Sunday, March 24, 2019

Homer, Part II

As promised, here are the rest of the Homer photos.

The next day was our "unscheduled" vacation day, but I was still working on this white paper I had due the following Monday morning, so sat some more at the World's Most Beautiful Workspace and ran out to the balcony and snapped photos whenever something picturesque happened.

Like the sun peeking out and doing this Deep Thoughts thing:

Or a storm coming in across the inlet:

Or a pretty little boat:

Or these mountains appearing out of the gloom!

Or the sun finally coming out, kind of.

This is what passes for "a sunny day" in Homer:

So this guy came out to go fishing, because of course!

I wanted to get off the spit and look at the main town of Homer. It's... not super exciting, but it was pretty and picturesque. My favorite visit was to this bookstore:

Observance of Hermits! As we stepped inside, the proprietor called out, "Hello! Feel free to look around at your own risk!"

The store was roughly (and I use that adverb in every sense of the term) divided into sections that showed his humor:

"The books in this section are priced 25 ¢ to $2 according to literary merit determined solely and arbitrarily by proprietor."

My acquisitions:

It took a lot of self-control to limit myself. I had to put back an Isabelle Allende book I had not read yet, and a very large collection of American historical folklore. I had brought to Homer a bottle of locally distilled Fairbanks vodka as a favor to one of the conference organizers. She wanted to have four bottles as auction items, so four different people each carried one. I wrapped it all up in thick bubble wrap, and it took up quite a bit of space in my little suitcase! I figured I had that much space for books, but exhausted it quickly!

I also got these tiny guides from a local fish processor and store, Coal Point Seafood. Their fish market is amazing! You can get two kinds of crab, as well as clams, salmon, halibut, and black cod! I was tempted to pack a whole box to ship home in dry ice, but had no time to figure out the logistics of that.

I have quite a few wilderness survival guides and first aid guides, but knowledge changes with time, as more calamities accumulate in the human experience and people learn new ways of doing things. So I got these new ones.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Homer Photos

Last weekend, I went with several colleagues to attend the Alaska Food Policy Council's annual conference on food security and food policy. My colleagues and I were there to talk about our project MicroFEWS, which was awarded under a National Science Foundation program called "Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems". The Premise behind the "Food-Energy-Water Nexus" is that food, energy, and water infrastructures all impact each other, and that they could be better optimized if thought of as three components to an interconnected system, instead of as three separate systems. In Alaska, the FEW nexus looks quite different since we don't have much agriculture, and our water and energy systems are distributed and not connected. Anyway, we went to this meeting to present our ideas about how energy security can help food security, and to get feedback from actual farmers on whether our ideas were even realistic.

I had never been to Homer, so DL came along, and I took a few extra days, and we made it into a vacation. I still had some work to do, and Homer, like much of coastal Alaska, has pretty lousy weather ("It's shittier in Whittier!"), but we got the most beautiful view from our tiny room:

So I sat there and typed, and whenever an otter came splashing by, I jumped up, stepped out to the balcony to ogle him, shouted at DL, "OTTER! FUZZYWUZZY! AWWWWW lookatHIIIIIIIM!!", and then came back inside and went back to typing.

We also saw eagles coming and going, and sometimes just hanging out:

We stayed at the conference hotel, Land's End, at the end of Homer Spit:

In between conference happenings, we walked up and down the spit. Oh buoy!

This is the Seafarer's Memorial:

It has a memorial stone for each local person lost at sea, and it's still growing, of course:

They go back as far as the 1930's. To stand there and consider it for just a few moments, you realize that there is a reason that seafood is so expensive...

The spit is a very happy place for dogs!

A Coast Guard boat was in the harbor!

Look how clear the water is!

Drizzly ol' Homer!

I was surprised to see all of these new condos being built, but then again, we weren't there during the tourist season, when the town is evidently crawling with people!

There were so many tourist shops, but none of them were open:


The undersides of the piers reminded me of California. I expected to see sea lions hanging out, but they are much rarer in Alaska, where otters are the adorable marine mammal of choice to delight tourists.

I idly picked up a small whip of dead kelp, and the way it clung to the rock captured my attention. I swung it round and round, and the rock never came loose!

Apparently, they are called a "holdfast". A very excellent name!

Here is a photo from our talk:

There were also some cooking and food prep demos, including "how to make sausage" and "Moroccan cooking using Alaskan ingredients". This family, while traveling in Morocco, had met this young chef there and brought him back to Homer for a few months to exchange cooking ideas. Look at these beautiful spices and tagines!

OK the next day the sun came out and was too beautiful, and I took too many photos and I'm too lazy to sort them right now. But here are photos of the ladies at the kennel:

Cricket and Kenai!

Roo and a friend!


They have lots of Friends!

Taking their walkie with a friend!

What fun!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I have Thoughts.... on College Admissions

I have been vaguely following the University Admissions scandal with some smugness.

I got rejected by Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, but I got into Berkeley and Davis (my backup school, which is rather elite today and is no-one's "backup").

I got into Berkeley "fair and square". I never so much as cheated on a school exam. I got high marks on my SATs the old-fashioned way--by studying for it and doing the prep work in the books. I honestly told the admissions folks that I was Chinese (one of the ethnicities selected against); I didn't pretend to be 1/16 Native American and claim that heritage. I did volunteer work and extracurricular activities, but only those that I enjoyed and found rewarding. I didn't do any just to look good on paper. I wrote all of my own essays, and I was a good writer and proud of it.

But on further reflection, I have to admit that I was privileged in my own way. I had my sister, who was dedicated to my academic success and began coaching me in SAT vocabulary words since I was in the eighth grade! She explained to me the algorithm that the UC system uses to score applicants, and mapped out for me a precise plan of the classes I should take, and the grades I needed to earn in each class, as well as the SAT score that I needed to get, in order to have a high confidence of getting accepted. This was what we ordinary, ethical people considered "gaming the system". It wasn't bribes; it was playing with numbers! But every one of those numbers had to be earned. I actually took those classes, and I actually earned those grades and scores, "fair and square".

But without my sister, I very likely would not have done it, and I realize that in my own way, I was tremendously blessed, not just in having her but in having the household atmosphere we had. We were financially poor, but we were not socially poor. Our mother worked regular hours and came home at the same time every day. We had dinner together every night, and we grew up with "cooking a nutritious dunner and eating it at a table with your family" as a normal that, apparently, is not so normal any more. Having a mother who referred to "when you girls go to college", not "if you girls go to college", who was sober and reliable and present, was far more than most "poor" kids have. All of this tremendous social capital made me grow up knowing that one day I wouldn't be "poor". I never strove to be wealthy, but I just had in my veins and in my whole mindset that the only reasonable trajectory for a poor kid pointed upwards. Anything else was simply not an option.

Those super-wealthy kids might have won the birth lottery, but so did I, friends. So did I.

Thanks, mom and sister!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Good Eats

Tan-tan mian:

(adapted from this recipe)

Brownies, from the "Brownies Cockaigne" recipe from the Joy of Cooking:

Good with ice cream!

Croissant sandwiches for a weekend breakfast!


Veggie score at the Asian supermarket:

(not a bad haul for Fairbanks in March!)

And here is Cricket being schnoogly:

And Roo being all soffty paws: