Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A few more pictures from Wenatchee

Agricultural land on top of a plateau east of the Columbia

A rainbow in Dry Gulch

Exposed rock in a trench in Dry Gulch

Hiking in Dry Gulch
On our last day in Wenatchee we went for a short hike in an area called Dry Gulch. At one time there was a mining operation there but it has since been turned into public use land, in part to ensure that the contaminated soil there is not disturbed by future development (lovely place for recreation, right?). Ryan had a field day looking at the rock which has been exposed by the mining. It was actually really interesting - layers of sandstone and different conglomerates not far from basalt flows. Ryan hypothesized that this contact could have resulted in some interesting mineralization, explaining why there was a mining operation here.

The views were beautiful and besides some especially sticky mud and ice, the trails were great. I can see how it would be nice to live in a small-enough town again to have a recreation area like this right outside your back door. Then again, I love the convenient public transportation that comes with living in a big city, not to mention being near a major airport. However, the views from my treadmill are nothing like this.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wine Tasting in Wenatchee

Needing a break from skiing we spent the day in Wenatchee checking out state parks and wine tasting.  Geographically Wenatchee and the surrounding Columbia River Valley is very differnt from western Washington and anything Molly and I are familar with in Alaska.  In the afternoon we drove a windy dirt road to the top of a plateau east of Wenatchee.  The elevation gain was about a 1500 feet. I was mesmerized by the scale of the valleys draining into the Columbia River.

Overlooking Rock Island Creek, Southeast of Wenatchee
The Columbia River Valley is know for its fruits including the grapes used to make wine.  Molly and I are not exactly big wine connoisseurs but we did visit a winery that was offering tasting from the barrel.  We tried two wines and enjoyed a nice conversation with the owner of this smaller winery.  We learned a lot about the fruit picking business of Wenatchee and how it has changed over the last few decades. 

Tasting wine from the barrel

Art on the Avenue

There is a lovely riverfront park in downtown Wenatchee that has open grassy spaces and a pedestrian/bike trail that goes along the river. It is also home to the "Art along the Avenue" sculpture park. Some of the sculptures were kind of cool, but a lot of them were just weird. Which is how I feel about most sculpture art. For some reason, I usually just don't get it. So here is our review of the Wenatchee sculptures:

"Unanswered Question"
This sculpture of a person missing one arm was just a little odd to me. Ryan found it downright creepy.

"The Wait"
I was thoroughly confused by this one. It's a chunk of granite, cut and polished into a shape that looks like a seat. Ryan said it was uncomfortable. The strangest part though is that the sign said $3000. This was the only sculpture in the park with a price tag. Is it really for sale and if so, what is it doing with a bunch of sculptures that aren't?

The ball (I don't recall the title of this one)
This ball was pretty cool, although much more interesting when I stuck the camera through one side and caught just the pattern on the opposite side. It's a combination of several designs, so when you look through the entire ball, I don't think it's particularly pretty. This was probably my favorite piece of art in the park though.

I wish I had noted the title of this one, it was probably something clever. Somehow I doubt it was titled "The Right Foot." While very cool and realistic, I found this to be the weirdest sculpture in the park. A giant foot? In the middle of a park? WHY?

An otter in a riverfront park, now there is a sculpture I can appreciate.

"The Earth is our Mother"
It's a globe and yes, that is a baby inside, connected to the Earth by an umbilical cord. I have to say, this one is pretty weird too, but unlike the foot, at least I "get it."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

First Turns of the Season

Molly and I are spending our Thanksgiving weekend in Wenatchee, Washington.  Fortunately it's looking like it will be a heavy snow year in the Cascades and the ski resorts are already open.  Today we stopped at Stevens Pass and enjoyed the new snow and lack of crowds.  The day started out mostly clear but by early afternoon it was snowing heavily.  We will be back on the slopes tomorrow and with any luck there will be 6 to 12 inches of new snow.  We are having another La Nina winter and we hope to make the most of it.  Besides finding some of our winter clothes we had no trouble getting back into the swing of things.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Green Bean Casserole

I've never been a big fan of green beans. They're just so...green. Unless they come in the form of a green bean casserole. Who isn't a sucker for cream-of-whatever soup and french fried onions? But I've been trying to eat more of the vegetables I wouldn't normally pick out for myself by getting a box of produce from Full Circle Farm every other week. Amazingly we've only gotten green beans twice in our order. Both times I've turned to Full Circle's New Classic Green Bean Casserole Recipe. It's a delicious twist on an old classic albeit with slightly more labor. I dare you to try it. I don't think you'll go back to the can of green beans. =)

2 lb fresh green beans chopped in thirds, stem ends removed
2 T butter
1 cup shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 T fresh thyme, minced
1 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, stems twisted off and discarded, caps sliced
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
18 oz creamy Portobello mushroom soup
1/2 cup french fried onions

Preheat oven to 350F.
Lightly coat two quart shallow baking dish with nonstick spray.
Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add beans, cook 7 to 8 min until al dente. Drain and return to pot.
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add shallots, garlic, and mushrooms; saute 5 min, or until lightly browned and liquid from mushrooms evaporates. Add thyme and saute until fragrant (3-4 min). Deglaze with sherry and reduce until almost evaporated. Add to beans.
Pour soup onto beans, toss gently to coat. Transfer to baking dish. Top with french fried onions.
Bake 30 min or until hot and bubbly and onions are crisp. Cool for 10 min.

*If you're not a mushroom fan, just skip that part. I made this last year sans the mushrooms and white wine and it was still delicious. I also used regular (cheap) cream of mushroom soup rather than Portabello.

If anyone has other variations of the green bean casserole, I would love to hear them. Eating it tonight reminded me that I need more excuses to cook with french fried onions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jars in the Rain

After coming down with the flu this weekend, or something like it, I decided it probably wasn't a good idea to go to school today. Luckily it didn't last very long and I'm quite a bit better than I was yesterday, but still not really feeling like myself. I had a fairly productive day at home nonetheless. I worked on preparing for my class for next quarter (from the couch) and made a batch of strawberry rhubarb jam.

I wanted to take advantage of being home during daylight hours (a rarity this time of year) to take some photos of canned goods. I've gotten some great inspiration from the Food in Jars Flickr Group - so many amazing photos and homemade canned foods that sound delicious. So here is my latest attempt at canned food photography. Raindrops and all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mountain Rescue Effors Revitalized

Fall colors
When I joined Seattle Mountain Rescue last spring, I was expecting to participate in many of the search and rescue missions that happen during the peak summer season.  However, my work and travel in southeast Asia left me unavailable.  As a new member I am asked to participate in at least five missions with in the first year of membership.  As of fall I had only been on one mission and was concerned about meeting the minimum requirements by next spring.  I have also discovered that it can be difficult for me to respond to missions that happen during the work week.  This is not because I have an inflexible schedule but rather because I usually ride the bus or bike to work resulting in a rather slow response time.  There are many other SMR members who live closer to the mountains and are readily available to respond to missions.

Fortunately there are more ways to volunteer with SMR than responding to emergency missions.  The last two Saturdays SMR has been asked to assist the Bellevue police department and King County Search and Rescue search for a missing child.  I have been there both weekends, happy to volunteer my time.

With winter rapidly approaching I am looking forward to some great winter training opportunities with SMR and perhaps a few interesting search and rescue missions.  Last spring a got a pair of used skies put together with some bindings that I think will be ideal for wintertime missions.  They are light enough to not be overly burdening but tough enough to handle most terrain.  The skis have full metal edges, fish scales in the kick zone but are also fitted with light weight ski skins.  With snow falling in the mountains it won't be long before we are out enjoying winter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Asia for eight days

People are always asking (and we are always thinking) about our next big trip. Well, this one has been sort of forced on us. But who can complain about having to go on vacation? So here is the story...

When we arranged our trip to Malaysia last June, Ryan didn't think he had any fieldwork coming up. Pretty much as soon as we had gone ahead and purchased our tickets to KL, Ryan found out that he had the opportunity to work in Thailand right before and concurrent with our trip to Malaysia. Not wanting to miss an awesome opportunity to work internationally, he called Orbitz and cancelled his ticket. He can use the value of the fare anytime within a year from the date we purchased the ticket (June 21) which is awesome. Here's the big catch though: it has to be on the same airline. And that airline is China Eastern Air. So our options are limited to China and a couple other countries in southeast Asia. And I am also limited by UW's academic calendar. Even for spring break I only have a few days off - since I'll have to grade final exams and turn in grades I won't be done until well into the break. That leaves us with June.

My quarter ends June 12 and our travel has to be completed by June 21. Crossing the international date line would leave us with only eight days in Asia. But we would much rather a quick trip halfway around the world than let Ryan's ticket go to waste!

We've been thinking we would go to Shanghai because China Eastern Air has a direct flight from Vancouver. The only problem is that we don't speak any Chinese and we don't know the first thing about how to get around or what to do in China. Usually I'm not too intimidated by traveling, but China is a whole new can of worms. My closest experience is the one day I spent by myself in Seoul returning from working in Russia. Somehow I imagine that doesn't compare at all.

Tonight we looked into flights to Hong Kong. They actually look quite promising. We could fly to Shanghai and then on to Hong Kong with only a short layover in each direction. A short trip (flight-wise) is an important criteria for our trip (short being relative). And well, Hong Kong is appealing because of the whole language thing. But is a giant modern city with tons of shopping really what we want for this vacation? I have a feeling our bills would add up staying in a city like Hong Kong for eight days.

We ordered a Lonely Planet book tonight so we can start doing some research. I know we have family and friends who have been to Hong Kong so we know where to go for good advice. Anyone been to or traveled around near Shanghai? We'd love to hear what it was like and how easy or difficult it was.

Unfortunately flying all the way back to KL to stay with Ann Marie is just out of the questions for such a short trip. My 40+ hour return adventure did a number on me. Next time I do a travel marathon like that I'm giving myself a week to recover. But we're still hoping that Ann Marie can meet us in China or wherever we decide to go!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Riding in everything but the rain

Bundled up for 31 degrees!
It seems I have biked in everything BUT the rain so far this November. Yesterday I biked home in the hail - big hail. It didn't last for long though. This morning I biked to school in below freezing temps. But I am not complaining! I will take a crisp clear day over a Seattle downpour anytime.

It has been a pain to dress for the cold though because I have some big hills on my ride and I get HOT. On my ride to school I have a short, steep downhill, and long gradual uphill followed by a long gradual downhill. I deal with this by starting off bundled up - there is nothing like pedaling into cold air first thing in the morning! About half way up my long gradual uphill I stop to take off a layer. This tends to be a pain because with my lobster mittens and having to open one of my paniers to stuff my layer away it takes quite a few minutes. But I have generally found it to be worth my time to stop. I prefer not to be drenched in sweat when I get to school. At other points in the past I haven't cared so much, but right now I'm a TA and I prefer not to smell too bad.

Dressing for my ride home is much more of a hastle. I start out with a long gradual uphill, so I get pretty warm almost immediately. But then I have a LONG gradual downhill on a very quiet street that almost never has traffic. And I like to go fast on it. The problem is that I freeze my butt off on this section. I haven't really figured out a good solution to this problem yet. If I'm too bundled up in the beginning, I get sweaty and then my long downhill is even colder. Maybe I should stop before the long downhill and put ON an extra layer. Somehow I don't see myself wanting to stop on my way home though. I'd probably rather just keep pedaling. I just remind myself that it might be chilly, but this is not Fairbanks!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ride in the Rain

The view from under my umbrella on campus today
I joined a Ride in the Rain team this month - a program at UW to encourage bike community in November. November happens to be one of (or maybe the) rainiest months in Seattle. The way the program works is you go to a website and log your miles every week. My team members averaged 24.4 miles each last week. How awesome is that!?!

Ride in the Rain was exactly the motivation I needed to get off my lazy butt in the morning and get on my bike. I even got all set up this fall with new rain paints, a new raincoat, a new helmet, and new lights. I have no excuse not to bike at least one way every day. I did slack off for the entire last month so I am glad Ride in the Rain came along to get me back on my bike! I do have to admit that I didn't get myself together until this week though. I missed the entire first week of Ride in the Rain. Which is really too bad because the weather was so nice!! It has been an atypically pleasant early November. I even saw 58 degrees a few days ago.

Yesterday the weather turned though and we are now in full-on downpour mode. Even some occasional wind which is unusual here. But a little rain and wind will not stop this Alaskan from biking for the rest of November.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Learning to be a teacher

We all have our strengths and I've never considered "deals well with people" to be one of mine - probably a big part of the reason I never considered becoming a teacher. But here I am, in academia, teaching. Obviously I've known for years that I would be teaching at the university level, at least while in graduate school. I've had to attend many teaching workshops and classes as part of my graduate program, and I do take them very seriously because I know I have a lot to learn. I did learn after my first TA experience, which was extremely challenging, that I do sincerely enjoy teaching. Even though it was a difficult course to TA for several reasons, as I'm sure any teacher will tell you, the rewards far outweighed the costs. After that class, I was much more open to a future of teaching.

I am still navigating the the complexities of teaching at the university level - finding my teaching style, learning how to convey expectations to students and what it reasonable to expect, balancing the dry textbook material with examples from my own work, and acting like an authority figure. Last week I had to deal with the aspect of teaching I dislike the most - I had to confront someone about cheating (texting during an exam).

It was such an uncomfortable situation. I'm not a confrontational person, but I had to make a split-second decision to approach the student immediately or ignore the problem. Ignoring it wasn't a very good solution, especially since another student had alerted me to the situation. If I hadn't reacted, I would have been sending a message to the other students that I didn't care if they cheated or I was too timid to deal with someone blatantly breaking the rules. So I confiscated the student's cell phone. The worst part was that after I took the phone, I couldn't figure out how to turn it on. I was thinking "Wow, way to act old, Molly." But I thought quickly-enough and insisted the student show me their texting history.

In hindsight I do think I handled the situation in a responsible way and I don't think there is much I would do differently if I could go back. But I still feel like an imposter in the classroom. The TA who marched up to a student, ripped their exam out from under their pen, and demanded to see their phone was not really me. I never really thought of assertiveness as an attribute that could be learned, but I suppose I am learning how to be in control of a class. I do think it is important, being both a woman and being young, that I act like an authority figure and an adult in front of my classes. Next quarter I'll have to be even more prepared because it will just be me teaching 150 students four days per week. No professor, no labs, no discussion sections.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Camera?

These are more photo taken with the Lumix camera from Cape Disappointment. I am fairly sold on the the Lumix as our next waterproof camera. There are a couple of downsides - the size, the buttons/menus, and the fact that it doesn't internally stitch panoramas. These action shots are pretty awesome for a point-and-shoot though. It's amazing how far digital cameras have come in the last ten years. My first was at least twice as big as the waterproof Lumix and had only one fifth of the megapixels. It took great scenery photos but it could never have taken these action shots. A camera is only as good as the photographer using it, but not all cameras are created equal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Science Friends in the North Pacific

Bruce, my favorite prof from UAF, and I at a Kuril party
This week my advisor hosted a Kuril project workshop at UW - the culmination of five years of National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary research on human and environmental history in the Kuril Islands of the Russian Far East. I participated in the Kuril project as a field archaeologist during the summer of 2008 - an experience of a lifetime, in many respects. I did enjoy hearing the results of the research this week, especially the environmental history side (I know the archaeology since that is what I have been most involved with), but it was also fun to see some of the people again. Not only did I see some of the Russian and Japanese scientists we had worked with in the field, I also got to see two people I worked with at UAF when I was an undergrad who are now also involved in the Kuril project - Bruce, the professor I worked for while I was an undergrad, and Jason, one of his grad students. I was reminded how small the community is of scientists who work in the North Pacific.

Not only did I work with Jason in Bruce's lab, but he also shared an office with Ryan in the geology department at UAF. Jason has also become involved with the Sanak project (which I worked on with Bruce in 2004). Besides catching up with the Finney lab crowd, I was also reminded how many connections there are between scientists who work in the Russian Far East and UAF. For instance, one of the Japanese volcanologists told me that he is a visiting professor at UAF's Geophysical Institute this semester and he knows Ryan's advisor from grad school. One of the Japanese geology grad students also went on a UAF summer field course to the Katmai caldera (how cool is that?!?) and knows some of the UAF grad students that Ryan and I knew. The Japanese archaeologist involved with the Kuril project also worked in Kodiak with my advisor several years ago.

There are certainly a lot of parallels between the environments and people of coastal regions of Alaska and the Russian Far East. It's cool to be involved in such collaborate/comparative research and to remember how small the world really is.