Graduation!

May
2012
03

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As the semester draws to a close,  find myself looking back over the past four years with a mix of happiness, joy, and a hint of sadness.  I’m excited to head out into the real world, but I’ll miss Blacksburg and all of the people who helped make college rock. 

I’ve changed so much since 2008!

  • Physically, I like to think I’ve grown at least a tiny bit.  My hair is definitely longer, and has no red or purple streaks in it now.  It’s been short, long, and everything in between.  My pole vaulting muscles from high school have been replaced by swimming muscles, which is impressive considering I use do be terrified of water. 
  • Mentally, I’ve grown a lot.  I’ve learned that who you’ve been doesn’t define who you has to be.  Friends grow apart.  Nothing in this world is purely two-sided.  I’ve chilled out much more, but also found things I’m truly passionate about.
  • Emotionally, I’ve ridden a whole roller coaster.  My high school sweetheart and I stopped talking about halfway through the first semester of college.  I dated a total loser for 9 months, and have raised my standards significantly higher in terms of what I’m willing to put up with.  I’ve been happier than I ever thought I could be, and climbed out of some pretty crappy places too.
  • I’ve travelled a lot!  Missouri was my first plane ride, and I finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of making it to Africa and back.
  • My baggy man pants have slowly given way to girl jeans, although I still wear just as much flannel as ever.
  • I found a new sport, triathlon, that I love, and a whole team of awesome people that helped me get started and stick with it.
  • I can identify skunks, along with over 40 neotropical migratory songbirds and over 100 trees and plants.
  • I’ve made so many new friends, that I hope to stay in touch with for years to come.

Although I am nervous to see what the future brings, I know that if the next four years are anything like the last four, it’ll be an adventure!

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A lot of my inspiration in designing playground stuff has come from remembering what I liked about the places I used to play.  Climbing structures and natural features are something I try to include in each idea. 

Here’s the playground that started it all.  It’s made almost entirely out of recycled tires!  The photo doesn’t even come close to doing it justice- this place had a zipline, multiple tire forts, loads of open space, and dozens of things to climb on.  If you’re ever near Calvert Cliffs, MD, check it out!

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Last week, we got into small groups to design a creative piece of playground equipment.  Sean and I designed a giant climbing structure, based on the idea of a traditional climbing dome.  Our version was in the shape of a turtle, and included several different climbing surfaces, a tunnel/mouth entry, and an elongated ladder tail that provides the perfect place to hang a swing. 

Our idea came together pretty well.  The colloquium notebook includes detailed sketches of this and several other cool ideas.

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I often joke that if it weren’t for all the classes, college would be amazing.  While I realize that as a student, my job is primarily to attend class and learn information relevant to my field of study, there are numerous times over the past four years when I have wondered if college courses are truly effective, especially large lecture classes. 

Nearly every Tech student has had at least one class in McBryde 100.  Intro Psych, Gen Chem, Rocks for Jocks- this huge, heartless lecture hall is notoriously conducive to in-class naps, Reddit surfing, and generally anything but interactive learning.  I have spent hundreds of hours of my life sitting among a sea of glassy-eyed students in there, trying to stay awake, trying to care, trying to just pass some mind-numbing class so I can fill a CLE category.  In fact, I am writing this blog post during a mind-numbing lecture, and the classroom is right next to McBryde 100. 

One day, I’d like to become a college professor.  Through years of classes, both good and awful, I’ve observed several things that can make the difference between an amazing learning experience and just another pointless class:

  • Keeping students active and engaged- One of my favorite professors only gave three actual lectures during a semester.  The rest of our class periods were spent working through calculations together, keying out plant species, doing group activities, etc. 
  • Talking with vs. talking at- One of my least favorite professors specializes in one-way conversations.  Although there are less than a dozen students in the class, I feel as though he could continue monologuing forever and never even notice if we all disappeared.
  • Busywork vs. meaningful activities- Students hate busy work.  We are young and restless, and want to learn as much as possible in the least amount of time.  We’re willing to work, but only as long as we feel like our work matters. 
  • Showing that you are a real person- If you take away the advanced degrees and a couple decades of experience/age, professors and students really aren’t that different.  They don’t have to be our best friends, but they don’t need to be so worried about commanding respect that they become unapproachable.   

Expectations

Mar
2012
27

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This week, Dr. Stephens will be coming to our colloquium to discuss what we’ve been doing, and where to go from there.  There will also be some time for any questions that colloquium members have regarding our efforts, expectations, etc.

This colloquium has turned out very differently than I expected, and several members have expressed similar sentiments.  My dad is really big on leadership and inspirational sayings, so I asked him awhile ago  if he had any advice for me and my fellow colloquium leader.   His input: “When people’s expectations do not align well with their assessment of how a situation is turning out, they become dissatisfied.”  My dad’s bits of advice always have some sort of accompanying story, so I thought I’d share one that he has shared with me many times with regards to expectations:

Back when my parents were young, newly married, and on a very tight budget, they went to a department store to shop for household items.  They were amazed by the assortment of shiny kitchen appliances, expensive cookware, and colorful dish collections.  After admiring several more expensive items, they picked out a few lower-priced options and headed towards the checkout registers.

On the way out, the passed through the jewelry department.  My mom loves jewelry, but has made a habit of living frugally, between growing up in a poor family, being a broke college student, and setting aside money to raise a family.  She still enjoys admiring, though, and my siblings and I have learned to carefully watch her as she admires jewelry displays and come back later to pick out a piece for her Christmas or birthday presents.  On this particular shopping trip, something caught her eye, and she spent several minutes admiring it before she and my dad left the store. 

The next day, he called her at work.  “I have a surprise for you!” my dad excitedly told her.  “I know we don’t have a lot of money, but I couldn’t help it.  You were admiring it so much in the store yesterday, so I went back and bought it on the way home.”  When she got home from work, he pulled a shopping bag from behind his back, and my mom grew excited, remembering the delicate sparkle from the jewelry display.  She closed her eyes and held out her hands as instructed, and was overjoyed to open her eyes and find…a skillet.  A skillet?  

My dad excitedly explained how he had noticed her admiring it as they were looking at pots, and how she had said that maybe one day they could afford nice skillets for their kitchen.   At first, my mom was quite disappointed.  She had been expecting something much smaller and shinier. It took several days for my dad to get out of the doghouse, and he recieved a very stern lecture on how to properly preface a romantic gift versus a practical gift.  Now, over 20 years later, that skillet is one of her most prized possessions, and I doubt she would trade it for a whole department store full of jewelry.

Craft Night!

Mar
2012
17

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Hey everybody!

My boyfriend left for the weekend, so I did what any temporarily-single college girl would do on a Friday night:  I brought out the craft supplies!  I still get in plenty of quality crafting time when Mr. Trailing Mind is around, but there’s something to be said for a late-night arts and crafts free-for-all!  I started trying to turn some old t-shirts into a skirt, but got distracted, and ended up making another headband instead:

Photo and pattern from < http://www.makeit-loveit.com/2011/06/repurposing-tshirts-into-5-strand-braided-headbands.html>.  Check out the link for an easy tutorial!  I’m not usually a headband fan, but I really like this pattern, and have made two of them since winter break.  My hair is almost long enough for a ponytail, for the first time in at least two years (gasp)!  These fun headbands are great for that awkward in-between stage when you hair is long enough to be in your face, but not quite long enough to pull into a ponytail or braid.

I  also continued working on my first crochet project, a cute little square bear.  Hopefully it will end up looking sort of like this:

Photo and pattern from <http://elfluvsdwarf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-small-square-bear-was-very-quick.html>.  So far, I have completed the rectangles for the body, and am about to start the first arm/leg. 

These are just two of the most recent of a long line of crafts projects.  In a few weeks, I’m planning a second HRC craft night, focused on friendship bracelets, so stay on the lookout for more info! 

 

A quiet mind

Mar
2012
11

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Over break, I started something that I hadn’t done in quite awhile.  I began putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s a 1000-piece scene depicting a small store filled with hanging glass decorations, random boat pieces, and some old barrels and fishing nets.  I found it several years ago in a thrift store, and have been holding on to it waiting for the perfect time to put it together and bring the scene to life.  My mom used to joke that if I continued my packrat ways, my house would end up looking just like the store in the picture: tiny, rundown, and overflowing with an eclectic mix of decorations, houseplants, and various junk.

Jigsaw puzzles hold a sort of sentimental value for me.  Growing up as a triplet, it was nearly impossible to get one-on-one time with my parents, so I tried all sorts of new activities in an attempt to hang them, sans siblings.  I went on walks around the neighborhood with my mom, and spent hours helping my dad sort through stacks of music in our basement.  When I was in late middle school or early high school, I was down there helping my dad sift through boxes of euphonium etudes when he reached up onto a shelf and pulled down another box.  It was too small to hold sheet music, but instead held a jigsaw puzzle of an ocean scene, complete with a rocky cliff face and some old building remnants.  It had 1000 pieces-way more than any puzzle I had ever attempted with my brother or sister.  He asked if I wanted to put it together with him.  Puzzles had never been my favorite- I would quickly grow frustrated at the sheer number of pieces and all of the tiny details.  But I thought, hey, my brother and sister don’t really like puzzles, this could be a chance to hang out with my dad minus them!  So I told a tiny fib- “Sure! I love puzzles!” and we began assembling it. 

It was a very drawn-out undertaking, to say the least.  My dad ran a small music publishing business out of our basement in addition to his full-time job, and most of his time outside of work was spent doing things around the house or shuttling me and my siblings to our activities or helping us with homework.  On weekends, we would sneak downstairs to spend 30 or 40 minutes sorting pieces or putting together a chunk, and we’d slip a couple pieces into place whenever both of us had a few spare minutes during the week.  My dad, always the logical thinker, shared his strategies with me for how he could take such a monumental task and divide into smaller, more manageable pieces: “Today, lets try and get the border put together!” or “What do you think, should we attempt to sort out all of the ocean pieces from the cliffs?” 

It took us the better part of a year to complete the puzzle, but after lots of hours and one small crisis that involved our cat knocking the flattened cardboard box that held our creation from the top shelf and ruining a great deal of our efforts, we finished.  Since then, we’ve been planning to put together another, but haven’t really gotten around to it.  I grew up and left for college, and he grew busier with work and life.

Over spring break, while looking for ways to procrastinate, I found the puzzle that I’m currently working on stashed in my dorm room.  Before I knew it, I had taped together a bunch of pieces of cardboard and taken over a small table.  Sitting there, sliding pieces into place, I found that familiar quiet mind- the whole reason, I think, that my dad wanted to put together a puzzle in the first place.  It was calming, and brought back memories of all those hours spent with my dad, putting together that oceanside scene and trying to keep our cats from stepping on it and stealing pieces.

I’m hoping to start another puzzle with my dad this summer before I head across the country for my next adventure.  Now I just have to find the perfect picture…. 

 

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So far, we’ve learned about how to incorporate music, gardening, shading/drainage, and preschool learning objectives into playground design.  We’ve also each researched a specific side project that could be easily completed this semester, and each come up with a large-scale object that would go in our “dream playground.”

For next week, we’ll be pulling it all together to each sketch out/plan what an ideal playground would include.  We are focusing on a nearby site, and some of our peeps have drawn out an image of the existing playground’s measurements that we can use in planning our ideal playgrounds.

I’m excited to see what everybody comes up with!

Thinking big

Feb
2012
28

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Last week, each of us researched small projects and improvements we could add to the existing Pearisburg playground.  We came up with lots of feasible ideas, including a balance beam, birdhouses and a bird feeder, a gravel drainage area, and a PVC xylophone (music is one of the things that was mentioned as something we should try to incorporate).

This week, we are jumping to the opposite end of the spectrum and thinking big.  If we had unlimited resources, what would we add? Or would we create a new playground altogether?  I’m excited to see what ideas everyone comes up with.  Dr. Stephens is coming to this week’s meeting, so the pressure’s on- bring your best big playground ideas, everybody!

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to stumble upon something totally cool while perusing the internet is to decide to go to sleep early.  Every time I tell myself that I’m going to catch some spare z’s so I can get up at a reasonable hour the next morning, I run into some awesome article, story, song, poem, etc.

I found this article while doing some research on the Kindle.  My dad recieved one for Christmas, so I’ve been trying to learn more so I can help him get it set up and all.  Here’s the link:

<http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/does-amazons-kindle-signal-the-death-of-the-traveling-paperback/>

In addition to pondering the future of physical books as e-readers become more popular, the article also discusses “traveling paperbacks,” which are pretty much the same as traveling pants (does anyone else ask themselves how they ever got dragged to such a chick flick?), except with more words and less teenage drama.  These are the tired, the beaten, the weary paperback novels that have changed hands so many times that nobody really knows how they arrived at their current location.  They may have been passed on by a friend, or left behind by a hostel’s previous occupants, or thoughtfully added to an impromptu library.

As any adventuring spirit can attest, traveling paperbacks serve a very special role, whether you’re thru-hiking the AT, killing time at the field station, or stuck back in the “real world” while contemplating the strange contrast between the life you know and the one you’re currently living (the two are not mutually exclusive, after all).

As an aspiring field researcher, one of the things that most intrigued me when I began my first wildlife job in Southern Missouri was the seemingly random assortment of reading material that had found its way onto the crooked bookshelf beside the field station’s main entrance.  The field guides were to be expected in a trailer housing so many biology-oriented people, and the outdated National Geographics were perfect for flipping through as my fellow bird technicians and I struggled to wake up as we ate cold cereal at 4:30 in the morning.  But the fashion magazines and the  travel guide to Costa Rica  took me by surprise, as did the alarmingly risque romance novel (the cover looked like a murder mystery, I swear!) that I found tucked between an ancient copy of the state hunting regulations and what I soon discovered was the book that I had almost read in middle school, but didn’t, about a teenager being tried for murder.  I slowly worked my way through the field station’s library that summer, and even added a few paperbacks that I picked up at a super-sketchy thrift store on one of our weekend expeditions to civilization. 

As I have continued traveling in pursuit of wildlife research opportunities, I have learned that nearly every field station has a similar collection of wayward books, left behind by past researchers.  This past summer in Madagascar, for example, I found myself stuffing books into my pack to ration out over long stints in the rainforest.  “The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”, “Science and Health”, ”Stuff White People Like”, “Wicked”, “Life of Pi”, “Better Homes and Gardens”…. The odd variety never ceased to amaze me.  I left several paperbacks, my rubber boots, and at least half of my digestive tract behind when I left the country.  Apparently water-borne illnesses found a way to outsmart the magical chemicals we so carefully measured into our drinking, cooking, and even bathing water, but I was lucky enough to have a novel featuring a divorced mom and her new dog to keep me company in between puking my guts out.

Even here in the dorm, I have stumbled across a growing collection of traveling books just waiting in the library for someone to borrow them.  While I cannot say too much about e-readers, it is my firm belief that as long as there are willing pollinators to spread these wandering tomes, traveling paperbacks will live on.

k