Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Victoria, BC

In front of the Parliament building in Victoria
Ryan and I avoided the the American tradition of eating too much pie and flying on the busiest days of the year by taking the ferry to Victoria, BC for the Thanksgiving holiday. When we stepped off the boat in Victoria, the 3" of snow looked exactly like Seattle, minus the terrible traffic and holiday madness. Victoria is a lovely town and a perfect place for a weekend vacation without having to go far. Our first sight-seeing stop was the Royal BC Museum - WOW. The cultural and natural history displays were probably the best I have ever seen. If you have any desire to go to Victoria, the museum is well-worth a visit. We loved the reconstruction of the "old town" of Victoria, the mine, and the cannery. They were all so real - even the fish guts and blood looked fresh! The totem pole room was also quite impressive. On the natural history section, the forest displays were beautiful and the beach panorama actually had real fish and sea anemonies in the tide pool.

Replica of Old Town Victoria in the Royal BC Museum

Replica of a cannery scene in the museum

Craigdarroch Castle
On our last day we toured Craigdarroch Castle (not so much a castle as a grand house). The castle was built buy a wealthy businessman in 1887-1890, who unfortunately died just months before it was completed. He left his $20 million fortune (made in mining and the railroad) to his wife, much to the chagrine of his two adult sons, starting a family feud. Today it has mostly been restored to the state it was in when the widow lived there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and some restoration is ongoing. Amazingly, the historical society has been able to track down and recover many of the pieces of furniture and artwork that were auctioned off after her death in 1908. Being a history nerd, I love old restored houses. This one is particularly impressive and it was especially cool to get a bit of a glimpse into the life of the wealthy at the turn of the century.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow in Seattle!!


While it is 13 degrees in Seattle, it is in the 30's in Fairbanks and Anchorage and 40's in Kodiak. Snow is serious business in Seattle: it doesn't  happen often, and when it does, all chaos breaks loose. The same is true when it rains in the winter in Fairbanks: the streets turn into ice skating rinks, quite literally. It sounds like the weather in Fairbanks right now is similar to February 2003 when it rained in Fairbanks and the icy roads were covered in water. I remember that you could barely walk around campus without falling.

It started snowing in Seattle on Monday and I opted not to go to school based on my previous experiences trying to get to and from campus in the snow. I usually ride the bus or bike and neither is a very good idea in these conditions. Buses often get stuck, run extremely late or never, and if they do run, they sometimes run alternate routes. I've spent my fair share of time waiting for buses in the snow and if I can avoid it, I won't do it again. After hearing about the horror stories of people stuck on I-5 for 11 hours in the middle of the night trying to get home, I'm very grateful that both Ryan and I had the flexibility to not go to work!

Today it was beautiful and clear with a good 3" of snow on the ground at our house. UW closed the campus today and I think a lot of people stayed home if they could. Being snowed in is a good excuse to walk around our neighborhood. Yesterday we walked to the grocery store and today we walked to a restaurant to meet some friends who were just passing through Seattle for the day. It makes me think that we really should be walking more, but alas, hopping in my car and being at the grocery store in 2 minutes is just so convenient - and so American.

In addition to the snow, it has been a bit blustery here too. It started on Saturday and shortly thereafter one of our lovely neighbors came over to tell us that part of our (new) roof was coming off. Ryan was on it immediately and it looks like he did a great job gluing/nailing it back down because it's held ever since. Ryan and his dad with the help of some of our friends re-roofed the back portion of our house about a year ago. Seattle is not normally very windy and I think the winds we had this weekend were the strongest our new roof has ever seen. Last night it blew about 20 mph with gusts up to 35. I read that there were widespread power outages and I am so glad we haven't lost power. We have electric heat (no woodstove or fireplace) and I would hate to find out how well (or not well) insulated our house is on the coldest day I have ever experienced in Seattle.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Go Huskies

Huskies playing the Bruins on Thursday night
Huskies score!

We are not big sports followers but attending a Huskies' football game was something I had been thinking about since we moved to Seattle.   On Thursday night the University of Washington was playing UCLA for a prime time game.  This was a big game for the Huskies and was broadcast on ESPN.  Of coarse 62,000 people gathering in one location is bound to be a traffic disaster let alone at 5 pm on a weeknight in Seattle.  To avoid this Molly and I rode our bikes to campus, locked them in her lab, and then walked down to the stadium.  Husky stadium is quite impressive, it is the largest in the northwest and can hold over 72,000 people.  Husky stadium is also know for being the loudest in the nation  The stadium is also impressive in that it overlooks Lake Washington and has views of the Cascades and even Mt. Rainier.  It was dark so we didn't really get to enjoy the views but I was thoroughly impressed by the engineering of the stadium.  Anyways, it was a good game, I would say more but if are really a fan you would have already read about it in the news.  Most importantly the Husky's beat UCLA!        WOOF     WOOF

UW agreed to host a weekday game last year, and it became very clear this fall that the UW administration had no idea that there would be a serious backlash of angry UW employees and students who were inconvenienced due to the game...because this game was on a weekday at 5pm, it created a lot more havoc than a regular weekend game does (and if you live near the U District, you know that a weekend game creates plenty of chaos already). What ended up happening is that many classes were canceled and employees and students were encouraged to work from home or leave early if at all possible. Those that couldn't work from home were encouraged to walk, bike, or ride public transportation rather than drive. Ryan and I chose to ride bikes because I had the feeling that about 10,000 other people would be trying to board the 65 bus at the same time as us.

Not only was there a fair amount of backlash over the inconvenience of hosting a weekday game, but Thursday was also coincidentally the day the Board of Regents voted to approve a $250 million remodel of Husky Stadium. While we all know the role that athletics play in public universities in America, in a climate where academic programs are being cut and tuition is drastically rising, you could imagine how some students feel about UW borrowing $250 million internally to remodel a stadium that doesn't seem to have anything wrong with it. Apparently the remodel will all be paid for by private donations, but that is once they raise the money. In the meantime they will borrow it from a pot of internal money for renovations. After the renovation, the student section will be moved from the 50 yard line where it is now, to the west end of the stadium and student tickets will almost triple in price. I find that a bit sad, but I know people love football and I'm sure soon enough there will be a whole new set of college students who won't remember when season tickets were $125 and were at the 50 yard line. Go huskies.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Learning about Aleut Kayaks

Painting of an Aleut man cod fishing on Unalaska Island in 1872
Last week, while at the Arctic Conference, I had the opportunity to view collections of artifacts and ethnographic objects collected in Alaska during the first half of the 20th century.  These artifact are now located at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. The items were collected by Anthropologist Frederica de Laguna who was a professor at Bryn Mawr. Frederica de Laguna was one of the first (or maybe THE first) female anthropologist to work in the Northern parts of North America, including Greenland and Alaska beginning in 1930. She was trained as an anthropologist at a time when everyone not only learned, but practiced a four-field approach to anthropology (cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology). To southcentral Alaskan archaeologists she is well-known for defining the "Kachemak Tradition," or middle prehistoric period on Kodiak and surrounding areas of the mainland dating to about 4000-1000 years ago. She also worked extensively on ethnographies with the Tlingit in Alaska.

The collections we looked at in the U Penn Museum were from all over Alaska and included many amazing bone and wood artifacts not preserved in most archaeological sites. Because I have never worked at a site with wood preservation, most of the wooden artifacts were completely foreign to me. At one point I picked up a long, cylindrical object and asked what it was. Someone explained that it was a kayak bailer. I had never seen anything like it before. This turned out to be a bit of a coincidence...

Back in Seattle, Ryan has been reading Ivan Veniaminov's book "Notes on the Islands of the Unalaska District" which is an ethnography of the Aleut of the Eastern Aleutians written in the 19th century by a Russian Orthodox Priest. Ryan has been continually amazed (as have I) at the ingenuity of the Aleuts - at how they were masters of a very harsh environment. This weekend when I got home he was telling me that he had been reading about Aleut kayaks. He went on to explain that he had read about kayak bailers, their shape and how they were used, at which point I exclaimed that I had just seen one at the U Penn Museum and knew exactly what he was talking about! Veniaminov explained them perfectly in his book:

"It is nothing other than a cylindrical tube about a half arshin long, a little thicker in the middle than an arm, but tapering gradually toward the ends, so that the end itself can be taken into the mouth."

Not only did Aleuts have kayak bailers, but they also had paddle floats - used in exactly the same way we use paddle floats. The only difference is that an Aleut kayaker was more likely to exit his kayak on purpose to perform repairs to the skin of his kayak, than to capsize on accident. Imagine just hopping out of your kayak in the middle of the freezing cold North Pacific to sew up a rip in your boat! In calm weather, the sea mammal bladder would be used as a kayak float to get back in. In rough weather the bladder would go inside the kayak to keep it from sinking, even if it was swamped. Veniaminov reported that these bladders became obsolete during the Russian time period because kayakers never had occasion to venture out alone, as they had prior to Russian occupation.

Throughout the book, Veniaminov states that the Aleut are superior to the people from Ka'diak in many ways, from kayak construction to warfare. His comments always make me chuckle and wonder if he would have thought the same if he had lived in Kodiak instead of Dutch Harbor. I'll end with this quote where he talks about Aleut kayaks:

"One has only to look at the baidarkas of the Kad'iak people, the Aglemiuts (people from the Alaska Peninsula) and other northern inhabitants...and at the first glance, the advantages of the local baidarka over them all are apparent."


Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Wedding Cake

The newlyweds, Kelly and Alex

Last weekend my sister and Alex tied the knot in Missoula, Montana. My parents were there for the ceremony on Friday and Ryan and I were there to celebrate with them for the weekend. I had been looking forward to making a wedding cake for them ever since they got engaged last year. Cake decorating is one of the hobbies I picked up post-comps and after I was (mostly) done taking classes. I had so little time for fun activities in my first two years of grad school that what kept me going was vowing that I would learn to do all the things I had been missing out on.
The first new thing I did was take snowboarding lessons - and I am SO glad I did! After that, my friend Megan taught me everything she knows about cake decorating. I've always fancied myself a little bit artistic, but between all the school work, field work, and travel over the years, I haven't had much time to explore that side of my interests since high school.
For Kelly and Alex's wedding I wanted to make something simple and elegant. The basic design for this cake is featured on the cover the first Wilton cake decorating book. I adapted it to be a two-tiered cake and added the decorations around the edges. What I learned from Megan and the Wilton books is that there are a few very simple steps to decorating a simple cake with buttercream frosting. The first is to use the Wilton buttercream frosting recipe (basically crisco and powdered sugar). The second is to use the Wilton decorating spatulas and dip them in hot water after each time you spread frosting - this step makes a big difference! That is how the frosting looks smooth. The roses take a big of skill - mostly in getting the frosting to the right consistency - but they are well-worth it. I am also a big fan of using dots to decorate, they are simple and they can add a lot to a cake.
Ryan also has a bit of an artistic side when it comes to woodworking, which he clearly gets from his dad who made nearly all of our furniture. Ryan has made a few signs with names on them as gifts when people get married. We pick a font we like, print the letters out really big, and then Ryan routers them onto a piece of wood, then paints and/or stains it. We got the idea from my mom, who has made a lot of signs like this over the years. Ryan gave this one to Kelly and Alex last weekend.
I'm happy for Alex and Kelly and so glad we were able to be there to celebrate with them last weekend!