behind a tractor. Too many allergy complaints, I wonder?


We went to the big farm, the Apple Empire, not because their apples are any better, but rather for the sheer expansiveness of the orchards. Apples for miles and miles and miles. Of course with this beautiful weather, it was a madhouse. Sheriffs were out directing traffic, and the gift shop so crowded one could barely move. We picked Macs, but ventured into the shop for honey crisps, cider, and donuts. I should have got some cheese curds, too.


Apparently honey crisps are a relatively new variety in these parts, and pick-your-own orchards aren't available yet. I suspect the professionals are gentler on the trees than us weekenders. I couldn't believe what some of the kids were getting away with out in the orchards: throwing apples, breaking branches, and running roughshod. My parents would never have tolerated such destructive behavior. Anyway, we sampled the honey crisps last time we were at the Apple Empire, and they are definitely tasty.


So I'll be eating a lot of apples in the next few days. I don't usually cook anything with them, just crunch them up fresh. What do you do with your apples? Any good recipes I should try?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to the Wetlands I Go

I leave tomorrow morning for another block of field work. This time I will not be back until Thursday night. I am going to get seriously behind on my internetting with all this travel. It kind of makes a girl covet a laptop.

I had a rough weekend, spending much of the time in a haze of bleh. Yup, I got SodaBoy's cold all right, with a vengeance. I would blame it all entirely on the cranky rodent syndrome that was in full effect on Friday, except I clearly was exposed to some real live germs. Tomorrow morning I get to sleep in at least, while I wait for the rest of my crew to drive in from another office. Hopefully that will be enough to push me back onto the side of wellness.

In lieu of actual content, I will instead share these recent photos of the kitties. We took them out back yesterday, and they absolutely loved the woods. And who can blame them?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Strapping on the Feedbag

I am going to be doing fieldwork tomorrow and Friday, delineating wetlands up in the north woods. I couldn't be more thrilled. Aside from the fact that any field day beats any office day, we've been having the most beautiful weather this week. Plus, the bugs are gone already. It should be a great couple of days.

Many of my years of fieldwork have been conducted alone, just me and the woods. That is actually how I like it best. I see a hell of a lot more wildlife that way, for sure. It is strange to become reacquainted with working with other humans. Delineating wetlands works best in teams, and I like my coworkers. That is not the issue. However, they do have strange eating habits that I find utterly inadequate for the demands of actually working.

A typical day of fieldwork for these folks involves stopping on the way to the site, and stocking up on gas station food: seeds and nuts, granola bars, meat sticks, those weird orange crackers, chips, candy bars. They fill the pockets of their field vests with this junk, and feed on it all day, never eating a proper meal. I find this utterly mind boggling. It seems to be part of the culture here, particularly with some of the men.

Since we'll be working out of a motel, I can't operate on my normal methodology, which involves the advance preparation of honest to goodness food. I might make a big batch of pasta salad (Italian dressing, not mayo) or tabouli, and pack it all week, stocking my cooler each morning with other goodies like fruits and veggies. Those might get stuffed in the pocket of the field vest. Definitely not pop tarts.

The motel closest to our field site, where I stayed last week, had a great continental breakfast, with lots of packable items to take along. Unfortunately they are booked up this week, and we are staying elsewhere, a great unknown. I have a sandwich ready to pack in my cooler tomorrow. We better do better than seeds and nuts on Friday, though, or I will be one cranky little rodent.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Checks

I paid some bills this weekend, and for the first time since we moved here, I didn't scratch the old address off the top of the check and pen in the new one. It felt like I was forgetting something, like it was incomplete without my initials up top. I know most people probably just order new checks when they move, but not me. I did break down and pay to get a new driver's license with the correct address, but checks? Nope. I just kept using the old ones for 16 months until they were gone. I did this last time we moved, too.

Does everyone do this? Or have I crossed the invisible line from cheap to nutty?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend Roundup

SodaBoy has brought home his first cold of the year, so he was pretty much out of commission all weekend. Schools are such dreadfully germy places. Now we shall see if I can avoid the cold through sheer determination. Repeat after me, I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not get sick.

Yesterday was cool and rainy off and on. Nadine and I squeezed in a trip to the farmer's market after a three week hiatus, so we're back to eating well. I so missed those salads! The shit in the bags in the grocery store? Meh. Today was nicer. I took myself on a walk to Stormwater Park, and found a few nice shots. It can be challenging to find inspiration in a place so frequently traveled. Today there was big sky, dramatic dark clouds, but my favorites didn't end up featuring that too prominently. Except maybe in the reflections.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

I developed a wretched sort of crick in my shoulder early this week that is variously sending shooting pain up into my neck and down the right side of my spine. Although quite unpleasant, the pain is not debilitating for the most part, but sitting at the computer seems to aggravate it, especially the mousing action. What with traveling three days this week for work and spending the other day at the desk writing reports, I haven't felt up to much evening computing.

Instead, I have been vegging out on the couch with the heating pad. Today it felt a little better, despite driving 268 miles, which is odd, since driving all day often leads to shoulder cramping. Maybe it was all the ibuprofen I gobbled up, six so far today. I think it's time to re-up, though, as the muscles seem to be seizing up again. The last dose was about six hours ago, so I am not sure if the ibuprofen is wearing off, or if the computing is escalating the pain. Either way, I think I better wrap up this sorry whine-fest.

Anyone have any advice for dealing with shoulder pain?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Adirondack Photolog

All week I've been meaning to post a few more photos from our Adirondack trip. I have such a fondness for the place. I have been busy though, with a 12+ hour work day that included driving 500 miles, and a full day of volunteering on my feet all day, among other things. This upcoming week will have me out of town for work for a few days, so I'm feeling like it is now or never for sharing the rest of the camping photos.

After climbing Esther, the rest of our time was spent in a more leisurely fashion. We took early morning walks to the meadow:


And stopped along scenic roadsides to snap photos:


We saw the foliage just starting to turn, as on this hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) that I shot from below to get the backlit, solar flare effects:


We hiked in to a couple of secluded ponds:

Owen Pond

Copperas Pond

And along the beautiful AuSable River:


We also drove up the Whiteface Memorial Highway, and rode the elevator through the mountain core right to the summit. The toll road and castle at the top are Depression era WPA projects. It is such a different summit experience than actually climbing for oneself, but interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Summiting Esther

Esther was the the target, the peak I had selected before driving up north, the peak I had obsessed about on the couch at home, poring over the trail guide, caressing the topo, and quizzing my Dad, who had climbed the same route a few year back with SM. After dropping the kittens off with the folks, we finally hit the road later than planned, and went straight to the campground instead of stopping for supplies first. So after the tents were set up, and the mattress inflated, we headed back into town. We grabbed slices of pizza that we ate while shivering in the mountain mist, then headed to the grocery for breakfast and trail food. I wanted no distractions in the morning: I wanted to hit the trail first thing.

Morning came sunny and bright, and we snarfed our cold camp breakfasts, loaded up the day packs, and headed out down the bumpy road. We were camped at South Meadow, a primitive site in the heart of the High Peaks, but Esther is 10 miles north or so, up by Whiteface. We parked at the ASRC, on the right side of the exit drive, as instructed in the book. Esther is officially "trailless," which simply means the trails aren't maintained, but aside from some initial confusion, the way was fairly clear. A small foot path started right by the where we'd parked, with a plastic coated sheet of printer paper tacked to a tree announcing that this wasn't the red trail.

Not to be deterred, we followed the non-red trail and it led us where we wanted to go, to the old t-bar lift trail up Marble Mountain. Reading this section of the trail guide, I had imagined something much different, something open and grassy. The path looked much like any other mountain trail, wooded and narrow and rocky and steep. The only thing that revealed it as our old ski slope was occasional blocks of concrete that must have supported the poles. After about a mile of this with nary a peek of a view, we crested Marble Mountain. The guide book did not prepare us for the majesty of this waypoint.

View from Marble Mountain


We stopped to soak in the vistas and shoot exposure after exposure of sheer glory. I had a snack of some cherry tomatoes and consulted my beloved maps before we moved on to join the real red trail. A brand new shiny sign had been installed at the junction of the herd path and the red trail, so new that loose sand from the post-hole diggers was still evident sprinkled over the leaf litter. The red trail is marked and maintained, and moved upward in a steady ascent through the birches and into the balsam. How I love the smell of balsam in the sun!

Mount Esther, from Lookout Mountain

After rising to the plateau of Lookout Mountain, and being teased with more views through the stunted balsams, another new sign pointed our way onto the herd path to Esther. The last mile or so was a very nice hike, with little vertical gain remaining. We had the summit entirely to ourselves, and reveled in that, removing our wicking shirts and hiking boots, draping the sweaty socks and tees to dry in the sun. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

We ate our trail lunches, admired the summit marker, and shot dozens more photos, before conceding that it was time to pack up and out. Descent was uneventful, which is always good. In an entire day of hiking, we saw just two other humans, and the weather was spectacular. It was a perfect day for climbing, and a perfect climb.

Esther - Elevation: 4240 feet, Order of Height: 28, Order of Ascension: 9.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Two Tent System

My last minute vacation request was granted, allowing SodaBoy and I the good fortune to spend the past few days up in the mountains. We arrived at the campgrounds shortly before sunset Thursday night. After much waffling, we selected a site and set up our base. We have developed quite the methodology for car camping over the years, and from my observances of fellow campers, it seems rather unusual. I present to you our two tent system:

The inner tent is your typical small dome tent; it has served us well on numerous backpacking trips over the years. It roughly approximates waterproof-ness, but gets damp around the edges when rained upon for several days straight. When planning a car camping trip a few years back despite a questionable weather forecast, we decided to bolster our defenses.

The outer tent has no floor, and is not nearly so well-designed or well-made as my real tent. It is big and heavy and bulky. Set-up is counter intuitive and often generates much cursing. It also requires considerable feats of strength, and I cannot manage it alone.

However, it is definitely worth the trouble. First of all, it serves as a good luck charm. It never ever rains if we use the two tent system. Secondly, we lay tarps down under the real tent, and they extend forward to make a rug, enormously reducing the amount of detritus tracked into the tent. Thirdly, there is room for a couple chairs and the bags, making a pleasant little dressing/sitting area.

On the same expedition to the outdoor store that yielded the outer tent, we picked up a big ole air mattress, and now sleep in comfort. I guess it's no wonder we haven't been backpacking lately. Car camping is just too damn luxurious. This was our home base for the last few days, and we headed out for day hikes from there.

More photos to come...

Monday, August 27, 2007

With This Ring...

SodaBoy and I got married this past May, to little fanfare, just the way we wanted. People have been asking us for months now when we were going to get our rings. Which is OK, since I acknowledged we meant to get them someday. It's just that we both hate shopping so much. And jewelry shopping? Ee-gads. Those people are vultures. I had tried dispatching SodaBoy to scope out the available ring selection, but that ship never sailed. So I had pretty much decided we would maybe get them sometime this winter, when the weather was miserable and the prospect of shopping seemed less bad.

Well, it turned out the weather was perfectly miserable this weekend, the kind of nasty heat where you lie on the floor because it is incrementally cooler than lying on the couch. I had drummed up some errands at the mall to enjoy the refugia of air conditioning: mailing a onesie to my cousin for his new baby, picking up digital prints from the photo shop. When we had completed my errands and were heading back towards the end of the building where we'd parked, I got a little panicky. I wasn't ready to face the heat again just yet. We walked by a jewelry shop and detoured inside. I know, I know. A mall jewelry store is probably not the best place to buy. Of course, buying wasn't our intent. But when we found rings we liked? It didn't seem like such a bad idea after all.

The rings are white gold, comfort fit, like Nicole had suggested. I was originally pretty fixated on the idea of tungsten, something about that thought pleased me mightly. Perhaps my fondness for Oliver Sacks? Turns out the tungsten was much more expensive than gold. Bah! We have discovered something really cool about the white gold, though. In daylight, the color perfectly matches the stainless steel of our watches. After dark, the true gold color shines through a bit. As an added bonus for SodaBoy, he can now walk around proclaiming himself White Gold Wielder! I think I need to read some Stephen R. Donaldson and find out what he's talking about.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Celebration

Last night I took SodaBoy out to dinner at one of the fanciest restuarants in town. We hadn't been there in several years, but had real cause for celebration. SodaBoy got an offer for employment in his field; it's been a long time coming. Several years ago he stopped working and went back to school full time. He earned his master's degree and has been searching for a new job. I am so happy for him, that he is going to get the opportunity to apply his new skills, that this investment is finally coming to fruition.

To be honest, I am happy for myself, too. I have borne the burden of primary breadwinner for too long now. Getting laid off from my stinky old lab job last summer turned out to be for the best, as I am much better suited for the job I have now. But those months of dual unemployment were extremely stressful. I am looking forward to the solidarity of the both of us rising in the morning and going forth to face the cruel world together.

So we celebrated with a little fine dining. I had a crab salad appetizer, prepared with yellow tomatoes, avacado, and citrus vinaigrette; pan roasted halibut, with crab and spinach risotto, and raifort sauce; and for dessert, a three berry crostata. SodaBoy ordered the Maine diver scallop appetizer, served over a warm corn and zucchini relish; the antelope wellington, with bordelaise sauce, mashed sweet potato, and greens; and vanilla ice cream with a ginger snap.

The food was outstanding, each bite a delectable combination of flavors to be slowly savored. Service was faster than I remembered from previous visits, which was nice, as we didn't end up spending three hours in the restaurant. We were both amused to find ourselves viewing the whole fine dining experience with a whole different perspective after watching Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef. Salt and pepper on the table? Tsk, tsk.

Are there any foodies reading this? If so, I'd love to hear more about what is in a raifort sauce.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Vacation Hopeful

I put in a vacation request to take Thursday and Friday off next week. I don't yet know if it will be approved though, since all three of my bosses are on vacation this week, and to be fair, I've given terribly late notice. I'd love to go camping, to breathe crisp mountain air, to clamber over rocks until my muscles scream, to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees as I drift off to sleep. I have spent less time outdoors this summer than I would have liked. I may bring it up in my performance review this fall, how my field skills are being under-utilized. Or I might chicken out, and whine here instead.

Assuming I get the time off, though, whatever shall I do with the kittens? Self-sufficiency is one of the great advantages of cats. Typically you can leave them a few heaping bowls of dry food, a few big bowls of water, and just take off for a few days, maybe asking your sister to pop in and deliver some pets. These kittens are a different story though. Rhea is still getting two separate liquid medications every day, one of which needs to be dispensed twice daily.

I'm sending out feelers about leaving them with my parents, since I so dutifully take care of their dog for them several times a year whenever they leave town, most recently just last month for nearly two whole weeks. I worry about that though. Would the kittens be locked in the basement? My Dad puts on a show about not liking cats, although they have two cats of their own. Their cats came to them, though; Dad did not seek them out. The parental cat units mostly stay outdoors, due to some behavioral issues like indiscriminate urination. Ick.

Plus, Dad & SM did a lot of work on the house over the last few years. I suspect they would be fearful of the cats damaging their shiny new house stuff. The same is true of my sister: new house stuff. Not that the kittens are particularly destructive. They use the box without fail, and don't scratch things. Reemsy is a little nutter, though, tearing around like a firecracker. Both kittens will climb the lampshades when they get super excited. So I have to acknowledge that they could potentially break something by accidentally knocking it over.

Any ideas? I have no idea what it costs to board kittens. I suppose I could look into that. They were a huge hit at the vet's office. Maybe someone there would want to squeeze them for a few days.

ETA: Good news back from Dad. He said they would barricade the kittens in the laundry room when they aren't home, and keep them out with them when they are home. That seems like a reasonable solution. The laundry room is small, but it is upstairs and has windows. Now I just have to hope for good news from the bosses.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kitten Update

As I mentioned before, when we first got these cats, they were covered with every possible form of parasite, and we wanted to get them veterinary attention immediately. Our regular vet was pretty booked up, so SodaBoy took them to another practice so we could get the treatments started right away for the fleas and mites and worms. We scheduled an appointment later with the regular vet, since it is conveniently located very close to home.

The first appointment on July 20th was fairly successful. Rhea weighed in at 1.2 pounds and Remus was 1 pound even. SodaBoy brought the cats home with meds for what we thought were all their issues, although we later had to go back and pick up a different worm regimen. For some reason the new vet only treated them for hookworms and roundworms initially, and we had to call back and demand tapeworm pills, too, after they started shedding tapeworm eggs everywhere.

Remus

As the weeks passed, we've developed some concerns about Rhea, in particular. She is tiny, obviously, but unnaturally obsessed with food. We couldn't have a meal or even a snack without her screaming in panicked desperation, trying to steal food of every variety. Remus, who was smaller from the start, shows no excessive interest in food, but soon outstripped Rhea in growth, and the size difference between them is now quite striking. Every tiny bone in Rhea's body stuck out. You can see her hip bones jutting out in the photo below.

Luckily, the appointment at the regular vet was Thursday. SodaBoy brought all the paperwork from the stopgap visit, and the vet definitely agreed that Rhea's slow weight gain was cause for concern. She now weighs 1.7 pounds, whereas Reemsy* has reached a hulking 2.4 pounds. Everyone seems to agree that both cats are younger than we were told when we picked them up. Remus was declared healthy and got her first round of immunizations. Rhea was still too small for shots, and too small for much bloodwork either. The vet took two drops, so now we know she is negative for feline leukemia at least.

Rhea

So now we have more meds for Rhea: an antibiotic to treat a wide range of possible bacterial infections, and a vitamin-mineral supplement. SodaBoy also picked up a case of canned kitten food to make administration of the liquid meds easier. We hate canned pet foods, and have never provided it regularly to any cat or dog in our custody. Even with these bitty kittens, the stopgap vet had indicated they would get all their required nutrition from the dry kitten food. But I think we'll stick with this stanky mush for a while now. This new food and medicine combination has done wonders for Rhea.

In just a few days she seems much healthier, bigger and less bony. She still eats the dry food. In fact, she's eating some right now. But the behavioral issues are improving already, too. Last night I had soup for dinner, and she only tried sticking her head in it a few times, and didn't scream once. After a few times of being set back on the floor, she lost interest and wandered off to play.

Progress all around.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
*When we picked out the kittens, we were told that Rhea is a girl and Remus a boy. They were far too small for us to tell either way, so we ran with that. By the time the vet pronounced them both female, their names were pretty well fixed. However, we've taken to calling Remus by the more gender neutral nickname Reemsy more and more now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bullets of Summer

  • It has been unbearably hot this summer, and as a result, I have been even lazier than normal. I just do not have a good tolerance for heat. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Gimme 75 or gimme winter. Summer used to be my favorite season. When did it get so evil?


  • However, I have been getting restless, and the house has been getting filthy. Who can stand to clean in this torridity? I buckled down this weekend and did a bit of both hiking and cleaning. My bathroom is sparkling, I tell you, sparkling!


  • Hay-scented fern, Dennstaedtia punctilobula

  • Plus the Saturday morning run to the farmer's market, where I bought some heirloom cucumbers at three for a dollar. The one we finished in the salads tonight was amazing, super crisp and flavorful.


  • Sunday we drove down to Upland Woods Park, where I had the fervent hope that it might be cooler, which it may have been. Except the terrain is somewhat rugged there and we did more than our share of sweating hoofing up those hills.


  • It was so lovely in the woods. There were essentially no bugs, as there has been a distinct lack of rain lately. All the streambeds we passed on the 4.7 miles hike were dry.


  • As an added bonus, the blackberries are just starting to ripen. I picked a few handfuls to supplement the quart of water I was rationing. And in my book, there's not much better than foraging for berries on a hike in the woods.
  • Friday, August 10, 2007

    The Daily Show Reports: Wind Energy


    This is a hilarious examination of the pros and cons of the Cape Wind Project proposed for the Nantucket Sound. Except for Ted Kennedy being a giant NIMBY douchebag, which is not funny at all, because the rich bitches always get their way. It's great to see this get some national attention, though. In just 2 days on YouTube, this video has been viewed over 31,000 times. Knowledge is power.

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Ephemeral

    The West Virginia white (Pieris virginiensis) is a native butterfly, a small and delicate creature that flits through in the forests in early spring. I have never seen the species, which is known from my state, but not my county. The West Virginia white is rare throughout its range; populations are often small and isolated. Like many butterfly species, only more so, the West Virginia white is a habitat specialist. There are only two known host plants, both species of toothwort (Dentaria diphylla and Dentaria laciniata).

    Toothworts are what we plant nerds call spring ephemerals: they emerge early in the season, bloom, set seed, and senesce in a few short weeks or months. The West Virginia whites emerge from their pupae early in the spring and feed on nectar from various spring wildflowers, laying their eggs on toothworts. When the larvae hatch, they eat their host plant, and they have to hurry. Toothworts generally fade completely before the end of June, leaving nary a trace above the ground.

    To further complicate matters, the West Virginia white is an obligate forest dweller. It will not cross openings of any kind. Trails and small roads do not present a impediment, as long as the canopy remain closed, but even a typical small two-lane road is an insurmountable barrier. With such specific habitat requirements, the West Virginia white is obviously quite vulnerable to forest fragmentation. Another threat comes from invasive species.

    Dentaria diphylla

    Garlic mustard (Alliolaria petiolata) is of particular danger, and not just because it chokes out toothwort, although it most certainly does. Garlic mustard is in the same family, the Brassicaceae, as toothwort, and the plants are apparently closely enough related so that female West Virginia whites will oviposit on garlic mustard plants. The trouble is, when the larvae hatch and begin feeding, they all die. Garlic mustard is toxic to West Virginia white larvae.

    However, garlic mustard was a host plant for a closely related butterfly species, the cabbage white (Pieris rapae), back in its native range, for the cabbage white is also non-native. With the spread of garlic mustard throughout our northeastern forests, the cabbage white has become more and more adventive, moving into the limited territory of the West Virginia white. This brings another problem, in the form of a parasitoid wasp. See, the cabbage white is not as limited in host plants as the West Virginia white.

    The cabbage white feeds on all manner of cole crops: brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnips, watercress, and of course, cabbage. All of these important food crops are in the same family as the native toothworts. Anyway, a parasitoid wasp (Cotesia glomerata) was introduced as a biological control agent for the cabbage white. As the cabbage white moves out of the fields and into the forest, the parasitoid wasp follows. Unfortunately for the West Virginia white, the parisitoid wasp kills native whites as well.

    Sources: NatureServe Explorer, New York Natural Heritage Program, and Cornell University.

    Saturday, August 04, 2007

    The New Little Buddies

    Rhea and Remus

    With the both of us being life long cat people, SodaBoy and I always knew we'd get another cat or two. We decided there was no reason to wait, and answered an ad in the paper for free kittens. The home where we retrieved the cats from was filthy, and they are riddled with every possible parasite. I will be so happy to be done with the pills and the drops and the ointments. But otherwise they are great little beasts. They are fulfulling their duty of cuteness altogether smashingly.

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    The Stuart Smalley Meme

    I was tagged for this meme by Aliki over at World of One Thousand Different Things. It is like many of the other list meme going around except for one little twist: this list of ten things has to be ten things you like about yourself. This is quite a challenge, especially if you are feeling a little poopy like I have been, which is actually why I chose to do this meme before the 8 Things Meme I owe NSLS. I thought it might be a little pick me up. So without further ado... I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

    Ten Things I Like About Myself:

    1. My wrists. All through my childhood, teen, and college years, I was a total scrawnster. Those days appear to be over. I’ve softened up and grown into a more womanly body, which is all fine and well, I suppose. But I still have these tiny little wrists. I love that I can wrap my hands around them and easily touch my thumb to my pinky.

    2. My eyes. In my nuclear family, I was the only one with blue eyes, so I always felt a little special, I guess. I likely got the eyes from my Grandpa Joe, along with the round face, so we always had a blue-eyed, blockheaded kind of bond.

    3. My relationship with my family. I love being close to my sister, and my parents. I love that I grew with my grandparents such an integral part of my life. I have come to realize that a great family is not something to take for granted.

    4. My place in the outdoors. I am very happy when outdoors, especially when walking in the woods or along a shore. I have a comfort and ease in the forest that is foreign to many, many people. SodaBoy learned about different sorts of intelligence in a class in graduate school. I like my outdoor intelligence.

    5. My work ethic. I work my ass off at whatever job or pursuit I happen to be engaged with. Employers who hire me always get a bargain, because even if I don’t like a job or a supervisor, I still bust my hump. I am just constitutionally a hard worker.

    6. My empathy. I am able to drum up compassion for just about everyone and everything, even inanimate objects. I get weepy all the time listening to NPR. I had an online quiz pronounce me “benevolent to a fault.” The only people I struggle to sympathize with are those who utterly lack empathy themselves.

    7. My plant skills. I always had an easy time learning plants, although to be honest, I struggle with what I call horts, or the landscaping plants, the weird hybrids and such. Probably because there aren’t good technical keys. Or maybe because I don’t find them walking around in the woods.

    8. My analytical mind. I am very organized and detail oriented. I like that I like solving puzzles, that I can spy the unusual amongst the ordinary. I can always find a four leaf clover, if anyone is in need.

    9. My civic mindedness. I like that I have voted in every election since I turned 18, that I care enough about the world I live in to want to change it. Voting is such a priority to me that I drove home from an out of state job 10 hours each way to vote.

    10. My love of reading. I am so glad I am a reader and a lover of books. My father in law once told me with pride that he hadn’t read a book since college. He seemed proud of himself, as though he was making good use of his time. He is a smart and successful man, but I was filled with such pity. Reading is a joy, and I like about myself that I can appreciate books and all the wonderful places they take me.

    OK, now comes the part where I tag people. How about Nadine, Mary, NSLS, Andy, and Nicole? And anyone else who feels up to the challenge! Let's get our brag on, folks.

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Left Behind

    Last night I had crashed out on the couch while SodaBoy was watching some late night TV. All of a sudden I threw my hands up over my ears and started mumbling loudly. SodaBoy was mighty confused. The conversation went something like this...

    me: blah-blah-blah, I can't hear you, blah-blah-blah.
    SB: Are you OK? What's going on?
    me, somewhat frantically: They are talking about Potter! blah-blah-blah!
    SB, dumbfounded: But you are asleep.
    me: blah-blah-blah, I can't hear you.
    SB, sighing as he changes the channel: All right, all right.

    In my sleep addled memory, it is Keith Olbermann's voice that was doing the Potter talk, but that doesn't make sense because he is not on late night, as far as I know. I did watch several of his pre-release Potter prediction discussions, but now that the book is out and I still don't have it yet, I am trying to be more careful. That means that in part, like NSLS, I am scaling back on the blog reading, not clicking through to posts that might reveal too much. Apparently it also means I am hollering at the TV in my sleep.

    It is all a matter of timing, very bad timing on my part. My Potter appreciation has always been of a somewhat moderate scale. I manged to wait for all the earlier books to come out in paper back. However, when I finally got my hands on the Book 6, I tore through it like a true aficionado. I read it so fast I was immediately tempted to re-read it right away, to soak up the details I had just raced through. Instead, I vowed I would re-read the entire series in preparation for the release of Book 7. Right. Best laid plans, and all.

    Problem is, as the release date crept up, I sort of forgot. When Phantom put up her HP7 Speculation Thread, my memory was finally jogged, but of course I was reading something else at the time. By the time I got my shit together, any thought of finishing all six books by release date was hopeless. Not to be deterred, I plunged ahead anyway. My current status is almost done with my re-read of Order of the Phoenix, so this weekend we will likely go see the movie. Maybe I will buy Deathly Hollows, too. But I'll still be taking the time to re-read all the way through Book 6 before touching the new one, because I am just stubborn like that. And definitely not a peeker!

    Sunday, July 22, 2007

    Market Booty

    I managed to get to the Farmer's Market again yesterday, after a hiatus last weekend when I slept too late. I didn't photograph my purchases like Nadine did, although now I wish I had. Instead, I'll share this photo of the marigolds I got there two weeks ago. I can see them out the window as I type this, little burst of color on the hillside out back. I lucked into some mulch, too, as the neighbors down the street had a tree removed and chipped, and were kind enough to post a sign indicating it was free. I felt funny pushing the wheelbarrow down the street, but it was worth it.

    I didn't buy any flowers this week, just lots of produce. We had salad with fresh, local lettuce and tomataoes with dinner. And for lunch? Steamed new potatoes with butter and fresh parsley, inspired by the Liz's description of the dish over at PocketFarm. Simple, but oh, so very good. Tonight will be more salad and local corn, too. I can't wait.

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    We Love You: a Tribute to Elijah

    I have kept things pretty quiet around here lately. I had a shitty week I couldn't face writing about, yet couldn't bear to write about anything else first without acknowledging our loss. I was out of town doing fieldwork for a few days this week, during that brutal heat wave. Normally any time spent in the field and out of the office is good, but when I called SodaBoy from my hotel room Tuesday night, he had terrible news for me: Elijah was dead, apparently killed by the terrible heat.

    I had seen him that morning, petted him while he had a bite to eat, and he seemed perfectly normal. SodaBoy saw him not 10 minutes before he expired, and again, he seemed normal. We both feel terrible that we didn't think to lock him in the basement where it is cooler, but unfortunately the thought did not occur in time. Elijah had been with us through similar weather in the past with no trouble. The complacency must have dulled our senses.

    Anyway, I wanted to write a tribute to Elijah, the same way I had done for Meshoe when she died. However, writing that piece about Meshoe was hard, and I found myself begging off, unable to confront my grief and guilt about Elijah. Then when I started thinking about it, I realized I've already told many of his stories, how he loved walking with us, even in the winter, and of his fondness for catnip.

    So I will share instead the burial mound SodaBoy built for Elijah in our backyard. It is far back in the yard, right at the base of the path leading up into the woods. Under a lilac tree, the fieldstones bordering the edge of a garden wrap around the monument. It is a nice shady spot where Elijah loved to play in the dirt.

    We couldn't possibly have loved you any more, Elijah. You were the sweetest kitty, demanding hugs, and purring louder the tighter we squeezed. You are sorely missed, friend.

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Outside Looking In

    This is the window in our kitchen, above the sink. The project was conceived shortly after Christmas. SodaBoy had received a wide variety of unusual sodas as a gift. After consuming the specialty drinks with much enthusiasm, we used a huge roasting pan to soak off the labels, and lined the bottles up on the window sill, where they waited forlornly for spring. Today was a changing of the guard, with the wilted and drying bunches tossed in the tall grass and fresh blooms collected.

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    TGI Tuesday

    Tomorrow is a holiday and I took Thursday and Friday off as vacation days. Five days in a row with no work is the longest I've had since starting this job. Whee! And I need a break, too. I've been working on a very tedious project for the last two weeks. I stayed late yesterday so I could finish it up today. It is such a relief to be done with the ick, because ordinarily, I love the job. But five whole days off! I am beside myself with joy.

    SodaBoy, friend D, and I are going to a Rush concert tomorrow. It should be a lot of fun. While I didn't grow up loving the band with quite the same fervor as the guys, we saw them a few years back on the 30th anniversary tour. I wasn't sure what to expect, but those aging Canadians really rocked out. Like, seriously. Anyway, I used to go to a lot of concerts back in the day, so this will be a nice little flash back to the past.

    Speaking of concerts, SodaBoy and I recently went to a local jazz festival to hear Bela Fleck play. The performance was promoted as free, and who can resist free Bela? We were slightly disconcerted to pay $5 for parking. How is that free? Although as anyone who knows Bela could tell you, it was well worth it. Or would have been had we been better prepared for the Artic blast. We both froze our assess off. What a couple of dipshits we are. I have never ever heard a banjo sound like that before. Never heard a saxamaphone sound like that, either.

    The event also featured public fornication. Hmmm, the organizers might not care for that portrayal of things. Let's just say that several thousand people witnessed the long and drawn out multiple-positioned love making session of one couple who chose a very prominent and well lit grassy knoll for their intimacy. Aside from the plethora of more private places that were eschewed, the most shocking thing was that no one broke it up. I sort of thought event staff might step in, as there were kids playing freeze tag all around. The kids actually tagged the fornicators, then hid in a ditch and watched the whole thing.

    Hopefully they'll be none of that at the Rush show. Nothing against fornication, I assure you. It's just that I found the whole thing a little distracting.

    Saturday, June 30, 2007

    Shiny! New! Foxglove!

    This morning I gave Nadine a call, and we met at the regional farmer's market to do a little shopping. We wove our way amongst the stalls of fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and the occasional dairy. Although I did see a few vendors selling bananas and limes, the vast majority of items for sale were of local origin. We were like kids in a candy store. It was so hard to decide.


    I finally ended up with locally grown peas and locally grown cherries, much cheaper and fresher than they'd be from the supermarket. And I am insanely pleased with my sole plant purchase, a gorgeous foxglove. This picture doesn't really do it justice, but you get some idea. I was also tempted by the local butter, and the myriad of produce options, especially the fresh lettuce. There is always next time, when I hope to get a few perennials.

    I already have the perfect spot in mind.

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    What the Hell am I Doing Here?

    So, being the Radiohead fan that I am, when Andy over at The Ballpoint Banana mentioned that Creep provided the fodder for one of the best Beavis and Butthead commentaries ever, I had to go a-looking. Problem is, in addition to the spotty memory--I must have seen the episode, it is a near certainty--I am also highly distractible. Of course, I have loved this footage ever since it first aired, but nevertheless... it's not even remotely what I came for.

    Witness where I landed instead:

    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    Bulleted Odds and Ends

  • Not much going on in my bloggy world of late, but I thought I should throw something together here. The wheels are spinning, though. Dur.


  • The peregrine falcons I've been watching out my office window have fledged. The chicks are still a little rough on their aviation skills and circle gracelessly attempting their landings. They have started resting on a building right next to ours, though, so I still get some pretty good views.


  • I took a lovely walk this morning to Stormwater Park, but my photos were uninspiring. Instead I share with you this shot of a frog I took last weekend. Much more interesting.



  • My birthday was this past week, and I reaped a shocking bounty of gifts. Many of them are piled up on the dining room table, and it is a little overwhelming, frankly. I have many shiny new books I want to devour all at once.


  • This is in immediate conflict with my plans to re-read all the Harry Potter books before the release of Book 7 next month.


  • I am so torn that I spent most of the day yesterday frantically reading, alternating between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and one of my new birthday books, A Mile in Her Boots.


  • Many thanks to ScienceWoman, who wrote the review that put this book on my radar. It is truly a delight. I am glad to be reading another book at the same time, to prevent myself from flying through it. This is definitely a book to be savored.


  • There are also some large boxes from a consumer blitz yesterday, when SodaBoy and I took the gift card his parents sent me and spent, spent, spent. It came in a card for daughter-in-laws. I guess that's me now.


  • Obviously, I need to get out some thank you notes. Ugh. Thank you notes are a chore I always dread. I suppose that makes me sound ungrateful, which is not the case at all.


  • My loathing of the thank you notes could possibly be attributed to my late grandmother, who ever since we kids could write, would force us to write thank you notes *before* we could play with our gifts. Sheesh.


  • OK, I am off to do some more reading, and if I am good, some writing, too. What is the bloggy consensus out there about thank you notes? Like them, hate them, think they are a relic of another time?
  • Sunday, June 17, 2007

    June Tradition

    This year it was for Father's Day. Last year: my birthday. Whatever excuse we use, June is a great time of year around here. Out in the country west of the city, past the village I grew up in, active farm fields blanket the landscape. Dad works out that way, and has been on watch for the last week or so. Mid-week, I got the message the first strawberry fields had opened, and plans were made.

    Sis and I met our folks at the parental home early this morning, in a successful attempt to beat the heat. We drove out past the first few farms, where all the "tourists" stop, and went down to another farm that had just opened up their fields. Dad, Sis, StepMom, and I were all assigned separate rows, all as yet untouched. The picking was easy, the fruit sweet and juicy. We each picked two quarts, a pittance against the stories my Dad told from his youth, when his family, picking in these very same fields, would gather 100-150 quarts to put up for the winter. I think strawberries must have been less expensive then.

    After we returned to the house, I spent close to two hours chopping. SodaBoy came out to join us for the fantastic summery lunch StepMom threw together while I chopped the berries. Pulled pork sandwiches, a trio of salads (one using fresh strawberries), and strawberry shortcake for dessert. After that we were all painfully stuffed, and lazed about for a bit. Leftovers are stacked in the fridge, and vanilla bean ice cream awaits in the freezer. Life is good.

    What's next? Raspberries, of course.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Got Knotweed?

    We took a bike ride after work today, to Tall Trees Cemetery and the campus of Hometown University. It is a perfect day for bike riding. Or maybe it just seems that way because it was the first ride of the season, the novelty of cool air rushing by, the smooth immersion in speed of one's own creation. Or maybe it was the glow of the evening light, and how it basked the deserted campus.


    Aside from the normal water bottle, I had a little something extra in my bike bag: a vial of dessicant and a folded sheet of instructions. I had read last month over at the Invasive Species Weblog about a grad student doing research into the genetic diversity of Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum. Jonna, the UMass student, is looking for samples from different parts of the country. I am obviously a sucker for all things plant related, so I sent an email offering my plucking services.


    Got knotweed in your neck of the woods, too? Head on over to the Invasive Species Weblog and find out how to contribute.

    Saturday, June 09, 2007

    Prairie Smoke

    I had written last weekend about our failed attempts at a hiking trip, and how we were thwarted by the hail. The main draw to that particular preserve, aside from the pleasure of exploring new territory, is the unique habitats and rare plants supported there. Of particular interest was the Geum triflorum, or prairie smoke. I last saw this plant many years ago, in Michigan, and was eager to lay eyes upon it again.

    Luckily I have a job that takes me to some pretty cool places. It was actually how I first found out about this preserve, conducting field work on private land nearby. I ate lunch in the parking lot and went back to work before I ever hiked the trails. I haven't been getting out in the field as much as I would like this time of year, just one day this past week and one day scheduled for next week.


    However, that one day this week was a good one. Coworker and I stopped by the preserve on our way home for the day and I was able to snap a few pictures. Prairie smoke is not uncommon in the west, but is quite rare at the eastern edge of it's range, and I had never seen it before locally. These are exciting times! For the most part, we missed seeing it in flower, but for this particular species, the fruiting stage is most dramatic. Witness...