Friday, July 11, 2014

An Awkward Lead to an Award and Awesome Friends

I'm proud to say that my friends represent a diverse range of accomplishments.
And I'm slightly proud, and a little mortified, that I don't realize this very often.

I've been planning this post for some time, artfully weaving in weird friend accomplishments with thoughts on why we underestimate the greatness of the familiar and (somehow not awkwardly or abruptly) ending with my recent conservation award.

The artful weaving is not working, so I'll start, awkwardly and abruptly, by announcing that I received the 2014 Medicinal Plant Conservation Award from the United Plant Savers (click on the link to read about the award and some of the interesting work I do).  My general response has been to laugh about it.  It's not like you've been waiting with bated breath, "Who's going to win the MPCA this year?  Will they announce at HerbFest or Prairie Medicine or at the Goldenseal Sanctuary?"  and I have been involved with this particular project for fourteen years.  It has never been my dominant research.  Academically, I'm just super-relieved that we finally published a paper (available here.  By all means, please feel free to read and cite it). The accomplishment doesn't feel major.

But that's the down-grading of the familiar talking.  It is a fourteen year project involving over sixty students and rounds and rounds and rounds of shepherding several committees as the lowest ranked but most intellectually vested member of the committee. It's not as if I am going to be getting a lot of national awards. If I don't tell my friends and relatives about the one time that I receive a plant conservation award, nobody (outside of United Plant Savers) is going to know who won the MPCA this year.  As far as plant conservation goes, modesty would be a problem.  The United Plant Savers gives the award, not just to recognize innovation in medicinal plant conservation, but to expand awareness that medicinal plants need conservation.  So I'm telling you as an ambassador for plant conservation.

But I'm also telling you because, in my observation, we overlook the accomplishments of those we know personally.  It's a good thing not to go around in awe of friends, family and co-workers, but I think this sometimes leads to situations where "others" are doing amazing things and people we know are just people we know.
Milkweed: crazy compounds but not yet scored with the assessment tool
A good friend recently posted about the Waters of Kansas on facebook. I honestly don't know if she knew our mutual friend is producing the movie.  But then I read in the newspaper about people doing oversees aid and adventure travel and I think, how great that is?  I don't often think of my friend teaching ecology and developing ecotours in Haiti (Zwazo Yo at Blogspot) or my college friend traveling from "Denver, Colorado to Ushuaia, Argentina by way of Inuvik, Canada" (When Sparks Fly).  When I think of great scientists, I don't think of my knitting friends, or my brother (who apparently has 31 publications with over 30 citations, five of them in deep earth seismology and the rest in molecular biology) or by 4-H friend Becky (who has driven Curiosity on Mars).  They are just my kitting friends, my brother, and a caring mom who blogs about dance recitals (Williams Family).

On a field trip, one of my students excitedly pointed out a book she thought I surely needed and I laughed.  My advisor wrote Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie and it is such a part of my life that I assume everyone knows about it, like the way I assume everyone knows about my contributions to A Taste of Heritage (which has somehow slipped to #11 in Native American cookbooks on Amazon.  I don't get any royalties if you buy it, but still, it was top ten a month ago!).

So take a moment to notice all the amazing things people around you are doing.  Some of them are making period clothes from hand-spun wool.  Some are singing in church choirs, starting cupcake businesses, making kimchee from scratch, running marathons or writing scientific papers.  Some are healing, or dealing with addictions, wounds and heartaches. Some are raising kids.  Some are caring for aging parents. Some are struggling just to get through the day.  Many are the same people.  All of these feats are amazing.  Pause for a moment to recognize them.

Thanks for all of the amazing things you do.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We've had some problems, but the vacuum still works

A barrette stuck in the vacuum (from our 6th anniversary) caused sporadic problems for about a year, but it seems we are now back in full suction.
I'm really not making that a metaphor for my marriage, I just don't have anything to add about random appliances this year.
Happy 9 years Mister!  I'm still glad we're married and a look forward to the wild times in Boise. You didn't want any willow anyway.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why I pull unknown books off the shelf at the library

As part of cleaning the office, the Mister has been organizing our books and it has become very clear that we own a large number of good books that I haven't read.  Recently I haven't wanted to read any of them.
Chalk it up to mental fatigue associated with the episodic physical fatigue of my (possible, and I think likely) case of tick-borne illness or summer or toddlers or something, but opening the good books on my shelf just feels like too much work.
I have, however, wanted to read, and read, at times, rather voraciously.
For this, thankfully, we have libraries.
I make it a point of regularly picking unknown books* from the library.  For most of this spring, I did such a bad job of judging books by their covers that I was tempted to admit that Amateur Reader (over at Wuthering Expectations) is correct and that I should have an organized reading plan**.  I even ended up returning one of the books I picked up at the book sale because I couldn't bother to find shelf space for it.

But I just read Mike Brown's How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming and it (along with Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon [right book at right time back in January] and Definitely Not My Darcy and Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornobos [definitely not Pride and Prejudice, but loads of fun]) has restored my belief in the unknown at the library.
How I Killed Pluto is, by far, the best science book I have read in a long time. There are a great many of you who would enjoy this book, for many of you because (and for some of you, in spite of) Mike Brown describes first-time parenthood by a scientist as I have never seen done.  True, he's finding new planets, or new planetoid objects, and involved in a case of astronomical espionage, or something to that effect, and does a magnificent job of explaining how and where, and why, one looks for new things in the solar system, but the part that made me heartily chuckle was his dismay that no doctor could give him the stats concerning babies arriving or their due dates.  He wanted a histogram and let everyone know. His wife quietly apologized about such rants throughout her pregnancy.  I couldn't blame him.  The Mister and I bemoaned this lack of graph as well.

I don't read a lot of science memoir, mostly because I haven't discovered much science memoir like this. Let me know if you read it and let me know if you have other suggestions of great stories about how people actually do great science.

*I keep wanting to use the word "random" and I'm just too much of a statistician to use it that incorrectly.

**The actual AR will probably counter that he never suggested an organized reading plan for me in particular.  The AR in my head that I regularly argue with concerning issues of books, however, has often suggested it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Americana Cheese

True, I was the one who dressed them in red, white, and blue with baseball caps and didn't clean the lens before snapping their photo in front of the flag on the 4th of July, but the cheesy grins are all their own.  Happy Independence Day fellow (U.S. of) Americans!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I have a friend (or mother) for them

The phone rang as I was setting the table on Sunday.
"Can you believe your Costa Rica?" my mom asked, almost breathlessly, "How can those guys stand all this?  I thought [name of specific player] was too tired to stand up, much less shoot the ball."

My mom called as I was cooking dinner yesterday, "Can you believe that?"
'What, did Algeria score?  I need to turn the game back on,"  I quickly countered.
"Yes they did, but it's over.  Germany had already gone up 2-0."

It makes me inexplicably happy that my mother watches World Cup Soccer.  It also amuses me that she assumes she can call at the end of most any game and I will have a comment on it, and startles me a little that I usually do.

My mother does not have cable, has never been to a professional soccer game, and does not follow football on the world stage except twice every four years (we watch the Women's World Cup with almost as much gusto).  It is the world part of World Cup soccer that draws her (and me).  We pick teams based on good stories and being underdogs and non-European and cheer for them until they get eliminated and then cheer for someone else (Germany, most likely, in the end, although since that Netherlands-Spain match the first week, I wouldn't be surprised to watch the Netherlands go far.)

I've been mulling a post about how many different (in all kinds of way) people converge in my life, and I've realized that I'm going to have to separate it into different posts: there is no good way to brag that a former student is the STIHL Timbersports Pro-Champion for the second year in a row in a post about my friends in Ouagadougou* cheering for Ghana while my son tells me to cheer for Germany because of "family rules".

One of the beautiful things about watching the World Cup in the era of Facebook post-graduate school is that not only can I pick teams based on my own tenuous criteria, but that I actively know someone cheering for everyone.  There's an bee-systematist in Turkey cheering for Colombia, a diplomat in Burkina-Faso with daughters screaming for Ivory Coast, and a cnidarian specialist from Chicago in Germany cheering for all Asian countries.  I have an ex-boyfriend for England, a Department Chair for Argentina, a Bolivian colleague anti-Argentina and brother pro-Germany.  A horticulture extension agent in Texas cheers loudly for Ecuador. During the Costa Rica - Greece game, I knew there was a Greek beetle systematist (currently in Tennessee?) rooting against the Ticos that my Kansas ichthyologist friend and I were rooting for.  And my mother, apparently, bating her breath in a motel room in a small town in the Colorado mountains as the extra time ended and the game went to penalty kicks.

It's nice to feel part of the world every once in a while.

*It is a real place with one and a half million people.  I didn't make it up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Images from earlier posts

Not all of Kansas is flat.



Paradoxically yellow purple cone flower (Echinacea paradoxa) and prairie turnip (Pediomelum esculentum in a Missouri glade (briefly mentioned here, along with the rattlesnake).



Ozark Glade
In Kansas, about where Dianthus was standing in above image.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Manioc-Cassava-Tapioca-Yuca Four Ways in Four Days

I ate a raw piece of Manihot esculenta Friday night and so far it hasn't killed me.

Which is good.  I didn't really expect it to, but I always wondered if it just might, as the roots contain cyanogenic glucosides to some degree.  I first learned of manioc (as manioc) in a wonderful Nutritional Anthropology class at C.U..  While I was fascinated by my professor's research into the plant (how sustainable swidden agriculture can be in the upper Amazon basin, why people would select plants that have more cyanide rather than less, how drought exacerbates cyanide poisoning among the manioc-dependent) but I was scared when she told me that it was on sale at ethnic grocery stores in town.  A personal point of pride (since about 6th grade) was that I could always identify what not to eat in my surroundings, and here she was suggesting that something in a produce bin might harm me if I took it home and stuck it into a stir fry.

So, in college I was fascinated with the plant, buy never ate any.

In graduate school, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that the yuca added as a side dish to the great veggie enchiladas at La Parilla was not actually the roots of the yucca we see around (Yucca glauca) but somehow didn't put it together that I was eating manioc.

Tapioca pudding reminds me of my grandparents, unless it is weird, warm coconut milk pudding with fruit and odd tapioca shapes at a Thai buffet, and then it just reminds me of my sons at Thai buffets.

 When I moved to Oklahoma, I was shocked to find big ball tapioca on the shelf at the local grocery store. I excitedly pointed it out to my mother, "Bubble tea is big in Western Oklahoma?!"  She thought I was joking, but I had never had large pearl tapioca in anything other than bubble tea, first with her in Nanjing, China, and later at our favorite tea spot in Lawrence.  I had never heard of "Frog Eye Salad" the Mister still thinks I'm making it up when I tell him that Frog Eye Salad is why they sell big ball tapioca in my small town.

All of these products are from the same plant.  Manihot esculenta is known as manioc, cassava, and yuca (typically pronounced so it alliterates with ukulele: YOU-ke rather than spiny YUCK-a yucca), and from its starch, tapioca is derived.  The plant is in the Euphorbiaceae (the spurge family), and is the only edible crop from that giant family*.  Manioc is a major player on the world food scene.  The factoid given varies, but it a staple food for at least 500,000,000 people and ranks just behind rice and maize for food importance in the tropics.  It comes in bitter (higher cyanogenic glucosides) and sweet (lover cyanogenic glucosides) forms and my Roots cookbook assures me that the fat waxed root I bought at the Mexican Supermercado in Norman, or the thinner root I found at the local grocery store, are sweet.

I made some tapioca pudding using minute tapioca.  Then I fried some chips.  Then I fried some yuca fries.  Then I made a breakfast pudding out of long-soak tapioca, young coconut chunks, grated yuca, and quinoa, among other things, and the boys and I assembled berry-pudding breakfast parfaits**.  Today I fried the rest of the root.

The pudding and the chips were great-- for a home fryer, yuca is preferable to potatoes because with the lower water content yuca chips crisp up better. None the less, I won't be buying manioc/yuca/cassava roots again any time soon.  Although who knows, I should probably look up a recipe for frog eye salad.

*Quiz, how is manioc like pineapple and vanilla?

**Asked the Mister, "Are you following any sort of a recipe?"  Well, not really, unless you count the pudding recipe on the tapioca package, a vague recollection of over-night non-oatmeal oatmeal using quinoa, a recipe for a Thai coconut tapioca custard in hand, and my desire to somehow replicate, but make higher protein and more breakfast worthy, the Thai buffet pudding.  I had all sorts of recipes.  They just weren't for quite what I was making.