Monday, March 24, 2014

Moving on: Sweet Tea Science

Hello friends (and maybe a few followers I hadn't lost)!  It has been quite a long time.  If you happen to know me personally, you'll know this is not the first blog I have begun and subsequently abandoned.  I love to write and I love to share things I find interesting or helpful, but I tend to have my fingers in about 20 different pots.  Pet projects come and go.  Pet projects most vulnerable to "going" are those I have undertaken solo.  My hectic life requires major accountability.  I'm a graduate student, I'm a partner (and now trying to plan a wedding!), I am a daughter and a sister, and I'm an athlete.  Adding blogger to my list of adjectives has always been a goal, but it's just darn difficult to make the time when it's just lil' ol' me.

Enter Sweet Tea Science

I'd been feeling this way about Practical Ecologist for a few months.  Feeling like blogging was another thing added to my Stress List, not a fun side project.  I was chatting with my best partner in crime, when it struck me, we should write a blog together.  See, Meridith had her own personal blog, which was also constantly in some state of neglect.  Meridith had a wonderful talent for fun and funny writing, often about science.  Did I mention that we were roommates in college, took almost all the same biology courses together at Western, attended the ELME program together in 2007, and took the Amazing Besties National Park Roadtrip together in 2012.  Plus, we're adorable.  Sweet Tea Science was born.
Summer 2012.  Arches National Park, Utah.  A stop along the Amazing Besties National Park Roadtrip.            Photo cred: MLB
Another struggle with this blog, I lost track of who I wanted my audience to be.  Was it my peers in science and ecology?  Could it be people interested in living more sustainable lives?  Was it simply the public or even young people interested in science?  I didn't feel like it could be all those things.  I think at this point in my career, at a point where I am trying to climb a really precarious academic ladder, I need to keep my professional and outreach efforts in different boxes.  These boxes sit open and next to each other in the clutter that is my life, so there is overlap!  And there is always room for reorganization in the future, but for now I think this is best.

Some Potential Questions

Where can I find you on the internet?  You can find my musings about science, ecology, sustainability, and general science outreach shenanigans at Sweet Tea Science!  We are currently just on Tumblr, but we will be transitioning to more long-form blogs come summer time.  Feel free to follow us on Instagram and Twitter!  I will be making a professional website to house news about my research and such related academic nonsense.  That is still in the works, but once it is done I will link to it from my Sweet Tea Science "About Me" page.

Where will I be able to access Practical Ecologist content?  I don't know if blogger ever really deletes anything, but just in case, all this content (and all the content from Meridith's old blog) has been migrated over to the long-form Sweet Tea Science blog that we are working on as we speak.

Will you still be writing about green living or doing any lifestyle posts?  Our current vision for Sweet Tea Science does involve some lifestyle posts about living sustainable and simple.  Unlike this blog, that won't be the focus in the future.

Until Next Time

Martinez Regional Shoreline Park, Martinez, CA
Thanks for reading my infrequent posts.  Thanks for those of you that gave feedback and comments.  Thanks to my cat for warming my lap while I mused about my life.  And thank you in advance for following along on my next internet venture!  See you around the interwebs!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Waste not, Want not on Moving Day

White Mt.  We climbed this as the culmination of our
orientation trip.
Note from Rachel:  I actually wrote this post during the last week of August when I was actively moving.  I figured I just needed to throw in a few pictures of the madness and I'd be good to go.  Little did I know, that was easier said than done.  Moving was insane, then I left on the 2nd to help lead an orientation trip for new graduate this post is a bit of a flashback.  Hopefully it will still be helpful to someone!  Further disclaimer:  this post contains only iPhone pictures...mostly of my cat.

It seems like only last year that we moved all our stuff from SoCal, up along the I-5, to the central valley of California.  Oh wait, that really was just last year.  Can it really be that time again?  The painters that came to my apartment Tuesday morning imply that yes, yes it is.  It's moving time!  Transplanting to a new place is always simultaneously exciting and annoying for me.  I love the possibilities.  This year I'll keep my room clean.  This time I'll really put an effort into decoration.  This spring the patio garden will happen!  However, I don't love the hassle.  Will I get my security deposit back?  Where do I put all my stuff while I shampoo the carpets?  Will my cat finally hate me if I make him move again?

Cat drinking my H2O on hot moving day.
Yes, like almost every other thing in this wild life, moving to a new dwelling has pros and cons.  In times of stress and excitement, it's very easy to forget our environmentally minded intentions and err on the side of convenience.  I can honestly say, been there, done that.  However, as someone who has moved 8 times in the past 8 years (one time I moved twice in one year!), I can offer up a few little nuggets of practical advice for keeping your upcoming move as sane and eco-conscious as possible.  The way I see it, there are three big things that make up the process of moving:  packing, discarding unwanted items, and cleaning.  I will address the first two in this post.  In the interest of being candid, I'll say that I don't currently use that many green cleaning supplies.  I'm hoping to make the switch away from the more conventional stuff (and will probably blog about it).  At the moment, I've amassed quite a collection of cleaning solutions/sprays/what-have-you from old roommates, and I'm currently working through the last of that.  Maybe you know the old runner's mantra "Don't try anything new on race day"?  Moving day is my race day and is not the time to try a whole bunch of new stuff.  So, here I'll focus on what to use when packing and how to donate/reuse/recycle those items you might not want to move to your new abode.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reduce: DIY Drain De-Clogging

A tall grass prairie restoration site I visited while at ESA
Well, welcome back me.  It has been a second guys!  As you probably know if you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, I've been away at the Ecological Society of America conference, then I was a little ill, then I got a fellowship (!!!!), then I started packing for our move at the end of the month, and then my boyfriend started nagging me about unclogging the sink.

See, as anyone who has ever rented housing probably doesn't need to be told, our bathroom sink clogs up a lot.  We are really careful not to flush a bunch of hair or what have you down it, but inevitably, about every other month, it needs to be attended too.  Usually, the fella' takes care of this ASAP, but after the last Drano purchase, I told him next time the sink needed fixing I wanted to attend to it.  Earlier this year, I was perusing Pinterest and came across something which I quickly stuck on my Green Lifestyle pinning board:  an all natural drain de-clogger.  Now, Drano itself doesn't have a ton of explicitly cataloged negative impacts to the environment (read: I couldn't really find any studies about it).  However, the two major active ingredients, bleach (NaOCl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH), are known to have several human health impacts (see some EPA reports here and here).  Plus, the stuff comes in a plastic bottle, which I don't feel comfortable reusing for anything had Drano in it.  The final nail in the coffin, for me at least, is that the stuff costs between 5-10 dollars a bottle.  Generally, if it will hurt me if I accidentally eat it and if it costs a bit of money, I'm over it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Eco-Inspiration: Love Letter to the USA National Parks

Olympic NP, July 2012.  Holds the distinction of
being my FAVORITE NP.
I know I'm late to the party, but I hope that everyone had an amazing holiday weekend and a great 4th of July.  If you are a puppy, or if you love a puppy, then I hope that Thursday wasn't too stressful for you!  I always think the 4th of July is really interesting, and I do try to take time and reflect on things that I really appreciate about the USA.  I know we aren't a perfect country, but we are a country of big bold ideas.  And one of the biggest and boldest of those ideas is the American National Park Service and the system of parks they manage.  I am absolutely in love with visiting national parks, and as of 2010, I made it my 10-year goal to see all of my country's national parks.  A lofty goal, perhaps.  A worthy journey, most certainly.

The National Park Service does a lot more than just manage the 59 recognized national parks in the system. They also look after national lake shores, battlefields, historic sites, heritage areas, sea shores, rivers and so much more (get a full list here)!  But, as that bring the count of parks to see way (way) up, my goal is just to see the 59 official parks.  As I am writing this, I can say I have been to 16 parks and driven through another two, though I don't plan to count those unless it comes down to the wire.  I have plans to visit Alaska, which boasts a high score of 8 national parks, once I finish my PhD.  So, between then and now, I guess I have to see the rest!

Great Smoky Mts. NP, April 2009
Great Smoky Mts. NP, April 2009
The rest of this post will just be pictures from each park I've visited.  The thing that inspires me about the US national parks, and why they make me truly proud to be an American, is their diversity and the respect they inspire.  There are so many different species, vistas, and ecosystems protected under the same governmental system!  What's more, every time I visit a national park, I hear three or more different languages being spoken.  Tourists from all over the nation and all over the world recognize the significance and importance of the US national parks.  These places can inspire us all.  They most certainly inspire me.  So, happy late Independence Day.  Take a listen to Woody Guthrie, and gander at my current progress toward my favorite long-term goal.

Friday, July 5, 2013

5 Weird Things I Do: When I'm Shopping

Weekly Farmer's Market haul!
My typical Friday afternoon goes a little something like this:
  • 4pm- Begin simultaneous watching the clock and repeating the mantra "Be productive, stupid."  (Note:  graduate school not always the best for increasing self-love.)
  • 4:30pm- Start to feel like I'm really hungry and, I mean, it's almost time to go anyway.  Desperately try to make final progress on whatever task I have been attempting.
  • 4:45 pm- Give up.  Start filling in my OCD meal planning spreadsheet and making my shopping list.
So, just based on this 45 minute snap-shot, I'm going to take a wild guess and say that my approach to picking the groceries I purchase might be a little different than your own.  Meal planning spreadsheet you say?  List you say?  It may sound weird, some might say it's unnecessary, but these are a part of my household's weekly shopping ritual.  What's more, I'm confident that these things, plus others I will discuss, help me to save money and cut back on the waste I produce.  So I felt compelled to share, and another instillation of "5 Weird Things" was born.  

As always, I would encourage you to not be overwhelmed by the thought of totally upending your shopping mojo.  I didn't wake up one morning and decides that I was going to do all these things at once.  Like most life choices, these have come to me through a gradual evolution in my thoughts and actions based on lots of research and some provoking conversations.  Maybe pick the one that interests you the most or that you think might make the most difference and give it a try!  Then come back next month and pick up another one!  That said, here we go.      

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Guest Blog: Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail

This is my little sister, Sara!!!!
Note from Rachel:  I'm really excited today to have the very first guest post of this blog's (short) history!  Allow me to introduce my kid sister, Sara.  When I describe her to people I usually give these stats:  she's a scientist, she plays competitive roller derby, she's way smarter than me, and she's one of the coolest people you could ever meet.  She just graduated with a BS in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Wildlife Management from my alma mater Western Kentucky University.  In college, she had some pretty amazing adventures and some really cool scientific experiences.  Check out this write-up of her long-term internship with the National Parks Service and this article about an African wildlife management course she participated in last summer (here is a video about the course...she's basically the star).  After her graduation and the completion of her honor's thesis this spring (she examined song bird use of restored old-fields), she decided to take a much deserved break from the world.  And what better way to get away from it all  than to go hiking, right?  

Never really known for moderation, my sister doesn't just decided to go camping for a few weeks.  No, no.  She decides to hike about 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  And, because I think a big portion of this blog should always be dedicated to enjoying nature, I've asked her to write a few guest posts along the way.  So here you go.  Two girls, two hammocks, one dog, and about a million trees.  What could go wrong?  

Ecologist on the Appalachian Trail- 6/29/13

Monday, June 24, 2013

LIT to KY Pt. 2: Adventures in the Sunny South

What?  You’re writing a low impact travel post that begins with a plane ride?  Yes I am.  Please see Pt. 1 for a little more information on my thoughts and rationale regarding this issue.

Day One: In Transit

As is my general practice in life, I took the spring quarter down to the wire.  I had a paper due at 5:00 pm on Tuesday which I turned in, literally at 5:00 pm.  I have trouble letting things go.  I just like to mess with them till the last possible second… Then I had a lab meeting on Wednesday, and class on Thursday, and BBQ on Thursday, and a date night on Friday.  Things got busy and all of a sudden is was Saturday, and I needed to leave the house at 4 pm and I hadn't packed, scooped the kitty litter, or anything!  Lucky for me, at this point I’m very good at packing and my boyfriend is very good at keeping up with the laundry. 

Is this real life?  An empty
middle seat?  Praise be.
I was able to quickly zip up my suitcase and my backpack (with minimal work stuff actually, which was nice), made sure to grab my reusable mug, my water bottle, and some airport snacks, and we were out the door.  We had just enough time to stop by the Co-op on our way out of town so I could grab some coffee and a few more snacks.  I’m sort of obsessed with our local foods co-op.  They have an amazing section of bulk foods and, as luck would have it, one of their awesome bulk trail mixes was on sale.  Score.  I've written before about the importance of bringing snacks with you when you travel.  When you are trying to have a small impact, being able to source the products you consume is very important.  It’s a lot easier to do this when you make your purchases from sources you know and trust than when you are rushed and hangry (hungry plus angry) at the airport.  Bonus points, when you plan ahead, you can make sure the snacks you choose come with minimal unnecessary packaging.  I put my trail mix in a little paper bag and my coffee in my to-go mug and we were on our way.

As I've said previously, I live between Sacramento and San Francisco, so I have the choice to fly out of either airport (plus Oakland!).  It’s true that Sacramento is a lot closer, but SFO is generally cheapest because it is the largest hub.  To minimize the driving time, both for convenience and so we aren't burning a whole bunch of gas in a nearly empty car, D Lo and I generally drive one another to the nearest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station and take public transit the rest of the way into the city.  Saves major gas when you miss most of that city stop-and-go traffic!  The BART ride was actually pretty eventful.  About 15 minutes before arriving at the station I checked my BART app. and saw that there were some pretty major delays on my line due to track maintenance.  The train I wanted to catch was leaving very soon and the next train would get me to the airport on time, but I wouldn't have time to check my bag (which had a few hefty liquids in it), and that was before the delays...Great.  Now I REALLY needed to make this train.  Cue me running through the BART station.  But I made it and this train, plus delays, got me to the station at the same time the later train (the one I had been hoping to avoid taking) would have originally.  Phew.
My sister-in-law made me this most excellent flower crown
upon arrival.  Sorry for iPhone photos.
However, this meant I could no longer check my bag, at the last transfer point I filled two small travel containers, which I just happened to have with me, with coconut oil (for face wash) and contact solution.  I ditched the bottle of contact solution (sad face), but just couldn't seem to bring myself to throw away that nice, glass, organic jar of coconut oil.  I boarded the SFO bound train with several other very nervous looking passengers.  Seems everyone had been delayed and was now pushing it.  I asked the young couple in front of me if they would have time to check their bags and if they wanted a half a jar of coconut oil.  "It's organic."  The girl looked like she was considering it, but the guy gave me a “are you nutty” face and said no thank you.  My little sister later informed me that this was extremely shady pre-airport behavior.  Good point.  Thus, I had to just toss the bottle of coconut oil and my toothpaste, rely on the kindness of strangers to get me to the front of the security line, and rush to my plane.  Cue me running through the airport.  Again, I just barely made it.  I guess a strange low impact tip would be make sure you have plenty of time so you don’t have to ditch a bunch of your stuff.  It’s lame on many levels.  So is having to run to catch any form of transportation. 

On a positive note, this was the first time I was ever able to check into a flight on my smart phone and avoid printing off a ticket.  Etickets for life.  This is the first plane ride EVER where I have totally avoided buying snacks.  I didn't even get lured in by that post-nap sip of soda in a plastic cup that they offer you.  No sir.  I had my own healthy snacks and my water bottle (which I refilled at the layover).  It felt really good to not spend an obnoxious amount of money on stuff I didn't even really want.  So good that I slept very soundly all the way through my red-eye flight to Nashville.