Tuesday, December 31, 2013

23 Things I Did Before Getting Engaged at 23

Today happens to mark one year since I got engaged at the age of 23. Fittingly, an article popped up yesterday titled “23 Things to do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23.” Now usually these types of articles can be cute, witty, and even provide you with some great things to put on your bucket list. This article though just left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s completely fine if you think 23 is too young to be engaged. If you want to be single and go off and do those things wonderful, go do them, but don’t put down the people that chose to get engaged at a young age.

Now I realize there are exceptions and there are many people out there who do rush into engagements and marriage at a young age without thinking. There are also those people, like myself, who have done many things already before the age of 23 and have reached the point that engagement and marriage is right for them. Additionally, why would being engaged/married stop you from doing those things in the article? One of the awesome things about having someone to spend the rest of your life with is you have someone TO DO those things with!

So in response to this article I give you the 23 things I did before I got engaged at 23:

1. Had my first piece of writing published: a poem in an anthology.
2. Attended a poetry convention in Orlando and received an award for my poetry.
3. Became Webmaster of my high school’s website.
4. Figured out my true religious path.
5. Went out of state (and out of my comfort zone) to college.
6. Designed a website for an international conference (and got a grant for it).
7. Interned for the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
8. Became a Spanish Tutor.
9. Became President of The Young Republicans and The Lion Ambassadors at Penn State MA.
10. Got a job as a lab technician at an archaeology lab.
11. Went on my first archaeological dig (and subsequently got lyme disease).
12. Started my undergraduate research at the Matson Museum of Anthropology at Penn State.
13. Designed my first museum exhibit (A discovery timeline on evolution).
14. Interviewed at my dream job: an exhibit designer for the Smithsonian (didn’t get it).
15. Completely re-configured my career plans and started working at Radius Technology Group.
16. Was accepted into the Geospatial Science Graduate Program at University of Maryland.
17. Moved into my first “real” apartment.
18. Received my Top Secret Clearance.
19. Was promoted to Project Control Specialist and Facility Security Officer.
20. Overcame my anxiety problems.
21. Started my own publishing company.
22. Published my first two books (Kindle format).
23. Went out of the country for the first time (Canada).

Now it’s your turn. I want to hear the 23 things that YOU have done before the age of 23 (or if you are younger, before the age you are now). Doesn’t matter if you are married, single, engaged, or in a relationship, list out your 23 accomplishments.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Evolution Made Easy

There are many people out there who deny the existence of evolution. They just flat out deny it, and then cite the Bible as the reason why it doesn’t exist. This never has, nor ever will be a valid argument. Evolution is something that we see around us every day. Animals, plants, and the entire earth are evolving every day at all different rates. The fact that we are still alive and breathing on this planet is a testament to our own evolution.

Let me break it down in simple terms that everyone can understand. First, let’s start with the definition of evolution: “a theory that the differences between modern plants and animals are because of changes that happened by a natural process over a very long time” (Merriam-Webster). Just from the definition we can see that this in fact a true process. You can even see the difference between plants and animals now and less than 100 years ago. To survive, living organisms must change to fit in with their environment. Adaptation is key to any survival and there is no denying that.

As far as human evolution goes it is the same. We have evolved from other hominids in order to adapt to our environment. As the years, climate, and environment changes man evolved into what we are now and we are still evolving. Many of you have seen the famous image of the ape gradually changing into a human (the image above). Where that is somewhat true it is much more extensive than that. Evolution isn’t linear. There isn’t just one ape that evolved into a lesser ape, that evolved into a hominid, that evolved into a humanoid, that evolved into the modern day man. It’s like any family tree: there are branches. There are some apes that continued to evolve into other types of apes and we see them today. Others evolved into hominids that quickly died out because they couldn’t survive in the environment. Even others evolved, adapted, and survived to create the humans that we now see every day (Tattersall).

The greatest example of the progress from ape to hominid is ardipithecus ramidus. I use this example mainly because I had the distinct pleasure of being taught by Dr. Alan Walker who was on the team with Tim White who discovered this hominid fossil. “Ardi” as he is referred to, has been hailed as one of the clearest examples of the link between apes and humans. Ardi was a bipedal hominid but he had a “hallux” which is the big toe that apes have for grasping trees. What Ardi shows is that at some point hominids were still in the trees but then adapted to walking on two feet. This reflects the change of environment 4.4 million years ago (which Ardi is dated to): that hominids had to adapt from climbing around in the trees to walking on flat plains (White).

That is of course a very basic explanation of human evolution but you get the point: evolution, even human evolution, is necessary for survival. To ignore or deny it really makes no sense as you are denying your own right to adapt to the still changing environment.


White, Tim D.; Asfaw, Berhane; Beyene, Yonas; Haile-Selassie, Yohannes; Lovejoy, C. Owen; Suwa, Gen; WoldeGabriel, Giday (2009). "Ardipithecus ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids". Science 326 (5949): 75–86.


“The Fossil Trail” by Ian Tattersall

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drawing the Line

Two weeks ago I talked about blurred lines in my writing: how sometimes things get too real even in the fiction writing realm. Where I love the character of Loose and love her journey, I think it’s time to step away from her for a little while. I finally found the courage to write the catalyst for her whole existence: her rape at 16. Once again this is an example of me taking the things that happened to me and placing them into my writing. Once again it’s becoming a little too real.

I’ve come to a bit of a crossroads with her stories that consequently are also dramatized and expanded versions of my own stories. With the path that she’s going down it’s not going to end well. My path though completely turned around almost 3 years ago when I got over all my anxiety, issues, and emotional blockage. I finally started talking about my past and sharing with people those internal problems that before I only got across in my writing. That’s also when I started actually publishing my writing. So before when I said writing was my coping mechanism I was right; it has proved to be more healthy than otherwise.

At this point in time “Loose” is nowhere near ready to be published. In fact, I’ve been toying with the idea of leaving it unpublished. Even though in the last three years I’ve gotten a lot better at not bottling my emotions, I’m not sure I’m ready for the literary world to see that side of me. Instead, I’m going to finish up the current story of hers I’m working on and then let her sit for a while. I’ll let her figure out what course she wants to take: stay in this violent, complicated, and loveless life or move on to something more.

What this means is I’m heading back into one of my others worlds. After asking you all on my Facebook and Twitter it seems that most of you all would like to read more about Penn and Doyle from my first published work: “Dark Cell.” It has been about a year and a half since we visited them so it only seems fair that we see what they are up to. This new installment has the working title “Dark Hall” and centers on Penn and Doyle at University. Once again they find themselves in the middle of another case of murder, mystery, and magic.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Remote Sensing

No, I’m not talking about trying to sense where you’re remote control is in your living room, I’m talking about the new class I’m taking as part of my Geospatial Information Science (GIS) Master’s Program. The class is comprised of using software to process and analyze digital images from satellites. This actually may be one of my favorite classes so far. There is a fair amount of science and math behind it (especially when it comes to understanding the Electro Magnetic (EM) frequencies and the color spectrums. The formal definition of Remote Sensing is:

The science of gathering data on an object or area from a considerable distance, as with radar or infrared photography, to observe the earth or a heavenly body.

What’s really cool about Remote Sensing is it can be used for a multitude of disciplines. This week in class we discussed a few of the most common uses: crop analysis, deforestation analysis, fire restoration, land usage, and homeland security. Of course there are many other uses for Remote Sensing, like what I used it for in my undergrad: studying the landscape features of the Stonehenge area.

Many may have heard me talk about it before as part of my Landscape Archaeology class my junior year of college. My final was on the relationship of religion and landscape and I used Stonehenge as a model. Part of this was using those satellite images (like the sample LandSat image to the left) to show those henges and the other land features around them. By using this I was able to show how Stonehenge was set up as a journey to the afterlife, thus proving that religion can affect the landscape. For my current Remote Sensing class I’m thinking of expanding my old project for my final.

I’m excited to start playing around with the ENVI software for this class. To go from a very statistical heavy class it will be a nice change to play around with images and theories. Of course there is still a level of math involved in it (as with any GIS related class) but it isn’t the focal point. Additionally, this is software I haven’t used before and am anxious to get my hands on it.


remote sensing. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved December 06, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/remote sensing


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Blurred Lines

Everyone has coping mechanisms whether they are healthy or unhealthy. My coping mechanism is my writing. I can take horrible experiences/people I’ve encountered and fictionalize them. This can be a great way to get out all the bottled up emotions that I tend not to talk about. This can lead to something else though: blurring the line between fiction and reality.

Since I’ve been writing the short stories for “Loose” I’ve done just that: blurred my own reality. For these stories I take some of the horrible things that have happened to me and I fictionalize them. This allows me to work out some of my own issues while using a world that I can control. The problem with this is I recently lost sight of who I was in the process.

I was so caught up in these fictionalized accounts that for some reason I thought I was Lucy Quinn. This led me to start questioning my own identity. It has never happened to this extreme before. It really manifested itself the other day when I was at Target.

I bought myself a writing desk and was loading the box into my cart. This middle-aged man came up and asked if I needed any help. I smiled, declined, and then hoisted the box into my cart. He walked away and muttered the word “Dyke” under his breath. This stopped me in my tracks and I suddenly channeled Lucy Quinn and wanted to hit him. Instead though, I walked on.

Fast forward to me waiting in line to check out and the douche got behind me in line. I ignored that urge again and started smiling at the little boy in the line next to me. He smiled back at me and showed me his maze he finished in his coloring book, claiming it was “too easy” for him. As I moved forward in line I heard the man say something behind me. He said “Man I feel sorry for that kid.” It took me a few moments to realize why he said that. I hadn’t realized that this boy was the son of the lesbian couple that was checking out in that next aisle. This time I turned around and stared this man in the eyes. There were no words I wanted to say to him, no education, no reasoning – I wanted to punch him in the throat. Nothing else came to mind except that act. Then Sam kicked back in and realized I wasn’t about to be kicked out of Target or possibly arrested.

This is an extreme example of how those lines between fiction and reality get blurred for me. In this case if I hadn’t have snapped back I could’ve gotten into a world of trouble. These past couple days it’s become a little less innocuous – more just questioning my identity, if the labels that define who Lucy is also define me. The New Moon has set me on my right path though. I realize once again I shouldn’t feel the need to drop myself into labels or categories. I am Samantha Curtin, I am a writer who is in control of her own fictional world but am at the mercy of this very real one. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Sometimes I just need that reminder, that shove back into reality. Losing sense of reality can be a very scary thing at times.

Image URL: http://wallpoper.com/images/00/42/06/51/hands-blurry_00420651.jpg

Monday, December 2, 2013

Visages of Santa Claus

We all know him as that jolly guy in the red suit that clambers down your chimney to deliver your presents on Christmas morning. What you might not know is Santa Claus is not solely a Christian manifestation; in fact it is quite the opposite really. We know the American version of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, which originally came from the Dutch version called Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklaas. The Dutch settlers in New York brought this tradition (some even say cult) to America.

This version of Santa has given the current myth this current description:

A merry old man with red and white clothes. Has eight flying reindeer, later joined by Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. A home located on or near the North Pole. The habit of filling socks or stockings with presents on the night of December 24th. Also the habit of entering houses through the chimney.

The most important source for our modern day version of Santa Claus comes from the Christmas poem Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore. Written for his children in 1823, the family poem was later published for the general public and included what became the now famous picture of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast. Actually the old "cult" of Santa Claus incorporates many traditions: Christian and Pagan, Old Catholic, Scandinavian, Dutch, German, and English. There are though many other visages of the jolly (and some not so jolly) old man from different cultures.

Grandfather Frost is the Russian equivalent to Santa and has strong Pagan ties. He is usually accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow girl), who helps Grandfather Frost provide a New Year party for children as well as bringing them gifts. He wears a long fur coat covered by bright beautiful cloth (blue or red) trimmed in fur. According to new tradition, Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka live in the town Veliky Ustug from which they begin their New Year journey by troika of white horses. Today Grandfather Frost is connected to New Year celebrations, but before 1917 he was seen more around Christmas time. Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka visit children asking them to sing or read a poem, sometimes asking if they were good and giving them presents as a reward.

The finish have Joulupukki which literally means: Yule Buck. This old pagan tradition remained strong in Finland but got a Christian taste to it as time went by (like most things it seems). The ancient pagans used to have festivities to ward the spirit of darkness who wore goat skins and horns. In the beginning this creature didn't give presents but demanded them. In fact the "Christmas Goat," as some referred to it, was an ugly creature and frightened children. It is unclear how this personality was transformed into the benevolent Father Christmas. Nowadays the only remaining feature is the name. Now Joulupukki consists of many personages with roles partly Christian, partly pagan: A white-bearded saint, the Devil, demons, house gnomes, whatnot. Nowadays the Joulupukki of Finland resembles the American Santa Claus.

Norway (my favorite, go figure)
Now in Norway we have two different visages, if you will, of comparability to Santa: Nisse and Julenissen. Julenissen is a specific form of a nisse that only comes out around Yule (Jul).

The Norwegian Nisse differs from both Santa Claus and St. Nicholas. In modern Norway we actually have two types of "nisser". The name Nisse most likely comes from St. Nicholas. But nisser - which are elves (or gnomes) are old figures which existed long before the birth of Christ (and that my grandmother has all over her house in the form of figurines). There are several types of "nisser" in Norway.

The most common is the Fjøsnisse (don't ask me to pronounce it, lol) which is a nisse who takes care of the animals on the farms. The Fjøsnisse is very short and often bearded and lives in a barn or a stable. He wears clothes of wool and often has a red knitted hat (seen above). The Fjøsnisse often plays tricks on people (I grew up listening to tales of why to beware of them). Sometimes he will scare people by blowing out the lights in the barn or he will scare the farm dog at night. He can become very friendly with the people that live on the farm, but one should never forget to give him a large portion of porridge on Christmas Eve - or else he will play tricks for example move the animals around in the barn, braid the horses' mane and tail, and other tricks like that.

Like I stated above, we also have a Christmas/Yule nisse (julenissen) which in most homes is more or less identical to Santa Claus. The Julenisse brings presents to all the nice children on Christmas Eve. He is not as shy as Santa though, since the julenisse delivers the presents himself. He does not come down the chimney in the middle of the night but will literally knock on your door and walk in.

In Ireland they have more or less the same as the British or Americans. Daidí na Nollag (Daddy of Christmas) in Irish, is known in Ireland as Santy or Santa. He brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. It is traditional to leave a mince pie and a bottle or a glass of Guinness along with a carrot for Rudolph, although in recent years Guinness has been replaced with milk and mince pies with cookies (spoil sports).

Black Peter is popular in the Netherlands and is very similiar to the darker version that Finland has. In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Belgium, Zwarte Piet (meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas whose yearly feast in the Netherlands is usually celebrated on the evening of 5 December (Sinterklaas-avond, that is, St. Nicholas Eve) and 6 December in Belgium, when they distribute sweets and presents to all good children.

The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas's feast (which is today the 6th), first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (usually by boat). Zwarte Pieten mainly amuses children, and scatters pepernoten, Kruidnoten and "strooigoed" (special sinterklaas-candies) for those who come to meet the saint as he visits stores, schools, and other places.

According to the more modern Saint Nicholas legend, Zwarte Piet is a servant who tavels with Saint Nicholas. In some versions, Saint Nicholas is said to have liberated a young slave named Peter, who decided to serve Nicholas. Zwarte Piet is today commonly depicted as a black person in the colorful pantaloons, feathered cap and ruffles of a Renaissance European page, a tradition that comes from a children's book published in 1850. Many feel that this visage is racist, though.

"Santa Claus Origins and FAQ" Christmas Connection http://lnstar.com/mall/main-areas/santafaq.htm
"Christmas in Norway" http://www.stavanger-web.com/jul/christma.htm (Image from there as well)