Sunday, June 2, 2013

Back in the water!

I was able to start the weekend by enjoying the glorious weather we had on Friday (sunny and 27C even on the coast!!) by slipping under the waves into the silent underwater world.
I was training a couple of new students in the lab to count and measure eelgrass. Both had never done it before so it was a great new experience for them and gave them a taste of what it to come with this summer's field work in July and August.
The big white things on their arms are the slates with the underwater paper and a small pencil attached. These armbands are extremely convenient since they stay out of the way but close at hand for recording data and you are less likely to lose it! Writing underwater with huge mitts on is very challenging. Although the most challenging part sometimes can be reading it when your are back on the surface!

Recreational and Scientific diving are VERY different. Usually you have your hands full of stuff, catch bags with the various tools, armbands, quadrats (see next photo) and anything else you might need to collect your samples/data. So getting used to controlling your buoyancy while handling all these tools requires practice and this is why we had a practice day and we will have at least one more before the official sampling begins!

The quadrat is a marine ecologists' most used tools. It is a 3 sided square of a specific size that you use to delineate and standardize your sampling area. It is always helpful to have it in bright colours not typically found underwater so that you can easily see it. This one is in white and red electrical tape to contrast with the eelgrass and the bottom. The white areas also delineate a smaller area that can be used to collect subsamples if needed. It is a very simple but essential piece of sampling equipment. The two divers above were counting and measuring the eelgrass plants in the white subset. We are planning a lot of field work this summer. I will be sure to take a lot of pictures of us working and the various tools we use to do our work!!

We also got to test our newly repaired research vessel! It worked beautifully and is ready for another season of research. This vessel has a long history with me and I am preparing a post about it.

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Dresser!

My parents arrived on Friday night. They are visiting for the week since my convocation is on Wednesday. I am so lucky that they decided to bring me some new (to me) bedroom furniture! We put in the new dresser and night tables on Saturday. So the bedroom went from having a small dresser and weathered lobster crate for my orchids. To having a long dresser and two small nightstands.
What a difference! Although there is more furniture, it feels more spacious and there is so much more storage space. I think it looks amazing! Thanks Mom and Dad! :)

Now we just need to paint, the light blue has got to go! We are thinking of doing colour washing but haven't decided yet on the colours...any suggestions on colours or techniques?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sewing Project

For years we have been struggling with roll up and horizontal binds in our living room and bedroom, respectively. They are a nightmare to deal with when there are a large number of plants, like orchids and palms, in front of the window. They always needed to be raised, not simply opened to allow enough light for the plants, leading us to never put them down...really what was the point. So, I decided to take on a medium sized (for me) sewing project and make curtains for the two rooms completely freehand...
These are in the living room and were the most complicated (and the first ones I made) because we decided to also put blackout fabric on the back so we could watch movies during the day (which happens occasionally on rainy weekends) and be in darkness.
We left enough space on the end of the rod (in both rooms) so the curtain could be drawn completely open to let in lots of light for the plants. Now it is much easier to open and close our curtains and we are no longer giving the neighbours a show!

Now that we have more time, our house is slowly changing on the inside and out. We are getting a new dresser for the bedroom today that will replace the one you see in this photo. It is much longer and less ornate (more my style). I can't wait to have a little more space! Then on to recovering our new (to us) kitchen chairs, the upstairs garden, painting the hallway...the list is long... I will keep you updated as the small-large projects unfold.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

To ALL the Mother's out there...


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spring Garden!

My new composter and expanded veggie garden got me all excited for the gardening season! Feeling that it was too early for planting, I was always told to wait until after the threat of the last frost has passed (end of May in Nova Scotia), I headed to the bookstore to pick up a book on backyard composting.
We had a composter in our backyard that previous tenants left behind years ago but we were really never successful at it so what better way to learn then to read about it before getting your hands dirty. One thing I have a really hard time with is resisting books. I LOVE books and I do eventually read them all! Sitting on the shelf beside the composting book was this book...
I sat in the bookstore looking at my books thinking about all of the issues we currently have with food. My thoughts turned back to the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both books my Michael Pollan and both AMAZING. Mainly I was thinking about where it comes from and how it is grown and the environmental impacts of it all. Even though I try to buy everything local and organic, it can be difficult in the dead of winter to get local I bought Niki's book (she is from Nova Scotia!) and vowed to give some of her ideas a try. So I quickly read the relevant sections on designing a garden, crop rotation and most importantly the section about plants themselves. To my surprise, she recommended planting some crops before the last frost! There are so many cold hardy plants, like broccoli, kholrabi, lettuce, spinach, kale, leeks, carrots and the list goes on that I made a garden plan and planted it on April 27th!
With a little care, like row covers, I am hoping to successfully grow all of these veggies! The strawberries and chives have been there for a couple of years but everything else is new, much of them new to me as a gardener! The poppies come from seeds from my grandmother's garden that my mom has kept growing since her passing in the 90's. They will give the garden some wonderful colour and bring me back to my youth at the cottage by the lake at the same time. I am planning to start a fall crop indoors in July (need to get a grow light set up...) and build a mini hoop tunnel to protect them into the winter. So far I have planted 4 rows of salad greens and this weekend will be planting the rest with some broadcast seeds in between many of the seedlings that are popping up! I also have a plant for a small A-frame to get some pole beans climbing and plant some more greens underneath to keep them going through the heat of the summer. Who knows if it will all work out but I will keep you posted. Here are some promising first signs...

Friday, May 3, 2013

What I did for the Earth on Earth Day

I know Earth Day was just over a week ago...but it did take me a couple of weekends to finish up the project. It all started on April 20th, when the Halifax Regional Municipality was selling HUGE, AWESOME compost bins for $25 to try to encourage more backyard composting. I was so in! So I stood in line for an hour and 40 mins in the freezing cold wind and fog with my hands stuffed in my pockets and my hood drawn around my face. I so wished I had another sweater on. Did I mention I was alone? I am sure if Diego had come with me we would have bailed after 15 mins and we would have never got this awesome composter!

The weather on the 21st took a turn for the better so I cleaned up the yard and installed the composter in the sunniest spot in our backyard, without taking precious recreational space. It is easy to access and I am so looking forward to the results!
 We also finally installed the rain barrel we had sitting in the backyard since last year. It will feed the side garden (see the hose?) that is always so dry and it looks nice at the front of the house. Here's hoping that it doesn't get pushed over by the drunk students that roam our streets. Speaking of side might not have noticed but we extended it another 3 ft giving us a total of 25 ft x 2 ft of full sun garden!
Here you can see the addition and the weeping hose (or whatever it is actually called) I put in to the whole garden and attached to the rain barrel. I put it in to encourage deeper roots and make my watering job easier with a lower impact on our drinking water resources. We have a backyard rain barrel in the works too... However, now that we have the rain barrel connected to the downspout... we just need it to rain!
What did you do for Earth Day?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Gourmet Salad

I made this salad last night and it was DELICIOUS. According to Diego it deserves the capital letters!
Sauteed onion and Apple Salad
1 medium onion cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
1 medium sized apple cored and sliced into half moons
1 head of kale or lettuce of your choice
Walnuts (to your liking)
Maple syrup
Blue cheese
3 tbsp Avocado oil (you could use olive or hazelnut oils)
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar (I used the PC brand Fig Balsamic)
1 pinch of salt

If you are using lettuce or another soft green, start with the next step. If you are using kale, wash it and slice it thinly. Then in a small jar or bowl combine the oil, vinegar and salt. Pour the dressing over the kale and mix thoroughly. This needs to sit for at least 30 mins for the kale to get soft. The kale will turn darker green and shiny when it softens.

In the meantime, sautee the onions in about a tablespoon of olive oil. When softened add the apples and sautee until the apples are golden on both sides and the onions are beginning to brown. Be sure to use an apple that won't fall apart (definitely no Macintosh!). I used a gala apple.
In another pan toast the walnuts on high heat until warm and golden brown. Once golden add about a tablespoon of maple syrup and turn down the heat to medium. Once all the liquid from the maple syrup has evaporated continue to toast the walnuts to get a nice sweet coating (about 5-8 more mins).

Once the onions and apples are ready, add the nuts to the pan and sautee for another minute or 2. Then add the warm ingredients on top of the kale. Crumble some blue cheese on top of the warm ingredients and cover the bowl with a plate or anything that will keep the heat in until the cheese is melted.
Once the cheese is melted, toss and serve. If you are using lettuce rather than kale add the dressing just before tossing. The tangy taste of the blue cheese is complimented by the sweetness of the apples and maple crusted walnuts!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Changes around our House.

As a gift to himself, Diego bought a rowing machine. For about 6 months he kept having to take it apart and stand it up in a "corner" of the living room. This was a hassle and less motivating to use so it was time to make some changes in the living room to accommodate this new machine.
This was no small feat! We live in a 700 sq.ft apartment and our living room is on the small side. This machine is about 2 ft shorter than the length of our living room and requires a 9 ft by 4 ft footprint to be used! Lucky for us it can be be tucked away. For 8 years we had a large fish tank in 2 corners of the living room. 
We got rid of this one about 2 years ago when I moved it to my office. It was a 75 gallon (that I have since upgraded to a 90 gallon) full of cichlids. It was actually pretty cool since we had our TV hidden in the cabinet below the tank. At the time we had 4 large tanks in our house and it was time to start decreasing the number of the more labour intensive tanks in our home.
This tank was also a 75 gallon tank and house many inhabitants over the years. This is an old photo (2006) but you get the idea. As you can see it was blocking about half of the window and since it is east facing it doesn't get a lot of light because of the giant trees on our street, it was blocking a lot of natural light. Once the last fish died, the tank sat for almost 2 years with only plants in it to keep the maintenance at a minimum during my last year of PhD. Finally the light fixture stopped working which to me was a sign.
So I moved the tank to my work since I have a large teaching lab with lots of counter space and huge windows. The plants are much happier and I just bought some freshwater shrimp and fish for it. The students love it!

All of these changes made room for us to rearrange our furniture to accommodate the rowing machine. The corner with the TV had Tank #1 and Tank #2 was where the bookcase is now. The main part of the rowing machine is under the Mexican blanket. Not only has this change given us more natural light (see the plants...!) but it also makes the room feel more spacious. Now the machine is much easier to access and gives us ample space to use which has motivated both of us to do more often. We just swing the back end (under the TV) out to the middle of the room when we want to use it. You might think it looks like an eyesore, but it actually fits in okay with our decor and it can also be taken apart and moved if we need more space use to the hide-a-bed or just a larger crowd. So although, we have gotten rid of some of the more comforting aspects of our home, when a hobby starts to become more work than pleasure it is time to make some changes. Like I said I still have the tanks at work but I actually get to enjoy them more there than I did at home because they are easier to maintain so it was a good move. Not to mention, the students get to enjoy them too!

Any changes around your house lately?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Easter on the road in Nova Scotia.

Okay so I recant what I said in my last post. March did come in like a lion (huge snow storm on March 1) and go out like a lamb... Easter weekend was sunny and upwards of 10 degrees Celsius! Diego and I decided to take the weekend and hit the road and explore some place in Nova Scotia that we have never been before. So we settled on Cape Sable Island. This is a small island off the southermost tip of Nova Scotia. Its really almost a sand bar for all its magnificent beaches.
So why would we go to an island of many beaches in March you ask? It has everything to do with this little goose...
Image by Mike Baird

These are Brant Geese or Branta bernicula. They pass through the Maritimes on their way North at this time of year, so they only stay for a short time in March. I know, I am not a birder or ornithologist, so why am I so interested?...other than being a biology nerd that is... these geese have a very special diet; they eat the marine plant eelgrass (Zostera marina)! Which if you have been following my blog, know that I was studying this particular plant for my doctoral thesis and it continues to be the subject of my research. Click here for more information on eelgrass itself and here for information on its distribution. So you might be thinking that I must have seen a lot of these geese throughout all of my many years of research BUT in actual fact, I had never seen one. There was a disease outbreak in the 1930s that wiped 90% of the eelgrass beds on both sides of the North Atlantic that in most places took more than 30 years to recover! The consequence, a collapse in the population of Brant geese and those that remained changed their migratory route inland instead of up the coast to take advantage of food in farmers fields...which means they no longer come near Halifax. So this was my chance to see these amazing birds that act like cows, increasing the productivity of eelgrass beds by cropping the tops of the plants but leaving the roots and rhizomes intact!

So off we went with our binoculars, maps, hiking trail guides and food for the weekend to stay at a little cottage on the ocean. Did I say binoculars...? Arriving at Cape Sable Island Cottages after more than 2 hours in the car I realized that we left our binoculars at home. So I said; "How hard can it really be, there are supposed to be hundreds.". In the end we spent 2 days looking for this elusive goose and managed only to see them at a distance or flying overhead. I am obviously not a birder! Oh! but the beaches and marshes we saw looking for them, were totally worth it!
 Did I say it was 10 degrees Celsius? It was when you were out of the icy wind! As you can see in the photos, the beaches seem endless and the reason is because the tide was low and the tides here are influenced by the Bay of Fundy which has the highest tides in the world! Although the tidal range is not a large as the head of the Bay of Fundy (13-15 m), it is double (2-4 m) than near Halifax (1-2 m). So when combined with a pretty flat (or low slope) beach there is a lot of the beach that is exposed. We also spent some time enjoying the cottage, hiking and visiting the surrounding communities. 
Easter Sunday Sunrise.
 Morning coffee and afternoon wine in the warmth of the sun and sheltered from the icy wind by the cottage.
Rail trail through the historic Town of Shelburne. They are mallards...not Brant geese.

Overall, we had a wonderful Easter!! In addition to not seeing the geese close up, there were a number hiking trails and beaches that we didn't get to so we have lots of reasons to go back next year...but this time with binoculars!
Yes, we have matching boots...and I have a smiley face!

I hope you had a great Easter weekend!

***I am not being paid to advertise the cottages, they were just lovely, clean and had a great view and want you to know about them if you are ever down that way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Equinox

The old saying in like a lion out like a lamb doesn't seem to apply to March this year. At least not in Nova Scotia! Today is the Spring Equinox and we just got 10 cm of heavy wet white stuff mixed with ice pellets and lots of wind. Sounds more like out like a lion to me...
We even got a 1/2 snow day! It is very rare for the University to close, so when it does you know it is bad...

I remember snow days as a kid in Ontario. Unlike here in Nova Scotia where they cancel school at the thought of snow, the only thing cancelled at my school were the buses. This meant that the teachers who could come in would and were paid to essentially babysit the kids that could make it to school. This meant that parents could drop their kids off if they chose but also all the kids that could walk, did. I cannot imagine all of the days off parents have to take in NS just because of school cancellations. Anyhow, snow days consisted of playing outside, board games, card games, music, fun science experiments, indoor gym, reading in the library and even music. Not all the teachers had to be there. Grade levels were combined and activities organized for everyone to have fun. They were the best days because they consisted of having fun with your friends at school ALL DAY and not just at recess. My snow day today consisted of shoveling snow and now posting here! Fun but perhaps not as exciting as building a snow fort and having a snowball fight with the English school across the ditch.

Despite the ugliness outside, there is some true beauty happening inside our house. I bought this orchid the other day because of its stunning colour! Sadly, it is not natural BUT it will have nice white flowers next time it blooms.
 In the mean time I will enjoy their turquoise and dark blue hues. Another of my orchids is putting out flower stalks for the third time in 12 months! I am looking forward to the 20+ blooms it will produce in the next couple of weeks. I also discovered another nice surprise the other day...
One of my cacti was budding! This beautiful orange flower opened yesterday and there is at least one more on the way!
I noticed that the heather on campus is blooming as were the crocuses. I am dreaming of gardening season!
In the mean time, I hope you are all warm and safe and enjoying the spring equinox, inside or outside!