Saturday, December 31, 2011

Home for the Holidays 2011

I consider myself fortunate to get so much time off to see friends and family for Christmas and New Years. The one thing I will say about being a perpetual student is that getting a nice long winter break is... nice. Far less stressful, and I can't begin to imagine what it would be like trying to squeeze so much into a shorter break. Having three weeks definitely takes the stress off of me. I don't like it much that Matt's family and my family will probably never or rarely get together for a holiday, but having the time to commute between various states makes it okay after all.

I spent an evening in Pennsylvania with Matt and his family, and then drove him back to CT. His parents always go to visit with his grandfather, and Matt went there again this year. We've been in a relationship for three years and haven't had a Christmas together, but maybe next year. My aunts are starting to get disappointed, since they are the only family members who haven't met him yet, ha. I at least get to spend the beginning of the new year with him, and we're going out with my friend Jenn and some of her friends.

2011 has been an okay year. Nothing really bad happened to me personally, but I know it was rough for a lot of people I know and care about. I'm always happy to see a new year go, actually. I have no sentimental feelings in particular for the passing of time. I don't like looking back and realizing that it's been so long between events, though. It doesn't feel like that much time has passed, even though I know it has. Hell, I've been in graduate school for a total 4 1/2 years already. That's nuts.

The only resolution I'm making this year is a very broad one, I'm going to start taking better care of myself. No more going weeks without going outside and getting some exercise. No more eating badly. No more drinking a lot. Less coffee, unless it's to catch up with friends. Eliminate an much stress from my life where possible. That last one is the biggest thing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Never Ending

I just spent the past 2+ weeks scrambling to try and get my book chapter out to the editor. You know, the one that was due in November. Felisa and I kept pushing back the deadline, and it finally came down to the absolute last minute. All the nit picky stuff towards the end was beginning to drive me bonkers, I felt like I was chasing a moving target for a bit.

I don't think I'll be writing one of these things again any time soon. I'm just glad it's done. The whole thing makes me nervous about working collaboratively, it challenging enough to corral myself. I have another project coming up quickly, with a firmer deadline, and it isn't for a book but I'm working with 3 other people. I'm not complaining, really, I'm just mentally and physically exhausted. I learned a lot from the experience, but now I'm just ready to kick back, enjoy the rest of my break, and hope the book people don't come back with too many edits.

It feels good to work on something and see it to its completion.
Merry Christmas to me!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wrapping up the Semester

It's that time of the semester, where I'm in a perpetual state of "just about finished" before the break. I have three class sessions and two assignments left before I am done with Fall 2011. I finished my paper for paleoclimate seminar that is due tomorrow... the other project is for PiBBS and is really poorly defined. This is lack of instruction has made it annoying and difficult to do, and I just don't feel compelled to do it since the instructor didn't take the effort to assign a clear project. I will, of course, do something just to get through this.

It's also that time of the year where it's really hard for me to find the motivation to get through the last bit of the semester. For one thing, it's starting to get colder, and it would just be so easy to stay in bed in the morning. Fluffy blankets and pajamas sound much better than getting on a dirty city bus to go sit in my office. I'm also usually fried by the end of November. This fall has been very busy with submitting fellowship proposals, developing my dissertation research, and taking classes.

Felisa is gone this week to a conference in New Zealand. It's really bad timing. We have a book chapter due NOW, and we haven't even put together a first draft. I'm getting nervous, but there's really only so much I can do. While she's gone I'll continue to write and edit my part, and I'm also trying to figure out a conceptual diagram to include in the chapter. If I have that finished for when she gets back I'll feel confident that I've done all I can.

As I wrap up this semester, I'm thinking about what I'm going to do when I get back from winter break. What are my goals for the spring? By mid January I hope to have a manuscript submitted, so I'll be dealing with the fallout from that project. In all likelihood the paper won't get accepted right away, and so I'll be spending time editing the paper for resubmission at other journals. Not all journals use the same format, some are REALLY different, so the amount of effort will depend on where we send it and what the reviewer comments say.

My committee expects that I will give a department talk on my master's research some time in the spring, so I want to get some preliminary data on some of my research. It will be easier to talk about future research directions if I can make a little headway on some projects between now and then. The projects that will involve going to museum collections or doing field work will obviously not be something I can talk too much about, but I have some data from databases I can play with in the mean time.

I'm really eager to get home to Connecticut. I miss everyone so much, and it's always too long between visits. I'm excited that we're getting a tree this year, we haven't had one in 4 years. I get anxious when I don't see my family for long stints, especially with my grandmother not doing so great. I think if I manage to not get sick this year, it's going to be a really nice Christmas. Last year was awful, I picked up a stomach flu right after the holiday and Matt and I were sick for most of the break.

The big thing I am looking forward to when I get back in January is the kitty Matt and I adopted. He will finally be coming home with us. We went to PetCo last week and we found such a wonderful cat, we adopted him even though the timing isn't right. Luckily, his foster mommy is willing to keep him until we get back from break, so he can stay comfortable at her house. He's so sweet and handsome!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Here's the menu from this years feast:

Organic free range roasted turkey, basted in butter and white wine - Fred and Me
Salad - Christian
Two kinds of stuffing - Fred and Me
Gravy - Me
Mashed potatoes - Jason
Sweet potato casserole - Fred
Green bean casserole - Christian
Roasted squash - Jason
Collard greens - Christian
Orange ginger cranberry sauce - Matt and Me
Fresh baked rolls - Mouse
Pumpkin pie - Me
Pecan pie - Matt
Apple and pear pie - Mouse
Home brews - Christian

I don't know if I missed anything, but Thanksgiving was delicious, I can't wait till next year!

Melissa, Matthew, Christian, Fred, Jason, Mouse, Dave, Nicole, Bob

Bring on the next holiday, I want to do some more baking.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Festival of the Cranes

If you've spent time in New Mexico during the fall, you're probably familiar with the odd trumpeting call of sandhill cranes. Every year sandhill cranes and many other birds migrate south for the winter, and many stop in New Mexico. This past weekend Matt and I volunteered with the Albuquerque Audubon Society for the Annual Festival of the Cranes, at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. During the fall, the refuge floods its fields to provide important habitat and food for migrants.

While stationed on the swamp deck, we helped visitors view various types of birds. In addition to the cranes there were several interesting species hanging around the refuge, making this years festival another one to remember. We had birding scopes positioned to view a bald eagle perched on a snag, as well as a surf scoter that was an unusual sighting. Despite the weather being a little chilly and windy, there were a good number of people enjoying the wildlife of the refuge.

For pictures and the full story of our visit to the refuge, check out Matt's blog.

Also, if you decide to make the trip down to Bosque del Apache, stop in San Antonio for the green chile cheeseburger that whipped Bobby Flays butt on "Throwdown With Bobby Flay".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back to Childhood

Telescopes, giant bubble wands, and chain reaction machines. These are just a few of the things you can play with at Explora!, the children's science and technology museum in Albuquerque. Once a month on a Friday evening Explora! opens it's doors to "children" of the large variety, during one of their adult night events. There's usually light snacks and live entertainment of some kind, but I honestly was too busy playing to pay much attention to either of those (although the band was good, sorry guys.)

Ever since I moved to Albuquerque, my lab mate Fred has been trying to get me to go to one of these adult nights. I'm glad I finally did, and I'll be back in the future, maybe even as soon as their next event on January 20th. From 6pm-10pm, everything in the museum is available to poke, splash, build, and look at. Matt and I spent a good 30 minutes putting together a chain reaction machine: the marble gets knocked into the spiral shoot, down into the funnel, down two more shoots, and hits the jingle bells, hooray! I made a bubble in a bubble at the soapy water tub. Matt made a funny animation of a sauropod being chased away by a T-Rex, but then a pterodactyl flew in and saved the day by exploding the T-Rex. The Albuquerque astronomy club had telescopes set up, and I saw Jupiter and its moons.

Adult night at Explora! gives adults the opportunity to play with things at the museum when it isn't overrun by children. Some of the things on exhibit for kids would definitely work better if you had a willing adult to help out, and I could easily see parents engaging with their children in a serious way during regular business hours. I also think adult nights create a new appreciation for museums. You could easily spend all four hours actively doing something at this event and still not see everything, which is why I'll be back (I still need to ride the high wire bicycle). And for $8, it's not a bad way to spend the early part of your evening.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Absolute Longest Couple of Weeks

It's that dreaded time of the fall semester. That time when just about everything seems to be coalescing. Conferences, applications, class assignments, exams, etc. etc. I fared pretty well myself over the past few weeks, at the very least I don't have exams, nor am I doing any grading. For that, at least, I'm thankful.

Last week I was away at a conference, however, during the past three weeks I was also working on a fellowship proposal. This was one of the few conferences where I actually got work done; when I wasn't at a talk or a meeting, I was holed up in my room writing. I just applied for a STAR fellowship through the environmental protection agency. The EPA STAR grants provide up to three years of tuition and stipend support as well as $5,000 a year for research. I'm hoping to get this fellowship for when my current funding ends, otherwise it's back to teaching and grading to support myself and looking for research money elsewhere.

The application had many parts to it, including a five page research proposal, a personal statement, my resume, and three letters of recommendation. I feel pretty good about how the whole application turned out, and I think it's pretty strong for a first submission. We'll see if others agree with me, I guess. Many of my friends are also going through the hell of grant writing. It's just that time of the year: mid fall, everything is due. Several friends were writing NSF predoctoral grants (which, sadly, I'm not eligible for because I have a master's degree) and a few were writing a doctoral dissertation improvement grant (DDIG), which is strictly for research money, not stipends or tuition.

After getting through the past few weeks, I'm finding myself extra agitated at the people you hear going around talking about how scientists are scammers, out to get rich off of research money. Rick Perry comes to mind especially, and after all the work and thought I put into just trying to get a piddly amount of money to stay fed and do work, I really would love to punch people like him in the face. These people are liars, ignorant, or some sad combination of the two. I'm certainly struggling to find research money, as is everyone else I know, and I'm certainly not living it up in my little apartment near the war zone of Albuquerque. I suppose maybe the implication is that scientists shouldn't get paid to do research, or that research expenses should come out of my pocket somehow. But research is a real job, and it would be like asking a teacher to pay for textbooks or a McDonald's worker to pay for the fryer. Ridiculous. Incidentally, many teachers DO pay out of their own money for supplies, which like I said, is ridiculous.

After next week I'll have more time for getting some writing done. I have a class presentation on Tuesday in my paleoclimate seminar, and a lab group presentation on Wednesday. I'm going to be talking about past climate change, and changes in wild fire frequency and vegetation. I have no idea what I'm going to present to my lab though, probably what my new project ideas are for the upcoming year. I don't have data, but I have lots of interesting questions that I want to start working on. I came back from SVP with lots to think about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

SVP 2011 - Las Vegas, NV

A week ago I was attending the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists. The reason this post is coming as a follow up to the meeting was because internet at the hotel and conference center was outrageously expensive, as was everything else

Pro: Despite not presenting anything this year, I felt it was a highly productive meeting for me, personally. I met some new people, got leads on projects, and caught up with collaborators who I haven't seen in a while. Russ and I put together our writing schedule, and I think we're back on track for submitting our paper. We should be ready for submission by early to mid January.

Pro: I saw some really interesting talks, in particular about the salvage project up in Snowmass, CO. One of the hypotheses for how this mammoth death assemblage formed was that animals sunk into the ground during earthquakes. It works like this:
1 - Animal is standing in lake, happy and free.
2 - The earth starts to shake, which liquefies the ground the animal is standing on.
3 - The animal sinks.
4 - The ground stops shaking, and the sediment immediately re-solidifies, trapping the animal.
5 - The animal dies a slow (on the order of months) and horrible death by starvation since it is trapped.

My friends at Eastern Tennessee are all doing really interesting projects for their master's degrees. I can't wait to see what they do for PhDs, and where they end up going. A plus for me is that they all seem to be proficient at geometric morphometrics, a technique I'm interested in using. You folks will be hearing from me in the near future.

Con: The conference was at the Paris in Las Vegas. I have a hard time imagining a more irrelevant venue for an academic conference. Las Vegas represent everything that is wrong with the world, and I argue the decision to have the meeting there was insensitive to students and particularly insensitive to women. It was insensitive to students because this conference is already expensive as hell. I roomed with 3 other people, bought food at a grocery store, and carpooled and it STILL was outrageous. More importantly, though, was that this conference was held in a place that treats women like they are objects to be bought and sold. I shouldn't have to choose between participating in my science and having pornography shoved in my face every time I step outside. No exaggeration there, folks, you go outside and people literally shove pictures of naked women at you, and these cards are all over the ground during the day. It's disgusting. If you want to know why we have problems in the world, go to Vegas. It's no place for families, and it's certainly no place for an academic conference. If anyone is interested in helping me write a formal letter of complaint to the president of the society, send me an email.

The other reason this was a less than enjoyable meeting was that the people running it seemed to think we didn't need to eat. In previous years, events that were around meal times had a fair amount of food available. Contrast that to this year, the welcome reception had... chips. And dip. That's it. I serve more than that to friends who are coming over to play board games, nevermind several hours of mingling. What was somewhat amusing, if not annoying, is that these same bowls of crappy chips kept showing up at everything. It was like an unfunny running joke for the duration of the conference. I personally want to know what my $200 registration fee paid for if 1) I'm not getting anything to eat and 2) they aren't printing us copies of the abstract book anymore. That $200 didn't even include the banquet, which I didn't go to because $75 seemed ridiculous for a single meal.

Con: My birthday overlapped the conference.

Pro: I got to hang out with some cool people that I rarely see for my birthday, which ended up being pretty great. I also discovered the one and only good thing in Las Vegas: slushy machines filled with frozen mixed drinks.I want to give a shout out to all the folks who got me birthday drinks, we sure had some fun times. So far, year 27 is pretty good.

In summary, it was a good meeting, but only if you worked to make it good for yourself. Otherwise, you didn't miss much if you skipped it this year.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Valles Caldera Weekend

It's Monday, so I thought I'd get my writing juices flowing by giving a recap of my weekend.

I've been taking a Quaternary Paleoclimate Seminar all semester, and this weekend we had a field trip up to the Valles Caldera. The caldera formed as a result of two eruptions: one at 1.6 million years ago, and another at 1.2 million years ago. The graduate students in my class went on this trip to help out and act as mentors to a freshman class in the "Freshman Learning Community". They have been taking a first year writing class that is split between Earth and Planetary Science and English departments. Peter, the instructor for my class, has been spending the semester teaching them about some of the geology and past climate in areas of New Mexico.

The Valles Caldera is beautiful this time of the year, all the aspens and cottonwoods are changing to a brilliant yellow color. I saw some of the prettiest foliage this weekend on this trip. We checked out some of the areas that had burned severely this summer. The caldera is also just really cool in general. I collected some pumice samples from an outcrop, and we also collected some sediment samples which we later looked at under a microscope. Right after the caldera formed it filled up with water and formed a very large lake that persisted for several thousand years. The sediments preserve evidence for how climate changed, which is why Peter is interested in them. We saw some really cool stuff in the samples we collected, bits of charcoal and also diatoms. I was very excited to look at the microfossils, I hadn't done this kind of work in years. I'm happy to report that my field group collected a sample that had about 5 different diatom species, and we got some good pictures of them for Peter with the microscope camera.

The place we were staying was also really cool. It's a retreat center that used to be where they sent wayward priests for rehabilitation. Now it's used for a variety of purposes. Mary, our host, fed us very well and the accommodations were some of the most comfortable I've experienced for field work. We had a spectacular view of beautiful scenery from the dining area, and we did some star gazing Saturday evening. It was also really nice getting to spend extended time with the other graduate students in my class. They seemed like fun people from the little I see them in seminar. I had a really good time hanging out with them.

I don't have my pictures from the weekend downloaded off my camera yet. Check back later for picture updates in this post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mom's Visit: Days 7 & 8

 My mom is really into archaeological stuff, so on Friday we headed up north to Bandelier National Monument, and I hadn't been there yet myself. The monument preserves the ruins from ancient Pueblo dwellings that were build into the volcanic rock cliffs. The rocks in this area are made of welded volcanic ash, and over time this rock weathers into a weird Swiss cheese pattern. The ancient Pueblos enlarged these natural holes as part of their homes.

On the drive up. You can see the fire line from the Las Conchas fire near this farm.

Checking out a kiva. This structure would have had a ceiling on it originally.

Ruins from dwellings at the base of the cliff. You can see the "Swiss cheese" texture of the ash on the cliff.

Close up of the cliff rocks, and some cute cacti.

Mom and me in a cliff dwelling.

Over the summer the area was damaged because of flooding, so some trails were closed. The main loop was open, however, and we got to climb up into a few of the ruins.The Las Conchas fire up near Los Alamos resulted in a lot of forested area being destroyed, including part of the monument. With the trees gone, runoff from the few storms we did get resulted in flash flooding that damaged trails and some of the ruins. We also weren't able to drive into the monument ourselves, half of the parking was unavailable and we were bussed in. During the flooding, the monument had to destroy the bridges that went to one of the parking lots, they were trying to avoid log dams from debris collecting on the bridges. Still, I think we saw a lot and it was an excellent trip. It turned out to be a good day, it was a little overcast with partial sun, and it wasn't too hot. I hate nothing more than traipsing around in the heat. It had been a weird week for weather, it was more like the North East than the Southwest.

Saturday was a day to unwind from all the excitement of the past 7 days. We had a special lunch at La Crepe Michel, which is a cute French cafe in Old Town. We had delicious savory crepes for our meal, and then Matt and I got sweet crepes for desert. My mom got an apple tart that also looked amazing.

La Crepe Michel

Cute side alley in Old Town

Ristras and Dream Catchers
Places we ate during Mom's visit:
Maria's New Mexican Restaurant - Santa Fe

The Railyard Second Street Brewery - Santa Fe
2000 Vietnam Restaurant - Albuquerque
The Frontier Restaurant - Albuquerque
Il Vicino - Albuquerque
Sadies II - Albuqueruqe
La Crepe Michel - Allbuquerque

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mom's Visit: Days 5 & 6

Wednesdays are always hectic and busy, I have lab meeting, a seminar, and the PiBBS course. This keeps me at school from 11am-5:30pm. I had Matt and my Mom come in after lab group to have lunch with me after lab group, and many from my lab joined us. We had a big group of us at the Frontier Restaurant, which is kind of a landmark in Albuquerque. It's also a good place to get a quick lunch since it has a ton of seating and they get the food out fast. My mom got to meet my adviser and a couple other people in my lab, which was nice.

Later in the afternoon I decided I should go to my class, because I had a group project due the next week. The class ended up being a complete waste of time, and I would have better spent my afternoon with family. I did, however, get a little bit done in my office so it wasn't a complete waste.

We had to call it an early night on Wednesday, because we were going to be getting up at dawn again to go to the special shapes rodeo at the Fiesta. The special shapes rodeo is when they do an ascension in the morning with just the shape balloons. Unfortunately the winds were really strong and they didn't launch the balloons, but we did get to walk around and see all of them inflated.

Mom and me at the gate. Last year I went through the red entrance.

Meghan and Jason. We got to hang out with these characters at 4:30am.

I think Matt and I look pretty awake for before dawn.

Sunrise over Spider Pig

1) This is why our relationship works 2) We really want a cat 3) This balloon is hilarious

Some shapes... Look! It's an arc and a fish, and a cactus with sunglasses...

... a flying pig, Sugar Bear, and a cute cat balloon with a sketchy cat face on the back...

All the way from New Zealand, that's supposed to be a Kiwi.
After the rodeo, we stopped for coffee and Meghan and I were dropped off for our paleoclimate class. Immediately after class I headed home for more family fun time. We spent the afternoon at the petroglyphs. I always like going to the monument to look at the petroglyphs, it's a nice hike in some of the areas, and it's also a great place to bring visitors. My mom really seemed to enjoy it, despite the wind that day.

No petroglyphs were sat upon during the taking of this picture.

We hiked to the top of this hill, there were petroglyhs scattered around on boulders everywhere.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mom's New Mexico Visit: Days 3 & 4

After a weekend of getting up really early, we took a couple of leisurely days to recover. On Monday we hung around town, and went to Old Town earlier in the day for some shopping. My mom originally had the idea of getting a locally made ring, but nothing really appealed to her when we actually got in the stores. However, she ended up finding a watch with white buffalo stone inlay.

It hadn't occurred to me that Old Town would be crowded. Every time I've been before it's pretty dead. However, since the Balloon Fiesta was drawing people from all over the place, it was kind of a bustling place to be. There was even some entertainment in the town square, with music and dancing.

A Mariachi band in the town center. The guy with the guitarron kept making funny faces and wiggling his big eyebrows.

Later in the afternoon I brought my mom to the knitting club I usually go to on Mondays. We meet at 5:30pm after work at Bailey's on the Beach, a restaurant that is really close to campus, has tasty food, and sangria. My mom mostly went because of the promise of sangria, but I like to think she also wanted to meet my friends and hang out with me. Usually I like their food, but they have a habit of putting spice into everything. Unfortunately, the pasta my mom got was a little too spicy and we stopped on the way home to get her a burger. We had been eating a lot of spicy food lately, and we just needed to give our digestive systems a break.

Tuesday morning I had to suck it up and head in to school to go to class. It was my turn to lead discussion in my paleoclimate class, otherwise I might have skipped this one time. Tuesday also turned out to be a sucky weather day, so we had to take our wholesome activities indoors. We decided to get lunch at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which was pretty good. I got pasole and an indian taco salad. Indian tacos are kind of like fried dough with taco stuff on top. This time it had carne adovada, which is always a good choice. Lunch was tasty, if not healthy.

It started to actually rain while we were at lunch, but we were already at the cultural center, so we decided to check out the exhibits and go through the museum. They have native dance performances pretty much every day, so we checked that out. Photos were allowed for this particular performance, although the lighting was bad and it was hard to get a good shot of the dancers who were moving fast. I can't remember what the first dance was called, but it was supposed to be the old way of doing the dance. The dancer was covered in eagle feathers. The second dance was the Jingle Dress Dance. The metal cones on the dress are supposed to call to healing spirits. The story that went along with the dance was that a grandfather was instructed to have this dress made for his deathly ill grand daughter. The little girl began to dance, and the spirits heard the jingling from the objects on the dress, and she was healed.

Traditional Dance

Jingle Dress Dance
The next program was done by some young adult Navajos, but since their presentation was more of a religious nature I didn't take any pictures. They demonstrated grinding cornmeal, the basket dance, and a bow and arrow dance. The "performers" looked like they were maybe in high school or college. We learned that the average age of a person within the Navajo nation is about 21, which is really young.

After the performances, we looked at an exhibit on the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico. In addition to the Pueblo, New Mexico also has resident Navajo and Apache Nations. The had a photo exhibit from Laguna Pueblo, and had images from Grab Day, which was associated with a movie documentary about the day and this tribe. It was a special project because many tribes are very private and don't allow photography in their villages. The rest of the museum exhibited the history, crafts, and traditions of the tribes of New Mexico.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mom's Visit to New Mexico: Days 1 & 2

What a fantastic week! Mom got in in the late evening last Friday for her 8-day vacation in New Mexico. The visit was timed with the balloon fiesta; after seeing my pictures from last year, my mom decided immediately that she must make it here for that week, specifically.

Saturday morning we were up and on the road by 5:30am, which by Fiesta weekend standards is late. We were on our way to one of the mass ascensions, where they inflate a launch literally hundreds of hot air balloons.

Balloons being inflated before lift off.

The Darth Vader balloon was back again this year from Belgium.

Two new shape balloons: Spider Pig and a huge butterfly (it's left antenna was having a  little trouble here).

Took this one for my Mom's friend Al who, like this balloon, is from Jordan.

"Stay inflated my friends"

The Bees
Just like last year, I took dozens more photos than will actually end up on this blog. I'll need to do something with them this time around, I certainly have enough for Fiesta themed photo presents for birthday's and holidays.

On Sunday we went to the Taos Wool Festival.
I always get an interesting reaction from people when I say I'm going to a wool festival. First of all, you get to see cute/funny animals. Secondly, the drive is beautiful. Third, there are lots of pretty things to look at and buy. So don't knock the wool festival until you've tried it.

An alpaca that is cute/silly.

Disapproving Llama, disapproves of me taking its picture.

I ended up buying some very nice yarn to make knitted gifts for Matt and my Mom. They picked the yarn, but the surprise will still be there when I finish the projects. I also left with a warm and fuzzy fleece headband and a drop spindle to make my own yarn. It isn't enough that I spend money and time on knitting and crocheting and materials, I now feel the need to make yarn too. Overachiever.

On the drive back from Taos, we stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge for a view over the bridge.

Rio Grande

My Mom, with the wind in her hair.

Taos Wool Festival Gang

Me and Matteo

Second tarantula I've seen in this area of NM. This guy was crawling around the ladies bathroom at the rest stop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recap of Aubreya’s Weekend – 2

Bea spent Saturday night with Mouse and Dave in Socorro. When Matt and I got there in the morning, the whole Socorro crew was kind of groggy. They had apparently had a pretty rough night: there had been a 5 car accident just by the Sunport (the airport in ABQ), so it took them twice as long to get home as it should have. It had taken them over an hour just to get outside of Albuquerque proper. Mouse was awake enough, however, to get up to make a delicious breakfast of sourdough waffles and crepes. You could just taste the love in them, mmm.

After brunch, Bea got to see their sweet backyard in the daylight, and Matt and I went to the store to get the necessary items to make a big bowl of guacamole. Mouse and Dave’s landlords, Chris and Andy, are also their neighbors. They were having a big cookout shindig around dinner time, and we were all going. Parties at their house always involve crazy amounts of food and drink, so it isn’t really necessary to bring much with us. Homemade guacamole, however, is always welcome. In addition to breakfast, Mouse had also been up early baking some cakes, and she also brought enchilada casserole. Like I said, crazy amounts of food.

After the cookout died down some, we stuck around to play games at Andy and Chris’. All of the company for the evening was, in the most loving way possible, pretty geeky. Andy, Chris, and their friends are all gamers. Matt, Bea, Dave, and I got in a game of Settler’s of Catan, while Mouse, Andy, Chris, and their friend K Scott played Power Grid. It just wouldn’t have been a complete weekend visit if we hadn’t played Settler’s with Bea.

After the party, Aubreya came back to Albuquerque with us. She was heading home the following afternoon, and we were trying to figure out what to do. Rather than try and rush a trip to Santa Fe, we decided that the Petroglyphs would be a good last thing to do for her visit. We had another leisurely morning with a late breakfast at the Frontier Restaurant (more green chili!). Mouse and Dave decided to come back down to Albuquerque to go to the petroglyphs with us, and Bea was so excited to be able to see rocks! Apparently outcrops are hard to come by in Louisiana. I can verify this from my own visit, I can’t recall much in the way of topography and there is a lot of obscuring vegetation. In the high desert where we are, though, we have the mountains and several basalt flows; the petroglyphs are on the basalt cliffs. We spent a couple hours exploring, looking at the drawings, and trying to imagine what they mean.

Before Bea headed back to Louisiana we got lunch at another local chain, Flying Star. We both got Mexican lattes (coffee, chocolate, and cinnamon, mmm), and I had my usual green chili chicken enchiladas. We still had a lot left that we wanted to do, the next time she visits we’ll make it a point to get up to Santa Fe.
I think Matt and I are pleased with the number of visitors we’ve had so far in the year we’ve been in New Mexico: his parents, Sam, Dan, Lev, Fabia, and now Aubreya. We’ve had more visitors so far than we had the entire time we were in Pennsylvania. Maybe it’s because we’re further away, so it seems like more of a “destination” than State College, PA. Maybe it also helps that the four of us (Matt, Mouse, Dave, and myself) are kind of concentrated here, so a lot of visiting can happen in one shot. Whatever the reasons, I’m happy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Recap of Aubreya’s Weekend – 1

Almost three weeks ago, Aubreya (our friend and former roommate) visited us for Labor Day weekend. It worked out really well because she gets every other Friday off from work because she her company has a 9-80 work schedule. Additionally, she had Labor Day off, so it was a really long weekend. She flew in late Thursday evening and we got a full 3 and a half days of visiting in.

Friday morning was laid back and we had brunch with Pnina, an acquaintance from PASSCAL. Pnina and Aubreya had met in Africa while she was doing a seismological study, and it had been years since they had seen each other. Pnina and our other friend, Mouse, both work together. We met at Mannie’s for a HUGE breakfast/lunch. Bea and I both got the same thing, the “Pileup at Central and Girard”. It consists of eggs, hash browns, beans, cheese, and chili all piled up together on a plate. It is delicious and filling, which fits my criteria for a good brunch meal. I don’t have it often, it’s a little rich for every-day consumption.

After brunch, I gave Aubreya the 30 minute tour of campus before I had to run off to the only class I have on Friday’s, BioBLOG. I introduced her to a couple of my friends, and showed off my office and some of the pretty architecture on campus. While I was at class, she and Matt went to Nob Hill to check out some of the stores. When I was finished I took the Rapid Ride down to the Co-Op to meet up with them again. We wandered some more, found the most adorable kitty for adoption in a store front, and got some gelato at Ecco. 

One of the places I always bring people when they visit is Old Town. It’s kind of touristy and I don’t usually eat or shop there, but there’s a lot of art and pretty things to look at. It’s also the oldest part of town (as the name implies) and there’s a neat looking church and town center. It’s also kind of fun to poke in and out of stores, and we did find a fairly new art gallery belonging to an artist we recognized. We had seen some of his bird paintings at the New Mexico Tea Co., and I got a pair of earrings that had miniature versions of some of those paintings.

Our next stop was dinner at Sadie’s. The three of us planned on getting our fill of New Mexican food that weekend, which naturally includes sopapillas. In my opinion, Sadie’s has some of the best sopapillas in town. Sometimes Matt and I just go there to get margaritas and sopapillas. Then we headed home for the evening to hang out and play games. I invited Fred over, and we had kind of a late night playing Dixit and Flux. Dixit was new, and Fred brought it over. It very much reminded me of Balderdash, only in Dixit you make up stories that go along with weird pictures. 

On Saturday we had breakfast at our apartment. Matt and Bea had bought some tasty lemon and lavender at the Co-Op the day before, which were delicious with tea. Mouse and Dave drove up from Socorro to spend the afternoon with us. We got some sandwiches to-go from Which Wich?, because we were going to be riding the tram up to the top of the Sandia Mountains. The tram is really fun, you get a great view and it’s the fastest way to the top of the mountain. It’s only about a 15 minute ride in either direction. We had lunch at the top and wandered around some. Bea found the tiniest baby horned lizard, and we observed the fattest rock squirrel I had ever seen.

Later in the afternoon we went to the Bernalillo wine festival. New Mexico isn’t exactly known for its wine, but there were a large number of wineries there. My favorite variety that I tried was Casa Abril’s dry red zinfandel. It had a spicy, peppery quality that was really nice and Matt and I both liked it, I would probably buy it to have at home. We did try some red and green chili wine. It was kind of gimmicky, and I probably wouldn’t ever buy it, but it wasn’t bad either. I was told before by someone that it was terrible, which turned out to be a major exaggeration. 

After we got back from the wine festival we had some dinner at Il Vicino, which is a local chain that does micro brews and brick over pizza. I decided that I had enough to drink, alcohol wise, and decided instead to have some of their homebrewed root beer. Root beer is always better when it’s made in the traditional way and you can get it on tap. I also love the pizza at Il Vicino, as far as thin crust pizza goes, it’s the best in Albuquerque. Dinner was followed by more gelato, I’m pretty much always in the mood for it.
That evening, Bea went back with Mouse and Dave to fabulous Socorro. We would be heading down ourselves for brunch and a cookout the following day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Car is Getting Old

I was reminded this weekend of my Dad. It’s kind of too bad that something unpleasant like my car falling apart made me miss him; but he was always there to help me deal with life, and life can often be a pain in the ass. Oil changes, check engine lights, tax returns, odd transmission behavior... these were things my Dad taught me about.

The other day I was on my way to go buy canning supplies. I got about three-quarters of the way to my destination when my car started to stall out when I was accelerating. Past experience told me this was likely a transmission problem. I’m no mechanic, but I will say that I’m pretty good at identifying common car troubles by feel and sound. My first car had a transmission that leaked like a sieve, so I know what it feels like to suddenly realize you’re low on fluid. 

I got home, popped the hood, and checked my fluid level. To my dismay, the dipstick indicated that I had a dangerously low amount of fluid. The only way you lose fluid levels in automatic transmissions is through a leak, and I had no clue that I had a leak. Therefore, I have no idea how long I’ve been low on fluid or if any permanent damage has been done. I keep thinking about how we took this car up the Sandia Mountains last weekend, I am so glad it didn’t break down that night. Anyone that might have rescued us was in my car. A transmission fix will cost more than my car is worth, and I’m not exactly rolling in dough with my stipend.
At any rate, I’m kicking myself for not keeping a closer eye on my car. I know better than to not check under the hood occasionally. I checkout out a few other things while I was at it and I’m also low on power steering fluid, but unlike the transmission, that won’t leave me stranded somewhere. I already figured that would be low, given the whining noise I’ve been hearing for months now.

So Matt and I made a Pep Boys run yesterday to get transmission fixer and some more fluid. I’m terrified of overfilling the transmission in my desperation to get the stuff back in there. Everything I’ve read from the internet and my owner’s manual indicates this can be as bad as not having enough fluid. In the mean time I’ll need to the car out on a short ride so that I can check the level when the engine is hot, and then add fluid little by little until it looks good. And from now on I’ll check it every month. Sorry Dad.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sorry for the Absence

I just realized it's been an unacceptably long time since I've written.

I do have plenty to talk about (Aubreya's visit last weekend), and I have some catching up to do (on everything, yikes), but for now I'll just explain my absence.

I'm writing for the UNM BioBLOG again this semester, and probably for every semester here on out. I was on deck this past week, so I was furiously getting my post together. Without giving too much away, the post is on the state of scientific literacy in America. It turned out kind of long, but everyone who's reviewed it so far says it's great. I'm really excited about it going up later this week. Scientific literacy wasn't at all what I planned on writing about, I try to stay away from really heavy topics when my reading is going to be public. However, I was inspired, and when inspiration calls you just have to go with it. I'll let you all know when it gets posted. Also, the most recent post is on my labmate's 6-week adventure in Australia. It's good, you should check it out.

The other reason I've been MIA is that I have been hopelessly trying to work on an assignment that involves writing a research proposal. I'm having many issues, including: being organized, my brain drifting, not having a firm enough grasp on what I want to write about, and my computer being a pain in the butt (i.e. slooooooow).

I am going to start posting on my personal blog more frequently. I found out yesterday that if I do some fun writing, tedious writing comes a lot easier afterward. I guess my brain just needs to get warmed up before heavy lifting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Inflated Sense of Self Importance

This has been a crazy week for my friends and family back East. On Tuesday (8/23/11) there was a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Virginia that was felt widely throughout the Eastern part of the country. Friends in Connecticut and State College, PA felt it, and I even heard that people in Boston felt it too. In addition to the earthquake, the whole East coast is bracing itself for hurricane Irene, which should be going through my home state of CT over the weekend.

I don't like natural disasters, but as a geologist I have a weird sense of disappointment that I have never been through an earthquake. I'm not trivializing it, I have an idea of how dangerous and scary they can be. That's not the point. Earthquakes and other major events are demonstrations of the amazing power of natural forces, and I'm fascinated by any event that show that the Earth isn't just a static piece of rock floating through space. By the end of the weekend, people back East will have experienced two powerful forces in a one-week span: a fairly large earthquake and a pretty serious hurricane.

The only thing that is kind of getting under my skin about all of this is the reaction that people are having, specifically "Why is this happening?", or "What did we do to deserve this?" As if there is some reason these things happen beyond chance and the physical sciences. I'm hearing things like "this is because New York legalized gay marriage", or "this is because of Obama". Seriously?? That's not how the Earth works. There are reasons for all of the events that happen, that's for sure. But they have nothing to do with petty human social affairs. When I hear these kinds of things, I feel like we've stepped back into the Dark Ages.

Maybe it's because people feel like bad things need some kind of moral reason for happening. But bad stuff happens all the time, to all kinds of people. We're so absorbed with ourselves, that when something like this happens it feels special because it's "happening to us." But these kinds of things have been happening for as long as the Earth has existed, and they'll keep happening once we're long gone.

My suggestion is that if you want to know why stuff happens, spend some time reading about the physical causes and the science behind it. I know blaming it on "divine retribution" might be easier and make you feel better, but it's total and complete crap. Knowing the real how and why behind things like earthquakes is fascinating. But it sure as hell isn't all about you.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School, Fall 2011

Today was the first of the semester, and I'm still in denial that summer is officially over. In reality, I really only had about 3 months off, which at the beginning seems like a really long amount of time. However, every time I looked at the calendar I was shocked.

It's so weird seeing all the kiddies back on campus. I've actually been hiding out in my office for the most part. The area I'm in now isn't frequented by undergraduates too often, and it's pretty quiet over all. The best part of the first week of school is all the free stuff. This past Friday I was lamenting about how I needed a highlighter, and I was debating whether it was worth it to walk to the bookstore to buy one. Boy am I glad I didn't because I scored three different color highlighters today at a tent near the duck pond. That, AND there was free ice cream this afternoon. Welcome weeks are always chock full of freebies. I hear tomorrow the free food item is watermelon, hopefully tacos or pizza or something will come up later in the week. On Wednesday the department is having a welcome back get together, which should also have food. I think I can sneak away from class long enough to get a snack.

Speaking of class, my Quaternary Paleoclimate seminar starts tomorrow. I hear it's a whole lot of reading all semester long. I'm actually looking forward to it, I need to learn as much about this subject as quickly as possible, since it is a pretty important part of my research.

Other than the free stuff and there being more people on campus, today was pretty much like any other day I've been having this month. I sat in my office, read, and took notes on journal articles. I'm starting to get hungry, so I think I may head home soon.

Matt and I went to Santa Fe yesterday, I'll elaborate on that more in another post.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Get Back to Work!

Over the past couple weeks I have been getting back into work mode. I did pretty good this week getting in at a reasonable time and staying all day in my office working on various odds and ends. School is starting back up in a week, I can hardly believe I'm going to be starting my second year at UNM so soon. If I was going to be teaching again I'm pretty sure I'd be having major anxiety over it, I'd be in a horrible mood. But, I'm actually feeling a little better than I was last week. I'm excited about the upcoming semester, I'm looking forward to getting a lot of my own work done.

This past week I've pretty much been working on trying to find out as much as I can about fossil sites in New Mexico caves. It's been very productive, so I just stuck with that all week. It's now Friday and I feel pretty confident that I have all of the faunas I'm interested in on my computer in a fairly simple spreadsheet. It only took about a day of messing around with the Neotoma Database and about a day and a half of tedious copying from tables in books to get it all together. I have just over a 1000 entries in my new data sheet, now it's just a matter of looking at what I have.

I haven't seen Felisa much this summer. We were at the mammal meeting together back in June, and I've seen her a handful of times around the department. It'll be good to get back to having weekly meetings to see where I'm at with research, and to finally see what we should do next with our book chapter. A couple weeks ago I put together three chapter sections with associated questions which we should address. I think if I had my way I would have us split up the topics and do some literature reviews to see what questions we could address.

I also downloaded some new carnivore data. The original set I had before got messed up, but I think I figured out what went wrong. I briefly looked at the new stuff and it looks like I avoided the problem I had before; however, I can't get fine time bins like I was hoping I could. I'm coming to the conclusion that a lot of stuff really hasn't been dated well, which makes it really difficult to do certain kinds of projects. I can understand, dates are really expensive. I know that when I do my next excavation, I'm going to definitely write some grants for a lot of radiocarbon dates.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Research Experience for Undergraduates

About 45 minutes south of Albuquerque is the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Station. Each summer undergraduates from different universities come to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (RUE) program. Felisa mentored a student, Nikki, from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She works on plant fossils and the project she did for the REU was looking at the plant macrofossils from the middens in our lab. A lot of the other students did research projects at the Sevilleta or the surrounding area, and a wide range of topics.

Yesterday all of that hard research culminated in their REU symposium, where the students gave talks about their research. Many students actually get publishable papers out of the work they do during this program. Nikki with hopefully get two papers. Fred commented that she was comparing the quality of the talks to those we see at professional meetings, not your typical student presentations. The quality was really very good, and I was really impresses with what the students came up with in only a couple months.

There were also two students doing science inspired art projects. One student made nature based art sculptures and took "sincere" photos of the other students doing their research projects. The other student constructed a wind organ and helped the other students make kites (which did and did not fly very well). The idea was to get the research students thinking outside of the box.

I thought the whole thing was fantastic. Way to go students!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rough Couple Weeks

Since coming back to Albuquerque a couple weeks ago I've been having a rough time getting back to normal. Specifically I've been having this constant feeling of anxiety and tightness in my chest, like I can't breath, but my lungs are clear and my asthma isn't acting up or anything. I've been showing all the signs of having mild generalized anxiety disorder.

I'm not sure what has triggered all of this, but a couple of things stick out.

Immediately after I returned from my trip I had to go to the hospital for a procedure. Originally I was going to be on vacation for another week, but my appointment was moved up so I missed out on more time at home. The results of the procedure were disappointing. A day or so after I started having the anxiety symptoms.

After coming back I've been feeling really homesick for CT. Crazy, because I don't miss the place specifically, but only seeing my family a handful of times throughout the year is taking its toll. The past couple of times I've visited home I've felt really sad after leaving, and I meant to visit my dad's grave when I was home, but I was in Virginia when I realized I had forgotten which made me feel like crap. Since getting back in to town I've been having upsetting dreams.

Last week I was going over some analyses for my research, and I realized I had overlooked something. The pattern I had been seeing in my data doesn't appear to be significant now, so I don't know what that leaves me for that project. Furthermore I don't know if I have the kind of personality that works in academia. I'm not super competitive. I'm modestly driven, but I get bogged down and stressed out pretty easily. I don't know if a high stress career is such a good move.

About two weeks after my hospital let down and a week after my research realization I developed shingles, which has only added to my discomfort. My doctor prescribed some antiviral medication, but told me that stress was probably the trigger for the outbreak.The health center sees their greatest increase in occurrences around finals week. But it's the middle of the summer. What the hell am I so worked up over?

I don't want to complain. I hate admitting that I don't feel good, but I need to let it out somewhere. I look around and I have a lot going for me, but I've been in a slump for over two weeks, and I don't know how to articulate how I'm feeling. My therapist thinks I'm still grieving over my dad, but it's been so long. I hate to think that every time something bad happens I'm going to have a delayed and drawn out process of getting over it. How am I supposed to function and live my life if I can't predict or control how I feel?

Maybe I need to go home more often, or call home more often. Maybe I need to cut down on my personal responsibilities until I get everything under control. I see my therapist again next week, I'm going to talk to him about medication options. Am I depressed? I've always been very tightly would and high strung. I worry now that my personality is going to make me sick. I had been feeling pretty good for a couple months, but it's like I go a period of time feeling fine, and then I get sucked back into a hole. I eventually come out again with some time. This week has actually been a bit better, I've been sleeping a little better over the past couple days.

I was supposed to avoid strenuous activity for two weeks after my procedure. Now that I can exercise again maybe that will help.