Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pool Repair

the hole cut in the concrete apron to expose the pool pluming
Re-plumed skimmer

Today Dad and I were pool repairmen for a day.  The pool at my grandma's house was installed in 1979 and started having leaking problems within a few years.  Various attempts were made to stop the leaks but a concrete apron surrounding the pool prevented accessing the pluming.  Today we changed that by renting a concrete saw with a diamond blade and cutting away the concrete slab.  After a few minutes of digging in the sand we found a leaking pipe coupler.  Further investigation revealed that the pipe had been cross threaded when it was installed four decades ago.  With less than $20 of parts we re-plumbed the drain. We believe we may have stopped the leak but will be testing it thoroughly tomorrow.  I think this project is a lesson in doing it right the first time. We are just glad it was a relatively easy fix.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rafting on the Rio Congrejal

River Swim
Class III section

Our Honduras adventure is over but we’re still going through the pictures! We made it back to Florida in time to spend Christmas with Ryan’s grandmother. Our last big adventure before we left Honduras was whitewater rafting on the Rio Congrejal along the border of Pico Bonito National Park.

We signed up for a guided rafting trip with Jungle River Lodge based on some great recommendations from other travelers we had met. They hire all local guides and they take safety very seriously and have new equipment. The trip started off with a swim in the river and some cliff jumping. Some of the guides took videos of us jumping. I’ll upload the videos when we get back to Seattle and have faster internet. The highest cliff we jumped off of was 7 meters (23 ft) – by far the highest thing I’ve ever jumped off of!

The water is pretty low this time of year but there were still some solid class III sections including some serious little drops. It was a fun river to raft because it is full of huge boulders, so even where there aren’t rapids, you have to navigate around all the rocks. The river was pretty different from anything either of us has rafted before. We’ve pretty much just been on wide rivers with sections of rapids. The boulders in this river made it interesting even in flat water sections.

All the rafting trips at the Jungle River Lodge include a night in their hostel right on the river. It was a relaxing place to hang out for a day and a half.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


We’ve spent the last couple of days on Roatan, the largest and most visited of Honduras’ Bay Islands. We’re staying in West End which is where most of the lower budget travelers stay. Scuba diving is extremely popular here and cheap compared to other vacation diving destinations. Lucky for us (since we don’t dive), the snorkeling is also fantastic. It’s a bit of a weird place though. West End is just full of dive shops – all inclusive places where divers on vacation can stay, eat, and dive. There is a small, less than tidy beach right in town with some pretty good snorkeling not far from shore.  Other than that, there isn’t really much to do in the town except for eat and drink.

West Bay is the resort center of this island. It’s only a couple of kilometers away from West End and has a much nicer beach. We went down there yesterday to find out that it is a total zoo. The beach was so packed with people, chairs, and vendors that you could hardly find a place to lay down your towel. There is fantastic snorkeling right off the ends of the beach though. The beach was so crazy that I think it’s safe to say I’ll never visit West Bay again. Amazingly, just around the corner from West Bay we found a restaurant/dive shop that was almost empty and had chairs in the shade. It was so relaxing to get away from all of the chaos on the beach.

Wanting to get away from all the crowds again, today we hired a boat to take us along the coast to some good snorkeling spots. We first stopped at a ship wreck that had amazing corals all around. The water was so much clearer away from the main tourist area at West Bay and West End. At another spot we even saw a couple of lobsters and a sting ray. The boat driver dropped us off for lunch at a resort located on its own beach – also very relaxing as there were only a couple other groups of people/families there. If we were going to be here another day I’d probably rent a car to get out to some more beaches like that. But, tomorrow we’re heading back to the mainland.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Finca El Cisne

Dried coffee beans
Before we left Copan and headed for the coast, Molly and I spent a day and a night on a farm in the mountains called Finca El Cisne (Swan Farm). Our guide, Carlos, and his family own and run the 2,000 acre farm started by his grandfather.  A few decades ago they started growing coffee beans and that is now their primary product.  Despite the rain we toured the coffee plantation and learned about how the coffee is shade grown and handpicked.  Carlos guided us through the processing buildings showing us how the beans are separated from the fruit, dried, and stored.  It was interesting and I was impressed by their use of hydropower to operate most of the machinery.

Carlos took us on a horseback ride through their land.  It was a great ride and my horse Bonito was awesome!  Bonito loved to gallop and was very, very tolerant of the annoying little hound that taunted him.

To top things off we soaked in the nearby hot springs where half a dozen pools had been thoughtfully crafted into the hillside.  Each pool was slightly warmer as you worked your way up the hill towards the actual springs.  It was quite delightful and we could have stayed longer if we had more time.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Macaw Mountain

This morning Molly and I rode in a tuktuk a short distance into the mountains outside of Copan Runis. We visited Macaw Mountain, a bird sanctuary that specializes in reinterducing macaws to the Copan Valley. Besides macaws the sanctuary also houses other parrots, parakeets, hawks and owls from the area.  Some of the birds were in cages but there were also many uncaged in a large interactive area. As proper tourists we welcomed the offer of the bird handler to place macaws on our shoulders and arms.  These macaws had been trained to grasp lightly and also responded when the handler told them to leave Molly's sunglasses alone. Neither Molly or myself are much in the way of birders, but who isn't fascinated with such beautiful and smart birds? Again, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of tourists. It made the experience all the more relaxing.

This afternoon we returned to the Copan Runias Archeological site. We wanted to see some more areas and take a few more photos. Its a huge site and I know we could spend a many more days exploring, but tomorrow it is on to the next adventure: a coffee plantation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Copan Ruinas

Ruler 13

We made it to Honduras and after having to spend a night in San Pedro Sula, we arrived in Copan Ruinas – a town completely unlike San Pedro Sula! Copan Ruinas is small, quiet, and safe. Today we went straight to the archaeological site of Copan. Like many famous Maya sites it has been partially restored. This site however, is far off the beaten path of most travelers to Mesoamerica. It was incredibly pleasant to only share the site with a handful of other tourists.

Copan is well-known for its elaborate and well-preserved stelae or carved stone monuments. Each one contains the image of a ruler and inscriptions that describe his reign and ancestry. One of the reasons Copan has so many of this is that its last ruler (Ruler 13, otherwise known as “18 Rabbit”) commissioned a lot of them, both of himself and his late father. Most of the southern Maya city-states were in decline around that time (~AD 800) and Ruler 13 was going to extreme lengths to hold his kingdom together. He ultimately failed, the city of Copan was abandoned, and his elaborately-built tomb was never filled (he presumably died somewhere else).

Copan also has some really cool and unique architecture including basalt construction (more northern Maya sites used limestone) and temples built on top of temples, but those are topics for another post.

A ball court

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Dude, its like a blizard man."

"Dude, it's like a blizzard man" proclaimed the snowboarder in the lift line at Steven Pass ski resort today.  Molly and I quietly chuckled at this young man's astute observation.  The truth is, it WAS a bizzard.  Nearly two feet of snow had fallen in the last twenty four hours and it was still coming down heavy.  It was a great morning to be playing hooky.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I won't and will miss about Washington when we move back to Alaska.  I will miss Stevens Pass Ski area but I won't miss lift lines and the hundards of other people who crowd the slopes and track up the snow.

A friend and I recently had a conversation about resort skiing versus back country skiing.  His argument was that you remember everyday in the  back country whereas resort skiing is just a blur of all your trips to the slope. I think there is a place for both.

Resort skiing is like thanksgiving dinner - you gorge yourself on elevation rather than food.  Groomers, powder, trees,'s all there for the taking and you can get more skiing in one day than in weeks of back country skiing.  Back country on the other hand is like fine dinning - a small perfectly cooked steak paired with the perfect wine that you enjoy slowly so you will remember it.

In Alaska I will spend far fewer days resorts but my days backcountry are likely to be awesome.  I have to say the time I have spent resort skiing in Washington has made me a much better downhill skier and I am looking forward to skiing terrain in Alaska that I couldn't have skied when I was younger.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Parlor Room

Parts of my grandparents house in upstate New York were built more than 194 years ago in 1818.  While the current house could be mistaken for a simple farm house, careful observation reveals that the original house was constructed with much craftsmanship.  The original house did not have plumbing or even electricity but presentation would have been important to the original owners.

The original front entrance has an elegantly crafted door.  To the left of the entrance was the parlor room where guests would have been entertained (my grandparents converted it to a bedroom).  The parlor has ornate window and door trim that are not found in any other part of the original house. It is not hard to picture an elegant room displaying the family's best furniture.  This would have been the most formal and important room in the house.

Growing up in Alaska I was not exposed to a lot of residential architecture as there are very few old houses, but having lived in Seattle for a few years I have come to appreciate houses crafted with more than function in mind.  I'm not saying I would like to own a 19th century or Victorian-era home but I can appreciate their beauty in ways I did not previously.

Inserting the storm windows in an upstairs room

Trim around the parlor door with the original entrance in the background

The front of the house (the parlor is on the left, the upper dormers were added in the 1940's)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Visiting Family in New York

Both of my parents are from the same town in upstate New York, so when we go to visit my grandmother we are really visiting much of my extended family on both my Mom and Dad's side.  It's not just my aunts, uncles, and cousins, but also first cousins once removed and second cousins.

Yesterday we visited my Dad's brother, Uncle Don.  Despite living thousands of miles apart for nearly forty years I am always struck by the similar mannerisms and interests of these two men.

This morning we were visited by my good childhood friend Seth, his wife and daughter.  They live outside of D.C. and I think we have only seen each other a couple of times since high school.  It was a treat to see an old friend and meet his family.

This afternoon we were visited by a cousin I have not seen in maybe 13 or 14 years.  Not surprisingly he is now married and has three children.  His youngest son, Alex, is very interested in outdoor recreation and outdoor gear. Even though he is only 11, he has already decided he wants to climb Denali. I was able to show him my photos from my Denali trip and other Alaska adventures. All three of the kids were into hearing about Alaska, especially helicopters, float planes, and bears. Alex spent most of the rest of the afternoon pouring through an outdoor gear magazine pointing out all the stuff he wanted (the most expensive of everything of course).

Tomorrow is breakfast with my great uncle on my father's side along with many first cousins once removed and second cousins.

Aunt Helen, Grandma Crane and Molly proudly present a completed puzzle

Showing photos of Alaska to my cousins

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Returning to Alaska

I have BIG news.  I recently accepted a new job as a marine geophysicist with a survey company in Palmer.  We are moving back to Alaska!  The name of the company is TerraSond which will be a little confusing after working for Tetra Tech for the last five years.

I will be starting my new job sometime after the new year.  It wasn't an easy decision to take the new position, but at the same time it will be a very good opportunity for me.  I think TerraSond will be a good fit.  The job will be similar to what I do now but perhaps with less research and development and more hydrographic survey and more emphasis on working with the oil and gas industry.  There will still be a lot of fieldwork in Alaska, the lower 48, and even internationally.

It kind of a strange coincidence that TerraSond is based out of my home town.  There really isn't a lot of that kind of industry in Palmer.  TerraSond has a few other offices in Texas and a small one here is Seattle.  I will be based out of the Palmer office but likely working with other employees from all the offices.  Unlike Tetra Tech, TerraSond is entirely focused on hydrographic surveying, land surveying, marine geophysics and to a small extent terrestrial geophysics.  So despite the fact that TerraSond has only a small fraction of the number of employees at Tetra Tech if feels in a way like I am moving to a bigger company.

Molly will be staying in Seattle until at least this summer as she has teaching obligations with the university and will then be moving north. We have grown soft in this temperate climate but feel it's time to return to Alaska.  The best opportunities for both of our careers are in Alaska and we are ready to be closer to our Alaska friends and family again.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wedding cake drama

Last weekend, in addition to the workshop I attended, I decorated Natasha and Vijai's wedding cake. They had it made at a bakery in Bellevue and dropped it off at my house late Friday night after all my potluck guests had left. I had a great plan and even had a back-up plan too in case the first idea failed. Turns out they both failed and I had to improvise a third plan at the last minute.

 Plan #1 was to use orange, brown, and yellow fondant to make a fall-color themed design of flowers and leaves. On Friday night I rolled out the fondant and tried to cut out flowers and leaves with fondant shape cutters. It totally did not work. The fondant was way too wet and as a result wouldn't easily come out of the forms and did not seem like it was ever going to dry into any sort of shape. Since it was already 11:30 and I knew I had a long day of workshop attending and wedding reception fun ahead on Saturday, I decided to cut my losses and go to bed and execute Plan #2 first thing in the morning.

Plan #2 was to use brown frosting to create a henna-like pattern on the cake (I was inspired by the henna artist who decorated our hands). I got up in the morning, found a nice cake design I liked online, printed it, and got to work making the frosting (with a quick 7am run to the grocery store after I realized we were out of Crisco). My first attempt at the frosting was pretty much a disaster.

Decorating frosting only really has four ingredients: Crisco, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and water. Seems pretty hard to go wrong, right? Perhaps for anyone but me! The trick with frosting that you're going to make fine lines with is you need it to be thin (watery) so it comes out the bag/decorating tip smoothly. So I added more water than the frosting recipe calls for (I've done this tons of times before so didn't think I even needed to measure the water). I also started adding brown coloring. I had to add a lot of it to make it very dark brown and I kept beating the frosting the entire time. It started to look clumpy and there were beads of water all over the frosting. It was very clear this frosting was not going to work. I thought I had beat it for too long.

Not one to freak out, I put the bowl of frosting aside and started over. Unfortunately I made the exact same mistake again, except the second time I realized the mistake was not over-beating the frosting - it was adding too much water. The powdered sugar can only absorb so much water. I had passed that limit. But, since I had few options left, I decided it was going to have to work.

I filled up my decorating bag and got to work making the henna design on the cake. Unfortunately it looked like poop (and I mean literal poop - it was brown frosting after all). And I found that it is impossible to make an intricate design without being able to rest your elbow on the table, and that was impossible with such a large cake. It looked terrible. But, not to be deterred, I scraped off all my brown frosting and smoothed the top of the cake again (I knew the bakery would have used massive amounts of white frosting so I knew I had a lot to work with).

At that point I did start freaking out a little. I've never come this close to f'ing up a cake before - let alone for someone else's wedding! The main problem I was having thinking of a good design that was simple was that it was a big sheet cake - that's a lot of unbroken space to play with. So I thought back to the cakes I've done before trying to think of one that could work for a sheet cake - the grape vine one came to my mind from our housewarming party. It's pretty simple and I knew I could pull it off quickly and make it look nice.

I was not going to ruin make another batch of frosting though!

Plan #3: I drove up to Joann's in Lynnwood and bought the colored decorating frosting that already comes in tubes. As soon as I got home I had the cake decorated in a half an hour. Now I just wonder why I didn't stick to a simple plan that I knew I could accomplish from the beginning.

Now I know: don't add too much water to the frosting. Or better yet, just buy the stuff in the tube!