Blog Archive

Friday, July 22, 2011

Toddler Heaven

This past weekend we made a last minute decision to go to Gualala. We left Friday at noon and returned on Monday afternoon. With my exam coming up, I figured this was the last time until autumn that we could visit. Since I took Friday and Monday off to travel and hang out with Dave, I spent the weekend working on my proposal.

It turns out that Gualala is a great place to work on papers. I can hide away in the Ritter building where there is no internet, rooms without distracting windows, and a bathroom. After my soils field class in the summer of 2008 I had to write an extra term paper in order to qualify for the graduate level course credits. The professors said we could write about anything we wanted, as long as it related to something in the class (and as for the page limit, they said "you'll know when you've written enough."). So I spent a week doing TONS and TONS of research on mineral weathering of minerals and humic substance interaction mechanisms with mineral surfaces (humics = complex organic "goo" in soil). I brought all those articles and photocopied book chapters up to Gualala, holed away in the Ritter building, and churned out a 19 page paper over the course of three days. I was sooooooo tired afterward, but had learned SO much. The topic is something people in my department/field always talk about but I'd never taken a class about it so I didn't fully understand. The note on my graded paper said, "Congratulations. You get the prize for the most complex topic." (Turns out most other people wrote some dinky six page paper about wetlands or glacial tills. Sheesh.) I have a feeling that building will become a favored dissertation-writing place, too...if that day ever comes...

Anyway, so I got my proposal done in peace and quiet. Dave kept Eddie occupied/fed/happy both days and it was really nice to have that alone time to work.

It turns out that Gualala is not only Julie Heaven, but also Toddler Heaven. Eddie got to drive backhoes and excavators, watch airplanes land and take off, eat tons of strawberries and blueberries and cherries right off the plants, go to the park, and eat lots of fishies crackers. The best part, though, was that he got to hang out with Dave and his beloved Papa.

The icing on the cake, I think, was an airplane ride with me on Sunday evening. A nice guy offered to take us up in his plane that day because he knew how fascinated Eddie has become with airplanes. It was SO COOL to see Gualala from the air! I can't believe I left the camera with Dave...but next time I'll make sure to have it to take pictures. Eddie was able to point out the ocean to us: "Oooh, water Mama!" And he made sure to remind us constantly that we were in an "air pane!"

On Sunday afternoon we went on a little hike to see a "big tree" on the property that is considered old growth. This is a poor picture because Eddie and I are in a sun spot, but you can still see us:
It was a great visit. John and Peggy have always enjoyed Eddie but they really like it now that he can communicate (and is interested in heavy equipment...). See you in September, Gualala!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Most of us know this number to symbolize the devil.

Those of us in the Land, Air, and Water Resources department here at UCD know it as the qualifying exam rule. There's a professor in this department who says students should study no more than 6 hours a day for 6 days a week during the 6 weeks leading up to their BIG EXAM.

For me that icky start-studying day is today. TODAY.

I'm trying REALLY, REALLY hard to think of this event not as an "exam" where I'm grilled about everything I do know or should know about my research...but more as a "conversation" with five professors whose research somehow relates to mine.

Since our program doesn't include a traditional dissertation defense, this is the ONLY time in my graduate school career where I will be able to have access to five experts all in the same room at the same time. When they are ONLY focused on ME.

We will have a conversation. It'll start with me explaining who I am, how I got to be studying compost, and the research project I intend to do. Of course, they'll interrupt me constantly so my 20 minute presentation will take about an hour to get through.

Then we'll all take a quick bathroom break.

The next part of the conversation will be them asking me questions about my analytical methods, my hypotheses based on the work I've already done (and based on their own research), and me doing my best to answer them. I'll probably say "I don't know" and "I'm sorry, but I don't think I understand the question" about a hundred times. Their questions will be fair, even if they completely stump me and make me feel so lousy that I want to cry. The point is to ask me about my hypotheses, methods, and expected results in order to prove that I am in fact qualified to complete the research. That I'm worthy of pursuing a PhD from UCD. I don't have to know all the answers right now, but I have to show them that I am capable of finding those answers using sound science. And that I know the limits of my knowledge.

None of that sounds particularly scary when you break it down into pieces:
  1. write the proposal
  2. make the PowerPoint presentation based on the proposal
  3. study
  4. meet with each professor individually to find out what their expectations are (they will always focus their questions based on what classes I've taken, my proposal, and their own research experience)
  5. study some more
  6. read committee members' papers from their own dissertations and recent work
  7. study some more
  8. hold two practice exams for your labmates and friends to ask you questions and make suggestions
  9. give the professors the proposal a week before the exam
  10. give your 20/1 hour presentation
  11. take a potty break
  12. answer some questions
  13. sit in the hallway while they vote on your qualifications
  14. go back inside to hear "the verdict"
  15. go have a beer with your professor and friends afterward (either to celebrate or medicate, depending on the verdict: pass, no pass (take again), or fail)
"Answer some questions" sounds benign enough...but since I don't know what the questions are ahead of time it is sorta (okay: really) scary. The only thing I can do is to study a lot and learn how to say "I don't know" in several different ways.

My biggest problem at this point is that I don't feel like an expert in anything. People ask me what I do and say, "I study compost chemistry." I don't say that I'm a chemist or a soil scientist because I don't feel like I know enough to be either of those things. It is a confidence issue, especially with one particular member of my committee who intimidates me (she's a super go-getter, career-focused, top-of-her-game scientist). She doesn't try to intimidate me, I just impose that on myself. Ug.

Right now I'm in the middle of 1 and 2 (adding citations to 1 and making parts of the presentation as it comes to me).

Eddie will be spending every Wednesday night at Cassie's so I have one uninterrupted evening/night/morning of study time. Before he was born, I was most diligent in the early morning. Now I seem to favor the late afternoon, which is hard because I always have to stop what I'm doing to go pick him up (then its an exhausting succession of biking home, feeding the dogs, making/eating dinner, playing, bath time, reading, bed, then dishes, cleaning up the house). By 8:30pm I'm ready to fall into a heap on the couch or watch some mindless movie in bed. It is soooooooooooo hard to remotivate myself after an evening with Eddie. So I've decided not to try. I will not make a practice of studying at home because I know it will do more harm than good. I just have to be as diligent as possible during working hours.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sunday Funday

Last weekend was awesome.

My dad was on campus for work all day Friday so we biked Eddie to daycare together (my dad is jealous of my commute) and then biked home together at the end of the day. We had sausages with sauerkraut and salads for dinner. Once Dave got home that night, around 9:30pm, my dad offered to stay home with sleeping Eddie so we could have a date. Yes! We went to Crepeville for (my second) dinner and dessert....and some grocery shopping at the end.

The next morning, Dave and my dad set to work putting up the fake flagstone veneer outside on the porch. FINALLY. Only a little more work and I'll be able to get the final window inspection so I can pull off the stickers and actually SEE out the windows (imagine that!). Eddie and I biked across town to a birthday playdate. Dave met Joe (the dad) in highschool and it was just a coincidence that they both ended up living in Davis. I remember Joe texting Dave on the day they found out they would have a baby girl and he told Dave we'd have to arrange a marriage between our children. Haha. Anyway, we couldn't leave the house without Eddie's heavy metal trike, so I bungy-corded it to my bike rack. It added a LOT of weight! My dad said I looked like a third world bike commuter. And of course, Eddie didn't want to ride it once we got to the party...sigh...

When we got home, Eddie was super tired but I made him eat some lunch before his nap. He was soaking wet from playing in the water table at the park so I stripped him down to his birthday suit. While I was cooking up his mac-n-cheese lunch I noticed he was suspiciously quiet. I walked out to the patio to see what he was up to...and he was sitting on his little red potty going POOP! I didn't react when I saw him, lest I disturb him. But as soon as he stood up we both started clapping and shouting "woohoo!" I took him to the bathroom to clean him up and then we went out to tell Grandpa and Daddy that they wouldn't have to worry about dealing with any poopy diapers that day. There were high fives all around! As far as I can tell, potty training is all about being naked with potty chairs scattered conveniently around the house and no pressure from adults.

My dad suggested that I send a picture of it to my brother...isn't it great that my dad encourages the sibling rivalry between us? What a great dad. I can't say that I didn't do it...and got a text from Edward later that said, "If you just sent me a picture of poop, you suck." But all's fair in love and he's been getting me back ever since by sending me pictures of amazing Florida sunsets and platters of sushi from his extended vacation down south with Jennifer. He always manages to send them during working hours so I get them while I'm stuck inside my climate-controlled lab. It is torture. (But I guess it isn't as bad as getting a poop picture...I say we're even.)

Back to Saturday: After a (very short) nap, Eddie and I went swimming while the guys finished up the veneer work. We made taco salads for dinner and got to eat out on the patio. With all the physical labor from the stone work and biking all over town, we were all SO tired and sore that night.
On Sunday morning, my dad and I took our bantam rooster over to my friend Yumi's housing community (the N Street Co-ops) so her friend could show me how to butcher him. I'm not allowed to have a rooster in the city limits...and even if I were, I wouldn't want one. Perhaps if the chicken pen were more than 20 feet away from my open bedroom window...

Anyway, the guy who helped me was either still drunk from the night before or super hung over (he reeked of beer...brought back memories of college). He was really nice, encouraging, and helpful, though. I didn't want to "do the deed" so I watched him and then I took over to remove the feathers and guts. It was a relatively calm, easy process and I'm sure that I could handle doing it myself. My dad said that it used to take his Aunt Doris only 30 minutes to get a chicken from alive to roasting in the oven--so of course, that's become my homesteading goal. I remember being on Easter Island years ago and ordering chicken for dinner--I saw the waitress grab one of the chickens that was walking around the tables, take it to the back, and emerge about 40 minutes later with my grilled chicken. Now that's fresh food!

This cooperative housing community is very Davis, very hippie. My dad didn't fit in at ALL with the people there, except for the gardening aspect. But he made the most of it and had a fun time chatting about raising (and butchering) rabbits, turkeys, and chickens and the benefits of being able to gut a deer. Who knew my dad could get along with radical college students? Life is so surprising sometimes. =)

(I can't promise I won't add some of the pictures Yumi took to this post...)

Dyani, Batiste, and Kateri arrived shortly after we got home. It was so so so fun to hang out with them, especially since Batiste is so interactive now (he's 5.5 months old). I could just suck on his pudge, oh my. All of us (even my DAD!) went to the pool for a couple of hours. When I saw that Batiste could hold his breath for a full three seconds under water, I decided that Eddie should be able to as well. So Dave and I started holding him under the water a little longer each time he jumped into the water (we always let him go all the way under). And wouldn't you know, he did just fine.

Dave brought junk food snacks from the Grocery Outlet to the pool and we all enjoyed munching on them too much. But we made up for it by eating a healthy dinner of what I called "fried egg fajitas." I sauteed red onion, red bell pepper, tomatoes, mushrooms, and chard leaves and stalks with lemon pepper and cumin. We loaded that onto warm flour tortillas, placed a fried egg on top, and then added whatever toppings we wanted (salsa, sour cream, cilantro, shredded cheese). We had corn on the cob on the side. Yum, they were GOOD.As usual it was too short of a visit and I savored every moment. I love that Batiste and Eddie get to see each other fairly often. Most of my childhood memories include at least one of the Jones children and I hope Eddie gets to have that same experience of family friends who are so close that they are like family.

It is also great that Eddie gets to see his grandparents so often. Growing up, my dad's parents were across the country so we only saw them every 2 years or so. We drank up those visits to their farm, loving every single minute and protesting when we had to leave. My mom's dad was dead long before I was born and her mother was in a nursing home most of the time. Lucky for Eddie, his grandparents are very present in his life. He sure loves his Grandpa Hal.Ah, life is darn near perfect.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 4, 2011

On the 4th, Dave started our day by making strawberry pancakes for breakfast, which were super yummy. He made Eddie a mouse-shaped pancake and was dismayed when the first thing Eddie did was rip into its three component pieces. Oh well...I thumbed through some cookbooks to find a good rib-cooking method. We've tried boiling the racks before, cooling to marinate, and then grilling them. That method is okay but sometimes it is hard to know how long I should boil them so they are tender enough. So we decided to try a "low and slow" BBQ method from How to Cook Everything. So for 5 hours our dry-rubbed racks cooked on the BBQ over low, indirect heat. We placed chunks of water-soaked hickory wood over the flame so they could burn slowly and give off a smoky flavor to the meat. We'd turn the rib racks over every 20 minutes or so. Then we cranked the heat up to like 400F to brown them quickly. They were phenomenal!

Other highlights:

It was just us three Bowers for the holiday this year and we enjoyed the alone time together since we don't get much of it.Eddie took a FOUR HOUR NAP that day, which gave Dave time to go shopping, me to do all the laundry and dishes, and us to watch some episodes of Bones together while we had a leisurely snack on the couch. It was awesome!

We cooked up our 4th feast, which was composed of: stuffed mushrooms, ribs, cucumber/bell pepper/corn salad with salsa ranch dressing, and shrimp cocktail. It was a lot of food and I didn't eat all of my serving so I could save room for dessert during the fire works.I baked brownies on the BBQ after dinner and cooled them quickly in the fridge so we could pack them up (along with strawberries and whipped cream) to take to our fire works spot. We walked over at 9pm and got settled with our treat in plenty of time to watch the show. Eddie loved the show, and made a point of yelling out each color (or what he thought was the right color--he mostly alternated between green and blue).Dave had to work the next morning, but he was too tired to drive all the way back to Gualala that night. I love it when he sleeps here an extra night...but I know getting up before dawn for the drive back sucks for him.

Happy belated 4th, everyone! I can't believe we'll have a THREE year old with us at the fire works next year. Wowza. I still remember our 4th of July celebration from before he was born, thinking how weird it was going to be to have a child of my own. And then last year realizing that he'd be walking by this year's fireworks. Man, time sure does fly by! (And I CANNOT even imagine how much cuter Eddie will be this time next year...if that's even possible.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Indendence Day Weekend 2011

Unlike last year, we kept our Independence Day weekend pretty uneventful. Edward and Jennifer took off for Livermore the day before so us Bowers had the house to ourselves. It felt a little lonely, but it was also a nice change. Dave has to work Fridays all of July for logging, but at least we got this one three day weekend. He came home on Saturday morning, actually, because he wanted to stay up in Gualala until his brother's family arrived (so he could say goodbye--for the last time--to their 16 year old doggie, so sad).

That morning after breakfast Eddie and I biked to the farmer's market so he could play on the playground and eat his weight in strawberries. Well, not really, but he DID eat an entire basket of them! While we were there, I met a darling little Indian girl who was recently adopted by a couple here in town. We got to talking and I told them about Cassie's daycare and preschool programs, just in case they were looking for that type of thing for their daughter. It turns out they have already met her and even went to visit her school. Ha! What a small world.

I bought some basil, arugula, and apricots before we biked to the arboretum on campus to feed the ducks. Eddie threw chunks of old bread I dug out of the freezer...but the ducks were too hot and sleepy to eat much. But we got to see a couple of turtles eat the bread in the water. Edward and Jennifer biked over to meet us. We then headed home and they went to the farmers market for breakfast. It was soooooooooo hot that day and I felt bad that I kept Eddie out too close to his nap time. I noticed he'd fallen asleep in the trailer on our ride home.

Dave arrived shortly after we got home so we had some lunch and then Eddie took his nap. Edward and Jennifer went to the pool for a couple of hours and then we went after Eddie's nap. (How funny that we all did the same stuff that day, just not at the same time!)

I can't remember the last time us three Bowers had THAT much fun, as we did that day at the pool. All of us were having a FUN time...usually at least one of us isn't doing what we'd prefer to be doing. Like Eddie's getting antsy and cranky while Dave and I are trying to enjoy a meal at home on the patio...or Dave's antsy to get back home to finish a project while Eddie is playing at the park. But this was SO nice! The pool was shaded by the time we got there (a huge plus on a 103F day) and Eddie was having fun jumping into our arms from the pool edge, "swimming" between us, and scooping up water with a Tupperware container we brought. At one point he was squatting on the pool edge and I was in the water. He scooped water into the container with one had, cocked my head back with his other hand, and then poured the water on my hair like I do when I wash his hair. It was adorable!

Once the pool closed and we were getting dressed to go home, Eddie got away from me and went running down the grassy hill toward the (turned off) splash pad. He was completely naked and screamed that to the entire park: "I NEKID!" Hahahaha, it was so funny. Everyone turned and started laughing.

That night I went to Papa Murphy's to buy some pizzas. Since it was too hot to cook inside, we opted to BBQ them. Eddie was more interested in eating the olives toppings instead of the actual pizza so we ended up opening a can of olives for him, lest he denude the entire pizza of olive rings. Can you believe he actually ate about 3/4 of the can?!

Sunday was another hot, hot day. We walked over to the donut shop for breakfast, Eddie in the stroller and the dogs on leashes. It was 9am and was SO hot outside already. There were no glazed donuts with sprinkles so they lady made one special for time we might not get sprinkles because he ONLY ate the top where they decorations were!

I locked myself in our bedroom when we got home so I could dig through the giant box of Thomas and Friends train toys my aunt gave us. I don't want to give Eddie all of the toys at once because it'll be overwhelming and he'll lose interest. So every couple of months I pull out something new. This time it was track pieces, a car loaded with coal, and Harold the helicopter. Running the trains on the track was a HUGE HIT with Eddie for several hours.

Edward and Jennifer were nice to go to Costco for me that morning...I love having helpers! They bought shrimp, strawberries, corn on the cob, and ribs, all goodies I planned to use in our 4th Feast.

Once Eddie was lunched and down for his nap, Dave and I took off for a movie date. We saw Midnight in Paris and it was really good! After that we got ice cream cones. The Edwards and Jennifer were at the park when we got home and since it was so hot, everyone got to have a "pop" (popsicle) back at the house. Instead of going to the pool that day, we played in the water on our patio (sprinkler, wading pool) and installed a misting system on the patio. We've had the misting kit since before Eddie was born and only just installed it! It is really nice on those hot, hot days.

That afternoon while Eddie was running around the house/yard naked (typical), he ran into the bathroom yelling, "Potty!" So I lifted the lid on his little potty and he PEED! It was so exciting! Edward, Jennifer, and Dave all came running into the bathroom giving Eddie high-fives and clapping for him. It was awesome. And of course, I made Dave take some pictures.Over the rest of the weekend (and into this week) he peed many more times in the potty. Since we have two potties, we keep one in the bathroom and one out on the patio or in the kitchen so he can get to it quickly. Gosh, what a big boy!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Picture of Us

It is rare these days that we get a decent photo of Dave and me together that we didn't take ourselves (in which you'd see one of our arms holding the camera). Usually our pictures include Eddie so at least one of us is holding the squirmy little guy and trying to get him to look up at the camera.

Edward took this one on our anniversary and I think it is a pretty nice picture!Especially when compared to our honeymoon picture in the same outfits (but underground in a queen's tomb near Cairo). Wow, I looked so much younger five years ago.