Thursday, August 28, 2008

Comfort Foods

In a world of burgers and fries, there are a number of ways to be enlightened and uplifted by food. There's fancy restaurants costing hundreds of dollars and requiring reservations months in advance. Sometimes simple is better though and I've been thinking the last few days about some of those foods. (This is probably due to the fact that very soon I will be leaving the wonder that is free gourmet food, cooked for me three times a day and be returning to the real world. In the real world, I don't make 4 types of salad, two types of pizza, a meat, sauteed mushrooms, and two desserts. Perhaps I would if I was a professional chef, but that's not very likely.)

So what do I want to eat when I'm feeling down/lonely/cold/tired/like-winter-will-never-end/hot/like-summer-will-never-end? Well, it depends a lot on the season. Here's a snapshot.

Winter: My ultimate comfort dinner would be a plain fresh (warm) loaf of bread with a bowl of soup. The type of soup isn't very important although broccoli cheddar or squash with pancetta and thyme would be fantastic but I've been thinking this week about broth based soups like a minestrone. These soups must be homemade. If it comes out of a can it doesn't count, although I admit that I don't make my own broth. I realized while thinking about the fact that this is one of my ultimate meals that I very very rarely make soup. In the past three years I can think of only two soups that I've made: the aforementioned squash and a Brazilian black bean stew. Soup isn't generally something I think of as an option for 1 person, but 2 might be more reasonable.

Winter desserts: These range from the simple (boxed brownies) to the complex (cheesecake). There are two things I associate with winter dessert comfort things primarily though. The first is rhubarb. I've learned that in California rhubarb is a foreign plant. The grocery clerks have no idea what it is. In the mid-West people beg you to take some of theirs (the fruit equivalent to zucchini). The easiest preparation is just simmering the rhubarb with some sugar and serving the resulting sauce over vanilla yogurt or ice cream. The other winter dessert that comes to mind is rice pudding. This (if made properly) requires patience, for you start with uncooked rice and slowly cook it in the oven, constantly stirring. (Now I really want rice pudding.)

Summer: Comfort foods for summer are simple, in part because there's no energy left to exert for cooking and people generally want to stay out of the kitchen. So food is simple. Two cobs of corn with butter and salt. That is my ideal meal. Add in a BLT and I'm completely sold. The tomatoes should be perfectly ripe and dripping down your hands, the cheap white bread, though toasted, melting as it succumbs to the juice of the tomato.

Summer desserts: Again, simplicity is everything. Strawberries that have been sitting out at the farmers market for 2 hours so that they're warm and juicy. Raspberries with the perfect touch of sweetness. Peaches and nectarines, like tomatoes, dripping all over you and leaving strings in your teeth. Cherries that you eat and then spit the pits around the yard. Watermelon that brings refreshing cool on the hottest of summer days.

The interesting contrast between my summer and winter menus is that I spent my whole life eating the winter menus. We've always had the ingredients for soup and bread and rice pudding available. (Rhubarb we don't grow in Kentucky and it seems silly to buy.) But the summer menus are things I used to dream about. Growing up in Alaska we didn't have sweet corn or tomatoes, cherries, peaches or nectarines. It was always a treat coming down to Ontario and getting sweet corn, even if I did have to have it cut off the cob because of my braces.

This summer I've taken advantage of the wonderful farmer's market that's a short bike ride from my house (I'll blog about it soon) and I've had meals of corn, watermelon, and berries. It's been wonderful. Now, with fall in Minnesota coming, I'll have to break out my cookbooks and reaquaint myself with the world of soups. It's a long winter, but the idea of eating warm buttered bread and hot soup while watching the snow fall makes it seem a lot more like home and a lot less like neverending torment :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mish Mash post

This was going to be about comfort foods, but there are two other urgent subjects that I need to comment on first.
  1. There are ants in my house. They really need to go away NOW. Icky icky ants. Leave. :(
  2. I found a way home from work today (my last biking day) on the bike path. Unfortunately, unlike the bike paths I frequent in Minneapolis, this path is not lit, so it was pretty dark and I almost ran over the invisible pedestrians.
  3. ABBA. Wow. I saw Mamma Mia this weekend cause it felt like I needed to see a big screen cheesy musical. Cheese-tastic. Almost painfully cheesy, cause I don't think it was supposed to be that cheesy. But then I was interested in the real ABBA. Luckily for me they have music videos on YouTube from the 70s and 80s. The 70s were an interesting time with interesting clothing. There is something about a dress printed with a cat the size of a human torso that just seems wrong to me. Example to the right ->
  4. I'm glad I did not live in the 70s.
  5. The Pineapple Incident is the best episode EVER of How I Met Your Mother.
  6. Comfort foods will have to wait til tomorrow.
Over and out.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dear man in the red convertible

Dear Man in the Red Convertible Leaving Taco Bell at 8:20 Tonight

Perhaps it was my fault.
I wasn't wearing a bright yellow reflective jumpsuit
Or perhaps it was because I stayed late at work to watch the convention
Or because I was planning another blog post as I rode home.

Or perhaps it was because I wasn't wearing full body armor
and I didn't stop when the light turned yellow as I was going down the hill at 20 miles per hour 5 minutes earlier.
Or maybe it was because I'm not an aggressive driver and I don't have an airhorn on my bike, just a bell.
Or perhaps it was because I was going 10 miles per hour, not 5 as you think proper
Or because there was another bicyclist outside Taco Bell, locking his bike up.

Perhaps it was because I was in the bike lane,
and I wear a helmet,
I use turn signals,
and I come to a full stop at stop signs, despite it breaking my rhythm.
Or because there are so many bikers in this area that we are all invisible and would be better off driving cars.

Yes, perhaps it was my fault, man in a red convertible, that you almost ran me over tonight as you turned left leaving the Taco Bell drive through.
You obviously were busy, what with the driving, the eating, and the cell phone being used illegally without a handsfree set.
So busy, I guess, that you did not see me.
With my reflective arm band and gloves, my blinking white and red lights, my helmet.
I suppose the street lights didn't help illuminate me either.
You didn't see me.
That is, you didn't see me until you heard me.

I clanged my bell, squealed my brakes (a feat at less than 10 mph on a bike) and flew to a stop 5 feet from your car.
Then you saw me.
And you stopped, briefly, to let me by.
Very kind, given that you were completely blocking my lane by now and had almost run me over.
So I let you by instead and you pulled to the shoulder on the other side of the road and kept talking.
The other bicyclist yelled at you for being on your phone.
And then I biked the rest of the way home, shaken, but not scarred.

Yes, perhaps it was my fault, man in the red convertible.
But on the other hand, I think
Just Maybe
It was your fault.

Random Photos

I haven't been posting as much as I'd like to, but here are some new photos.

The above is from the Google Dance 2008. Taken on my mobile phone. I liked the blurry effect.

The above was taken in Oxford after my normal camera battery died. So I took this on the cell phone too.

Ben was out in CA last weekend, and inspired by my cousin, who's a professional photographer, I thought I'd take blurry pictures of the Redwoods. It is not as easy as it looks :)

More blurry redwoods.

Last month, Mom and I volunteered for Doof-a-palooza, a big food festival for kids held at Google. This is one of my favorite Cafe's, but all the furniture has been shrunken for the kids. They were making finger paintings with coffee.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To tide you over

I've been a bad blogger lately, especially since Firefox 3.0 and my blog are not acting friendly at the moment. Basically when I load my blog in FF, FF freezes which is really not my cup of tea. So instead of blogging I've been doing other things, like watching hulu and scramble and trying to get some research done.

I'm also wrapping up my internship. Amazingly, I only have six work days left and there's a lot that has to get done in that period of time. I've had a fantastic summer out here in CA though and I can honestly say that I've really enjoyed my job. (Yes, I was slightly surprised by that.) But while I'll miss my work here, as well as the farmer's market and great weather, it will be good to head back home to year four of my Ph.D.

I'm in the middle of a painful photo migration. Trying to migrate 41 albums and hundreds of photos from webshots to flickr. I've contemplated moving them all to picasaweb, but for now I'll stick with flickr. That comes up because today's picture is from back in November 2004.

This picture is relevant to today because of the chairs like the one I am sitting on (far right). You see in September 2004, the Olympics were being held in Athens and for the first time I had both a tv and a group of people to watch with. We were also still enjoying the novelty of having a tv in our lounge. So Rachel and I decided that we would pretend to be Olympic athletes. What sport, you ask yourself? Well, for us it was fairly obvious.

Image from flickr user
Too boring. We wanted a sport with more complication. (No offense to runners.)

Image from flickr user BohPhoto
Obviously I am WAY too tall for this kind of thing. Plus I have no arm strength. At the time we were both 21 as well, putting us in the "ancient" zone for gymnasts.

Image from flickr user flying_tiger
Our dorm was somewhat lacking in equine mammals. Thus we had to pass on the equestrian events.

So I suppose it was obvious and inevitable that we would choose to be

Image from flickr user njhdiver
Yes. Who else but synchronized divers? To achieve the proper effect sans pool, we simply climbed up on the aforementioned chairs, facing either out to the middle of the room or towards the wall. From there we would spin, generally 180 or 360 as we jumped off the chairs and headed towards the floor. We did not, as you might be relieved to know, attempt pikes. That just seemed a little infeasible with only having two feet to execute the move in and all.

That's the memory of the day with props to Rach for calling me from her new home in the great Northland.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Out of the ordinary

Nothing specific to write about tonight. I'm on the Thinkpad, since I left my MacBook power at work, so my screen is a bit too small to do a news post. I was thinking about writing about the wonders of fresh sweet corn, but I was much more inspired before dinner. My pictures from this weekend are uploading on flickr, so a post on those travels will follow.

So instead of that, I thought I'd write about hope and dancing. No, not this. Some of you will have seen this video, simply called Dancing 2008. If not, go check it out. I went to a talk today by Matt Harding (the dancing guy in the video) about that project and He talked about his different projects. Before I say anything more, go watch the video. I don't know about you, but watching it, each and every time, I get happy goosebumps. I first saw the movie last month, when Peter Sagal posted about it in his blog. (He and his family are in the Chicago scene.) Hearing Matt talk about it just increased those goosebumps.

Perhaps it was something to do with just having dropped Ben off at the airport or the fact that I only have 9 work days left here before heading back to school, but watching the video also gives me a twinge of homesickness. I think part of it is that even if all the people in the video were strangers they all appear to be part of a larger community. While I sometimes feel like part of a large community here, it's nothing compared to the communities I belong to at home. (Church, school, friends, etc)

However, at the end of the talk, the organizer stood up and asked if we could all get up and dance with Matt. So everyone left their laptops on their chairs and raced to the front. We figured out how to all fit in the frame and some folks in the back stood on chairs. Then we "danced" waving our arms and legs in the air and grinning like mad. No music, just a bunch of crazies having a great time letting loose and being part of something bigger.

So that's what I'm thinking about. I bought three songs on iTunes tonight Praan (the song from the dancing video starring a 17 year old Minneapolis girl), Dance Outtakes Song (by the same composer), and Dragostea Din Tei (a Romanian techno song). I didn't even think about getting my picture taking with Matt, so I'll leave you with these shots from flickr member JamesEverett from the Vancouver dancing event.

Flickr member zordor posted this from the massive Madrid shoot:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Inside my head

Here are the things I'm thinking about/looking at today:
  • Being a food snob is one thing. Being an ice snob is something else entirely...
  • Peter Sagal had a piece on NPR today about email addiction. I understand completely where he's coming from! Although I think my fantasy email is less Justice League of America and more that someone wants to offer me a immense fellowship to travel the world or wants to put me on NPR.
  • Ben's flying in tomorrow and so we're going to spend some time in San Francisco. Just in time, this piece on "farmer's market fast food" appeared on Mark Bittman's NYTimes blog, Bitten. I think that we'll be making a stop at the Ferry Building market as well as a dim sum place. In addition, Bittman posted a recipe for Pasta with Corn, Zucchini, and Tomatoes. Personally, I like my corn best fresh, briefly boiled and eaten with either salt and butter or lime and chili. But if there's an overabundance I'm ok with eating it other ways as well.
  • The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has posted its winners. If you enjoy bad writing you will love this. (The people are purposely writing poorly, it's not an accidental occurrence.) Here are my favorites: Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner. - Jeanne Villa (Novato, CA)
    Dorothy had reasons to be nervous: a young girl alone in a strange land, traveling with three weird, insecure males badly in need of psychiatric help; she tucked her feet under her skirt to keep the night's chill (and lewd stares) away and made sure one more time that the gun was secured in her yet-to-develop bosom. - Domingo Pestano (Alto Prado, Caracas, Venezuela)
  • I get the headlines from The Independent (from the UK) every night. They often have highly amusing headlines that I send on to Simon. Today's was "Cocaine use trebles in a decade." I had never heard the word treble used as verb. Apparently it means triples. I had to look it up in the OED because Google's define feature didn't define it in it's verb sense and you can't tell exactly what they mean by the first paragraph
  • I generally miss out on tv shows. When I was little I didn't watch tv much at all, and most of it was PBS. So since I've been enjoying NPH in How I Met Your Mother and Dr. Horrible I figured I should go back and watch Doogie Howser, M.D. Hulu had the first two seasons online and so I watched them. When I get into a show I watch all the episodes fairly quickly, so it was good when I finished seasons 1 & 2 and moved on with my life. Now, however, they have posted seasons 3 & 4...
  • Speaking of TV: I've been thinking a lot about the 2004 Olympics. This is primarily because I'm not watching the 2008 Olympics. It's not that I'm protesting China, not at all, it's a convenience thing. I don't have a tv here and I have a 40+ hour a week job. In 2004, I had just finished my job in Letcher County and I was sitting at home in front of the TV working on my scrapbook while watching the Olympics. I even remember watching the opening ceremonies with a group of college friends that I didn't usually hang out with. It's strange to think how much my life has changed since then.
That's it for today folks. I'll probably not post this weekend, but should be back to normal next week. I've got 11 more days of my internship and then it's back to grad school.

Update: I added a bonus picture for those of you who made it this whole way! Here's a picture from back in 2004 during my terms in York. This was taken from my dorm room window during exam week in April.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Crepes and Fire

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class with the subject "Sweet and Savory crepes." Some of you may know or guess that I like crepes. Especially ones like this:

Photo by swperman on flickr

Some of you might even know that I have made crepes before. But I'm sure none of you will be surprised to learn that I jumped at a chance to take a crepe class, for free (with LOTS of samples.)

We started out the day with sweet crepes. We were shown how to make several different sauces and the crepes themselves. Then we moved on to savory crepes. Stuffed with chicken and cheese and drenched in sauce ("to prevent them from burning") and then thrown under the salamander. We even made a cake with layered crepes and custard and, I believe, nutella. This was topped with a thin layer of white sugar and then we got to blow torch the top of it. This was very similar to a favorite dessert from when I was little, pancake pie. (Although that recipe didn't involve a blow torch.) The recipe was from a book called Pancake Pie by Sven Nordqvist (translated from the original Swedish). The plot, as described on amazon is "Despite many difficulties, a farmer named Festus is determined to celebrate his cat's birthday by baking a pancake pie." The book includes a recipe. Basically one makes crepes and layers them between alternating layers of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. The result would look like this:

Photo by Sheila Steele on flickr

Back to the cooking class...We were wearing plastic gloves, flipping crepes with our hands, and having a good time. Little did I know the best part. We got to play with more fire. This is something that my brother was a specialist in back in the day. I wish I had a picture, but imagine something like this. Campfire, failed attempts to roast marshmallows because the flames were never allowed to die down to coals, completely intrigued six year old...

Photo by zen on flickr

The mixture that becomes the sauce for the crepes involves mixing brown sugar and butter and then some sort of alcohol. Grand marnier, peach schnapps, raspberry liquor. But if you use a gas stove and the right twist of the pan, after adding the alcohol you can flambé the sauce. Like this
Photo by cogito ergo imago on flickr
Everyone was pretty impressed with the flames I got on mine. It was just about the coolest thing in the kitchen. (Or, the hottest thing rather.)

From an email to my mom:
The crepe class was one of the coolest things ever because we got to flambé. Basically we threw booze in our sauce and then used the gas cook top to light it on fire. One of the highlights of my summer, most definitely. I don't think I'll be able to convince Ben that I should try it at home ;)
I am writing this now because tomorrow I'll get to help the sous chef serve up crepes to the public. (er...semi-public?) I think the crepes are pre-made and so we'll be making the sauces and serving. I went by last week (the first Wednesday after the class) to say that I wasn't going to be able to make it, but that I would come this week. She said she had a stack of aprons waiting.

If you don't hear from me it could because I went a little crazy with the flambéing. Or it could be because I have to go and socialize and network tomorrow night. Assuming things go well, I'd be up for showing off my skills in other locations as well. You just might want to have a fire extinguisher handy.

Photo by ziggiau on flickr

Multiple Blogs

UPDATE: Due to a delay in seeing a comment about how I should put all my blogs into one and the crazy out-of-control blog ambitions I have, I'm going to migrate everything to THIS blog. I'll leave up the descriptions of the sorts of things I'll be posting below, but I'll remove the addresses.

Simon, friend and commenter, was surprised to hear I had two blogs. Actually I have more. I got a little blog crazy a few weeks ago and wanted to make a public blog. Then I realized I was going to be posting on multiple topics and thought it would be nice to write distinct blogs so that if you don't care about my travels, but love my random emails with crazy NYTimes articles, you can just get those. So now I have a triumvirate of blogs and a fourth one in the making. Since this blog gets the most traffic I will introduce them here.

Wandering Around the World -
This is the blog you are reading now. I have about twenty posts waiting to be posted on this site (yes, I'm keeping a list so I don't cheat my readers out of any crazy stories/antics). The theme behind this blog is: Katie's travels. This will be a fairly picture heavy blog with limited access to the outer world (i.e. fewer links)

Katie's Pick of Daily News Headlines
This was born out of my habit of emailing a wide swath of people everytime I laughed at a headline in Google Reader. These headlines will come primarily from the NYTimes, StarTribune, and Slashdot. Unlike Wandering the World, most of this blog will be links to random weird stuff. Sometimes (often?) I may not have even read the article in question, but the premise from the headline was bizzare enough to warrant a post.

Katie's Food Blog
This will eventually get a better title. I've been thinking a lot about food this summer, so hopefully this will involve posts about food. So far I have about forty pictures on my phone of meals from this summer. I also have rave reviews of the farmers market. I don't really know what will be on here, because I haven't started posting yet, but I will post tonight.

The obvious, yet missing blogs are the choral geek blog and the HCI/Computer geek blog. When the need arises, I will add them or merge several existing blogs. I couldn't get the blog name I wanted for the techy blog, so that will be figured out later on. I will stay dormant on the music front until choir starts up again in September.

If this is all too much for you, let me know. You also might want to try out a news aggregator (like Google Reader) that is like an inbox for all the blogs you read. It lets you know when there are new posts and brings them all together in the same location. If you do choose Google reader, let me know what you think of it via email.

I initially started out with the high high ambitions of posting daily. I'm thinking this is going to turn into a post per blog per week, with more or less as I am so inspired. So tonight's post will be about food...

Because you, the reader, matter to me, I'll be watching the comments. If you are sick and tired about hearing about topic X you can either quit reading my blog or let me know that you'd rather hear more about topic Y. If you disagree (there aren't that many of you, so I'm not TOO worried), I will watch the flames be thrown around.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We interupt your normal program

Tonight I wrote on my neglected news blog over at instead of on this blog. I felt that I should post there, so I did that first and now it's almost midnight and I'm not very inspired to write in here.

I've gone deep into my flickr archives to bring you today's pictures. So as to not veer from the traveling path, the first picture is from Grenoble, France from a visit in spring 2004.

These next two photos were from my trip to Italy/Switzerland in June 2007. I met up with Rachel, a college friend, and we spent a few days on a goat farm in Switzerland. Since then the goat barn has burnt down :( but we will always remember that wonderful part of our vacation. (To read more see my previous posts here, here, and here) The farm was in the small village of Origlio. (See map at the end of this post)

La cabra con le cabre (The goat with the goats) - This guy was not at all camera shy.

Rachel sunburned, yet calmly overlooking the peaceful lake

View Larger Map

Monday, August 11, 2008

Old News

I've been delaying writing because I have been dreading going back and reading the 200+ articles in Google Reader. So today I finally went through the StarTribune, NYTimes, and Slashdot articles from the past week that I thought might be interesting. The range from the absurd to the more serious. Serious items are starred.

From Slashdot
From the NYTimes
  • *Why the $2500 car could be too cheap to succeed
  • *Six rules doctors should know
Also from the NYTimes are two more articles. These deserve a little more space and time. First, many of you will know that Randy Pausch passed away on July 25. He was the leader of the research team behind Alice and a remarkable person. If you missed his "Last Lecture" recorded at CMU last fall, give your self 1.5 hours to watch it. I also highly recommend his book, The Last Lecture. He had pancreatic cancer but fought long and hard against it. I came across an article in the NYTimes linked to by one of the memorial columns. It's a list of advice from NYTimes readers of what they wanted their children to know if they were terminally ill. I adored this list.
"The top five things kids need to know are:

Don’t be rude to the wait staff.
If you need help, ask for help.
It’s okay to go up the slide, even though the rules say you may only go down.
Learn the words “Thank You.” How to say it. How to receive it.
Always go outside when the sun is out. "

I was going to end on a goofier note, but I don't think I can follow that list, so I'll save the goofy for tomorrow.

Hiking in Girdwood

I previously mentioned that Ben, Scott, Tricia, and I went hiking in Girdwood. Girdwood is a small town about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, toward Seward. It is best known, I think, for being the home of the Alyeska Ski Resort, by far the best ski resort in Alaska. I skied there twice in eighth grade and remembered it fondly.

I am not much of a hiker. To be honest, I never have been. After this hike, though, I called my mom to apologize for being such a spoilsport as a kid. (Lots of the whining involved mosquitoes, the rest was bears and tiredness, I believe.) I would have whined my whole way through the hike 10-15 years ago, but now, well, it was simply stunning and worth every minute.

One plant I hadn't seen for ages was Devil's Club. It took Tricia and I a while, but she eventually remembered what it was called. We knew it wasn't something you should touch, we were just blanking on the name.

The Winner Creek hike starts behind the tram up to the top of the mountain and follows along the base of the mountain, later winding to follow streams and ending up at a gorge with a hand tram. Below is Ben pulling himself across.

On the other side of the gorge, we climbed down to the river and took pictures. Then we headed back to the resort. I was having problems with my hiking boots, not having worn them in about 5 years, and Tricia suggested the perfect remedy.

I put a bandage over the blistering area and then covered it with duct tape, which Tricia cleverly had on hand. That seemed to do the trick for quite some time.

Back at the resort, we paid to go up to almost the top of the mountain, where the chalet and restaurant are.

The guys were excited about throwing snowballs.

I liked the fact that there were still runs officially open on June 28.

As a kid, I used to think that skiing down from the top (which I never did) would feel like skiing straight into the ocean.

Finally for tonight, I leave you with this picture of a double black diamond at Alyeska. Compared to this, most slopes in Minnesota are no more than bunny hills.

These posts are getting a little picture heavy, but that helps break up the page. Leave me a comment if you like it or hate it and I'll try to respond.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I had a late night last night and gave my brain the night off starting a few hours ago. Here's a picture from last night to tide you over. I went on a cruise of the San Francisco Bay.

and the Bay Bridge at night.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

By request (with lots of pictures)

My friend Simon wanted me to chime in and tell a story involving people and bears. Given that she is probably the only person reading, I thought I'd better comply.

This is the picture in question. It's now my user pic in several places because it's just brilliant. You have to know one thing about me before I tell this story. I have two things that I am incredibly afraid of: guns and bears.

When I started looking up information about Aialik Bay, I kept reading phrases like this: "All food and drinks must be kept secured in the cabin at all times. Black and brown bears frequent this area." That wouldn't be nearly so frightening if there was more civilization, but as I've said before, the human population in Aialik Bay is sparse at best.

It's not that I haven't faced this issue before. When I was little and we went to go climb Flattop, Mom, in order to keep my brother on the path, mentioned the true story of another little boy who the year before had been mauled by a bear while wandering off the path. Intended result: My brother would stay on the path. Unintended result: I was scared to leave the car and wanted to race back to safety as soon as possible. While tenting in Denali, I wouldn't let so much as a crumb in the tent for fear of being attacked. Girl Scout camping was the same. My final year at church camp (Bingle Camp) we decided the last night that there were bears outside. (No memory as to if there was data to support this conjecture.) But we were safe, because we were in cabins. Then our helpful counselor told us about a bear who had essentially smashed down a house and mauled the people inside. None of us slept that night. So needless to say, my fear of bears is very deeply ingrained and rational at times, to a degree. (In that bears are, in fact, dangerous and like the smell of food and toothpaste.)

I had been intellectually gearing up for this for several weeks before leaving. I bought a bear bell and we picked up some bear spray in Anchorage. However before leaving for the wilderness, I had several test runs. Ben's co-worker (and our neighbor) Scott and Scott's fiance Tricia were also in town for the conference. On Saturday, Scott and Ben headed to the conference while Tricia and I headed to have breakfast with friends of mine and then explore the zoo. The Alaska zoo is pretty cool (more on that some other time). Standing around by the black bears, I thought it would be great to get a fake terror shot. Me facing the bears, very scared. So we took some shots. The photo above was the best of the bunch, although an earlier try is below. (The bear is so small though, it's just not as impressive.) It's just as well we did this with the black bears as the brown bears were all asleep. So that was my first interaction with the bears.

The second was a hike on Winner Creek Trail at the base of Mount Alyeska. Scott and Ben picked us up at the zoo and we headed to Girdwood for this hike. (More on that another time.)

This was the trail head. Opposite this was the bulletin board with all sorts of notices, most of which involved bears. But Tricia had her bear spray holster and there were four of us and we didn't see any bears.

Then we were camping in the Mat-Su Valley where I had never seen a bear, so I was pretty relaxed. Heading down to Seward, we stopped at the Russian River where we saw this sign on sturdy fencing:


Then we went on a hike to Exit Glacier, without our bear spray or bell, but with plenty of other moving pieces of food with us on the trail. We made it out just fine.

I was at peace about bears when we stepped on the boat in Seward. Then the captain started telling us about all the black bears that were always around Aialik Bay and near our cabin. I began tensing up. He proceeded to tel us about a friend of his, who, a week earlier, had been mauled by a brown bear in Seward. (The friend survived.) Then he dropped the subject and we picked up some kayakers from the cove next to ours. They'd had a black bear cub poking around their camp the previous night for 30 minutes. I went tense again. Then we got to our cabin and we were alone, supposedly, with the bears. For the first few hours, I was tense, but then I realized that the chance of me being mauled while walking to the outhouse was slim, especially armed with bear bell and pepper spray.

The ranger came by that evening and informed us that there were "lots of black bears in the area." Again, my nervousness returned. No signs of bears the first day. The second day (the gray day, described below) I went out on a walk on my own and then decided that the seal in the middle of the bay was, in fact, a bear and it was going to come get me, so I went back inside and read my book.

By day three I was a little mad at the bears. I'd showed up, we'd bought bear gear galore, I'd mentally prepared and now there weren't any bears? Seriously? That wasn't fair. I decided that I wanted to see a bear with the following stipulations. I wanted to be in the kayak, I wanted to be far away from the bear, and I wanted the bear to be in another cove. (I had forgotten that if a bear had wanted to enter our cabin, it definitely could have.

But alas, no bear. So I had gotten all intellectually prepared and physically prepared and we never even saw a bear in the wild. (We did see a wild moose and humpback and orca whales...) That is my anticlimatic story of bears in Alaska. As a special preview, I'll let you know that tomorrow, also by Simon's request, I'll talk a bit about Mount Marathon and the annual fourth of July run.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Greetings and new post

I use Google Reader on a daily basis to read through a bunch of news and headlines, marking the ones of interest to come back to. Often I feel the need to share these with a wider audience and end up sending them to my parents, brother, Ben, or Simon the Anglophile. So I thought I could just make my own blog and link to the really interesting/bizzare/cool/crazy news of the day. I won't necessarily have read the article, but the headline caught my eye.

This isn't NPR on the hour, this is my own personal mix generally from the NY Times, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the wonder that is Slashdot.

Headlines for August 6
The company that makes Mr. Bubble Bubble Bath has filed for bankruptcy
Odd aside: Mr. Bubble used to be owned by Playtex :/

Fighting Crime with Text Messages

A Mountain Lion who "snatched" a dog from the owner's bedroom and then left it (dead) outside

And from Slashdot and Wait Wait Don't Tell me comes the technology mistake of the week: Don't let computers translate your restaurant for you

It wasn't always perfect

On our second day in Aialik Bay, the day I wanted to do two biggish kayaking excursions, we woke up to this gray. Gray is fine. I can handle gray. But I was sluggish getting up and then we had to eat and wash dishes, and by then it was raining. Ben went on a long walk down the beach and I curled up in the cabin and started reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union, an oddly appropriate book. (Appropriate because it takes place in Sitka, AK where the weather is almost always like it is in this photo...gray and rainy.)

So I spent most of the day sleeping or reading and then we went on a long walk down the beach, where this picture was taken. It's amazing how some places are still so gorgeous even when the weather is less than ideal.

This is a shorter post, but it's also about nine hours overdue. For that reason, I'll toss in another gray picture for free. Aialik Bay has lots of dead trees, leftover from the tsunami/earthquake in 1964 that heavily damaged Seward and changed the landscape of much of south central Alaska. (This is not a super optimistic post.) For more information go to the Wikipedia page.

Because my train of thought is leading to more images, I'll throw in one tsunami related image. This is a new awareness campaign, I believe, in coastal towns near fault lines. (I've seen it in Seward and Monterey, CA) For some dark reason, I find it highly amusing. I think it has to do with the visual, not the message.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aialik Glacier

At the end of the week in Alaska, Ben and I spent several days at the Aialik Bay Public Use Cabin. When I lived in Alaska, we never did touristy things like go out to the wilderness or go on boat trips. Anything we did along those lines was generally school related. We rarely even went hiking (but that's a story for another post). So it was a bit of a surprise when Ben explained that his plans for part of our trip involved going to a cabin for two days. The cabin is a three to four hour boat ride from Seward. It has no electricity or running water.

So when Ben said that, I started worrying. This is a place where you are advised to bring an extra four days of food and supplies because if a storm comes in you could be stranded. This has never been my idea of fun. Then I realized that the main thing that people did in Aialik Bay was kayak. Also not my favorite activity.

The last (and only) time I went kayaking was in Montreal in 2003. I went to a kayaking class through the youth hostel. The kayaking was down on the canal. At some point I managed to flip the kayak and as I was leaving the class I had severe pain in my ear. I ended up at the doctor. It turns out that the pressure of the water against my eardrum was dangerously high. Could have burst it.

So, anyways, my memories of kayaking weren't ideal. Ben had never been kayaking, but in part persuaded by my mom, I decided to go along with the kayaking idea. Because double sea kayaks are more stable than singles, we rented a double for our trip. In the above picture, Ben had just brought the raft we brought our stuff to the beach in back to the boat and is heading back to the cabin.

In weather like this, though, it was hard to not love kayaking. It was warm and dry enough so that we didn't freeze after climbing into the kayak in bare feet via the ocean. Having two paddlers meant one of us (me) could take a break while the other ensured we didn't end up on shore or in front of a glacier. Plus I loved kayaking because it was not on land. Land was where the bears were and to be honest, I wanted to stay as far as possible from the bears. But that's another story.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Kenai Lake

I'm going to start posting my favorite pictures from my Alaska trip and a little bit about them. (Background on the Alaska trip. Ben was being flown up by his work to go to CVPR, a computer vision conference. Google let me take a week of unpaid leave, and I went up to join him for eight days. We were in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Seward, and the wild wilderness of Aialik Bay.)

This picture was taken from the Seward Highway on the way to Seward. Dad encouraged us to, at the Y, take the road towards Homer until we got to the Russian River. It was salmon season, so there were lots of fishermen, although they weren't as crazed as Dad had promised. The road from the Seward Highway to Cooper Landing goes by Kenai Lake, which turns into the Kenai river. I had forgotten what a huge and gorgeous lake this is.

First off, as you can see, it's a tropical turquoise. (The word tropical isn't really appropriate. This water is COLD!) Second of all, it's about twenty miles long. Long enough that we went by it on the way back from Cooper Landing, then drove on for another ten minutes, past other lakes. Then we turned back onto the Seward Highway, drove a bit further, and then saw it again. (See embedded map)

When I looked at the weather for the trip, it was supposed to rain everyday for the next ten days. This is the nicest rain I've ever seen!