My personal PhD Comic

If you’ve been in grad school and you’ve done a PhD, or even if you haven’t, there is a very good chance you’ve come across the wonderfully entertaining comic “Piled Higher and Deeper” – phdcomics.com (a link to this site is on the side bar of my homepage)

Entertaining? ‘YES’. True? ‘Fraid so’. Why else would a comic become so famous and renound if it weren’t true?

It’s strangely comforting to think that there are others out there facing the same challenges, riding the same emotional roller coaster and carrying the same self-doubt. And it’s all captured and archived into a fantastic comic strip. As I prepare to become a full time cast member in the stories depicted in “Piled Higher and Deeper”, I have to admit, it’s kind of scary.

Over a painstaking couple of weeks I slowly began packing up my entire life into green and blue Rubbermaid containers. I made several trips to Goodwill, sold a few items on kijiji.ca and found storage for the rest. People were saying, “Aren’t you soooo excited!?”, with which I replied, “YES, totally…..but I don’t get to bring my couch (sad face)”. Moving away from somewhere familiar to somewhere different is HARD. Grad students are doing it all the time, moving from one place to the next. If they are professional movers, they have learned well and usually can fit everything they own into one car. Picking up and moving to the next opportunity is a way of life.

Luckily for me, with the spring thaw and an overworked city drainage system, my basement drain backed up and left me a pleasant surprise in my basement. As I was gagging and trying to explain to the landlord what was happening, I realized, change is good and it’s time to move forward! Let’s pack up the car, I’m moving.

Copyright of phdcomics.com
Copyright of phdcomics.com

 

 

The Nest Search Challenge

Imagine you’re isolated from civilization, no cell, no internet…no hydro, and you’ve been away from all things familiar for a few weeks, what do you want more than anything else in the world? Duh! Junk Food!

I remember being in Northern Ontario almost 45 minutes from any small town as a field tech one summer. Even going into town wasn’t that much of a highlight because all you would find there was a phone booth, some train tracks and a post office where your mom takes pity on you and sends you delightful little snacks or crafts (aka currency for the isolated).

It was only so long before a colleague and I found an excellent reason to find a larger town- we needed some field gear (I think it was rope or something) and we made the serious treck to said town. The holy grail of landmarks appeared, those wonderful golden arches, providing some of the most heinous food on the planet and yet you can’t resist; McDonald’s. *sigh*

I still remember the immediate satisfaction of chowing down on that burger and fries, it was the best 4 minutes of my month, until my body started to attempt to digest this meal and I immediately regretted the whole thing. My colleague and I, simultaneously satiated and yet gastronomically troubled, slept off the meal in the parking lot.

I can’t provide a McDonald’s run for my colleagues and I while in the arctic, but I can bring some treats. A little food for the soul.

So, when we’re hot or cold or wet, tired, you name it, there will be the lingering knowledge that if you find a shorebird nest, there will be a delicious snack back at camp for that person. I’m going to bring along a treasure chest of goodies. Find a nest, pick your candy. Find two nests, pick two candies and so on. And good candies too. I purchased some ‘gourmet lollipops’, wicked flavours and large enough size to make it last for more than 4 minutes (relatively easy to digest too), other healthier options for the food sensitive individuals and some surprises I don’t want to give away. I’m thinking the holy grail of candies; the ring pop, will also make an appearance.

So, as a note for the crew, get geared up and when it comes to sugar cravings, I got us covered. 🙂

A Foodie in the Field: Banana and cinnamon oatmeal

This will be the easiest thing in the world to make, and also one of the most comforting foods to enjoy before a day in the field.

One of the simplest dehydration items; slice a banana, dehydrate, done.

One milk bag with two meals, separated by a seal. Thank you FoodSaver.
One milk bag with two meals, separated by a seal. Thank you FoodSaver.

1/2 cup instant oats

2 tbsp brown sugar (or as much or little as you like)

2 tbsp powdered milk (for a little added creaminess)

cinnamon – a lot or a little…. I add A LOT 🙂

slices of dried banana

Add boiling water to package in a bowl, let sit for one minute and serve.

Optional:

1) nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, etc)

2) raisins or other dried fruit

3) a little dab of jam to sweeten instead or in addition to the brown sugar (I like Apricot jam). I even found smaller sized jars in a local baking supply shop, perfect for transport.

Apricot Jam

Again, I used cleaned and dried milk bags, added in the contents and sealed using my FoodSaver. I can fit two meals in one milk bag, separating them by the sealed edge.

There are seemingly endless options here with fruit and nut combinations. You can add in granola too.

 

 

Shop like Ripping a Band Aid

So the few weeks leading up to my departure were filled with lots of exciting things. One of those things, unfortunately, was not that exciting; shopping. I hate it; 1) I do not like parting with my money, 2) stores are stuffy and they are filled with too many things, 3) I always feel like I want everything and nothing at the same time. It’s kind of stressful. For many others, I know this situation would allow them to ‘shop to their hearts content’, but I don’t feel that way – no ‘content of the heart’ what-so-ever.

But as I’ve quoted before, ‘if you want to get the job done right, you need to have the right tools’. So I took to the outdoor equipment stores and loaded up. My credit card was melting and my frugal nature was fighting back causing my brain to swell.

Judging by the excessive fieldwork preparation I’ve committed to, I don’t think life is going to be too different off the grid; portable coffee maker -check, carrying around a backpack all day-check check. Plus, I don’t live a very tech filled life (at least at home); no internet, no cable. When my brother found out about this he was astonished, asking me, “What are you, a Peasant?!”.

Despite the painful shopping ventures, I’m happy with the pile of gear I’ve accumulated in my dining room. Hopefully, after purchasing some good quality stuff, it will last more than this field season. Essentially, I’m elated thinking that 90% of the shopping is done for the next four years. THAT would be spectacular.

 

Life is much simpler being a dog. It's all chewing twigs and eating smiley face cookies. She can also pick her toys at the store and not need to bring her wallet. It's hard not to be envious.
Life is much simpler being a dog. It’s all chewing twigs and eating smiley face cookies for Maddie. She can also pick her toys at the store and not need to bring her wallet. It’s hard not to be envious.

My New KEEN Boots

I ordered my KEEN boots online using my sponsorship voucher! I really wanted the Glarus boot and SAIL was even sold out of them when I went to take a peek at the KEEN options last weekend, so I was anxious for their arrival. Well, I didn’t have to wait long; two days later they were brought to my door. *sigh*, I love them. A glorious hiker if there ever was one.

Woman's Glarus, Size 7
Woman’s Glarus, Size 7

Immediately I took them out of the box and put them on. I wore them around the house for several hours that evening, only to realize that I didn’t need to have them fully broken-in within 24 hours. So, over the next couple weeks, leading up to the ‘Great Departure’, I’ll proudly work on making them mine, morphing them to my feet.

The rest of the crew has their vouchers as well, and I’ll report back on their selections. KEEN is headed to the arctic, can’t wait to see where these puppies take us.

KEEN to support research
KEEN to support research

A Foodie in the Field: Instant Moroccan Coucous Recipe

So I started off easy on this recipe experimentation with a Moroccan couscous. This recipe has simple ingredients, a fun spice blend that’s a palate pleaser and you can have it package to plate in about 5-8 minutes. (time varies depending on heat source for boiling water)

If you are going to make this as a camping dish, use a sealing mechanism to reduce volume and avoid spoiling, I like this; the FoodSaver V2240! *Sigh* , I use this thing a lot, I love it. I’ll feature the multiple uses in another post! But for now, I used this vacuum sealer for my couscous recipe. The bags are reused milk bags. It won’t vacuum but it seals great. They are durable and all you need to do is befriend someone who drinks an obscene amount of milk and you’re off to the races!

The FoodSaver V2240
The FoodSaver V2240

Place the spice blend into each clean milk bag, add in the dried garlic and dried onion and dried fruit. Seal. Add coucous and seal. And you’re done!

Eat warm or cooled as a dinner side or as a mobile lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

INSTANT MOROCCAN SPICE COUSCOUS

BAG#1

Moroccan Spice Blend (from epicurious.com)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ginger powder

1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp pepper

1/2 cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cayenne powder

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground cloves

along with;

handful dried apricot (~1/2 cup)

handful dried cranberries

1 1/2 tsp dried onion

1 tsp dried garlic

BAG#2

3/4 cup brown instant couscous

* Add Bag#1 to boiling water (3/4 cup) and heat until rehydrated, or place the contents in pot with water (heat off) and let sit, this will allow for optimal moisture absorption into the garlic and onion. When the dehydrated contents are soft, slowly bring to a boil. Add in contents of Bag#2, remove from heat, cover and let sit for 3 minutes.

Optional:

1) add in a can of chickpeas for protein and more flavour

2) drizzle with olive oil for added moisture

3) add in slivered almonds (and they taste WAY better if they are toasted)

4) This dish has a little heat to it from the cayenne, if you don’t like spice, just omit.  But spicier is better in my opinion.

Thanks to the Great Unwashed for being my food critic/ guinea pig. She is always so willing to sample my concoctions, at least this time it wasn’t mystery game meat…..

“BA BAAM SPICE” -The Great Unwashed, regarding sampling this dish.

 

Arctic Facts: Polar Bear Technology

 

Polar Bear fur feels rough and almost  like plastic.
Polar Bear fur feels rough and almost like plastic.

Did you know that polar bear fur strands are hollow? It’s the hollow and clear properties of the fur that have provided scientists with potential technological advances in thermal insulation and solar radiation principles. In other words, polar bears have fur that can teach us something about physics.

Polar bear fur appears white, so it is camouflaging, but it’s also a light trap. The hollow hairs are so insulating, you can’t pick up a polar bear on the snowy tundra with thermal cameras, pretty amazing considering they live in one of the world’s coldest environments both on land and in the water. If you take a look at this diagram, scientists are using the thermal and solar properties of polar bear fur for technical development in solar textiles.

Photo from: Thomas Stegmaier, Michael Linke and Heinrich Planke (2009) Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications. Phylosophical translations: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Biomimetics II: Fabrication and Applications 367.1894: 17491758
Photo from: Thomas Stegmaier, Michael Linke and Heinrich Planke (2009) Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications. Phylosophical translations: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Biomimetics II: Fabrication and Applications 367.1894: 17491758

Using polar bear fur technology, scientists were able to develop materials that are optimized for insulation and solar radiation absorption and reflection, an artificial polar bear pelt! They have developed a textile that is light weight, tear proof, elastic, unbreakable, chemical resistant and produce high thermal stability. Of course, this material has numerous applications, I for one wouldn’t mind scientists making field clothing with this stuff. However, I doubt I’d survive an arctic winter.

Photo from: Thomas Stegmaier, Michael Linke and Heinrich Planke (2009) Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications. Phylosophical translations: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Biomimetics II: Fabrication and Applications 367.1894: 17491758
Photo from: Thomas Stegmaier, Michael Linke and Heinrich Planke (2009) Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications. Phylosophical translations: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Biomimetics II: Fabrication and Applications 367.1894: 17491758

All content is from references in this paper, and a great many thanks to the authors for this cool research!

To read the paper and for a more thorough explanation, I’ve uploaded a copy here.

Thomas Stegmaier, Michael Linke and Heinrich Planke (2009) Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications. Phylosophical translations: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Biomimetics II: Fabrication and Applications 367.1894: 17491758

Bionics in textiles: flexible and translucent thermal insulations for solar thermal applications

Polar Bear Hide

Travelling light….ya right

So as I’m starting to get organized; preparing food, reading and more reading, packing to move to a new city, and I’ve been gathering my GEAR. What do you bring with you, what does a packing list look like for 2 whole months? If I forget my toothbrush, it’s kind of a big deal. Fuzzy unbrushed Chiclets would drive me crazy.

I was told by a wonderful gentleman who has been on a similar venture to Nunavut that he brought a regular size duffle bag……huh?! One duffel bag?! Talk about having ONLY the absolutely necessary items. Though, of course as he tells me this, I’m completely calm and collected, commenting, “Ya, sure, that seems reasonable.” Luckily we can wash our clothes while we’re there in some water we heat over the stove, but this girl isn’t used to travelling light. I bring a duffle bag sized backpack to work everyday.

He later clarified that by duffle bag, he meant a hockey gear-sized duffle bag. Thank goodness for that.

So I’ve given myself a limit. Aside from my camera gear, food, and pelican cases for samples, I’m going to fit almost everything in this pack. It’s a 65 L Osprey pack (a splurge from last summer’s camping/road trip out in East Canada).

Everything else I’m bringing is going into a hockey bag. 🙂 Time to start writing my packing list!

 

 

 

 

 

Paracord; ‘do it yourself’ bracelets

Paracord;

A big thing right now are these Paracord bracelets. Paracord is a nylon-woven rope designed to be durable and flexible. Its commonly used among civilians and military personnel. This rope comes in a variety of colours and weights and you can get it almost anywhere now-a-days. If woven into different shapes, it can be worn as an every day item (like a bracelet) and in the event you need rope for tying down a tree, making a sling, something in a pinch, its already on you. My bracelets (being that I have a child sized wrist) are about 7 feet of rope but the men’s bracelets have a lot more length.

Don’t buy them online if you don’t have to. Make them yourself! 🙂 There are hundreds of youtube videos online that show you how to make all kinds of bracelets, sections to hang on a carabiner or off a knife/multi-tool, keychains, etc. Here are some of the homemade ones I have. Easy to make and a lot less money, buy the rope and the clips at a craft place and you’re laughing.

I recommend this gentleman, he has some great paracord designs, but there a lots out there.

Make your own paracord bracelet

I’ve named my bracelets with the different colour combinations after bird species (nerdy, I know). Make them at home and bring them camping, hiking, canoeing, and into the field. Even if you never use it, you’ll be glad you have it, and it looks nice too.

Bottom to top: the Sandpiper, the Yellow-headed Blackbird, and the Snow Goose
Bottom to top: the Sandpiper, the Yellow-headed Blackbird, and the Snow Goose

A Foodie in the field 1: Initiating recipe experimentation

With my field season drawing closer, I can no longer ignore the impending doom; I’m going to be separated from my beloved kitchen. I am a Foodie. I love food, and even more, I love to COOK. Unfortunately, it’s probably safe to assume that my field conditions this summer are not conducive to me bringing my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and all its attachments. No fresh pasta for me.

In order to prevent going through taste bud stimulation withdrawal, I’m going to start researching alternative meals for the field season. My challenge: to produce nutritional, flavourful meals with the shelf-life of a rock collection. I figure, what better way to boost morale during times of geographic isolation than to whip up a delicious coconut curry and rice dish?

I’m bound determined to bring the flavours of Thailand, India, Morocco and Italy with me to the arctic. Admittedly, I’m getting ahead of myself here. I know I can make these kinds of dishes at home with my stocked cupboards and fridge, not to mention the grocery store on the corner and the indoor garden I keep in my living room. However, I have no idea how to make ‘instant’ Thai curry.

My research endeavor started with a book recommended to me by someone at work; NOLS Cookery, a book of recipes to prepare when camping. Moving forward, I’ll be testing various molecular, chemical and Bulk Barn combinations to develop tasty breakfasts, portable lunches and warm dinners to bring the Foodie comforts of home with me this summer.

Phase One: taking the fresh and turning it to stone

I’m interested to know what veggies and fruits I can dehydrate and effectively bring to life weeks later. Using a dehydrator, so far I’ve been able to transform carrots, sour cherries, bananas, strawberries, red peppers, garlic and red and green chillis into a moisture-free state. You can buy countless dehydrated items online but I’m a ‘do it yourself’ kind of gal and this stuff is fun for me. But for those preparing meals in bulk, buying already dehydrated foods may be easier.

Phase Two: trial and error…

Stay tuned for my first featured homemade instant Moroccan couscous.