Archive | December, 2014

Mycology

28 Dec

 

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letter Hiking is part of the routine around the DorkDaddy household. With three kids of varying maturity levels (and a dog with absolutely zero discipline) nature walks are usually more of an exercise in keeping your cool than they are Zen communing with nature. We live in the most spectacular redwood forests in California and it’s important to us that our kids learn to appreciate the natural world as much as the material world.

Episodes IV, VI and DorkDoggy.

Episodes IV, VI and DorkDoggy.

When our troupe isn’t bickering loud enough to scare away the wildlife, the redwood forest is a great opportunity for this DorkDaddy to display my encyclopedic knowledge of middle school-level science, and hopefully spread my enthusiasm for the subject. At this point Episodes IV and V could teach their own teachers a thing or two about banana slugs (arliomax californicus), ferns, conifers, life-cycles, photosynthesis, adaptations and natural selection. But on the down side, we’ve been through these forests so many times we’re running out of new things to discover and talk about.

A UCSC student having a mind-altering experience.

A UCSC student having a mind-altering experience.

This Christmas Eve morning we woke to a perfect, cloudless blue sky and decided it would be best for everyone to get out of the house for a walk before launching into the family obligations. Episode IV was already bitter about being forced to attend a church event for her cousin later in the day, so I was prepared for another bicker-fest hike, and indeed that’s how it started.

A beautiful cluster of... I don't k now the taxonomy here.

A beautiful cluster of… I don’t k now the taxonomy here.

“But I don’t want to go. Why do I have to go? It’s not fair that you’re making me go. We *ALWAYS* go to all of her things…” and on and on and on.

Zen communing with nature? I don’t think so.

Concentric fungal growth rings.

Concentric fungal growth rings.

But sometimes all it takes is a little bump to scratch the needle off the record, and as we walked (bickering) we began to notice that something was different about this trail we’d hiked a hundred times before. On past expeditions I’d taught my kids about producers (plants), consumers (animals) and decomposers (fungi, etc.) and in so doing explained that fungi flourish in a warm, dark, moist environment (like your gym socks). Recently our area had experienced torrential downpours, followed by unseasonably, ridiculously pleasant warm temperatures. Combine that with the decomposing leaf litter on a redwood forest floor and you have a fungal perfect storm.

We checked for Smurfs. There were none.

We checked for Smurfs. There were none.

Just like that we were shocked out of our standard bicker-fest and into a reverent (Zen communing with nature) frame of mind. There by our feet, along the trail we’ve walked countless times with jaded eyes, was a fungal firework display the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Anyone with their eyes open couldn’t help but bathe in wonder at nature’s splendor, and in the presence of such a marvel it was impossible to be snarky.

Lacy, jaw-droppingly beautiful fungi.

Lacy, jaw-droppingly beautiful fungi.

We walked the trail moving from discovery to discovery, indulging as much time as we wanted at each stop to take it all in. Episode IV and I waxed poetic about lifecycles, natural variation, and survival strategies. The conversation transitioned quite organically into the different ways that people choose to live their lives. Only now, as opposed to the snarky footing at the beginning of the hike, our conversation came from a more observant, philosophical posture. Instead of counting the minutes until we could get the kids back into the car, we lost ourselves in conversation, surrounded by a once-in-a-lifetime natural event.

We chose not to focus on what these were growing on.

We chose not to focus on what these were growing on.

For my part, I was able to have what I could only describe as the perfect outdoor experience: an intellectually stimulating conversation with someone I love, surrounded and inspired by natural wonder I have never seen before. For her part, Episode IV was able to come to an understanding about people who exist on different, sometimes seemingly incompatible points along the religious spectrum. She was able to reconcile how doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing and ultimately later that day she happily attended her cousin’s church event with no bitterness.

Standing sturdy and proud in the leaf litter.

Standing sturdy and proud in the leaf litter.

Not bad for a couple of silly mushrooms.

Best. Hike. Ever.

 

-Dork Dad

"Daddy, that one looks like it's made out of butter." Notice the banana slug sprinting away from us in the background.

“Daddy, that one looks like it’s made out of butter.” Notice the banana slug sprinting away from us in the background.

Editor’s note: I’m aware that this post comes off as more-or-less a photo blog. That’s OK. Every one of these pictures was taken within the scope of a single 60 minute hike. If anyone out there has some legitimate scientific knowledge about the species I’ve shared here, please pass it along. My reverence at the experience was almost matched by my frustration at the holes in my knowledge about what we were looking at.

Not all fungi look like umbrellas. These look more like antlers.

Not all fungi look like umbrellas. These look more like antlers.

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It was almost like they were breathing through their gills.

It was almost like they were breathing through their gills.

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We called this one "the brain."

We called this one “the brain.”

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These tiny mushrooms seemed to cascade down (or up) the wood.

These tiny mushrooms seemed to cascade down (or up) the wood.

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A funnel.

A funnel.

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I believe the yellow growth isn't fungi. If memory serves, it's what we call a slime-mold.

I believe the yellow growth isn’t fungi. If memory serves, it’s what we call a slime-mold.

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Pretty sure this is a slime-mold too.

Pretty sure this is a slime-mold too.

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I bet this one would give you some interesting dreams. (do *NOT* even think about it)

I bet this one would give you some interesting dreams. (do *NOT* even think about it)

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We had pancakes for breakfast. You can guess what we called this one.

We had pancakes for breakfast. You can guess what we called this one.

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Mushrooms the size of dinner plates.

Mushrooms the size of dinner plates.

 

 

 

Spending Season

9 Dec

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letter Tis the season when it feels like there’s money constantly going out the door and relatively little going in. Between end of the year expenses, property taxes and Xmas gifts and all the little unforeseen incidentals, it’s easy to feel a little financially deflated at the end of the year. As my dad used to joke when we were kids, as long as there are checks in the checkbook there’s money in the account, right?

This is a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately. The debt-load you need to take on to become a dentist is nothing short of crushing, let alone a practice acquisition loan and a mortgage if you’re lucky. Weighed down by all that red ink it’s tough to look past the nose on your own face. Debt-reduction becomes something of a desperate quest and although my accountant assures me that paying off debt is exactly the same as building savings, I am acutely aware that I’m basically in survival mode — which is to say I’m paying off my debt, but my savings account isn’t anything I would call “comfortable”.

I’m just a few days away from turning 41. At best I’ve got another 30 workable years in me… if I’m lucky. My oldest is about to turn 9. That’s the 1/2 way point. The years we have to get her ready for college are just as few as the years we’ve had since she was born, and those years FLEW by.

I have realized that there are things a responsible member of society must do no matter how painful: Pay taxes, take care of your health (re: exercise), and financially plan for the future. That means it’s time to stop living week-to-week like we did in our 20’s and 30’s and start thinking about our 70’s and beyond. It’s time to start thinking about things like 401-k’s.

In short, it’s time to start saving.

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When you’re a moderately successful blogger *snort* sometimes opportunities present themselves to you. Recently I was invited to attend an event put on by ScholarShare, an organization that runs 529 accounts (I know… my eyes glaze over too with talk like that. But I have pledged to make this sort of knowledge part of the new “responsible” me… just like exercise.) 529 accounts are essentially the same thing as 401-k’s, only where 401-k’s are retirement accounts, 529’s are college savings accounts. Essentially, just like with 401-k’s, you invest your money with higher risk for larger gains in the beginning, and then as you get closer to the time when you need the money it gradually moves into lower risk investments. What particularly strikes my fancy is that for three kids that have more toys/junk than they can ever appreciate, during the holiday season family members and friends can contribute to an existing ScholarShare account or create one for a child as a holiday gifting option for as little as $25.

 

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ScholarShare treated a bunch of bloggers to a fancy dinner to talk about 529’s and even offered a little compensation thanks to One2One Network (that was nice of them) if we shared the experience on our blogs. In truth, this is a talk I would have gone to whether or not there were blogger incentives. Saving for college is something I need to get serious about and I wanted to hear what they had to say.
The short story is the people from ScholarShare came off as very genuine and honest. I was wary of walking into a timeshare-pitch sort of evening. There was no salesmanship, nothing pushy, no used-car-salesman vibe at all. In fact, since they partner with TIAA-CREF they are a non-profit, so they don’t pay their bills with transaction fees like other financial planners. All they wanted was to get the word out that 529’s are the best way to plan ahead for college savings, and that they would love to be considered by anyone looking into one.

For my money, they seemed like a legit outfit worthy of consideration.

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That said, I’d like to try something a little different with this post.

For the sake of getting my head around how to financially prepare for my kids’ college, I’d like to start a little conversation in the comments below. How are you preparing for college expenses (or how did you prepare)? Do you think college is even an investment worth making in today’s world? (There’s a good argument to be made that it isn’t). What are your fears about saving for college/retirement? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

In the comments below share your knowledge. Share your fears. Share your questions. Maybe we can help each other out.

 

-Dork Dad

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