Category Archives: Uncategorized

SQUIRREL! …wait…

I was in Great Basin National Park, trying to take a selfie with a bristlecone pine tree.

I was having difficulties because bristlecones are wide, but also much taller than me. I also have short arms. And it was very sunny.

Droid 8-20-17 121

I was determined to get a decent selfie, until I was distracted by the chipmunks.


I never did get a decent tree selfie.


A Little Bit of Everything

I’ve always loved collages. There’s something about taking separate objects or images and bringing them together to make something new.

The art pictured above is comprised of petroglyphs–images engraved into rock. These particular rocks show superimposition, meaning that some of the art was etched over already-existing images. To see these petroglyphs and more like them, check out the Crystal Wash Rock Art site near Ash Springs, NV.

I’ve been to a lot of cool places in Nevada since moving here over a year ago.
Here’s a collage featuring a few of them:

NV Photo Collage

Pictured locations include:

The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (A.K.A. Mount Charleston)
Great Basin National Park
Cave Lake State Park
Mount Irish 
Nevada Northern Railway Train Museum
Sloan Canyon
Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Valley of Fire State Park
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Hoover Dam
Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas

Another place I’ve visited is the Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas (near Fremont Street). It’s basically a neon sign boneyard. They offer a tour and challenge you to write your name in neon. I succeeded.

Neon Jess 2

And as long as we’re talking collages, who could forget this timeless ensemble:

Ceiling of Wonders--Early

Campus, flyers, ads, candy wrappers, hand written notes–all were welcome on the Ceiling of Wonders.

Kolaches–A Family Tradition

Kolaches have always been a cornerstone of my family heritage. No family gathering–whether it be Christmas, a graduation, or even a wedding–would be complete without them. A kolache is a fruit-filled pastry which, like my family, originated in Bohemia (now split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.) For my family, making and eating kolaches is a way of connecting with our cultural roots. Grandma is the undisputed Kolache Queen, but several of her grandchildren including myself are slowly learning the craft.

The recipe we use is common through out the Spillville, IA region. 

A few years back, I recorded a radio story with my Grandma about kolaches.

Knitted Mermaid Tail Blanket

About this time last year, I discovered mermaid tail blankets. I immediately wanted to make one, but most patterns I could find were for crocheting, and I only know how to knit. After some searching, I was able to find a free knitted pattern called Jean Lafitte’s Mermaid Lap Blanket.  The finished project, was nice, but I wanted to try out a few variations for myself. Here is my version of a knitted mermaid tail blanket. Enjoy!

A PDF of the pattern is available here: Knitted Mermaid Tail Blanket FINAL

3 Mermaid Tail Blankets

Kids to short adults (I sized it to fit me & I’m 5’ 2”) but can be easily lengthened by adding sets of scales (1 scale set = 4 double-seed stitch rows).
You will need:
1) Super bulky (6) weight yarn, approximately 440 yds. ( I used Bernat Blanket.)
2) At least 1* 24in (60cm) or longer circular needles in size US 19 (66mm)
3) Tapestry Needle

*I prefer to use 2 circular needles. It allows me to knit the flat parts like using normal straight needles, and also makes it easier to knit the tighter round sections.

** Gauge isn’t super important, but mine was 3 sts x 3 rows over 2 inches.
Finished blanket measures:
44 inches around at widest point
42 inches long from waist to start of caudal fin
77 inches from tip to tail

k = Knit
p = Purl
k2tog = Knit 2 stitches together
p2tog = Purl 2 stitches together
slm = Slip marker
kfb = Knit into the front and then the back of stitch (creates 2 stitches)
st, sts = Stitches

Pattern Notes:
The blanket is knit top down and begins with a 3×3 rib stitch. The main body consists of a double-seed stitch to create a scale-like texture and the caudal fin uses a 2×2 rib stitch to form fin rays.


Cast on 63 stitches [63STS]

Row 1 k3, p3 to end
Row 2 p3, k3 to end
Rows 3-8 repeat 3 sets of Rows 1&2
Row 9 k3, p3 to end

Row 10 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 11 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 12 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                          Row 13 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 14 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 15 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 16 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                          Row 17 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 18 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 19 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 20 p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 to last 5 sts), k2tog, p1, k1, p1 [61STS]
Row 21 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 22 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 23 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 24 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                           Row 25 k1, (p1, k1 to end)

Row 26 Join work in the round by slipping first stitch of row over last stitch of row and
purl. (In other words, p2tog first and last stitches to join the round.)
Then k1, p1 to end. [60STS]

Mermaid Tail Top

Starting out with a straight stitch and joining the ends together creates a slit in the back which makes it easier to get in and out of the blanket.

Row 27 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 28&29 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 30&31 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 32 slm, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1x12)
p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1 [54STS]

Row 33 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows34&35 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 36&37 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 38-39 slm, p1, k1 to end
Row 40 slm, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1)x12, p2tog,
k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1 [48STS]

Row 41 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 42&43 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 44&45 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 46&47 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 48 slm, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 x12), p2tog, k1, p1,
k2tog, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1 [42STS]

Row 49 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 50&51 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 52&53 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 54&55 slm, p1, k1 to end
Row 56 slm, p1, k2tog, p1, k2tog, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 x12), p2tog, k1, p2tog, k1,
p2tog, k1 [36STS]

Row 57 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 58&59 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 60&61 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 62&63 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 64 slm, k1, p2tog to end [24STS]
Row 65 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 66 Lay body of tail flat on the ground. with the slit you created with the first 26 rows centered so that the caudal fin will lay flat. Match up the 24 stitches one in front
and one in back so that there are 12 pairs of stitches. With other needle, slip
back stitch through front stitch 12 times so that there are 12 stitches remaining
and the end of the tail is closed.[12STS]

Caudal Fin

The body of the tail is closed on Row 66 and the caudal fin is created using straight stitches and short rows. Make sure that the slit at the top of the blanket is centered in relation to the caudal fin so that the blanket lays flat.

Caudal Fin
Row 67 k1, kfb x10, k1 [22STS]
Rows 68&69 k to end
Row 70 k1, kfb x20, k1 [42STS]
Row 71 k2, (p2, k2) to end Row 72 p2, (k2, p2) to end
Rows 73-90 Repeat 9 sets of rows 71 & 72

Row 91A (k2, p2) x5, k1 [21STS]
Row 92A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x5 [21STS]
Row 93A (k2, p2) x4, k2, p1 [19STS]
Row 94A turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x4, p2 [19STS]
Row 95A (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 96A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 97A (k2, p2) x3, k2, p1 [15STS]
Row 98A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3, k2 [15STS]
Row 99A (k2, p2) x3, k1 [13STS]
Row 100A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3 [13STS]
Row 101A k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p1 [11STS]
Row 102A turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2 [11STS]
Row 103A k2, p2, k2, p2, k1 [9STS]
Row 104A turn work, p1, k2, p2, k2, p2 [9STS]
Row 105A k2, p2, k2, p1 [7STS]
Row 106A turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2 [7STS]
Row 107A k2, p2, k1 [5STS]
Row 108A turn work, p1, k2, p2 [5STS]
Row 109A k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 110A turn work, k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 111A k2, p1 [3STS]
Row 112A turn work, k1, p2 [3STS]
Row 113A k2 [2STS]
Row 114A turn work, p2 [2STS]

Bind off 21 stitches. Slip last bind off stitch over the first stitch in the second half of row. Weave yarn through your remaining 22 stitches so that you are starting the next row on the outer edge of the tail rather than the middle.

Row 91B (k2, p2) x5, k2tog [21STS]
Row 92B turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x5 [21STS]
Row 93B (k2, p2) x4, k2, p1 [19STS]
Row 94B turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x4, p2 [19STS]
Row 95B (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 96B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 97B (k2, p2) x3, k2, p1 [15STS]
Row 98B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3, k2 [15STS]
Row 99B (k2, p2) x3, k1 [13STS]
Row 100B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3 [13STS]
Row 101B k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p1 [11STS]
Row 102B turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2[11STS]                                                                      Row 103B k2, p2, k2, p2, k1 [9STS]
Row 104B turn work, p1, k2, p2, k2, p2 [9STS]
Row 105B k2, p2, k2, p1 [7STS]
Row 106B turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2 [7STS]
Row 107B k2, p2, k1 [5STS]
Row 108B turn work, p1, k2, p2 [5STS]
Row 109B k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 110B turn work, k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 111B k2, p1 [3STS]
Row 112B turn work, k1, p2 [3STS]
Row 113B k2 [2STS]
Row 114B turn work, p2 [2STS]




Road Trippin’

Thanks to President’s Day, I recently had a 3-day weekend in the middle of the week. (I work during actual weekends.) I decided to take a quest to find some wildflower blooms.

I began my journey at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge just outside Las Vegas, NV. No flowers.

DNWR Lizard

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: lizards yes, flowers no

Next stop was Death Valley National Park. Actually, “stop” isn’t strictly accurate. Really I just entered the park via Death Valley Junction and drove south on Badwater Road. There were a couple creosote bushes starting to show yellow flowers, but nothing too exciting.

Creosote Bloom DEVA Mesquite Flats.jpg

The creosote bushes at Death Valley (code Name DEVA) were just starting to bloom.

I left Death Valley through the south entrance and found myself in Tonopah, CA. Now, I moved out West almost a year ago, and ever since Day 1, I have been hearing about China Ranch and their date shakes over near Tonopah. So, naturally I had to check it out.

The shakes were pretty good! Still no flowers, though.

I decided to continue south through Baker, CA to Mojave National Preserve. The Preserve has 2 visitor centers. The closest to Baker is the Kelso Depot, which used to be a train station back in the day. Trains still pass through, but they are all for freight–no passengers.

Day 1 ended at Hole-in-the-Wall campground (and still no flowers).

I began Day 2 with a short hike on the Ring Loop Trail near Hole-in-the-Wall campground in the Mojave Preserve. You basically hike around some rock formations and into a canyon. Then you use metal rings to climb out of the canyon. The climbing part was tricky. I’m 5’2″ and I really could have used a tall person to help me scramble up the top part. I banged up a knee and a pinky toe, and then decided it would be best if I didn’t die. So I clambered back down and walked back to my car the long way around. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is admit defeat.


I still hadn’t found any wildflowers, but decided to try one more spot. I exited Mojave Preserve and drove to Amboy Crater. I spent quite a bit of time at Amboy last year when I was a botany intern in California. There had been wildflowers this time last year, so I figured there was a chance. (Of course last year was a Super Bloom, so it wasn’t exactly the norm.)

Amboy Crater

There were no flowers to be found at Amboy this time around, but it did make a new place to stop for lunch. I briefly considered continuing south to Joshua Tree, but decided to head back instead so I could treat my car to a well-deserved oil change and a wash.

I backtracked through the Mojave Preserve and stopped for gas in Baker. I had neglected to register the day before that Baker happens to be the home of the world’s largest thermometer.

Baker Thermometer

Baker, CA is home to the world’s largest thermometer.


As I was driving past Death Valley on my way back home, I noticed a large white “DV” on the side of a mountain. Someone must have painted a bunch of big rocks white and formed them into the gigantic letters.

DEVA Rock Initials

So I did not fulfill my quest to see lots of wild flowers on my President’s Day road trip, but there was still plenty to see!

Book Challenge Accepted (& Completed)

Somewhere around August I discovered something called the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. The idea is to expand your reading sphere by completing 24 different tasks over the course of 1 year. (This averages out to 2 books a month.) To complete a task, you must read a book that fits certain criteria. Some tasks are fairly broad (i.e.: “Read a play” or “Read a book over 500 pages”) while other tasks encourage readers to explore specific genres they probably haven’t read much in the past (i.e.: “Read the first book in a series by a person of color”). There is a Goodreads group that provides suggestions of books to complete each task.

I gave myself a slight handicap, considering that it began last January and I didn’t start until August, but I successfully completed the challenge on Christmas Day with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens [Read a book under 100 pages].


I enjoyed most of the books I read for this challenge, but I did have my favorites. A few of them are described below.


The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean [Read a nonfiction Book about Science]

Sam Kean explores the periodic table element by element. Although he does describe each element and its properties, let me make it clear that this is a science book designed for non-science people. Each element is represented by an interesting story from history (i.e.: Gandhi’s dislike of iodine or Marie Curie and her experiments with radium, polonium, etc.). It’s a fun way to learn about the periodic table. For more periodic table fun check out the updated version of the “Periodic Table Song” performed by ASAPscience.



The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman [Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award]

Neil Gaiman is an amazing storyteller no matter the medium.  He has created successful adult novels, children’s stories, television scripts, graphic novels, and books of essays. He is also an unbelievable reader. Happiness is an audiobook written and read by Neil Gaiman. This particular audiobook is a full-cast production, but Neil does participate.

The idea of the Graveyard Book is that a toddler is raised in a graveyard by ghosts after the death of his entire family. While I was listening, I kept thinking, “This is a lot like the Jungle Book!” I was right. Gaiman notes at the end of the book that his story was inspired in part by Rudyard Kipling’s.

**Quick shout-out to the short story The Sleeper & the Spindle also by Neil Gaiman [Read a book out loud to someone else]. It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but Snow White also makes an appearance.**



The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood [Read a book originally published in the decade you were born]

This is essentially a modern-day (I’m counting the 90s as “modern-day”) retelling of a little-known Brother’s Grimm fairytale called The Robber Bridegroom. It takes place in Toronto and follows the lives of 3 middle-aged women and their frenemy Zenia. Let’s just say that Zenia has a way of tempting men away from their commitments.

Margaret Atwood included a present-day short story called “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” which follows these same characters in Stone Mattress:Nine Stories.



The Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson [Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last 3 years]

I think the target audience for this comic series is middle-grade girls, but it’s great fun! The story follows the misfit cabin at “Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types” as they realize that something supernatural is going on in their neck of the woods. It’s very girl-power oriented and diversity-positive. Their slogan is “Friendship to the max!”


Book Riot recently announced the 2017 Challenge. It will again consist of 24 tasks, but this year they included suggested tasks from guest authors like Roxanne Gay and Celeste Ng.


TIP: Library books are free. Most libraries these days have digital collections as well as the traditional brick-and-mortar/paper set-up. Just go to your local library’s website and have your library card handy. You may have to download an app (most likely Overdrive) which will allow you to access free ebooks and audiobooks on your computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.