Monthly Archives: November 2013

Homeward Bound

There are times in life that you know you’ll look back on and remember for many years to come. This trip to Woods Hole is one of those events. In a state of reflection, it is difficult to view these past months without getting slightly emotional.

In two months I have learnt more than I ever thought possible. I have used machines I only heard mentioned on crime shows. I have met new people and am delighted to say they have become dear friends. I have biked more in the past 60 days than my entire life combined. I have lost more trivia competitions than I care to count but had the time of my life doing it. I have seen more sunsets and dazzling skies than ever before. I have made sushi for the first time, eaten a steak the size of a dinner plate, roasted marshmallows over a barbeque, and enjoyed copious amounts of clam chowder. I have seen countless cardinals and blue jays. I have ridden on a bike, car, ferry, bus, shuttle, subway, tour boat and plane. I have filled a sketchbook with my adventures. I have knit more than my fair share of cup cozies. I have seen the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, visited the 9/11 memorial, and watched the Lion King on Broadway. I have watched rolling waves crash on the sand. I have frolicked on the beach and in the snow. I have learned the true weight of groceries in a back pack. I have experienced the dazzling colours of a New England fall. I have felt the crispness of howling winds. I have climbed lighthouses. I have learned to live and love a life more simple. I have seen aquatic animals from all over the globe, touched a cownose ray, visited Paul Revere’s Grave, Old North Church, the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill Monument. I have seen masterpieces created by van Gogh, Degas, Rembrandt, Gaugin, Monet, and Renoir. I have stepped on a snake. I have seen hoards of horseshoe crabs sprawled on the beach. I have choked on my fair share of bugs. I have swum in the Atlantic Ocean. I have been frustrated and confused, delighted and awed. I have experienced hospitality only heard of in story books. I have stood in wonder at the blessings my Lord has given me. I am undeserved and not worthy but am nonetheless thankful.

I extend a heartfelt thank you to those who have made this experience possible, enjoyable, and most certainly memorable. Alongside these thoughts come bittersweet emotions. There are two sides to the coin. Waiting for me at home are my fantastic family and friends…a life wonderfully familiar. What I am leaving behind I also hold dear…an adventure of a lifetime. I leave behind a little piece of me in Woods Hole with hope that I may return some day in the future. But onward and outward….New adventures await, and they begin with a return flight home.

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It’s the Final Countdown…

Our time spent at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution comes to an end tomorrow morning. Even though we have yet to fully finish our research, there is a sense of finality as the three of us are leaving Woods Hole in a matter of hours. As a result, we are trying to use up as many leftovers and cooking ingredients that we can. Having a rather large sweet tooth, I naturally wanted to do some baking in order to use up our flour, sugar, eggs and peanut butter. I stumbled across a delicious recipe…and with a name like “Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies” I could not resist. If you lack will power as I do, I’ve posted the recipe below. Enjoy!

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Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownies

Brownie Layer:
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 (1 oz) squares of semisweet chocolate
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Layer:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt

Ganache Layer:
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
14 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts (optional)

Instructions:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan with cooking spray.
For the brownies: microwave the butter and semisweet chocolate in a microwavable bowl until the butter is melted, about 2 minutes. Stir until combined. Mix in the vanilla. Meanwhile, beat the sugar and eggs in a large bowl and add in the chocolate mixture. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread the brownie mixture evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until the brownies are set and a toothpick inserted in the center of the brownies comes out clean, about 22 to 28 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes.
For the peanut butter cookie dough: Add the butter and brown sugar to a large bowl and mix until creamy. Mix in milk and peanut butter, then stir in the flour and salt. Spread the peanut butter cookie dough evenly over the cooled brownies.
To make the ganache: Microwave the chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream for 1 minute, stirring once after 30 seconds. Continue stirring until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Spread the ganache over the peanut butter layer and sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. Refrigerate until the dough and ganache are set, about 1 hour.

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Sushi and Snow

The last two days were full of new experiences: sushi and snow! Firstly the neighbours came over for a sushi making party. It was my first time making sushi and Jon’s first time eating it. We ended up making a mountain of sushi for dinner. Some were not so pretty looking, but it didn’t matter because they sure were delicious.

We also got to experience a little taste of New England winter. The woods behind our house was covered in a magical dusting of snow. Snow tends to bring out the kid in me…in addition to the Christmas carols.

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Woods Hole Hobbies

One of my daily hobbies here at Woods Hole is knitting. It’s a great way to keep my hands occupied while letting my mind wander a bit…although not too much as that leads to mistakes. I must say that I have made my fair share of mistakes as Audrey can attest to. I have probably knit as much as I’ve taken out since arriving in Woods Hole. My patience threshold is definitely increasing as it seems like I take two steps forward and one step back. I guess that would be two stitches forward and one stitch backward. My first project was a hunter green cowl. I found the free pattern on Ravelry (a free knitting and crocheting pattern database), and you can find the pattern here if you are inclined to knit one as well.

What I have been knitting since then are cup cozies. I have to confess that the first one started out as a sock (it was my first attempt at knitting socks). As I started to knit the heel I realized that the pattern I was following had a bunch of mistakes in it. I attempted to interpret the pattern, but alas I could not salvage it without losing too much of my mind. So I unraveled the bottom part of my sock and turned it into a cup cozy. Since I bought enough yarn to make a pair of socks, I decided to keep going with the cup cozy concept. Making cup cozies is actually a pretty good way of trying out new patterns from stitch libraries. If you’re unfamiliar with the world of knitting, a stitch library has countless samples of stitches that aren’t used in actual patterns. They are just samples of stitches that you can incorporate into any project.

As I was working on a draft of this post, I finished knitting my toque. I searched high and low for a toque pattern with cables that is knit in the round with worsted weight yarn. I have learned my lesson to find a pattern first and then purchase yarn, as much time was wasted looking for the right one. I took my chances on the pattern I used as it said it was for a child, but I crossed my fingers and hoped it would fit my slightly large head. Low and behold it fit perfectly! The ribbing around the bottom, however, feels slightly loose in comparison to the crown. So next time I would plan to use a smaller sized needle for the first couple inches (as the pattern recommends). But if you’re feeling inspired to knit this pattern, it’s available here for free.

Another activity that keeps me occupied is sketching. While in Woods Hole, I have tried to spend quality time every week exercising the right side of my brain. All of my sketches are done on site or from photos I have taken. I definitely feel that drawing regularly has made me more confident in sketching from real life instead of from photographs. Lately I have been using pens instead of pencils. I find that having no option of erasing forces me to think about what I am doing before I commit to a line or shape.  Yesterday was a particularly gratifying day as I spent a couple hours in Woods Hole. Since it was a holiday, the place was practically deserted (more empty than normal). I spent a while sitting at a picnic table outside Pie in the Sky drinking coffee, eating a delicious cannoli and doing a sketch of the coffee shop. I did not bother to bring along a watch as I wanted to relax, so my only gauge of time was the setting of the sun. I must have been drawing there for a decent amount of time as the birds were starting to think I was a regular fixture. I felt a little like Snow White with her animal entourage, haha. Below are images of my sketches thus far (sorry, they are not the greatest of quality!). I will not be doing too many more as I only have one double-sided page left in my sketchbook…

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

After our Saturday excursion to Boston a couple weeks ago, I had the desire to return in order to explore the Museum of Fine Arts. Audrey and I took the Peter Pan Bus line into Boston in the morning and spent several seemingly short hours exploring the four floors and confusing corridors of the museum. The museum is over 600,000 square feet in size which amounts to more than six Costco buildings put together! In this massive building over 450,000 pieces of art are housed; however, not all these works are on display. The majority of the pieces are kept in storage and rotated through the museum. The museum is organized into sections to help navigate the chaos: Art of the Americas; Art of the Ancient World; Art of Asia, Oceania and Africa; Art of Europe; and Contemporary Art. The pieces on display are diverse and range from Egyptian sarcophaguses dating back to 3000 BC to Jackson Pollock’s drip painting Number 10 from 1949. As you continue reading this post I must apologize in advance for the large number of (slightly too dark) photographs, but I hope you enjoy them nonetheless!

The museum was pleasantly overwhelming. Everywhere I turned something new caught my eye. This was my first visit to a fine art museum, so I was like a kid in a candy shop. I could have spent a solid week there without getting bored! Numerous adults and school children were dotted throughout the exhibits sketching the paintings and sculptures white sitting on foldable stools. One man was actually using his tablet to paint! I thought this was quite ingenious since you need a special permit to painting supplies into the museum. It was quite fascinating to be able to look over peoples’ shoulders and see how they interpret the artwork before them. I was somewhat jealous as the university students in Boston get free admission to the museum. It would be such a treat to be able to spend hours sketching the work of master artists from real life! Since I have taken numerous courses in art history and have seen my fair share of art between book covers, it was an amazing privilege to see the textbook pages come to life! It is difficult to put into words the impact that art can have when viewing it in person. You see so much more than what a photograph allows….does an underpainting exist? how thick was the paint applied? what colour pigments were used?…the list goes on. The largest difference, however, was seeing the scale of the images. Some artworks were modest in size and no bigger than a sheet of paper while others dwarfed the viewers reaching ten feet in height!

Audrey and I thought we saw all of the rooms and floors, but the museum is so large that we have no idea if we ended up missing some sections. After getting lost through the maze of the museum, we rode the subway back to South Station. It was actually both of our first experience taking the subway, and I think it is safe to say that we managed it fairly well. We ended up walking through a small part of Boston and stumbled upon Chinatown where we ate a delicious Vietnamese dinner. After that we took an hour and a half bus ride back to Woods Hole. Since Audrey and I basically live in the woods, we needed to finish the night with a 20 minute bike ride back home in the dark. All in all it was a fantastic day, and I am truly thankful that we had the chance to return to Boston and see some handiwork from both ancient and recent past.

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Ion Chromatograph (IC)

After two weeks of working with the Ion Chromatograph (IC), Audrey and I are finally finished running all of our water samples! The Ion Chromatograph analyzes the negatively charged ions in our samples. The main anions we are looking at include Fluoride, Chloride, and Sulphate. In order to operate the IC, Audrey and I worked in tandem. I filled all the 5mL vials with samples, standards or blanks, lidded them and placed them into loading trays. Audrey recorded the sequence order and operated the computer system called Chromeleon. These samples were then loaded into the autosampler. Our jobs are straightforward and relatively short in comparison to working with the mass spec. We are not required to babysit the machine because it is generally reliable. For this we are quite thankful! The process is quite time consuming, however, due to the fact that each vial undergoes three separate injections lasting a total of 66 minutes. Since around 700 injections were done for the entire process, this means that our samples were running constantly for a total of 15,620 minutes or 260 hours or 10.8 days! And these crazy numbers exclude the three days where the machine was not running optimally, so our samples that were run on these days needed to be redone.

The processing of these samples involves several steps. First the autosampler vials are filled and lidded. They are loaded into the autosampler. The water sample is taken up and travels through tubing into an oven with a column that separates the ions by charge. Molecules that have weak ionic interactions leave the column first while ones with stronger ionic interactions leave later. This means that during the 22 minutes it takes to analyze each sample, the different anions leave the column at different times. Fluoride leaves the column first, followed by chloride and then sulphate. After going through a suppressor, the detector reads the current and the data is output to the computer. The data is output in the form of graphs with multiple peaks. Each peak represents a different anion and so we can identify the amount of each anion based on the size of the peaks.

Once we have the data output in the computer, the peaks need to be “massaged”. It is as if the data is going to the spa for a deep tissue massage where it gets an adjustment and everything is put into the correct position. In this case we are adjusting the baselines of the peaks. Once we adjust the data we export it and manipulate it in excel in order to reach the final output. It sounds rather cryptic, but let me assure you that a full explanation would be just as ambiguous!

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A Day on Cape Cod

Audrey and I spent a day driving along the Cape Cod coast with her parents who were visiting. We began in Woods Hole at the southwest tip and drove north to Provincetown. It was a delightfully relaxing day exploring beaches and lighthouses and driving through expanses of autumnal coloured trees. Parts of the Cape remind me of the beaches in Oregon with sandy dunes and long grasses waving in the ocean breeze. Since Cape Cod is essentially a gigantic sand bar, scientists predict that the Cape will be completely gone in 5 to 10 thousand years due to erosion and rising sea levels.

Along the way we stopped at Nauset Lighthouse and got a chance to go inside. The Nauset Lighthouse has been servicing the Cape since 1877. Due to the eroding nature of the landscape, the lighthouse was moved in 1996 to its present location. When we arrived at the lighthouse it looked somewhat familiar. We realized afterward that this lighthouse is used as the logo of the Cape Cod chips we had in our cupboard. We also just happened to have a bag in the car trunk.

We took a short pit stop to see the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. We debated about climbing up the 116 stairs to the top of the tower; however, were a little deterred to pay $12 each to use this stair master. The Pilgrim Monument is actually the tallest all-granite structure in the United States measuring 252 feet. The monument was built to commemorate the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first landing in the New World in 1620. In 1907 President Roosevelt laid the monument’s cornerstone, and President Taft led the dedication ceremony in 1910 after its completion.

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We timed our drive back home perfectly. Just as we approached the road that runs parallel to the ocean, the sun began to set. Since I have a significant obsession with clouds and sunsets, I was quite excited to get to see this spectacular view!

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