Spotlight: Kelli Kallenborn (Kelli)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on March 14, 2011

This week you'll meet Kelli Kallenborn. Kelli loves the Great Outdoors. She likes to go hiking. In fact she owns a cubit titled Day Hikes. Fortunately for us, she takes her camera with her. Please join me in welcoming Kelli to the Spotlight.

Months ago, I asked some of the people who had been interviewed here to suggest some names for future articles. One of the names I received back was Kelli. The person who suggested her said, “Kelli does a lot of hiking, and it's been so interesting to see the great variety of plants in Southern California. When I've flown over Southern California, it looked dry and desolate.  Seeing the activity she finds there was quite amazing.“ So I took that good advice and asked Kelli to step into the Spotlight this week. She agreed!


Nancy: Kelli, welcome, and thank you for agreeing to tell us about yourself. Please tell me anything and everything I need to know about you that will help me know what sort of questions to ask. You start, and I'll jump in now and then with a comment or a question.

Kelli: Well, here we go, the saga of Kelli.
I was born in western Pennsylvania and grew up in a sub
2011-03-12/nap/06bd0aurb of Pittsburgh. As far back as I can remember, I have liked nature, especially plants, invertebrates, sea shells, stones, fish, and birds. My parents were not big on gardening per se, but my dad always had a vegetable garden and I learned to grow things. He would sometimes get some flowers to put around the house, and when I was old enough, they were more my responsibility.

I have a sister and a brother. They are a good bit younger than I am, and thus I lived my first seven years as an only child and got good at entertaining myself. My sister still lives in PA and my brother lives in Maryland.

I have always wished that I lived out in the country, but that has never been possible. My paternal grandparents lived in the country and I loved to go to their house. They didn’t have a farm, but their two acre yard seemed big to me. My cousin was my buddy and he lived near my grandparents, so when he came over, we had great times. We both liked the same kinds of things. I was not a tomboy, as I was not athletic or competitive, but I wasn’t into a lot of the typical girl things.

When we were elementary school age, we liked to pretend that we were animals or dinosaurs. We both always liked nature. When we were older, we would just kind of poke aroun2011-03-12/nap/b34784d outside or hang out in the house. I don't really remember the specifics, just hangin' out, talking, listening to the radio, and similar "junk" that teens do. Being silly always ended up being part of it. He could always make me laugh, so hard that I could hardly breathe.

My grandparents also owned a little cabin in northwestern Pennsylvania on the Allegheny River. For the first 20-some years of my life, this place was almost heaven on earth (except for the mosquitoes). All the things I liked were there and one of the things I did was try to identify all of the wildflowers. I also liked to go fishing, but later learned that it really wasn’t the fishing I liked, it was the getting out and walking around.

I did well in school, especially in science, and considered going to college to study biology. However, it didn’t seem like there were many jobs available in any field of biology, so I decided that engineering would be a better option. I graduated from college with a degree in metallurgical engineering.

Nancy: It's quite a leap from Biology to Metallurgical Engineering. But I know they are both very technical and very interesting. Metallurgy is a male-dominated field, isn't it?

Kelli: It is male-dominated but not to any more degree than any other engineering field. I'd say about 1/3 of the students in my class were female. The thing I remember is that it was a small department. I think there were less than 20 in my graduating class. At work, it 2011-03-12/nap/3d3ee6was only me and another woman in metallurgy. The rest of the women in my department at work were in chemistry and non-metallic materials. While I was in college, I was in a co-op program and worked at Washington Steel (which no longer exists) in Washington, PA.

Then I needed to find a job. The job market was not so great then and it took a while to find one, but finally I got an offer from an aerospace company in southern California. I had never been so far away, and was never a particularly brave soul, but it seemed like this was God’s will for me, so I went out fearlessly.

Actually, it was surprisingly not scary. It seemed like all of my life had been working up to this - go to school an2011-03-12/nap/4b4616d get good grades so you can go to college; go to college and then get a good job.

I moved into an apartment complex that was close to being out in the country. It was at the end of dead-end street and was surrounded on three sides by what they call out here “open space.” 

It was ranch land and natural land and it didn’t take long for me to check it out. Here was a new world. There was not one single plant there that was the same as what was found in PA. Another thing that was new was the dust, an inch thick on the dirt road. I had never seen such a thing. It was August. I asked someone at work when it rained last. Not only could he not remember the day, he wasn’t even sure of the month. Not only was I getting new flora, I was getting a vastly different climate. I knew that it wouldn’t be cold, but I didn’t know about the wet season/dry season regime.

I got some books, took some classes, and went on some o2011-03-12/nap/4048aarganized hikes and learned a lot about the natural history of the area. Eventually I settled in with plants being my favorite subject. I go back east once every couple years to visit my family, but we like it here and I don't see us leaving the area unless it is necessary for work or if the cost of living gets too high. I can see us always remaining somewhere in the West, though.

Nancy: Kelli, you found employment at an aerospace company. That sounds like very high-tech, fascinating work. Can you tell us what you did there?

Kelli: I worked on many projects, including the Space Shuttle, Space Station, and Delta IV rockets. To some extent, it varied with the programs, but some of the things I did were failure analysis (figure out why something broke), testing potential high-temperature coatings, evaluating environmentally-friendly cleaning processes, and review drawings (blueprints) to see that they were using the correct materials and manufacturing processes and referencing the correct specifications

That is where I met my hus2011-03-12/nap/66a94dband, John. We both had been transferred from projects that were winding down and put on the same new project at about the same time. I thought he had been working on that project for a long time but when I asked him questions about it, he didn’t know much. I thought, “This guy is not too swift.” However, he was nice to me and I started to like him. Yet there was this conflict going on inside me; “he’s-nice-to-me” vs. “he’s-not-too-swift.” However, it was all resolved when I found out that he hadn’t been working on the project any longer than I had and thus shouldn’t be expected to know much about it. Starting in February 1992, we were inseparable.

I worked for 17 years but the stress was really wearing me down. DH said that I could quit, so I did. Since then I have been concentrating a lot on plants, especially the native plants of my area.

We try to go out hiking twice a week and I take many pictures. That is not to say that they are professional quality, but they are serviceable. By now I must have thousands of plant and flower pictures. You can see some of them in my cubit, Day Hikes. I also write articles for Dave’s Garden, and use some of my pictures there. I hope to write a book about the plants of southern California, but I am only in the rudimentary stages of that. There have been a lot of books written on the subject, but I am taking a different angle, which will remain a secret for now. 2011-03-12/nap/cd7ae6

Nancy: Oh dear, I was hoping we could discuss that a little. Is there a way we could touch on the subject without giving it all away?

Kelli: The climate makes for plant behavior that would seem strange from the eastern U.S. and northern European perspective. Here, plants actively grow in the winter and many are dormant in the summer. The seasons basically are switched around. That is because of the nature of the rainfall. We have a very distinct dry season. We typically go for five months without rain, usually from May until some time in October. Even at that, most of our 16-inch average rainfall occurs from late December to about the middle of March. Therefore, plants do most of their growing and blooming from January into June. By August, things are pretty dead looking. 

That is why in the Cubits header to the right of my name it says, “Where summer is winter.” Another thing that is interesting to me is fire ecology and recovery. You've seen on TV the wildfires that we have out here. They have been part of the natural cycle here for thousands of years and infrequent fires even appear to be essential to the long-term health of the local ecosystems.

Nancy: I admit I have never considere2011-03-12/nap/a22d95d that, but it makes much sense. I hope you'll let me know if and when you ever write that book, Kelli. Do you have a garden now at your place? And also, do you have other hobbies or interests?

Kelli: I do some gardening, though not a lot (not as much as needs to be done, believe me). I guess my favorite things are succulents and bearded irises. I do have a few local native plants in my yard, but I have found that when I grow them at home, they become less special, so instead we have xeriscape plants that are native to Texas and Arizona. A lot of things are more xeriscape compatible than people might guess. Even well-established rose bushes are tolerating my once every or every other week watering regime. We have some old stuff that we never water, though i2011-03-12/nap/beb343t might be stealing water from the neighbors' yards. Not everything we have is xeriscape, but only the grass and the vegetable garden gets watered more than once a week. I have a koi and eight goldfish in the pond outside.

In the house, I like to read, particularly nature and history nonfiction and Christian devotional literature. We also like to watch sports on television and my favorite is baseball. We like the local teams, the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, and even sometimes the Clippers. We don't have a local football team so I root for the old hometown Steelers. DH is from Texas, so he likes the Cowboys, though I have brought him into the Steelers camp. I do crafts while we watch TV, especially cross-stitch and embroidery.

I do most of the cooking, though like many households, if anything is cooked on the grill, DH does it. I can't say that I really have a specialty recipe. I used to bake a lot, but I have given th2011-03-12/nap/e20168at up since I have a weight problem. Maybe my specialty is throwing things together without a recipe. I won't say that it is gourmet, but it's edible. My favorite seasoning  is cayenne pepper.

Nancy: Before we finish up, I want you to talk to us about your cubit.

Kelli: My Cubit is called Day Hikes. It is concerned with relatively short hikes - those done in a day or less - as opposed to overnight trips and backpacking. Anyone is free to submit pictures and descriptions of day hikes anywhere in the world, The separate forums are organized by geographic area. At this time, the vast majority of entries are from myself and are about the local Santa Monica Mountains. My entries are mainly pictures with a minimal amount of description, though I will go into more detail if it seems necessary or might be interesting.

Nancy: Well, my husband and I like to spend the day hiking at our favorite spot in New York State. We try to get there at least once every year. I will be happy to add my photos and thoughts about it to your cubit very soon.

And I want to encourage our readers to do the same. Visit Kelli's cubit and add some experiences and photos from your own day hikes so that we can all enjoy them with you.

Kelli has sent me a number of photos that I could not fit into the article, so I have placed them in a Sticky thread below.  Take a look at them.  They've inspired me to grab my camera and find a lovely spot for a walk!

Please feel free to leave Kelli a message!

Remember to click on the photos in the article to enlarge them, and allow your mouse to hover over them to read the descriptions. Thank you for spending this time with Kelli and me. Come back next week for Sharon's next interview.

Related articles:
biography, garden, hiking, interview, nature, spotlight, xeriscape

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
[Sticky] -- Kelli's Photos nap Mar 20, 2011 9:06 AM 13
hi Kelli kaglic Mar 20, 2011 7:23 AM 2
Hello Kelli... Sharon Mar 17, 2011 6:46 AM 30

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