Dog Days of Summer

Ice cream at Tulmeadow Farms in West Simsbury, CT

It’s hard to believe, but summer is almost over. I no longer debate whether the house stays cooler with the windows open or closed. There is almost a chill in the air when I wake up in the morning. Yes, at the height of the day the sun still shines warm and bright but there’s no mistaking it setting earlier in the evening. Hear that, tomatoes and melons? Your days are numbered! Get ripening!

The garden got a late start this year (June) so we only started harvesting a few weeks ago, mostly cucumbers and squash. Some of our tomatoes are starting to set but the big ones not so much. Corn, too. A few rattlesnake beans from the two vines that made it (still holding out hope for the one yard long bean vine that’s flowering now). The everlasting chard from last summer is still going strong, but more as chicken food as I pinch off leaves every few days stricken by leafminers. The one crop that exceeded expectations was the one we didn’t have to do anything for — nectarines, lots of delicious, bright red nectarines. I think I ate at least two a day for two weeks straight.

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Tycho: The First Eight Weeks

Photo by Jonathan Lambert

Well, we finally did it. We got a dog!! (Ok, we got engaged and married, too, but back to the exciting stuff…)

I’ve been pining for a dog for at least a couple years now, with a precipitous moment last summer when I chanced upon an adoption fair in a downtown street market coming out of the optometrist’s. His name was Monty (short for Monterey), and he was perfect: a black Lab mixed with enough other things to give him the tuxedo chest, the barest of white points, and that je ne sais quois. It helped that despite being 14 weeks old he was friendly without being excitable — a good personality for a dog.

We didn’t adopt Monty because the circumstances weren’t right, but it got the gears turning with fresh vigor. For the next few weeks I stalked the rescue organization’s website for dog listings and tried to coerce my dog-loving co-workers to adopt Monty in my stead (so I could visit him, or maybe steal him from them later).

Then nearly a year later we had another chance dog meeting. Read more of this post

A quintessential California weekend

After some weeks of cooler weather and intermittent rain, Chris and I wholeheartedly embraced a weekend of warm sunshine to spend outdoors with friends. Ben and Lisa had flown down from Seattle for Heather and Vinny’s wedding and we hosted a barbecue at our house Friday evening so they could see folks. The portable fire pit came in handy as the temperature dropped and we roasted marshmallows well into the night.
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Three months later

I haven’t been very active in my usual online spheres lately. No blog posts in three months, only the occasional jaunt into FriendFeed, and random peeks at the ever-growing Twitter stream.  Here are some random bits of what I’ve been up to.
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A visit to the “bird farm”

If you think having a pair of doves nesting on your front porch is cool, imagine living with a herd of goats and alpacas, a flock of chickens, dozens of parrots and other exotic birds, and some lizards. These are the denizens of Simon Field’s “bird farm”, which I visited about a month ago, right after SciFoo. I loved it, and knew I’d want to revisit to share it with friends.
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Role models

Over the last month and a half I’ve had the pleasure of hosting two stand-out examples of responsible parenting. These role models, however, happen to be doves.

At first I was skeptical why a pair of birds would want to build a nest on my front porch, given that we go in and out fairly frequently. To be fair, the rose vines framing the entryway are thick and strong as well as stylish, and few bad guys (except us) would even think of going up in there. They spent a couple of days scoping out the place – I like to think that they were comparison shopping – but in the end, convenience, location, and that je ne sais quoi won out. A few sticks and pieces of dried grass started showing up, and eventually there was a nest.

After a couple weeks I saw a scraggly little chick, but then we went on vacation and it was gone when we came back. I thought maybe I’d imagined it, but the doves were still there, and a couple weeks later there were definitely two chicks. Apparently, doves can have multiple broods in a single mating season, and usually use the same nest. They may even use the same nesting site year after year. So now I knew I was looking at the second brood.

Since I was actually home this time, I watched these guys grow from little pin-feathered ugly ducklings into… well, still kind of ugly but at least full feathered young doves (they had gangly awkward tweenager written all over them). The parents still took turns on the nest but switched more frequently, now that they had two hungry mouths to feed. To eat, the chicks basically stick their beaks inside the parent’s and gobble up whatever pre-processed yumness is there. Though interesting, it’s really not that pleasant to watch.

The nest soon got a bit crowded as the chicks were almost as big as the adults and would flap their wings haphazardly from time to time. I could sense the parent doves getting a little frustrated and sometimes the male would perch on the branch outside the nest to get some fresh air. The more adventurous chick joined him once (I think he also got most of the food; he was the bigger one). I noticed yesterday that the parents would sometimes both leave the nest, and the chicks would get restless and hop about in the vines.

This morning, I opened the door to find the nest empty. I guess it was time! Maybe the parents will come back and have another brood. If not, maybe next year.

Photos (from left to right and top to bottom):
1. The female parent, I think. It was slimmer and smaller than the other one.
2. The male parent, I think. Bigger and slightly more colorful.
3. The male on the nest, with one chick visible.
4. The male again, with both chicks getting a little too big for the nest.
5. The big chick sitting with Dad on the branch. The other chick is behind them to the right.
6. Both chicks out of the nest, wondering where Mom and Dad are.

Life after grad school…

… isn’t all that different. Yet. I’m sure it will change a lot once I actually start work in The Real World, but for now, I’m still going to be spending most of my days in the lab doing a lot of the same things. Only now, people occasionally call me “Dr.”, which is strange because it’s true.

With my parents and my advisor after receiving my diploma

With my parents and my advisor post-diploma

I consider myself very fortunate to have a fantastic job lined up, but not everyone is so lucky:

It's a tough time to graduate

It's a tough time to graduate

Still, everyone seemed happy:

w00t! Graduation!!

w00t! Graduation!!

I’m not much for presents, but I’m very excited about the two very useful graduation gifts I received – a snazzy Canon SD 1200 from Chris (I’ve been camera-less for a couple years; expect to see many more photos on this blog starting now) and a KitchenAid stand mixer from some pretty awesome friends (no more blisters from mixing dough by hand!):

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Then, as expected, I took the next week off. My family was in town, so we went on a hike in Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, which is nestled on the west side of the Santa Cruz mountains between Hwy 92, Hwy 1, and Skyline. We took the Whittemore Gulch trail up to the North Ridge trail because it sounded like it would offer diverse terrain along with great views in a reasonable hike (~ 4.5 mi roundtrip), and, indeed, it did not disappoint.

View towards the Pacific from the North Ridge trail

View towards the Pacific from the North Ridge trail

My mom especially wanted to see banana slugs. Well, it must have been just after spawning season, because we saw more banana slugs than we could count, from babies an inch long to adults almost as long as my forearm. We even saw one actively chomping away at some green leaves. There were also a couple snakes, mice, butterflies, and plenty of wildflowers to keep our senses engaged.

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On Tuesday, we drove up to Napa for an afternoon of wine tasting, visiting Folie a Deux/Napa Cellars, Saddleback Cellars, and Mumm Napa, where we bought two bottles of a unique sparkling Pinot Noir. Despite having lived here for 5 years, I’d never gone to Napa before this trip.

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Chris and I headed off to visit his parents in Ashland (just over the border in Oregon) the next day. We took the scenic route out of Napa but spent most of the drive on I-5. I’d driven north on I-5 once before (to Seattle) but for some reason didn’t remember Mt. Shasta. I must have been sleeping because Shasta isn’t a mountain you quickly forget!

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We spent two and a half days in Ashland, walking around town, chilling with some furry friends, hiking, and watching a lot of shows. Ashland is known for its lively theater scene, and we saw no fewer than three shows while we were there, each at a different venue: “Don Quixote”, “The Music Man”, and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”. All were quite good, and each was funnier than the last. “Spelling Bee” was at the Cabaret; being a dinner theater in a converted church, it was a very intimate setting with the tiny stage right up against the first row of tables and a lot of engagement with the audience. “Don Quixote” was held in the Elizabethan theater, which recalls the theaters from Shakespeare’s time.

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On our last full day there, we hiked to the summit of Pilot Rock with Chris’s parents. Despite being in their 60’s, they outhiked and outclimbed me both to the top and back to the bottom, scrambling up and down over the rocks like mountain goats. I hope I have half that energy and courage when I’m their age!

View of the summit from the trailhead

View of Pilot Rock from the trailhead

The view over the valley from near the top

The view from near the top

At the base of the summit

The base of the summit

Not for the faint of heart

Not for the faint of heart

On top of the world

On top of the world

Stopping to smell the flowers

Stopping to smell the flowers...

Lots of flowers

... lots of flowers


And there it is — the thrill of victory and the view from the top is why we risk life and limb (ok, maybe only I felt that way…) to get up there.

Now it’s back to the grind for another week, and then I’m off for another week for a tournament near Boston, visiting friends in Boston and on Bainbridge Island, WA, and then another tournament near Seattle. Expect copious photodocumentation now that I have a camera I can take with me everywhere!