09 October 2017

Goodbye Bountiful, Hello Brine Shrimp!

Unrelated to the title of this post, I took a DNA test today! Jake's company, MyHeritage, produces these DNA tests that can tell you more about where your ancestors came from and potentially who your living relatives are. I just mailed my test off today so should get my results in a few weeks. The kit also perfectly matched my wall art.

Bountiful City Hall
More importantly, I have left my position as a planner at Bountiful! I had always expected to leave this job some time before grad school, but a few events coincided that made October the perfect time to head out. My part time position was being replaced by an equivalent full time position. I had anticipated this being back in June or July, but because of regular government delays it didn't end up happening until September. 

The lobby of City Hall, featuring the portraits of former mayors
I had initially applied for the position, but I ended up withdrawing my application a few days before the interview. I've had a lot of mentors, professional and academic, who have encouraged me to go to grad school as soon as quickly as I can. I am currently on my gap year between my undergraduate degree and grad school and at first I thought I would be working the whole time. But a few things have changed since then.

There is a really good chance that I will be going to grad school somewhere other than Salt Lake City. Jake and I are currently planning on moving to that new city pretty soon after I get an acceptance letter. That times well with the end of our lease, and it gives us the chance to settle into a new city over the summer. If I had gotten the full time position last month, that would only give me about six months before I would be leave it. 

My desk as it appeared on my last day
Also, I just paid off my student loans! I've been in a really fortunate position where I've been able to put almost my entire paycheck towards my loans and have been been making pretty aggressive payments this last year. That has been a really great feeling, and it gives me more flexibility to decide what I want to do next. 

Finally, grad school is coming and I need to get ready. That means taking the GRE (which I did for the first time last week!), putting together applications, getting letters of recommendations and putting together a small portfolio. In addition to all of that, I need to decide what schools I want to apply for. I already have a running list of schools I'm interested in, but depending on my GRE scores that list may be changing. Stay tuned to find out where the heck I will be moving to in a few months.

So that brings me to today! Above is the southern shore of Great Salt Lake, near Black Rock/GSL Marina. Jake and I actually took our engagement photos at this exact spot. I was there a few weeks ago to collect materials for an aquarium I wanted to put together.

I've been reading online about how people can create self sustaining aquariums with algae and brine shrimp. They are usually fairly small, but because they contain a complete ecosystem are hypothetically self sustaining as long as they get sunlight. Because Great Salt Lake is endorheic or terminal by nature, it is essentially the same thing on a much more massive scale. Even better, because the largest species living in the lake are brine shrimp, it makes it easy to scale down for a self contained ecosystem in a box. 

See Artemia franciscana? That's my good friend the brine shrimp (aka "sea monkeys"). Although brine shrimp are found all over the world, the species in Utah is most similar to those in San Francisco bay. However, the shrimp in GSL tend to be (slightly) larger which makes them especially valuable in the fish food industry. 

For my aquarium, I collected the brine shrimp eggs over the summer on the shore line of GSL. The brine shrimp eggs (technically: cysts) are ridiculously small. About 50 could fit on the head of a pin. They are this bronze-y/redish color and the are everywhere. I went out to the lake and grabbed a handful. Then I took them home and put them in a jar until I had the whole tank ready to go.

Then about two weeks ago I went out to the lake to get a few gallons of authentic salty lake water, along with some sand, rocks and a few sage brush branches. I caught exactly one wild shrimp and I named her Corrine. She has continued to live what I can only assume is a happy life in this new tank. The cool thing about collecting my materials from the wild is that they contain all the native phytoplankton, cyanobacteria and bacteria that my brine shrimp need to thrive.   

The final product
The shrimp are pretty small. About half a dozen could fit on a the head of a dime. Aside from shrimp, I'm also raising a dozen or so brine fly larvae. They are the little worm-like animals that grow up to be the shore flies that we know and love/loathe. The spend the majority of their life swimming underwater and only live for a day or two on the surface as a fly. I didn't actually intend on raising brine flies, but their eggs must have been attached to the rocks I had collected. 

It was pretty difficult to get a video of them. You can make out half a dozen of them in the video above, although they aren't always in focus.

The internet says it takes about three weeks for them to reach adulthood. Mine hatched almost exactly two weeks ago, and I'm guessing they have already reach adulthood based on their libido. They are already reproducing like crazy, which makes me think this self sustaining ecosystem thing might just work. I'm excited to see what their full life cycle is like. I've gained a lot of appreciation for the little guys already. 

Hopefully I'll have an update on the aquarium in a few weeks. Until then, I'm going to be cracking open some grad school applications and playing with my cat. Thanks for reading all about my shrimp babies and check out the video below to get a better sense of what they look like up close and personal.

11 June 2017

Toaster Strudel Hair, Graduation and Sandcastles

I graduated!

If you didn't see on social media, a few days before my birthday I walked across a stage in order to receive an empty display book. In full honesty, I had a great time. My parents flew out from South Carolina for the event, along with my sister, brother in law, nephew, father in law and his fiance.

My pre-graduation selfie and said graduation stage

The final two weeks before graduation were hell on earth, and the two 4000-level classes I was taking felt like a massive burden. I'm not sure I felt any specific weight off my shoulders when I graduated, but I can definitely feel a general ease in my day to day life that I haven't had in a long time.

Said family who came into town for my and Jake's graduation.
It was great to have my family there for such a big event. My parents supported me every step of the way through my undergrad and I owe so much to them for it. And then just a few days after graduation, it was my birthday!

My father in law Don made me this cake, which was absolutely lovely. I haven't had a big cheesy cake covered in candles in a few years, so this was really nice. We actually flew out to Denver to spend the weekend away from SLC. When I got back home, my diploma arrived, so I think that means I'm a definitive graduate now!

I'm going to briefly fly through the events of the next few weeks. There were a lot of small things that happened. For example, going to the Utah Pride festival and parade!

 Dying Jake's hair to a summery blonde shade. When I first put the stuff on his head, I realized I had just made him a human toaster strudel.  He was very patient with me as I laughed and tried to snap a photo of it. Also, a Great Salt Lake sunset featuring me.

Going to Great Salt Lake AGAIN, this time with warm weather AND warm water. I built this lovely sand castle, with its own reflecting pool and everything. I was pretty proud of this little number.


 While building it, a tourist came over to chat with me and Jake, and lo and behold he is from North Carolina! He even had an aunt who lives in Clemmons. After we left, I saw a young kid, maybe 5 or 6 go over to start playing with the castle. It was a very tender moment seeing someone else take a little bit of joy from my favorite hobby.

Jake taking a nap above his plot at the Hooper Cemetery on Memorial Day.
Another big event in my life is that Jake and I have started seeing a marriage therapist together. Senior year was very hard on both of us, and after graduation we realized that we had a lot of things we wanted to work on. 

I want to mention this in part because I enjoy documenting my life on this website, but also because I want to point out that relationships can be hard. In the gay community, and in Utah's gay community specifically there can be a kind of fetiziation of relationships-- the idea that they are some kind of ultimate end goal that will make you unconditionally happy. My relationship with Jake has made me happier than anything else in this world, but to erase all of our disagreements, miscommunications and the work it has taken to make things right would be to vastly oversimplify things. 

Jake and I are two very different people with very different life experiences that are now inhabiting the same 400 square foot apartment day after day, year after year. That has brought us all kinds of joy (and also our cat, Joy) but it has also brought out habits and traits that can make coexisting difficult. I think we are both feeling very optimistic that our therapist can help us deal with some of our tougher issues and give us a stronger foundation to deal with challenges down the road.

And finally, Joy:

A tiny cat meow, or a ferocious roar? I'll let you decide.

Thanks for reading about my life! 
All the bests to you and your loved ones.


19 April 2017

In which I don't post for a year, and I pretend like it isn't a big deal

It's been almost a whole year. Well, ten months and some change. Either way, it was a much longer break than I anticipated and a lot longer than I would have preferred. 

I'm currently in the coffee shop you see above. I took that photo a few ours ago on my way in because I thought the lighting was nice. I wanted to give you guys a sense of what I've been doing for the past year, and this sums it up well. The amount of time spent in Nostalgia rivals the time I've spent home senior year and despite its uncomfortable chairs and interesting music selections it has been a great place for me. Jake is here more often than me it seems-- he has been pushing hard the past two semesters as he finishes his degree in Computer Science.

I, on the other hand, am already done with my major! I finished my Urban Ecology capstone studio last semester, and we just gave our final presentation to the community a few weeks ago. For my final semester, I'm taking two sociology courses to round out my second minor. The decision to leave two non-major classes to my last semester has been a terrible decisions, as it turns out. It's not that these course are particularly difficult, but I've certainly had a bad case of seniority this semester. 

An old pioneer era mid-block stairway that I use to get home from the coffee shop/downtown.
(Side note: every time I try to explain my senioritis to friends or family, I always come back to the 2004 classic, "A Cinderella Story" staring Hilary Duff. There is a scene where her evil step mother played by Jennifer Coolidge protests Samantha taking off work to study for school. Coming out of the tanning booth, she says "People go to school to get smarter, so they can get a job. You already have a job. So it's like skipping a step!").

I swear I've been doing things worth writing about in the last ten months. After the wedding, Jake and I took our honeymoon in Boston, Portland, Provincetown and Cambridge. We took plane, train, bus, subway, ferry, taxi and even a friend's car to get from adventure to adventure. I started a part-time job last fall with Bountiful City as an assistant planner.

We went to Denver. Twice, actually. (Edit: we actually went three times! We had a very brief 4 hour layover in Denver on our way out to Atlanta). Then, in January I finally got the chance to take Jake to North Carolina so he could see my home town of Clemmons. Then there was a quick trip down to Los Angeles for a little weekend getaway. We currently have a weekend trip to Seattle in the works, so stay tuned for that.

Another view from my walk home
It feels like every moment in between has been filled with homework. I know that isn't true, but it sure feels like I've had a lot on my plate this past year. Between internships, new jobs, school and life-- I often feel like I'm running on autopilot. I have to remind myself pretty regularly that life after college will be here sooner or later. I hope that I can make the best of the last two weeks I have before graduation. Even graduation feels like a distant dream, though. 

Jake will be going full time at his company in a few weeks here, and my job is expected to go full time sometime in July. Unfortunately, I will have to apply for the full time position as this is government. I'm not sure how I feel about that yet-- on one hand it seems like a great opportunity and a step forward for my career. On the other hand, the position is designed to be long term, and I'm going to be leaving Salt Lake in the next year or so for graduate school. 

I'm starting to feel this itch to make plans for my next adventure in life. I have a feeling I might want to pivot slightly in my career path, maybe to something in the private sector. Urban Planning graduate programs are largely designed to encourage focus and I feel like that will be good for me after such a broad undergraduate degree. I just need to keep reminding myself that I'm STILL 21 YEARS OLD and that I have a lot of time ahead of me to make decisions. Patience has never been one of my strong skills, and I certainly wouldn't mind getting ahead sooner rather than later. 

I'll leave with one final bit:

Jake and I have made a tradition of going to Catholic mass every Christmas and Easter. In part it is a way to celebrate our Christian upbringings, but I'd wager that it is mostly to hear the 79 rank organ and trumpets belt out incredible hymns. I snuck a quick video of the opening hymn to give you an idea.

Thanks for sticking around with me! I'll catch you next time.

27 May 2016

Making of a Wedding

The last few days of wedding planning were absolutely insane. Well, really the last two weeks were just crazy. Jake and I had our two week break between Spring and Summer semesters so a lot of our planning got restricted to that time period to make sure all loose ends were tied up.

Now that the wedding is over, I can finally take a break and look back on it all. Our photographer is still working on the bulk of the photos take that day, but he did get a few back to us for personal use. While I might wait a week to look over those photos and all the beautiful memories of that day, I can look over the two weeks preceding it. Frankly it was all such a whirlwind that I didn't take many photos of all the errands we ran or the places we went to. It is interesting what I did document with my camera and I thought I may as well share those with you here.

This was after I got back from Target. We bought all our frames there to match our existing frames in the house and did our prints there as well. I set them up on the dinning room table so Jake could see them when we got home. We eventually put these photos in front of our guest book at the wedding.
It was clearly adorable enough that I took a photo of it.
(Also, is it still called a dinning room table if our apartment doesn't have a dinning room??)

Cat on a chair. I was cleaning out something from under my desk so I move my chair to the most convenient place, which happened to be the couch. Being a cat, she had to sit on it.

I ran a super secret mission for Jake just a week before the wedding. Part of it had me traveling to the Great Salt Lake. Since I didn't tell Jake about it at the time I took a photo because it was so gosh darn gorgeous and I really wanted to remember it.

My cat looks thinks she is a human. She isn't even that far off. Again, super adorable and photo worthy.

Another cat photo. I mean, just look at her! SO CUTE. TAKING A LITTLE CAT NAP.

There are more cat photos in here than I thought. Our apartment was so full of boxes for the wedding (which normally thrill Joy), but clearly she was running out of box enthusiasm. She looks so melancholy at the prospect of having to play with another box. 

Jake and I printed all of our own wedding materials. All of the save the dates, invitations, website and programs we put together on indesign and printed at his dad's newspaper and the copy shop next door. We had just printed the programs for the wedding and they were so good that I had to take a photo.

If you haven't heard, getting our wedding suits was a disaster. After looking months in advance at dozens of suit stores, we realized that we didn't need to buy expensive suits because we really didn't think that we would have enough of a reason to wear them again. Instead, we decided to use this website founded by one of the ousted heads of Men's Wearhouse that seemed pretty cool. We knew there was some inherent risk in using that kind of a site, but we figured the cost savings would be worth it. 

We were wrong. They showed up and they looked absolutely terrible. Just baggy and cheap and awful. In a panic driven moment we ran (almost literally) to our local H&M to get some shirts to go with our existing pants. We found these perfectly fitting white button-ups and bide undershirts for like $20 and figured we would match them with our existing dress pants at home. But our local H&M only had one shirt left in our size and being Utah, the mall was closed the following day (Sunday). We woke up first thing the next morning to drive down to the next closest H&M and got our second white shirt. The photo above is me trying on what would be my wedding shirt just days before the wedding. I was taking photos to try and decide which undershirt looked best with the button-up.

Our wedding threw up all over our living room. We ended up recycling most of my sister Megan's decorations from her wedding and putting our colors on them. We had a finite amount of storage in our 400 sq/ft apartment so they ended up on the coffee table. Note the small mountain of boxes in the background of other wedding supplies.

Despite knowing how much stuff we needed to get done in those two weeks, we kept ourselves even busier with a bunch of other events.  Two days before our wedding we both went to a protest on Capitol Hill to advocate preserving Native American sacred lands. We did so much walking that day.

The week before, I attended a two day conference on the Great Salt Lake up at the University of Utah. It was AWESOME. 

Finally, a photo I took of Main Street and First South in downtown. I was hanging out at the Starbucks on that corner for some reason and looking out the window I was struck with the cascading love I feel for the city I live in. In this photo is our newest skyscraper 111 South Main and the new Preforming Arts Center that is also pretty incredible. 

I am honestly amazed that Jake and I survived the whole wedding planning process. It was all absurdly crazy and I am so glad that it is over. I'm also very very glad to be married to my husband and to know that our special day went so well. As an out going treat for y'all, here is one of the photos from our wedding day. I'll be posting a full album in not too long, so hopefully this will keep you satisfied until then.

With all my love,


23 March 2016

Getting Sidetracked in Colorado

As spring break rolled forward, Jake and I knew we needed to let off steam from all the stress of the semester. Honestly, I was getting a bit of tunnel vision with all the projects and midterms that were ahead of me, so we made plans early on that we knew would be just the ticket for a relaxing and refreshing spring break. After chugging along through mid terms, the light at the end of the tunnel was finally visible.

And what was just the ticket? An actual train ticket. On Amtrak.

So halfway through spring break, we boarded the California Zephyr in Salt Lake City on our way to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a photo I took of Jake when our train was at a stopped in Grand Junction, CO. The reason I didn't take any photos when we were boarding is because our train departed Salt Lake City at 3:30 am. AM. Part of the reality of cross country train travel is that not all stops are going to be at convenient hours. And just our luck, a San Francisco departure at 9:00 am means a middle of the night stop for us Utahns. 

And let me tell you, there is no good way to wake up for a 3:30 am departure. We had to be at the station half an hour early, and since the station was on the other side of downtown we had to get up a little earlier to make sure we could get an Uber there. I ended up sleeping for about two hours before we left, and then maybe another two hours on the train. 

Anyone who knew me at any time during my childhood knows my adoration of locomotion, and so understandably it was hard for me to fall asleep just from the excitement alone.

Traveling by train was absolutely fantastic. I've taken Amtrak a few times before while I lived in North Carolina with my dad. Once to Raleigh and once to Charlotte-- both of which were fairly short intercity trains. In contrast, the California Zephyr is a city on wheels. A typical consist has two locomotives, a baggage car, a crew car, three sleeper cars, a dinning car, a lounge/cafe car, and three coach cars. Additionally, our eastbound train had three private coaches on the end of the train. I actually looked up how much it would cost to transport three private coaches from San Francisco to Chicago on the Zephyr and it was something like $11,000. 

That being said, the train was very long-- nearly a quarter of a mile. Our coach was towards the back of the train, so it made for great views of  the front of the train as we went around bends. And the views were STUNNING.

When we finally got to Glenwood Springs, it was just after 12:00 pm. We had breakfast in the dinning car of the train where met two young guys-- one from Boston and the other from San Jose (is that right Jake? Or was it somewhere else in the Bay Area?) The weather was fairly nice when we arrived. Glenwood Springs is such a compact little city and it was perfectly walkable. Our AirBNB was just a few minutes walk from the station, and so were the city's name sake, the Hot Springs. The town happens to be home to the largest hot spring pool in the world, almost the size of a football field.

The hot springs were founded in 1888, and the surrounding town has pretty much always been a tourist city. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt once spent an entire summer in the Hotel Colorado, seen above. The idea that the town has only ever been a tourist town was actually pretty apparent. The locals we met there were extremely nice. They use the hot springs just like everyone else and seemed genuinely interested in where we were from and what brought us here. People also seemed tickled that we took the train in from Salt Lake City.

Along with the hot springs, the town has also expanded to include a few other touristy amenities. The nearby city of Aspen has all the skiing, so Glenwood Springs used the top of one of their mountains for an amusement park. Unfortunately for us, the park was running limited operations until the next week when Colorado's spring break started. We ended up taking the tram to the park, walked around a bit, and then took down the tram just a few minutes later. The views of the city were pretty magnificent though! 

Would it really be a trip to Colorado if our AirBNB wasn't a block and a half from a dispensary? Don't worry mom and dad, we made sure to keep our distance while in town. ;)

We had a pretty laid back trip. We hung out at our AirBNB for a while and tried to not over burden our schedule with activities. I picked up a copy of the local newspaper while in town and saw that a Aspen choir was having a concert that evening. They had an organ performance, and the choir sang with a chamber orchestra. It was really magnificent, although the architecture of the Catholic church was a liiiiitle gaudy. 

We headed out the next morning. The train ride home was just lovely. We spend most of our time looking out the windows at the gorgeous scenery in the lounge car. The California Zephyr travels through a canyon on the Colorado/Utah border that can only be seen by train or by rafting the Colorado river. We got dinner that evening in the dinning car. We shared our booth with an older couple from Virginia. They live about four hours from where I grew up and their accents made me extremely nostalgic for the south. They were on a trip from their home in Virginia to Los Angeles, via Chicago.

We arrived in Salt Lake City almost an hour earlier than our scheduled time, around 10:15 pm. It was early enough that all the local trains in the city were still running, so instead of taking an Uber home, we caught a blue line train to downtown and walked the last few blocks to our apartment. It was very satisfying being able another train home. It really brought our my inner ferroequinologist.

Lastly, here is a gif I made of our west bound train pulling into Glenwood Springs. I take way too many photos on Jake's phone trying to capture the perfect Instagram-able photo which results in a long set of photos that happen to translate into a halfway decent animated gif.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully you all decide that train is your preferred form of transport, or at least it might inspire you to take a trip in a way you haven't done before. 

Best wishes, and I'll get back to y'all later!

18 September 2015

An Alberta Road Trip in Selfies (And A Few Other Photos)

The selfies are in chronological order. Everything else is not.

I never really told you guys about going to Alberta! I'm getting into this bad habit where I go on these road trips and tell very few people, and then start posting photos from there. I know I never got around to posting about my Vancouver trip, and good golly, I'm not sure I'll get around to posting about the Navajo Nation, but at least I'll have Alberta down. 

So go back a month, and you'll see that Jake and I began our road trip with a 7 hour gallivant from Salt Lake City, UT to Helena, MT.  It was a good halfway point between home and our destination, and a city neither of us had been to before. It was probably one of the best stops we could have made. The town has such a cool character to it, such good Romanesque architecture and just a really cool vibe in general. It also happens to be the capitol of Montana, and our Airbnb was a quick 5 minute walk from it. Unfortunately the building was closed, but we managed to snap this photo before heading out.

Our next stop was the border! I've crossed into Canada three other times, all by land. This was probably the least dramatic of those crossings. It is lots of farm and prairie land that goes into more Canadian farm and prairie land. The point is, this particular crossing is essentially in the middle of nowhere. It happens to be at the northern terminus of I-15, and the closest border crossing to Calgary, which is the only reason it exists.

This is the Bow! Which is the tower directly behind us. This was our first night in the city after checking into our Airbnb. We just wanted to explore a little bit, and this was taken at the Olympic Park in downtown Calgary. We spent most of our time in the city doing everything from Shakespeare in the park, to Taste of Calgary (a kind of buffet of all city restaurants), visiting shopping malls, using the 15+ network of skybridges to get around the city and eventually visiting the University of Calgary.

We did spend an entire day in Banff National Park. It is sort of regarded as the Yellowstone of Canada, and it was the country's first and most famous national park. And my god, it was beautiful. Behind us are the Bow Falls. They are more of a set of large cascades along the river. We followed this river all the way from downtown Calgary to its glacial headwaters.

This is the Banff Springs Hotel. It was one of the old historic hotels built along the Canadian National Railroad to bring tourists and passengers from as far away as Toronto and Montréal. It is located directly above the waterfalls we took a picture in from of.

This is a lake. I can't quite remember which one. It was blue and beautiful. This one just took our breath away and I insisted it was selfie worthy. All of the water in the park was a glacier, like, yesterday. You can actually see a bit of a glacier in this photo, hanging high above the lake. We did a long, roughly 4 hour round trip scenic drive through Banff National Park to Jasper National Park and we probably saw at least two dozen glaciers.

This is one of the most photographed lakes in the world. It is called Lake Louise, and you should google it right this second. We were there later in the evening to beat the crowds but consequently we got the poor end of the lighting. The lake is as beautiful in person as it is in the photos. Although honestly after spending an entire day looking at one impossibly beautiful thing after another, some of the initial amazement may have worn off.

We took this one right before we left the city. Our Airbnb was in the neighborhood of Ramsay, which is an old neighborhood sitting on a bluff just over the city. There is one street that has just an amazing view of the city. There is another photo below taken at this same location of the city at night.

This is us somewhere in Idaho. We decided to do the 13 hour journey home in one giant hurrah, and it was hard not to get a little bored once and a while. Jake is a really handsome fellow.


Below are a selection of photos in no particular order that I took on the trip. I'll include captions for some of them, but mostly they are just really great things to look at.

Above is the city of Calgary at night with the Saddle Dome in front. The Saddle Dome is the centre piece of a large complex known as the Calgary Stampede, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Our train station was on the other side of that building, so we ended up walking around it probably a dozen times in our short time there.

This is the library at the University of Calgary. I had two different meetings with advisers in their planning school, and we had a self guided tour of the campus while were were there.

This one is great. This is taken from a park above Helena, MT. I would call it the Ensign Peak of Helena. You should zoon in on this one, because it was just beautiful.

The Calgary C-Train. It is the oldest light rail system in North America, and it was a super convenient way to get around the city.


Everything below this is from either Banff or Jasper National Park. The second to last photo is the Athabasca Glacier, which was so rad you should definitely google it.

That was our trip in selfies! (And some other photos). It was totally an awesome experience, and it has definitely given me a lot to thing about when it comes to deciding where to apply to grad school. I'll try my best to get my next road trip up on here from the Navajo Nation, but until then, you can always read and then re-read this post!