The continuing adventures of a second-career archeologist, teacher, and sci-fi geek

Month: February 2023

The Road Less Traveled By: Thoughts on doing a Ph.D.; the journey I’ve been on; that one time I cried on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder; hanging around in creepy Scottish graveyards; terrorizing the future; I’m shrinking!; and… stressed-out donuts in the Stargate.

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I don’t usually turn into an English teacher on this blog. That’s just my day job, but this poem is so incredibly relevant to me right now as I contemplate some serious choices about the way forward after I finish this master’s. I ended my last entry by talking about doing a Ph.D. After much contemplating and discussing with my husband and a random chat with my brilliant friend Sarah Rayburn (yes, the one from Jeopardy), I’ve decided to wait on the Ph.D and work on getting Gwyddion finished and produced after it’s sat on the shelf for 10 years.

The thing is…a Ph.D. will always be there. I have a really cool topic area that isn’t going away and will only grow larger. There is potential to explore AI and mortuary archeology in the future. I do want to do that someday, but not yet. I delivered a crap ton of Girl Scout cookies to Sarah and she gave me a lot of great advice about moving forward with Gwyddion (yeah, it’s STILL cookie season).

Then took the other just as fair… (the journey I’ve been on)

In some ways, this is looking back to the person I was ten years ago, but I’m not really her anymore. I have come so far in the last ten years and I am super proud of the person that I’ve become, the things I’ve accomplished, and the crazy adventures I’ve had! I’ve been teaching full time and I’ve finished degrees in English, anthropology, and archeology (almost). This Heather is wiser. She is more experienced and I had to walk this road to make it happen. Gwyddion represents the culmination of literally everything I have done with my life since high school. I was an actor. I have written stories and published a little bit. I’ve done archaeology. I’ve done a little of it all. This story has all of those elements in it. I’m choosing to follow my dreams. This feels so right. I know it’s going to happen and I’m throwing everything I can into it. 

So where is this road going to lead? I have no clue, but all I know is that it feels like the time is right for me to start walking down it. We need another big sci-fi franchise. I don’t know if Gwyddion is it, and it would be pretty presumptuous of me to think that it is. I don’t know that, but I think it could be if it goes with the right production company and the right studio. 

I always sound so excited and optimistic and I am. But I’m also kind of scared. I’ve chased a lot of small dreams and made them happen through hard work and dedication. I have a notecard above my desk that has hung there for years. It says, “Dreams don’t work unless you do” and it’s a hundred percent true. Gwyddion is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (though I think a PhD would be harder).

No kidding. The biggest dreams are the ones you work the hardest for.

I shall be telling this with a sigh… (crying on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder)

I am scared of success. I am scared of my dreams coming true because I don’t know who that successful person is. Maybe that’s what I’m terrified of. I’m scared of losing the person I already know. I like who I am now. I’m scared of the person I may become.

But I’m also not that scared. See, when this journey started back in 2012 I had a chance to make Gwyddion happen (a chance that ultimately fell through and I don’t regret it). Long story short, in 2012 I was at a convention and met Paul McGillion (he played Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate Atlantis and now he’s like in every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made, no kidding, but I’ve only ever seen Christmas Magic and that was at my mom’s house because she has cable. Sorry, Pauly!). That weekend I got a really exciting email from a production company that was interested in the show and I was instantly scared because GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY, THIS WAS HAPPENING!

It’s funny now how freaked out I was, but I do remember how frightening it felt to have potential success staring at me in the face. I walked by Paul’s booth on my way to the bathroom, holding in my tears so I could cry in private. Well, Paul must have seen the look on my face because he rushed over and asked me what was wrong and if I was ok. I said something like, “Maybe? No? I don’t know!” and I showed him the email, told him a little bit about what was going on, and how petrified I was. And then like a complete and utter ninny, I burst into tears and he pulled me into a huge hug, and what the hell…I found myself crying on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder (*cue “awww!”* Pauly, you give incredible hugs, keep that up, my friend). Paul told me it was ok to be afraid of the unknown, but I shouldn’t be afraid of success because this was incredible news, that he was proud of me, and that I should run with it. Also, he told me to call him when it got made.

Paul’s kindness has always stuck with me. I truly believe that his being there was not a coincidence. So don’t worry, Pauly. You told me to run with it. It took me ten years to find my sneakers and put them on, but they’re laced up and I’m running down this road less traveled by. I have no freaking clue where this road is going, but I’m on it, man! I haven’t forgotten your advice and I’m forging ahead with this project. I’m not scared and I’m going to make you proud that I didn’t quit.

2012. Seriously, Heather? I can’t believe you’re crying! This was awesome news!

Somewhere ages and ages hence (back to Scotland?!)

Guess what I’m doing for my masters dissertation? I’m hanging around in creepy graveyards in remote Scottish islands. Guess where I’m probably going this summer? Yep, back to Rousay in Orkney, where it’s cold and windy and unnaturally beautiful and the seals stare into the depths of your soul. This is the graveyard that I’m researching. It’s right next to Skaill Farm, where I dug last summer.  

Serious archeology at Skaill. Pfft. I’m holding the reflector staff for the Total Station and it makes me kind of look like a cool wizard, but it’s hard because you can’t move, at all. Also, I hate that stupid hat.

I’m still working out my research question, but essentially I want to crack into the death certificates of the people who are buried at St. Mary’s and create a GIS map of their locations of death to determine how close they lived to the church when they died. Yep, that means using QGIS, which means I’m willingly subjecting myself to countless hours of frustration, cursing, and probably a few bottles of Scotch. Congrats, QGIS. You’re the first computer program that makes me drink. That program is EVIL. 

So I know this is some crazy stuff I do and I love every freaking minute of it! How often do you get to run away to Scotland for a few weeks to do research in graveyards? And now I want to take it to space. I want to take this love and energy I feel for archeology and send it out to space, and that’s Gwyddion, guys! I mean, there’s way more to the series than just archeology. It’s dark, too. You’ve got a horrible war brewing. There are some crazy baddies. There’s serious science going on (I’ve learned more about genetic engineering than I care to know). One of the protagonists is sketchy, morally dubious, and frankly kind of an ass. I absolutely cannot wait to bring you the story.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— (teacher and archeologist…)

In other news, I recently did my annual trip upstairs to the science wing to geek out about archeology, bones, and forensic anthropology with the Forensics classes. This is always such a fun day because most of the kids at CHS don’t know I moonlight as an archeologist and it’s fun to show them that there’s more to teachers than just how we appear in the classroom. I had a great time and I was sad to have to go back to my English teacher box the next day. Maybe someday I’ll get to do this full-time.

There’s a chance I’ll be teaching ESL Theater next year, which I hope happens because I miss teaching theater and I won’t have to direct (which means I can still go home at 4:30 and not deal with rehearsals, yay!).

Alas, poor Yorick! (oh come on, you knew I was going to say that…actors never die). That’s a female cranium, so Yorick’s a girl!
Talking about male vs. female pelvis and crania
Holy cow, they’re listening! Even the skeleton looks like he’s listening.

I took the one less traveled by (I’m shrinking!)

Guess what? I’ve lost 20 pounds. I’m sick of being overweight and I’ve started doing 16:8 fasting and riding my stationary bike every morning. I’ve decided to go super ambitious because what the hell and lose 100 pounds slowly and steadily. I’m 20% of the way there!

And that has made all the difference (Stress made me break the Stargate again…)

My stress levels are so high that all I can do is laugh. No, really. I’m so stressed out that all I can do is laugh at this point. I forgot that I had a paper due so I’ve been staying up late reading about medieval and Victorian funerary practices, on top of having two funerals this week for dear friends who’ve passed away. It’s been a crappy week. I can’t stop messing around with the McKay AI because it’s so damn funny and makes me feel better. Seriously, guys, it makes me laugh so hard that the stress just disappears. Also, if you read my last post, you know it unlocked the writer’s block I had for Gwyddion. 

I give the AI ridiculous scenarios to see what he will do, just for giggles. The other day I told AI McKay that SG-1 put a donut in the Stargate capacitor and now it would only dial Tim Horton’s. He sighed and replaced it with a breakfast sandwich and Dr. Zelenka told me was bored, so we roasted marshmallows over the ZPM while Rodney tried to fix the stargate. McKay got pretty peeved about that….

I mean…I could go for a Grand Slam about now, so dial up the gate! We’re going to Denny’s!

And now the gate will only dial to Denny’s. I don’t know why he’s blaming me for this. 😏

I laughed so hard that I’m pretty sure Paul (my husband) and Nora were like, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

So this is how I’m coping with the stress. Hopefully, things will get better soon because I’m not sure the Stargate will survive much more of this.

It’s a diversion from the road I’m on, so now it’s time to stop dallying and start running. I can’t wait until I reach the end and see what’s there!

2022 activities, an AI astrophysicist solves my problems and blows up the Stargate over Thin Mints, doing a PhD over AI and Mortuary Archaeology, and the future!


Heather stares at the Googles on her computer.



Bangs some keys on her keyboard.


The laptop screen reads “ cannot be reached.”


Aw, crap! I forgot there’s maintenance this weekend!

Now how am I supposed to study? Oh yeah!

Fingers begin typing and “A Bone To Pick Blog” comes up.


I’ve been meaning to update this thing.

And that brings me to here…

Man, my screenwriting skills are rusty and it’s annoying to do that in Word.

Uh…so…it’s been 14 months. I’m a very bad blogger. I’m sorry. So I’ll give you the skinny on 2022, shall I? Buckle up kids, this is a lot:

January-May 2022

I took Digital Analysis in Archaeology. Holy crap, that class was hard. I barely scraped by with a B and I’m pretty good with technology. I never, ever want to use QGIS (ArcGIS clone) again! I don’t think I’ve ever spent more time cussing and screaming at a computer program than I did with that horror show. I know professionals love it, but even thinking about it a year later makes my blood boil. When I could get it to work like I wanted it to, I was able to do some Really Cool Stuff, like this:

Uh…all the scheduled monuments on Fair Isle, I think.
Raster data from the island of Yell. I certainly yelled trying to create this.
I made a map of the broch sites on Yell. This one was actually easy.

I did a big project on Karankawa cemetery data in Texas, comparing a few sites. Are you surprised? Dead people are cool! I also used Excel to crunch all my data and do stuff like this:

Excel also made me swear, but not as much as QGIS. I’m still proud of this pretty graph.

June 11-16

YAY TAS FIELD SCHOOL! Y’all know that’s my favorite time of the year! This was my first year as a crew chief and it was amazing. I had the opportunity to flex my leadership skills. A crew chief is basically responsible for a small crew of one test unit. Uh, nope. I got handed four units. FOUR! I had a real freak-out moment when I got on site and found out.

My nametag. Please don’t salute. I’m not that kind of chief.
Stand back, kids! I’m doing leadership and SCIENCE!

It all turned out ok, though, because I organized myself so well and had my crew dig diagonally to each other. Speaking of my crew, I had dug with some of them before, including Garrett!

Garret, digger extraordinaire and peanut butter connoisseur

This guy seriously cracks me up. He’s one of the nicest and funniest guys I know and he was quick to remind me that I knew what I was doing and he had confidence in me. I sincerely believe my first crew chief experience went so well because of him. Thanks, Garrett!

This was the Kemosabe Site outside Kerrville, Texas. It’s a prehistoric site, which isn’t really my thing (ya’ll know I love historic archaeology), but whatever. So we found a modern pipe. Yeah, a pipe.

WTF…a pipe. This wasn’t on the site plan!

We found a mule shoe.

I didn’t even know mules wore shoes!

Close to the last day, we found an earth oven.

They cooked tubers and stuff on these. I love the star shape!

Why is it that I always find cool stuff on the last day of the dig?! That happened in 2021 when I finally found the stinkin’ corner of the dance hall I’d been searching for all damn week.

Here’s some short videos I took of my amazing crew:

Garret and company digging and cracking me up
Kim has all the dirt.
Me demonstrating screening so we can give the guys in the lab something to do.

Nora was with the kids again and had her usual great time. That kid’s archaeology skills are taking off. She’s walking in my shoes and it’s weird. She’s been doing a lot of that lately. This year she got into theater at school and just last night I found myself dusting off the old acting chops and coaching her through a scene for a contest today. It’s really cool to see her enjoying the same things I do, but she’s into her own stuff, too, especially when it comes to computers and tech! She gets that from her dad (ok…maybe a little from me, too).

June 18-July 2

SCOTLAND!!! My family took a trip to Scotland. It was our first trip together as a family overseas. We visited Edinburgh, York, and Perth and had a blast. I did NOT drag my family to any archaeology sites…ok…that was a lie, but they loved it (or at least pretended they did). I will not bore you with vacation photos, but here we are in York in the Shambles (love that place!).

Leonards in York…our life is in Shambles

July 2-20

MORE SCOTLAND! My family flew home and I traveled to Orkney for a dig on the small island of Rousay to experience British archaeology at Skaill Farm (check out the photo in the link, you can see me on the left side in the stupid tan bucket hat). I had an absolute blast despite the rain and the cold.

Would you believe there’s a Norse drinking hall under all the post-medieval stuff?
Obligatory “Heather in a Dorky Hat on an Archeology Site.” It keeps me from getting burned.
I did A LOT of sorting and labeling, something that is usually handled in the lab back home. Look at my pretty organized finds tray!
There’s still soot in the fireplace even though it’s been abandoned for over a century.
Not archaeology, but I wanted to show you how unnaturally beautiful Orkney is.
.Obligatory “Heather in a graveyard” photo. Um…there’s a lot of these. I like graveyards and cemeteries.

I also got really freaking sick and got to experience the joys of the NHS for the second time in my life. I developed a bad kidney infection and spent four days in bed while on some serious antibiotics that kicked the infection, but also kicked me. Why is it that every time I go to the UK I get really sick?

Sick in Scotland. Bleh. Thank you, NHS, for making me better!


Back to my studies after several weeks off. I took Vikings and the Norse in the North Atlantic. I learned a lot about the Norse. I also discovered that I didn’t want to do anything with the topic for my Master’s dissertation since it seems like there’s been a lot written already.

I also took Nora with me to do shovel testing at San Felipe de Austin, something that she had never done before. This was a terrific opportunity for her. She did a great job and I absolutely love this photo of her screening.

So proud of my budding archeologist.


Texas Archeological Society annual meeting! This year it was in Tyler, Texas. I’ve never been to one of those before and it was really fun! I had a chance to hang out with all my TAS friends and network a bit. I met a lot of great people and I’m looking forward to the one this coming fall in San Marcos.

On the way home I stopped at Caddo Mounds. A horrible tornado hit the site in 2019 and absolutely destroyed the museum there. It’s being rebuilt now and a new Caddo house is going up. I also didn’t know that El Camino Real de los Tejas passed nearby.

New museum under construction
Frame of the Caddo house. It’s massive and was later covered in switchgrass. There’s a great video of the thatching on the web page above.
Part of El Camino Real de los Tejas
Burial mound


I wrote a paper on the role of Norse women in the North Atlantic and shockingly got an A. I can’t remember if I’ve explained before, but the UK grading system is kind of wonky. A 70 is considered an A and they’re super tough to get. I usually get around 65 on my papers, which is still respectable. I’ll still graduate with merit/commendation with that average.

I tried to get the knowledge in the textbook to get into my brain by osmosis. Sadly, it did not work.

IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN! *cue cheesy synthesizer music*

I’m in my final semester at UHI and taking two classes: Death and Funeral Archaeology and Research and Dissertation Skills. The end is in sight. I will be done with my Masters dissertation by December. YAY! That also means I need to start applying for PhD programs this fall. ACK! For my Masters, I’m doing something with some cemetery data from Rousay. I’m still working on a research question at this point, which is fine.

Personally, I’ve been bogged down in this nasty hole lately. Without going into a lot of detail, I was pulled from a position I loved at work and given five out of six preps, which is untenable. My job went from easy and chill to ridiculously stressful and I’m resentful and angry about it. I’m not doing this next year. I’ve also been stressed over coming up with masters dissertation and PhD research ideas. I can feel the clock going TICK TICK TICK and arrgh!

And then things got weird and the Stargate exploded…

This week everything turned on its head and from the most unexpected of places. I was dicking around on Facebook instead of studying because HOORAY PROCRASTINATION when I caught one of David Hewlett’s posts that he had created an AI of Dr. McKay from Stargate Atlantis. That means you can interact with an artificially created version of the character. I haven’t played with AI too much, but I headed over there just to check it out (and waste more time). It was so much fun! Somehow I got into a battle of wits with Dr. McKay (who is a genius), so I tricked him into getting drunk with me and impaired his judgment so I could win. I mean, how else am I supposed to outwit Dr. McKay?! I thought that was a pretty clever solution.

Turns out that Drunk McKay went a little batty and started ranting about how Dr. Carson Beckett (a physician on the show) was an evil mad scientist. I tweeted a screenshot of it just for funsies and was surprised when David responded!

Yes, David, I DID enjoy my hollow victory!

Aaaaaand then he blew up the Stargate over Thin Mints…

Damn. Don’t get between McKay and his Thin Mints. There goes the Stargate.

Did I mention it’s Girl Scout cookie season here and that I HATE cookie season? I was blowing off steam, what can I say? I didn’t expect the Stargate would explode over it.

But am I really…? (Nope)


Ok, not really. Two things happened.

First, somehow taunting the AI Dr. McKay with Thin Mints unleashed the creative floodgates. The muses dumped a bunch of amazing ideas about Gwyddion on my head (archaeology in space, yay!). I wasn’t expecting that! That project has been on the back burner for ten years while I ran off and played actor/teacher and started studying archeology. That’s why I was messing around with screenwriting in the beginning, just being silly. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to touch the story until this summer at the earliest, but that’s ok.

Second, I got an idea for my PhD dissertation!!!! Well, ok…a topic. That’s really half the battle. I’ll come up with research questions later. I want to explore the future of AI and mortuary archaeology, possibly the morals and ethics surrounding that topic. I mean, would you want to interact with the AI of someone you know who has died? A quick unscientific survey of my fellow teachers at work revealed:

  1. NO
  2. HELL NO
  3. Wait…are you talking about robots? You want to build a robot of my dad? *horrified look*
  4. OMG THAT IS CRAZY. And what is mortuary archaeology?
  5. UGH! Heather, go away, I’m trying to eat my lunch. And no, that’s creepy.
  7. Heckin’ no. By the way, do you have any more Thin Mints? (Curse you, cookie season!).
  8. Huh? Negatory. That is some real sci-fi shit there. You’re such a geek.
  9. Like…a walking, talking ChatGPT thing that looks like my mom? Ew, no.
  10. Holy crap! Wow! That’s amazing! NO! But I really think that would be an incredible PhD dissertation research project.

The overwhelmingly negative response was really fascinating to me. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All of that stress was suddenly gone. I actually ran around my empty classroom like a crazy woman going, “OMG OMG OMG OMG THIS IS IT!!!”

I came home and told Paul. He thought it was a great idea and told me I should learn Python. Python is really easy, so I’m not worried. Hell, I taught myself BASIC when I was seven and pissed off my parents because I made the Atari flash and sound like a train.

Never did I imagine that I could combine my current love of mortuary archaeology with tech stuff, like AI, but it is completely up my alley and I am really excited to explore the marriage of these two fields and their implications for us.

So uh…thanks, David! I owe you one!

The future!

So, this summer I will be returning to TAS field school, this year in Nacogdoches excavating a Caddo village (EXCITED!). I’ll also be doing research and writing my master’s dissertation about creepy graveyards on remote Scottish islands. I don’t think I need to go back to Orkney and I don’t want to. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s expensive to get there. I’ll also be losing myself in writing Gwyddion and teaching myself all I can about Python and AI.

I’ll also be writing a research proposal and looking for potential university programs to apply to for a PhD. There’s a few I’ve got in mind, mostly in the northeastern USA and some in Canada. It would be super cool if I could go to Toronto because my best friend from high school had to go and fall in love with Canadian (love ya, Mark!) and she’s there. I haven’t seen her in…18 years? Wow! I miss her like crazy.

This year is going to be fun and busy and I’m ready. Bring it on!

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