Archive for the 'Adventures' Category

I’m writing my dissertation

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

I’ve been traveling on and off for a few months now (hence the photos in this post). Mostly for fun but with a little bit of science thrown in there. Looking forward, I don’t have so many plans, aside from a job interview in Boston in a few weeks. Mostly I’m trying to write my dissertation. That statement is becoming almost a joke to me now — the task is so large and progress seems very slow.

Fall in the High Sierra

I think the traveling has been good for me so far. It has given me a strong motivation to get particular tasks finished and the conference I went to in Australia got me thinking and feeling good about the level of my knowledge. It can’t go on though, not with all I have to do. I think a few weekend trips will still be needed for de-stressing, but nothing that takes much thought to plan. I don’t have any brain power to spare right now.

Our campsite, Long Valley Caldera

Occasionally I turn down invitations to participate in some event or organizing committee with the excuse that “I’m writing my dissertation” but the task still seems un-doable. Even just organizing the idea of what should be included seems daunting to me.

Pyramid Peak, Desolation Wilderness

Despite the nagging feeling that I’ve completed too little in these last 4+ years, the document will be the biggest thing I’ve ever produced. Bigger than any quilt project, more consuming than my masters degree and all of my undergraduate education, and necessarily larger than either scientific paper I’ve written. All that, and only a handful of people will ever read it. I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of a very big mountain which seems mostly, but not entirely, impossible to climb.

Kepler Track, New Zealand

Needless to say, I’ve found work very consuming lately and my normal outlets – of sewing, spinning, knitting and such – have sounded like a chore. I’ve been too tired to get beyond cooking and eating. And seeing as how I have 1 of 4 chapters completed, all of these things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Mono Pass (the southern one)

Maybe I needed to say this to make excuses for myself and justify the lack of crafty output. There are so many projects I have in the queue, but I can’t seem to muster the energy to finish or start any of them. I bought a polwarth fleece in Australia (and brought it back on the plane – declared!) but can’t imagine dealing with it right now. I washed another fleece I got as a gift last year and, same thing – I don’t have the concentration to decide how it should be spun and what should be made from it. Is my only hope right now is to work on things which require no thought at all?

Typical sheepy vista, New Zealand

I’m sure that my task isn’t has hard as it seems right now. I have moments of optimism here and there and sometimes I even feel like I’m making progress. Maybe the whole exercise will help me throw my over-controlling tendencies out the window and embrace a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to projects and adventures. I hold out hope for this outcome – I went on a backpacking trip recently and didn’t over-plan it. In fact, I think we had just the right amount of planning, resulting in a lovely (relatively) stress-free weekend.

campsite, Desolation Wilderness

But the truth remains that I like control, and I like knowing what to expect. Sitting at the end of this grad school adventure is the prospect of moving. More importantly, unspecified moving. I don’t know where we will go, or how long we will be there.

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness

I keep having fleeting thoughts about how the time passing may be my last months in the Bay Area. Ever. This is hard to imagine, but also not out of the realm of possibilities. The Bay Area is my home and I can’t imagine not living here for the bulk of my time. But there are a lot of things about my future that I can’t quite imagine now… Much uncertainty looms.

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

I’m trying to stay positive and just execute the task rather than spend too much time being philosophical about the process. I’m inherently an over-optimizer. There is a fine line between relaxing by ignoring all the things I have to do and relaxing so I can make progress without stressing. I haven’t sorted it out yet, but maybe this will have to be an unwritten chapter in my PhD in order to write the sciency stuff that I need to graduate.

Swingbridge on the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

City Museum

A few weeks ago I went to a wedding in St. Louis MO. I had never been there before and I didn’t know anything about the city other than the fact that it was on the Mississippi River and has a big arch. I was pleasantly surprised about quite a few aspects of the city (public transportation, re-purposed industrial spaces, pedestrian oriented streetcar communities still in tact) but I was in complete awe of the City Museum.

The ethic of the place was all about exploration and it appeared to be built completely from recycled and salvaged materials. It was a place that I am pre-disposed to adore – in fact, I’m actually fairly shocked that I had never heard of it before!

From their website:

Reaching no farther than municipal borders for its reclaimed building materials, CITY MUSEUM boasts features such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned planes!

We went to the museum on the recommendation of some other visitors from the wedding. There were 5 adults, but from the smiles on our faces and eagerness to acquire rug-burns you might have mistaken us for 10 year olds. The place is one giant maze/jungle gym. It was a little bit like a 10 story tactile dome taken to the extreme. On Fridays it is open until 1am! The place was decidedly not an amusement park, nor was it a traditional museum in any way. Participation was encouraged (or required?). We even heard a museum employee telling all of the parents sitting around the outdoor structure that they needed to show the kids how it was done – i.e. get up and play!

The place had no maps (although I did find one on their website) and not much in the way of directional signage. This required visitors to find their own way and keep exploring to discover what other fantastic-ness awaited them. Several times I overheard kids discussing how to get back to some part of the maze that had a feature they really liked (a slide, or ladder perhaps). Problem solving and creative thinking were require everywhere. Everywhere I looked there were structures made from everyday objects. The top floor even had a vintage clothing store including vintage clothing printed with the museum logo.

We didn’t have adequate time to explore the place (and I didn’t have nearly enough time to take pictures because I was more excited about running around) but there were two main features that were big winners with our group.

The outdoor area, called the MonstroCity, featured airplane fuselages, construction cranes, a fire engine, a giant ball pit, and large metal mesh tubes suspended several stories in the air (you can see one coming off of the plane’s wing). Everything was meant for climbing on or through. I saw people problem solving to navigate their way, overcoming their fear of heights and mostly grinning from ear to ear.

The biggest single attraction was the 10 story spiral slide made from shoots welded from sheet metal. It looked like the shoots were part of the original shoe factory (in which the museum was built) that were connected together to make one long, very twisty, slide.

The slide is the spiral all the way on the left. There were no elevators to the top, you had to walk up a spiral staircase (into increasingly hot air) all the way to the top floor to earn your ride down. While sliding down it I kept thinking the ride would end but 10 stories in circles is a long way to go! The bottom of the slide dumps you out in a series of caves which were dark, eerie, and refreshingly cool.

If you ever happen to be in St. Louis you MUST visit the City Museum. The scope and scale of this place was inspiring and exploring within the museum brought back feelings of wonder and excitement from childhood that little else can replicate. My adult side was amazed by the structures made from re-purposed materials and inspired to build large scale sculpture. My child side just wanted to play like crazy and skin as many joints as possible.

Done and Done

Collegiate national sailing championship: DONE!
It went smoothly and the wind cooperated (like it does here in the summer). Whew!

A few views of the weekend:

Black vs. yellow headed out to the racecourse. In the background you can see the new custom crane which started work the same day as our regatta. To build the suspension section of the new Bay Bridge they had to have a custom crane built (the Left Coast Lifter) and shipped over from China. If that fascinates you check it out in action, read the press release (pdf) or explore this fancy looking site showing all the sections of the new bridge.

A yellow boat on land. This style of racing puts two teams against one another, 3 boats against 3 boats, and the best combined score wins. To make things easy to see on the water the sails are colored by team, red vs. blue, black vs. yellow and orange vs. green.

Me being in charge. I spent the whole time on my feet. N had impeccable timing and went away for the weekend so I could just come home and collapse in a pile each night. I survived though and now I can go back to my regularly scheduled life!

A Tour

photo by DC

I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed lately. I’m not as stressed out as I was last fall but I don’t feel like I have much room to breathe. I haven’t touched my spinning wheel in more than a month. A while back I made some things for a baby shower (discussed in my last post) but since then it has been slow going. I want to make a quilt for the new family but I just haven’t had the brain power to think it through.

Part of this is my own fault, for two main reasons:
1. Two years ago I volunteered to help run a College Sailing National Championship. Now I’m getting endless emails and phone calls about something that is not part of my daily life anymore (it wasn’t part of my life when I volunteered either, but somehow I didn’t think that through). I just have to spend the next month and a half trying not to go insane with all the details and hope that the event goes smoothly.

2. I’ve been keeping up my pace of going on lots of trips. Some are work related, but a while back I invited myself to go along on a backpacking trip to Utah with an old friend. It made my schedule hectic but the trip was so fantastic that I have no regrets about it. In fact, I think I should make a point of going on more trips like it.

Here is a brief tour of my trip through photos, you can see the whole set here.
We walked up the virgin river in Zion National Park. I’ve only ever done this in the summer and there is a good reason why. Between the 40 degree water, the 40 degree air, and the reasonably quick current, it was a bit treacherous. It was fun though, and there were no casualties. The light was reflecting twice in this photo, once off the canyon wall around the corner and then again off the wet surface on the wall opposite me.

We came across this grotto up a side canyon during our backpacking stint. It is rare to see so much water in the desert. This place was very special indeed.

There is something about the landscape in the southwest that makes the space seem vast and empty. Here we are standing on the rim of the Escalante river canyon just after ascending out of it. The vertical scale may be smaller than other canyons in the area but the red sandstone walls are close and imposing. The whole experience is very impressive.

The Escalante region felt very remote compared to my usual life in the city, but there are constant reminders that people have been there even when none are to be found. Some of the reminders are modern, like the brand new composting toilet we came across in Coyote Gulch, but some are more ancient:

I think Southern Utah is my happy place. I usually tire of camping trips at about one week in, but this time I was ready to keep going. After I got home (and showered) I was ready to go back for more. It was sad that N wasn’t able to get a week off from work come on the trip but that seems to be the way things go in his line of work. I wish it wasn’t so far from home because I can’t wait to go back again.

paris etc. (traveling part 3)

The last trip was for another conference, this on in Hyeres in the South of France (even, perhaps, near to where the naked ladies danced). Some of the employees at Air France had the good timing to go on strike for the day that I was trying to fly from Paris to the south (how French of them..). I was concerned that my complete lack of French language skills was going to be a problem when I arrived in Paris and would have to make alternate arrangements. It all worked out and I made it south despite my flight being canceled. Just to convince me that traveling by rail wouldn’t have solved my problems, the train went on strike the day we were to return north.

The conference hotel was set up on the hill near the old part of town. The vegetation was decidedly Mediterranean (like California) but the narrow steep streets and ruins of a castle at the top of the hill were quite unlike anything I would find at home.

After the conference I went to Paris for a few days to visit C, S and T. They moved there last July and I was eager to see how things are going for them. I was also excited to see in person how S’s etsy shop is coming along. I’ve seen the adorable photos and I’m here to say that the clothes are just as cute in person, especially on your favorite toddler.

Photo by collected orange, dress on etsy

I’ve never been to France before, so I spent my four days walking around Paris. The weather was mostly cooperative, with dramatic skies and occasional rain. We even got a little snow during our Sunday morning trip to the market. My friends showed me around town during the weekend, and I showed myself around the other days.

I peeked in the windows of a few Parisian crafty shops, but only took photos from the outside.
Ribbon store.

Yarn store (the skeins were hung on the wall in a lovely rainbow which is barely visible).

My travel knitting was a second pair of mittens from the Selbuvotter mitten book. The colors in this photo are off, but I had to show the perfect blue skies the morning I flew out.

I tried to sleep on the flight home, but I was really excited about flying over Greenland and catching a glimpse of sea ice so I did a lot of dozing on the window waiting for breaks in the clouds. I was rewarded a few times.

Now I’m back at home, a bit in a daze from the jet lag and wishing the sun were here! I must have left it in Paris…

losing the sun (traveling part 2)

I’ve been on a marathon for about a month and a half now. Only a few more days before I can really relax..

What have I been up to this whole time? Well, I’m glad you asked. First I went with N to his brother’s wedding in MD (but I mentioned that already…).

Next was the Color Fiber Festival. I actually missed about half of the festival because I had to go to my office and finish up my poster for the next branch of my adventure. Here we are setting up the Girl On The Rocks booth.

I got several really nice things at Color but I haven’t gotten a chance to spin any of them yet.

I think I am most excited about the drafted lamb’s fleece (Tanner, from Flynn Creek Churros). It is a lovely shade of chocolate brown and quite soft.

I also scored a gorgeous roving from Krista at Pigeonroof Studios. I kept looking through all of the selections and pulling the same one out, so I knew it was the right color for me!

Yak from A verb for keeping warm.

California Variegated Mutant (love the name!) from Tactile fiber arts.

The next morning I flew several thousand miles in the opposite direction to Hawaii for a conference and a few days of exploring. I made a best effort to spend as many sunsets at the beach as possible. I think I did pretty well.

I discovered a few things about traveling alone in a tropical locale. For one, it is difficult to put sunscreen on your own back. In response to this realization one person said that it would be an excellent opportunity to make friends on the beach. I chose to wear a shirt instead.

For lack of motivation to do much driving on my own I spent one entire day sitting on this beach:

It was time well spent.

When I returned home it was all of a sudden winter, and I was just in time for the election and a few days of intense work and a little sewing.

More sewing you might ask? Yes (!), more sewing. I’m frantically trying to prepare for the Bazaar Bizarre! I’ve been trying my best to cram a little sewing into all the cracks in my life. I’m going to make it (the show is this Sunday!) but I might not want to look at a vinyl banner or my sewing machine for a while afterward. If you are in the area please stop by! I’ll be at a booth with Girl On The Rocks – just follow your nose to the table of moustaches and recycled vinyl. Expect another post about the event soon…

Manta Ray

Here he is, cruising around having dinner.

There are two in this photo. Do you see the one waving? I think he is saying “hi mom!”

On the Bay

Photo credit:Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

This is where I spent the last four days (I’m the one with my legs over the side). The majority of the time I was soaking wet and freezing cold but I still managed to have a good time. The guys on the boat were great and everyone had such a good attitude. It is almost always fun if you are winning, so I really appreciate when racing stays fun even when things don’t go as well.

This event was truly a “Yacht” race – big boats funded by rich people and lots of extravagance. I love sailboat racing but I don’t love the Yacht Club scene. It is not for me. I feel awkward and out of place. One of these days I’ll get back into the kind of racing I love to do – in small boats with fun competitors, no yacht club required.

Genuine Alaskan Adventure

What comes to mind when you think of Alaska?
Vast expanses of wilderness? Bears, wolves and wild animals? Glaciers?

This is not, for the most part, what I saw when I was in Alaska. Instead of scaling a glacier while being chased by bears I had what is arguably a more genuine Alaskan experience–I helped work on a re-finishing a friend’s house. This is how a large number of Alaskans spend their summer, so I too participated in the true Alaskan Adventure.

The state of the built environment in central Alaska leaves something to be desired. Despite extremely harsh winters requiring large amounts of energy to heat homes (40 below is not an uncommon temperature) it seems like a huge number of them are either built improperly for the environment or just plain built improperly. It is not quite correct to say that there is no building code but I would say by observation that many (many) structures do not follow said code. I guess the reason this bothers me so much is because there is a large energy consumption associated with poor building in a climate such as interior Alaska. Despite being in an oil state, fuel still costs ~$4/gallon and a house can use more than a thousand gallons of oil over a winter (according to the local paper the average is between 1,300 and 1,350 gallons of heating fuel per year). How can these people afford to heat their homes?

The house my friends purchased this summer consists of two buildings connected together by an internal causeway. One of the buildings is about 30 years old and made of logs without additional insulation. 8″ of wood is better than nothing but it can’t keep things particularly warm. The other building is newer, insulated and contains the house’s water system and bedrooms.

The list of things to be built or re-built is fairly substantial and the deadline is November. Some of the projects are to bring the house into compliance with insurance requirements, others are to save some money and energy heating. They are hoping to take advantage of a rebate and mortgage rate reduction available if they can greatly improving the energy “rating” of the house.

First on the list: Build a deck railing for insurance compliance.

Next: Build a make-shift kitchen to operate out of while the current kitchen is dismantled. These hearty alaskan folks will probably do ok, but I know I would have trouble working out of this arrangement for more than a few weeks….

They need to replace/update their kitchen so we talked about which parts they would keep and which they would replace or build themselves. They decided to keep the cabinets and re-finish them. We primed them while I was there but reports are that painting them is taking many coats of paint (and therefore a *lot* of time). They still have to decide on a counter surface to put in. I calculated some approximate costs for the seamless counters from the hardware store vs building the counter and tilling it yourself. I think the cost of doing it yourself is about half, but it takes two days of work which might make the two balance out.

The older cabin is going to be framed with new walls, insulated and then sheet rocked. I didn’t get to see the first wall go up, but it was built on the floor the day I left. Only 3 more to go!

Don’t worry, we did some (more traditionally) fun things too! I got to go canoing where I saw the Bald Eagle at the top of the post. The eagle was really close, that photo was shot with a small waterproof digital camera so there is no fancy zoom action.

We picked some rhubarb

and blueberries

and I saw all sorts of neat plant life. Arctic vegetation is on my brain these days and I find the plant communities there fascinating.

I did a fair share of knitting as well. It seemed appropriate to work on my norwegian mittens while in a cold climate. I’m loving how they are turning out. Maybe I’ll get around to posting about them later, otherwise you can check them out on Ravelry.

For some cultural exposure we attended the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. They have some crazy sports that involve jumping really high and kicking your feet in the air. There is also a selection of sports which involve ears – hanging large weights from your ears or having a “tug of war” between two ears. I think I’m glad I missed those events. Check out this coat from the native regalia contest. I was in love…

That woman also competed in the blanket toss event and wore the coat for the first jump!

The flight home was long and tiring. Most flights out of Fairbanks come and go around 1am, so I flew all night. I used to take the red-eye back to NY when I lived there, but this was much more brutal than I remember. I have recovered now though and I had a great time. It is fun to work on large scale house projects when you don’t have your own. It is even better when I don’t have to make the decisions! I just think now I might need vacation from my vacation…


This past weekend I attended the Maker Faire. In addition to being a fantastic people watching event I had a few excellent conversations with folks showing off their creations. The people at the Instructables booth were even willing to laser engrave my vinyl bag for me. Fantastic! Epilog Laser was also in attendance and for a mere $8000 you can buy your own laser engraver. After learning this n spent the rest of the day asking how much he could charge me for engraving each of my bags and wallets. Considering my current sales numbers I am unlikely to help him pay that off…

I walked briefly thorough the Bazarre Bizarre but I was so over-stimulated and it was so crowded in there that I couldn’t calm down enough to actually check anything out. It is too bad, but the day really isn’t about shopping anyway.

I was also excited to see Ponoko there. I’m fascinated by the idea of being able to produce goods on fancy schmancy machines from my own designs. And locally no less! They are just getting started with shops in the US and I can’t wait to design something and send it their way. As an added bonus, I had a nice chat with the guy manning their booth (I’m sorry, I can’t remember his name!) who told me that he wanted to start Ponoko after he was involved with a climate blog called Celsias. I haven’t spent too much time looking around yet, but the site looks like a combination of science & policy news and discussion as well as networking for projects to reduce the impact of global warming. Yay solutions!

Every time I have been to the Maker Faire I spend a good part of the day thinking about how much my dad would enjoy it but I’ve yet to get him to come along. This year I spied a three wheeled car with a motorcycle license plate. Lets just say there has been some experience with that around his house. The ride may or may not look something like this:

(video from Karrie)