A Study in Patience

Written by Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

This summer I bring dimetrodons back to life.

No, life has not found a way, I’m not extracting DNA from inclusions found in amber; I work in the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land. It’s a small brick building with a splendid collection of history both recent and prehistoric whose residents stand 30 feet tall and have razor sharp teeth.

Every weekday from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon I sit behind a large table, stare through a lit magnifying glass, and with implements of dentistry I carefully extract the bones of Diego, a 280 million year old dimetrodon, from the hard north Texas rock.

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I am an exhibit.

Visitors of the museum who meander all the way back to the Paleozoic section have the opportunity to watch me work and to ask me questions about anything they please, thankfully usually pertaining to my work. One of the most common questions and comments I get deal with patience. “Wow, that seems really tedious” or “How do you have the patience for that? I certainly couldn’t do it” to which I grin and laugh politely with a “yes it is detailed work for sure”.

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After a few weeks of these comments I would like to make a few comments on the work myself and let you in on some of my secrets on being patient.

My first task upon arriving as the new Paleontology intern for the summer was to sift through the context dirt that once surrounded Diego and now filled a half dozen catering trays stored in a small closet in the museum. I would pick out a pile of dirt half the size of a golf ball and search for the microscopic bones hidden among the dirt often spending hours without finding anything. Now you may be saying “How could you keep your focus and stay patient when you had so much work to do?” To which I answer now “one rock at a time”.

I never thought about the amount of dirt in the tray nor in the closet, I just focused on my little pile, combing through it as if I might find a diamond or some other jewel (being an unpaid intern, this seemed like the greatest outcome) and after just a couple weeks I had finished looking through every single tray in the closet. This early lesson in discipline set me up perfectly for my real job, fossil prep. Now when I attack a bone I don’t think about trying to get all the rock off and reveal the entire bone. No, that would drive me insane. Instead I focus on pushing back the rock a micrometer at a time. Under intense magnification I watch flakes the size of a grain of sand that appear to me to be the size of paving stones come off in bunches. In rare cases large flakes of rock that covered half the bone come flying off in a single touch of my tools and I am filled with such elation that may surpass ever seeing the Texans win a Super Bowl from the sideline. My first lesson in patience is to focus on the little things, take small victories, microscopic even, so that when something big happens you are surprised and filled with joy.

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Now I would be a liar if I said my neck never ached and I never got frustrated with lack of progress, so this is my second lesson. When I begin to feel weary from hunching over the desk or when I become irate at the stubborn rock encrusting my precious Diego, I change my pace. I get up and stretch; I walk around the room and study the fossils on display. I get a drink of water, or I simply rotate the bone and take a different perspective on the situation, attacking at a different and hopefully more prosperous angle. I chuckle to myself every time I change the angle of the rock and where it was once impossible to cut through, large chips start to fly off the bone. Lesson two is when the impatience starts to creep in just take a deep breath, stretch, then change your perspective and you’ll be amazed at the result.

Four hours a day, that’s how long I work. It’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but those 360 minutes can feel like 3,000 if you get impatient and watch the clock. During my workday I try not to look at the time more than 4 times because nothing will drive you more insane than watching time slowly crawl onward. They say a watched pot never boils, well a watched clock never ticks. I have come to believe that a minute spent staring at the clock feels slower than an hour spent doing something. So next time it’s 4:30 on a Friday and you’re caught up with all your work don’t just sit at your desk and watch the little clock in the corner of your monitor, don’t even sit around, go clean the break room, go talk to someone in your office who is also done with their work, do something productive and engaging that you normally don’t do and next thing you know it’ll be 5 o’clock and your weekend has started.

Anyone can be patient and everyone can be impatient, patience isn’t something you’re born with its just something you do, like a sport you have to practice to get better. So next time you start to feel impatient just focus on the little things, change your perspective, and don’t look at the clock and you’ll start to notice life get just a little easier.

Summer Trunk Shows: A Touch of Sparkle from Lankford and Tummino

One of our favorite things about summer has arrived — Summer Trunk Shows! This year we’re keeping it simple and local, featuring Rebecca Lankford July 22 and Mirta Tummino on Aug. 5, both from 12 to 4 p.m.

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Locally-renowned Houston artist Rebecca Lankford uses hand-cast metals, fine leathers, and a casual take on precious and semi-precious gems to create effortlessly stylish jewels. Her delicate styles are perfect alone and for layering and stacking.

Rebecca has also created an exclusive museum collection for HMNS using gems hand-picked by our buyers. Each piece is one-of-a-kind or limited in production.

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Leaving corporate America behind, native Texan Mirta Tummino realized her true calling when she began designing jewelry. With an eye for color, Mirta combines unusual gemstones to create her signature wire-wrapped designs.

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If that alone doesn’t convince you to attend our trunk show here are three reasons why you should:

1. Locally-made, handcrafted jewelry. Handmade pieces make unique gifts for others or yourself, all while supporting local artists.

2. A chance to meet the designer and team. Learn all about the gems, materials, and the creative process directly from the artist. Rebecca and Mirta are both inspired by the museum’s gem and mineral collection.

3. Jewelry with savings! Shop with a 20 percent discount in addition to your membership discount. Feel good about looking great knowing that 100 percent of museum store and trunk show proceeds benefits HMNS’s educational programs.

Summer Grilling Museum Style

Summer Grilling party 101 as done by the professionals! Take your summer grilling to the next level, learn what dishes are our exclusive Museum caterer’s favorites, and how they do it!

Skinny Pinchada
Recipe by City Kitchen
“Perfect amount of nuttiness to balance out the sweet!”

pinchada-pin

 

Grilled Watermelon Salad
Café Natalie
“This is our favorite summer dish as grilling the watermelon caramelizes the sugar providing a sweet, yet refreshing snack for any Summer BBQ.”

watermelon-salad

Grilled Caesar Salad
Abuso
“It’s the new summer trend we are really excited about”

grilled ceasar salad
Dressing (Or use your favorite brand Caesar Dressing)

  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (found near the tuna fish in the supermarket)
  •  2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I like the brand Maille)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Add the mayonnaise, Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt and pepper and whisk until well combined.
  3. Taste and adjust to your preferred flavor. The dressing will keep well in the fridge for a little under a week.

Salad

  • One large head of Romaine, sliced in half
  • 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  •  A liberal pinch of salt and pepper
  •  ½ Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
    Croutons
  • 1 or 2 pieces of your favorite baguette or white sandwich bread
  • Lightly oil, s&p, grill to desired doneness.
  1. Preheat your grill to high heat. The hotter the grill, the better the lettuce will caramelize.
  2. Rub each side of the Romaine with the EVOO and sprinkle with Salt and Pepper
  3. Once your grill is ready, carefully place your romaine on it.
  4. Flip after 45 seconds to a minute. The lettuce should be dark brown with a nice char. Do not burn or wilt.
  5. Chop lettuce and toss with croutons, cheese and dressing.

Croutons

  1. Lightly oil your bread and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Grill bread on both sides to desired doneness
  3. Crumble or cut to desired size

Feel free to customize your salad with some fresh touches, such as diced tomatoes, corn, avocado, or even grilled chicken. Once you’ve grilled your first head of romaine, we guarantee you’ll make this salad again and again!

ribeye

Bone-In Ribeye
A Fare Extraordinaire
“The perfect way to get your family and friends together for a summer soiree”

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Executive Chef, Ryan Bouillet

The most important thing to know about grilling your steak is that there are lots of methods to the madness. If you are new to grilling, keep practicing, and eventually you will find your grilling, seasoning and temperature method of preference. Regardless of your experience, a steak grill out is the perfect way to get your family and friends together for a summer soiree.

The Grill: The first step to grilling the perfect ribeye is deciding on your preferred cooking method. We prefer a good old fashioned charcoal grill, but for you new-time grillers it might be easier to start with the gas grill. Both methods will cook your steak perfectly, but there are pros and cons to each method.

 

CHARCOAL GRILL

45 Minute Start Time
More Complicated to Master
Intense Flavoring from Charcoal and Wood Chips Infused into Meat

 

GAS GRILL

20 Minute Start Time
Easier and More User Friendly
Minimal Flavor, For Cooking Purposes Only

 

Seasoning: Set your meat out right as you’re lighting the grill or turning the grill on. If you allow your meat to sit out and come to room temperature, this will help in the cooking your steak faster. Once your grill is ready, season your meat with salt and pepper. We prefer to use Kosher Salt and Fresh Cracked Black Pepper on our steaks. Some people also prefer to use olive oil to give their meat extra tenderness and moisture.

Grilling: We prefer diamond grill marks for the perfect grilling effect. Place your steak on the grill at a 45 degree angle for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, rotate your steak to 90 degrees for another 2 minutes. Once you have totaled to 4 minutes on one side, flip your steak over and repeat the 45 degree and 90 degree for another 4 minutes, totaling to 8 full minutes on the grill. There are many ways to tell if your steak is to the correct temperature. The most accurate way is to read the temperature of the meat. Your doneness will increase by 5 degrees.

 

TEMPERATURE DONENESS

125 Degrees: Rare
130 Degrees: Medium Rare
135 Degrees: Medium
140 Degrees: Medium Well

 

Cook Time: Your meat temperature is a personal preference. For most steaks, we prefer a nice medium rare. However, for Ribeyes, we have a personal preference of medium. Bone-In Ribeyes are a much fattier cut of meat. Cooking the ribeye a little longer, to medium, will allow the fat to render and avoids any gristle.

Resting: Once your meat is off the grill, it is very important to let it rest before cutting into it. If you do not allow enough resting time, then most of the juices will run, creating dryness in your steak. We recommend a resting time that equals half the cooking time. If you cook your steak for 8 minutes, then let it rest for 4 minutes.

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Grilled Strawberry Shortcake Skewers
Mélange

(Recipe makes 4 skewers)

  • 1/2 pound angel food cake
  • 12 strawberries
  • 1/4 cup strawberry preserves
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla zest of 1 lemon

These can be made ahead of time and grilled just before dessert.

1. dip
2. strawberries
3. cake
4. grill and serve!

Directions:

  1. Whipped cream dip – Mix together the heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Beat until soft/medium peaks form. Caution – don’t let it go too long or it will turn into butter.
  2. Prepare the strawberries – Remove the hulls. You can do this with a paring knife the traditional way, or you can even use a regular straw. Push the straw up through the bottom of the strawberry.

    Melt some strawberry preserves in a small bowl. Dip the strawberries into the melted strawberry preserves. Use a fork to get them out and “drain” them as you go.

  3. Prepare the angel food cubes – Cut your angel food cake into cubes. You want them to be roughly the same size as the strawberries, and the same size as each other. If some are really large and some small, the smaller ones won’t touch the grill. Size and uniformity does matter in this one.

    Now just put them together. I am using these double skewers. If you are using singles, use two at a time. Hold them slightly apart while threading the food onto them. This will keep the fruit and cake from swiveling around.

  4. Grill and serve – When you are ready to grill them, brush the cake with melted butter on each side. The butter will help to prevent the cake from sticking, and it will also help form that lovely crust. Grill the kabobs on a medium grill or grill pan about 4 minutes per side. You should see some really nice grill marks on the cake. The berries will also get a slight char on them. Serve hot with the lemon scented whipped cream dip.

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The Science of Summer

Why does ice cream look different when it melts in your car and gets refrozen?
If you have ever made homemade ice cream, you may have noticed that it takes a lot of work. My family’s ice cream maker looked a lot like this one which was electric but needed a little more monitoring than the ones we have today.

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The key to some good ice cream is keeping it at the perfect temperature and keeping it moving. Commercial creameries have special machines that continually stirs the ice cream while it is being frozen. These machines cool the ice cream much more quickly than my home machine ever could, which is why their ice cream is much creamier. It prevents larger ice crystals from freezing in the ice cream.

When ice cream melts in the Houston heat on your way home from the grocery store, you may notice that it’s not quite the same consistency any more. If you put the ice cream back into the freezer, it will refreeze, but over a longer period of time than the original ice cream. In addition when you re-freeze the ice cream, you aren’t churning the mixture. This allows larger crystals to form which affects its appearance and its creamy consistency. It is not recommended to refreeze ice cream that has been left out for a longer period of time. Ice cream is made out of dairy, so it can grow bacteria or spoil if left out for too long!

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How does sunscreen actually work?
First, we have to talk about what happens to cause your skin to burn. When you are out in the sun, your skin is exposed to sunlight which is made from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Ultraviolet radiation can be subdivided into three categories based on wavelength. UV-A radiation has the longest wavelength. It is not absorbed by our atmosphere’s ozone layer and it is the type of UV that is responsible for long term skin damage. UV-B radiation has a shorter wavelength than UV-A. Some of the UV-B radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer and the remaining UV-B radiation that reaches the earth’s surface is responsible for sunburns. The last type of UV radiation is UV-C radiation. It has the shortest wavelength and it is completely absorbed by our atmosphere. On the Earth’s surface, we are not affected by UV-C radiation, but it could be an issue for astronauts if they didn’t have those protective suits. Sunscreen protects our skin from the two most common forms of UV radiation on the earth’s surface – UV-A and UV-B.

Essentially, sunscreen forms a thin, invisible protective layer on the surface of our skin. It uses organic and inorganic active ingredients to form that protective layer. The organic ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate and oxybenzone absorb UV rays. When the rays are absorbed, the energy is harmlessly dissipated in the form of heat. Some of the organic materials in sunscreen will slowly break down over time, which is why we need to reapply sunscreen regularly. The inorganic active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide reflect the UV radiation essentially preventing the UV radiation from hitting the skin. Early versions of sunscreen were opaque and white, which reflected the UV radiation well. However, it wasn’t the most appealing look for the beach. With newer technology, they’ve made these inorganic materials much smaller and nearly invisible.

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How can I cool down a warm beverage quickly?
It’s the middle of summer, and when you walk outside it feels like you have walked through a curtain of heat and humidity. Nothing sounds better in a Houston summer than a nice, cold drink. But we’ve all forgotten to move something from the pantry to the fridge, and ended up with a warm drink instead. Even when you move that drink to the fridge, it can take over 45 minutes to reach the cool temperature you’d prefer. Here are a few ways to cool down your beverage quickly, and the science on how it works.

Option 1: The Wet Paper Towel Method.
Wrap your bottle or can in a wet paper towel and place in the fridge. The drink will cool down much faster with the wet paper towel because of how heat is transferred. Normally, heat will transfer from a higher temperature object to a lower temperature object. In the case of the drink in the fridge, the heat will transfer from the soda can (higher temperature) to the air in the fridge (lower temperature). Heat can be more easily transferred through a solid like the soda can because the atoms are closer together on average. It is much more difficult with a gas like the air in the fridge because the atoms are more spread out on average. When we put a wet paper towel onto the outside of the can, we are using a liquid to facilitate the transfer of heat more easily than with air. Water from the towel will evaporate from the towel and the remaining water will be cooler. This process is called evaporative cooling. The wet towel also conducts the heat from the can cooling the soda to the temperature you prefer.

Option 2: The Salt & Ice Water Method.
Fill a bowl with ice and water, then pour salt over the icy mixture. Place the can or bottle in the bowl, and stir. It should be colder in about 5 minutes. The reason that this method works so well is trifold. First, you are lowering the melting point of the ice when you add salt so the mixture will be colder than 32° F. Basically as the ice is melting, it is using up a little bit of energy to break bonds causing the remaining water to be colder. Having a colder liquid helps the heat transfer between the liquid and the soda can. Which brings me to the second reason that it cools quickly – it’s a liquid! As we mentioned in option 1, heat can be transferred more easily through water than through air, so the water is facilitating the heat transfer. Lastly, stirring the bottle or can around in the mixture can reduce the amount of time needed to cool down the soda. If you did not stir the mixture, then the can would slowly transfer heat to the liquid surrounding it making the liquid immediately surrounding it warmer. The transfer of heat would continue slowly until both the can and the liquid reach equilibrium. By stirring the mixture, you are exposing the can to more of the cold water which speeds up the transfer of heat. In both situations, the can and liquid are reaching equilibrium, but over different amounts of time.

With either cooling option, you will get a nice cold beverage quickly and now you know the science behind it!