Monday, February 28, 2011

Five Mile Lake Triathlon

Finishing the Five Mile Lake Triathlon last year

I've been feeling so good with my swimming/biking/running routine that I think I'm going to sign up for the Five Mile Lake Triathlon in Auburn, WA again this year. Anybody want to do it with me?? I did this tri last June, right after school ended and right before I left for Alaska. I would just like to give myself props for doing a triathlon only two weeks after my general exam. I am still amazed that I had the energy and self-discipline to train for a triathlon while studying for my exam. Despite feeling like grad school has consumed the last four years of my life, I think I actually have gotten better at my work and fun balancing skills.

Now that I'm familiar with traithlons and specifically with the Five Mile Lake course, I'm hoping to improve my time this year. I was right in the middle of the pack for my age-group last year but I kicked butt in the swim, if I do say so myself. I had the 80th fastest time for the 1/4 mi swim, out of 277 men and women. Unfortunately the swim only takes about 7 min, so it doesn't really make a whole lot of difference in your final time. I am sure I can improve my bike time this year and that will definitely help.

I'm hoping it will be warmer for the triathlon this year though! Last year is was a chilly and drizzly 50 degrees. The lake was pretty cold and my feet never really warmed up after the swim. I might rent a wet suit this year if it looks like it's going to be cold again.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Slightly) More Snow

The light blanket of snow and sunshine that I woke up to this morning
This morning there was just a tiny bit more snow than there was the day before. By the time I left the house at 8:30 it had all melted off the road. All the buses had chains on, which were completely unnecessary at that point, but I'm sure the roads would have been horrible if they hadn't put chains on. That's how those things always go, right?

I've heard a lot of whining and complaining (mostly from online comments on newspaper articles, etc.) about how wrong the forecasters were about snow in Seattle. I suppose they did over-estimate the amount of snow we actually got, but EVERYWHERE around Seattle got dumped on, just not Seattle. I think people have a bit of a misconception that forecasters should always be able to get it right. It sounds like they had it right for surrounding areas though. I don't mind not getting snowed on though and I don't blame the city for being over-prepared for the threat of snow. I enjoyed this article that explained why Seattle stayed nearly dry and outlying areas got up to 12" of snow.

It's supposed to be sunny for the next couple of days and then back to the usual 40 degree, rainy weather that we all know and love. I look forward to riding my bike without having to worry about ice on the roads!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow Update

The extent of our snow this morning

Ryan and John, already sore from one day of powder skiing at Stevens Pass
I was a little disappointed this morning that not much snow had fallen or stuck during the night. It was 35 degrees, and as I expected, there was no ice on the road and my bus was running on schedule. It was actually fairly nice here throughout the day but it did start to snow lightly off and on after about 5pm. As of now it is still too warm for the snow to stick or for ice to form on the roads. The temps are supposed to drop overnight and the national weather service is saying 2-4 inches of accumulation in Seattle.

Even though we've hardly had any snow in Seattle proper, some neighboring counties have gotten hammered. I've heard reports of between 6 and 12 inches in some places. It is pretty hard to image that places within 20 minutes of where we live have so much snow right now! I understand the patterns of where snow fell today have to do with the precipitation shadow of the Olympic mountains. I've been fascinated reading this weather blog. The author is a professor of meteorology at UW.

Ryan and John left on their road trip today. They made it over Snoqualmie pass just fine today with the help of chains. It is cold out in Idaho, but I am sure they are going to have great skiing conditions tomorrow in Sand Point!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Impending Snow-Induced Chaos and Biking in the Snow

Very wet and cold after my ride home in the snow
It has been snowing off and on today and it is forecasted to continue through tomorrow with accumulation of up to 3 inches in Seattle. This of course means mass chaos will break out tomorrow morning as people try to go to work without 4-wheel drive and without studded tires. I am interested to see how much snow we actually get. At the moment it's a little too warm for the snow to stick, but that will probably change overnight. If there really is snow on the ground in the morning I probably won't go to school. My bike is not equipped with snow tires and the buses are not a good bet on a snow day. I'm glad I have the option to stay home.

Ryan and John are supposed to be leaving tomorrow to drive to Idaho and then Montana for a skiing/visiting family and friends trip. I hope they make it out of Seattle and over the pass! When they do, I'm sure the skiing will be awesome on their trip! It's supposed to snow for the next two days in both Idaho and Montana and then be sunny on Friday and Saturday.

Two weeks ago I started biking to school but last week due to bad weather and other events I only rode one day. Despite skipping most of my commutes last week, I can already tell that I am in much better shape than I was three weeks ago. I've been running twice a week, one short run on my own or with Ryan, and one long run with friends from school. I also swim once a week. This type of cross-training has been working well for me for the last two years. I've had some hip pain, and I always have knee pain, so running more than twice a week isn't really an option for me. Today I felt AWESOME on my bike ride home, despite the cold and snow. Feeling the results of getting in shape so quickly has given me great motivation to continue biking to school!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Denny Hall

Denny Hall, home of the UW Anthropology Department

Paccar Hall, the new UW business school
I went to school today to do some work took a couple photos with my iPhone since it was such a beautiful day. It's sad to be inside when it's so nice out in the winter, but that's life. I love going to school at such a beautiful camps - especially since UAF isn't exactly known for it's architecture. The building that houses the Anthropology Department, Denny Hall, is the oldest building on the University of Washington campus. It was build in 1895 in the French renaissance style. Unfortunately, the inside doesn't look anything like the outside and last time it was remodeled was 1956. It was supposed to be under remodel as we speak, but due to the current budget situation the remodel has been postponed, but I don't know for how long. I've heard that one of the goals of the remodel is to make the inside match the style of the outside. I think that would be awesome.

Right next to Denny the new business school building has been under construction for about the last year. It finally opened this fall. When they were building it, I was a bit disappointed they they were putting such a modern-style building right next to the oldest building on campus. I'm over it now though, it has a nice and conveniently-located cafe with tons of tables and chairs, a lobby with couches, and tables outside. I go there at least once or twice a week to get hot chocolate or lunch now. I guess if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fondant Adventures and Graham Bread

Experimenting with the corners

cutting out dots
serving the cake with some friends over
I've been wanting to try cake decorating with fondant for a few months and decided Valentine's Day was a good excuse to give it a try. Usually I do the cake decorating on my own and with the exception of cleaning up, Ryan usually stays out of the way. This time he graciously offered to roll out the fondant. I was SO happy to have his help!

Overall my first fondant experiment was a success. I did learn some important lessons though. First lesson: do not try to heat up the fondant, even if it feels like a brick. This will only cause the fondant to become sticky. Second: do not add anything, other than water and vanilla extract, to the fondant. The texture of the fondant is very important. I added a little bit of cocoa powder, thinking it would make the fondant brown and add chocolate flavoring. Instead, it completely ruined the consistency and it was nearly impossible to use. I did manage to get a few brown circles for the cake, but not nearly as many as I had hoped. Third: the fondant can be (carefully) molded to fit even a square cake. I did not realize this when I started and tried to cut the corners to make the fondant fit. Only later did I google "fondant square cake" to find a YouTube video with instructions. I should have done that first!

I also tried a new cake recipe this time too. My aunt Judy recently sent me a cookbook called "Heavenly Cakes." It has so many delicious-sounding cakes that it was hard to pick just one, but I ended up going with a spice cake. It was delicious! Even though we had a few small mishaps with the fondant, I did love the final product (look at the Feb. 12 post to see a photo).

Ryan did more experimenting with the graham flour. He made a cinnamon raisin bread from the recipe on the back of the graham flour bag. The loaves came out perfect, so delicious!

Ryan kneading the graham bread

Cinnamon raisin graham bread - yum!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Google SketchUp

Everyone knows Google and most people are familiar with Gmail and Google Earth, but not everyone has heard of Google SketchUp. I was introduced to this program about a year and a half ago and I love it! Like many Google products, the basic version is free and very impressive. SketchUp is basically a 3D drawing software. It is used by both professionals and amateurs alike. In my opinion, it is fast and easy to learn.

With SketchUp I can turn visualizations in my head in to 3D drawings. I can then share them with my fellow geophysicists. All I have to do is email the the file and they can view it in 3D on their own computer, after installing the software. One of my more exciting drawings is an underwater munitions detection towfish. I may soon have a chance to build it in full scale. I have already used my drawing to construct a 1/5 scale model and am currently refining the design.

For a free program I am continually amazed with Google SketchUp. I recently realized that you can print drawings at any specified scale; this was very handy when I was constructing the model. Here is a sample of my SketchUp drawings.
Underwater camera and sonar

Pole mounted scanning sonar

One of our survey vessels showing my idea for role stabilizers drawn in yellow
Underwater munition detection towfish

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why does grad school take so long?

A Valentine's Cake (unrelated to the post)
Yes, I have been in grad school for a long time. =) I often get asked why it takes so long so I thought I'd write a post about what grad school has been like for me and why I think it takes so long to get a PhD.

I think the first thing that makes grad school take so long in my program is that we have to work part-time (20 hrs/week) as a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, or Instructor. That's 20 hours a week that we can't work on our own research. On the other hand, it really isn't a bad deal because we get PAID. They pay our tuition, health insurance, and a salary. It certainly isn't much money, but all things considered, it isn't such a bad deal to be paid to go to school. It's actually more money than I made working full-time at a retail job shortly after graduating from college, especially because that job didn't have benefits. These TA/RA/Instructor jobs don't last forever though, there is a bit of a limit to how long the university is willing to pay us to stay here, so there is some incentive to get done!

We also spent a lot of time applying for funding. We apply for all kinds of funding. I have a constant slough of scholarship applications, fellowship applications, grant applications, etc. that I am always revising my resume for, writing statements of purpose, personal statements, and summaries of my research for. The one that takes up the most time though is the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Grant. This is the main place that students in my program apply to for research money for their projects. The application is very competitive though and students in my program routinely spend years refining their research proposals. I spent about a year on mine before I applied and I was turned-down, so now I have been revising it for another year but it is still not ready to re-submit. All this takes away from the time I could spent do the analysis for my dissertation...but I need money to finish the analysis, so the cycle continues!

There is also a constant slough of departmental responsibilities that come along with being a grad student. We have to serve on committees, attend seminars, and of course, drink beer when one of our peers passes a big exam, gets a grant, has a paper published, or finishes and gets a job!

Most of us aren't in grad school to avoid "real life" or because we don't know what we "want to do." We are getting our PhD's because we want to be archaeologists, we want to have good jobs, and have the opportunity to innovative research. And okay, maybe just a little bit because we don't want to grow up. =) Mostly grad school isn't a cake-walk though. PhD's are hard, and they take a long time. If they were easy, I suppose everyone would have one. There is one thing I know I will miss thought when I am done, and that is the other grad students. I have made some amazing friends, I share an office with many of them, and as one of them said: "they make the good times fun and the bad times tolerable." I have to admit, it is a little scary to think about going out into the real world without them.


I added a photo of the cake I made for Valentine's. This was my first time using fondant to decorate - more about that in another post!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Graham Gems

I was chatting with my Grandma Cross recently about baking. She had recently pulled out an old recipe for graham gems that my Great Grandmother used to make almost every week. Graham gems are essentially a hearty muffin that calls for Graham flour. I had never heard of graham flour and Grandma had been unable to find it in the store recently. Living in a big city, I figured I could find graham flour and was interested in trying out this old family recipe.

Grandma send me the recipe and I went in search of the flour. After two grocery stores and no luck I almost ordered the flour online, but eventually I found it at a Whole Foods. For those who don't know, graham flour is essentially whole wheat floor except that the rather than simply grinding the whole grain wheat kernel (bran, germ, and endosperm), in graham flour the components are ground separately. The endosperm is ground finely, initially creating white flour. The bran and germ are ground coarsely. The two parts are then mixed back together, creating a coarse-textured flour that bakes and keeps well.

So, I gave it a try. Its a bit of an odd recipe compared to other muffins I make so I was a little skeptical, but they came out great! They have a nice spongy texture that is not too chewy but great for spreading butter or jam on. And looking over the ingredients they seem reasonably healthy. I will definite make them again.
And here is the funny part: as a kid I used to call my Grandma Cross "Gramgram", so that makes this recipe "Gramgram's Graham Gems."

Here is the recipe:

Graham Gems (Great Grandma and Grandma's recipe)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup sour milk
1 cup sweet milk
2 cups graham flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Makes 2 dozen muffins. Bake at 350 deg. for 15 minutes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


A photo I took with my 3 mega pixel point-and-shoot camera on Two Lakes in Lake Clark National Park, 2005

A photoshopped version of the same photo in our livingroom

Our waterproof camera on the left and older point-and-shoot on the right
The digital Rebel XSi
 Ryan and I both love to take photos and people often ask us what kind of camera we have. I thought I'd write a post about the evolution of the cameras we have owned. I'm going to skip over the film years and go straight to digital photography. My parents bought me my first digital camera when I was a freshman in college in 2002. It was an Olympus point-and-shoot camera, 3 mega pixels, that weighed about 3 lbs. Okay, it wasn't really 3 pounds, but it was heavy because it took FOUR double A batteries. It may have been a total dinosaur when it comes to digital cameras, but it was one tough camera and it took some amazing photos in its day. That camera survived three years of college, four summers of hiking in the backcountry and digging in the dirt, not to mention numerous tumbles at the hands of my clumsiness. I specifically recall dropping it off the top of the bleachers at a middle school gym once while watching my brother's wresting meet. Besides a little dent, it was fine. I think my favorite photo I have ever taken was with that 3 mega pixel camera (top photo). I took that photo of Two Lakes in Lake Clark National Park in August 2005 when I was working on an archaeological survey. When we moved into our house two years ago, I wanted that photo to be the main piece of decoration in our livingroom. At 3 mega pixels though, there was not a lot of potential to turn it into a large print...until Ryan photoshopped it to look like a watercolor. We had it printed in a 20 x 30 and you cannot tell that it is pixelated. I wish I still had that old camera, but we threw it away last time we moved. It still worked, we had just upgraded to more mega pixels. It would have been funny to keep it around to remind ourselves that you don't always need 12 mega pixels to take a good photo.

In 2006 we bought a newer Olympus point-and-shoot (third photo, camera on right). It had more mega pixels than my first camera and it probably took faster photos, but I never really liked it much. Last year we bought a used waterproof (to 30') and shockproof (to 6') point-and-shoot Olympus (12 mega pixels). It's a pretty awesome camera. We put a lot of wear and tear on our cameras, bringing them to archaeological digs and all, but we also wanted to have one we could use while snorkeling and swimming. Probably also a good idea since Ryan works on boats. We also own the floaty attachment so that if you DROP it in the water, it won't sink. =)

A couple of years ago we also bought a used digital SLR camera, a Cannon Rebel XSi, 12 mega pixels. We initially bought a telephoto lens to go with it, but also bought a wide angle lens this summer. This is also an awesome camera. It's not very heavy for its size either. I love, love, love this camera but it is not any everyday, everywhere camera. We often leave it at home for several reasons, including: weight, bulk, potential of being stolen if we have to leave it in a car, sketchy 3rd world-country hostel, sketchy 3rd world country beach, etc., and the potential that it might get dirty or wet (which includes pretty much any work I do). When we do have the opportunity to use it though, we are always happy.

I'm sure soon enough our digital Rebel will be a dinosaur. Maybe this time I should hang onto our old cameras so our future children can make fun of us for using a camera that's not also a phone/computer/spaceship or other futuristic device.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter in Western Washington

Lena Lake in Olympic National Fores

Eating lunch at the Lena Lake Campground

Camping in "winter"
Most of the time I LOVE living in Western Washington. I love the mild winter weather. I love being able to camp and hike without snow. I love hiking in my sneakers in January. I love not having to scrape off my car every morning, not having to shovel my driveway, and not having to spread sand on my walkway just to make it to my car. I love living within walking distance of four grocery stores, a Mediterranean market, and a farmer's market. I love being able to ride public transportation (nearly) any time of the day or night and I love having the option of biking to school. I love the occasional 60 degree day in the middle of winter. There are, however, just a few things I detest about Seattle. The traffic, for one, would make anyone want to pull their hair out. I also dislike the excessively tall tress; I find them oppressive. The general greyness and rain don't bother me though; this place has nothing on Kodiak.

Our camping trip last weekend in Olympic National Forest was refreshing. It was great to be out of the city and wonderful to enjoy hiking and camping in mild weather. I have always found it kind of silly that most campgrounds in Western Washington are closed in winter (since there is no snow) but I suppose it saves a lot of money not to maintain them. We camped in a closed campground in which "dispersed" camping is allowed, the only real difference from summer being that the "facilities" are locked and you don't have to pay a ridiculous place for a flat spot to set your tent. Being a good Alaskan, I have a -20 down sleeping bag. I wanted to bring it this weekend because I have rarely used it since I moved here. It was a bit overkill, to say the least. My six-person tent may have also been a bit of an overkill, but I thoroughly enjoy being able to stand up inside of it. Ryan is not quite as sold as I am on the advantages of a big tent, but that's okay, he doesn't have to use it when he goes camping without me!

The first couple of photos are of our hike up to Lena Lake on Sunday where we saw a little snow and ice.