Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas preparations

I haven't really been getting too much into the Christmas-spirit lately. We did cut down a tree, and set up the manger (sans Baby Jesus, and with the three kings in a huddle on top of the bookcase (since they don't need to start traveling until Dec. 25)). Parenthetical clarifications aside, I think part of my hesitation for Christmas-spirit is to avoid being too strongly society-Christmas driven. I just don't want to spend all of Advent listening to Christmas music, and then turn it all off the day after Christmas. And the lights on our tree will be on until the Epiphany, you can be sure!

Last night I did spend some time baking cookies. First I made shortbread cookies (I still don't understand how the combination of butter, sugar, and flour can be SO delicious), and then I made monster cookies. The monster cookies are delicious and gluten-free. We are having a hockey holiday party on Wednesday, so I wanted to make some treats for that. Hopefully they last. I also plan to make this most delicious treat, but I can't make that beforehand because I know it will absolutely Not last.

So I did a pretty good job of forcing myself into the Christmas spirit last night, especially because I played Love Actually in the background (twice) while I was baking. And now today I am listening to this song on repeat:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Whole Foods-style gatorade?

Haven't tried it yet, but I am pretty sure this is intended to be gatorade-like.

This is my attempt to combat dehydration while traveling. As I write this, I am not yet traveling, but I have big plans for pre-hydration, because in my mind that counts, and knowing it in your mind is half the battle. When I arrived in San Francisco I battled the dehydration with fancy coconut water, but the bottle was tiny, so for traveling home I sought out this Recharge!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cupcakes are all the rave.

I know this because there are entire television shows devoted to them. While in San Francisco I saw a special cupcake place at the up-scale mall food court, so I decided I would try one. I had a hard time choosing my flavor. It was a debate among oreo, coffee toffee, s'mores, and raspberry lemonade.

I chose:

Coffee toffee!

It was a last minute change, as I had thought I had decided on raspberry lemonade, but then I saw that the raspberry lemonade had cream cheese frosting, and I usually prefer the sugar-sugar frosting. With hindsight I probably should have stuck with the first choice. The coffee toffee was much better on paper than in reality. It was also reported to me that oreo was amazing, so even my third choice probably would have been a better one.

Don't get me wrong -- I ate the entire cupcake (even though it had toppled over, despite the excellent carrying case design). And it was good. But I was kind of hoping it would be better than any cupcake I ever could have imagined.

As it turns out, this little cupcake stand, Cako, is going to be on Cupcake Wars (see above note on popular television shows devoted to cupcakes) today (or maybe tomorrow?). Sadly, I don't think they will win.

Friday, December 9, 2011


I got my picture taken with the president of the American Geophysical Union. (I am pretty sure that is who that is anyhow.)

The chance to have cardboard cutouts of me all over this meeting place (I've seen at least three of these.) provides a huge amount of motivation for one day becoming the president of AGU.

The view from here

It is AGU time, and this photo gives a pretty good idea of what that looks like. Technically I took this photo yesterday. So far I haven't resorted to blogging during people's talks, but there is an entire afternoon of talks left!

Monday, December 5, 2011


By the time you read this, it is quite likely I will be on a plane to San Francisco. It is the AGU time of year again. Last year at this time I thought I'd be so close to finishing my PhD that I wouldn't be attending the conference this year. But if you refer back to the first sentence, you'll see I'm (happily?) on my way once again. Feel free to read into that discussion all you'd like.

Usually at this conference, I either need to plan out my schedule such that I skip out of the talks for at least an hour a day, or else I go to everything and then feel so burnt out by Friday that I am sitting in all of the important talks and not paying attention. So this year I planned my time such that I'll spend Monday, a fairly uneventful day, traveling. This way I can be in intensive conference mode for the rest of the week.

My only other plan for the week is the Berkeley contra dance. Every time I go to a conference or travel for work, I check contra dance schedules. Usually the dances are Friday or Saturday nights, which are generally the two nights I am not on location. But luckily, AGU coincides with the Wednesday night contra dance in Berkeley every year. So hopefully this year I'll be able to go for my fourth (?) year in a row! yessss

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Predicting Aurora: Optics

So what better way of knowing if there is aurora than by looking at the optics! There are plenty of places to find data online, the one I check is run by some colleagues in Alaska, which can be found here. The site has some archived data, but is best for looking at real-time data (note that there won't be anything on the real-time pages if you look at them during daylight hours). Spend some time clicking around those different pages, at night, so you can see the different options. There are several different stations which are at different latitudes. If the aurora starts to move to lower latitudes there is a better chance that things will get very active.

Two of the main things you will see on this page are keograms (the rectangular ones) and all-sky images (the round ones). Let's talk about the all-sky images first, or ASI, as I'll probably continue to call them.

The ASI are probably easiest to understand, because they are pretty comparable to regular cameras. You can think of it as a regular camera that is viewing the entire sky. If you want a little more detail, imagine that you are lying on your back with your feet pointed to the North, and you are looking at the entire sky. The view of the entire sky that you see is the same projection that an ASI gives (so North is generally at the bottom of the frame, I apologize on behalf of the entire community). Some of the all-skies show white light (as in, what we would see with our eye, converted to black and white), and some show particular wavelengths (for example, 630.0 nm, which corresponds to the red aurora at higher altitudes).

The keograms are useful for knowing what the aurora has been doing over the past however many hours are plotted. One way of making a keogram is to take a slice of the all-sky image from the north to the south. Then you put a bunch of these slices together over time to show how the aurora has changed with time. Another option for the keogram (which is possibly more typical) is to use a Meridian Scanning Photometer, or MSP. An MSP is an optical device that measure photons (the light we see as aurora), but it generally doesn't use a lens like the all-sky does, so we don't actually call it a camera (hence "optical device"). The MSP, as the name implies, scans the meridian, so once again we are getting a slice of the sky from north to south, which is then plotted in sequence with time. I hope that makes sense to anyone who is not already familiar with a keogram.

For now this is all I have to write about predicting aurora, unless anyone has specific questions for me.

:) Thanks for playing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Predicting Aurora: GOES

Okay, so I got a little distracted and never finished this series. Today I write about the Goes satellite. Two of them actually. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environment Satellite. I just learned that from Wikipedia actually, so I guess it doesn't make sense to keep saying "Goes satellite".

One of the very best plots I check when wanting to know if I will see any aurora on any given night is this one:

which can be found here.

If you are looking at this plot from the past two nights you will be kicking yourself for not looking outside (because there was probably some good aurora if you are at a high enough latitude).

So what does this plot mean? Along the x-axis you have three days of time, and along the vertical you have magnetic field strength. There are two traces plotted. The red trace (as seen from the label on the right) is at a longitude of W75 (oh look Mark Twain's 176th birthday, thanks google). I live at a longitude of W . The blue trace is from a satellite that is over the West coast. I guess the main purpose for these satellites is for weather measurements. We use them because they have magnetometers to measure the Earth's magnetic field.

What does measuring the Earth's magnetic field have to do with aurora? Stop getting so distracted by Mark Twain and magnetic fields.

Don't worry, the magnetic field is important. Mark Twain is important for things not related to the aurora.

So imagine the Earth's magnetic field as a perfect dipole. Like so:


If you were a satellite, orbiting around the Earth at the same rate as the Earth's rotation, measuring the just the vertical component of the magnetic field, what would you measure? If you said a straight line, you were correct. As you orbit around the Earth, the magnetic field you would measure is constant, say 90 nanotesla. 

But the Earth's magnetic field is more interesting than a perfect dipole, because it interacts with the sun's magnetic field, aka the IMF (interplanetary magnetic field), and the solar wind. Remember this post? That is what actually happens. So the Earth's magnetic field ends up looking more like this:

The field lines on the Sun-side of the Earth get shoved in, and the field lines on the opposite side get stretched out into a tail. Ignore the labels on that photo that say "acceleration region" and "auroral electrons" because they are wrong/don't make sense.

So now, as your little-satellite-self orbits around, when you are at noon, you measure a stronger magnetic field, say 100 nT. And when you are at midnight you measure a less strong (vertical component) of magnetic field, say 80 nT. If you plotted this, you would end up with a sinusoidal wave. A sinusoidal wave is a realistic trace to see on the GOES plot, and unfortunately that means there will probably not be any aurora. 

The aurora, in the simplest way of thinking of it, is the result of a giant energy release. Which means you need to somehow get energy into the magnetosphere system. This energy comes from the solar wind, which is why we look at ACE as part of predicting aurora. When a lot of energy is being put into the system that magnetic field will no longer be nice and stable, but highly variable. If you look at the plot at midnight (conveniently labeled with an 'M' (and there is an 'N' for noon)), you can sometimes see that tail getting stretched out like crazy, so you are only measuring a magnetic field of 25 nT or even less. This measurement is indicative of a huge amount of energy being put into the system, and that energy needs to get released, and the beautiful result is an amazing light show.

And since we are talking about predicting the aurora, I'll mention that if you see a sudden spike in the magnetic field measured at GOES, this is indicative of aurora to come in 30-60ish minutes.

The main idea: smooth sinusoidal curve is no good, jagged trace with big spikes and dips is very good.

I guess the last main thing I look at for predicting the aurora is the optics from the ground, so that will be up next!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Predicting Aurora: ACE and the solar wind

Now we are really getting into the meat of the matter. The ACE satellite is located just upstream from the Earth, so it basically measures the solar wind about an hour before it reaches us at the Earth. But why does the solar wind matter?

The aurora is essentially a result of a huge energy release. This huge amount of energy that gets pumped into Earth's geospace is coming from the sun, via the solar wind. So if we want to know when there will be a lot of geomagnetic activity, we need to know when the solar wind is going to be putting a lot of energy into the system.

This is the ACE plot I look at most often. You can follow links on that page to look at longer or shorter timescales and also at different variables. Here is how to interpret this plot:

In the top panel, the red trace shows Bz which is important. This is the vertical component of the sun's magnetic field (the sun has a magnetic field too!). The white trace shows the magnitude of the sun's magnetic field. A high magnetic field strength is good (say, over 6 nT). Generally, if Bz is high, but also flipping between north and south (large positive to large negative) this is a good thing.

The solar wind speed and density are also important. Ideally, for strong activity you would like to see a high solar wind speed and a high density. Unfortunately, if the speed is high, the density is usually lower, and vice versa. This is like cars on a road, if you let them go fast the spread out, but if they have to go slowly they get bunched up. For solar wind speed, 300 km/s is kind of a baseline. Getting up to 600 km/s is really good. For the density, 1 /cm^3 is baseline, and getting up to 10 /cm^3 is really good.

The NOAA page takes this information and tries to put it in an easy-to-understand "dial" plot, and they will have a little arrow pointing to the current value (like a car speedometer):

This plot can be found on this page.

One of my favorite plots to look at combines the data from ACE and from Stereo-B. Check it out. This shows the solar wind density, velocity, and magnetic field from both satellites, only the data is shifted appropriately along the x-axis so that they should line up in time. This is a great way to see solar wind changes that might be observed at Earth.

Next up will be the GOES satellites, which give us around a one hour predictor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Predicting Aurora: Stereo B

Stereo-A and -B are a NASA satellites that are taking images of the sun. If you looked down on the Earth-Sun line from above, you would find them here:

Stereo-A is named A because it is on approximately the same orbit as Earth, except Ahead. Stereo-B is Behind. So imagine we see a new sunspot, as viewed from the Earth. The sun is rotating, so then Stereo-A will see it, and then (assuming it hasn't disappeared) Stereo-B will see it, and then it will be back in view from the Earth. With these three views, we basically have full coverage of the surface of the sun. This is useful, because if a new sunspot appears on the exact opposite side of the Earth, we still get a warning, because we can see it in Stereo-B. This gives us our ~3 day predictor. [Sidenote: These two satellites are slowly drifting further ahead and behind (while still staying on an orbit similar to Earth's), so we are probably looking at slightly more than 3 days at this point.]

Here you can find the latest images from both Stereo satellites.

The Stereo satellites are also measuring the solar wind. Next up we will talk about the ACE satellite, which is measuring the solar wind just upstream from the Earth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Predicting Aurora: Kp index

I was recently talking with my brother, who spent his summer closer to the auroral oval than I did. He had a lot of opportunities to see really good aurora and asked what some of my methods are for knowing when the lights will be bright. So I'm going to do this blogging series, Predicting Aurora.

It will be fun.

So one thing he was checking was the Kp index. Kp index is averaged over three hours from ground magnetometers across the US and Canada. Basically, when a lot of geomagnetic activity will occur in conjunction with auroral activity. The geomagnetic fluctuations can be observed on the ground. Then they are averaged and put into this arbitrary 0-9 scale. Usually if Kp is below 3 aurora will be limited or be at very high altitudes. Kp between 4-6 will make really awesome aurora (as long as it is close to midnight over the US & Canada, and not noon). If Kp goes above 6, anyone living below latitudes of 45 degrees should go outside because you could be getting a rare auroral treat.

This is where I go to view the Kp index.

There is another great advantage of the Kp index. You can keep track of it on longer timescales than the 3 day plot linked above, and this gives you a method for predicting activity ~27 days in advance. From the Earth, we observe the sun to have a rotation period of ~27 days. So, if we see a sunspot and observe aurora to occur in conjunction with that sunspot, it is likely that sunspot will reappear again once the sun makes a full rotation. Obviously sunspots don't last forever, so we might only see each one two or three times, but it is still a good predictor.

And lucky for us, someone has already taken the time to keep an updated plot of the Kp index on this conveniently useful cycle of 27 days. So if you go here, you will find that often, spikes of high Kp are on top of each other.

Next up will be how to predict aurora ~3 days in advance.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Love of Contra

Recently I polled my facebook friends with the prompt:
Friends who love contra dancing:
Please tell me one (short) reason Why you love contra dancing.
(I am fine with repeats if your top reason is already posted.)
I didn't get a very strong response, but the responses I got were great and much appreciated. This is what they were:
 It's such a joyous thing to do!
Dancing with you and all the nice people who like dancing!
‎"There is something just so RIGHT about it" Testimonial from Ted via. Peggy Pegster
 I was particularly excited about the last one, because Ted was a great dancer who was always at all the dances. He died (unexpectedly) of a heart attack in the spring. And I totally agree with him that there is something just so Right about it. I've been trying to think of a concise way of describing why I love contra. This is what I've come up with: 
It is an incredibly enjoyable way to connect with people of all ages in a healthy and logical way.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trying out my Gimpy hand

I've been trying different things with Gimp more and more these days. I knew it was possible to make  a photo edit and then somehow get that same photo edit onto another photo. I figured out a way to easily do this today. Basically I just add a new layer and make the edits I want, and then click and drag the layer to another photo. If I wanted to duplicate edits on a large collection of photos I'm not so sure this would be efficient, but for now it works!

I started with this photo, which shows the snow accumulating on one side of trees on the top of Mt. Moosilauke. The photo was kind of monotonous, so I wanted to tone down some areas and leave the top right corner brightest. Then I added a nice border.

Then I applied the same edits to this photo, which was taken on the way to the top of the mountain.

These photos were just taken with my little camera, which is why they are on the Adventure blog instead of the Photo blog.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Style Tip

Last night I went to an amazingly abundant contra dance. Lately at the dances in Norwich there is a fairly constant amount of regulars and also always a handful of newcomers. Last night was a different story. There is a dance organizers conference going on in the Upper Valley this weekend, which brought over 80 dancers who dance often to the dance. Some would call them "experienced" dancers, but that term also has a lot of negative connotations, so we'll just say they were a large group of people who are quite familiar with contra dancing. There were also almost 50 high schoolers from the Mountain School who came to the dance. They have come to the Norwich dance before, and it is tons of fun to have so many people with such high energy. Most of these people would fall into the "beginners" category. Then there was also a larger-than-normal Dartmouth contingent, many of whom were at their first-ever contra dance.

Trying to call a dance for such a varied group is really an amazing feat. You need to choose dances that are easy enough for the first-timers to not get totally frustrated, but also interesting enough to keep the regulars from getting bored. Needless to say, the caller did a fantastic job. Fantastic to the point where it was announced that we were doing the last dance of the evening, and I couldn't believe that three hours had passed in what seemed like one. Last night was an incredibly fun dance, and I particularly enjoyed seeing so many people from the dances I travel to, all at my hometown dance.

However, all of that is not what I intended to focus this post on. Often callers will give "style tips" when they walk through a dance. For example, a common one is "look at the person you are balancing" because a balance is kind of like a greeting, so it is just nice to make eye contact with the person you are greeting and dancing with. There are plenty of other style tips that have been pointed out to me (and hopefully others) at the various dances I've gone to, which I find really helpful in enriching my dance experience by making me feel more connected to the other dancers. To me, a good style tip is just like a little nugget that isn't totally necessary, but if the tip is acted upon, makes the dance exponentially better.

One style tip that I have yet to hear vocalized is regarding eye contact during a do-si-do. I was lucky enough to somehow notice that sometimes during a women's do-si-do, the other woman was sometimes making these intentional moments of eye contact. So we would step into the do-si-do, twirl, make eye contact, step, twirl, make eye contact, and if there was enough time even a third time. Once I figured that little tip out, my do-si-do experience was revolutionized. Typing it doesn't make it sound like a huge deal, but it was. Just trust me. If I encounter a woman who will do this, our dance experience is totally different than when I encounter one who doesn't. The woman and I who make eye contact are dancing with each other. We are "socializing" maybe? The point of social dance is to connect with others, right? Whereas the woman who does not know this style tip is just off twirling as many times as she can, often while admiring her twirling skirt.

Sidenote: Last night after the dance I was so exhausted, and upon trying to comment on how I really liked the twirliness of my skirt which I hadn't worn before stated, "I really liked that squirrel."

So the thing that really surprised me at the dance last night was just how many women are unaware of this do-si-do style tip. The majority of women there, including those from the conference, never danced a do-si-do with me, but rather just danced around me twirling their twirly skirts. Booooorrriiing.

Don't get me wrong. I do love to twirl a twirly skirt, but I prefer to focus my social dance experience on the social aspect. It does make me wonder what other style tips I have not yet picked up on, and that no one is really vocalizing..

Monday, November 7, 2011


Yesterday I ventured out of my comfort zone and ended up at the English country dance. English country dancing is similar to contra dancing in that there is a live band and a caller who teaches all the dances and then calls throughout the dance. I actually think contra dancing was born from English country, but that might not be true. There are also a lot of differences between the two though. The English dance seemed much more varied to me, although this could be just because it was all new to me. In contra there are usually two main formations. At the English dance there were all sorts of formations. There were also all sorts of time signatures. There were a few dances in waltz time, which is not something I've found at contra. And there was a slip jig, which I've only encountered once at a contra dance, and it could have just been an English country dance that the caller just stuck in there without us knowing the difference. The main difference I noticed at the English dance was just the feel. I know that is very vague, but it really was the main difference. I think there was more emphasis on elegance and style.

And above all, going to the English country dance gave me the experience of a dance form originating from the 1600s (I think, again, might not be true). Basically it would have been exactly like Pride & Prejudice, except that Mr. Darcy wasn't there.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Barrett Hall

A dance floor worth getting excited about!!

(Also my first attempt at hodge-podge-panorama, which I am a big fan of.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Follow-Up and Re-Cap and Open-Question

I know this isn't quite the same as seeing Greg and I wearing the matching Arizona outfits, but this is the sneak preview. I told Greg's mother the story of going to the dance and bidding on the outfits. I think I validated any questions she might have had about my sanity.
But just look how happy I was within moments after finding out I won them!!

Also, to clarify, the wedding I was taken to when I was forced into the dance circle while sitting on my chair was not a wedding for anyone I knew. My cousin had taken me along to either a friend of her family's wedding or a family member on her other side of the family. Probably the fact that these were all strangers (aside from my cousin and aunt and uncle), had something to do with me not enjoying the circumstances.

Anyhow, onward!

This weekend, Greg and I went shopping, which is not something I have spent much time doing in the real world lately. I basically do all of my shopping online. It is a much more pleasant experience for me that way, with the exception of being able to try things on. In Tilton, NH there is a fairly large outlet mall, which I had heard much about, but had never been to. This is fairly close to Greg's mother's house, so we made a trip of it.

I ended up buying six things! (I think.) I think Greg got seven, so he won. Actually, no, I got seven. And spent less, so I win!

All in all it was a good time shopping. Usually I get pretty stressed out being in stores with other people. I always have people being incredibly rude to me (generally other shoppers, not the people who work in the stores), which I'd much rather just walk away from than deal with. I'm perfectly happy with online shopping, so why bother with these people? Greg actually reminded me of how this ties into the the book Love & Responsibility (written by Blessed John Paul II, before he was Blessed and before he was pope). Our society seems to be tending toward egoism, in which everyone acts in ways that are dictated only by self-interest. I mean, the shopping mall example is kind of wimpy, but it is true. If I am standing in front of a rack that a lady wants to look at, she will just stand right up against me to get to the rack, instead of patiently waiting the whole 8 seconds that I probably would have stood there.

Hmm, so now I get to thinking more about Utilitarianism. I think it makes sense that utilitarianism doesn't really work in its ideal form, that it always leads to egoism. But is contra dancing a true example of utilitarianism that actually works?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ernie's Favorites

Last Sunday I was invited to go to a special contra dance. This event was called Ernie's Favorites, and it was a dance held in memory of a great dancer, who was quite well-known in the area. Unfortunately I never knew him, but fortunately this did not mean I could not go to the dance!

There was a star-studded line up of well-known dance callers and musicians. We did many of the classic dances, like Petronella and Rory O'Moore and Money Musk. I danced with the man responsible for making the Petronella spin be for four people instead of just two. That is a pretty big deal, if you didn't know.

I also got to meet the family of Ernie. His son is actually a well-known scientist in my field. And his wife was there and she was a very sweet old lady. At the dance they had about twenty matching outfits that Joan had sewn for her and Ernie for various occasions. They were auctioning them off to raise money for The Parkinson's Disease Foundation. And they were aMAZing. I told Greg that I was going to this dance and that I was planning to bid on one of these outfits for us. I saw some pictures of Ernie and Joan, and knew that the outfits should fit me and Greg perfectly. I also think that most of the people at the dance were not there to bid on outfits and also would not have fit into the outfits.

At first I bid on one nice brown set that was a dress for me and a vest for Greg. The dress had some nice lace features that I was a big fan of. But as I sat there, admiring the other outfits, I started to really really love this Arizona-themed outfit. I put a bid on it (which made me currently in the lead for two sets, woops!). Someone else outbid me on the first outfit, but I did end up winning the Arizona outfits. I was and still am So excited! And I think the family was pretty excited that I was so excited. And just like I thought, they fit us perfectly :)

Hopefully in the near future I can get a photo of us wearing them to feature on the blog!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Dancing is an amazing amazing thing.

When I was maybe ten, I remember being invited to go to a wedding with my cousin and her family. I specifically made sure that I would not have to dance before I agreed to go. And then I got to the wedding, and my cousin and I were doing just fine, resisting all invitations to go dance. At some point, she decided to join, but I stayed sitting on the side, quite content.

But then..

These people just decided that I must be having a terrible time sitting on the side, and they pulled my chair right into the middle of the dance floor.

That was a pretty uncomfortable and unfortunately memorable thing for me. I have lived most of my life with a great aversion to dancing, in any form.

Something major happened, which changed every thought or feeling I ever had about dancing.

It was contra dancing.

A lot of people (I guess) think I'm pretty crazy with my enthusiasm for contra dancing. I will try to explain how dancing makes me so enthusiastic. Because there is really just something about contra dancing. This thing, it is something you can't fully know without actually experiencing a contra dance, but I do think it is possible to at least begin to explain with just words.

The reason I ever agreed to go to a contra dance was because I was told I would "absolutely love it" or something, but mainly because in a contra dance you are told what to do, and you don't have to invent any of your own moves. I still have an aversion to free-form dancing, like what you find at most weddings, like what my 10-year-old self found at that wedding. This was my first great discovery about contra dancing: It is possible to do a type of dance that has specific moves, without actually knowing anything, and without actually needing to take time to learn set moves.

If you have ever thought to yourself: Wow that flash mob looks so awesome, and I wish I could be a part of one some day, except that it is probably too hard, and it would take me forever to learn that dance choreography, but still, it is just SOO cool!!
If you have ever thought that to yourself, you should probably just start going contra dancing regularly.

Another major thing about contra dancing is that the community is absolutely amazing. I know of no other situation in life where people of literally all ages are interacting in healthy and happy ways. There are people who say you need some number of hugs a day. I don't know how many the number is. And I don't know who started saying this. And I don't know if there is legitimate research on this topic. But I am in total agreement that there is something about the human touch, that physical touch. I absolutely do not mean anything inappropriate. I mean holding hands with people and dancing with people, in healthy and appropriate ways. I think I first realized the connection of a need for touch to contra dancing when I read a line in a book that was something like "we all need the human touch, that physical touch." I think this is also one of the reasons why I meet so many science-types at contra dances. These types of people are often just socially awkward and don't know of any other way that is appropriate to get that human touch. So they go contra dancing. And the caller tells them "join hands in a ring and circle to the left." And then there they are, connected to these people.

Another reason I, along with other science-types, enjoy contra is due to the structure. The structured choreography of the dance sequence, the repetition of the dance, that corresponds to the repetition of the tunes. It is all quite pleasing.

And generally speaking, contra dance bands are just awesome. It is an awesome privilege to hear so many amazingly talented musicians who play for contra dances. And it is even more awesome to be given the outlet of dance to be able to fully enjoy the music.

I feel like the grinch, like I can literally feel the size of my heart swelling.

These and many more dancing thoughts have been steeping in my brain, so it was time to put them into words. I'm sure I have more to write on the topic. I'm actually curious to look back and see what I have written before.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

My amazing lunch

I just took a picture of my lunch. This is a post largely celebrating my love of avocado.

I thought about eating the avocado plain for lunch, but since I had the pita I figured I could shove it in there. So delicious.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yellow skirts are for twirling

Hooray for a summertime contra dance! My local dance has gone on summer vacation, so now when I want to dance I must travel. Last night Greg and I made the trek down to Brattleboro for their spectacular dance. The music and calling were so spectacular.

Don't pay attention to the fact that I'm not actually doing what the other people are... despite the fact that this is supposed to be all choreographed and whatnot. Also, I might look like I'm about to smack that guy, but it is really just dancing. I promise.

That is a photo of Greg's blurred shorts and my blurred skirt in the foreground. The two gents in the background were visiting from Australia. These are my kind of people -- finding a contra dance in every place they go.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

water conservation

It is super important here in New Mexico. Check out these features:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

There is a fire near Santa Fe

St. Francis of Assisi and I witnessed the smoke rolling in, covering the setting sun.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The email I just sent to my housemates:

So here is a good story for you all. Possibly this is not a story you will be thrilled to hear, but at least you didn't have to experience it.

Last night, Greg turned off the kitchen light. And no more than 5 minutes later I went back into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Turned on the light. Started to round the corner. Spotted a BAT on the floor directly in front of the refrigerator, panicked, and ran into the living room. I managed to get Greg's attention (funny what a little screaming will do), who managed to cover the bat with the white basket that is now on the front porch. He slid some cardboard under it, and took everything outside. He tried to fling the bat into the woods, but from what I understand it mostly just rolled out onto the ground. And it was still there this morning, either dead or just about dead.

Soo, I don't really know how a bat got into the barn, or how he decided to nearly die just in front of the refrigerator. Greg is guessing he hit it. I don't know what to think. As far as I can recall, we have never had a bat inside the barn, although I think I remember a story of one in the barn the year before I moved in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Will anyone be getting any bonus points?

Now I think you can see him a little better. There he is, that sly deer. He looked over at me for this photo when I yelled "Hey Deer!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Look what I saw this morning:

Can you see what I spotted, that is slightly more interesting than grass and trees?

Anyone who guesses correctly gets 8 bonus points. I'll post a zoomed higher-resolution photo tomorrow!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A storm

Less than 6 minutes passed between these two photos. A week and half ago we had this huge storm, but it didn't last longer than 30 minutes. It cleared out as quickly as it came rolling in.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


LSE - long straw embarrassment

Thank you, Dear, for getting me this very delicious treat. And thank you for picking out the appropriately sized straw...

Monday, June 6, 2011

pshing for birds. squirrels?!

My mom taught me this technique called "pshing" for birds. Or at least, that is what I am 85% sure the technique is called, and also 100% sure I taught Greg that is what it is called. Basically, if you hear a bird and want to maybe entice it closer to you, you just stand there and say "psh psh psh" and the bird, being the curious little fellow he is, just flies over closer to see what that noise is. I don't think I've ever noticeably made a bird fly closer with the "psh psh psh", but I definitely got a cute reaction out of this little guy!

The last frame is his reaction to the pshing :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mystery Photo Revealed

Actually it was revealed in the previous post, but I'm not sure the revelation was very telling. The mystery item I made, was, in fact, a mushrooming bag! As of writing this post it has not actually gotten any use, despite the fact that I found this swell fellow growing in Julie's garden.

Unfortunately I don't actually know what kind of mushroom this is, so I am just going to go ahead and assume he is not of the edible variety, for my own safety.

I learned about the importance of mushrooming bags from the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The idea is that once you pick a mushroom, it is still dropping all of its spores, so if you want those spores to hit the earth and have potential to become new mushrooms, it is best to use a mesh bag to carry your harvest.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can you guess what I made now?

I'll give you a hint: It is not a hairnet.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Can you see that welt on my hand?!
Let me just go ahead and trace it out for you.

Today I was outside gardening when I saw this little black bug on my hand. I was about to swish him away from me when I noticed a droplet of blood forming next to him. This was no innocent little black bug I tell you. This was a black fly (sometimes called a buffalo gnat, turkey gnat, or white socks), and he got me good!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A lesson in thrift store clothing

I love buying clothing from thrift stores. I have found many amazing things at thrift stores, generally for an amazingly low cost. My mother taught me to always wash my thrift store purchases, and I used to be revolted at the thought of Not doing so. Then one time I made a plan to wear a piece of clothing before I washed it. And that wasn't so bad at all, so now I basically do it all the time. If something is so in need of washing right out of the store, I am probably not likely to buy it.

One thing that slightly freaks me out about thrift store clothing is putting my hands in the pockets. And I may have realized that my hesitancy to just jump right in, with my hands in the pockets, is Not unfounded. I may have discovered that this very weekend, in fact.

Several weeks ago I bought some amazing pants. These pants are purple and comfortable and beautiful. One important lesson in thrift store clothing would be: if you see purple pants, buy them. That is not the one I am referring to in the title of this blog post.

Back to the purple pants though. They were a little too short for me (as are most pants in this world) but luckily they had a cuff, which could be undone and would make them long enough. They also had very wide legs, but I figured sewing them to make them skinny/boot cut width wouldn't be too hard. So I did just that this weekend.

I simply pinned the purple pants to make them approximately the same width as these red pants. And then I sewed the straight line. And now they are even more spectacular because they fit just how I would like them to.

But I still hadn't broken the ice as far as use-of-pockets goes. So I decided I better just put my hands in there because I didn't want to have pants that I could never use the pockets on. So I did it. Hands went in the pockets (knuckles first of course, because it is way less bad to touch a foreign object with your knuckle than your fingertip). Unfortunately I felt something in the right pocket, but it seemed to be just a tissue, so I pulled it out, and as I was grabbing I realized it was a bit more squishy than a tissue ought to be, and before I can even pull it into view my heart rate had increased to an abnormal level, and as I flung it to the ground I realized that it was not, in fact, a real worm, but just one of those fake worms they make for fishing.

Because the first activity I had planned for myself while wearing my new (used), purple banana republic pants, was, hands down, fishing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

kernel panic

I have been having computer issues.

Right now I am using an ancient PowerBook G4, that once had coffee spilled on it, and was taken out of commission (not by me, don't worry).

My dear computer's kernel panicked last week. I have been getting help from many people. It turns out that the video controller was the cause, and my computer qualified for the recall on those. So it is being fixed for free. Phew. I did not plan for buying a new computer at this point in time, so all is well. Hopefully my computer will be back tomorrow.

I have a smattering of pictures and blogging ideas based on those pictures. Hopefully I can make that happen soon!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


What's that in the middle of my yard? You may be wondering? Oh, well friends, that is the newest addition to Harjitshire: our rain barrel! Or, as I fondly call it, our White Trash Rain Barrel (WTRB). It was originally proudly perched in the middle of our yard. It is still too cold to plant (at least for my comfort level), and we haven't even tilled up the earth yet, so the WTRB was looking a little out of place, considering there isn't yet a garden next to it. There will be a garden there soon, but upon careful consideration, Greg and I decided the WTRB ought to be moved to a more ideal location. More on that later.

The rain barrel was constructed using an un-used trash can we had at the barn. In the bottom we (basically just Greg) sawed a tiny hole, and we attached some hardware, which amounts to a spigot with a turny knob to control the flow of water. It is a pretty good system, and it allowed us to fully explore the Lyme Home and Hardware store. Since the spout is on the bottom, we have it propped up on cinder blocks. Plus cinder blocks add to its white trash status.

Most rain barrels are ideally located under a downspout, so you can gather water from an area as large as the roof of your house. The barn does not have downspouts. This should not surprise you, as we do not even have an outdoor spigot. Part of the motivation for a rain barrel is to be more crunchy, by using rain water for watering the garden, as opposed to pumping well water. But part of the motivation for a rain barrel is mere laziness, so we can minimize the number of times we have to fill up the watering can in the bathtub and haul it outside.

Anyhow, since we don't have a downspout, we just covered the top of this trash can with mesh to make sure our rain barrel does not become a mosquito breeding ground.

We also decided to move the rain barrel in order to catch more rain. When it was sitting in the middle of the yard, it would have been conveniently close to the garden, but it was also catching water from an area of about four square feet. We moved it under the overhang of the barn's tin roof. Now we are collecting water from something more like twenty square feet. It isn't quite the same as collecting water from the Entire roof, but it is still a large improvement. We have great confidence that this was a good move, and a move that will work, because we moved it while it was raining.

Ta daa!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils :)

Monday, April 11, 2011


The voting has opened for the Design Your Look Challenge, hosted by Jess LC. Head over to her blog, Makeunder My Life and leave a comment with your vote. I'd recommend voting "Meghan M. - Tuesday Adventures" but you can really vote for whoever you want. There are 113 entries and prizes for the top three winners! I really like my outfit best, but there are several other really good ones (and also some hideous looking wonders).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Design MY Look

The blogging world is a magnificent thing. Jess of is hosting a spectacular Contest! She calls it a challenge, but there is a super sweet prize for the winner, so to me it is a contest! The idea is simple: to design your ideal spring look. I have been searching all over for a floral sweater I can afford, but with no luck, so entering this contest (based on a dream of a floral sweater) is my next best option. Here is my creation:

The winner is chosen by vote, which begins April 11. I'll keep the blog updated with a link for voting! Each of these items is SO wonderful, but also completely unaffordable (by me), so here's to hoping for good-winning-luck!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Origin of the Aurora

Mister Sun-Shine! Mister Golden Sun! Please shine down on me!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Lemon

I recently attended a conference in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was pretty awesome, probably the best conference I've been to.

Sometimes during the morning break between talks there would be a large bowl of fruit next to the coffee station. One day I found a bright yellow lemon trying to blend in with the apples, oranges, and pears. I went back in several minutes later, and the fruit was slowly being eaten, but still the lemon remained. I knew the lemon had to be mine, so I snatched it up before I thought better of the idea.

Then I ate the lemon like an orange.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crazy Gradient in the Sky

This is what I saw the sky looking like one day. I happened to be on a plane, flying from Anchorage, AK to Fairbanks, AK. And I saw this crazy gradient, where the sky nearest the horizon was bright, going to a darker blue with increasing altitude, and then after reaching that dark band, it started to go light again. How did this happen?!? What is going on?!?

This sky does not look natural to me. I promise the photos are showing a true view of what the sky Actually looked like. I think these were taken at something like 8 AM local time, February 27 (ish).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


We saw it last night! yay! I need to get myself dressed for talks. I also need to learn to use manual focus in the dark... These photos make it to the adventure blog due to blurriness. Hopefully I'll see more aurora, and be more in focus next time!

Monday, February 14, 2011

first gimp project

So, this weekend I downloaded Gimp, which is a free program that is basically the same as photoshop. only free. It is a little more tricky to use than I was hoping, but I am at the early stages of catching on. I think it will be one of those things where once I know how to use it, it will be very powerful.

Last week at the bar after one of Greg's games, one of his teammates mentioned (in my general direction) how cool it would be if someone was taking photos at the games and making cards out of them. I can take a hint people. Plus it sounded like a super fun project. This is my first attempt:

I modeled it after Patrick Roy's rookie card. I think Greg approved.

The only problem is that my proportions are slightly off. I think my version is a little wider than a standard hockey card.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Safety First

Today after work I went to State Line Sports for the special purpose of purchasing a hockey helmet. This will be handy for two things:

1) Being safe while skating on the pond.

2) Not having to wear the stinky helmets they provide for intramural hockey.

Here is me, posing with my new gear. I got this sweet helmet for a mere $55, which is about the best price you could ask for for a new adult helmet, especially considering this baby was on sale from $119.99. This is the kind of amazing deal you can get when you walk into a store and upon asking if any help is needed you proclaim, "I'd like the cheapest helmet you have!"

My helmet purchase was largely inspired by a very sad horror story. One of the guys Greg skates with was playing pond hockey, and hit a crack or something when he was changing from skating forward to backwards and fell straight back. He cracked his skull and was bleeding from his ears. I do not EVER want to be bleeding from my ears. He is recovering and doing better every day. But still. If a guy who knows how to skate well can have such a terrible thing happen to him, who am I to go skating around without a helmet? So there you have it folks, always wear a helmet when you skate. ALWAYS.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Contra Dance Calling

I just did a quick review of former posts, and it seems I have yet to blog about calling contra dances. I guess it goes without saying that I am incredibly passionate about contra dancing. Sarah and I always talk about "the contra spirit" which basically entails all the good things involved with contra dancing.

So, about a year ago, I started going to a workshop led by David Millstone for learning to call contra dances. My intention in joining was to not actually call dances, but just to learn the mechanics of how calling works, and how the dances work. Well somehow, it managed to be arranged that I would call one single dance at one of the dance sessions that David runs. It was a bit nerve-wrecking, largely because that involves me, on a stage, with a microphone, in front of a large group of people (>50). But despite the nerves and the shaky voice (and not properly lining people up at the start, so the instruction before music started fell apart completely the first time), it was fun! And it worked! It was some sort of great feat of communication, to see if I could get this whole hall of people (or at least a large portion of them) all coordinated up.

So anyhow, David has helped me along, and it has been great to have him as my mentor. I could not ask for anything better really. I have now called a few individual dances. I have also met dozens of other callers, some of whom are starting to remember my name as well, and even offering me guest calling spots if I ever attend a dance they are calling! Plus! I got my copy of Tony Parkes' book autographed!

I was very glad to see the new edition released, since it is nearly impossible to find a copy of the original edition. You can purchase your own copy from Beth and Tony here. I think they said you can also buy the book from Amazon.

The other thing I recently learned about was an online listserv for contra dance callers. I joined up, and from looking at the archives it seems to be a good resource for keeping in touch with other callers, both for asking questions or sharing useful information. I learned from the latest post that there are people who write software to be able to organize dances and program evenings, and then check the dances to make sure there is not too much repetition from one to the next. It is really quite amazing, but also not free. So my new long term goal is to write my own. I haven't done a ton of programming, but with Greg's help, we can make it happen. The plan is to make it freeware that will work on any operating system.

The future looks bright!