Celebrating #PenguinAwareness with Dr. Michelle LaRue

 

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Estimating populations of penguins is a challenge given the ice even in summer. Can you tell the difference between Adelie and Emperor penguins? Photo from https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/

Dr. Michelle LaRue is an ecologist and science communicator who specializes in using Geographic Information Systems, satellite imaging and other tools to count penguin, seal and mountain lion populations. I follow @drmichellelarue on Twitter—I especially enjoy her #Cougarornot game. She recently moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. This new adventure includes research opportunities in Antarctica.

The USA and New Zealand have a history of collaboration in Antarctica. The McMurdo research station is just down the road from the Kiwi Scott base, and both are supported from Christchurch. Dr. LaRue agreed to answer questions about this new opportunity.

Q: You’ve done research in Antarctica whilst maintaining your University home base at University of Minnesota. What prompted the move to New Zealand?

A: A faculty position with Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury! Here I will continue my research on the ecology of Southern Ocean predators and look forward to building a lab in the next few years.

Q: From your new position, what do you hope you’ll be able to contribute to our understanding of penguins and the endangered polar habitats?

A: My goal is to effectively fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing – we’ve got several baseline population estimates now for Adélie and emperor penguins and we’re doing the same for Weddell seals and crabeater seals. Once those pieces are filled in, we get to start asking: why? Why are these populations in certain spots and not others? How do these species interact with each other across space and time? How might climate change impact their populations and habitats? To ask these questions we first need to know how many animals there are and where they live, so that’s my focus at the moment.

Q: Have you experienced an earthquake yet in Christchurch? And what is your favorite discovery about living in New Zealand?

A: For the first time, I felt a 3.2 earthquake back in December, though I will say the people around me didn’t even notice! I think my favorite discovery or realization is just how unbelievably beautiful it is – I mean this is something I knew before but now that I live here it’s remarkable to me how much diversity there is in the landscape in just a short distance. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to be an outdoor enthusiast!

Recall that it is currently summer in Antarctica, so she was in the field this past November. You can follow her team’s current research at https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/. Dr. LaRue also has links to a number of her video presentations and written papers on her website.

Dr. LaRue works on teams gauging the status of Adélie and Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. There are things we can do to reduce human impacts on penguins and their habitat. First, more efficient fishing vessels are harvesting the krill that makes up the food supply of penguins and whales. It is important that we stop using krill oil (I didn’t realize this was a thing; however, a quick Google search and apparently lots of people are taking it as supplements). Second, the ice is shrinking in both polar regions due to rising ocean temperatures from rising CO2. We can all reduce our use of fossil fuels by riding a bike, walking, or carpooling.

Christmas Recipes from Abroad

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The mincemeat pie I baked for Jim Adan. I used my favorite pie crust recipe that uses Crisco.

Christmas is an inspiring time for baking. I usually focus on pie but I never liked mincemeat pie. Until I spent a Christmas season in New Zealand and fell in love with mince pies (a tart size version). Kiwis sell them in coffee shops, in the grocery store in 6 and 12 packs, and at church bake sales. When I was in Ireland I fell back in love with mince pies at Starbucks of all places. Their shortbread crust and mince is the perfect combination.

Plus my art dad Jim said all he wanted for Christmas was a mincemeat pie. In the past I’ve tried mincemeat from a jar. Even the fancy stuff leaves me “meh”. I looked at the prepared mincemeat sold in the Powerscourt shop and also knew I didn’t have room in my suitcase. So I asked my friend UK Sarah if she had a recipe. She took a photo of it and sent it to me right away.

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Delia Smith’s recipe. Makes enough for two big pies or lots and lots of tarts.

I looked through the ingredients and read the instructions. I can do this! Oh, except what is suet. UK Sarah said to look in the shops before I leave Ireland. So on my way back to the airport I stopped at the grocery in Bray and found suet. I slipped it into my suitcase in case TSA might confiscate. (At the time I wasn’t really sure what suet is; I learned that it is beef fat, which sounds much grosser than it tastes.)

Once I was home I bought the rest of the ingredients and proceeded to make the mincemeat. It is not difficult. It does take time with the resting 12 hours and baking 3 hours on low heat. I made the pie for Jim and it was a big hit.

IMG_6452 (1)For the tarts I used Nigella Lawson’s crust recipe. I don’t have a photo of the mince tarts but so far everyone has been enthusiastic (and they disappeared quickly). Several people commented that the tarts are just the right balance between the mince and crust.

My friend Carole gave me Christina Tosi’s new cake cookbook. And my neighbor friend Tiffanie presented me with gorgeous persimmons. I do believe I will be baking a lot this season.

Where are you going in 2018?

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All of my travel magazines have lists of the best places to see in 2018. Some of the places on their list are on mine also, making me rethink my list. (Will it be too crowded?) I don’t actually think the travel magazines has as much influence as they want their advertisers to think they do. Travel is an investment and most people have many reasons for choosing the places they go. If you are like me, these articles sometimes help with information on a location I already plan to go. They have never been the spark for wanting to go in the first place. Have you had a different experience? Did an article inspire you to go somewhere you never thought of before?

Actually, I just experienced something similar with a story on National Public Radio. I’ve never been that keen to go to Puerto Rico. Then I heard this story about one of the world’s best bioluminescent bays getting its glow back after Hurricane Maria. Suddenly I wanted to go. Plus it would have the added bonus of helping the economy.  So Vieques, Puerto Rico is on my 2018 list of possibilities.

This year I was able to go to a few places that have been on my list for years, such as Denmark and Sweden. In 2018 I hope to finally visit Detroit, Michigan. Some friends are interested in meeting up there. We have another friend who grew up there so if she can’t meet us we know we’ll get some good recommendations from her. She still visits often. I realize that going to visit friends is a huge motivational factor in my travel wish list.

I’m hankering to get back to Belfast, Northern Ireland after a decade away. And to New Zealand after just a year away. I already have my tickets for another trip to New York City with my mom for Broadway plays and the New York Times Travel Show.

Where are you going in 2018 and why? Where are you dreaming about as close out 2017?

I have been away from my blogs for a couple of months. I bought a house and moved. I traveled and had a lot of work on my plate. I also just needed to gain some perspective on blogging. Why do I do it? Shall I continue to do it?

Then I read something my daughter wrote to me in a card about how I observed more closely the beauty in the world and shared it in my blog. She appreciates that and so do I. The process of writing about the encounters with wonderful generous people, or special places does help me look at the world more generously, more kindly.

Finally, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I was reminded of all the good things about blogging. Including big ideas like freedom of expression and creativity. The Smitten Kitchen inspires ME to cook so a blog can clearly be powerful.

I hope you have wonderful lists of places and travel ideas where you may go next and heaps of photos from the places you already been. Happy New Year.

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My reason for staying home more…

 

Swatch: Vogue Knitting 35th Anniversary

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My son is 30 years old, so it is easy for me to track how long I’ve been knitting–30 years. When I was learning to knit, I assumed Vogue Knitting magazine had been around as long as the sewing patterns (1899). As a beginning knitter I regarded Vogue Knitting as the hippest, most fashionable knitting resource. Like the sewing patterns, I found the patterns more challenging. Within a few years I stretched my skills to knit entrelac and intarsia patterns from Vogue Knitting.

A few years after that it was with a huge sigh of relief when a yarn store employee remarked that Vogue Knitting often printed patterns with errors. It gave me permission to question Vogue’s authority. All the same I give Vogue Knitting a straight needle salute for inspiring me over the last 30 years. I especially enjoy the knitting events, Vogue Knitting Live, they host in New York City and Seattle.

Check out the 35th Anniversary issue of the magazine on newsstands until 11/7 for US $7.99.

Postscript: Sometimes when I travel I find a favorite food. In New Zealand I always look for Arnott’s chocolate mint cookies. They are as close to the old Mystic Mint cookies that were available in USA until the recession of 2008 put so many cookie companies out of business. The other day I found these TimTam’s in mint! At first I was concerned I wouldn’t have the self control to keep from pigging out on them regularly. However, I can’t remember in what store I found them, so I look forward to my next visit to New Zealand to be able to eat my favorite store bought cookie.

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Stocking Up on Fav New Zealand Products

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TiOra.co.nz

Whenever I leave New Zealand I make a plan in my head for a return visit, Lord willing. I also stock up on my favorite NZ products. The Dove roll on deodorant is better here, not sure why. I also bought a number of Lynley Dodd children’s books for my newborn grandson. Finally I bought manuka honey. It is a lot more affordable to buy it here than in the USA.

Manuka honey doesn’t taste distinct from other honey, but it has terrific medicinal properties. The Maori have long known the medicinal qualities of the manuka plant and of honey from bees collecting manuka pollen. In 2006 German scientists isolated the property that gives it antibacterial properties (methylglyoxal). I use a little every morning on my toast or in a bit a of tea if I’m feeling under the weather. The amounts are probably not enough to be more than a placebo effect. Nonetheless, I like to have some on hand.

Bees generally collect from one type of flower rather than sample many types. Manuka grows in groves (like manzanita or gorse) and once they start collecting the bees are able to recognize and return to the same flowers by sight and smell. Once the hive is committed to the manuka flower the bees use dance to communicate to the rest of the workers locations of blooms. Beekeepers can also test their honey to establish the level of “unique manuka factor”.

I am trying a new manuka product this visit. Our penguin guide swears that manuka tea will cure sea sickness. He’s used it and it worked instantly. I am skeptical since my seasickness is both severe and related to the convoluted shape of my ear canal. Nonetheless, I am going to try to find a way to test it because then I could go to Antarctica with less trepidation.

The final product I am bring home is chocolate. I mail Crunchie bars to my friend Mara. They are a Cadbury bar made with honeycomb and chocolate. I also bring chocolate fish (also by Cadbury)–fish shaped marshmallow dipped in chocolate. I also usually bring a Picnic bar for myself when I’m feeling low from missing the clean air and southern light of New Zealand.

I bought my AllBirds in the USA (from the internet: http://www.allbirds.com). On this visit I noticed AllBirds are trending in New Zealand, although Kiwis are more likely to wear them without socks. I also learned they are washable and I have subsequently washed them and they look like new! Check it out:  http://thisnzlife.co.nz/put-new-zealand-merino-allbirds-shoes-test/

The Giant’s House Finally!

I have visited Akaroa three times and finally I was able to see The Giant’s House. It seems it is more famous with foreign visitors than with Kiwis. None of my friends from New Zealand–even those who love Akaroa–had heard of it. This sculpture garden is an eccentric treasure.

I admire people with vision who develop the skills to execute it so masterfully. I am such a gadfly in my interests, I cannot imagine sticking with a project 17 years, let alone staying with it still. Josie Martin combines her love of horticulture with her artistic expression through painting and mosaic sculptures to create a truly original garden on the hill.

Someone in the village told us that she offered to create mosaic sculptures for the town of Akaroa, but the town council said no. She turned the no into a Yes! Yes! Yes! The hours are limited because she manages it herself. On the day we visited we paid the artist $20 each to visit her garden and gallery. We could stay until closing. We made sure to return and thank Jose for the experience.

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One of several ceramic self-portraits of the artist in the gallery.

I am so glad I finally got to see the Giant’s House. Find out more at Trip Advisor. (#1 of 27 things to do in Akaroa.)

Akaroa, Jewel of the Banks Peninsula

The road to Akaroa is a bit twisty, and yet for your effort you are rewarded with views, great restaurants, penguins, art, and more.

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Created by volcanic explosion and settled by French pioneers, Akaroa is a small village constrained by steep hills and water.

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We stayed at the Akaroa Criterion Hotel–great location and management. It is an easy walk along the waterfront to restaurants and shops. It is also next door to Sweet As Cafe.

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Entertainment, war memorials, and a great store for buying merino wool sweaters and other possum items at Woolworx.

This beautiful spot is in my top three places in New Zealand. Go already!