Wednesday, August 29, 2007

She sells seashells by the seashore

A few weekends ago I was on the northern coast of California, dipping my toes in the frigid Pacific Ocean, looking up at the surrounding cliffs, one of four people on the beach. Last weekend I was at the Jersey Shore, sleeping on a towel next to the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by private beach clubs, getting sunburned along with thousands of other people. I don't know if I could have two beach experiences that are more different from one another.

My best friend and I spent two days relaxing at her house on the bay, talking about everything that's happened to us in the few months we've been apart. There was a lot to talk about. Her opinion and advice are invaluable to me, and seeing her was a crucial first step to my three week stay here on the east coast. I can think about a situation myself until I go crazy, but talking it out with someone, especially someone who knows all the history of it, usually helps me to clarify my thoughts.

Her house is beautiful, surrounded by gardens, and full of amazing furniture and art. There is a small dock out front, and I think these pictures really convey the feeling I had while there, the calm before the storm for both of us. She has started her law school orientation and there's no turning back now, so I'm lucky I got those few days with her before we both dove into the next few weeks.

Monday, August 27, 2007

New dress, new hair

I finished my sundress! I wanted to get it done before coming to NJ because I knew things would be too hectic when I got back to CA and it would most likely never get finished. So I bugged my friend incessantly until she made time to help me finish it. The zipper was hard and it's a bit sloppy, but I'm happy with it. Here are some pictures of the dress, and my new hair. I got it done before coming home (a treat that only happens once every three or four months). It's shorter than I've ever had it before, and I totally love it. I look like Billy Idol. These pictures were taken the day I got it cut, so it's styled in a way that I can't duplicate, of course. It generally tends to stick straight up in the air, rather than sweep across like that, but I like it that way.

I've been home for less than a week, but most of that time has been spent with friends. My best friend is starting law school this week so I arrived home and immediately drove to her house to spend a few days with her before she starts. She lives down the shore, and her house is literally on the water. It's on a small bay off the ocean, and it's gorgeous. Pictures to come.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Point Reyes National Seashore

I went with a few friends to Point Reyes National Seashore this past weekend, a huge spit of land north of the bay area. We stayed in Point Reyes Station with my friend's family and spent the whole weekend exploring the beaches and the elk preserve at the northern tip of the point.

The original idea was that we were going to camp, but it turned out that our friend had family there, so we stayed in a big house with beds. We were incredibly happy about that decision once we got there and realized that it's flippin' freezing on the coast. We left Davis and the 100 degree heat, as usual, and none of us could imagine the 60 degree weather we would be experiencing, so we were a tad under-dressed for the weekend. I didn't bring my hiking boots, but I did bring my bikini. Wishful thinking.

We walked around the elk preserve for almost four hours on Saturday, and we saw hundreds of elk. They hang out pretty close to the path in some areas, and there were rangers and park volunteers there with telescopes set up for us too. Apparently, during mating season the elk break into "harems;" large groups of females protected by one male. Funny.

It was a beautiful weekend, full of good friends, good food, apple pie making, and beer drinking on the beach. Perfect.

Tonight I leave for the east coast, where I am staying with my family in New Jersey for three whole weeks! My research has been put on hold, but I am bringing my computer, so you'll be hearing from me. I plan on spending a lot of time with friends in NJ, NY, and PA, and I just can't wait!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The sundress that I started on the fourth of July is almost finished. My friends and I got together a few weeks ago to have another marathon sewing session and now the only things that remain are the zipper, attachment of straps, and finishing edges. I expected the dress to turn out horrible because of the pattern of the fabric, but I'm actually quite pleased with it.

I've decided to tape all unfinished projects to the big blank wall across from my bed. That way I am constantly reminded of them. Not all of them can be taped to the wall unfortunately, but I swear it will help me actually finish it. If not, it makes for pretty cool wall art.

The straps have a cool detail on them that I copied from my friend Vera. They have small stars sewn onto them in a complementary color so it's kind of subtle. That's a word that doesn't really apply to this dress at all actually, I take that back.

I'm really happy with the way the pleats look. It's funny because there was supposed to be a slit in the back, but I shortened the dress, so I took the slit out. So now, the pleats at the top and the tightness at the bottom make the dress balloon out when I wear it. It's hilarious, and I think I like it. I'll model it when it's done so you can really see what I'm talking about. But don't hold your breath for that.

(I can't post vertical pictures on this blog and it's really starting to irritate me. Has anyone else had this problem, and what can be done?)

Monday, August 13, 2007


I visited my site again last week to collect Atriplex joaquiniana seed. I had to do it incredibly early in the morning in order to avoid the heat, the sun, and the tiny little black flies that threaten to drive me insane.

Here is a picture of A. joaquiniana:

It's a very unique-looking plant, if not that attractive. The whole thing is covered with fruit, so it looks like it has none on it, but that's only because the fruits grow so densely on the stem that they create an almost smooth surface. But if you start to pick at it with your fingernails you realize that it is filled with small black seeds.

Some other species that grow on my site:

an invasive grass that forms little starbursts

The same grass, growing with Frankenia salina, an annual alkali wetland plant

And here are my little Cordylanthus seedlings growing under 15 degrees Celsius. Cute little buggers.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

My New House!!!!!

I've lived in this new house for a little less than a month and I just love it. It's conveniently located across the street from the Co-op grocery store where I am a member and "shareholder." I can also walk to the bars in town, and campus is only a ten minute bike ride (with traffic). It's also a "grown up house." That's right, I've moved on from the white walled, dirty-bathroomed, second-hand furnitured houses of my college days (and most of the houses I've lived in in the two years since then as well). This new house is nice. For real. I'm so proud.

Here is our comfy yet stylish living room. Note the huge windows. Perfect for plants.

Our long, tiled kitchen. We have a dishwasher that we never use, and our refrigerator makes ice cubes, wow.

Sam, the resident dog. You can't really tell in this picture, but his summer haircut is a mohawk. I'll try to get a better picture to show it off later.

The "front yard" which actually faces the alley. We're going to have a veggie garden in that space where the table is by the fence, and a flower garden in the other two areas.

Another view of the brand new flower garden in the front yard. The yard was rock hard clay when we moved in, but my housemate Crystal has been working really hard to amend the soil and plant a garden. It's funny that I'm the horticulture grad student, and she's the one doing all the work. But it makes sense, she plans on being in this house for at least four years (she's starting vet school in the fall), and I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow.

My bedroom is actually underground, with a big window/fire escape that lets in light. Right now it's a concrete pit filled with leaves and spider webs, but I have plans for it. Plans involving plants, of course. But I will spare you the "before" pictures for now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Compost Queen

A few months ago I went to a worm composting workshop given by Project Compost, a student run program on campus. I made a worm bin and my little wormies have been happily munching my veggie scraps for a while now. It was super easy, here are the instructions. I haven't harvested the worm castings yet, but our garden is growing so there will be plenty of opportunity to use the "black gold."

I lived in my old house for a whole year, with its big back yard, and the whole time I meant to make a large outdoor compost bin. Never happened. But I've been in this new house for three weeks and I already followed through and made one! It was also incredibly easy and it only cost me fifteen dollars. Here's what I did:

  • 10-foot length of 36-inch-wide 1-inch galvanized chicken wire
  • 2 feet of heavier wire for ties
  • two or three 4-foot-tall wooden or metal posts

  • heavy-duty wire cutters
  • pliers
  • hammer
  • work gloves
  • Fold back 3 to 4 inches of chicken wire at each end of the cut piece to provide a strong, clean edge that will not poke or snag and that will be easy to latch
  • Stand the wire in a circle and set it in place for the compost pile
  • Cut the heavy wire into lengths for ties. Attach the ends of the chicken wire together with the wire ties, using pliers
  • Space posts around the inside of the chicken-wire circle. Holding the posts tightly against the wire, pound them firmly into the ground to provide support.
These instructions are slightly modified from this website.

I put the bin under the grapefruit tree in our side yard. The space is pretty barren right now, but it will have a picnic table and planter boxes and fun lights all around. But you'll have to just use your imagination for now.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Loving Lassen, again

a field of lupines next to Lake Helen

Last weekend I visited my friend Sarah, who's spending the summer up at Lassen Volcanic National Park doing the field work for her research. She just recently decided to switch from a master's to a PhD (Congratulations Sarah!) so I think I will have many more opportunities to go up and visit her in the future.

A dense aspen grove

It was during an ungodly 100 degree weekend, so it was with excitement that I packed my fleece, knit hat, gloves, and picnic cooler to start the three hour drive up to the volcano on Saturday morning.

A view of Lassen peak

Sarah is an amazing tour guide, and we packed a lot of stuff into essentially a day and a half trip. We went to Manzanita Lake and had a swim and quiet contemplation on the banks (do you call the side of a lake the bank?).

Manzanita Lake

Sarah cooked a wonderful dinner Saturday night and then led a moonlit hike (it was just days away from the full moon) to "Bumpass Hell" the geothermal area of the park. I have no pictures for you because it was too dark, but it was really an amazing sensory experience. We walked the 3 mile round trip with our headlamps off the whole time, using the moonlight to guide us. I was told that the color of the water is a brilliant aqua, but because of the night-time nature of the hike it was really the sounds of the area that we got to appreciate. The glooop blooops of the mudpots, the loud constant hiss of the steam vents, the trickling of hot water running down the hillside. It was really primeval, enhanced by the fact that we were walking around on a boardwalk that had no handrails. It made me feel very exposed, we could get right up to the mudpots and kneel next to them, listening to the hot air force its way through the mud, bloop blooping all the way up (it's really the best onomatopoeia for what it actually sounds like).

The "bank" of the lake

On Sunday Sarah took me to one of her research sites (she's studying aspen). We hiked around it, mapping the aspen stands, wading through creeks, and climbing over underbrush. It was really quite exhausting, to tell the truth.

aspen grove

Finally, Sarah showed me some of the popular sites of the park, like Lake Helen and Kings Creek Meadow where we saw an amazing amount of wildflowers.

Lake Helen

Castilleja sp.

wildflowers at Kings Creek Meadow

Thanks Sarah!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Old Sac

Old Sacramento, that is. After returning from wine country, my family and I spent a thrilling half-day wandering around the tourist pit that is Old Sacramento. It's made to look like an Old West type downtown, with horse drawn carriages everywhere. The only thing to do there is to spend money on souvenirs, pretty much. There are about a hundred candy shops that sell salt water taffy, of all things.

To give it some credit, there is a train museum and a military museum. And if you're a kid it's probably heaven. But I wasn't too thrilled with it. I did get some pretty cool pictures though.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tiny bubbles, in my wine . . .


This was one of my favorite wineries. It's in Calistoga, which is in the northern Napa Valley. They make wine and sparkling wine, and their sparkling wine has been used at the White House for special dinners since the 70s.

We had a fabulous tour guide who was obviously very knowledgeable and funny, but not pretentious (or at least, he was pretentious in a way that was very inclusive to those of us who don't know anything about wine, if that makes sense). Anyway, he showed us the "cave" which is an underground storage area where the wine is kept and allowed to age.

Most of the wineries we visited had a cave, and most of them were sealed with concrete. They don't have to control the climate in the caves because the underground nature of them keeps the wine at the perfect temperature. Such an energy saver!

At Schramsberg, the cave isn't sealed with concrete, so there is a healthy coating of lichen on the walls. It lent the cave a totally fabulous eerie-ness that I loved.

The whole experience was amazing, we walked through the cave and learned all about the process of sparkling wine-making, then we had a creepy candle-lit tasting in the cave at the end.

The tastes were generous too, so I got my fill of sparkling wine that day. My wonderful parents also bought me a bottle, which I plan on opening for my 25th birthday in September. A quarter-of-a-century sparkling wine.

Benziger Family Winery

I loved this winery because it had gorgeous "insectory" gardens that were a source of beneficial insects.

They practice "biodynamic farming" which is basically organic farming (no pesticides, no fertilizers), plus an emphasis on other parts of the natural ecosystem, such as animals and insects.

The insectories host insects that are the natural predators of the grape pests. They also have lots of solar power, biodeisel-powered vehicles, and extensive recycling programs. It's interesting and exciting, though the farming method also claims to "emphasize a closed, self-sustaining ecosystem" which is a laugh because there is no such thing as a closed ecosystem. Things are leaving and entering the system all the time, so I'm not sure how they can claim to have a closed system. Despite that, I approve of the ideas of biodynamics.

The machinery they use to process the grapes was also quite impressive, simply because of it's huge white-ness.

Finally, they had peacocks on the grounds and I snapped this bright picture that I couldn't help sharing with you.

So those are the highlights of the Napa and Sonoma Valley tour 2007. We visited about 5 wineries in all and ate amazing food the whole time too. I came home with quite a few bottles of wine, most of which are already gone, I will sheepishly admit. But that bottle of champagne, that one I am saving.