Monthly Archives: October 2013

Bustling Through Boston

Our day trip to Boston did not look promising as howling winds and heavy rains rattled the windows and walls the night before. We awoke, however, to clearing skies the morning after that remained the entire day. The air was crisp but the sun was ever shining. A perfect autumnal day. Our first stop on our journey was Castle Island.

Castle Island is not actually an island anymore. It used to be half a mile off-shore, but it is now connected to the mainland and bordered by Pleasure Bay and Boston Harbour. Castle Island is home to Fort Independence which is a National Historic Landmark. The fort is a five-pointed structure constructed of over 172,000 linear feet of granite. This is the oldest continuously fortified site in British North America. This location has had a military presence from 1634 to the end of World War II. We spent a while walking around the grounds in the shadow of the 30ft high walls. We were not able to go inside the fort as volunteers were preparing for a children’s fall festival, so the interior was closed off to the public for the morning.

Our next stop was the New England Aquarium. Since Audrey and I are Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution employees, we (and two guests) were able to get into the aquarium for free! Our WHOI ID card saved us a total of $100…our ID truly opens doors. The main draw at the aquarium is the Giant Ocean Tank. Newly renovated, it reopened this year featuring 2,000 fish and 140 different species! The giant tank is a cylinder around which the entire aquarium is based. A spiral ramp encircles the tank providing viewing windows along the entire circumference and leads to other exhibits on different floors. The animals present included penguins, seals, jellyfish, octopi, turtles, sharks and rays. Unfortunately the giant tank had a parasite in the water, so we did not get a chance to see the sharks or rays. The parasite in the water negatively impacts the fish but not the sharks or rays. The treatment involves putting copper into the water; however, the sharks and rays needed to be removed before the treatment because they are extremely sensitive to changes in electrical current. One unexpected thing that we did get a chance to do, however, was being allowed to touch the Atlantic rays in the touch tank. Their backs were an unexpected combination of soft, slimy and slippery.

Following our visit to the aquarium, we walked along the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is marked by a red line running down the center of the brick sidewalks. It leads you past sixteen historical sights spread across 2.5 miles beginning at the Boston Commons and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument. I will only touch on a few of the stops as there were many! You can see by the number of photos in this post that I already had a hard time narrowing them down. I am sure there would be many more if I wrote about every stop.

As we were walking through Boston, I was struck by the significant number of cemeteries along the streets. One particular graveyard that we walked through was the Granary Burying Grounds. Surrounded by wrought iron fences and dotted with towering trees, leaves swirled around are ankles as we passed rows of weather worn grave stones. Well known people who were buried in this area include Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and members of Benjamin Franklin’s family.

The Old North Church is the oldest standing church in Boston. Its doors opened in 1723, and it played a key role in the American Revolution. The Old North Church’s steeple was used to signal how the British Troops were advancing and warn the countryside of advancing troops. Two lanterns were hung in the steeple to announce that the British were advancing by boat across the Charles River. Longfellow’s poem titled Paul Revere’s Ride immortalized this occasion in the well known line: “One if by land, two if by sea”. These lanterns signalled the beginning of the American Revolution.

Another highlight of the trail was the USS Constitution which is docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. It is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the entire world! The ship was nicknamed Old Ironsides during the War of 1812 as cannons bounced off her sides as if made of iron. The ship once required a crew of 500 people, carried 50 to 60 guns, and topped out at 13 knots. It is an incredibly impressive ship to behold. After going through airport-like security we were able to board the ship and take photos. The complexity of the vessel is quite astounding with rigging cross-crossing every which way. The amount of canvas used to create the ship’s sails is close to one acre!

In order to board the ship we needed to go through security. Unfortunately Audrey’s father was carrying a knife on him (a kind that is illegal to have on  your person in the state of Massachusetts), so as we passed through security he was detained and run through the FBI database. Since we arrived only ten minutes before the ship closed for the day, we barely had any time to explore and take photos. Ironically Audrey’s father was the one who really wanted to see the ship, but he didn’t even get the opportunity due to the stiff security and the lack of time. So as a consolation prize I ended up drawing him a picture of the USS Constitution to remind him of the event. We all had a good laugh about the whole situation, and Audrey’s dad ended up with a good story to tell.

All along the Freedom Trail, I was mesmerized by the architecture of the buildings. Everywhere you turn history is embedded in the landscape. Our last stop on the Freedom Trail was Bunker Hill Monument. We explored the grounds as the sun was beginning to set on the city. This 221-foot granite obelisk towers over the landscape and marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution.

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Nutrient Analysis

Figuring out the nutrient concentrations was next on our list of things to analyze. The nutrients we are focusing on include: phosphorus, ammonium, silicate and nitrate/nitrite. Audrey and I are not doing the analysis ourselves, so we were shown the process by a technician in the Nutrient Analytical Facility which is located just a short jaunt down the hall from our office. The machine that does the processing is called QuikChem 8000. It has a four-channel continuous flow injection system which determines the nutrient concentrations in our water samples. The process is fairly complex. Each sample is drawn up the tubing by the autosampler. It is then channeled through multiple mixing loops where the sample is mixed with specific reagents depending on the type of nutrients being looked at. Ultimately, at the end of the process, the samples will change colour. The hue and intensity of the colour gives insight into the type and concentration of the nutrients present. We’ll see what the analysis holds once we get our data from the facility.

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Fish Taco Fiesta

On Sunday night we decided to branch out and try to cook something we have never made. Fish tacos were on the dinner menu! I must admit that we did not come up with the idea on our own. We were inspired by the delicious beer battered cod tacos we had at Quicks Hole restaurant located near the Woods Hole ferry dock. Since many places in the village close during the off-season, we only ate at Quicks Hole a few days before they were going to shut down until next year. As a result, we needed to figure out some other way to satisfy our fish taco cravings by making our own. The recipe is slightly labour intensive, but if you have a couple people to help it definitely makes the prep speedier and more fun. And of course, cooking is more fun when there is Mexican music blaring in the background!


Pico de Gallo
Makes 6 cups
1/2 head green cabbage, diced
5 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
Juice of 1 1/2 limes
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together and let marinate in the fridge for 3 hours before serving.

Lime Crema
1 cup sour cream
Juice from 1 lime
Zest from 1 lime
Dash of tobasco
Salt to taste
Mix all ingredients together

Beer batter (for fish)
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 beer (not all of it, just enough to make pancake batter consistency. We used approximately 1 cup of beer)

Flour for dredging
1 litre of oil
6 tilapia fillets, cut in half lengthwise

Heat oil in a deep pot on the stove. It should reach 375F, but since we didn’t have a thermometer to test the oil temperature we just guessed and did a test run for the first piece of fish.
Mix flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and paprika together. Slowly add beer in increments until the batter reaches the consistency of pancake batter.
Pat dry the fish fillets. Put some flour on a plate and dredge each fish fillet. Drop fish into beer batter to fully coat. Place into heated oil and fry for 4-5 minutes (until golden brown and cooked through).  Once cooked, place on paper towel to soak up the excess oil.
To assemble the tacos we used mini flour tortillas (you can use corn tortillas for a more authentic experience) and topped them with the pico de gallo, lime crema and our beer battered fish. If you want to go all out with this fish taco experience, you can also add tartar sauce and guacamole. Oh yes, and you might want to eat over a plate with a couple napkins nearby as these little beauties are quite messy but absolutely delicious! Who needs a restaurant when you make it yourself? Enjoy!

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A Journey Down Main Street

Since biking is our main (and practically only) mode of transportation while in Woods Hole, it is extremely handy to have the Shining Sea Bikeway nearby. The Shining Sea Bikeway is named after a line in the song America the Beautiful which was written by Katherine Lee Bates, a Falmouth native. The bike path is great for cycling as it is primarily flat and straight. This is due to the fact that the now paved path follows an old railroad route. We have only explored a small section of the 10.7 mile path which stretches from the ferry dock in Woods Hole to North Falmouth. Biking down the path is extremely picturesque. The path runs along the ocean and criss-crosses through the Salt Pond Bird Sanctuary. The path is lined with vegetation which allows us to witness the changing of the leaves. Some of the foliage is beginning to change colour; however, it seems to have gotten off to a slow start with this wonderful warmer weather we are having (not that I’m complaining at all!). One unique thing we noticed about the bike path is that every so often we would smell something pungently sweet. I remember remarking to Audrey on our first biking adventure that it smelled like jolly ranchers. We later found out from a passing cyclist that there are wild grapes growing in the area. It all made sense…we were smelling the aroma of grape jolly ranchers!

A fifteen minute bike ride down the Shining Sea bikeway is Falmouth’s main street. Our gloriously sunshiny Saturday was spent exploring the town of Falmouth. Granted there is not that much to explore since the majority of the attractions are located along a single street. It was wonderful, however, to spend a relaxing day taking in the local sights and having no particular destination in mind. Typically we only go to Falmouth at night for trivia or bike down main street to get to the grocery store. We looked through the typical tourist shops, explored some church grounds, walked along Shivericks Pond, perused through the Eight Cousins book store, stopped for French pastries at Boulangerie Patisserie and bought frozen yogurt at Tisberry. All in all it was a great day where we could slow down, enjoy the fantastic weather and catch our breath from the past week’s busyness.

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Organizing the Chaos

Audrey and I spent the better part of a day or two sorting through samples that were shipped from UFV. Since the majority of the samples need to be kept cold or frozen, they need to be shipped overnight. Apparently it can cost up to $500 to ship a large box of samples across the continent overnight…Crazy!

When the samples come there is a mad dash to immediately sort the samples and put them into the fridge or freezer. Once there’s time, each sample gets an ID number that corresponds to an excel chart on the computer. Any additional information is added into the computer regarding the number of samples, type of samples, date of water sample collection, and who collected it. It’s quite a tedious job, but Audrey and I seem to keep each other on our toes.

Numbers, numbers and more numbers! Audrey and I have been doing our fair share of calculations using the data output from the mass spectrometer in order calculate the actual concentrations of ions in our water samples. It’s quite fascinating to do everything by hand and understand how the computer programs figure out the concentrations. Thankfully we don’t need to calculate everything by hand for the 100+ samples we have…I think we’d be living at the lab for the next month going slightly insane with our hands glued to our calculators. Doing the calculations by hand, however, gives us a whole new appreciation for computer programs!

Once our samples are processed by the mass spec, the data (sadly) is still in raw format. Audrey and I are currently working on manipulating and adjusting the data output in order to figure out the actual concentrations of ions in our water samples. Let’s just say that I have an entirely greater appreciation for people who have mastered Microsoft excel. Although I have learned a lot about the program, it is a complex and finicky program which seems to have a mind of its own at times!

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Spohr Gardens: Walking in a Wilted Wonderland

Only a ten minute walk away from our home, Audrey and I explored Spohr Gardens. As it is fall, the majority of the plants were dormant or dead; however, it was a lovely place for an after work stroll. With the fallen leaves crunching beneath your feet and the ocean breeze drifting through the trees, it was a peaceful place to meander through. The gardens cover a six acre area and are dotted with artifacts including a large church bell, millstones, and salvaged anchors dating all the way back to 1760.

The creation of the gardens was a labour of love. Charles and Margaret Spohr built the gardens over the fifty years that they lived there. They met when Charles was recovering from wounds sustained during World War II and Margaret was his nurse. Margaret designed the gardens and Charles constructed them. These gardens are open to the public year round and provide another oasis bordering Oyster Pond.

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An International Canadian Thanksgiving in America

Canadian Thanksgiving was yesterday, and seeing that everyday is a time to be thankful, I thought it would not hurt to post a day later. In celebration we had a potluck dinner with the neighbours where we shared a variety of delicious dishes. Even though we were celebrating Canadian thanksgiving it was more like an international thanksgiving–our dinner table was comprised of people from the United States, Poland and England in addition to Canada.

As I’m located 5,200 km away from my family, I am made increasingly aware of the many blessings I have been given. Firstly, I have the privilege of studying at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where practically everything has been paid for besides food and toiletries. We’ve been blessed with a supervisor who is not only great at his job but who is also extremely helpful and generous with his time. Second, I have a wonderful family who send me their love and support all the way across the continent. For this reason I am also thankful for technology and its countless abilities…from facebook to skype as well as the dying art of snail mail. The list could go on and on, but here are several more things I am currently thankful for:

Wonderful sunshine and brisk breezes (my favourite kind of weather!).
Ocean views and changing leaves.
A fridge full of fresh food (even though we’re running out of creative meal ideas).
New friends and neighbours from around the world.
The ability to knit and draw while relaxing with a tasty cup of hot chocolate.
Ultimately I am thankful to be a child of God saved by His grace. “Give thanks to the LORD for he is good, his love endures forever” Psalm 136:1

Happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving, and Happy (very early) Thanksgiving to all you Americans out there!


Creation Calls


I’m not sure why, but I had the sudden urge to go to the beach this evening. As it was nearing dusk, I walked along the beach for a while with no one else around…and just reveled in the majesty of creation. Yellow and orange hues glowed softly as sombre-coloured clouds dominated the vast sky. As I drew closer to the shore, the wind began to pick up speed. Even before the ocean was in sight I could hear the crashing of the waves on the sand. It’s moments like these that I am truly astounded by the beauty of creation. It brought to mind a song by Brian Doerksen titled Creation Calls. Now even though the waves tonight were not towering breakers, a specific song line still resonated with me: “I love to stand at ocean’s shore and feel the thundering breakers roar!” God is revealing himself through his glorious creation everywhere I turn. I am blessed.

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Martha’s Vineyard: part 2

Since my previous post on Martha’s Vineyard was getting fairly lengthy, I decided to split it up into two sections. You can read part 1 here. Following our adventure at the Gay Head Lighthouse, we made our way back across the island to Edgartown. There we transferred buses to reach Oak Bluffs which is located on the northeast part of the island. The history of this area is a unique one. In the 1830s Methodist congregations from across New England would organize and hold summer revival meetings in the outlying woods. This began the early tradition of “camp-meetings”. They began to extend their summer visits, and the Methodists began to make more permanent plots for their tents. This later translated into the construction of colourful cottages around the central Tabernacle. Today, approximately 300 cottages proudly display the “gingerbread” scrollwork and bold paintwork. The cottages in the area display the Island’s only truly original architectural style. This style is known as Campground Gothic Revival. As we walked through the area, it was eerily quiet. There were hardly any people in the area. The whimsy of the houses seemed to contrast sharply with the silence. I’m curious to know how many people remain in these cottages year-round. It seems to me that they would get tired of people constantly walking around their neighbourhoods taking photos.

As the day was drawing to a close and the sun neared the horizon, we stopped for supper at a restaurant located right on the water. Let’s just say that the setting was more beautiful than the food we partook. Our journey’s end brought us full circle back to the ferry terminal. We departed just as the sun was setting. It was a perfect end to our day of exploration and discovery.

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Martha’s Vineyard: part 1

This past weekend began with a short ride down the Shining Sea Bikeway to the village. At the end of our jaunt we reached the Woods Hole ferry terminal. Little did we know that the ferry we were planning to take was cancelled due to mechanical difficulties. So an hour and a half later and a new sailing vessel in dock, we were finally on board. Destination: Martha’s Vineyard. Our forty-five minute ferry ride took us across Vineyard Sound to the island. Martha’s Vineyard is located south of Cape Cod and is the third largest island on the east coast of the United States measuring 100 square miles. It is only accessible by water or air; there are no bridges or tunnels which connect it to the mainland. Martha’s Vineyard is known to be a summertime destination causing the population to swell from 16,000 to more than 100,000. The island has been known to host a variety of visitors from tourists to celebrities to presidents. In 1974 Steven Spielberg filmed Jaws on the island in the town of Chilmark. Many of the extras in the movies were residents of the area. On a more solemn note, it was off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard where John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crashed in 1999.

The island is made up of six main towns: Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. We decided against taking our bikes on the ferry primarily because it would have been more expensive than using public transit on the island. Once we arrived, we were so relieved that we made such a decision. Although Martha’s Vineyard is an island, it is significant in size and made of rolling hills that would have challenged us on our less than ideal bikes. It was great to be able to take the bus from location to location because it allowed us to see much more of the island than if we were biking everywhere. It takes about an hour by bus to travel from one end of the island to the other since the island is so large; as a result, we ended up stopping for longer periods of time at the Gay Head Cliffs and lighthouse in Aquinnah and at the Campground houses in Oak Bluffs.

After exploring the shops in Tisbury (home to the Vineyard Haven Ferry dock), we caught our bus to take us to the southwestern tip of the island known as Aquinnah. We past trees upon trees upon trees. Hints of autumn were visible on tips of leaves baring reference to the coming splendor when rolling hills are blanketed in a kaleidoscope of colours from burnt orange to vibrant red and citrus yellow. Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head, is the home of the Wampanoag tribe. On a side note: this tribe is the same one that greeted the first pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The area was renamed Aquinnah in 1998 to mean “land beneath the cliffs”. This name is fitting as the main features on this part of the island are the Gay Head Cliffs. Designated as a national landmark, this colourful clay outcropping was formed by the shearing force of a glacier which also formed the island 20,000 years ago.

The view off the coast is awe-inspiring. Variegated colours of brown, red, grey and tan mark the surfaces of the exposed clay cliffs. Long grasses sway gently in the ocean breeze. Waves roll onto the shore. The sweet sound of birds is carried on the wind. Amidst it all stands the red brick sentinel. But the fate of the lighthouse is not as calm as the spectacular setting. The Gay Head Lighthouse was built in 1854 replacing the original that was built out of wood in 1799. The current lighthouse is made of red brick actually made by hand on the island. The threat to the lighthouse comes in the form of erosion. The edge of the cliff moves closer to the lighthouse at the approximate rate of two feet per year. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently designated the Gay Head Lighthouse as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Geological experts recommend moving the lighthouse within the next two (or less) years. It is estimated that in two years there will not be enough land left to move the lighthouse due to the machinery needed to complete the task. The approximate cost of moving the lighthouse is $3,000,000! As a way to raise funds, a $5 donation is requested if you want to climb up to the top of the lighthouse.

Audrey and I decided to take this opportunity, and it was definitely worth it. After climbing a couple flights of spiral stairs, a door opens onto what is called the gallery. It’s basically a railed deck that surrounds the entire circumference of the tower. This is used for access to the windows to clean them as well as for making repairs. The view from up there was phenomenal! 360 degrees of cliffs and ocean. Leading up from this level inside the tower is a steep staircase bringing you to the lantern room. We were allowed to go right inside which put us about five feet away from the lantern itself! This lantern rotates with one white light and one red one. The use of the red light is apparently to distinguish Gay Head Lighthouse from the other lighthouses on the Cape. Being next to the lantern was quite an experience. Every ten seconds or so you would feel the heat of the light directly on your face…I could feel my body temperature significantly rising. I was fairly surprised that people are allowed in that room as it seems somewhat dangerous if you were to trip and fall. Thankfully our adventure up the tower did not end with a face-plant to the light.

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