Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter escape to the Cross family cabin

When we decided that we would visit our families during the holidays I wanted to be sure we had enough time for a trip to my parent's cabin.  The cabin which is north of Talkeetna was built my my parents in the early 1970s.  They lived there until about the time I was born but have kept the cabin for weekend visits.

Winter is a fun time to visit.  It is easy to ride the snowmachines there and the cabin is nice and cozy once you get it warmed up.  The temperatures stayed in the the single digits but a roaring fire in the old Fisher wood stove got it warmed up inside by dinner time.

While we waited for the fire to warm up the cabin we stayed warm by removing a large spruce tree that had fallen on the cabin.  The tree was one of that largest near the cabin and probably snapped at off at its base during the high winds this fall.  The tree struck the roof of the upper bedroom and managed to break two spruce polls in the eve.  A few feet of snow had fallen since the tree came down which made it just that much more difficult to cut up the tree.  We managed to clear the tree off the cabin but my Dad will need to return soon to patch holes in the roof.  Hopefully this summer we will find time to repair the roof more thoroughly.

Molly looked back at some old photos and determined it had been eight years since she had been to the cabin in the winter.  We had tried to go there at Christmas three years ago but the temperatures had been too cold.  Hopefully it won't be too long before we return.

Working on removing a large spruce tree that had fallen on the cabin

shoveling several feet of snow off the spruce tree

Molly standing on the edge of the frozen lake

Ready to leave

Monday, December 26, 2011

Palmer Christmas

Cross/Rosier Family Photo

Oliver checking out his stocking on Christmas morning (still dark outside!)

Oliver and his grandpa hangin' out on the couch
Henry and Uncle Ryan
We're in Palmer for Christmas - chilling out in the 10 degree weather. There is lots of snow here and not a whole lot of daylight, but some of us (adults) did get outside to enjoy a little sun both yesterday and today. Mostly we've been enjoying playing inside with our nephew Oliver, 2 1/2, and passing around our new nephew Henry, 4 months. With so many people around, Oliver is rarely at a loss for someone to play with. When we do neglect him for even a minute, he finds the largest congregation of adults and says "I need one of you guys to play with me" as he points around the room the room. Sometimes he points of each of us individually and says "you, or you, or you." It's a hard request to refuse. Although, if you agree to play with Oliver, you are almost surely agreeing to drive the "little orange car" while Oliver drives the train around his little wooden train track. For hours.

This is the first time I've gotten to spend much time with Henry since he was born. He's such a chill baby and he loves to smile. At everyone. Here are a couple of photos of him on the floor being entertained by Grandma.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Clear Kodiak

After arriving in a winter storm on Monday, we've had three days of beautiful crystal clear skies and crisp weather. It's nice to see Kodiak at it's best. Last time we were here for Christmas (three years ago) it blew 100 mph. This was a little better, to say the least!

We saw these bald eagles on our way home the other day between the Coast Guard Base and Lash Dock. They were hanging around a deer carcass on the side of the road. One big eagle was chowing down while the others watched on.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kodiak Skiing and Dynafit Binding Review

It's still a little early for good back-country downhill skiing in Kodiak, but on the first day of winter we were out making the most of it.  My friend John took me to one of the taller mountains that you can ski to in a day.  We started near sea level so it was a bit brushy down low, but at 1500 to 2000ft there were nice pockets of new snow.  The sun stayed low on the horizon but the fact that it was out made it an outstanding day to be in the mountains.

Another friend of ours let me borrow the skis, boots and skins (thanks Patrick).  This allowed me to avoid hauling my skis to Kodiak and back.  Patrick's ski setup was very light weight and uses dynafit bindings.  This was my first time skiing with dynafit bindings, I really enjoyed them but am still skeptical about there durability and the durability of the boots that are required to use them.  Dynafit bindings are very light because they are use a very small about of material to hold the boot in place.  Just about every time John visits me in Seattle he ends up breaking some part of his dynafit bindings. The other downside is that the brakes for these bindings are basically useless, which means you are stuck using leashes which in my opinion are annoying and potentially dangerous.

I could go on, but I will wrap it up by saying I think these bindings are a great revolutionary design, but there downsides are often overlooked by skiers far too excited by the two pounds of  weight saving.

Gingerbread Architecture

Gingerbread Lane
Only a kid from Alaska (Ryan) would build an outhouse to go with his gingerbread house

The gingerbread architects

Katelyn and John and their art

Ryan and I
Yesterday we decorated gingerbread houses - an Odell Christmas tradition. This was the first time we've ever used real gingerbread though. Usually we go the easier graham cracker route. Ryan and I made the gingerbread on Tuesday. We spent a good five hours rolling, cutting, and baking the dough for seven houses (one extra in case we had any disasters). It was exhausting. But it was worth it! We had some graham crackers on hand though for emergencies and for additions. I think next time we would do the gingerbread again but use graham crackers for the roofs. They're lighter and easier to perch on top of an already precarious gingerbread structure.

Ryan and Katelyn hard at work

John adding the last piece of roof

Mom and the house that won the frosting award

Ryan's gingerbread person dance party

Michael and Ryan usually do not like to be constrained by simple house designs and usually build something unique while I stick to the tradition four walls and roof plan. Michael definitely gets the award this time for the most original "house." We dubbed his "The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster." He did not intend it to look like a church, but it did. The entire time the rest of us were assembling and building our houses, he was working away on designing and cutting his pieces. He didn't even get started "gluing" things together until we were all done. But we waited for him to take photos and I think it was worth it. Here is The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Attic Improvements

Wearing my full personal protective equipment (PPE) with the new opening to the attic in the background

This my attic before I insulate, the existing insulation is flush with the joist and about 6 inches deep.


It has been about a year since I did any home improvement projects so I have been trying to decide what I wanted to work on.  Most of my past projects have been things that are seen and appreciated such as paint, trim, and appliances.  But this time I am taking on the unseen, the attic.

The Department of Energy recommends a minimum of R-38 insulation in the attic of existing homes with electric baseboard heat in Seattle.  My attic currently has about 6 inches of loose fiberglass insulation which equals approximately R-15.  My plan is to boost this number significantly by adding a full covering of R-30 fiberglass batts.  It is unlikely that I will recover the cost in my electric bill anytime soon, but at least I can have the satisfaction of knowing that after 65 years this house will for the first time have sufficient insulation overhead.  I have read that 60-70% of homes are under-insulated.

Once the new insulation is in place it will be very difficult to access the attic.  Today I took the opportunity to complete some prep work.  The first step was to add a new access door to the attic from the attic over the garage.  This will allow me to bring in the new insulation without having to take it through the house.  I also took time today to seal any gaps in the ceiling around wires and light fixtures, this will help ensure that I am not loosing any heat due to convection.  Finally I took on the very nasty job of brushing down 65 years of cobwebs.  while there might not be any benefit in doing this it sure makes the attic a more pleasant place to work by reducing the creepy factor.  All I need to do now is install a missing gable vent and I will be ready to insulate.

The first photo I posted is me decked in full PPE with a full face respirator.  This might seem like overkill, but I don't think so.  The existing fiberglass insulation is some nasty stuff and when you start shuffling it around it can get airborne.  I have learned from my medical training that you shouldn't take any chances when it comes to your lungs and the little alveoli that make it possible for us to breath.  Unlike our skin and other parts of our bodies, alveoli are basically incapable of regenerating thus it is very important to protect the ones you have.  I also taped my latex gloves to my tyvec suit. I was hot but I'm not itchy now.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Urban Rock Climbing

Basalt columns at the Mountaineers Facility at Warren G Magnuson Park
Ryan Wopschall leading the North Dihedral

Ryan checking out the office summit registry

The weather has been so nice lately that my friend Ryan and I decided to take a little time to go climbing at the Mountaineers facility here in Seattle.  The Mountaineers Club owns a building at Warren G Magnason Park and has an outdoor climbing wall that is free and open to the public.  Last winter Ryan and I would occasionally head to the wall to get outside and keep our skills sharp.  This summer they added a series of basalt rock columns.

The columns of basalt are bolted together alowing climbers to get a realisitc crack climbing experience. They have bolted anchors at the top but otherwise it is necessary to use real climbing hardware to protect the route as you climb.  Ryan led and I followed up two different routes on the columns. The climbing was difficult but the pitch was not more than 35' high.

We found it amusing that the Mountaineers Club has placed an official summit log on the top stating that the elevation is 85'.  Ryan wrote that we ascended the route via "The North Dihedral".  We are considering heading back on the morning of January 1st so we can get the first official winter ascent.

Holiday Baking: Fluffy Walnut Scones

One of my favorite goodies to bake during the holidays is maple walnut scones. I got this recipe from my friend Ginny in Fairbanks after she made them for me a couple of summers ago. I have never made scones and wasn't even sure I liked them (all I could think about were the dried-out sugary $5 scones they sell at Starbucks). These scones are nothing like that. And even better, they are easy to make.

This morning when I made these I decided to alter the recipe a little. The dough turned out way too wet, so instead of rolling it out and cutting it into triangles, I had to just plop balls of dough on a cookie sheet. I was nervous because the consistency was so different than it should have been. They turned out just fine anyway - phew! This time they were WAY fluffier than they've ever been before and I'm loving it. I'm not sure if they still even qualify as a scone, but that doesn't really matter because they're delicious. So here are the directions with the original recipe and my alterations:

Maple Walnut Scones

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled
1 egg
1/4 cup half and half - I added a tiny bit extra this time
3 tsp maple syrup (the original recipe called for 1 tsp maple extract)

-bake nuts for 5 min at 375, allow to cool completely
-combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, stir well
-slice butter into flour mixture, making sure each piece is coated, using a wire whisk press into butter until sandy, add walnuts
-in a separate bowl beat half and half, egg, and maple
-combine mixtures just until blended with a spoon (the original recipe says to first use a spoon then your hand, but my version this time was way too wet to be mixed by hand)
- plop balls of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet (in the original recipe, you would roll the dough out on a flat surface and cut triangle-shaped pieces out)
-bake for 15-20 min at 375F

* These scones are yummy even without the walnuts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A 100 Year-Old Wedding Ring

My wedding ring with the engraving "F & A '11."

My wedding ring is 100 years old this year. I was lucky-enough to inherit my great-grandmother's wedding band shortly before Ryan and I were married.

My paternal grandfather's parents, Agnes Brownlee and Frank Odell were married on December 13, 1911 - one hundred years ago yesterday - in North Dakota. I had meant to write a blog post yesterday, on the 13th, but the day got away from me which is funny because I've been planning this blog post for almost a year. In fact, last winter when I realized my ring would be one hundred years old in 2011, I asked my mom to look up the date of my great grandparents' wedding.

When I started this blog post earlier today at school, I meant to save it as a draft and finish it later at home after I took a photo of my ring. Instead, I accidentally hit "publish" and the email-version went out to a few family members. Now I'm glad I made that little mistake because Carol, Ryan's mom, replied to the email and told me with amazement that her parents were also married on December 13th.  This is more than a small coincidence not only because they were married on the same date as my great grandparents, 36 years later, but because Ryan wears his grandfather's wedding ring.

I never knew my great grandparents but I know I am lucky to have a family ring. And I know Ryan was very close to his grandfather, "Pops," and was touched that is grandmother wanted him to have Pop's wedding band.

My great grandparents' wedding portrait