Monday, April 30, 2012

Seattle Times Writing

I've read a few articles recently in the Seattle Times and have not been particularly well-written. At least for what I expect of a newspaper in a major metropolitan area. And especially for the city which supposedly has the highest percentage of college educated people in the US. I've started to notice that many of the articles end abruptly and quite oddly. I admit I don't know a whole lot about newspaper reporting, but I would think ending an article with a paragraph or even a single sentence summarizing the main point/s of the article would be a no-brainer.

Take this article for example - it's about the wacko who, after spending eight years building a bunker in the woods in preparation for the end of the world, murdered his wife and daughter and torched their house. The article describes the bunker and what was found in it. It ends with a description of the type of food he stocked it with (grains and candy bars) and this quote from a detective: "I was surprised he didn't have more protein."

Really? That's how an article about a psycho who murdered his entire family ends? By pointing out that he really should have stocked more canned tuna?

Maybe I don't know anything about newspaper writing. I do know, however, that ending the article by questioning the man's choice of food staples trivializes the tragic murders of his wife and daughter.

And the reporter referred to one of the detectives by last name before she "introduced" the detective in the article. Maybe I'm being nit-picky (I've been grading about five million intro to archaeology research papers this week and my writing discrepancy skills are perfectly honed right now), but I think the Seattle Times could pick it up just a notch.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Apple Blossoms



Even after three years, I'm still exceptionally excited that we have our very own apple tree. It's covered in blossoms this year so hopefully that means good things for our apple sauce plans this fall.

This is the time of year when our yard becomes a lot of work. The lawn gets out of control and needs to be mowed at least once a week. I mowed it last Sunday. Today I only mowed the front lawn though, I think I'll save the rest for later in the week. The back yard isn't quite as out of control; there is a big patch that is already turning brown. In another month and a half it will mostly be dead and maintenance will luckily drastically decrease. The shrubs are out of control too though - a project for next weekend.

Just thought I'd also throw in a photo from my hike with Jennie at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island yesterday. We hiked there almost exactly a year ago too and the weather was exactly the same - 60 degrees and high overcast. Nice weather for hiking for people from Alaska.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Did you really think we were going to cook?

Sometimes when Ryan is gone I resign myself to eating cereal or crackers and cheese for dinner until he gets back - no prep time and almost no dishes! Other times I have  high-hopes of cooking wonderful things for myself - this was one of those times. I made a trip to Grocery Outlet early in the week and stocked up on all the great produce that's cheap right now - corn, zucchini, yellow squash, green onions, asparagus, sweet peppers, lettuce, grapes, kiwis. Who was I kidding? We hardly cook more than twice a week when Ryan IS home.

When I'm on my own schedule I can work at school as late as I want. On days I run after I get home, I don't get done working out sometimes until 8:30 or 9:00 - and then I don't really feel like eating dinner, let alone cooking. So I eat a snack and ignore the two full drawers of produce in the fridge.

In the middle of the week my friend Brooke texted me. Her husband, Adam, is out of town too. The two of us are eerily alike when the boys are away so we went out and got Thai food. Adam called while we were eating dinner and Brooke said "Did you really think we were going to cook while you were gone?"

I don't think he did. I think they just hope we do the dishes before they get back.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Banana Coconut Rum Butter

Some recent canning projects: cantaloupe vanilla jam (from the preview of Food in Jars), strawberry rhubarb jam, zucchini relish (from Tart and Sweet)

Cantaloupe vanilla jam (tastes like an orange creamsicle!)

Four pounds of bananas

Ready for some banana rum butter!

Turns out banana butter isn't exceptionally photogenic
Just recently, I've started working my way through some recipes in Tart and Sweet. This weekend I had my heart set on banana rum butter with a twist - rather than the dark rum it called for, I had coconut rum (a gift from a friend who was recently in the Carribean, and while tasty, one that I probably wouldn't make it through for a year). I also didn't have the vanilla bean it called for, but I figured the coconut flavor would more than make up for it.

Of course, I only had two bananas in the house. So as Sunday evening was approaching, and I was putting off running to the store to buy the remaining 3 lbs of bananas I needed, my friend Kayla called and asked out the blue if I had any use for 12 very ripe bananas - the result of her first ever frantic 2 am Amazon fresh order (for anyone who has an infant and a two-year-old, and whose husband is away at a conference for a week, you can probably imagine the situation). "You just made my day!" was my response. Ryan overheard the entire conversation and said "So, you posted something today on Facebook about making banana butter?" But I hadn't! Kayla somehow read my canning vibes from three miles away and knew I needed 3 lbs of browning bananas.

I've never really made fruit butter before, at least not on purpose (I think the applesauce I made last fall is probably more of a fruit butter than a sauce), but it turns out bananas are great because they don't seep juice and as a result they cook down quickly. I somewhat followed the recipe from Tart and Sweet, using about 4 lbs of bananas, about 1 1/3 cup brown sugar (I would probably use a little less next time), 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/2 cup coconut rum (the recipe called for dark rum), and 2 tsp vanilla extract. This recipe would be really easy to adjust for a very small batch if you are planning to eat it relatively soon, rather than canning it.

It was a big success. I'm not good at using adjectives to describe food, so I'll just say it's sweet and tasty. I love coconut and banana together. We ate it on [the last of a carton of] ice cream last night. Tomorrow I should go to the store for more...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Experience Music Project

all complete except for paint

This 1952 Gibson Les Paul Guitar in the EMP has a lot more meaning to my dad than to me

HUGE LED TV playing music videos

Tower of Guitars

Space Needle and its reflection on the EMP
By noon last Friday my dad and I were finished building the shed and were ready to take a break. We wanted to do anything but swing a hammer.  I suggested we tour the Experience Music Project (EMP).  After living in Seattle nearly five years I had not been to the EMP and didn't even really know what it was all about.

It turns out the EMP was the perfect way for us to spend the afternoon.  The EMP is a little bit of everything.  It is art, museum, theater, and science exhibit all in one.  A big part of the EMP is a tribute to Jimmy Hendrix and Nirvana.  Dad and I enjoyed watching videos of Hendrix performing at Woodstock and other venues and learned a lot about the artist and his roots.  I think anyone who loves music, especially electric guitar, would enjoy the EMP.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Rurally Screwed

I've been reading Jessie Knadler's blog for about a year. I found it through the blog roll on Food in Jars and I instantly started following it, amused by the honesty and impressed by the quality (and quantity) of posts. But when I found out Jessie's autobiography, Rurally Screwed, was coming out this April, I wasn't particularly interested. For one thing, I read her blog every day. I knew all about her husband's deployment to Afghanistan, her daughter's first words, her wood burning furnace, and the college library where she did all her writing - what could possibly be in her book that I didn't already know about her? And I wasn't particularly interested in the 'city-girl from New York moves to rural Virginia to find out that hauling wood and digging ditches is hard' lesson - tell me something I don't know. Plus, it's not really my genre of reading, which is, you know, peer-reviewed archaeological literature (okay, I have read a few books in my spare time over the last four years, almost all of which are either classic romance novels, historical fiction, or historical biographies - I don't really do biographies of living people). BUT, the great reviews of Rurally Screwed just kept coming. And really, the reviews are great. So after weeks of seeing how awesome everyone else in the world thought her book was, and knowing that she is a great writer (based on her blog), I thought it might just be worth my time.

I ordered the book on Kindle for my iPhone on Tuesday. I finished it this morning. I intentionally didn't bike to school yesterday so I could have 30 min on the bus each way to read it. I stayed up til midnight last night reading and then laid awake for hours thinking about the book. It was that good. It made me laugh out loud and it made me cry; it wasn't at all what I expected.

Jessie's autobiography is her story of self-reflection and self-discovery while falling for her now husband, Jake. Their love story is both extraordinary and familiar. Extraordinary that a New York writer who spent 14 years trying to forget her Montana roots could fall in love with a happy-go-lucky cowboy who belonged on a farm. Jessie's honesty describing the trials and tribulations of her new life as a fence-builder's wife in the rural south are familiar because they were driven by her quest to be a better person for her husband - when your partner is in the garage hammering nails at 7:30 on a Sunday morning before you've even rolled over, or has the dishes done and the kitchen cleaned before you get home from work, you find yourself trying to keep up (maybe that's just familiar to me...) - but as Jessie found, we can't always change who we are. I won't ruin the entire story for you, but I will tell you that even though I knew how the book would end, I didn't anticipate almost anything that happened in the middle.

But mostly, a lot of the characteristics she used to describe her husband - hard working, optimistic, dedicated, and good with an unending supply of energy and an eery ability to work all day without taking a lunch break - reminded me of Ryan, and how lucky I am.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shed construction update

New shed and old shed

Looking a bit more complete with the roof mostly finished
Construction of our new shed continues to go really well.  By the end of today we had half of the roof shingled.  With the help of Dad's pnuematic roofing gun we should have the roof finished in just a few more hours.  I am really happy with the way the roof turned out.  Not only does if give the shed a lot of style and character but it also makes for a massive amount of overhead storage. 

Making the trusses for the gambrel roof was a bit of extra work. We did figure out that we could make the upper slope 15 degrees and the lower slope 45 degrees. This makes it much easier to cut all the boards and ensures that it all fits together well. 

So here is a bit of fun math you probably had not thought about since a geometry class a long time ago.  For every polygon the sum of the interior angles is defined by the following equation: 

sum of the interior angles = (n-2)*180
Where n is the number of sides of the polygon.

For example a square has four 90deg interior angles.  90+90+90+90=360.
Or  (4-2)*180=360.

In the case of our gambrel roof we have a five sided polygon where the the interior angles are 45, 150,150,150, and 45.  The some of those angles is 540.  But we also know this from our equation (5-2)*180=540.  Isn't it nice when things can be so perfectly defined?


Monday, April 16, 2012

New Storage Shed

Lumber for the shed

The corner of the property ready for new construction

End of Day 1: The same day Dad flew in from Alaska!

Assembling the first wall in the rain.
End of Day 2, we are ready for a roof.

This week my Dad is visiting and we are building a storage shed in the back yard.  Previously there was a little shack with no windows so the new shed will be quite an improvement.  We decided on a 12 x 16 foot building because it fit very nicely into the back corner of the lot between the property line and a big tree.

We have been thinking about this project since we bought the house. It is nice to see it getting done.  Over the last few weeds I sketched up drawings and order all the material so when my Dad arrived we could hit the ground running.  My Dad brought all his pneumatic nail guns and nails so the project has been going very quickly.  After less than a day and half we are ready to start working on the roof.  I am hoping we will be done in another two days so we will have some to do some other non-project things.

So far the weather has been fairly cooperative.  It did rain on us this morning while we were building the floor but after a couple hours it was dry and sunny again.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Elliott Bay Brewing Co.

New Elliot Bay Brew Pub in Lake City

Hana and Will at Elliot Bay

A couple of months ago I noticed a very weird addition being built on the rear of a building in 'downtown' Lake City. Even though I ride the bus right past it almost every day, I didn't pay much attention to it because I always sit on the opposite side of the bus. A couple of weeks ago our friends Will and Hana heard that Elliott Bay Brewing Co. was opening a brew pub in Lake City. I didn't really put two and two together until that weird addition was completely done and the pub was open!

We are all excited about this place because there is nothing really like it near Lake City. We finally checked it out last night - with just about everyone else who lives in North Seattle (really, it was worth the wait though).

The building used to be a hobby shop that was dark and had low ceilings. The opened up the ceilings exposing the beams, added lots of windows in the front and it feels huge now. After my 8 1/2 mile run yesterday, just about everything on the menu sounded amazing. As did a beer.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The answers!

So here are the answers to Tuesday's quiz on the human past, in chronological order:

1. Our ancestors began walking on two legs by 6 or 7 million years ago. The earliest fossil species of hominin (bipedal members of the Hominidae family) that looks like it walked upright is called Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

2. The oldest evidence for stone tools dates to 3.3 million years ago (mya) in Ethiopia and was just published a few months ago. The evidence consists not of the stone tools themselves, but rather animal bones with cut marks on them that could have only been made by stone tools. Thus we have indirect evidence that hominins were butchering animals with stone tools 3.3 mya. The cut marks were probably made by Australopithecus afarensis (one of Lucy's species).

3. The first fossil hominin that is generally attributed to our genus (Homo) is Homo habilis who lived in Africa between 2.4 and 1.8 mya (although some now argue that Homo habilis should be re-classified as an Australopithecine).

4. The first people left Africa by 1.8 mya. And people I don't mean fully modern humans, I mean another species of humans: Homo erectus. Modern humans didn't leave Africa until just 100,000 years ago.

5. Humans first colonized Europe by about 1.2 million years ago - but once again these were not modern humans, they were Homo erectus - a subgroup of which eventually evolved into Neanderthals. Modern humans didn't show up in Europe until about 40,000 years ago.

6. The earliest evidence for use of boats in indirect and dates to about 1 mya. There is a site on the island of Flores in Indonesia that has never been connected to mainland Southeast Asia by land and yet, there is a site there with clear stone tools dating to 1 mya - tools that were definitely made by humans. It is inferred by many archaeologists that Homo erectus somehow made it to Flores Island by floating on rafts or simple boats, however, this is debated. For those who don't like that evidence, the next best thing is also indirect and based on the fact that modern humans made it to Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other islands by 40-60,000 years ago.

7. The first evidence for control of fire dates to 800,000 years ago at a site called Gesher Benot Ya'aqov in Isreal. It was Homo erectus who was living there and using fire. However, many anthropologists believe that Homo erectus must have been able to control fire long before this date. Controlling fire would have helped Homo erectus see in the dark, stay warm in cold places outside Africa, have protection from predators, and cook their food - allowing them to eat more calories and feed their big brains. Unfortunately it's hard to find evidence for controlled fires.

8. The first Homo sapiens appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The oldest specimens have been found in Omo, Ethiopia.

9. The first art (depending on how you define art) is a piece of red ochre with incised lines on it from Blombos Cave, South Africa and is about 100,000 years old.

10. The first clearly intentional burials have been found in Israel and date to 100,000 years ago - these are burials of modern humans. It appears that a few Neanderthals did bury their dead, but the Neanderthal burials aren't as old as the oldest modern human burials.

11. People first arrived in Australia between 40 and 60,000 years ago (I sort of already answered that one). The first occupation of Australia is notoriously difficult to date. It falls right around the limits of radiocarbon dating and many sites have disturbed stratigraphy making luminescence dating difficult.

12. Neanderthals went extinct by 30,000 years ago - although possibly a little earlier, at least in some places. Although now there is some pretty good DNA evidence that a few of them interbred with modern humans 100,000 years ago in the Middle East - so some of the genes may be living on in us (check out this awesome 17 min TED talk about the human genome project by Svante Paabo). But I don't think there is any doubt that most of them went extinct.

13. The Denisovans lived about 30,000 years ago at a site called Denisova is southern Siberia. A pinky bone was found at the site and the researchers were able to extract DNA from just a couple of years ago. They were trying to determine if it was Neanderthal or modern human, but it turned out to be neither! All we really know about them is that they were another human species, more closely related to Neanderthals than to ourselves, and that it seems that they did interbreed with some modern humans. It will be exciting to hear if more bones are discovered in the future.

14. People first arrived in the Americas by 14,000 years ago. It's definitely possible they were here a little earlier, but at the moment the oldest sites are Monte Verde in Chile and Paisley Caves in Oregon.

15. The earliest evidence of agriculture is about 11,000 years ago in the Middle East.

So there is my crash course in the human past. You should remember that these things are all hotly debated, new discoveries and new scientific techniques are always helping us refine what we know about the past - and you should remember that I am not an expert on any of these things - I work in Alaska!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Human Past Quiz

One of the things I love about teaching archaeology is that even the simplest piece of information (to me) can transform the way someone else thinks about humanity. The class I taught last quarter was called "The Human Past." It's a 100-level crash course in everything from our split with apes up until the present.

On the first day of class I gave the students slips of paper with important events in the human past and they had to make a timeline around the room. I told them that the point of this exercise was to show them what they DON'T know. Believe me, after nine years of higher eduction, I know that the first step to learning anything is recognizing what it is that you need to learn. The second step of course it to learn it - the point of this class! The third step is inevitably to forget it. BUT, the good thing about the third step is that at least you know what it is you've forgotten and you can look it up on Wikipedia the next time you're at a cocktail party and someone tells you they're quite certain Neanderthals played flutes (which they did not).

So now it's your turn. Below are the events I handed on the first day of class. Go ahead - put them in order and put some dates on them. I won't laugh (well, maybe I will if you're REALLY far off). Leave a comment if you like. I'll post the answers tomorrow. Or the next day.

1. First stone tools
2. First art
3. The first Homo sapiens appear
4. Neanderthals go extinct
5. Earliest agriculture
6. People first arrive in the Americas
7. People first arrive in Australia
8. First evidence for control of fire
9. Our ancestors began walking on two legs
10. First intentional burials
11. The first of our genus (Homo) appears
12. First people leave Africa
13. Denisovans live (another species of humans who lived in Siberia)
14. Earliest evidence for use of boats
15. Humans colonize Europe

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Comparing Cameras: point and shoot vs. SLR

We are having fantastic weather this weekend. Perfect weather for Carol's visit. The cherry trees on campus are still in bloom so we headed there yesterday to take photos. We brought both our Panasonic Lumix waterproof point and shoot camera (I know some of you are probably sick of hearing about this camera, but really, we cannot say enough good things about it) and our Cannon Rebel XSi. We took turns with both - some of these are my photos and some are Ryan's. I wanted to compare the photos. I am happy to say that the Panasonic Lumix performed very well. It is amazing what you can do with a camera that fits in your pocket. One of the keys to taking good photos with a point and shoot camera is being familiar with all of the settings, this makes a huge difference. The second two photos above were taken in the macro zoom setting. The photos below were taken with the SLR camera. Of course, I still love the Cannon Rebel and all three lenses we use.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Boat Trouble

The R/V Silver Streak

The R/V Ugle Duckling

Being towed back to port by Vessel Assist
On Wednesday I met up with one of our captains, Lou, with the intention of helping him bring the R/V Ugle Duckling through the Hiram M. Chittenden locks in Ballard.  I thought I would only be out for an hour or two and had no idea how strangely the day would unfold.  On our way through the locks we found out that one of our other Captains, Eric, was launching the R/V Silver Streak at Shilshole Marina.  Eric was planing on taking the Silver Streak out on the sound to test its performance after recently having it lengthened.  Lou was already planing on dropping me off at Shilshole Marina so it was very convenient for us to meet up.

At the Marina we helped Eric and launch the Silver Streak.  The boat started fine and everything seemed mechanically fine.  Lou departed on the Ugle Duckling and Eric and I left shortly after.  The Streak is a much faster boat than the Duck so we quickly caught up and I snapped some photos of the Duck plodding along through 1 to 2 foot chop.  This is when we first had a problem with the Silver Streak.  It seemed to loose power and then after a minute or two it quit.  Not too alarmed, we changed one of the fuel filters and it started right back up again.  At this point we would have headed back to the marina but Lou called us on the radio sounding a bit distressed.  The seas had increased to 2-3 foot and the 540Lb depressor weight has slid to the starboard side of the Ugle Duckling, causing it to list quite badly.  

I though to myself, how could we have been so stupid to forget to secure the weight?  And now with Lou aboard by himself in those seas there was little anyone could do.  All Eric and I could do was motor along side trying to beat down the waves and coach Lou along to more protected waters on the west side of the sound.  This only lasted a few minuets before our engine quit again.  Again Eric and I changed filters and speculated about diesel fuel that had sat too long.

Soon we were in more protected waters.  Lou wrestled the weight back in place and after changing the secondary fuel filter on the Silver Streak we thought we had our problems fixed.  Lou continued on to Bremerton while Eric and I headed back across the sound to Seattle.  Unfortunately our troubles only got worse.  The engine would only run for few minuets at a time and restarting seemed to be getting more difficult.  

Eric is a good mechanic and I know a thing or two as well but these diesel engines are complicated.  Soon Eric and I were both on the phone trying to get some advice.  We were both well aware of the fact the wind was blowing us into shore.  After a few hours we had tried everything we could think of; there was nothing left to do but call for assistance.  

We were disappointed that we were unable to fix the problem but grateful for the captain of the vessel assist that towed up back to the marina.  Now we are quite confident that there is a blockage in the fuel line between the tank and the fuel filter.  With the tank three quarters full and with the boat rolling around in the waves there was little more we could have done.