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!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Last week I went to a Henna party with Natasha in preparation for her wedding. She had an artist come to her house and do henna on about 10 of us. Natasha had a bridal pattern done on her hands and feet while the rest of us just had our hands done. The artist had a lot of patience and I couldn't believe how quickly she could work. I didn't bring a camera to the party and am sad I didn't get a photo of all of our hands together. The best I have is mine a few days later.

I took the photo with my new iPhone which just came in the mail a few days ago. I'm stoked to finally have a good iPhone camera. This is also my first attempt to send a blog post from my phone using the Blogger app. I'm hoping I'll be able to do this while we're in Honduras over Christmas break.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ski season is here!

The ski resorts are not yet open but there is plenty of new snow to be found in Washington. Today I spent the day with other volunteers from Seattle Mountain Rescue looking for two missing snowboards in Mount Rainier National Park. It was a great day to be on Mount Rainier, especially because the snowboarders were found and were okay after spending two nights in a snow cave.

While the skiing was nothing great, in fact if was fairly wet and awful, it WAS skiing. I never took my ski skins off all day, partially because the conditions were so bad, but also because I had a heavy pack with half a litter and a climbing rope in addition to my personal gear.

Packing in rescue equipment

We all fell down a lot
Despite the challenging conditions there was a lot of laughs and smiles as we enjoyed the first skiing of the season.  This was especially true on way back to camp knowing that the two snowboards were alive and healthy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Marriage Equality in Washington!!!

Did I mention how happy I am that Washington now has marriage equality for all couples??? It's official now, Referendum 74 passed (it's still sobering to think that 48% of people voted against it, but I'll stick to the bright side). As of December 6, any two adults can apply for a marriage license in the state of Washington. It is wonderful that the tide is turning quickly for marriage equality (of course not quickly enough), and I hope other states will follow soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A busy week with a wedding and a workshop!

The happy couple, Vijai and Natasha, at their wedding reception
Natasha and me
Natasha and Vijai with their UW friends
Last night was the end of a busy week full of participating in a workshop, hosting out of town guests, and attending a friend's wedding festivities in addition to my regular teaching duties. I am happy to finally have a chance to relax today!

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday my advisor hosted a workshop at UW for researchers from a variety of disciplines from around the world who work in the Kuril Islands and/or the Aleutian Islands. Even though I don't currently work in either of those areas (I have worked in both in the past) I am so glad I was able to attend (and I hope to work in either or both of those areas in the future, although the Kurils are much more logistically difficult to get to!).

On Friday night I hosted a potluck at my house for all of the workshop participants (~35 or 40 people!). Ryan is a saint for helping (putting up with) me and doing most of the cleaning and rearranging furniture the next day while I was at the workshop.

On top of all that my very dear friend Natasha was getting married this weekend. I went over to her house on Thursday night for a Henna party, decorated their cake on Saturday morning (photos of both to come), and went straight from the workshop to the wedding reception on Saturday night. I'm just glad I was able to be there, share in their happiness, and eat the delicious Indian and Russian food!

Today we went downtown to go sightseeing with my friend Konrad who was here for the workshop. Konrad and I worked together in Iceland back in 2005 (can it really have been that long ago?). And we are still eating the leftovers from our potluck on Friday night!

Konrad and me at Pike Place Market

Konrad and Ryan looking at the waterfront and the new ferris wheel

Saturday, November 3, 2012

To be Thankful

It's Thanksgiving season and I've been inspired by all the Facebook posts from my friends about being thankful. This week, since my parents were just here and in light of the upcoming vote on Referendum 74 in Washington, I am thankful that my parents helped me form the views I have today on marriage equality.

When I was six years old we had friends come to visit from Cananda. Before they arrived I overheard my parents tell someone that these friends were gay. Later, I asked my dad what it meant to be gay. I remember his response as clear as day; he said "Oh, it just means a woman who would rather be married to another woman. Or a man who would rather be married to another man." That simple explanation was the basis for how I understood what it meant to be homosexual as I was growing up. You can imagine my shock and outrage when I was old enough to understand that gay people did not actually have the right to be legally married. How could something so simple and yet such a fundamental right of adult life be denied to certain people simply because their biology led them to prefer one sex over another?

There is no difference between the love and commitment I share with Ryan and the love and commitment two people of the same sex might share with each other. Religion doesn't belong in the legal definition of marriage because there is a difference in our country between civil and religious marriages; every married couple has the choice to have a religious marriage or not. Mine is not religious. And until any two adults in this country have the right to choose the same path Ryan and I did, we do not have marriage equality.

Please get out and vote if you haven't already - you can make a difference!