Spring’s first crocus

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and it’s definitely been exhausting.  My neck has also been doing some painful things, which really annoys me.  One of the worst feelings is when your body fails you!  I attribute this latest bout of neck pain to not being able swim for almost 2 weeks, being stressed, tired, and on an erratic schedule.  I never had neck pain, but over the past several years, I would occasionally get these incredibly acute bouts.  Probably because sometimes I sit for long periods of time (like, hours) doing something that requires intense concentration, then I forget to breathe and move.  Sometimes, all it takes is just moving slightly the wrong way, and then my neck hurts for the next several days.  This last bout was in fact triggered by a sneeze!  Any tiny movement might cause this rapid-fire outburst of pain that emanates from deep within my neck.  It’s like a cramp, but way worse.  When that trigger is pulled, sometimes the pain is so intense that I have to hold my breath and squeeze my eyes shut until it passes.  At night, I have to sleep like a corpse because any minor movement will send shooting pains up and down my neck, even down my arm.  Sleeping in one position is not my forte… nor has it ever been (as a baby, I rolled off the bed once; and later, blankets would end up rolled up in a ball on the floor).  The pain is always on my right side.  It turns sitting at a desk and typing into a painful experience, and if I want to turn my head, even by 1 degree, I have to turn my entire body, very, very slowly.  I’m wondering whether this is a flare-up of something deeper like a pinched nerve.  I may have to go see a doctor about it.  Neck pain sucks!

On a brighter note… Winter is almost over.  Even though I love Winter and it is the season I was born into, long winters do take their toll on you emotionally.  Today was the first day in months when I walked outside without a jacket (it was a balmy high of 45!), no gloves, and no woolen long johns.  Lots of birds were singing.  A Carolina wren was belting out right near my window.  And tufted titmice are calling everywhere.  They have such variable calls.  I had to go home and listen to the full tufted titmouse repertoire to make sure that it wasn’t multiple different species I was hearing.  Pretty soon, warblers will be singing too!

Some photos from a walk around the neighborhood…

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Some tiny green things!
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Crocus
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The last of winter’s snow? Only in the shadows of the stone walls can it hang on…

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Winter light on the bare trees. Why is March so windy?

A Liberty print revival

To my delight, I’ve been noticing a quiet revival in Liberty fabrics in mainstream retail.  I was in a J.Crew store almost a year ago (in fact, the day I bought my wedding gown!), and I noticed an incredible shirt made of this print:

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“Floral eve” Liberty print

When I saw this shirt, I thought it was one of the most interesting and unique articles of clothing I had ever seen.  The print is actually a real painting, “Herbarium Specimen”, by Rachel Pedder-Smith.  She is a botanical illustrator and all the plants painted there are portrayed in the style of a dried herbarium specimen.  I thought, “how cool that I found something scientifically and artistically meaningful at a J.Crew store!”  I eventually bought the shirt (on sale), and it’s one of my favorite articles of clothing.

This kind of got me started on a Liberty shirt collecting craze.  As far as I know, J.Crew is the only mainstream retailer that sells shirts made from Liberty fabric.  Vans, the shoe company, also has been making shoes with Liberty prints.  Liberty prints ain’t cheap, at almost $50/yard, so $100 for a shirt might sound expensive, but I view them more as works of art (investment pieces) that I will wear for years to come.  The cotton fabric itself is great quality too, so you’re not just buying something pretty that will fall apart after 5 washes.  I’m not crazy about every Liberty print, but I’ve managed to find several shirts with prints I like:

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My collection of Liberty shirts. Clockwise from topmost: Strawberry thief, Floral eve, Saeed floral, June’s Meadow, and Hera (one of the oldest Liberty prints).

You can’t really see how interesting the top shirt print is in the picture above, so here’s a close up of it.  It’s called “Strawberry Thief” because these birds in it are trying to steal the berries from the garden…

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Strawberry Thief

I only know about Liberty because my mom is really into sewing and textiles, and as a kid I would go to the fabric store with her and touch and feel all the fabrics.  Florals were definitely one of her favorites, and there are home-made curtains with floral prints in our house, as well as home-made dresses out of floral prints that she made for me and my sister (matching dresses so that we looked incredibly dorky!).  I remember the first time I touched velvet in a fabric store (it comes in giant reams by the yard), and how if you run your hand down it one way you would get a slightly different color than if you ran your hand the other way (like with corduroy pants).  We have a little bench in the foyer at home that Mom upholstered in forest green velvet, which is handy for sitting down on to put on or take your shoes off.  So from a young age… I learned how to appreciate quality fabrics and just clothes and tailoring in general.  There are so, so many fabrics and prints in a fabric warehouse that you never see made into clothing that goes to retail. 

Liberty makes very high quality cotton textiles, but what really makes them unique is their prints, which have become sort of a cultural icon (maybe not as iconic as some textiles like the Hermes scarves, but women from my mother’s generation know all about Liberty prints).  I even remember reading about one of the Mrs. Whatsits in “A Wrinkle in Time” wearing a Liberty scarf.  Their prints are just so intricate, delicate, colorful, clever, and unique.  I am really happy that an American retailer has picked up on how special Liberty is and is reviving it. 

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Brazos Bend in winter

Last weekend I returned to Houston for a brief visit.  Of course, the highlight was seeing Ben, but we also did lots of other fun things – we took our first dance lesson (awkward… dancing is hard!!!  I have a lot of respect for those who make it look effortless!), we went to Hugo Boss so that Ben could try on different styles of tuxedo, dropped off a ton of recycling (ugh, why is it so hard to recycle things in Houston!!?), brunched with some Rice friends, and even squeezed in some birding! 

Winter is a nuanced season down in Texas.  As always, birding at Brazos Bend didn’t disappoint.  The definite highlight was getting super, super close to an American bittern and watching it stalk and hunt.  The only other time I saw a bittern at Brazos Bend, it was standing extremely still with its neck stretched out at the side of the trail.  So it was cool to see it in action this time. 

Other highlights… tons of snipes (Well, like 5 or so, but that is the most snipes I’ve ever seen in one place at one time), and a glossy ibis.  Took a few pictures of the snipe and the bittern.  I was surprised at how small the snipe actually is.  They just seem like a biggish, chunky bird to me… but they looked so much tinier at close range.  Almost like I could pick it up and eat it (just kidding… kind of… people do eat them though, and this dude calls it a mystical bird).   

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Snipe

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American bittern

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Bittern hunting.

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No trip to Brazos Bend is complete without an up-close encounter with a gator!

 

New Year’s Big Snow

Over a foot fell on Long Island.

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From the biggest state in the lower 48 to the tiniest state

It’s been a whirlwind of a Christmas/winter break, but now I’m finally getting settled in up in Rhode Island, starting my new position as a postdoc at Brown University.  I’ve lived in the South now for almost 10 years (wow…), with the exception of short visits back home for the winter holidays.  Acclimating to the cold has been tough.  It’s not so much the temperature – I’m prepared for that with lots of cashmere (my parents keep the house cold, around 62 F… so instead of spending money on oil heat, we all invest in cashmere sweaters.  I even own a pair of cashmere sweatpants!), wool socks, thermal underwear, and down jackets.  The hardest thing was mostly adjusting to the drier air up here, especially indoors, since heating removes a lot of moisture from the air outside (which can be quite humid).  In Houston, I hardly ever used lotion, but here, I’m using it multiple times a day.  A few days ago, I developed a harsh cough accompanied by one of those un-soothable throat tickles.  I’m finding a room humidifier is helping a lot, as well as Ricola cough drops.  It’s taking time to adjust!   

 

It’s funny how I just moved from the largest state in the lower 48 (Texas), to the smallest (Rhode Island).  In fact… the entire state of Rhode Island is almost the size of Harris County, where Houston is located.  While I’m really happy to be back up in the Northeast, where I can now indulge in real pizza, bagels, clams, lobster, enjoy the four seasons, and be closer to my family, there are some things I do miss about Texas (in no particular order):

1)  fresh okra

2)  Shipley Do-Nuts (Dunkin Donuts is alright, but their donuts are too dry and cake-like)

3)  temperatures in the 60s – 70s in the middle of winter (but, I really do like having 4 seasons…)

4)  the good birding, wildlife viewing, and plant life all year round, especially down along the Gulf Coast

5)  cheap gasoline

6)  cheap (and often good) restaurants in Houston

Some things I WON’T miss about Houston…

1)  the potholes and general crappiness of local streets (is this because no one ever has to plow the roads of snow in winter down there?  So they don’t bother to make them smooth?)

2)  the bad and lazy drivers

3)  the sprawl

4)  the weird-tasting tap water (I grew up in a town which won “Best-tasting drinking water in all of New York State”, so perhaps I am spoiled).

 

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