Monday, May 31, 2010

Between Degrees Vacation, Round 1

As I mentioned in my last post, my mom and I went to Virginia for a week following graduation. Since I am moving to the South West, and I am from the East Coast, I'm trying to get some beach time in where ever possible. This is tough, seeing as how I live in PA, and the only "beaches" touching this state belong to lakes and ponds.

Colonial Williamsburg

Our first stop was in Williamsburg to see the Colonial Williamsburg settlement. We only had a day, and there was way too much to see even if we were going to be there a week, nevermind one single day. We wandered around, walked through the garden at the Governor's Palace, and saw the inside of two houses. I'll definitely have to go back to see the inside of the palace and more of the homes.

One of the houses I saw, I believe the Reynolds home, apparently had in excess of 26 slaves living and working on the property. It was a massive house, yet the people who owned it never had any children of their own. This particular house talked a lot about slave life, and what it must have been like living during this time period as a slave. On the one hand, you're a slave; on the other hand, you probably heard a lot of talk about freedom from the tyrany and "enslavement" of England. Conflicting messages, no doubt.

Williamsburg was a very important city early in our nation's history, especially immediately preceeding the Revolutionary War. There was a re-enactment of the months before we decided to sever ties with England, complete with people running around yelling, interacting with visitors, and basically a huge mob along the main street of the settlement.

Southern Virginia Beach

After visiting Williamsburg, my mom and I headed east to go to Virginia Beach for the rest of the week. The last couple days of our vacation were excellent beach days. My primary objective was to relax and be a bum for a solid three days, and I think I accomplished that goal. We rented a cabin at the Holiday Trav-L-Park, which was a significant upgrade from sleeping in a tent.

The campground itself was pretty nice: clean, well taken care of. We also got a parking spot by the beach. However, since it was early in the season, some of the things, such as pools, weren't open yet. I think if we had come a week later everything would have been available. Also, the campfire scenario was kind of weird. There were no rings or obvious places designated specifically for camp fires, but it appeared as though people had burned things previously, so we just kind of tried to have a fire in that approximate spot. Once again, like we always seem to do with camping, my mom and I ended up with damp wood which didn't turn out so great (unless your goal is smoke without fire). We finally got dry wood and everything worked out and I was able to have marshmallows.

As far as being a beach bum, that was successful. I did a lot of sleeping and reading and generally laying around. I'm not a big swimmer, but the water was nice. Obviously, it was May and the water was cold, but I have felt much colder later in the summer further North, which is what I'm used to. It was enough to just jump in, get cooled off, then return to snoozing in the sun. With sunscreen, of course. Unlike last year, I managed to avoid frying myself completely. We were in the Outer Banks late last summer, and I don't know what happened, but I reacted really badly to either the sun, something in my sunscreen, or something in the water. Thankfully, that didn't happen this time around.

One of the things I really liked about Virgina Beach was the boardwalk. It just went on and on and on. There were restaurants all along it in addition to the hotels. It was paralleled by a bike path, and people were renting these things that looked like peddle cars. There was the one group of women who I honestly thought were going to wipe out, but they looked like they were having a good time. Also, there were brown pelicans and laughing gulls, which were hillarious. The gulls have black heads and they sound like they are laughing when they make their call.

After a long three years in graduate school, and with another 4+ years on the horizon, I'm trying to get as relaxed as possible during the three months I have off. No stressing out. No worrying about my move, it's all under control.

This is me for the next 3 months...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Graduation, One Week After The Fact

I got home late Sunday night after graduation and left early Monday morning for vacation, so there wasn't any time to blog about graduation.

On Saturday I only really had time to do my own cook out, so I skipped out on the pig roast. In the long run, that was the better decision, because I got to relax at home and hang out with my Mom and Matt.

Graduation day itself had some unforeseen surprises. My adviser forgot what time the graduate school reception was being held, and ended up missing it, which was a bummer. The summer graduate school graduation is huge, I'm not sure how many people they graduated, but we were in the Bryce Jordan Center, which is a big basketball arena. Still, the graduation itself only lasted for maybe an hour and a half. It felt like much longer, however I at least got to sit next to a friend during the ceremony. The speaker, who I can't even recall who she was, gave the most God awful, boring talk I have ever heard at a graduation. Totally inappropriate and irrelevant. I was also disappointed that, despite being told to shut up until all the graduates' names were called, a select few people felt their children were more special than everyone else and proceeded to yell and whoop and holler like a bunch of animals. I suppose that with a group that big, you're bound to have that happen, but seriously, you'd think people getting advanced degrees would be more sophisticated than that. Wrong!

The place I wanted to go to after graduation was closed, so I'll have to get my special drink some other time. We ended up at Home Delivery Pizza Pub, and I got a decent cosmo and a lager, in addition to bread sticks and a creme brule flavored with orange liqueur. In the end it was a nice time, we hung out with Dan and the rest of the Hummer clan, who all flew in from Iowa to see Dan get his PhD.

Monday, Mom and I went to Virginia for vacation, but that's another post.

Friday, May 14, 2010


It's Friday afternoon. Tonight, the college of Earth and Mineral Sciences is having a graduation reception in the HUB.

Tomorrow, my mom is coming into town. One of the professors is having a pig roast tomorrow as well. I had made plans to do a cook out tomorrow, but one of the professors is having a pig roast at 3. But, my thing isn't starting until 5:30, so it looks like I can do both!

Sunday, there is the graduate school's reception at 4:30 and then I have to show up for graduation at 6. Then, I get my diploma and snap some pictures. I have no clue what I'm going to do afterward. Fancy drinks downtown? It might be crowded, but then again, I might still be able to get in somewhere. Zola's has a few drinks made with St. Germaine, an elderflower liqueur. So yummy.

Monday, my mom and I leave for VACATION! For a whole week. We're spending a couple days in Williamsburg, and then we're going to Virginia Beach for a few days. Hopefully it'll be nice and warm.

And all weekend I am babysitting two crazy kittehs. Can't wait!

Whoa, my first chapter in graduate school is almost over...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why a PhD?

Defrosting some shrimp, but while I have some time, I want to address something.

Why a PhD?

Very good question. After all: they are a lot of work, can be a really big pain, and often don't end up how you plan them too.

I wasn't sure I wanted to do a PhD, and I flip flopped between feeling like I could do it and that I couldn't. Some of the hesitation was because of the major changes that had happened in the past couple years. Dad died the first year I was in grad school, I was engaged to someone who pressured me to come home, and that relationship ended. I was also given advice: a PhD isn't something you do because you don't have any other plan, you need to want to do it. So, with all of the above, I was nervous and confused about staying in school.

After some time my life evened out, and I got refocused on what I was doing, academically. This was good because it meant I could actually graduate. About a week before I defended my research I was having a meeting with my adviser and we were talking about all the neat directions my research could go. However, I was leaving and hadn't applied for any PhD programs... which is what I would have to do to ever answer the dozens of questions I had about the topics I was interested in.

In short, I concluded I wanted to do a PhD because I was curious and really wanted to know more about all the stuff I had been working on. I quickly found some programs I was interested in, made contact with people, and applied to three programs I was really interested in plus an additional one as a back up. Thankfully, all the people who wrote my letters of recommendation were really helpful and got them out quickly. I put off finishing my thesis to work on applications, and got them all out in a couple months; a very good decision.

I spent the last semester casually finishing up my thesis, took classes, and taught a geology lab. Better than worrying about finding a temporary job to keep my house!

I decided I like school, I couldn't see myself doing anything other than academia, and so I took the dive. No regrets. I could have forced myself into some kind of industry job, but I hated the idea of it, and really, my studies only really set me up for a university type job. I used to feel bad about that, but not anymore. I get to go on an adventure in a couple months, which I think is pretty cool!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Counting Birds and Makin' Pie

Now that I'm wrapping up the last semester of my last year at Penn State, I have a little bit of free time before the chaos of moving to New Mexico. In my view, it's like I'm taking a mini retirement. I made some extra cash over the winter, and I am being paid with my stipend up through May, and I have no plans on really working this summer. So for about 2-3 months, I'll be living the dream. If it comes to it, I'll sell my stuff on the internet. That just means fewer things to move, right?

Along those lines, I did something this weekend that was reminicent of someone who is retired. I went birding. It was pretty hard core as far as birding goes.

My boyfriend is an avid birder, and for the longest time he's been wanting to participate in the Birding Cup, a local birding competition. So, he finally got a small team of beginners together and we spent 24 hours birding from Friday evening through Saturday evening. I think out of the entire 24 hours, we spent a solid 19 doing actual birding. We're a bunch of geologists, so our team name was "The Turnstones", a type of bird. We almost went with "Birding Ink", because some of our team mates have some sweet bird tattoos.

Friday evening we headed out to try and get some evening birds, and we totally missed out on owls, which was a bummer. However, I saw and heard Whip-poor-wills and Woodcocks, which was really cool. For the record: the Woodcocks' making call is hilarious and Whip-poor-wills get annoying after a while. They make this really repetitive sound, and it's kind of eery sounding as well.

Saturday morning we awoke at 5am to meet up at 5:45 and get all the early morning birds. I was going strong until about 2pm, where I passed out in the car before our lunch break. By the end of the day we had seen numerous types of sandpipers, heard a bunch of different warblers, and saw more sparrows than I can remember. In total, we identified 106 species of bird by sight and/or sound. We completely clobbered the other beginners at the competition, I just hope we didn't stomp all over the poor darlings' hearts.

As our prize we got jump drives with bird songs and calls from all of North America's birds (worth about $50). We also will have our names placed on a trophy (I'll post pictures of that once I get them from Matt), and we got a sweet looking Birding Cup shirt.

Somehow during all of this I also made a delicious berry pie. Talk about multi-tasking!