Iowa Master Conservationist

Have I mentioned yet that I am taking a class to become a Master Conservationist?  It’s offered through the Iowa State University Extension Center.  It’s a program that lasts from February – October.  We attend 10 classes which cover biodiversity, woodlands, water quality, wetlands, sustainable agriculture, etc.  Some classes are held in the Nahant Marsh training center.  Other classes will be held out in the wild! I’m really looking forward to those.

Our first class was Tuesday night.  It was a full-house too.  The attendees run the gamut from Biology students working part-time at Nahant Marsh to retirees trying to turn their acreages back into Iowa prairies.  It’s an interesting bunch of people.  The instructors seem great too – very well educated on the subject matter and with a knack for interesting stories and good humor.

I learned a lot of interesting stuff, just in that first night.

  • Members of different species cannot mate and have viable offspring.  For example, if a horse and donkey mate, they produce a mule, and almost always the mule is sterile.
  • Our current time has the highest rate of species extinction.  Way to go, Humans!
  • Main causes of extinction: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, population (the human population has grown from 1 billion in the 1800s to 7 billion in 2012!!!), over-harvesting (which has caused the extinction of plants like Ginseng).
  • Fire and bison kept Iowa as 85% prairie (and prevented it from becoming forested).
  • Within 140 years of white people moving into Iowa, the diverse prairie was almost completely replaced with row crops, destroying the habitats of several animals.
  • Iowa used to be where Costa Rica is now.
  • Sandstone in Iowa is found in the location of ancient lakes.  Limestone is found in the location of ancient coral reefs.
  • Glaciers used to block the Mississippi and reroute it.  At one time it formed a huge pool over by Plainview, IA.  That huge valley used to be the home of the mighty Mississippi.

Good books to read, if you are interested in this kind of stuff: Iowa’s National Heritage, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, The Emerald Horizon by Cornelia Mutel, The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson.  I have a feeling that these books will depress the hell out of me, but I’m going to read them anyway.

And that was the first night in a nutshell.  I think this will be a super interesting program.

Zentangle – Day One

The Mammacita and I took our first Zentangle class at the Figge today.  Mom has been interested in Zentangle for awhile, and she got me interested in it as well.  What is Zentangle, you ask?  Well, despite what the teacher said, it’s essentially structured doodling.  You take a 3.5 inch square of nice paper, draw a dot in each corner, connect the dots with rather “floaty” line (no straight connections).  Then you draw a dot in the middle of each line and draw a swoopy Z between the lines.  This separates your square into 4 sections.  In each section you design a different “tangle” which is basically a pattern that can range from dots, to lines, to branches, to grids, etc.  There are probably literally hundreds of different predesigned patterns, and of course you can always design your own.

Here are the tiles Mom and I created yesterday:

Mom’s, of course, are better.  Hers are the ones on the right – beautiful balance of light and dark and excellent shading!  But the first rule of Zentangle, is “There are no mistakes.”

Despite being a very simple idea, it’s actually pretty fun to do.  A while back Mom got a huge kit of Zentangle books and markers (Micron pens in all shapes, sizes, and colors), so she split her hoard with me.  I woke up thinking about creating some “tangles” today.  I have to say, it’s pretty addictive.

The woman who organized the class, Pat Bereskin, mentioned that she might organize a group of people who want to meet regularly and do Zentangles together.  I think that would be really fun.

I have a hard time explaining the allure.  I think it’s a combination of several factors.  For people like me, who have a hard time creating art not based on a picture, the art form gives you a template to work with – just enough structure to provide comfort, but enough flexibility to let your creativity shine through.  Also, the small size makes it manageable.  It’s hard to find an hour or two to work on a 25″ square watercolor painting, but finding 15 or 30 minutes to do a tile or at least one section of a tile is completely doable.

I think it would be fun to make time to do a tangle a day.  I think it would be a good way to flip your brain to the Left Side for a while, and it would end up being almost a visual diary of your life.  I might do that…

The creators of Zentangle (who, Mom and I decided, should have really been Tim, based on the artwork he showed us), offer a Zentangle Certified Teacher program.  Of course, like all things branded as Zentangle, it is quite expensive (around $800).  But it sounds like a good time. 🙂  Plus, our 3-hour class yesterday cost $45.00.  I bet around $30 for each student went to the instructor.  There were at least 30 people there – so that’s $900 she made in 3 hours.  Plus, she had the official Zentangle supplies there for sale.  And they are NOT cheap.  The paper they use for the tiles IS beautiful, but wow – it’s like $ 0.55/tile.  So what I’m saying, is that in a couple of classes, you could recoup your expenses.  Maybe you could write the class off as a business expense too.  Hmmm….

Anyway, I didn’t spring for any of the pricey Zentangle stuff at the class.  Instead I pulled out my huge stack of partially used sketchbooks and cut up some 3.5″ tiles.  Using the scissors to cut them up was annoying, so I found a paper cutter on eBay for $9.99!  The shipping is $15, but that still seems pretty cheap.  I’ve been wanting one anyway – to cut up ATCs (Artist Trading Cards).  I’m really going to need to convert a room in our basement to a studio.  I’m accumulating too much art junk.  The Computer Room can no longer contain it.

If you are interested in learning more about Zentangle, here are  a few links for you to check out:

Official Zentangle Site:

Neat company that sells cool pens, paper and Zentangle junk & stuff:

Arts/Crafts Projects

I have not been a total lazy bum lately.  Actually, my productivity will probably continue to go up, as Tim and I recently finished watching Lost on Netflix.  That a was a huge time-suck, but what else are you supposed to do in the dead of winter in the middle of the Midwest?

Anyway, I’ve worked on a couple of projects lately.  The first one I started a few weeks ago.  My brother took this amazing picture of his dog, Jojo, staring straight into the sun.  You could see the sun shining through his eyes.  So beautiful.  I tried to capture it with watercolor, but it didn’t quite pan out.  Here is take 1:

I like how light his eyes are and how the front of his face (the side facing the sun) is pretty bright.  However, I didn’t get the slope of his forehead right (Jojo is part Pit, part Boxer), and his juicy jowls were underdeveloped.  I also wanted to blacken the background some more with another coat of Lamp Light guache.

I think I just made it worse.  Here is take 2:

I ended up darkening the face too much and accidentally took the light out his eyes.  Oh well, live and learn, right?  I should try the whole painting over again, but that’s just so frustrating to me.  I have a zillion (almost literally) pictures of JJ to work from, so maybe I should just try one of those.

I’ve found, however, that I paint and draw things better that I am intimately familiar with.  When I am sketching or painting, I can almost feel the curve of the eye or the ear in my fingers if I’ve touched it enough in real life.  We are visiting Jojo (and my bros) this July, so maybe I’ll have to give Jojo a good, thorough head scratch, and then try my hand at painting him again.

In between takes 1 and 2, I worked on something much less frustrating.  Tim got me a Sony e-Reader, but I had no cover for it.  Tim suggested crocheting one. I decided to take him up on his suggestion and made this over the course of 2 Bones episodes:

It took 3 tries to get the coozie to be the exact right size (not too tight, not too loose), but the final effect is kinda pretty.  The coozie is unsealed at the top, so I cannot use it upside down (until I figure out how to make some sort of clasp, at least), but at least it keeps the Lucent hair off.  I just stitched a chain with a combo of Peruvian Print and Heather Grey and then did double crochets off that chain, working up until the coozie was tall enough to cover the e-Reader.  Not too shabby.  Maybe I’ll try selling these on my Etsy site. I haven’t sold one thing on it so far; maybe this is my meal ticket.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.  Mammacita and I are taking a Zentangle class on Saturday.  That promises to be fun!  I will post pix from the day afterward. I’m sure Mom’s stuff will be amazing 🙂

Love You Long Time Cupcakes

Despite the title of this post, I am still PRIMAL!  I slipped a bit yesterday, admittedly.  I participated in the Junior Achievement Bowl-a-thon, which always involves lots of unhealthy behavior.  I did pretty good except for I caved in to stress and my frustration with bad service at our supper joint and ate quite a few handfuls of popcorn.  I also drank more Bud Light than is good for me.  It didn’t even taste good, but, you know how it is at stuff like that.

Anyway, today I am back on the wagon.  Timmy Tee made me a delicious primal breakfast of bacon, eggs, and avocado.  For lunch I had a delicious curry from Exotic Thai – full of eggplant, basil, green pepper, and pork.  So tasty.

I’ve been browning some bananas for a week in anticipation of making this amazing-sounding recipe: Love You Long Time Chocolate Cupcakes.  I finally got them made this afternoon.  I ignored the instructions to use cupcake liners.  In my experience, the cake always sticks to the liners, so you end up picking cake off of paper.  It was not a good idea to ignore those instructions in this instance, however.

I don’t know if you’ve ever cooked with coconut oil.  Well, I have.  Twice.  Both times the results tasted good but were incredibly, well, moist?  Greasy?  The oil is just so oily!  The cupcakes looked awesome from the top, but when I turned over the muffin tin to dump out the cakes, only the top 2/3rds came out.  They didn’t have enough adhesiveness to stick together, and when I picked up the tops, you could tell that they wanted to fall apart into cakey goo so bad.

I popped them in the fridge while I made the dark chocolate chip & coconut milk ganache.  Then I proceeded to further mangle the cupcakes by trying to dip the tops in the ganache.  it was a rather messy affair to say the least.  Once ganached, I stuck the cupcakes in the freezer.  Hopefully they will firm up in there.  I love cold chocolate, too, so I think these might turn out to be pretty tasty.  The bits I scraped out of the bottom of the muffin tin were pretty damn tasty, at least.

Here is a photo of my sad, little cakes.

I’ll let you know how they taste frozen.  If anyone has any tips for cooking with coconut oil, I’m all ears!


Bah, I say!  Tonight I did absolutely nothing. Well, I tried to bake a chicken, but it was a “stew” chicken.  Which I guess means you shouldn’t try to bake it and then eat it.  It was the scrawniest-looking bird I’ve ever seen, and after it was baked, it didn’t look much better and tasted even worst.  Well, I couldn’t really get a good bite of it because it was the consistency of rubber.  It smelled delicious, but was bad in every other way.  So, I made that and then retired to the couch and Lost for the reminder of the evening.

I did nothing constructive.  I blame the greyness of the weather.  It’s the only reasonable explanation for my total lack of initiative.  Bah!  Bah, I say.

It’s my Hundred and Elleventieth Birthday!!

No, it’s really just my 35th birthday.  And actually it was on Thursday.  But at my current place of employment, you get your birthday off, or at least a day off relatively close to your birthday.  So I took yesterday off.

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a day off without some specific reason such as, one of my brothers is in town, we’re going to Chicago, Tim has the day off, etc.  I forgot how nice it can be to just spend the day by yourself to do whatever you want.  And I did.

I made myself a delicious breakfast of sautéed kale & red peppers, topped with avocado (10 for $10 at HyVee this week!) and two fried eggs.  Then I did a little online shopping.  At Sephora, you get a free gift when you place an order during your birthday month.  You can also always find extra promo codes to get even more free stuff when you order.  Plus I had over 100 bonus points, so I got to upgrade a sample.  So, I got a ton of stuff for $50.  Way more stuff than I need, especially considering I got one of the Sephora sampler kits.  They are always so fun – so many different things to try.  With makeup, I am definitely on a pendulum, I will go for months, trying to pare down my makeup kit to the bare essentials, trying to minimalize and simplify my daily routine and life.  I will start to feel suffocated by all the little bottles and tubes and cases clogging up my bathroom shelf.  So I will purge the stuff I don’t love – giving it away or tossing it.  Then, eventually, I will swing back the other way, buying way more makeup than I can use before it gets bad.  Maybe this swing is because I turned 35.  I think it probably has more to do with me working in an office that is predominantly women, so there is A LOT of estrogen floating around, making me extra girly.  Also, since I’m trying to eat primally, I fully expect to lose 5 more pounds at least, which means it’s silly to buy any new clothes right now because I will likely need new stuff in a month or two.  So my shopping outlet (since I just bought a new purse) is forced in the makeup direction.  Enough about that.

What else did I do?  I tried to order some pork from Geest Farms, a local farm that raises non-CAFO pigs.  They are out of pretty much everything, so I have to wait until they kill some more pigs in a couple of weeks.  Poor pigs.  Poor, delicious pigs.

I did some tech maintenance – figured how to listen to the iTunes radio stations on my iPhone. Just copy the URL from the iTunes station to a text document in Dropbox, open Dropbox on your phone, click the link, and you are listening to All 90s All The Time in seconds flat.  Of course to get that to work, I had to install Dropbox on both sides of my laptop (the Windows side and the Linux side).  I also found out about East Village Radio from my bro, so I downloaded that on my phone and got to listen to some cool tunes from NYC.

I sifted through pictures on my phone that I want to try painting in watercolor and ordered them online from Walgreens.  I love their 5 X 7 prints, but they are pricey.  I found a coupon online (SITE40) and saved 40% on the prints!

Finally I rounded out the morning by doing a little eye-glass frame shopping at  This is a website where you can pick out up to 5 frames, the company will ship them to you for free, you can try them out for 5 days, and then ship them back for free. If you like any of the frames, the frames plus lenses are only $95!! Well, since I have such a strong prescription, mine would be an extra $30, so $125.  That is SOOOOO cheap for fashionable glasses.  I have 5 frames coming my way to try out.

I did a quick PEM workout (plank, pushups, and pullups), hopped in the shower, and then headed out for an 11:15 at Lillee Leighton Salon for my shellac polish. The shellac polish is is made out of polymers that harden (almost like acrylic) under a special light.  The polish stays on for at least 2 weeks.  The application process is a little time-consuming because there are 3 or 4 coats that need to be put on.  Also Kristin, the girl who did my polish, is very fastidious about not getting polish on my skin, which is hard to do because my nails are pretty short.  She did a great job, and she only charges $20.  Plus, with the first visit, you get cuticle/nail oil which you are supposed to apply 2 times per day.  Supposedly it soaks through the polish and moisturizes and strengthens the nail underneath. Kristin even told me how to remove the polish myself.  While she only charges $5 for removal (other salons charge up to $15), she said you can do it at home the “ghetto” way.  Soak cotton balls in pure acetone, and leave them on the nail for 10 minutes.  She said you can wrap tin foil around the nail to keep the cotton ball sealed on there.  When you pull the ball off, the polish should come with it.  Anyway, the polish looks great.  You can see a picture in my Instagram feed to the right.  Next time I have it done, however, I will be more careful about doing a pre-manicure at home.  I didn’t do a great job filing my nails, and I didn’t have my cuticles pushed back to where I wanted them.  So, that’s my advice.  If you’re going to get this done – prep your nails first (or get the full manicure with the shellac polish).  Also, it sounds as if a lot of places don’t do the whole process correctly (I think there was a basecoat, a very light buff, a removal of the buffed materials with an alcohol swab, two coats of polish, then a removal of “stickiness” with another alcohol swab, then the cuticle oil.  And between each coat, the nails went into the “oven” to bake), so be sure to go to a place that is doing it correctly.

After the polish I had lunch with a friend at Bent River (burger, no bun for me, of course).  Then I headed to Target.  I spent some time in the optical shop, looking at frames.  I found two I liked, but just the frames alone were $150 +.  I went home and found them online for 1/2 that.  I’ll have to see how the WarbyParkers do and then decide what to do.

I also transferred my generic Ortho Tri-Cyclen script from Walgreens to Target.  FYI, anyone who is on that script, Walgreen’s generic is $27/month, but Target’s is NINE DOLLARS!!  Tim and I are very frustrated with Walgreens right now because they delayed in getting doctor’s approval for Tim’s asthma inhaler, which led to a frenzied Friday night while we tried to track down a doctor to fill his prescription (which we had filled at CVS where the pharmacy staff was super nice).

I also shopped for some summer stuff (for our trip to Ocracoke).  I know it’s not for 5 months, but I’m super excited already.  I got a sun hat and a sun dress.  The hat is a keeper (so says Tim), but the sun dress makes me look preggers, so it’s going back.  Hopefully I can find something better in the next 5 months…

I got home around 3:30 and started to pull out the ingredients for Corned Beef and Cabbage, only to realize that we bought a beef brisket, not a corned beef brisket (I had to Google it to see if there was a difference).  I searched online for a good beef brisket recipe, but I just found tons of them that wanted a lot of sugar and/or whole bottles of chili sauce.  I finally hit upon this Paula Deen recipe.  I left out the sugar and instead rubbed the brisket with some honey.  I didn’t have any beef broth, so I used chicken broth.  The brisket wasn’t ready in time for supper last night, but we did try a little slice when it finished up.  It was spicy and delicious.  I can’t wait to eat it today.

Then I opened a bottle of wine and started watching Beautiful Girls.  It was a very laid-back movie, which totally fit my mood.

Thanks to my employer for giving me the day off.  I had a wonderful, enjoyable day.

Maybelline Dream Mouse Blush

Um, yeah, I hate it.  At first I thought it was the bees knees, but now I’ve noticed that the fine little particles of mouse actually settle into each individual pore on my cheek.  It looks weird and is disturbing, so this is going in the trash.  What have I replaced it with, you ask, so my face doesn’t look deathly pale and colorless?  The famous Nars Illuminator in Orgasm, that’s what.  It’s this super liquid color that’s a pretty peachy-gold color.  You can’t really tell you are wearing anything other than you look better…somehow, healthier.  It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way, so I think a tube will last at least a year.  I like it.

Speaking of makeup, my birthday is coming up which means a free gift at Sephora, I do believe.  What to get?  What to get?

I just purchase a new eye liner too – Cover Girl Liquilineblast.  I dislike how everything from CG is “blasted, ” but this eye liner is pretty awesome so far.  It glides on very smoothly and stays forever, or at least for most of the day.   I’ve only been using it for 2 days so far, but at less than $7 (compared to the $29 for the Lancome Art Liner I’ve been wanting to try), it’s pretty amazing.