Thursday, January 31, 2008

Culture of Ecology and Evolution

As an undergraduate, I spoke of ecology and evolution in the same breath. I thought of them as perfectly intertwined. It wasn't until I got to grad school that I started hearing people say in my program (students, profs) say things like, "Oh, I'm not really into that evolution stuff- I much prefer ecology," or vice versa. At first I was perplexed. What did I miss? How can you like ecology but not evolution? I talked to Mariya (my conversationalist for most things academic) about this and found that I wasn't alone in my pre-grad school conception of our discipline. It feels like there is a culture here of putting yourself in one camp or the other.

I'm very curious to hear what the experience has been of my readers. Are you "labeled" (self- or otherwise) as a researcher in this field? What were/are your perceptions as an undergraduate and where did/do you go to school? I think this is one of those interesting "cultural" issues within science. What's the culture where you are?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Animal research plan approved

It is a big relief to have my research protocol approved. I submitted it in December and had to make a few changes after the initial review, but it is now approved for 3 years! If I make any changes at all (and I'm sure I'll make many) they have to approve them too but this is a first big step.

Most of the items on the form don't even apply to field research, but if you so much as observe wild animals for research you have to get it approved by the committee, veterinarians, etc. Lots of paperwork.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oh geeze...

...I think I've inadvertently discovered the identity of another anonymous female science blogger. I've been reading her blog for a couple months now and I am about 95% sure that my university is interviewing her tomorrow. Eek! What are the chances?

Ok, so how do I know? I just got the CV of this week's candidate and I immediately noticed a few unusual things and thought, "Hey, that sounds like blogger X!" So I went and read a few posts, read some older posts, and yep, I'm pretty sure it's her as there are 3 different things that seem to match up. I think I'll know definitely when I meet her tomorrow. If it's not her, then these two people have a lot in common and should probably get together for coffee sometime.

I'm kind of excited about this but uncomfortable at the same time since I too am trying to remain anonymous in my blogging. I think she has revealed even less about her area of research than I have, which makes me nervous. Part of me hopes I'm wrong about the identity of this person. Then again, this would be a really huge coincidence.

Ok, back to reading school stuff (like her papers).

Reading & Writing

Most of this weekend was spent sleeping or hanging out with friends (playing Settlers of Catan, of course), but boy do I have a lot of reading to do. I read a lot on Sunday, but most of it was for 'fun' not for school.

What I have to read by Wednesday:
-four chapters in the textbook for Herb's class
-three papers for departmental seminar (we're interviewing candidates for a faculty position)
-an article for the required class
-this week's lab that I'm teaching
-four journal articles for Herb's class
-my own review paper with an eye for completely restructuring it

What I have to write by Wednesday:
-a four page paper for Herb's class
-a response to the article for the required class
-a grant proposal that Leo will review

Other things I want to do this week that have nothing to do with school:
-plan/sketch windowboxes and hanging baskets for the apartment (I want to see if I can get my landlord to pay for some/all of it)
-clean the apartment (Jon's mom is coming to visit and OMG, we have SO much recycling in the kitchen)
-choose some native species for seed bombing

Well, I'd better get going!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Summer opportunities for undergrads in ecology

I try to tell my students about all of the awesome opportunities out there for undergraduates in science, and this first one definitely falls in the *awesome* category.

ESA (Ecological Society of America) has a program called SEEDS (Strategies for Ecology Education, Developments, and Sustainability) whose goal is to try to increase representation of racial and ethnic minority students in the field of ecology. If you are a minority undergrad, ESA SEEDS wants to take you to Alaska for a week in May 2008 to learn about the affects of climate change on polar regions as part of the International Polar Year. It sounds like it will be an awesome trip! I don't see this stated anywhere, but I think they pay for everything (=free for you). Interested? Apply here. The deadline is February 11, 2008.

Summer internship opportunities:

10 weeks at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin for collections-based research
They help cover the cost of getting you there, fund your research, and give you a small stipend. Deadline: March 30, 2008

Great Lakes Summer Fellowship Program (12 weeks)
They are offering 24 full-time 12-week fellowships to undergrad and recent graduates in limnology, from aquatic ecology and outreach to modeling and policy. Check out the opportunities here. They offer a $5000 stipend (this is a lot more than I will earn this summer as a TA). Deadline: February 22, 2008

Eco-Informatics Summer Institute in Orgeon (10 weeks)

This sounds like a really great opportunity for students interested in ecology, math, engineering, and/or computer science to develop interesting projects and learn more about the interdisciplinary field of Eco-Informatics. Recent graduates and early-career graduate students are also eligible. They offer housing, travel assistance, some meals, and a $4000 stipend. Deadline: February 15, 2008

Enhancing Linkages between Mathematics and Ecology in Michigan (7 weeks)
Similarly, this is another program for the quantitative mind and the mathematically inclined. This program involves coursework and field projects. Fellowships provide tuition, room and board, travel, and a $2500 stipend. Undergrads, recent grads, and early-career grad students are eligible to apply. Deadline: March 3, 2008

Remember undergrads, this handful of programs is only the tip of the iceberg. Check out my earlier post to read more about REU programs.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My plans to blog keep getting thwarted!

I meant to post every day this week and my plans just got foiled again and again. At least I was having fun. We have been playing a lot ofSettlers of Catan (with the expansion packs) thanks to my parents who got it for us for Christmas.

My second week of teaching went well. I'm so much less nervous this semester and I'm developing a good relationship with my students. I have two students from last semester (one in each section). I sent my new students an email with summer internship opportunities like I did last semester and the lab instructor was really impressed when I told him. The email was also an excuse to make sure I typed all of their email addresses correctly.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Big Natural History Museum getting to know my critters as study skins. It is really cool to work with the collections but I don't like coming home smelling like naphthalene (moth balls). I stayed for happy hour at the museum and had some useful conversations with other researchers about ideas for African Field Site. I am so proud of how much more comfortable I am in talking about my research with other people. I can confidently say what I know what I don't know and I don't feel awkward about it.

Greatest non-academic discovery of the week: You can bulk-buy from Whole Foods! You get a 5% discount for buying by the case. I ordered cases of our most-used items that we'll pick up next week when we have visitors coming with a car :-)

Today when I woke up our apartment smelled like paint thinner and the smell hasn't gone away. In fact, it has gotten worse and it's giving me a headache. It's really disgusting. I think someone below us must using paint thinner. I can't imagine why they'd decide to do that in winter when they can't open the doors and windows for ventilation.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where to go? What to do?

Last week I had a meeting with Leo to discuss my research ideas (for my whole Ph.D.), an issue which is very closely related to where I'll be doing fieldwork this summer. I've been fretting about this decision for the past two months or so, and I wrote about it at some length here and here.

I have to decide where to do my fieldwork for my Ph.D. This is a big decision, as basically all of my research will be done in the field. Where I decide to do my research is related to many professional and personal considerations.

For my NSF GRF proposal I developed a project to study critters at African Field Site within the context of broader questions and issues such as fragmentation. Last semester I wrote a review paper related to this topic and got even more excited about the research idea. Then, as I started talking to Herb and Leo more about my ideas, it became increasingly apparent to me that African Field Site would not by the best place to test the hypotheses to answer the questions I've gotten excited about. So, I have a good idea for a research question but not the best field site for it.

I could do my fieldwork someplace better suited to answering my question, such as Neotropical Field Site where Herb will be working. Or, I could consider an entirely different field site. For answering the question, one of these two options is probably best. But, in my heart of hearts, I desperately want to go back to African Field Site. I finally came out and said that to Leo last week. I'm sure it was already apparent in our conversations and correspondence, but I hadn't ever said it without scientific justification before. Still, the more I talked about my grand research ideas with Leo, the more convinced I was that I was going to have to give up my dream of returning to African Field Site. If Leo had said, "Karina, I think it would be best if you did your fieldwork somewhere else," I would have resigned myself to that. I was half expecting him to say that.

Instead, he said, "It sounds like you have to decide if you're going to follow your head or follow your heart. You really shouldn't underestimate the value of following your heart in a decision like this."

Gosh, this is so complicated! We went on to talk about all of the potential advantages of me working at African Field Site. For example, there are very few people working on my particular critters in Africa, but many in the Neotropics. I could make a name for myself and potentially make significant advances in the field without worrying about genuflecting to the right people or stepping on toes. Relatively little is known about my critters in Africa so I could make important contributions to understanding their ecology. Also, I want to do outreach at my field site and I know that African Field Site has a grassroots environmental organization that I could tap into instead of using a haphazard approach to outreach at a site that doesn't have an existing organization.

There are many disadvantages to working at African Field Site in addition to the fact that it's not a good place to test the best research idea I've come up with so far. It's probably more dangerous. It's more primitive (i.e. not a fancy ecologist's dream of a field station). Since less is known about the ecology of my critters, more of my time will be spent figuring that out which may take time away from answering bigger questions with broader application (part of the reason I was inspired to go to African Field Site in the first place is because so little information is available about these critters- I'd like to change that).

I need to consider how the different experiences and opportunities I will have in each potential research avenue will contribute to my development as a scientist and a teacher. How will this decision affect my marketability when I'm finished with my Ph.D.? I'm in graduate school now because I love science and my goal is to be a professor at a small college or university at lead foreign study programs. I really want to be well prepared to begin the job I want when I finish school.

I had a brief meeting with Herb last week after I talked to Leo to get him up to speed on my dilemma. I asked Herb for a deadline by which I need to make this decision. He said I can make a decision in March or April when I hear about the grants, and that will help make the decision for me. Herb said this is a perfectly normal position to be in and told me not to fret yet. I know other first year graduate students are having the same struggles but this feels like such a huge personal and professional decision. My regular readers can expect to hear more on this topic during the next semester.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More funding opportunities

Leo sent me an email this weekend that said something like this:

"Here's the application for that funding source I told you about. It's due Feb 1. Request $2500-300o for airfare, ground transport, basic supplies, and small per diem. Say it is seed money and next time you'll request funds for an assistant which you will recruit on this first trip. I'm one of the three people that review these proposals."

Helpful indeed! I'll get right on that.

A classmate of mine told me about another organization that supports graduate research called Idea Wild. They offer small grants to provide materials for conservation and biodiversity research. Pretty cool!

Since I submitted my first grant for supplies and equipment in December, I've thought of a few things I should have included so I'm glad to hear about these other grants. For example, I neglected to budget for research permit fees, a camera (all good fieldwork requires photographic documentation for subsequent presentations and whatnot), and offsetting emissions from travel to and from my field site. I'm not sure if emission offsets are an acceptable thing to ask for, but I think if any subset of funding organizations is likely to support it, it's conservation organizations like the ones I'm applying to. Have you budgeted for emission offsets in grants? I'd really like to hear from people who have.

About emission offsetting in general, it is somewhat overwhelming to choose how to do it. I am somewhat wary of the large "carbon-neutralizing" organizations and would really love to support a more local (either in Big City Area or my field site area) tree planting or conservation initiative. Really, I'd love to plant tons of trees in my neighborhood because it really needs them, but I don't think I can get that into a grant. I'll probably have to go with some big, established carbon offset organization for my fieldwork and think about local projects for my personal life.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I put my toaster in the dishwasher

Jon and I got a few household items from craigslist, including a toaster. Unfortunately, the toaster smelled like sweet, rancid frozen pastries and it wasn't just fixed by cleaning that tray on the bottom. We got it anyways because a toaster is better than no toaster and I figured I could clean it. I did a bit of searching online for people who had done some kind of immersible intense cleaning but I didn't find a whole lot about toasters. I did find someone whose computer was buried in a mudslide so they decided they had nothing to lose by disassembling it and washing it in the sink like dishes. Of course they let it dry for quite a while (at least a month). It worked! So I figured if a computer had a chance of surviving something like that I could try it on my toaster. Unfortunately, I can't find the link back where I read about the computer.

Like I said, the toaster was nasty, and I didn't think the dishwasher alone would cut it. I of course unplugged the thing and soaked it for a while in the sink to loosen the baked-on pastry nastiness. Then I went at it with a bottle brush. I think this was the hardest part because the little heating elements are kind of fragile and I didn't want to scrape them off. I was able to get it mostly clean in the sink, but I decided to put it in the dishwasher because then it would go through a heated dry cycle. I though this would decrease the drying time by getting it most of the way dry in the dishwasher. I still waited a week to try it to be sure it was really dry. It worked! It smoked a bit while it burned off whatever had been washed against the heating elements. It doesn't look new, but it looks and smells a lot better than it did when we got it.

While I'm posting about random stuff anyways, I just did my 2007 taxes online. I am actually poor enough to quality for an Earned Income Credit. I'm not entirely sure how they decide how large my EIC will be, but my deductions were greater than my Adjusted Gross Income so maybe that has something to do with it. The bottom line is that my 2007 refund will actually be $400 more than the amount of taxes taken out of my paychecks. The government is giving me $400 because I earned so little this year. I feel kind of awkward about this like it must be some kind of a mistake, but I checked and double-checked.

In other random news, when we woke up this morning there was ice on the inside of our double-paned bedroom window. It's cold outside.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Game theory is very cool and Chip is amazing

Wow, this is going to be an exciting semester! Today was the first game theory class. What fun! I am thrilled to be taking another class with Chip, because he is quite possibly the best teacher I have ever had. He is exceptionally good at explaining and illustrating concepts. I think this is possible from the clarity of thought and depth of understanding that comes with years of writing, talking, and thinking about the subject. But what is most exceptional about Chip is his unflagging enthusiasm and energy. I have never so much as nodded off for a second in class with him yet but I typically have classroom narcolepsy.

These first few weeks will be lectures to provide a foundation in game theory concepts, but for most of the semester we'll be working on our own projects modeling evolutionary games. I'm not sure if I'll take Chip's suggestion for a readily publishable project or collaborate with a post-doc who has similar research interests to mine. I have a lot of big decisions to make this semester. More on that soon, maybe later tonight!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My new teaching assignment

This semester I'm teaching a different course than I taught last semester. I was kind of disappointed to be switched, since I was really looking forward to correcting last semester's mistakes, but on the other hand my class this semester is more ecology and less cellular.

Today I taught my first lab section and I'm really happy with how it went. All of my students talked to each other in discussion so I think I'll be able to keep them talking for the rest of the semester. In lab a screwed up a bit, first by misplacing my notes in a stack of handouts for the students (I didn't find them until after lab was over) and next by giving them the wrong instructions for the lab exercise. There were 15-20 plants, animals, and fungi on display and they were supposed to draw ALL of them. For some reason, I thought they were supposed to draw FOUR of them. In retrospect, I don't know where I came up with the number four. I wasn't entirely sure about this, but the lab instructor (who teaches the TAs how to do the labs before we do them with the students) wasn't in yet so I couldn't ask. He wasn't upset and I think it turned out ok anyways, because I emphasized to my students that drawing is important in the learning process and should show attention to detail. Some of the drawings were quite good (students had a lot of trouble with the tarantula body parts).

I have one of my students from last semester in lab again this semester, but she didn't seem very happy to see me. Maybe she didn't like me? At least 4 of my previous students are in the lab that comes in right after mine finishes, and one of them told me he's going right after class to try to switch to my section. Very flattering.

I was so much more relaxed for this first class than I was last semester! I already knew the things I wanted to emphasize with them, which questions to ask, and what to tell them about myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another semester begins

This is my 100th blog post and I wanted it to be about what it means to be an ecologist, but I want it to be really good and haven't been inspired to finish that one yet and the show must go on.

I really enjoyed my winter break. The first few weeks around the holidays were hectic, but these last two have been very relaxing and fun. I spent a lot of time reading (The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife), watching TV shows on DVD, and other non-academic things around the house. Last weekend I went on a retreat and met some new people which was fun. I saw many friends and generally had a relaxing time.

I think this semester will be busier than last semester. I'm taking three classes (required course for my program, a class with Herb, and a game theory class with Chip) and teaching two lab sections. Last semester I only took two classes so this will be a heavier load. I think that most of my progress on my own research will be within the context of these classes, so at least I'll still be making progress in that area. Our big assignment in the required class is to develop a research proposal in the NSF DDIG format so that should be useful (you have to officially be a Ph.D. candidate to submit a DDIG so I won't be able to do that for another 1.5 years or so). In Chip's class I'll be developing some kind of modeling project, which may or may not directly relate to my main research interests. And in Herb's class I'll be improving my review paper from last semester and hopefully seeing it through publication. Hopefully I'll be able to kill one large bird with these three stones.

This semester will also be busy with seminars by candidates for the landscape ecologist position UBC is hiring. I'm looking forward to seeing this process and learning more about landscape ecology since I think it might be useful for my research.

I want to talk to Herb and Leo soon about my long-term research plans. I have an idea about what I'd like to do, but I want to get a sense from them about whether or not it's worth doing. Once I do that, I need to figure out where to do it. I still don't know if I'm going to Neotropical Field Site or African Field Site this summer. On the one hand, I really want to go to African Field Site. On the other hand, the recent violence in Kenya, monkeypox, and the fact that Herb will be at Neotropical Field Site make NFS an attractive option.

Time for class!

Monday, January 7, 2008

First Letter of Recommendation

Today I wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my students. It sure does take a long time! I'm still going to Jon look over it for organization before I print it out on letterhead. This particular student really was one of my best so it wasn't hard to write. I'm kind of flattered that I was asked, but really there wasn't anyone else from this class who could have written her a letter. This makes me feel like I'm on my way to being a professor :-)

In other news, I spent several hours today listening to bluegrass while mending Jon's jeans and attempting mostly unsuccessfully to unravel an old wool sweater to darn some socks. Better get back to it!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Violence in Kenya

I'm having trouble getting my thoughts together about all of this, but I want to post about the violence in Kenya because I imagine most of my readers are not closely following the situation. I didn't start paying close attention until the other day when I realized how ugly things had gotten.

Brief summary:
On December 27, 2007, Kenya held a presidential election. Mwai Kibaki was elected as president in 2002, only Kenya's third president since independence from British rule in 1963. Kibaki is from the Kikuyu tribe, the largest and most politicially and economically successful tribe in Kenya. Kibaki's challenger was Raila Odinga, from the Luo tribe. The vote was very close, but as soon as the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki the winner, he was sworn into office for his second term, despite obvious meddling with the numbers. Odinga supporters, angry at the stolen election, retaliate against Kikuyus, especially in western Kenya where the Luo tribe in from and where many of Odinga's supporters live. In Nairobi, the tribal melting pot of Kenya, people from all tribes typically live peacefully side by side but mob violence has resulted in looting, rioting, and police shooting at the rioters.

The result:
-at least 361 people dead
-100,000 to 250,000 displaced
-fuel and food shortages in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to interrupted transportation

It is imperative that the internal refugees have adequate food and clean water or many more will die as a result of preventable disease. You can donate directly to the Kenya Red Cross here.

While it seems that violence is subsiding, Kenya will probably be hurting from these wounds for a while. I hope that I am still able to do fieldwork in East Africa this summer, but violent outbreaks like these don't inspire confidence in my personal safety.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Looking ahead to 2008

I'm not a huge fan of New Year's resolutions since they seem to carry with them the history of failure, but I do like reflecting on the previous year and thinking about the year ahead and I happen to have some goals for 2008.

I will continue to hope that the U.S. leaves Iraq, although I am pessimistic that this will happen while Bush is in office. I am most excited about electing a democratic president in 2008. I look forward to teaching next semester and I hope that at least one of my students finds an internship in a science-related field. I do not expect to move in 2008, which would be a welcome change from recent years when I moved at least once a year. I am eager to plant window boxes and sidewalk planters on our piece of Big City concrete and seed bomb the weed lots with the goal of growing some of my own food (basil and squash are my primary goals) and some attractive greenery to soften the harshness of the cityscape. I would like to be able to travel this year to see friends and family that I don't visit often, but I anticipate a lot of travel this summer for research and we'll have to see how much more travel we can afford.

Academic goals:
1) I am hopeful that I will receive at least one of the grants/fellowships I applied for in 2007, and of course I'll be applying for more since that is a process that apparently I'll be doing for the rest of my working life.
2) I would like to get something published or at least in the final manuscript stage before 2008 is out. If my review paper doesn't fly, perhaps a project with Chip will.
3) In 2008 I will figure out where I'll be doing my field work and collect preliminary data and do a pilot study of some sort. This is so much easier said than done because many, many pieces still need to fall into place.
4) This is also partly personal, but I would like to join a campus energy use and recycling committee. I would deeply like to work to change wasteful practices in my workplace. Why wait?

Personal goals:
1) I would really like to start giving birthday gifts to the kids in my life. Previously I (or Jon) have been covered under the gift umbrella of our parents but watching some kids open gifts this Christmas made me really want to give them birthday gifts as well. Girls get so much pink, gender-stereotyped stuff that I want to break that trend. I think it is also a good way to show that I'm thinking about them even if I only see them a few times a year (if that). Between Jon's family and my cousins, there are nine children to give gifts to. This is a significant commitment but I think we can do it. Some of them will be getting subscriptions to Ranger Rick, my favorite childhood magazine. Others will get gifts from the Big Natural History Museum gift shop or Acorn Naturalists. I discovered Acorn Naturalists while I was working at Mid-Atlantic Field Station. Imagine how thrilled I was to find that someone had collected all of my favorite geeky toys and books and put them in one catalog! Each year they send out a beautiful 200 page catalog that I drool over. Today I went through and started marking birthday and Christmas gifts for 2008. It has great resources for teachers, too.
2) Each month I would like to donate at least $10 to a worthwhile cause. We can decide how much to give based on our expenses that month. It might be a donation to a non-profit or a campaign contribution (especially since 2008 is so important). I always think of so many great organizations that I would like to support financially but in reality I have only given to a few. In 2008 I would like to think each month about a cause to support.
3) Each time I donate money or give a gift, I would like to put an equal amount of money into my IRA. I was convinced to open an IRA during Senior Disorientation at SFC. I have a Roth IRA with Pax World Mutual Funds because they do not invest in tobacco or weapons and make and effort to invest in socially and environmentally responsible companies. I didn't put any money into my IRA in 2007 so I think it's time to start doing that again.
4) Volunteer my time to elect a democratic president in 2008. I believe this is the single most important thing activists can put their energy towards with respect to environmental policy, climate change, science education, renewable energy, health care reform, domestic poverty, foreign relations, world peace, and a host of other things I'm not thinking about at the moment. I think Bush set the U.S. back 8 years in all of those things and even more than 8 years in our credibility to the rest of the world so there's a lot of ground for the next president to make up. 8 is enough- I can't fathom 12.

Overall, I'm very pleased with how my personal life is going right now. I'm distressed about the state of the world and many issues beyond my most immediate bubble, but I am hopeful that many of these circumstances can be improved through grassroots activism and political change.

May all of my readers be the change they wish to see in the world in 2008
(and then mass-produce it).

Christmas highlights

I know most of you are way past Christmas, but Christmas for me this year lasted from Christmas Eve to New Year's Eve so I'm still regrouping.

We left Big City on December 20 and took a train to meet up with Jon's sister and her family. Then we spent 13 hours in a Honda Civic with four adults and a 3 year old in a car seat driving to Capital City. All things considered, this trip went remarkably well. Jon's 3 year old niece is fun and really knows how to "use her words" instead of screaming and whining as some 3 year olds prefer. She was a great traveler and a car seat is a perfect headrest for napping on (much better than the windows).

Photo highlight: This sign is from the Amtrak bathroom. Devil or janitor? You decide.

Jon has a big family and most of them live in or near Capital City so we had a busy few days having dinner at various houses. His family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and I think I ate at least a pound of cheese that day alone (I love brie). Amazingly, everyone still buys everyone in their large family gifts and they open them one at a time so it takes about 3 hours to open presents.

Photo highlights: Not only were there seven children at this gathering, there were two of the cutest puppies in their cutest stage of life! I think they were 11 and 8 weeks. I think you could sell tickets for cute puppy wrestling. Also, did you know that sea turtles nurse from puppies?

The highlight of Christmas Eve for me was when I sat down next to Jon's seven year old niece and asked her what she was most excited about for Christmas. I didn't necessarily mean gifts, but she said, "I'm excited about getting science stuff!" I did all of the shopping for Jon's younger nieces and nephews at the Big Natural History Museum gift shop anyways so I was thrilled to hear her say she wants science stuff. I told her I'm a scientist so she can call me if she has science questions and I'll try to answer them. I'll do anything I can to encourage an interest in science for the young people in my life.

After Christmas we headed to see my family in Midwestern City. I celebrated my birthday with them and got to celebrate Christmas with my extended family. Only two of my cousins are under 18 so we did a Thieves' Christmas with the 23 adults present. Good fun, and we managed to get smallish gifts that wouldn't take up too much space on the way home. But then we ended up acquiring massive amounts of stuff anyways and had to send a FIFTY-THREE POUND box to ourselves in Big City because we couldn't carry it all back in our bags. Ai!

Some of my favorite Christmas or Birthday gifts:
-ipod nano from Jon. I finally have a way to listen to my favorite podcasts on the go! The nano doesn't come close to holding all my music but I really just want it for listening to podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is Living On Earth. I highly recommend it.
-The Sierra Club Guide to Sketching in Nature. I'm really excited about improving my drawing skills with this.
-Settlers of Catan with the expansion packs. We asked for this specifically because we've been borrowing it from friends for months now. This is now my favorite board game and I highly recommend it.
-knitted mitt/mittens. They have flaps that turn the mitts into mittens. Very cute!
-From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail. Jon and I love Indian food and have been eager to learn how to make it ourselves. We made two recipes from it the other night and it was excellent!
-His Dark Materials Trilogy. This begins with the Golden Compass, which we saw in the theatre and really liked so Jon bought the books for me.
-Christmas ornaments to replace some of the ones that I lost. Thanks Mom!

Jon and I tried hard to buy one thoughtful gift for each person/family. We didn't have a budget but I don't think we spent more than we could afford to. For ourselves we had a $20 limit, which he kept but I exceeded (I justified exceeding it because I bought him winter athletic clothing that he needed but hadn't purchased yet). I only got one body lotion and one candle! For the things that just aren't quite worth keeping, we're going to have a party where people bring their unwanted gifts and we auction everything off with fake money. After all, one person's trash is another person's treasure.

We got back to Big City on New Year's Eve just in time to receive an very unexpected call from a SFC friend who was stuck in Big City Airport due to weather-related delays and cancellations. We hadn't seen her since just before we left for RFC when she stopped by on similarly short notice. We were thrilled to spend NYE with her and sent her on her way on New Year's Day. Since then we've been catching up with various friends (which has been fun but also tiring) so I'm really enjoying this time to sit around and do little other than write for my blog and read. So many books, so little time!