Sunday, February 1, 2015

Notes from January

Kind of hard to believe that the first month of 2015 is already over (and I'm still writing 2014 whenever I need to write the date). The first few months of any new year always make me feel impossibly ahead of schedule - like how can it be 2015 already?? And how is it possible that we just extended our lease until 2016? But since we haven't taken a ride in a DeLorean lately it seems like 2015 is really here, and we'll probably be used to it after a few more weeks.

So far 2015 is treating us pretty well; in the last month we've done a few noteworthy things.

Bosque del Apache

Eric's family had been to this wildlife reserve a few times during his childhood but I had never been, or even heard of it until we moved here. So we took advantage of the long weekend and drove south to see some birds. And did we ever! In addition to the famous sandhill cranes and snow geese that migrate there in the winter (mostly from Northern Alaska), we saw bald eagles (at least six, including some adolescents!), kestrels, a roadrunner, Canadian geese, and a coyote. And the reserve itself was beautiful. (I didn't get any good pictures of birds on my point-and-shoot camera but trust me, we saw them.)


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Space: The Next Frontier, But Certainly Not Final

Marie and I went to Mexico for a couple weeks in November. One of the many times we found ourselves looking out at the horizon line over the ocean, I wondered aloud why so many humans take comfort in looking at the ocean, why so many humans find solace in the unknown sea.

I thought about this for a while. I realized we are only a few generations removed from those who looked out at the ocean as an unknown world, foreign to our senses, our adaptations, and our knowledge.

Now, thanks to the TV show Planet Earth, metallurgy, and James Cameron, we know more than can fit in to our brains about the 2/3 of our planet that is underwater. The ocean represents a physical world that we can just barely touch, just barely experience, but just barely enough to know it and to learn from it. The ocean was (and currently is) the last great frontier for humans to explore on the planet.

Just as early explorers set out to know the oceans, we are setting our sights on space exploration, and I couldn't be more excited to live in this era.

I can't talk about my interest in space without mentioning my Dad. When I was in elementary school, he built this huge 8-foot-tall telescope. It looks like this:

Not actually my Dad's scope, but looks just like this one.
He'd set it up in the field at school and invite the class to come out at night and check out the sky. Some of my best memories of my childhood were going camping with my Dad in Fox Park, Wyoming. We'd load up the telescope and drive out to meet other astronomers quite literally in the middle of nowhere, and stay up until late walking around, gazing at the stars, nebulae, globular clusters, planets, and other celestial wonders. At home, he'd set it up in the middle of the street. Cars would stop by asking what it was... sometimes people even stopped for a look. I took this for granted at that age. Doesn't everyone's dad build a huge telescope and plop it down in the middle of the road?

My Dad, bringing the world a bit closer for my sister.
It was my Dad who unknowingly introduced me to Carl Sagan. When I was in high school, I remember he was putting together a box of books to take out for donation, and I grabbed "Pale Blue Dot" off the pile. I've read and reread it several times over since. Just this Christmas break, he took us all out in freezing weather over Christmas break to catch an amazing pass of the International Space Station.

It's easy to forget where we are. It's easy to forget how infinitesimal our place is in the universe. Understandably so, because we literally cannot comprehend the size of the universe let alone our own solar system. But it's also easy to forget because we have to consciously take a minute out of our daily lives, look up, and wonder.

This simple act of changing perspective, I believe, is deeply embedded in our consciousness. It's why we evolved. It drives us to explore. It's what we feel, standing at the ocean shore. No other life form that we know of exhibits inquisitiveness and curiosity to this degree. We constantly are exploring and learning, just for the sake of it. Exploration makes us human.

This may not be a revolutionary realization, and it should be noted that I am not a scientist. I'm more of a daydreamer. And my scientist friends out there may shake their heads at my probable lack of understanding of the true nature of the industry. But I truly believe that we, as a nation, need to find the passion that John F. Kennedy ignited when he announced our lunar ambitions. I think the world needs more daydreamers to push the industry in the direction we want it to go.

With that being said, critiques of NASA often include worries that we shouldn't be sending our money in to space. (As if space exploration isn't awesome enough.) Those arguments don't hold water in my mind. NASA and their contractors also innovate and create new technologies that greatly improve our society here on the ground. Power drills, firefighting technology, memory foam, solar panels, water purification systems, and artificial limbs, to name just a few advances resulting from space exploration and related endeavors. And they do it all on a shoestring budget.

The Department of Defense is the one of, if not the greatest driver of scientific innovation today. And often, the interests of organizations often overlap; many contractors who work with NASA make their bread and butter through defense contracts. It's a fine balance between the two diametrically opposed forces of exploration and destruction.
"And yet we’ve always had an odd standard for judging the cost and the value of manned space exploration. As it happens, the cost to run and sustain the Space Station is about the same as the cost to run a single U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier battle group. We have 10 aircraft carriers at sea, with two more under construction. And while an aircraft carrier at sea is a hive of nonstop activity, that activity is arguably just as circular as what goes on in space. It involves maintenance and routine operations and practice for fighting that most likely will never happen." The Atlantic

Isn't that the great irony of the space industry? With the ongoing face-off between exploration and destruction, I wish I had the power to tip the scales.

I know who does have the power. Unfortunately, it's a lot of people; a critical mass of citizens telling their leaders where our priorities should lie. Fortunately, space exploration has universal appeal. Space has awoken the imaginations in every culture in every part of human history. Now we have the power to explore it.

We were bounded only by the Earth, and the ocean, and the sky. The open road still softly calls.
- Carl Sagan

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014: the year we got married


2014 was a pretty great year for the Brayden-Schow family - we traveled internationally, explored New Mexico, accomplished some great personal goals... oh, and we got married!

That was pretty big. And it's been on our minds a lot this week, since we've been looking over our wedding pictures and picked some to put in a frame (which is maybe the most adult thing we did in 2014). And we watched our wedding video for the first time.

A whole lot of the last year was spent planning our wedding - in fact, a year ago today we were sleeping in the back of Eric's truck across the street from the Hyde Memorial State Park office so we could reserve our date before anyone else. And once we had our date and venue, we started planning in earnest, and kind of didn't stop until the day before our wedding.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Best Day of Our Honeymoon

Two weeks ago, Eric & I got back from our honeymoon - two fun, fascinating, adventure-packed weeks in Mexico. Neither of us had ever been to Mexico and we loved it and want to go back as soon as possible.

December is usually my favorite month of the year, in large part because with my birthday and various holiday festivities it always feels magical and celebratory and exciting. In the weeks since we've been back it's been a little hard to focus on those feelings because of various small stressors in our personal lives and because of some awful, depressing, soul-crushing current events from the last couple of weeks.

In an effort to relive some happier memories - and because people have asked about the trip and I have been too busy to put all our pictures and stories on the internet - here is the story of the best day we had on our honeymoon.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-Election Day Thoughts.

Hi everyone - Eric here.

So it's November 5th. We've all had to endure the drudgefest of election season yet again, and here we are, with an outcome not all that unpredictable by historical standards. While I don't identify as a Democrat, I generally align myself with views of the Democratic party, truly only because I feel they are the only major party that seems to understand why empathy, compassion, and equality are important to social progress. Somewhat surprisingly, I don't really feel strongly about the results of the Congressional elections.

When politicians are beholden to those who pay their way to job security (corporate lobbying), of course they aren't going to represent your interests. Would you do something against the interest of your boss? Probably not, and your boss would probably stop paying you. In this way, nearly all politicians, Democrat or Republican, are corrupt. So honestly, I could care less who runs the House or the Senate. We've all voted for people who don't walk the talk, because none of them do. They're all bought and paid for.

So, in the wake of a very normal, predictable, historically-definitely-precedented election, here are some thoughts that are running through my brain.  

To the Republicans: It's time to put your money where your mouth is. Or rather, it's time to put your Super PACs money where your mouth was. Not to say you have a mandate; there's always the veto pen, so don't get too excited. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, do you go full Sam Brownback and ruin Kansas (e.g. bankrupt the nation)? I want to see if you are committed to your positions, even though the economy is better than it's been in years, and that seems to be the only issue you care about. For the last eight years, you've done little but obstruct. Time to act on your words, as crazy as I think they might be.

To the Democrats: Don't be so dour. You saw this coming, and you are cowardly for abandoning the president when he has actually been very successful in a number of metrics (not a personal endorsement). Look at the results from the actual issues of the election. Most of the actual issues that are aligned with progressives generally passed. Whether that was higher minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, or personhood amendments, it wasn't a bad night for the things many of you stand for. Kind of strange that voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, and no personhood definitions, yet Republicans win the Senate. To me, that points to the out-of-control Congressional redistricting, which has roots in race and class, but that's a whole other can of corn.

To the nonvoters out there: Vote. Do it. Even if it feels useless. Politicians count on people like you to not vote. We have some of the worst voter turnout in the world, especially among developed nations. Even if the people running don't represent your views, at least vote on the issues. It's a way to feel a sense of responsible patriotism, and you get a sticker to show off to everyone. If you continue to not vote, have fun with your pity party and unwillingness to participate in your own democracy. Your choice.

To my fellow voters, regardless of affiliation: Make corporate campaign contributions a central issue in the next election. Demand it. This issue bleeds in to every national conversation that we have, and clouds decision making on every level. We must fix the way our politicians are elected. I wholeheartedly believe it is the most important issue of our time. Climate change? Women's rights? Gun violence? Banking regulation? Food system? Energy? Police militarization? Foreign policy? All of these things and countless more nation-wide issues are corrupted by the influence of money in politics. We must be united on this front as Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and anyone else.

Anyway, I don't believe much will change after this election. Let's make political corruption a top issue next election, and see how things change.

Zeez actively fighting political corruption.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hitched!

We did it - we got married! And we even get to share an anniversary with Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney.
We got to take a picture with some bighorn sheep on our mini-moon in Taos!
It's not really our style to share everything about it on the internet - as much as it was a super fun party, it was also a pretty intense, personal, emotional moment for Eric and me, so we want to keep some things off the internet, and some memories we'd love to share and relive in person. But we will share a few things here, and a few pictures when we get them from our wonderful photographer.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Gratitude and Privilege

Recently, Eric & I can't stop talking to each other about how much we have to be grateful for.

On the morning of our second day backpacking.
 At the beginning of August, we finally went backpacking together for the first time - a trip two years in the making. We spent two days in the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, starting at a trailhead that is a half-hour's drive from our house. We had amazing weather, saw some beautiful wildflowers and lakes, and even harvested some porcini mushrooms. It felt wonderful to really get away from everything and spend time in the beautiful wilderness that's practically in our backyard.

My half-marathon training is going really well. I feel stronger than ever and the idea of running 13 miles in a few weeks seems more and more possible every day. Eric's been running with me on my shorter training runs, and it's really fun to start our mornings with a sunrise run. It feels so good to be working toward this goal and seeing the progress, and exploring Santa Fe on foot has lead me to some spectacular views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

Eric with his first cherry tomato from the garden!
 It's harvest season, and Eric's garden is producing some delicious tomatoes, potatoes, kale, broccoli, and even a few strawberries. This morning when I needed a few more tomatoes for a recipe, I just walked out front and picked a few right off the vine - how cool is that?! And on Saturdays, we usually bike to the farmer's market to get the rest of our produce. Right now it's green chile season - the best time of the year in Santa Fe, probably - so the scent of roasted chiles fills the air.

Our most recent surge of gratitude comes from this happy news: Eric just started a new job as Program Coordinator for the best park in Santa Fe, which is right up his alley. He'll be spending a lot of time in the park, maintaining the gardens and educating kids & adults about plants. Last Monday and we both biked to work; on the way home, we met up on the bike trail by our house and rode home together. It was pretty darn cute.


And of course, we are continuously grateful for each other; for our life in Santa Fe; for Zeezy, the best cat in the world; and for all our friends and family that will be joining us next month for our wedding.

But while we are basking in all this gratitude, we definitely don't forget for a single minute how privileged we are.