Monday, April 30, 2012

Renewed Appreciation for French Creek State Park After Brushfire

Yesterday I went for a hike.

It was the first one I have gone on in awhile, but I walked the same trails through French Creek State Park that I have for over 15 years.

I grew up walking these trails. My family and I are fortunate enough to live in the woods on the border of French Creek State Park and state game lands. We have spent many a Sunday afternoon exploring the trails; from the Mill Creek Trail, a short walk up a hill from our backyard, to the Raccoon Trail, Buzzard Trail, and all the way over to the Lenape Trail by Hopewell Furnace. As we got older, all us neighborhood kids would hike back without our parents and venture off the marked paths, uncovering natural springs and sliding down boulders and steep hills (it truly is a miracle we all survived adolescence without a single broken bone among us).

Those woods were a huge part of my childhood. But as I've gotten older, I've taken it for granted that my backyard is literally one of the most beautiful parks in the state. My thought was that it's there, it will always be there, I can go for a hike on the trails any old day, there's no rush.

That all changed a few weeks ago, when a brushfire burned through 741 acres of the park and game lands. Once the initial shock and fright of having to evacuate my house had passed, I then tried to wrap my head around the fact that all those beautifully lush woods, places where bikers, families, hikers, and I go to escape everyday, hectic lives, were replaced by charred wood and ashes. 

But I couldn't. I had to see it in order to understand.

So, I set off on the beautiful Sunday afternoon, my feet taking me on the same paths as if I had just walked them the day before. When I reached the trails, I was my old 10 year-old self again, skipping and jumping from rock to rock, invigorated by all of the natural beauty around me. I followed Mill Creek to make my way to Miller's Point, passing by a few equally happy families and mountain bikers. I started wondering if  I would even see any of the damage...everything around me as far as I could see was green green green.

Then I noticed some dead and dry brush by my feet on the trail.

I walked a little farther and I saw a burnt and charred fallen tree.

After a few dozen yards, I had gone from all green and lush, to all burnt and dead.

I was stunned. 

See more video at

Above me, most of the canopy was still green and untouched...but the forest floor and underbrush, and even quite a few entire trees, were decimated.

My heart broke knowing that this was only a few out of 741 acres that were affected by the fire. These beautifully untouched woods where I and thousands of others have spent many a happy hour are now left scarred.

Remainder of Mill Creek Trail Marker

It only took a few short days to destroy what it took nature decades to create and build. 

But I was heartened to already see signs of new growth coming out of the ash. Yes, these beautiful woods were left damaged and devastated...but not destroyed, not beyond repair.

It was a harsh and brutal reminder,  but I received it loud and clear, and I'm hoping everyone else does too: Do not take the glorious landscape around you for granted. All of us who live in the area are fortunate to have such wonderful and natural beauty in our own backyard, but we expect it will always be there. The brush fire was a reminder that it can be taken away much faster than we can possibly imagine. 

A large portion of French Creek and the surrounding area was still left untouched. I encourage everyone to go there, even if for only a short walk. Or better yet, parents, take your children and use it as an example to teach them how precious and fleeting nature can be.

Don't forget to listen to Smokey the Bear!

And if you happen to pass by a girl with a blonde ponytail and a smile, don't forget to say Hi, because as long as they are there, I know I'll be spending a lot more Sunday afternoons on the trails, just like I did growing up.

New Music Monday: Sharks

This week I'm going to stray away from my usual indie-folk gobbledygook (yes, that is an actual word) and pass along another recommendation from this guy (he knows his stuff), for British punk-rock band, Sharks.

Drawing inspiration from the Brisith punk-rock band, The Clash, as well as others, these guys are helping to restore the good name of punk music.

Check out their debut full-length album, No Gods, described by Entertainment Focus as  "...timeless melodies with an explosive edge tempered by intricate riffing and hypnotic harmonies. It's pure, poetic, and powerful."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Five Years, Lots of Debt, and No More Joy Stealing

I recently signed on to Facebook to find a message from the president of my high school senior class informing me and the other class officers that we should start planning our five-year high school reunion for this summer.

Wait, what?

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I graduated college and now it's already time to revisit high school?

This, of course, got me to thinking: "What have I really accomplished in the last five years?"

I know what some of my classmates have accomplished since we graduated: A friend of mine is a student at UPenn and had an internship at Pixar (his younger brother also recently interviewed Jason Segel and got to be in the press room at The Academy Awards), a few of my classmates have done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, several are married and/or have children, my own twin brother is a SEC Division I athlete, and a multitude of other former classmates are attending grad school in their chosen fields, traveling, etc.

Meanwhile, I (Stop here if you do not wish to read my brief, self-pitying diatribe) still live at home, work at the same non-science-related job I have had since I graduated high school, and am no closer to attending medical school than I was a year ago. END self-pity.

This is where I slap myself over the head and remind myself that I am actually part of the majority, and not the exception of all recent college graduates.

Most people my age still live at home and work at (often, low-paying) jobs that are not in their chosen fields (if you are even lucky enough to find a job) just so we can scrape together whatever we can in order to pay back the debt we accrued getting degrees that are supposed to allow us to get careers in the line of work that we want.

That confusing run-on of a sentence signifies just how ridiculous the whole situation actually is...but unfortunately, those are the circumstances for about half of all recent college graduates.

However, it is often easy to forget this thanks to social media, like Facebook, that allows you to post all of your wonderful success stories, adventures, and happy pictures (while conveniently leaving out anything that may be negative) and share them with everyone you ever knew in high school even if you never actually talked to those people when you were in high school, thus making you feel worse.

Another run-on sentence to describe another totally warped set of circumstances. But again, that’s my generation; it’s not right (or okay) but it’s certainly the way things go.

Here is where I, again, hit myself and the rest of my generation (or everyone, really) over the head with this reminder:

You (I) can't compare your (my) last five years to anyone else's. It will only lead to feeling unhappy and disappointed.

Instead, look at how you've grown as a person over the last five years. You may surprise yourself.

Sure, I'm not where I hoped to be five years after graduating from high school, but I really have no right to complain; I am healthy and happy, I have a roof over my head, and I have supportive family and friends. I have a better understanding of who I am as a person and what I want to do with my life than I did five years ago. I've learned a great deal both in the classroom and out, including the fact that I have a lot more to learn. I am braver, more appreciative, and also a little more cautious.

So, my challenge to you, whoever you may be, is to think back on all that you have accomplished in the last five years, both large and small endeavors. But don't compare them to anyone else's. Don't allow anything or anyone to steal your joy.

And, for goodness sake, just stay away from Facebook.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nutella-Filled Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Tomorrow is a dear friend’s birthday, and such an occasion calls for cupcakes.

Seeing as how this particular friends loves Nutella (but then again, who doesn’t?), I thought this would be the perfect excuse to try my hand at Nutella-filled cupcakes.

For the cake part, I used my go-to recipe for vanilla cake, which is actually a recipe for cream cheese cupcakes, adapted from this one.

Cream cheese cupcakes, in theory, may sound a tad strange, but in actuality they are simply vanilla cupcakes that are just extra rich and dense.

Cream Cheese Cupcakes (makes 2 dozen)

8 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/3 cups milk

2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in sugar until creamy. Mix in eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Combine baking powder, salt, baking soda, and flour in a separate, small bowl. Alternate between mixing in flour mixture and milk.

Place about two tablespoons of batter in each cupcake tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they appear slightly golden-brown. Allow to cool in tins.

To fill them, I placed Nutella in a pastry bag and used a long tip that is specifically for filling cupcakes. You can also use a knife or corer to hollow out a small space in the center of the cupcake, and then pipe in your Nutella.

Due to a few time constraints this morning (go figure!), I opted for regular buttercream frosting (1 stick of butter, confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, bit of milk), and by “I opted”, I mean that my mom (The Queen of Buttercream) talked some sense into me, and even made it for me. Aren’t moms wonderful?

Unlike with these cupcakes:

Made with Alex!

I kept the decorating simple, going for a smooth, heaping tablespoon of frosting and some sprinkles.

Easy as pie. Or cake.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Music Monday: Sucre

There are many people who upon first hearing Sucré will think “That voice sounds so familiar...” and for very good reason.


Sucré is a collaboration between Stacy King, one of the talented DuPree siblings that compose the band Eisley; her husband Darren King, the drummer for MuteMath; and Jeremy Larson, a talented multi-instrumentalist and arranger. And it is indeed an extraordinary collaboration. Stacy, of course, contributes her trademark melodic vocals, but the arrangements by Jeremy Larson, with the addition of strings on almost all their songs just takes it to a whole other level of magic.  

Their first album, AMinor Bird, was released last week in conjunction with the kickoff of their small tour (next time, make your way to the Northeast please!), and is already getting a fair bit of attention.

Anyone who is a fan of Eisley will enjoy this more sophisticated version. It’s music to fall asleep and dream to, as perfectly evidenced by their music video for the song When We Were Young.

You can download the first song off the album, Hiding Out, for free, right here.


You can also stream the album in its entirety and You, Me, and Charlie (yay!), HelloGiggles, Kick Kick Snare, or on Spotify.

Fun fact: I actually first learned of Sucré as a result of Jeremy Larson’s wife, Elsie, who is pretty well-known herself for her shop and blog. Check them out (you know, if you enjoy DIY, fashion, photography, and recipes)!

Images courtesy of

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ursinus College's Contribution to Fill the Media Lab Challenge

I'm proud to say that the Ursinus College community came together to reach their goal of 100 items (okay, 99) to contribute to the Mercury's overall 20,000 item goal.

Ursinus College Donation

As of yesterday (Monday, April 2), The Mercury had reached the 11,000 mark in the number of food donations and was close to half of their goal to collect 1,000 laundry detergents. Several thousand more items are expected to come in over the next week from local schools and other donation sites.

You can see the Media Lab filled on the Fill the Media Lab pinterest board.

Donations will continue to be accepted at the sites displayed on the map below, up until Sunday, April 8. The 20,000 item goal is certainly attainable as long as donations continue to come in for the rest of this week.

It's all about coming together to give back to our community. I'm very proud of Ursinus College, the TownSquare bloggers, The Mercury, and everyone in the local community who has contributed to making this project such a terrific success.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Music Monday: Playing Catch-Up

I decided to play catch-up for music monday and fill you in on what I have been listening to so far this lovely spring we have been having (other than Mates of State).

Any of these artists/albums will clear out the winter cobwebs in your head and help to jumpstart your week.

The Shins - Port of Morrow

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I forgot just how wonderful the Shins are. But I remembered pretty quickly with the recent release of their new album, Port of Morrow, their first in about five years.

This is a must-listen for any Shins fan or anyone looking for some new lazy, spring afternoon listening.

The Shins - Simple Song


This husband-wife duo started making music together following a 7-month sailing expedition. It may just be my imagination, but their songs do tend to have a nautical feel...definitely worthy of a sunny spring or summer day. Especially if you're sailing!


Tennis - Origins

Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour

I recently became enthralled by Band of Skulls' 2009 debut album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, and have now become just as enthuthiastic about their sophmore album Sweet Sour. Their music reminds me of a grungier version of Arcade Fire (although feel free to disagree with me on that); great mix of rock and indie-folk.

Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour

The Head and the Heart

This indie-folk band from Seattle has a great mixture of instruments and strong vocals. Judging by the caliber of bands that they have opened for (My Morning Jacket, Iron & Wine, The Decembrists, The Low ANthem, and fellow Seattle-ites, Death Cab for Cutie) this is a band to keep your eye on.


The Head and the Heart - Down in the Valley

The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond)

The Hunger Games trilogy and film have certainly been causing a big stir lately in the pop-culture world, and one recent addition to the Hunger Games-mania is the album The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond), artists such as Arcade Fire, The Low Anthem, Maroon 5, The Civil Wars, The Decembrists, and a few other big names as well as up-and-comer's.

Whether or not you are a fan of the books and film, this is a great album featuring a variety of talented artists who all wrote original songs relating to the story of the books/movie.

Arcade Fire - Abraham's Daughter

Edith Piaf

If you have never had the pleasure of listening to this French icon's one-of-a-kind voice, then please correct this error immediately.

If you enjoy jazz music, then why not kick it up a notch with some French jazz?


Edith Piaf - La Vie en Rose

Gotye - Making Mirrors

I was a little hesitant about Gotye a few months ago, but after giving his sophmore album (another five year album gap) a couple of listens, I jumped on the bandwagon.

If you are looking for something fun and a little different, give this album a go.

Gotye - Eyes Wide Open