Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween: My grandmother's pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

This year's Jack-O-Lantern creation, even pumpkins love to eat pumpkins!

This is a very special recipe passed down from my grandmother on my father's side. We made dozens and dozens of these every October and I even won a cooking contest with them back in college. I hope you enjoy!

Grandma's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Mix together the following:
1 cup pumpkin (canned is fine, fresh baked from the oven is better)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

Dissolve 1 tsp baking soda in 1 tsp milk. Add to pumpkin mix.
Mix well with above ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

Drop on greased cookie sheet (about 1/2 tsp size)
Bake 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy! And Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A busy week, a gift from Kansas and an eagerly awaited vaccine

Who would have though that by quitting one's job and staying home full time with a one-year-old would give you less time? I actually did expect this. Even with the one-year-old still napping twice a day I still barely have time to come up and breathe. I've been so busy that I actually forgot today was my anniversary! My mother had to remind me this morning.

It has been a good week though. I received a very happy package from deborah all the way from Kansas. It was the two pen and ink drawings I won from her blog contest. It was really cool to hear the thump on my porch as the package arrived from a woman I've never met or even spoken with. They were even better in real life than in photographs (close-up to the right). I can't wait to hang them once I have a chance (might take a few weeks at this rate). She will have a little thank you from the seashore heading her way soon....

Other amazing things have happened too, which didn't escape my very busy notice. A rogue giant red poppy bloomed in the garden yesterday beating all temperature odds and a fall snowstorm. I'd take a photo of it but it's already been ruined by today's rain. I made the best pumpkin soup straight out of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, and I received word from my child's pediatrician that they just had a shipment of H1N1 shots for kids under two and we're all set to go get one tomorrow.

That was probably the best news I've had all week. I'm in no way a germaphobe. I don't use hand sanitizer, I willing let my kid chew on the handle of shopping carts, pet's tails and random kid's toys hoping it will make her immune system stronger. But, this swine flu is getting to the core of my motherly instincts. I still let her chew on the shopping cart yesterday, I sent her to her little in-home day care center today so I can clean the house (and catch my breath!), but I've kept her out of the YMCA day care room until she gets the vaccine. There's just way too many kids that go through there everyday and the flu has hit our town's schools in force. I can put off my workouts one more day.

I hope every one's families are healthy and to those that have already been hit I hope you've recovered with minimal damage. A big thank you to everyone who signed the petition to keep our rivers flowing. Rumor is the governor has received more petitions about this issue than any other environmental issue in recent memory. It has captured his notice and we're expecting a turn around on policy any day! If you haven't it and would like to the link is at the top of my sidebar.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Petition to protect the Ipswich River is ready for signing

As promised, I'm posting the link to a very important petition to protect Massachusetts' rivers and streams. As I mentioned in a (bit angry) previous post our Governor, Deval Patrick, has allowed the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection to roll back critical "safe yield" water withdrawal levels.

What is "safe yield"? Simply put, that's the maximum amount of water that can be pumped out of a river system without damaging the river: i.e. pumping it dry. In previous summers when my local river, the Ipswich River, ran dry withdrawals were at 28 to 32 million gallons a day. The DEP was sued and levels were dropped. The past three summers the river has flowed, wildlife has flourished and the herring are starting to return to spawn.

Just when I was starting to relax and jumping for joy over this recovery the DEP has decided that the new "safe yield" for the Ipswich River will be 55.5 million gallons a day. YES: 55.5 MILLION gallons a day. That's almost twice the levels that pumped the river dry.

What will happen? All the fish will die and the river will look like this. I'm fairly sure those are dead fish in that puddle in the foreground. So no fishing, no kayaking, no working beaver dams, and most definitely no herring fry getting out of the river to grow up in the ocean.

Please visit the Conservation Law Foundation's website to sign a petition to rescind this action. I signed it yesterday and immediately received the following reply from the governor's office:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with Governor Patrick. The Governor values your opinions and enjoys hearing from people across the Commonwealth. Please know that your views are always welcome in this administration.

The Governor and his staff strive to review every piece of correspondence in a timely manner. If appropriate, we will forward your message to the appropriate staff member, department or the state agency that can best address your concerns.

If you need an immediate response, please call the Governor's Office at 617-725-4005 to speak with a Constituent Services Aide. Again, thank you for taking the time to share your ideas with Governor Patrick. Stay involved and engaged...this is your government!

I'd like to think this is positive, but I'm not very hopeful. Thank you everyone for caring about the little ecosystem at the end of my road. The Ipswich River was listed as one of the country's top ten most endangered rivers, how is it ever going to recover if this policy goes into action?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Final organic garden tally and lessons learned from the backyard garden

The Monsanto Sucks, Michelle Obama Rocks Organic Garden is done for the season. We've had our first below freezing night here in northern Massachusetts and I doubt the few remaining zucchini blossoms will come to much. My sunflowers by the front door are no longer blooming, this photo was taken two weeks ago. I'm just waiting for migrating birds to pick them clean. But, even though the garden is closed down, I have a lot to reflect over. Most of which were lessons I learned after my first large organic vegetable undertaking.

Lesson #1: Read and follow the planting instructions on the seed packets. I got a little carried away and squeezed six zucchini plants into a space that could really only accommodate two. They sort of took over the string beans. oops!

Lesson #2: When late blight hits the entire state of Massachusetts' tomato crop don't get complacent and follow the quarantine protocols you set in place (i.e.: only wear your garden clogs in the tomato patch and not your flip flops which flip and flop all over the New England area....)

Lesson #3: Get your seeds in earlier. This was mostly my fault since I had two yards of soil to move, a needy six month old back in the spring, and a job. It took a bit longer than I though to build the bed and move the dirt. The first seeds didn't get in until late May.

Lesson #4: Be patient with your carrot crop. It was the first time I grew carrots, it was exciting and I couldn't wait to pull them up. Had I waited another month they would have been twice as big. But, they were still super tasty!

Lesson #5: Order your praying mantids before aphids take over.

There are many things I did right though. I went organic. I planted crops I knew I would eat. I picked a good spot in the yard for the raised bed. I never ran out of irrigation water since I added a second rain barrel this year. All in all it was a success!

So, for the final garden tally. Here's what I grew in a mere 6 by 14 foot piece of soil:
  • blueberries: 42
  • strawberries: 35
  • salads: 5 large
  • zucchini: 13
  • cilantro: 5 large bunches
  • green beans: 313 (about 3.5 pounds)
  • carrots: 136
  • basil: more than I can count!
  • tomatoes: 14
  • cucumbers: 9
I hope if you're on the fence to start your own little garden patch then my journey of this past summer has inspired you to try next year. It was super fun, and I'm looking forward to learning from my mistakes to make next summer's harvest twice as big!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Massachusetts governor drops the ball on river restoration

I don't like to write when I'm angry, there's too big a risk of me saying something I will regret. But, at the same time, anger often drives my motivation to get people's attention. I just heard the most angering news that our governor, Deval Patrick (who I actually voted for since he made some great promises) just reversed a very key river policy which set water withdrawal limits and protected the Ipswich River from running dry in the summer. If he gets his way, and this policy goes into action, summer kayak trips, like this one above which I lead this past August, will look more like the one below.

The full article with details is here, but some key points are the following:

"...under the state's new safe yield calculation, 165 million gallons could be drawn daily from the Charles River - nearly four times the current limit of 46 million gallons per day"

"Under the new policy...the state could draw an extra 22 million gallons per day from the Ipswich River basin."

The governor should be calling for more water conservation, not more consumption. I am baffled and irate at this decision. The Ipswich River Watershed Association will be posting a petition on their website soon. Please sign it, even if you live far far away, it will mean thousands of aquatic species won't die in order to water someone's enormous lawn.

To learn more about herring and water conservation in the Ipswich River please visit my earlier posts:
And to Governor Patrick who is running for reelection: you just lost my vote.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Goodbye hilarious little mandarin fish

I want to introduce you to another animal that I will most definitely miss when I leave my aquarium job in a few days to become a full time mother. For years and years these little guys have been on the top of my favorite list. This is a male mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus, and he's splendid indeed! This is one hilarious fish. Once he sees you lurking outside his tank he will follow your finger all over the glass if you put it out for him to follow.

When he's showing off he'll lift that amazingly colored dorsal fin as tall as it can get as if to say, "this is MY territory!" It's believed that the colors are there as a warning, as these fish give off a foul-tasting mucus if you attempt to eat them. Not that I would, they are way too much fun and far too beautiful.

We keep this species for two reasons. First, they're simply just a pretty little fish and the public loves them. And second, they love to eat flatworms which can plague salt water reef aquaria.

I will really miss them during my morning check-ins when I make sure all the animals are OK, their life support is running, and there's no major floods anywhere. This particular individual is always hanging out right in front of the glass and always lets me "play" with him for a few minutes while I'm scrubbing the nose, hand and face prints off the windows from the previous day's visitors.

While playing around with my camera a few years back I attempted to capture them. It's tough. They rarely sit still long enough.

But I did get these photos and if you play around with i photo some of the colors really turn into art. These are close-ups of that amazing dorsal fin. The first one is just a crop of the real thing. Nature sure is the best artist.

This one was altered by iphoto, even more amazing when you boost the colors!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Starting the goodbyes - goodbye cute little lumpfish!

I have three days left of work. If you've read this blog before you'll know that my job is a huge part of who I am. I've been working at a public aquarium for over twelve years and have taken care of many of its animals for over ten years now. I can't even begin to go into how much I'm going to miss my coworkers, they are a second family to me. It's hard not to get close to someone when you work with them often wearing nothing more than a thin wetsuit!

I'm comforted knowing that my human friends are a quick email, phone call or visit away. But the animals are a different story. Will they know I'm gone? Probably not. The birds might react to me during a visit with familiarity but they won't mope like a dog missing its human companion. Yet, I will miss the animals immensely.

I really love bratty animals. The more personality the better. I've cared for jellyfish for about five years now and, despite their beauty, they bore me. The shorebirds and a few fish species are another matter. One of my favorite fish is a lumpfish, and I've been very fortunate to have worked with dozens over the years. I mean, look at this fish, don't you just want to squeeze her?
Ok, so I'm a bit of a fish-geek. The average reader might be thinking, "no, I definitely do NOT want to squeeze a fish!" But trust me when I say most of my coworkers and interns think we should sell stuffed animal versions of lumpfish in our gift shop. Once you work with them and see their cute little personalities you will most assuredly want to cuddle with one.

They have a modified ventral fin that's evolved into a suction cup so they can stick to rocks and kelp in the intertidal zone, keeping them stable in the surge. Believe it or not they seem like a happy puppy to me. You can pick them up with your bare hands and place them on your palm and they just sit there, mouthing the air, looking for food. You can actually train them too as one of our marine mammal trainers did last winter. They will eat out of your hands and come over, I swear wagging their tails, when they see a staff member approaching in our ubiquitous green uniform shirts.

I will introduce you to more of my favorite animals over the weeks to come as a form of therapy for me while I adjust to full time mommyhood. It will be a joy to go through my iphoto files and reminisce over the fun aquatic personalities I have known over the years.

If you're interested in learning more about what I do you can read my shorebirds blog at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My lucky day

Today is October 1st, my daughter's first birthday. It was a lucky day a year ago when she came a month early, yet with no complications from being a preemie. And it is a lucky day again this year because I have won a pair of drawings from deborah at A Muse in Kansas that I was really hoping to win!

Deborah is a fantastic artist, I especially love her interpretations of Kansas and Vermont landscapes. She ran a contest last month and the winner received these, two original pen and ink drawings that I admired the minute she posted them a few months ago. I'm very excited and can't wait to frame them! If you have a minute check out her art, you won't be disappointed.