Thursday, March 26, 2015


Boston is climbing out of a difficult winter, and spring is barely daring to peak out from the remaining piles of snow. Yes, we can see grass in spots, but next to the bare patches are slowly melting snow drifts, many still measuring in feet rather than inches. And any public outdoor space—think local soccer fields or parks—were used as dumping grounds for plows this year, so who knows when they’ll be clear. They still look like miniature mountain ranges right now!

The point of this is that we’re all on a desperate lookout for signs of spring. So with that in mind, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what makes spring spring.

1. We get access to more sunlight.

Image by Colivine
Earth moves to a point in its orbit where the Northern Hemisphere (or Southern Hemisphere, if you’re reading this post from below the equator) is tilted towards the sun, rather than away. This gives us longer days and more concentrated sunlight. We aren’t any closer to the sun than we were before, we’re just angled more advantageously.

2. The ground warms up.

While we tend to measure air temperature to judge if it feels warm enough to go out in a lighter jacket, spring is really about what’s happening below our feet. The thawing ground allows for a multitude of things to happen.
  • Faster snow melt. (Ask yourself, is a chunk of ice going to melt faster on a surface warmer or colder than 32 degrees Fahrenheit?)
  • Water begins to filter through the soil once more, and naturally mixes the nutrients from dead autumn leaves into the ground.
  • The frost line below the ground rises until it’s gone completely, cluing in life below that it’s safe to come out!

3. Life wakes up.

We all know about animals who hibernate for the winter, and the return of birds from migration is a classic sign of spring as well. But spring is also about the plants and insects (who have been rendered essentially catatonic for months) finally resurfacing and going on with their way of life. They’re the powerhouses of spring. Buds form on trees, flowers bloom, and every around you, billions of creepy crawlies emerge from the earth and the water, busting back out to the surface like tiny, six-legged zombies. Or, in many cases, the grubby larval forms laid in eggs from last year.

Thanks to them, the entire circle of life revs up once more. They are the basis for everything. All hail springtime, the Great Bug Awakening! (And the Great Amphibian Awakening, which I will likely post about soon. For now, take a look below at a Great Reptile Awakening.)

4. Babies on the way.

Once life is awake again, it goes on with…well, making more life. It’s important to take advantage of the warm season when possible, so a great number of plants and animals capitalize on springtime to reproduce. The result: spring, hands down, is the cutest season we have. But it also is a dangerous time for many creatures, especially because of human activity.

Image by Guido Strotheide
So try to remember—as you go to bask in the sunlight of spring, all around you your entire extended family is distracted by (adorable) babies who need their attention! Be careful when driving. Watch out during yardwork. Keep cats and dogs controlled and indoors when possible.

And if you find a baby animal that you’re worried has been abandoned, please do some research before taking it away from wherever it’s nestled. It may actually be just where it’s meant to be, and mom may be coming back for it later. This site has good information about whether or not a baby animal is in trouble, and if it is, what you can do about it.

Sitting here, looking out my window at all the snow still on the ground, it’s hard to believe that the above processes are actually heading our way. But I hear it may hit 50 degrees today, so perhaps I’ll open up a couple windows and keep my fingers crossed.

And hey, look at that...I forgot that slide was back there! I wonder what other treasures the Boston Meltdown of 2015 will reveal...

Happy Spring, everybody!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day!

Today, 3/14/15, at 9:26:53, we will have ULTIMATE PI DAY.

I couldn't let this past without acknowledgment! Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Legend of Iguanodon

As a little girl, I watched a particular TV special about dinosaurs that I loved so much, my parents had to tape it for me so I could watch it on repeat. I wore that tape out watching it over and over, and today, I can't even recall the name of it.

I probably stopped watching it around late elementary school. As an adult, not only have I forgotten its name, I can barely remember what even happened in it--except for one thing.

Some of the teeth Mary may have found.
There was a reenactment of a woman named Mary Mantell finding the first dinosaur.

Mary was the wife of a scientist. She was walking down a road one day on one of the many trips her husband took, and picked up a strange looking rock that turned out to be the teeth of Iguanodon. And it's only this scene that I can still picture clear as day out of the multi-hour special that I watched on repeat for years of my life.

Why that one scene?

In hindsight, it's obvious. Mary was a woman.

In every TV dinosaur special I watched as a kid--this one and otherwise--all the experts and interviewees were men. Always. It's just how it was at that time. I've written before about how seeing men in the leading roles in fiction skewed my life towards hating my own gender, but there was also the matter of seeing men in the roles of reality. The profession I wanted to be didn't seem to have anyone in it that looked like me. And so I held on ferociously tight to this one image.

I remember reenacting Mary's scene as a child. I'd walk down the driveway, pick something up (a rock or a woodchip), and dash off with it to my imaginary male counterpart who would proclaim what a wonderful discovery I'd made.

Later in life, I discovered the legend of how the first iguanodont teeth were found may just be a myth. Mary's husband, Gideon Mantell (a name, by the way, my young mind did NOT lock and load, since I just had to look it up), later on explained that Mary didn't really accompany him on his trips out, and that he was the one to find the teeth.

There's debate about what really happened. But I've realized that I don't care, because at the most impressionable time of my youth, I got to see someone of my own gender be the first to discover dinosaurs. Even if none of the scientists were women, I could subconsciously cling to that one image of the awesome lady who'd discovered my favorite thing on the planet.

The point of this blog post isn't that we need to fact check which Mantell really found those teeth, but rather that a single image of one woman made it possible for a young girl to see herself in what was otherwise a TOTALLY male-dominated profession.

This is exactly why representation matters. People of different genders, races, religions, sexualities, EVERYTHING, should be shown to young children doing all sorts of things. Let kids see folks that look like them doing the type of work they're passionate about. You never know who is watching, and who will be inspired.

Paleontology Dr. Ellen Curano recently wrote a wonderful article about this very topic and the challenges women face in the field of paleontology. I can't recommend reading it enough. Dr. Curano is a blogger who highlights women in geosciences, precisely for the above explained reasons. Check out her site! And check out the Bearded Lady Project she runs, while you're at it.

As far as Mary Mantell goes...I'm certain that regardless of whether she was the first to pick up those dinosaur teeth, she contributed to her husband's work in ways that history has long forgotten. So in honor of International Women's Day, I honor Mary. Thank you for your curiosity, and your inspiration.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Moving Past What's Expected

I haven't blogged in a while. I was wrapped up in a major novel revision throughout January and the first half of February, and I thought when I came out the other side of it I would be thrilled to get back to blogging.

But I wasn't. I also found I couldn't figure out what creative writing project to focus on next. Beyond this still, I've been wrestling with bigger "what am I really doing with my life?" questions. It's been an introspective few weeks, to say the least. Probably brought on by how much time I spent trapped indoors and alone due to the hundred inches of snow Boston got this winter.

I've been in a confused, upset place trying to figure out where to go next. I'd open up my blog, and feel like I couldn't post anything because I couldn't find a science story I really wanted to talk about. I'd open up a new word document, but find I couldn't start a project because I couldn't decide which project would make the most sense to focus on next. I'd go to work, and fret about personal finances and whether or not I'd be able to secure a future and support a family with the career path I am currently on.

Nothing in my life was working. And just in these past couple of days, I've started to understand why.

I was focusing on what was expected of me. What others expected of me, and what I expected of myself. I've fallen into this trap before.

But today I put on my Let It Go bracelet my friend Marie gave me, and really started to take that song to heart once again. (I'm sorry for those of you sick of Frozen, but Elsa is my soul sister.)

Anyway, I realized that first of all, this is MY blog. I can post about whatever I want. Or not post at all. This space isn't meant to be stressful, it's meant to be fun, and if I'm letting it stress me out, then I've got to take one big step back.

Same goes for my writing. I love writing. But I've been panicking lately about writing the right thing next, and this is making me run in tinier and tinier circles in my head and I'm sure I'm on my way to imploding. So rather than try to come up with the perfect story, I've decided to let myself write whatever moves me. Right now, that's a trilogy I've been poking at for years. The first book is drafted, the second two outlined, and it speaks to my heart. I don't need to try and logically pick apart how marketable it is, because if I love it I will write it well. That's most of the marketing battle right there.

And heck. If I start working on it and decide it's not for me after all, I can move onto something else. That is okay.

As far as my job goes...well...I love my job. I'm really awesome at it. I like where I work, I enjoy what I do, and I feel fulfilled by it. I can't control everything in life, so I will just have to trust in fate a little bit more that I will eventually figure out a way to financially support a family by myself. I don't have a significant other, and I don't want that to hold me back from being a mother some day, so this is pretty much a constant concern. It's scary trying to plan for this alone! But I can't let that fear take control of my life.

That's really the take-away point for me. Not letting fear control me. (Elsa. Soul sister. See?)

I set up these strict deadlines and goals and convince myself that the world expects certain things from me. I don't want to fail the world. I don't to fail myself. But all these expectations do is trap me in a box of anxiety. I have to be free to do things that feel good, that feel right--even if my life isn't lining up as perfectly as I'd hoped at the moment. I'll figure it out. There's no way I can see the whole picture from this one place and time. Who knows what opportunities are on the horizon? All I know is that I work very hard, and I've set myself up in the perfect position to grab opportunity if it should ever finally grace me.

So as far as my blog goes...for my own sanity, there isn't going to be a blog schedule. I'll post when I want to, I'll write about what I want to (let's be honest, that will continue to be either science or kidlit, because those are my worlds), and I'll enjoy this space again.

I need to stop thinking in terms of expectations, and start listening to my gut. I need to pursue what makes me happy.

And I need to reread this post probably every day going forward to remind myself of that.