Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Furnance Inn

Many of you know that we settled on our Wedding venue and today I wanted to tell you a little more about it and the experience of finding it. The Furnace Inn is that place that's tucked away off the beaten path that the "normal" bride might overlook. Well as you know I am not a normal bride at all. The main criteria that I wanted for my venue: history. Well this place has history in spades.

This excerpt is taken from The Furnace Inn's website:

Image from
The Elkridge Furnace Inn holds a unique niche in Maryland history. Nestled on the Patapsco River, the Inn was first established as a tavern in 1744. An iron smelting furnace was added around 1750.
The complex itself comprises approximately 16 acres in the eastern corner of Howard County. It is graced by beautiful Linden, Holly, and Magnolia trees. The dramatic height of the main structure offers vistas of the Patapsco River from the second and third floors. A feeling of peacefulness exudes from the spacious patio and tent as well as the river overlook. The entrance to the main house features fine transitional Federal/Greek Revival detailing and consists of double leaf doors with five panes each flanked by narrow sidelights within a broad architrave.
In 1810, the Inn was purchased by James and Andrew Ellicott. They modernized the iron smelting furnace and constructed an elegant home for their family, attached to the existing tavern. The Inn complex as it stands today is comprised of the owner’s house, company store, and tavern.
The internal architecture also provides a glimpse of Maryland history. The woodwork, mantelpieces, and stairway showcase the craftsmanship of the 18th and 19th centuries. The stairway is graced with tiger maple spindles and walnut cap rails. The floors are the originals and are constructed with longleaf pine, a very slow growing pine which gives the character of hardwood. Dogwood motifs in the moldings can be viewed throughout the house and reflect a popular post colonial style seen also in the U.S. Capital. The interior rooms have been lovingly restored from colonial days, each by an individual designer, thereby giving The Elkridge Furnace Inn both a uniqueness and richness to the main structure.

The pictures on the website and this brief history don't do the place justice. As we walked the old brick walkway up to the Inn when first visiting, it was as if we were transported back in time. We met the Operation's Director for the place, the Chef, and some of the staff. Which is the other great part - the staff is family and couldn't be more helpful and not acting like they're trying to sell you something. We felt so relaxed as he took us around the place showing us the outdoor tent area where the reception will take place, the ceremony site that overlooks the river, the dining rooms where the cocktail hour will take place, and the many different rooms where the wedding party will get ready.

Not only did we learn about which places would act as what for the wedding but also what they used to be. The Bridal suite is where the children's' room used to be (the house served as the home for the Furnace Owners), the kitchen has a staircase that leads up to the servants quarters when the Groom's suite is, and so on. It was an amazing experience to learn all this history and know that my wedding would now be part of the history of this place. This place truly felt like it was made for us; Grant even got to hear little tidbits about the old wiring and engineering of the place which really peeked his interest.

All in all we both fell so in love with this place that all the other places we went to didn't even compare. At the other more "standard" places and even some of the historical ones we felt like we were picking Wedding A, B, or C. This places makes us feel that it is really our wedding and we are not simply another number to them. (Oh and did I mention it's haunted?)

If you want to learn more about The Furnace Inn take a look at their website and facebook page:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Embodiment of the Grey

Over the past couple weeks there have been many discussions about good and evil, light and dark, and demons and angels. I am of the vein that nothing is inherently good or evil; it can choose to be so but nothing is ever created or "born" into light or darkness. My way of thinking is that we are all molded from the neutral grey. Some of us are molded by our environment and those around us. Others are molded by the spiritual paths we decide to take or in some cases are called too.

Now because of these discussions I have been having I decided to go back to watch one of my favorite TV shows of all time that embodies the idea of the grey: Dollhouse. Now of course this is a Joss Whedon creation so no matter what it is going to be ingenious but this show goes beyond what any of his other work does (yes I think even beyond Firefly).

Whedon takes that idea of neutrality and grey to the extreme by creating a world where an organization called Rossum "employs mind-wiped humans known as Dolls who are implanted with false memories and skills for various missions and tasks. When they are not 'at work' they are living in a real life Dollhouse which gives the show the name. One of those mind-wiped humans, a young woman named Echo, is slowly starting to become aware of herself and what's going on - all the while somebody on the outside is trying to bring the Dollhouse down while getting closer to Echo - possibly not aware that she is one of the Dolls he is after." (IMDB)

It's hard to get too in depth with the descriptions of this show without giving away spoilers. I will say this though: whenever I think of the word grey the character Adele DeWitt (played by the lovely Olivia Williams) always comes to mind. She is the ones that runs the Dollhouse in LA and thus has control over the Dolls. In the first season the character of Adele starts to develop but already the viewer can see just how hard her job is and how one in that position can't be anything but grey.

This show is one of those shows that even though only had two season had such an impact on me. When I finished re-watching the series this week I literally was saddened to the point that it felt like a part of me was gone. I know this may sound extreme but you get so caught up in this world of grey that you feel like you too are part of it. Dollhouse takes you to this world and once you leave it you will start questions things in your own world.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day: Prostitution and Capitalism

Valentine's Day has always puzzled and quite frankly, annoyed me (and before you say I'm a bitter un-loved woman I am happily engaged actually, but still detest the holiday). It's a day where men go out and buy some token of love, the price of which is based on how much money that he makes (same can be said of engagement rings as well, but that's a whole other story). I mean let's think about it, it's really all about evolution: the necessity to mate drives them to to please the females, so that the females might be more willing towards the males advances. To put it bluntly, buy Valentine day's crap for women and the women return the favor with sexual acts. This sort of exchange of material goods for sex is on every other day of the year known as prostitution.

The name of this "Holiday" comes from St. Valentine (which is shared by 14 people who the Catholic Church saw fit to canonize, 3 of which died on February 14th.) One was priest in Rome during the persecution of Christians during the reign of Claudius II, one was a bishop of the town known today as Terni and the third one was killed somewhere in Northern Africa, where he was apparently spreading the word of God to an unwilling audience. So based on this information we are commemorating the day when three men called Valentine met their end, mostly like through some really unpleasant way. Um... what does that have to do with a day that's supposed to be all about love? (and yes I'm fully aware of the  Lupercalia which once again comes back to the idea of prostitution)

My answer: Capitalism. It's one of those holidays that seem to exist only to provide people with an excuse to buy stuff, much like most holiday's when all the shops are closed have no religious meaning at all to most of us, but suddenly the unions become hard line fundamentalist Christians when it comes to days of from work (though hell, I'm not opposed to a day off of work) Personally, I think the marketing industries have left several really juicy holidays to exploit. What about Ramadan; I mean that's a whole month! Once again that's a whole other topic.

Overall St. Valentine's day doesn't make any sense to me and it never has for that matter. Why do we need a special day to celebrate love and friendship, when everyday should be a celebration of our love towards one another? Furthermore if this day really is in fact a "Holiday" why isn't it celebrated on the Federal level? We get off other holidays like president's day and that doesn't even involve chocolate! The only good this about this day: the day after when chocolate and other candies go on sale.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Noah's Ark is a Problem

As promised, here is my Firefly inspired, anthropological blog post. So I've talked before how much anthropology and philosophy is in the 'verse but the episode "Jaynestown" has my favorite example. In this episode River has a conversation with Shepherd Book (who is a preacher) about "fixing the bible." Here is the exchange* they have:
Book: What are we up to, sweetheart?
River: Fixing your Bible. 
Book: I, um... What? 
River: Bible's broken. Contradictions, false logistics... doesn't make sense. 
Book: No, no. You—you can't... 
River: So we'll integrate non-progressional evolution theory with God's creation of Eden. Eleven inherent metaphoric parallels already there. Eleven. Important number. Prime number. One goes into the house of eleven eleven times, but always comes out one. Noah's ark is a problem. 
Book: Really? 
River: We'll have to call it "early quantum state phenomenon". Only way to fit 5,000 species of mammals on the same boat. 
Book: River, you don't... fix the Bible.
River: It's broken. It doesn't make sense.
Book: It's not about... making sense. It's about believing in something. And letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you
From a young age I questioned the concept of Noah's Ark I was told that it just worked and not to question it. When I asked why they answered "you just have to have faith."  Now yes, I understand that this isn't limited to Christianity, that most religions rely on faith to answer their questions but how is that an answer? When asked why the grass is green one doesn't give the answer "just believe that it's green", no there's an explanation behind it. Shepherd Book sums it up greatly: "It's not about making sense." Frankly nothing about the bible makes sense.

When further asking about other "contradictions and false logics", as River says I was always told that it was just hyperbole, or that I wasn't supposed to take it literally. Okay... well then if I'm not supposed to take it literally then why are we quoting bible verses to show us what's right and wrong? Am I just supposed to pick and chose what I want to believe? These were all questions I had floating around in my head when learning about these stories.

So then what is the bible? Is it a book that was written as a set of strict  rules for Christians to follow, or just a piece of literature that tells stories that may or may not be exaggerated accounts of things that happened? What I settled on it's the latter. There are some historic accounts that back up stories in the bible but for the most part it's just a bunch of mythological stories, no different than the accounts of Loki and Thor in Norse Mythology.

*Quotes from WikiQuote

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Evolution of the Human Eye

In honor of Mary Leakey's birthday I'm posting my final project for my Human Evolution class that I took Junior year of college. This class was taught by one of the Leakey's colleagues, Dr. Alan Walker. So here you have it a glimpse into some of what I worked on in my college career: The Evolution of the Human Eye.

            Scientists have worked hard to find more about the evolution of the human eye by comparing it to the eyes of other mammals, especially primates. During studies of the eyes and surrounding features of apes, scientists have discovered a trend in the evolution of the human eye. Many observations have been made during research projects about the evolution of the human eye. These observations include, but aren’t limited to: the whites of the eyes, convergence of the orbital bones, binocular vision, and color vision. These observations have lead scientists to believe that as evolution ran its course from primates to humans, it brought on the sophistication of the eye and its features.


White of the Eyes.
In modern humans the whites of the eyes help onlookers to tell where the person is looking. As humans, the whites of our eyes are much larger than those of other primates, such as chimpanzees who have a majority that don’t have any at all. This means that if someone were looking at a chimpanzee, they wouldn’t be able to tell what they were looking at. This is an example of the evolutionary process that allows humans to have the whites of the eyes, thus understanding those around us. It is a valuable skill to know where someone else is looking at so that one can survive in their environment (Tomasello, 2007).
The early humans used this technique frequently since the lines of communication were thin. They used this to detect food that another human has seen that would otherwise go unnoticed by him, allowing him to have the upper hand. It was also used to advertise good health to others, especially potential mates. The way that the whites helped advertise the health of the individual was it allowed the other parts of the eye to be visible, the color of the whites changed with illness. One could tell the size of the eyes, which was attractive to some. Another use of the white of the eyes was to tell what a potential threat was going to do next. The use of all these skills though required that the individual to be in a social environment with many others around, or it was useless (Tomasello, 2007).
To test this theory Michael Tomasello, the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and his team of researchers conducted a study on infants and chimpanzees and their reaction to eye movement. They first took children around their first birthday, before they had any linguistic skills, and sat them in front of an adult. The adult would then look up at the ceilings with their eyes, and the child would also look up. Then the adult would look up to the ceiling this time moving their whole head, but this time the infants didn’t look up. Tomasello did the same experiment with chimpanzees. They sat the chimpanzee in front of an adult and they looked up with their eyes. The chimpanzee didn’t look up. Then the adult looked up with their head and the chimpanzee looked up. The research team then concluded that this ability to judge eye movement was an evolutionary trend that became necessary to survive in a social environment (Tomasello, 2007).
Out of this experiment Tomasello came up with the Cooperative Eye Hypothesis which states:  “Especially visible eyes made it easier to coordinate close-range collaborative activities in which discerning where the other was looking and perhaps what he/she was planning, benefited both participants” (Tomasello, 2007). So this skill was something that early humans had to have to survive in their environment, and if they didn’t have it they were quickly overtaken by those who did. This is an example of Darwin’s idea of the “survival of the fittest.”
Early humans used the whites of eyes as an alternative to verbal communications, so this question is then raised: Since modern humans can verbally communicate with each other, what is the need for the white of the eyes today?  The answer is there are many different ways that we use this skill today. In wars it is used to figure out what the opponent is going to do next, since they’re not going to come out and tell you. It is also used when doing activities together, such as construction, when verbal communication is not available. Perhaps the most useful is when children are born, and cannot yet speak, are very aware of the movement of the eye.
Orbital Convergence
            Just by looking at human skulls and primate skulls together, one can see a difference in the placement of the orbital bones. Scientists have many explanations for this occurrence, but there are two main theories. The first one is the correlation of orbital convergence and larger brain size, and the second is the need to adapt to the environment, especially to what they are looking at around them.
            As evolution took place among primates, the size of the brain started to increase as evolution occurred. With the increase of the size of the brain came the increase in the sophistication of the brain to analyze and interpret more and more. Along with this increase was the sophistication of sight and other senses. Silcox, Dalmyn, and Bloch at the National Academy of Science have conducted many tests on this theory. The most helpful was when they analyzed the number of neurons in the separate layers of the brain.
          The vertical axis shows the number of neurons in the brain, and the horizontal axis shows the orbital convergence. As the number of neurons increase, for most of the subjects the orbital convergence also increases. This shows that as the evolutionary cycle takes place, the neurons increase and along with does the orbital convergence (Silcox, Dalmyn, and Bloch, 2009).
            The second, which is a growing theory among scientists, is that the eyes got closer together because of the need to adapt to the environment. There became a need for stereoscopic and binocular vision when it came to foraging for food. For both of those things to happen the eyes needed to be closer together, thus orbital convergence came to be. Also the fact that the eyes were closer together opened the door for focus when participating in tool making since one could focus on what was in front of them. Also playing a big role in this environmental adaptation was the shift from nocturnal to diurnal living (Silcox et al, 2009).
            The figure below (Fig. 2) shows the normal range of vision of a primate. The 98° range on the diagram is what would be able to be seen directly in front of them. The right and left monocular fields are what would be able to be seen using peripheral vision.

                                  Figure 2
Binocular Vision
            Binocular vision is a skill that humans have that some other primates don’t have. Most people don’t even think about it, but whenever they are looking at something with both their eyes open they are using binocular vision. A Dictionary of Biology defines binocular vision as: the ability, found only in animals with forward-facing eyes, to produce a focused image of the same object simultaneously on the retinas of both eyes. This permits three-dimensional vision and contributes to distance judgment.
Objects that are held near the eyes require considerable vergence for binocular fusion to occur, and binocular disparity signals may have an additional function in the control of such vergence eye movements. This evolutionary trend was made possible by the convergence of the orbital bones and the growth in brain development. As everything else got more sophisticated so did the way that we see things (Silcox et al, 2009).

Color Vision
            The last trend in the evolution of the human eye is the ability to see multiple colors. As humans, we have trichomatic vision just like apes and Old World monkey, which means we see shades of blue, red and green. On the other hand New World monkeys, and several other monkeys like squirrel monkeys, marmosets, etc can only see shades of blue and red. The trichromatic vision comes from a combination of different genes. We all have autosomal genes that encode the blue-light sensitive pigment. We also have at least two X-linked genes that encode red-sensitive pigments as well as green-sensitive pigments (Shyue, Hewett-Emmett, Sperling, and Hunt, 1995).

                        Figure 3
            Figure three shows the evolution of color vision. The ancestors of vertebrates originally had genes that could distinguish four different colors, known as the four-color vision system. Later, this color system devolved to two-color vision, then again evolved to three-color vision through duplication and mutation (Satta and Go, 2006).
            This evolution of color vision has many different explanations to why we need trichomatic vision. Dinosaurs went extinct some 65 mya and the nocturnal ancestors of mammals returned to daylight activity. The genes that these animals had for seeing red and blue shade duplicated and then mutated 30 mya. This gave rise to the green-type gene capable of perceiving green light. Slowly the three-color vision system developed. Along with that, the mammals with the ability to see color gained dominance in the jungle because the skill of being able to distinguish colors is important for diurnal animals. This was when our ancestors gained the ability to see color as we enjoy it today (Satta and Go, 2006).

          It is easy to see that humans have come a long way from their ancestors when it comes to the function of the eye. The sophistication of the eye has correlations with adaptation to the environment, brain size, and communication within social settings. These trends of the whites of the eyes, orbital convergence, binocular vision, and color vision that have been discussed in this paper are all essential in showing the evolution of the human eye. By doing many studies and comparing the eyes of humans to those of primates scientists have pinned down these trends and have figured out how essential they are for both early and modern human survival.

            Olshausen BA and, Field DJ. Vision and the coding of natural images. Am Sci 88(3):238 – 246.
Satta Y, Go Y. 2006. The ability to see and fall in love – the history of biological evolution and devolution. The Story of Light and People. Harvard.
Shyue, S, Hewett-Emmett, D, Sperling, HG, Hunt, DM, et al. 1995 Adaptive evolution of color vision genes in higher primates. Science 269(5228): 1265-1268.
 Silcox MT, Dalmyn CK, and Bloch JI. 2009. Virtual endocast of Ignacius graybullianus (Paromomyidae, Primates) and brain evolution in early primates. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA  106:10987-10992.
            Tomasello M. 2007. For human eyes only; [Op-Ed]. New York Times A15.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Here Comes the Bride

These are four words that until the past couple years I've never thought would refer to me, but as of December 31st, 2012 it is true! I'm getting married and for the first time since I've been engaged it actually hit me this weekend. As I talked about in my last post, I spent my Imbolc surrounded by my three bridesmaids and my mom, trying on dresses. I went into the day thinking we'd try some on just to see what looked good since I honestly had no clue what really looked good on me. Boy was I wrong.

The first dress I put on (which I will not disclose what it looked like in public, message me if you want to see a pic of it) was actually the one I ended up getting. I had no clue what reaction I was going to have, or what I was going to get from my bridal party. I thought maybe it would be like that show "Say Yes to the Dress" and I would come out of the dressing room to a teary eyed mom and awed bridesmaids. What I came out to was a empty area. Turns out my mom, in true form, was off critiquing another bride's dress while my bridesmaids were off looking at other dresses for me to try on. I just laughed and told the consultant that this was typical.

After I wrangled my troops they oohed and ahed over the dress that I had chills in as I stood up on the pedestal. Still though I wasn't sold on it so I went to try on other dresses. Most were a simple no, while others had potential. One was almost as perfect at the other one, but had a much longer train than I wanted and also had a price of $1,750. I may be waning in my cynicism but still, that much for a dress I'm going to wear once is ridiculous.

I tried back on the other dress after all the others had been tried on and I fell in love with it all over again. The consultant clipped a veil into my hair to give the full effect. We took lots of picture with me and my bridesmaids and then in true bridal consultant form she asked me: Is this your dress? I looked in the mirror, looked at my mom, and then burst into tears. This of course in turn caused my entire bridal party to tear up as well.

After wiping all the tears, getting measured (I'm a factory size 10!!!!!), and mom writing the check (have I mentioned how much I LOVE my mother?!?!) we went over to try on the bridesmaids dresses. This was a much easier process as I HATE bridesmaids dresses. It was a lot of "No." We eventually found an incredibly elegant almost evening gown looking dress that is going to be holly green (which the other color of the wedding is lilac, to make the color of the thistle). From there we had an awesome lunch as Panera (shocking, I know) and headed to the Baltimore Bridal Show where I was flooded with information and cake.

It was a wonderful way to spend my Imbolc, though I have to say trying on dresses and walking around the Expo center really took it out of me and I was sore the next day. The memories from that day will stick with me for a long time, and I'm glad I spent it with some of my favorite woman: my mom, my cousin, my best friend, and Grant's best friend who has now become on of my best friends. The journey continues as the wedding is set for May of next year. It's going to be a long process as you all know I have SO much on my plate right now. This weekend I got no homework done so this week I will be buckling down. Only two more weeks of this Programming and Scripting class!

If anyone else has an wedding stories they would like to share, please do so in comments! I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Image Courtesy of
Since today is Imbolc I though I'd post a little something about it. Now for those of you who don't know Imbolc , also known as Brighid’s Day, is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of spring observed by the Celts. To celebrate, the Celts made Brighid's crosses, and a doll-like figure of Brighid (a Brídeóg) was passed from house-to-house. Brighid was said to visit one's home at Imbolc and to in order to be blessed by her, people would make a bed for Brighid, leave out food and drink, while items of clothing would be left outside for her to bless. 

In the Christian traditions Imbolc was a festival of Saint Brighid, who is said to be a Christianization version of the goddess. This hybrid of the pagan/christian Holiday is mostly celebrated in Ireland. This is where some of the old customs have survived and it is celebrated as a cultural event by some (once again we see the Christians trying to convert the pagans by taking their holidays).
Imbolc has always had a special place in my heart mainly since I am called to Brighid. It usually is a day that I celebrate alone, meditating or writing under the direction of Brighid. I also usually, in the tradition of the Celts, leave an article of clothing out at night for her to bless on Imbolc Eve. It is a day of the celebration of the coming spring and for me the harnessing of my creative juices that tend to go into hibernation over the winter months. 
This year is different though. As many of you know I am getting married next year. There is so much that needs to be done, but one of the things that is first on the list is to get my dress. So by happy accident on Imbolc all my bridesmaids will be up not only for the Bridal Expo that day but also to go dress shopping with me. This is so fitting since in Wiccan traditions, Imbolc sometimes was seen as a "women’s festival" with specific rites only for female members of a coven. 
My Imbolc will be filled with my favorite woman (including my amazing mother) celebrating the coming of my wedding which will be in the spring of next year. I’m hoping that I can channel the guidance of Brighid into picking the perfect wedding dress for me and the perfect bridesmaid’s dresses for my bridesmaids. It is my hope that next year on Imbolc Eve I will have Brighid bless my dress, so that my wedding will be filled with the joy of spring!