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Last year in my geology graduate program, we started this thing we call “Geowomen’s Soup Night.” Once a month or so, all the women geology grad students gather at one of our houses for good dinner, good wine (or beer!), and good conversation. Of course, the host is not required to make soup – they can make whatever main course they want. But no one has ventured outside the realm of soup yet.

I hosted the first Soup Night of this semester, so I thought I’d share my recipe, as I’ve learned some modifications you can make when you can’t find some of the ingredients, or you don’t have a slow cooker. I got it from a Good Housekeeping cookbook called Budget Dinners: 100 Recipes Your Family Will Love. It’s saved me on more than one occasion on my poor college student budget. This recipe served 6 of us, with a side salad, bread, and veggies and dip as an appetizer.

Winter Vegetable Chowder

Ingredients:

2 medium leeks (about 8oz) – If you can’t find leeks (this happened to me with this last batch), you can substitute with a combination of shallots (I think I used about 4 large cloves) and green onions/scallions/chives (I think I used a whole bundle from the grocery store).

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces – You can leave these out if you’re a vegetarian, or cook them on the side for your meat-eaters. I also tend to make way more bacon because bacon is delicious and it adds a certain something special to this chowder. Last time I made it, I had to keep the bacon out, and ended up making an entire small package of bacon. Maybe 10 slices? We went through most of it. My point is, you can use as much or as little bacon as you want.

2 large all-purpose potatoes (1 1/2 pounds)

1 large celery root (1 1/2 pounds) – This is the ingredient I most often have trouble finding. If I don’t have time to hunt for it, I’ll replace it with an equivalent amount of carrots.

1 medium butternut squash (2 1/4 pounds) – This is essential. My advice is to try to find one that will be easy to cut – so the less curves it has, the better.

28-30oz vegetable or chicken broth – I like the kind that comes in a box rather than a can, but either will do just fine

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground black pepper

1 cup half-n-half or light cream – I use whichever I can find first when I’m looking in the store.

1. Cut off roots and trim dark green tops from leeks; cut each leek lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 3/4 in slices. Fill a large bowl with water and put the leeks in. Swish them around with some vigor. Make sure you separate all the pieces. Leeks often have a lot of sand/dirt in them, and this is the best way to get it out. I will usually dump the water and repeat the process once or twice to be really thorough. Drain them in a collander. If you’re using shallots and green onions instead, just chop them up into 1/4-in pieces and set them aside.

2. Cook the leeks and bacon over med-high heat for about 10-15 minutes in a 12-in or more skillet, until browned. The original recipe says 7-10 minutes, but it always takes longer for me. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and celery root (peel the carrots if you want, but I normally don’t because I’m lazy) and cut them into 1/2-in chunks. Cut the squash in half, discard the seeds, and remove the peel. Then cut the squash into 1-in chunks. I usually cut mine a bit smaller than that.

3. Dump the potatoes, celery root (or carrots), and squash into a 4.5-6 quart slow cooker or large pot. Stir in broth, thyme, salt, pepper, leeks/bacon (or shallots/green onions), and 1 cup of water.

3a. If you are using a slow cooker – cover it with the lid and cook on the low setting (as manufacturer directs) 7-8 hours or until all vegetables are very tender. If you’re away from home for longer than that, it will just sit on the “keep warm” setting and it will be fine.

3b. If you are using a large pot on a stovetop, turn the heat on very low and let it simmer to a gentle bubble with the lid on. This method will take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook.

4. Once everything is cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer about 2 cups of cooked vegetables to a small bowl. Coarsely mash the vegetables with a fork, potato masher, or pastry blender. Stir these vegetables back into the slow cooker/pot, then stir in the half-n-half. Heat through, and you are ready to serve!

If you have any questions about the recipe, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments! I’ve have this soup several times, several different ways, and it is one of my favorites.

And on that note, I’m going to continue devouring my breakfast of bacon on over-medium eggs with pepper and parmesan on fresh baked asiago bread. You don’t even need a recipe for that one.

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I just returned home from my roommate’s wedding, so I’m feeling a bit sentimental. I also haven’t quite gotten back into the swing of things since I returned from Houston and then from field work, so this will once again be a bunch of photos with captions. Sorry, not sorry.

#1. My friends

See? I told you I’m feeling sappy. I got to spend a long weekend with half of my Missoula friends for my roommate’s wedding, and I had a fantastic time catching up with them. Hopefully I get to do it again with the other half next weekend on the geology grad student hike! Ok, so, no photo for this one, because I obviously don’t have one that has all of you in it (besides, most of you probably don’t actually want to be ON my blog anyway), but you ought to know who you are by now. I missed you guys. ALL SUMMER. I am very happy to be spending the next year of my life in this town with you all.

The rest of these are in no particular order.

The mountains! And also the UM campus.

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9460_17660_Missoula_Mountains_mdHouston is VERY flat. I only knew which direction was North when I was on the road that lead to both my home and my office. Mountains are extremely important to my internal navigation, as it turns out. Flat country is not good for me. Plus, they’re absolutely gorgeous, any time of the year.

As a bonus, here are some mountains up around Glacier, where the wedding took place. Montana is beautiful.

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These dogs:

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Five on Black, the best place to get quick, cheap, delicious food. My roommate and I go here at least once a week. We have joked about opening one in Bozeman and retiring. If you are ever in Missoula, you should definitely check it out.

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My office. Though currently, it’s under construction, and likely won’t be finished in time for classes to start tomorrow. There will be 6 of us working in there at my last count, and none of us can get to our desks at the moment. The whole place is a mess, and no help from our massive rock sample collections. At least a lot of mine are in boxes that don’t need to be moved…

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BBQ’s!!! Ok, so we only managed to do this once before I left for the summer, and we’re having an unusually cold August, but… There will be a BBQ before the warm weather COMPLETELY goes away. I hope.

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Did I mention that I missed these dogs?

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My walk to campus, especially in the winter. It might be cold, but it’s also gorgeous, especially when the river freezes.

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SKIING!!!! You cannot ski in Houston. Ok, you can’t ski in Missoula in the summer either. But… skiing is just a short drive away, if there isn’t enough snow right in town. I’m hoping to take my cross country skis out more than 3 times this year.

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And as a final bonus, golden dog was EXHAUSTED after the wedding festivities, and was therefore very good for snuggles.

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Missoula is a wonderful place, and if it wouldn’t have been totally weird, I might have liked to hug the sidewalk when I finally got to come back. Come December, expect a similar post about Seattle.

 

 

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The internship is over, and I’m back in Montana. A mere 24 hours after I got home, I went out to my field area, and I’m still there. I have had so much to worry/think about over the last week I hardly knew it was Sunday. I actually kept forgetting it was Sunday until I realized, at 10:30pm, that I needed to write a blog post. I don’t have time to write a whole bunch of words like I normally do, I don’t have time to put together some spam poetry, and the mosquitos are eating me alive (seriously, I look like I have chicken pox right now). Also someone just walked up to me and asked me for the wifi password at 11pm. It is time to go to bed.

Instead, I’ll give you some photos of field work this week!

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This was the view from my lunch spot in a tiny patch of shade that only got smaller as we sat there. We then proceeded to climb to the top of the cliff, which is higher than what you see here.

 

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This is a trace fossil! I think it’s paleophycus, but I’m terrible at trace fossils. So. Um. Worms did this. In the Cretaceous.

 

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This is my fancy artistic attempt at a panorama view of my field area. That little bit of civilization out there beyond the cliffs? That’s where we left our car. This is the top of the ridge that you can see in the first photo. There was more of it behind us.

 

photo 4This is a bug. I don’t know what kind of bug, because I am not a bug scientist. But possibly cicada? It’s about an inch long plus wings. Much prettier than those giant cockroaches I saw in Houston. If you are a bug person and can identify this, please leave a comment! It died outside our apartment, and I think it was stuck there for a couple of days, making loud noises in the middle of the night. That, or there’s some giant cricket living in the cabin walls trying to torture us in our sleep.

Welp, that’s my thesis update! More to come later when I am not surrounded by flying insects. I am so ready to be home, but I’ve got 4 more days out here. Be glad you are not me right now. I have slept in my own bed exactly once in the last two and a half months.

 

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Well, I appear to have survived my first week in Houston, TX!

This place is not at all what I expected, and I haven’t reached a decision about whether or not I could see myself living here for a couple years. Luckily, I have 2 more months to think about it and get to know the place.

If you’ve never been here before, this is what it’s like. There is green EVERYWHERE. All along the bayou, on the boulevards, the sidewalks, in yards and gardens. The plants here are absolutely amazing. I imagined a desert or industrial type landscape, but it hasn’t been like that at all. Many parts of the city I’ve seen so far are actually very beautiful. The humidity is real, though. I’ve hardly spent any time outside since I’ve been here, because the air is not very comfortable to just sit in. I’m learning that less cloudy days have lower humidity, and one of these days I’ll be brave enough to go lounge by the pool while I read. But then you have random 5-minute rainstorms come through, and you must run for cover. I’m used to bi-polar weather, but this is on a different level. I’m also learning the joys of air conditioning. I’m from Seattle, where we usually must fight against the cold to find a house temperature that doesn’t cost too much on the electricity bill, but still keeps us warm enough to function. Here, it’s the opposite. I’m trying to figure out how much warmth I can stand before I desperately need the air conditioning to keep me at a reasonable temperature. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s also nice to be comfortably warm for a change. A bonus for this climate, though, is the amount of volume it adds to my hair. I keep it short, so a little climate-controlled volume is actually pretty awesome.

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Being from Seattle, I’m used to everyone ignoring each other when they pass in the street. When I moved to Montana, the opposite was true. I got used to politely nodding and/or smiling at people as I passed them in the street (though less so on the college campus). Houston is a massive city. Once again, everyone goes back to ignoring each other. I ran into someone at the gate to get into the apartment complex, he was struggling to open the gate. He finally opened it just as I made it to the gate to try to help, and as we passed each other, I tried to smile at him, because hey, he’s probably my neighbor. No response. So, it’s weird going back to that after being in Montana for so long.

As for my job, I’m an intern for an energy company. So far, my job has essentially consisted of looking at squiggly lines all day and trying to interpret them. I’m not even kidding. Squiggly lines. Theoretically they mean something, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

This internship has so far been an interesting experience, and not so much for the job itself, but for the… setting. For one, I’ve got a swanky office all to myself. My name is even on the door! I have two computer monitors and a huge desk! I’ve never experienced an office job like this – the Google office I worked in was all open plan, no cubicles or anything, and tiny desks. Not that that was bad or anything (it was much easier to talk to my friends that way, or lean over to my neighbor to ask for help on a difficult task, etc.), just different.

I’m also used to jobs that keep you to the clock. You clock in when you arrive, you clock out for lunch, you clock back in after, and you clock out when you leave. No cell phones or personal calls or fun internet breaks while you work (those were the rules, anyway). This internship, though? Totally different. As long as you get the work done, and can show you’re making progress, there’s actually a lot of freedom. It’s taking some adjusting to get used to. I mean, I made a phone call to set up my internet installation at my home during business hours and NOT on my lunch break! I was allowed to leave a few minutes early to go to happy hour with the office mates! I’m not going to lie, I could get used to a job like that. Plus, I’m actually using my geology knowledge and skills, which is more than I can say pre-graduate school.

The one weird thing about this job that bothers me is the lack of women in science-related positions. Maybe it’s just this company, but I’m the ONLY woman on my team. Most of the men are much older than me, too. Almost all the women I’ve met are in administrative or assistant-type positions. It’s really strange to be sitting in a big meeting, and be the only woman in the room. Every other job I’ve held, and all through school, the gender divisions have been pretty well split down the middle for all positions. I suppose the fact that I’m a woman in an internship position should be encouraging for the future of the company, but it’s still a little hard to get used to.

I’ve also had the pleasure of trying to sleep on an air mattress. A friend of mine was successful with this for his entire 3-month internship. But my air mattress? Somehow magically developed a pin-hole puncture after two nights. Pro-tip: Three layers of rubber cement plus tens of layers of duct tape won’t work.

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Rather than fight with the mattress for the rest of the summer, or straight up buying a new one, I decided I didn’t want to wake up feeling like I was in a water bed for any more mornings/middles of the night. So I went to IKEA and bought the cheapest roll-out foam mattress I could find, and I have slept well the past few nights. I do not regret the expense.

On the major plus side of doing this internship over the summer, I have no school work to deal with. Sure, I should probably type up my field notes (which I will, I promise), but other than that – I’m basically on vacation when I’m not at work. So, I’ve started working on my novel again! Typed up 3 pages of edited outline material. It’s a lot of work, but I’m getting through it. 11 more pages to go! I forgot how much fun I have while working on it, and how excited I am to begin re-writes. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get through these outline edits, send them to my writing partner, and get started writing some scenes before the summer is out.

I’ve also got time to cook delicious things like butter chicken with broccoli and mushrooms.

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AND I’ve had time to have a bath. With a candle, a glass of rosé, and my kindle.

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I am, of course, also taking this time to catch up on some TV shows and fiction reading (The Immortal Crown by Richelle Mead just arrived and it is SO good and I’m only 50 pages in!). Which brings me to the next thing I want to share with you all…

I know I already wrote a post about book-shaming, and how it infuriates me when someone tries to tell me (or anyone else, for that matter) that I should be embarrassed about the books I like to read, an article recently came out from Slate that has me swearing at my computer screen as I read. Don’t read it unless you want to get angry about something. I firmly believe that you should read whatever you want to read, regardless of other people’s opinions. What you read literally has zero effect on them, and if they’re going to judge you for it, you probably don’t need them in your life. Since I’ve already articulated how I feel about this, I suggest taking a look at these two responses to the Slate article that made me really happy.

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Well, I made it to Houston, for my second adventure of the summer! While here, I’m going an internship with an energy company. It’s all rather hush-hush as to what I’m really doing, but basically I will be using my geology knowledge to figure out where some oil might be in the rock formation they’ve assigned. I promise I haven’t sold me soul yet, and yes, there is the whole environmental issue, but the point is, we still need oil. Until we can mass-produce sustainable energy, and people are willing to buy it and go cold turkey off petroleum, we still need it. But I don’t want to get into that right now, because I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on the issue.

Anyway, Houston! It’s a strange place. I was expecting desert, but instead I got tropical rain forest? Seriously, it feels EXACTLY like the tropical rain forest exhibit at my hometown’s zoo. It freaked me out when I first got here. I’ve also experienced 2 thunderstorms, and I’ve only been here for less than 48 hours. The wildlife is obviously different as well. I’ve seen a couple new birds already, and I can’t wait for my zoologist dad to visit me next month and tell me what they are.

On my first drive through the city (my friend picked me up at the airport, I didn’t feel safe bringing my ancient Jeep with me on this trip – I don’t think it would survive the climate), I saw a church sunk into the ground.

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Um… what? Why? No signs anywhere? I was immediately reminded of a Sunnydale-style apocalypse, circa Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6. A friend of mine joked it must have been satanic, and was trying to get closer to its leader. Make of it what you will, but not an hour into my stay in this city I had decided it was a strange place.

That night I had my very first crawfish, and was instructed on how to consume it.

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I made a huge mess, but I actually thought it was pretty good. I saw a few people order platters of them. I wouldn’t say no to splitting one with someone, as it turns out.

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So far, the food I’ve had here is pretty delicious. I wasn’t lied to about that. I’m currently in this funky little breakfast cafe that functions a bit like a cafeteria. Mostly I’m here because they advertise free wifi, and I don’t have wifi set up in my apartment yet, but the food is actually pretty delicious (despite the fact that my “fresh fruit” came in a pre-wrapped dish…).

My apartment is adorable. It comes with air conditioning (yay!), a tiny office nook, and a bedroom that’s almost as large as the living room. I even bought a little “dragon tree” from IKEA so it would look more lived-in. But it’s a cute little spot, even though I have to live very minimalist while I’m here (two and a half months isn’t long enough to be worth really settling in, especially when you don’t have a car to haul everything back in).

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The bathtub is also enormous enough to make bubble baths a possibility. I already bought the bubbles for it. Oh, and did I mention it has 2 pools and is a gated community? I’m like a poor person living in a rich person’s body!

While I am here, I will have very little school work to do, though I will be working something like an 8-5 job. This means that I’ll have evenings and weekends to do what I want. Hopefully, this means more writing and definitely more reading is in my near future! Honestly, this is probably the part of this adventure that I am most excited about. But I’m also looking forward to seeing what my future after grad school might look like. This heat and humidity will take some getting used to though!

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XRD

In which I try to explain X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), as I understand it. Or, Look! I’m doing real science! This is what I’ve been focusing on the last few weeks, and therefore haven’t got the energy to come up with something else to talk about. Our XRD machine looks like this:

xrd

XRD is a tool used to determine the identity of minerals in a sample (of sandstone, for example) by way of bombarding a sample with X-Rays to determine the crystalline materials (in my case, minerals) present. Due to the mineral’s distinct crystal structure, the X-rays (not light) will diffract, or bounce off, of the different minerals at different angles, producing a diffractogram. This pattern, which is usually a mix of a bunch of different minerals in one rock, is recorded with XRD software, and then the composition of the sample can be interpreted from the diffractogram (there’s a photo of this below).

But before you can do all that, you have to prepare the sample. You don’t need much, about 3 grams will do.

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Then you have to put the sample through a ball mill to CRUSH it into POWDER! The ball mill is basically just a zirconia vial with two little zirconia balls inside. You put the sample inside with the balls, strap it into this contraption:

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close the lid, and turn it on. The whole thing will rattle around inside for a few minutes and then your sample is powder. The actual crushing of the rock only takes a few minutes, but the cleaning process (which is basically the same, but instead of putting your rock sample in the vial, you put some boring silica sand inside) takes just as long if not longer. Plus, once it’s clean and you have to move on to the next sample, you must “season” the vial with very tiny pieces of the next sample. Luckily you can just do other stuff while the machine is running, but it’s still quite time consuming.

At any rate, once your sample is crushed into powder, you have to very, VERY carefully put it in a sample holder for the XRD so that the powder has a perfectly flat surface.

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See? Look at that beautiful smooth surface! I did that. All by myself. Apologies for not having a photo of the tools I used to make this happen, but there were several. And if this surface has even one crack in it? You have to start over. Luckily you can reuse the sample over and over again, so it’s not destructive, just extremely time-consuming.

So once all the  samples are in their holders, they go in this fancy rack thing.

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The rack gets locked into the XRD machine (see above, it goes right inside the door), and then you program it to run. The machine does it’s thing for a while, and the data is collected. The resulting diffractogram looks something like this:

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The peaks correspond to characteristic patterns of different minerals. Determining which they are require a little knowledge about the rock sample or an educated guess about what the minerals might be. This is the part I haven’t learned yet, but it boils down to a lot of trial and error.

There you have it, my quick and dirty summary of what X-Ray Diffraction is, and how you prepare samples for analysis. XRD machines do a lot more than what I’ve described here, but this is what I’m using it for. It’s been fun, but a little exhausting. So with that, I’m going to bed.

** Thank you to my fellow grad student for correcting my errors in this post – you know who you are! 🙂 **

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Next week I intend to have my life together enough to bring you my thoughts from Emerald City Comicon 2014 (and some photos!), so if you’re not interested in geology, feel free to stop reading now, I won’t be offended.

As a graduate student of geology, one is more often than not required to do some amount of field work. At the end of last summer, I was able to go out into field area and check it out. I was given a grand overview of the rocks out there, but at that point I hadn’t decided what I wanted to focus on yet. This time around, I know what to look for a little better.

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Unfortunately, my field area is still very much stuck in winter-mode this time of year. But I’m out here now because the vast majority of my summer will be spent on an internship with an oil company. So I thought I’d share with you what being out in my field area at the beginning of April is like.

First, I’d like to preface this by saying that the 3 days before I went out to the field were spent at Emerald City Comicon. I flew out there to visit family and see all my friends at ECCC. I was literally booked from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep all three days, and this was AFTER the hellish week that came before spring break. This insane amount of activity combined with being around 75,000 people all weekend resulted in me getting violently ill the evening I flew back home (nerds like me call this a form of con-plague). Great way to start off a week in the field, right?

My plane landed at midnight, I slept for a few hours, got up, was violently ill again, went to campus, and we started the five-hour drive to the field area. I slept the entire way. When we stopped for lunch I maybe ate 5 french fries. We made a few stops to look at rocks before we made it all the way into town, and for the most part I was able to keep my head together long enough to see what was in front of me. When we finally made it to the hotel, I basically decided to sleep for 13 hours while my advisor and my fellow grad student went to dinner. This turned out to be an excellent choice.

By the way, most often field work is not done from the comfort of a hotel room. Normally you go camping in your field area. But my rocks surround a city, and this time of year it still snows, so we opted for a hotel for the week. I would like to note that I am extremely lucky. I would also like to note that it was entirely my choice to jump right into the field after my trip to ECCC. I powered through the sick. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Truth.

The morning started out fine. It was cloudy, but not terribly awful – visibility was decent. We walked out to look at some rocks, and then we started to hike up a hill to look at more rocks, and then my 48 hours of eating next to nothing caught up to me. If you’ve never had REALLY low blood sugar, it’s like this: I felt super light-headed, standing was hard, and my vision had become a brown blur. I was rescued by a Cadbury’s fruit and nut bar, and later by a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

The following day was the first day I actually felt like a normal human being again. But, of course, that was the day the weather decided to be problematic. We set out to look at what we thought were the first paleoflow indicators (structures in sedimentary rocks that tell us the direction the water flowed during deposition) in my special green sand, only to find that they were in a different sandstone altogether, deposited on top of my green sandstone.

But then it started snowing. And it didn’t really stop.

My rocks are dangerous when wet.

So what do you do when the weather goes south while trying to do field work? You have some coffee. And you wait. And then you go back to your hotel and you wait some more, and procrastinate and try to do some work.

Our final day in the field was far more successful. The sun was shining, and we were able to walk around on my rocks! They were super green, it was great. But it turns out the citizens of the city like to abuse my rocks. They are covered in graffiti, and we found the carcasses of two cars that dove off a cliff above. So if you are so inclined to use spray paint on rocks, take a moment to think about the sad future geologist who will come across your “art” and see only paint covering their rocks.

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We walked around the cliffs for a while, and came upon a cave, the overhang of which was COVERED in cross-bedded structures. We were in the shoreface (!)(where the coastline interacts with the beach next to an ocean or sea). So much excitement! We found paleoflow indicators in my funky green sand! But then we walked around a corner and realized that when you’re out of the shadow of a ravine, the sand wasn’t green. It was, once again, the sand on top of my green sand.

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That was false alarm #2. If I am really lucky, sometime in the next few months I will find paleoflow indicators in my sandstone. But I won’t lie, that was pretty disappointing.

We spent the afternoon doing what my advisor called “urban geology.” Basically, it means we drove around, climbed tall buildings, and took photos of cliff faces (so we can later follow contacts between rock units in photomosaics). I got to use a fancy camera.

So my point in telling this story is just that I love actually doing geology. Mostly I wrote this for my family and friends who might be curious about my graduate school life, so I hope this was a good taste. I head back out to the field briefly at the end of the month for a field trip with my advisor and his class. Super excited! 😀

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