Monday, February 16, 2015

Grow Your Food and Eat It Too

Now that my semester is up and running more smoothly, I've been given a few seconds to write a blog update (finally!) about what I've been up to lately.

The first large portion of my time has been taken up by applying for jobs. It's like having a whole other class with the time and effort I've been putting into searching for openings, writing cover letters and submitting applications. I don't want to go into too much detail about how everything is going, but overall I'm feeling positive about the process as a whole.

The second large portion of my time is, obviously, classes. This semester has felt pretty surreal so far simply because it's my last one. As you might've read in my last post, I have two classes with labs (genetics and aquaponics), a cooking class, and an online sustainable agriculture class (that has yet to start). The cooking class has turned out to be one of the most interesting as I've never studied the human consumption side of food past selling it to them at a farmers market stand. I'm excited that I'm finally learning a whole other side to the food system from the perspective of a consumer and cook, than just a producer/grower. Just a few classes and weeks worth of reading has started to change my outlook on food. Because of my work on an organic vegetable farm, I've long been of the opinion that one should eat more locally, include more whole vegetables in their diets and try to understand where their food comes from. But now I'm starting to add things to that philosphy that don't just benefit the environment, but also benefit my health. Changing my normal pasta, rice and other wheat products from refined to whole-wheat is something I'm slowly starting to do. As I run out of the refined products that I've subsisted on, I'm starting to replace them with the new products.

One of my cooking challenges, a meal I usually eat with proportions as set out
by the Harvard Healthy Plate guidelines.

These fixes probably seem like no-brainers for a lot of you. But the fact is, many people my age eat white rice, white bread, white pasta, you name it simply because it seems like the "normal" type of those products to eat. Most of us grew up eating it. I mainly ate wheat bread growing up (thanks Mom!) so that was never an issue for me, but when it came to other products like pasta and tortillas, I didn't really give it much thought as I grabbed that white flour tortilla bag off the shelf at the grocery store. I've been reading some pretty interesting things for class that made me realize that I grew up in the "low-fat" era. The USDA and other health officials started the "Fat is Bad" trend, so we started eating more carbs. I, and the rest of my generation, are the product of that. But learning not all fat is bad is another part of this class. Fat from fish, olive oil, and nuts is a great thing to have in your diet.

Probably the most interesting thing I've read so far is the free first chapter of a book called "Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy" which calls out the failings of the USDA's food pyramid and, right away, debunks some of the myths we've been living with in our food system for my entire life. In short, the food pyramid leaves out some key information that we have done without for years. An example of this is the three servings of dairy per day to combat the low amount of calcium that Americans consume. The truth is, most Americans get more calcium per day than they need and there are cheaper, more effective ways to supplement calcium if you're someone who doesn't get enough. The fact that we're eating too much dairy is somewhat scary to me because I drink a lot of milk. Granted, I drink skim milk which is much better for a person than whole, or 2%, but I always thought that my high milk intake was a good thing. I grew up being told that. So now that I'm reading this classes literature, I'm not so sure.

See the dilemmas? I invite you to read it for yourself and see what you think. I certainly had a few mindset shifts after reading this and several other articles. You can find the link here. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Final Semester

Today I started my last semester of college. Pretty crazy looking back over this blog and realizing how long it's actually been since I started writing. I'm going to have to really push myself to power through this semester then I'll be officially done with school. I'm also in the process of big-kid job hunting, so that's a whole other new element to life right there. I'm only going to bore you with a post about my classes today, as I do at the beginning of every new semester.

My class load is relatively light this semester, due mostly to the fact that I don't need many more classes or credits to graduate. Technically I've had enough credits to graduate for a while now, but have not completed several of the required classes for my major or minor. 

The only class I've had so far is my Aquaponics course. This course is designed to be an experiential learning course and it's the first time the University has ever offered it. Hopefully one outcome of this course will be a publication, most likely in ebook form, that has results of group experiments that will be conducted during the course of the semester. We'll be trying several different types of aquaponics set-ups so hopefully I'll have a blog post or two about those in the future.

The second regular class I have is Plant Genetics. This one, frankly, scares me a little. It's one of the more difficult of the Hort courses at this school and, on top of everything, I really don't think I'll be using the things I learn in it once I'm done with the class. Since I'm more interested in the human aspect of horticulture and am in no way intending on breeding plants, this isn't really something I'm looking forward to. But we'll see how it goes. I'm trying not to be terribly negative about it since I haven't even gone to the class yet.

My third class, Intro to Sustainable Agriculture, is an online course I'm taking solo. It's the final course needed for my Sustainable Agriculture minor and, thankfully, the professors made an exception for me to complete it online because I wasn't able to take it during the semester it was offered (it conflicted with a course required for my Horticulture major). My guess is that it will be a lot of reading and writing reflections, which I can handle no problem. 

The last class is my one-credit cooking lab I'm taking through the Food Science department. It's called Cooking on a College Budget and, even though I'll be leaving college in May, knowing how to cook on a budget will be handy for years after. This is really my "fun class" since it's not required that I take it for any reason. I'm simply doing it for my own enjoyment. 

And that's a brief rundown. I'll probably have plenty of posts about classes later. I'll also be posting lots of pictures and short observations to Instagram and Twitter so be sure to check those out!

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

A Northern Cardinal in the yard. One of my favorite backyard birds.

Now that I've returned to the land of snow and cold, I've had a bit of time to think on New Year's Resolutions. I've never been good at these. Most years, I don't even make any, or they're very generic. A few of the ones I came up with this year are pretty generic or easily attainable as well, but I like them all the same.

1. Taking time out of the day to do something calming that helps get my mind off stressful things. Writing, reading, listening to music, or anything that could help me care for myself mentally. With my last semester coming up, I'm sure I'll have my share of freak-out or anxiety-ridden moments and having some way to combat that will be necessary.

2. I hope to write on this blog at least once per week or, during really busy times, at least once every two weeks. There will be parts of the semester where updating will be difficult or I'll have simply too much schoolwork for updating, so I wanted to keep this realistic.

3. Break 150 species on my birding Life List. I'm currently at 84 species so I hope this goal will be somewhat easily surpassable. I don't really care too much about numbers with birding, but I set it mostly because I want to keep myself motivated in this hobby.

4. Graduate from college. This one is sorta a no-brainer to have on the list.

5. Keep myself healthy, whatever that entails. Exercise, eating better, etc. I'd like to have several meals a week that I prepare from scratch and try to cut out more processed foods from my diet. Being a college student, it's often very difficult not to eat processed food simply because a boxed meal is faster and less work to prepare during times where schoolwork and other things make me busy. But I'll have less things going on in the evenings this coming semester so setting aside more time to cook will be great. I'm also taking a cooking class through the university so hopefully that will teach me more techniques to use that will make cooking easier. The university rec center also has fitness classes it offers that I've utilized before and greatly enjoyed. Hopefully some fit into my schedule this year.

6. Keep in touch with people from my hometown more. I'm dismal at doing this and I always feel bad about it once I come home and see everyone once again.

7. Try to integrate more environmentally friendly practices into my daily life. I found an excellent list here.  And this definitely includes growing more of my own food this summer.

And that's that! Hopefully I'll be able to stick to it. And posting this somewhere public will hopefully keep me more accountable. I'd love to hear about any New Year's Resolutions that any of you have. I always find sharing not only makes me follow through with a goal more, but makes me more excited about it as well!

Birdwatching on the top of Mount Marquette.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Florida Trip

On December 29th, I flew out of Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with 300 other crazy band kids and headed to the warm, muggy land of Orlando, Florida. When we landed, all you could hear were the shouts of joy as people who had gotten used to below-freezing temperatures felt 70 degrees against their skin again. As the Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing in the Citrus Bowl on the first of the new year, we were all there to cheer them on and provide the general pepping up any college sporting event needs.

Over the course of our three days there, we marched two parades, played at several pep rallies, spent an evening at Downtown Disney or Universal CityWalk, spend New Year's Eve at Seaworld, rehearsed several times, and, of course, marched at the football game. The end of the trip brought new meaning to the phrase we use a during our pregame show: "And down. Stop. Breathe." While we got drizzled on a few times, it didn't all-out rain much and the weather stayed pleasantly mild, albeit a bit muggy.

Shamu stadium at SeaWorld

We also did a lot of sitting on a buses as we shuttled from place to place. I enjoyed looking out the window and taking in the greenery and wildlife that was persistently abundant, despite all the development and human mayhem going on around it. There was a ditch with a small pond just outside the hotel and I saw five species while simply sitting on a bus, waiting to leave for a parade. Pretty cool stuff. We also ended up parking by a lake near the Citrus Bowl stadium and I saw six species there just walking around it to the stadium. The plant life was also incredibly diverse. There was such diversity in every garden I saw and, while many things were going through their dormancy period, there were still some things flowering. I can't imagine what it's like in spring and summer. The air must be full of the smell of tropical flowers. Not sure I could handle the summer temperatures though. I'm too much of a northerner that it might do me in. 

White Ibises

We also got to spend New Years in Florida and spending it with a group of people I've come to cherish so much made me incredibly thankful for the opportunities being a member of the marching band has given me. This trip was the last time I performed with that group and it was incredibly bittersweet. But what a great way to end it. Only thing that could've made it better would have been if our football team had won the game. Ah well. 

Citrus Bowl Stadium

All the amazing Gopher fans who came out to cheer on the team.

But now it's back to reality and, thankfully, I still have until the 20th off of school, meaning I'm back home in the Upper Peninsula for a while to enjoy my last winter break ever. It may be cold here, but spending time at home is worth it regardless of weather. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to anyone out there reading this. I hope your holidays were merry and bright! Sadly, here in Minnesota, our Christmas wasn't very white. We usually have a good amount of snow by now, but a warm weekend after a few weeks of now snow left us with dull browns and greens. Thankfully, that meant no ice for those who were out and about on the holidays to skid and slip on. I'm sure there were a lot less car accidents and sprained accidents because it was so dry.

I'm back in Minnesota for the time being as I've been spending Christmas with my mom's side of the family. I also get the awesome opportunity to fly down to Orlando, Florida for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl soon! It'll be my last bowl game trip with the Minnesota Marching Band and I'm SO PUMPED that we get to go somewhere warm and exciting. Hopefully the Gophers can pull off the win over Mizzou. That would just be the icing on the cake. Once I'm back from that, I'll spend a good amount of the month of January back home in Michigan before finally coming back to Minnesota for my last semester of college.

I try not to think about next semester too much. It kind of ruins vacation when I worry about school too much. I think being busy during school makes it really hard for my brain to "turn off" during vacation, so I always feel like I need to be doing something. I have to sort of train myself to turn my brain off sometimes. I think that is going to be one of my New Year's resolutions is to learn how to just stop and chill out. It'll probably help my sanity in the long run, especially as I come up on college graduation.

Since I probably won't post again until after the New Year, I hope everyone has a lovely New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter Wonderland

It's great being back home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula especially because when it snows, it actually retains the look of a winter wonderland for a while. Minnesota is blustery, knocking snow off the trees soon after a storm, if not during. And living in a city means that things are brown and slushy almost instantly after a new snowfall. Not so at my house. Snow looks like it's supposed to. Pristine and beautiful.

Dad and I took our family's dog, Molly, out for a walk to gather some branches for outdoor decoration I've had in mind for a few of my mom's ornaments. She has so many that they don't all fit on the Christmas tree anymore! Across the road there's no development, just trees and the ghost of an old railroad grade that used to run there. Down the hill and through the woods to the sparkling river we went. Molly runs at full tilt, no matter where we're going. I don't know what we'd do with her if we didn't live by the woods where she could run, off-leash.

I forget how low the sun sits in the sky around this time. It was mid-afternoon but the sun still seemed low to me. But it made for some lovely photographs of the light coming through ice and snow coated branches. The cedars are one of my favorite trees. Evergreens in general I have come to miss greatly in the mostly-deciduous Twin Cities.

After collecting branches, we went back to the house and took the car to town to pick up some suet for the birds. Our chickadees sure are spoiled.

Feeling that the dog needed some more exercise (when doesn't she need exercise is the real question) we drove to the beach, a stretch we know to be usually empty. Perfect for throwing her tennis ball. She always astounds me, leaping into the freezing, hypothermia-inducing water after the prized orb. Dad only throws it there a couple times over the course of our stay, just to get her clean. The rest of the throws are land-based, getting her body-temperature up as she tears down the beach, flinging water and sand in every direction.

The waves are still high, but not as high as Monday when we'd attempted to come to this beach. Molly had to have been disappointed when we found the beach being totally eaten by waves. There was no tennis ball chasing for her that day. But today I found some gorgeous aftermath of the high waves, some broken branches covered in a mesmerizing membrane of ice. It caught the sun in such interesting ways and enhanced the color of the wood beneath.

Unrelated to my ice and snow adventures, coming home meant harvesting out as much as I could carry from my plant propagation greenhouse, carting it home with me and offering it to mom. Peppers, tomatoes, basil, a poinsettia, and lots of other things put to good use.

Back in Minnesota, I left some perennials on the unheated steps that lead up to our upper duplex unit. I'm hoping I can get them to go dormant for the rest of the winter. The rosa rugosa my mom offered to take and I have a mum, a hardy hibiscus and a hydrangea that I'll have to find a home for. It might be a relatives house or just a bigger pot on my small porch this coming summer.