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.