Christmas in Montana

Pam and I (and Pip) spent Christmas in Essex, MT with the Crane family. We stayed in a cabin owned by the Izaak Walton Inn.

Essex has no stores, no stop lights, and beautiful open country. The main draw is the Inn and the 60 km of cross country skiing trails.

Prior to this trip I had not cross country skied. Many years ago Jon and I used to treat a set of strap-on cross country skis like downhill skis in the backyard, but that involved bombing down a hill and crashing (for me at least). I got some helpful pointers from Charlie and Nancy, which kept me upright on my final run of the day on green and blue trails. Before those pointers I had several crashes.

The Izaak Walton Inn has the primary inn building, cabins, and rail cars that are outfitted as rooms. The rail cars are a very cool touch. Some of them are along the ski trails, so you could drop right out the door onto the trails.

Traveling to and from Montana, Pam and I took the train. We had a roomette, which is easy to picture: just imagine a small cubicle with two train seats and a fold-down bunk modeled after submarine sleeping quarters. It was a very fun way to travel. We took the Coast Starlight from SLO to Portland (well, we were supposed to do that, a delay caused us to divert to a bus from Klamath Falls to Pasco), then the Empire Builder from Portland to Essex. It was fitting we played Ticket to Ride several times during this vacation.


My travel buddies in our roomette.

Living in a place lacking a winter makes me appreciate cold temperatures and snow when I get it. Essex definitely scratched the winter itch, with snow falling more often than not when we were there, and the air crisp and cold. We were prepared for temperatures below zero ºF, but it stayed in the balmy 10-30 °F range. Perfect for skiing and keeping fingers thawed. I believe we got to Essex at its best. Lots of snow. Cold but not too cold.

During this trip I also got to spend some time at the cabin Pam’s grandfather built in Essex. It is a sweet cabin, with a sweeping panoramic view of Glacier National Park. Plus there is a hot tub on the deck, so you can soak in comfort while taking in the scene.


The view from inside the cabin Pam’s grandfather built, the hot tub is in the lower left foreground.

This trip also allowed the newest Crane cousins a chance to meet again. It won’t be long before they can play together.


The meeting of the cousins, both of them were very quiet this weekend.

It was great to see family, eat good food, drink Montana beer, and ski.


A family picture in the cabin.



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New Chapters and a Visit

Life is not boring. I’m reminded of that frequently. This is an exciting season of life. Pam and I are expecting a visit from our friendly neighborhood stork in mid-February. We’ve been preparing to be a family of three.

The beginning of spring training seems like a good time to be born. I’ve been keeping the baby up to date on MLB collective bargaining and roster moves.

My personality causes me to ask questions and be introspective when I am about to face something new. It’s amazing how much I do not know. One of my recent tasks was compiling a list of things I want to resolve before the baby arrives. What temperature (and for what duration) requires a visit to the doctor? How careful do I need to be about potential allergens? At what decibel levels should young ears be protected? How early should I start building my child’s botanical Latin vocabulary? And on and on. . .

What a fun new chapter of life!

Speaking of chapters, the fall quarter is winding down at Cal Poly. I have one more final exam to give on Friday, then commencement on Saturday morning. This fall I built Plant Materials II, which focused on woody angiosperms. I’m happy with how it went. It’s been a while since I built a class from the ground up–it was a lot of work. Now I have a strong foundation to build on. I’m already looking forward to the improvements i can make next year. I’ll be building Plant Materials I in the spring, which will cover palms, conifers, vines, and herbaceous plants. I’m guessing building a class with a new baby in the house will be a challenge.

One last question, does anyone know if it is customary to tip the stork?


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Election Day 2016

This morning I cast my ballot moments after the polling site opened its doors. It was a pen and paper ballot, which I am adjusting to as a Californian. I try to do my best to be an educated voter, which means researching candidates and propositions. In California we try to get the most out of ballots at every election by jamming them full of propositions. Today the propositions ranged from capital punishment to plastic bags, with taxes and marijuana and pornography and bonds thrown in.

I didn’t wear my “I Voted” sticker today. I put it on the sample ballot I carried with me to make sure I filled in the circles to support my research conclusions. It has spent the day in my car.

As a professor I’m careful about politics in my classroom. My goal is to promote critical thinking and civility. It saddens me that campaigns in the United States involve attack ads and undermining opponents. As I try to promote civility in the classroom I am fighting a difficult battle. Politics and culture promote a combative attitude. Us versus them. We are enlightened and they are benighted.

Civility begins with respect. Respect for others and yourself. It also involves humility, understanding you might not know everything. Along with respect and humility, confidence (e.g. security) goes a long way in promoting civility. Aggressiveness and hostile posturing is frequently an offensive move driven by insecurity.

What saddens me about political discourse is that it frequently refuses to admit problems may have multiple solutions or that well-intentioned people may be on opposing sides. I made the image below in Paint to illustrate a point. If we must go from the current position to the star, and two parties suggest the outlined routes, it will not be long before each side demonizes the alternate route (and the people proposing the route).


May we find ways to discuss routes in a constructive fashion. May we leave insults and pettiness out of discussions.

I find it telling that Jesus lived in a time when Roman rule was supreme and did not align with the ethics He promoted. Despite this, Jesus did not call for political revolution, He called for His followers to live lives of submission and love (a revolution of another type).


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Reading in 2016

Last December during a conversation with my sister Rebecca, she mentioned being intentional about reading in a busy season of life. The thought stuck with me as 2016 began; I decided to target reading a book per month in 2016.

I’ve always loved to read. Book sales and book stores fill me with happiness and sadness. Happiness that so much information, opportunity, and entertainment lie before me. Sadness because I can’t read them all. At one point in my life the idea of reading one book per month would have been appalling. How can one book last an entire month? Right now that’s about all I can handle.

A recent study (media summary  link or actual study link) conducted by researchers at Yale showed a correlation between book reading and survival. While cognitive engagement may promote life, I suspect there are other variables at play as well. Regardless, I fully believe a life with books is fuller and richer.

I’m planning to post short reviews or thoughts on the books I’m reading this year. Just in case that never happens, I thought I’d start with my list so far. It’s not an elitist list, just books that I’ve wanted to read or have been recommended. As mid-August approaches I have fallen a little behind, I’m just finishing my July book:

January: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Malcolm Gladwell)

February: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Daniel James Brown)

March: The Martian (Andy Weir)

April: Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind (Henry Hobhouse)

May: Silent Spring (Rachel Carson)

June: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Michael Lewis)

July: The Black Tulip (Alexandre Dumas)

Here’s to savoring words and turning pages. . .

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Summer Road Trip 2016: California, Oregon, and Washington

When Pam and I were discussing summer plans (long before the summer), we decided on a northwest road trip. The trip was designed to allow us to catch-up with family and friends, see part of the country we had not seen much of, and scout out places for longer vacation stays in the future. We elected to drive to San Francisco and stash our car, rent a car to drive north, then fly back to San Francisco to drive home. It was a vacation of planes, trains, and automobiles (you’ll see the train part soon).

Travel map

A rough outline of our road trip route.

Our first stop was in San Francisco to visit Chris, Esther, Liam, and Aleksey. We had a great time catching up with them and going to a Giants game. On Saturday we walked to McCovey Cove, played some baseball on the little field by AT&T Park, and Chris made some excellent pizza–a good day.

Baseball 2

Hanging out with the nephews by McCovey Cove.

From San Francisco we headed north. We spent one night at the Union Creek Resort. It’s a little collection of cabins, a lodge, a cafe, and an ice cream shop. In the past Zane Grey, Jack London, and Herbert Hoover have called this little place a favorite vacation spot. It was drizzly and overcast when we arrived. Despite the rain, we got in a short hike. After the hike we got very berry pie at Beckie’s Cafe, which could also be called very good pie.

Union Creek Resort

Our cabin in the woods at Union Creek Resort.

The next morning we went to Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake is very blue.

We wanted to hike to a lookout post on a peak, but were rebuffed by snow. The drifts were impressive. It’s the first time I have seen snow drifts 8 ft tall in July.

Crater Lake 3

The peak we hoped to hike (note the structure at the top, our intended destination).

After Crater Lake we saw the Pumice Desert, Clearwater Falls, and Watson Falls. From there we went to Bend and had lunch at the Deschutes Brewery Public House. Then it was back on the road, bound for Beaverton. We had a couple days to catch-up with Andy, meet Miranda and James, and see Portland. I was thrilled to visit the Portland Rose Garden. The plant selection in Portland was great. I saw familiar and new faces, and almost everything was thriving–especially the roses (and some locals were apologizing for the roses, saying they weren’t looking up to standards).

We had some excellent Korean food, watched the All-Star game, went to McMenamins Edgefield Theater, saw the Columbia River Gorge, and visited two waterfalls.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge on a cloudy afternoon.

Multnomah Falls 4

With Andy and Miranda at Multnomah Falls.

Our next destination was the Olympic Peninsula. We stopped briefly in Forks. I shared all my secondhand Twilight knowledge with Pam, then we read the wikipedia plot summaries.


In Forks.

We saw the biggest known sitka spruce in the world.

Sitka Spruce

The sitka spruce world co-champion. I am in the picture for scale.

We stopped to look out at the Pacific Ocean.

Olympic Peninsula

Looking at the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed in Sequim at the Red Caboose Getaway. The B&B rooms are restored caboose cars. The owner, Olaf, has carefully preserved many of the features of the cars, hid electrical and plumbing lines, and developed a charming operation.

Red Caboose Getaway

The Lavender Express at the Red Caboose Getaway.

As our journey continued we stopped to pick some lavender and see more plants.

Lavender Farm

U-Pick lavender at Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

We caught a ferry to get to Seattle, where we met up with Matt and Lauren.

Seattle 1

Headed toward Seattle on the ferry.

Over the next few days we had great food, saw a baseball game at Safeco Field, visited the Washington Park Arboretum, stopped by the UW Conibear Shellhouse, went to the Pikes Place Market, did the Seattle Underground tour, and had a great time.

Safeco Field 2

The view from our seats in Safeco Field (note the Space Needle left of center).

Our flight from SEA –> SFO was delayed due to high winds and fog at SFO. We got to our car a little after midnight, then did the overnight drive home (and back to work).

It was a great road trip. I’m looking forward to spending more time in the Pacific Northwest.

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