Thursday, June 12, 2014

Snowpocalypse + Icepocalypse 2014: A Retrospective

It was a cold winter... just how I like it. I've enjoyed a cool spring season, only having just turned on the A/C now in June, and I thank the winter for that. We got a few snows in the South, and not just light dustings! Here's my car to prove it.
Okay, so that's not that impressive.. how about a snowman?
Alright, so there's no snow on the driveway he's sitting on, and the Jaguar he's blocking has been snow-graffiti'd. What about this snow that stuck on the road for multiple days??

At the very start of it all, I visited Toccoa Falls, and even IT was frozen over (or at least the water in its pool)!

That's all the photographic evidence I have to show for our multiple snows. There were lots of carefully thought-out drawings on cars (as the one on the Jaguar) and some guy named Richard wrote his nickname in the snow on top of one of the UGA buildings. Fortunately, I didn't experience the Great Atlanta Snag, wherein the highways iced over and completely scrambled rush-hour traffic. (Atlanta traffic is hellish enough on its own, as is driving on ice. Put them together, and it's a perfect recipe for utter chaos and disaster.) I'm also fortunate that there's no photo evidence of me sledding down a hill in a laundry basket.

The cost of gas to heat the house was out the roof, so I set onto some crafty projects wherein I sewed old t-shirts into rugs. The moral of this story is that I would like more winters like this one, and I am happy that I chose to live within walking distance of my office, perilous though the walk was a few days.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shoals of the Skull

... or rather, of the Scull. (I suppose it has a slightly different meaning when you spell it that way.)

I'm playing a little bit of catch-up with these next few posts, so the pictures will not reflect the weather we're experiencing in the South right now (90 degrees and humid). Consider it a happy little flashback to the Winter of the Polar Vortex.

Anyways, Evan and I ventured down to Scull Shoals, a former mill town, now ghost town located at the very end of a State Forest road. It was quite cold, and the stream through the town was mostly frozen.

There are remnants of the company store, power plant, bridges and foundations, and the chimney of the manager's house. (Fun fact: the manager's well was located just downhill of his outhouse! Hmm.. cholera much?)

There were lots of interesting old trees, and likely some great old variety wildflowers this spring, though we didn't verify that. Something crazy that I saw for the first time ever was a Browse Line: in the following picture, you can see the distinct line in the trees below which there's no greenery left because the deer have eaten it all to that height. This phenomenon was fairly eery for me when I first saw it.

And plenty of lichen for Evan to add to his Wild Man costume, which is perpetually in the works. But more on that another day.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Water, water everywhere!

Last semester I took a Water Resource Economics class and did a final project that looked at the role of water meters in reducing water use. My inspiration for this project was hearing that the Republic of Ireland is just now starting to install water meters for the purpose of charging people based on their volumetric consumption. Now, there are many wealthy countries that only charge flat fees for water, that is, not based on volume used, but Ireland is one of the few places that did not charge for water, period. Water in Ireland has been free, a service provided to its citizens, but relatedly, Ireland also has one of the highest water use rates in Europe.

So I decided to look at what happens when consumers pay for the amount of water they actually use. I found 24 case studies wherein water use before and after water meter installation was reported, from countries on 5 continents, and I'd like to share some of the maps that I made to correspond with that data. (If you're interested in particular cases, I'd be glad to share my paper and/or sources.)

First are the maps showing daily per capita use and daily household use, depending on what the paper provided measurements for.

And the reductions in water use after meters were installed:

Interestingly, the greatest reductions occurred in Yerevan, Armenia, though there are many reasons behind the different consumption and reduction rates. Other noteworthy sites included Hamburg, Germany; several sites in Colombia; British Columbia; California; and Isle of Wight, UK.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


In September, we had a freaky-looking dark orange-red caterpillar take up residence by our front door and start to cocoon itself. I opted to take photo evidence of the transformation and string the pictures together.

For several days, the white chrysalis just sat there, then went from white to indigo overnight, and within less than 24 hours, the gulf fritillary butterfly within had emerged and taken flight.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Becoming Ace Ventura

... Pet Detective.

Last week was full of adventures for my 2 cats. From run-ins with territorial neighbor cats to getting stuck 10 feet up a tree, it was not a dull week, but then it took a turn for the even less-dull when my little girl Raya went missing.

Long story short, kitty cat didn't come in after a mere 2 hours of being outside and still didn't show up 24 hours later. I decided she must be stuck somewhere nearby, met the neighbors, and started snooping around their houses. I struck gold at a creepy house just behind mine when I called out kitty's name into a dusty window and heard her meow from inside. Shocked, I pushed open the unlocked door, grabbed her, and ran home, reeling with thoughts of the weirdos who must have taken her captive and were keeping her locked up. (The thought honestly crossed my mind that They were planning on eating her.)

Turns out that house hasn't had anyone living in it for about 4 or 5 months.

... But the bottom floor where she got stuck has a communal laundry facility that people go in and out of frequently, so she must have wandered in and gotten herself closed in when someone didn't realize she was inside.

Case closed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wet, Cold American Summer: Florida Edition

Yup, it was just that. The Family Florida Trek happened as per usual but without the usual summer weather. It wasn't particularly hot, and there were some pretty severe thunderstorms nearly each day.

Not the usual Florida Afternoon Showers, mind you, but black skies with crazy lightning and lots of rain (plus two bozos who -only- went swimming in the ocean while it was storming). Why put an end to the summer of non-stop rain that pummelled the Southeast this year?
Fortunately, it didn't rain -all- the time.. only a lot of it.
On the upside of it being cooler and cloudier than usual, I didn't broil like a lobster at all and almost completely avoided getting sunburned, so I guess that's something to be grateful for.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

Cead mealle faillte! A hundred thousand welcomes from the heart of the Gaelic world. This post is a follow-up about my recent trip to Ireland, with some of my recommendations of places to see and things to do, with particular relevance to outdoor-minded folks and/or those traveling on a budget.

First up, Dublin, or Dubh Linn (Dark Water). There are just some things you have to do in Dublin, regardless of how much money it costs or how "touristy" it is, and one of those things is seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Intact, beautiful books that are over 1200 years old? Well worth the admission price of 8euro. The Guinness Storehouse tour is fun too, with a free pint served at the Gravity Bar, which has a 360 degree view of Dublin (nice when it's not foggy and rainy).

But the coolest and most cost-effective thing you can do in Dublin is to take a free walking tour starting out from the Dublin Castle. They last 3-4 hours, and you'll get tons of information about culture, history, language, and even local stereotypes from a local guide. (Mine was James, who was chock-full of knowledge.) There's no better way to explore the city, and you'll meet some fun people while you're at it.

Next, grab a Bus Eirann coach to the west coast of Ireland, to Galway or Doolin. From Doolin, you can do a 6-mile long cliff walk to the Cliffs of Moher, which is only slightly miserable when it rains the whole time. You can catch a bus back if you're so inclined, or walk back once you make it to the visitor centre.

While in Doolin, it's best to visit Gus O'Connor's Pub, where there's delicious food and amazing "trad" sessions EVERY night. Oh yeah, and the music is free, with musicians getting together to jam out with traditional Irish tunes. There are 2 other pubs in Doolin, but I preferred the atmosphere of O'Connor's.

Head to Killarney as your jumping-off point to explore the Ring of Kerry. From Killarney, I did a 10 mile walk to the Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park. I also went horseback riding in the park, which was the priciest activity of the trip, but rather fun despite my horse's constant obsession with snacking.
The best day activity in Killarney is to rent a bike for a little under 13euro and bike to the Gap of Dunloe. It's a 50km trip to get to the Gap and back, circling around the lakes, with some travel on bike paths, some through the National Park, and a little bit along the Irish highway (ON the highway). It's all pretty safe, and if you take it casually, you can get some spectacular views and really enjoy yourself. Start off biking around the north side of the lakes, west out of Killarney to Kate Kearney's cottage. Then bike through the Gap of Dunloe to Lord Brandon's cottage and back along the south of the lake.

After you've done a few miles on the highway, you can stop at Dinis Cottage for some really tasty food and snacks. This cottage was a saving grace for me, because at that point in my bike ride, I was out of water, dehydrated, and confused that I was biking on the highway, and so I think of it as a sort of Irish Shangri-la.

Cork, the next city... probably my least favorite of all the locales, but it did have some gems tucked away, including the St. Anne's Church / Bells of Shandon near the hostel I stayed in and a tasty fish-and-chips shop called the Fish Wife that had some crazy tasty curry chips. And a pub called Pat Buckley's where they show you how to / let you pour your own pint Guinness or Beamish!

In lieu of spending time exploring Cork too much, I spent a full day at the grounds of the Blarney Castle, which gets a bad rap for being super touristy, but it's a truly lovely way to spend a day. Blarney is really easy to get to by bus, and you'll get dropped off about a 3 minute walk from the admission gates to the castle. With a druid garden, arboretum, fern garden, and poison garden, you could explore all day long and not get bored. Add a picnic and kissing the Blarney Stone and you've got yourself quite a trip.

(Note the tiny spot of light a few feet above the top window of the castle: that's where the Blarney Stone is, on the underside of the wall. What many people don't realize until they get to the ramparts of the castle is that to kiss the stone, you have to slide out on your back over this 4-story-high hole to reach the stone!)

Added bonus for the castle grounds is the oh-so-interesting Poison Garden, which had a marijuana plant casually hanging out in the middle of it!

I found the Irish bus system very user-friendly and inexpensive, though it is worth noting that most coaches don't seem to have a bathroom on board even for multi-hour trips. And as for food, I ate out at a few places, but since I don't like eating dinner alone, I visited grocery stores a lot and cooked a good bit of my meals. I was able to use my credit card at a few places, but Ireland seems to run best on a cash-only system, so I made two withdrawals from ATMs, one at the Dublin airport and one from a Bank of Ireland, and just carried cash. A very easy and safe place to visit, whether you're traveling alone or with friends!