Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Monthly Volunteer Meeting

Our monthly volunteer meeting was tonight at the zoo. We normally hold them in the greenhouse but couldn’t this time due to the pesticides they had to spray on the plants. So we met in the coffee shop instead. It was a little crowded, but we managed. The projector had to be pointed at the wall directly behind us, which made for a few kinked necks, unfortunately.

We had a special guest this time: Heather, our Volunteer Coordinator, brought her mother who is visiting from Washington. No one knew who she was at first, so she just sat in the crowd as if she were a new volunteer. When Heather introduced her, everybody turned and looked at her in surprise, “Oh, My! I didn’t even see you!”

We got the rundown on the Earth Day celebrations. Turns out we had the best attendance ever, in three years at the zoo! 2500 people showed up that day. I knew it was crazy…

See previous posting in this blog in APRIL titled “KIDS DAY AT THE ALASKA ZOO”

The Kids Fun Run will be happening on May 3 and Migratory Bird Day on May 11. Keep your eyes on this blog for more information on those events after they happen.

We have two new additions to our zoo family! Two little caribou calves were born, one on Saturday and the other on Monday. No word yet as to the sex of either of them, as their mothers are quite protective still.

We do have a new Sandhill Crane, whom the staff has named Fraser (Get it? Fraser Crane?) He will be put into Sandy’s old enclosure once the snow melts.

Our camel is still hanging out behind the moose enclosure. The person who donated the money to get him up here has named him Knobby 2 (apparently named after the lady’s husband) but the staff is leaning more towards Marley as he does seem to have issues with his hair.

The two tigers scheduled to arrive this month have been delayed due to logistical problems. In fact, there might even be a change of plans entirely, resulting in a whole different set of tigers coming to live with us. So far, we still believe we are getting a brother/sister pair of 3-year olds, named Romeo & Juliet.

And last, but certainly not least, we still have no word yet as to the pregnancy (or not) of the snow leopards. We do know they tried, and have been successful in past years – so the odds are good that we might get another chance at raising some kittens.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Green Building Research


The built environment has a profound impact on our natural environment, economy, health, and productivity.

In the United States alone, buildings account for:
65% of electricity consumption,
36% of energy use,
39% of greenhouse gas emissions,
30% of raw materials use,
30% of waste output (136 million tons annually), and
12% of potable water consumption.

Benefits of Green Building

Enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity
Improve air and water quality
Reduce solid waste
Conserve natural resources

Reduce operating costs
Enhance asset value and profits
Improve employee productivity and satisfaction
Optimize life-cycle economic performance

Improve air, thermal, and acoustic environments
Enhance occupant comfort and health
Minimize strain on local infrastructure
Contribute to overall quality of life

Noel's Concert

I drove out to Palmer Saturday night for a concert at the Lutheran Church, put on by Cantora Arctica.

Cantora Arctica is a group of women from the Mat-Su valley, ranging in age from 19 to 65. They are educators, mothers, psychologists, scientists, sisters, engineers, nurses, artists, physical therapists, wives, attorneys, activists and grandmothers – all of whom join together once a week to sing. They are conducted by Janet Stotts, a woman well known in the music world out in the valley: she teaches piano & voice to all ages, and also conducts the Alaska Children’s Choir.

My sister Noel is one of them!

The concert was just wonderful. They have about 27 voices, and were accompanied by a grand piano & 5 strings (2 violins, 2 violas, and 1 cello). Their “uniform” consisted of a long black skirt with a black velvet bodice and a sparkling necklace. They even coordinate their hair & make-up! The over-all effect is quite elegant, which only adds to the music.

The first half of the concert was a piece by Gabriel Faure, called Requiem. I’m told that people who are really in to choral music will readily recognize this piece as being very prestigious. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. But I did really enjoy it, and was impressed with the Latin words – mostly by the fact that my sister could remember them all!

The second half of the concert was filled with various other pieces, ranging from African-American Spiritual Rousers to Italian Opera. It was quite something.

For the very last piece, they were joined by members of the children’s choir who happened to be in the audience that night. They were so cute! In particular was one little girl – perhaps 6 years old – who was just smiling away as she sang. She was obviously thrilled to be performing, and was a joy to watch.

Snowed Out AGAIN

I was to have had quite the busy weekend at the zoo – but got snowed out AGAIN.

This is April, for goodness sake… isn’t that supposed to be Spring? With green grass and flowers and all that?

But, no. We get snow, snow, and more snow. I have two feet of the stuff on my driveway at the moment. And I’m not happy about it, either.

Friday was to have been a girl scouts program, with the brownies. It’s totally understandable why they would cancel that one. Even if the parents could get there on roads that were barely drivable, the children would not be able to go outside for any length of time due to the blizzards and their young age.

Saturday was to have been a 4-hour camp, which I was to do the tours for. These kids were considerably older and could have managed the weather just fine. It was the road conditions that cancelled that one, I think. O’Malley was pretty bad – with unfortunately an accident causing a death even.

Jana, the education director’s assistant, and I didn’t know it was cancelled at first, so we were setting things up in preparation for their arrival. The greenhouse was unavailable for the camp (that’s where we usually hold them all) due to the fact that the gardeners were spraying the plants with chemicals.

So – we were outside in the picnic area. There is a roof over the tables, but no walls. Even with the roof, there was still about a foot and a half of snow to be swept off each table! Jana was covering the seats with plastic bags and towels so the kids would have somewhere to sit down.

It wasn’t until we were all set up and ready that we got the call announcing the camps cancellation. Oh well…

So, instead I got the oil changed in my car, got myself a haircut, got restocked on cat food and kitty litter, and treated myself to a bagel for lunch.

Play Date with Corissa

I got to have fun the other night: I went over to a friend’s house for an evening of paper crafts!

I brought my card-making kits and all my stuff with me, and set it all up on her dining room table. She had all her stuff out on the opposite side, and was making a picture album for her 2-year-old niece. Her husband even made a run to Taco Bell for us!

I had lots of help: her cat was situated on the chair behind me, with a nice comfy cushion to lay on, and her dog – a big lab/great dane mix – was sitting beside me with his nose under my arm, watching my every move.

If we had been at my house, we would have had my two girls, Thing and Djuna, sitting on the table and staring at us.

Such good helpers, at both places.

Anyway, we sat and chatted and cut papers for about 3 hours. It was a lot of fun, and I so needed it. I’d had a bad day at the office, so it was nice to put that all behind me and replace it with laughter and good company instead.

I got a lot done, too: I made a card for Mother’s Day, one for Mother’s Birthday, and a card for my niece’s baby boy – who is due any day now!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Herman the Wonder Snake

Herman was a reticulated python that measured roughly 12 feet long and weighed probably 80 pounds. He performed at The Crazy Horse, here in town. Locals will recognize that as being one of our infamous stripper clubs - and not one of the nicer ones, either.

His performing partner’s name was Chessy L’Amour. I’ll leave her description to your imagination, except to say that nature did not give her that chest – modern medicine did, I’m sure.

Mother and I really wanted to go see him, but we were slightly apprehensive since neither of us had ever been to a place like that. Love of nature won out over embarrassment, so we pulled in to the parking lot.

We sat there for a moment or two, just looking at the entrance to the building. Mother finally said, “We don’t have to go in there if you don’t want to.”

“I’ve never been to a place like this before… but, I really want to see Herman the Wonder Snake, so let’s go in.” I replied.

So, we went in.

As luck would have it, the very second we were in the front door, a group of guys sitting across the room at the bar turned around and saw us, and yelled out, “Ruth!” Mother looked at me, with her best mom-look, and said “You said you’ve never been here before!”

Honestly, I hadn’t. Those guys just happened to work on the pipeline with me. I had no idea they were going to be there, and they were just as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

We joined them at the bar, ordered our drinks, and waited for Chessy L’Amour to come on stage and do her thing with Herman the Wonder Snake.

It was pretty much what you’d imagine it to be.

Afterwards, we went over to the stage and got to meet Herman up close. Unfortunately, that also meant getting to meet Chessy up close, as well – her attributes were even bigger in real life!

Herman, however, was absolutely beautiful. I held him draped around my neck with his head in one hand and his tail wrapped three times around my body, and the extra few inches laying on the floor. He was heavy! He was also very nice: calm, cool, and not freaked out by all the commotion going on around him.

I have to point out, by the way, that in a room filled to capacity with construction type guys – I was the only person in the room brave enough to even touch the snake. Aside from Chessy, of course, who did a whole lot more than just touch – but I’ve blocked that part out of my memory banks.

Needless to say, I made points with the guys back at work.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Creek Monitoring Recertification Process

I got recertified for my Creek Monitoring job last night.

In order to keep the tests standardized and controlled, we are required to go thru a recertification process once a year. There are so many volunteer monitors now, they had to split the group up into two sessions: the first one was last night, the second one will be this Saturday.

We met promptly at 5:00 in the Grant Hall chemistry lab at the Alaska Pacific University campus. They had all the supplies set up and ready for us, with controlled samples of water for each test, beakers labeled for the substance that goes in them, testing equipment available for those (like me) who share their kits with their partners, and two teachers on hand to answer questions.

The Monitoring Program Director from the Anchorage Waterways Council was there, along with a couple veteran volunteer monitors, ready to help out as needed.

I have to admit, it was brutal. I’ve only been monitoring my creek for half a year now, and I do it with a partner, so I’m not that familiar with all the processes. Nor have I ever taken chemistry in college (that’s why I volunteered for the program: it’s a free chemistry class, with field experience). Add to that the fact that our surroundings were not “normal” and the anxiety of being tested – as well as the fact that I’d just come in from work, where I’d had a dead-line on the job I’ve been working on which of course means that everything went wrong… you get the point.

So, I started my sampling at the end of the “suggested sampling order” list, doing my Phosphates and Nitrates first. Since I am the one who typically does them at my creek, I figured this would get me into the groove - so to speak - and make the rest of the night go more smoothly.

From there, I moved on to my Dissolved Oxygen levels, Turbidity Levels, Colormetric pH, and ended with my Hanna Meter readings (this measures the water’s pH, Conductivity, and Total Dissolved Solids). I did the tests in order of familiarity, ending with the one I am least comfortable with.

For each test, they had water that was measured with their fine-tuned instruments so they would know exactly what the results should be. Once we completed our readings, they would check our results against theirs and let us know how we did. This is both a check on our abilities and a check on our testing equipment, to ensure the data we collect is as consistent as we can get it.

When I turned my results in for “grading” they told me that I hadn’t gotten the Hanna Meter readings right (no surprise there) and needed to redo the Phosphate test.

My second attempt at the Hanna Meter readings went much better, but that Phosphate test gave me problems. I even had the Program Director come over and watch me go thru each step to make sure I was doing it right. I went thru the entire process six times, and ended up with six different results – none of which were “correct.” It was very frustrating.

By 9:00, she finally decided that there must be a problem with the reagent sent to us from the company where they get all their testing supplies. She let me go home with a promise to do the testing with my partner and let her know the results from that.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me and My Big Mouth

Back in my mid-20s, I went thru a period of time where my PAP tests kept coming back with an abnormal read. This required a lot of repeat tests, so I had to go back in to the doctor’s office almost on a monthly basis. As most any female will tell you, a PAP smear is not exactly a fun thing to do, and to have to do it multiple times was seriously not fun!

In the middle of all of this, I happened to go out to lunch with some friends one day. The restaurant we chose was a Thai food place located nearby, and as we walked in to the place, I saw my doctor with a group of his friends getting ready to walk out of the place.

“Fancy meeting you here.” He said.

I’m sure it was just a nice thing to say, to acknowledge my presence and offer a pleasant greeting.

But then I go and open my mouth to reply, saying the first thing that popped into my head.

“At least I get to keep my clothes on this time.”

The very second those words were out of my mouth, I really, REALLY wished I could stuff them all back in.

I cannot believe I said that.

The whole entire restaurant, full of the workday lunch crowd, heard me. My doctor’s friends were practically rolling on the floor, they were laughing so hard.

We both just left the building, and tried to pretend it hadn’t happened.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Date with My Sister

Kelly came in to town yesterday; we met at the Performing Arts Center for an extraordinary production. Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy was performing, and they were spectacular.

Bright lights, flashy costumes, great music; “An international cast of graceful aerialists, spine bending contortionists, vine swinging characters, strong men, and balancers bring this jungle dream to life in a lush, Broadway setting.”

Check out their web page at: www.cirqueproductions.com

Each piece in their show brought gasps from the audience, as each one strived to out-do the one before.

The jump rope piece was exciting: at one time, they had three guys jumping individual ropes, while at the same time all three were jumping one bigger rope, while at the same time all the of them (the 3 jumpers and the two holding the bigger rope) were jumping an even bigger rope. There were guys jumping rope on their hands while holding their bodies stretched out level to the floor! Truly amazing.

The four members of the troupe from Mongolia came out and did some astonishing feats of contortionism. Having been to Mongolia last year, I know that this is actually a cultural heritage for them. These girls (and guys, too) start their training at a very young age. These four had on lizard costumes with glow-in-the-dark colors, so it was difficult at times to discern body parts – mainly because the body parts in question were never where you’d expect them to be.

The naturalist in me couldn’t help but notice a few things they got wrong, however. Female peacocks do not have the big beautiful tails – only the males have them. And it’s the male Emu that takes care of the chicks, not the female. But, only I would notice things like that, so their presentation was not compromised too much for enjoyment.

After the show, which lasted a good two hours, we went out to dinner together at The Brewhouse. This is not my first choice of places to eat (it’s very loud in there) but it was the only place open at that time of day – so eat there, we did.

The food was quite good (miso-glazed salmon on flat bread with a wasabi sauce) but of course, the conversation was better.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Speed Dating

I did a crazy thing this weekend: I went to a Speed Dating Event!

I don’t know what prompted me to do that, except to say that I’ve always been curious about them. The email I got announcing the event said this was to be the last one ever – so that probably had something to do with my decision to go, too. Not that I believe them; what they really meant was that the coordinator is quitting and this event was her last one. I know they will find another coordinator soon, and there will be other events after that.

But, Friday evening saw me going in the front door at Platinum Jaxx and heading up the stairs to the balcony bar promptly at 7:30. I had been a little (oh, all right, more than just a little) nervous about it all day, so had gone on a nice long 2-hour walk with my friend Elizabeth beforehand. That helped a lot, because by the time 7:30 rolled around, all I could really think about was how sore my feet were and how much I was looking forward to going home and snuggling with my kids.

The event actually wasn’t all that bad. It was smaller than I expected with only 4 guys and about 6 girls – but this is Alaska, I guess. The odds are stacked in that direction.

They had the room set up with tables along the walls, each table having a number corresponding to the name tags they handed out. Each lady was to sit at her table, and the men were to make the rounds each time a bell sounded.

The first guy to sit at my table was very nice. He spoke right up and asked questions without having to be prompted. Turns out he is retired Air Force, has 2 grown kids and a grandson. We got in to talking, actually, so when the bell sounded – he actually got an annoyed look on his face! Not a bad start, I thought.

The second guy to sit at my table was also nice, and coincidentally enough works at a company where I worked for 12 years! We had some common ground which gave us something to talk about. It wasn’t as easy going as with the first guy, but was pleasant at least.

The third guy was a complete dud. He was very soft spoken, so I could barely hear him. He wasn’t outgoing at all, so I had to ask all the questions – to which he responded with two- or three-word sentences. It was not comfortable or easy going at all.

The fourth and final guy was very nice, although about 10 years younger than I am. He introduced himself as being from Costa Rica, so we got to talking about his homeland and the vacation I took over there several years ago. He was a really fun guy, and I could actually see myself hanging out with him.

I have to laugh at myself however: the best connection I made that night was with one of the coordinators! She came over to talk to me in between guys and we ended up laughing and having a great time.

Oh well, it was a fun two hours – and then I did go home and snuggle with my kids.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kids Day at The Alaska Zoo

The Alaska Zoo celebrated both Earth Day and Kids Day today: all the kids got in the zoo for free, and we had tables set up throughout the zoo with games they could play to learn about being a good steward for the planet. I volunteered to help out for the last half of the event.

What I had forgotten was the fact that inviting kids to come to the zoo for free meant that there would be thousands upon thousands of kids running all over the zoo all day long! It’s surprising just how many kids there are in this town – and I doubt we got them all, even though it certainly seemed like we did.

I don’t have the final numbers yet (admittance always keeps track of that) but since the weather was so nice, I’m sure we did better than past years. We certainly had a full parking lot the entire time.

In fact, parking is a problem for these events. We’ve actually gotten in trouble with the Anchorage Police before – people run out of room to park in the parking lot, so they park along the side of the road. That is such a dangerous thing to do on this road! Visibility is limited even on normal day – add rows of cars parked in the ditch on both sides up and down the hill leading to the zoo, and you can pretty much bet on accidents occurring.

We offer a shuttle bus from the Greek Orthodox Church’s parking lot down the way, running to and from the zoo every 15 minutes. We also have one that goes all the way to the Dimond Mall parking lot on a regular basis. This eases the congestion a bit, but I still saw lots of cars parked where they should not have parked.

I was assigned to the table set up right at the entrance to the zoo so I didn’t get to see any of the animals, except for the red fox right behind me. He was basking in the sun pretty much the whole time.

All I got to see were the massive crowds coming in. They just kept coming! Everybody was in a good mood, and all the kids were very well behaved (well, except for the one little girl who just insisted on kicking rocks no matter how many times she was told not to). There were a few arguments over in the popcorn line, but nothing too exciting.

The “game” we had set up was this: we had 4 stations set up throughout the zoo, and at each station the kids would learn something about how to take care of the Planet. They would get a stamp after listening to each “speech” and once they had gathered 4 stamps they could turn their pledge card into the final station at the Snow Leopard and receive a special prize.

At my table, I asked them to pledge to go home, get their parents and a group of friends, and go outside and pick up trash around their neighborhoods.

I was only there for two hours, but honestly – with that many people, I could not have stayed much longer. It was fun, though, and I did see several people I knew.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Volunteer Work at The Alaska Zoo

Things are picking up, from a volunteer’s point of view. Summer sun means a lot more opportunities for getting out and enjoying the zoo!

I gave two tours last weekend: one for my hiking group and one for a birthday party.

The tour for the hiking group was a last-minute idea that I just “thru out there” to see if anybody would be interested. Several people were, but just couldn’t make it on that particular day. I ended up with only one lady! I will be offering another tour to the hiking group later on in the year, to see if I get better attendance.

I had several “shadows” with me that day = volunteers who are learning how to give a tour. Unfortunately, I had more shadows than guests, so I felt a little awkward. But my guest seemed to be ok with it, and I did give her a good tour.

The second tour was much better as far as attendance goes. It was a birthday party for a boy who had just turned 7. He had his family along with him, as well as several friends and their families – a nice big group. They were very excited to be at the zoo that day, so were very easy to work with.

The weather was cooperating with us, too. The animals were all out and about, so we got to see almost all of them; the exception being the black bears, who are not awake yet apparently.

On a sad note: the old coyote who has been with us at the zoo for many years had to be put down that day. Beth, one of the zookeepers, told me about it when she saw me with the group out on the trails. She wanted to make sure I knew what was going on so that I could tell them. She had tears in her eyes when she told me: she had been his keeper for many years, and had formed quite a bond with him. He was old, though, and had not been in the best of health lately.

The next few weekends will be busy ones, too – we have the Earth Day Celebration, the Kid’s Fun Run, and several more tours scheduled. Then the real fun begins: our summer programs kick in with our Tuesday Night at the Zoo, our Friday Night at the Zoo, and our Discovery Tours.

I’ll be working over 30 hours a month from mid-May thru to the end of August.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Little Brothers

Back when I was growing up in the little log cabin by the river, we had this huge 25-30 cup plug-in pot that kept hot water available all the time for coffee, tea, or hot tang – whatever anybody wanted. The pot was kept on the kitchen counter, tucked back against the wall, but the chord had to be run across the floor under the table to get to the plug-in – so it was always a safety hazard that had to be minded.

One day my little brother, five years younger than me, forgot about the chord and tripped over it. That whole pot of boiling hot water came down right on top of him, scalding him really bad.

He was probably 8 years old at the time, which would put me at around 13. Mother was at work, and I don’t remember where the rest of the kids were, so that means that Reed and I were alone there that day.

Reed was, understandably, screaming in pain and shock – so I did the only thing I could think of doing. I grabbed him and thew him off the front porch into the snow bank down below, figuring he needed to be cooled off quickly. This seemed like the best way to do that.

However, just exactly at that moment, my mother happened to drive up. What she saw was Reed screaming bloody murder and me throwing him off the front porch.

“No, really Mom! I was helping him!”

Right… I’m sure she believed me.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Freedom Writers


Each month, I get an email from Amnesty International containing information on three cases of Human Rights Abuse. They give names and addresses of government officials to whom we are to write letters to, as well as updates on past cases.

Back when I first joined the network there was no such thing as email. I received an packet of information in the mail and would write an actual letter to each government official (a copy of which goes to that country’s corresponding Embassy in Washington, DC). Today, thankfully, I can just print off the letter they provide, sign my name to the bottom, and pop it in the mail.

This month, I am sending letters to Equatorial Guinea, Mexico, and Thailand. The concerns have to do with prisoners of conscience, torture, impunity, and fear for their safety. So far this year I have sent letters to places like Honduras, Libya, Israel, Peru, Rwanda, Syria, Vietnam – even to the U.S.A. – for such concerns as death threats, health concerns of prisoners, detentions without charge or trial, and unfair trials.

The concept behind this network is to let these governments know that what they are doing is wrong, and the whole world knows they are doing it. They cannot hide their actions!

Imagine you are doing something you know to be wrong: you would obviously try to hide it from the world. Now imagine that you suddenly get hundreds of thousands of letters, from all over the world, all of them saying “I know what you are doing, and you need to stop!”

It’s pretty effective.

I use this as an opportunity to learn more about my world; geography, politics, all sorts of things. I have an atlas at home that I look at each month to locate each country. I access the CIA’s World Fact Book to read up on each country, learning all about their statistics and economies. The internet provides a wealth of information that I browse thru each time.

Slowly but surely, I am filling in the gaps of my education – one letter at a time – and at the same time, I am contributing to the overall health of the planet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Young Entrepreneurs

Man what a weird April. It is snowing again, dumping yet more snow on the ground. The temperatures are down in the low 20s, and the driving conditions are not good – to say the least! The deadline to take studs off is fast approaching, and I’m afraid we’ll still have snow even then. It will be a matter of deciding: do I want to break the law but drive safely and keep my studs on, or risk diving in the ditch at every attempted stop by having them taken off?

Anyway, since my back injury some time ago, I simply cannot shovel snow. It’s too heavy. I used to have a guy who came with his snow blower to take care of things for me. He was so good: always on time, always professionally done, never a problem. And then he goes and moves out of state on me!

It’s very hard to find a snow removal service, simply because they are all over booked and under manned. I have been doing as much as I can on my own, but that’s just not good enough.

A few months ago, I was working away on my computer upstairs when the door bell rang. I opened the door to find two kids from the neighborhood standing there with shovels in their hands.

“Can we shovel your driveway for you?” they asked.

“Yes!” I replied, “Please do!”

In fact, I encouraged them to come back each time it snowed. We agreed to a price ($15.00 each time) and got the details worked out (they are to shovel the snow onto my lawn, not the neighbor’s driveway) and I’m set!

The kids are very enthusiastic about their money-making venture: I see them walking up and down the street after each snowfall, tending to their customers. They’re not as good as my guy was, but I don’t mind in the least.

More power to them!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Adicted to Learning

Steve Bettis, one of the original founders of the company I work for, recently purchased two lecture series on DVD from a company called The Teaching Company (www.thegreatcourses.com) - the first one being: The Foundations of Western Civilization, and the second one being: Great World Religions.

He was kind enough to lend me the first one while he and his family watched the second one, so I have set myself a schedule – god knows I can’t do anything without a schedule – and am settling in to learn about The Foundations of Western Civilization.

This course is a series of 48 lectures – each one lasting 30 minutes – divided onto 8 DVDs. The instructor for the series is Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D., from the University of Notre Dame.

Mr. Noble is standing in a room that is without a doubt merely a set, and I must say it reminds me of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for some odd reason. There is a window thru which you can see a brick wall with a tree in front of it: these are obviously not real – you can almost see the brush strokes. The “room” is made to look as if the speaker and the audience were in somebody’s living room or den. I imagine it is to make you feel more comfortable, thereby more conducive to such heavy learning.

He is, despite the artificial surroundings, a very good speaker. He uses no notes, rarely ever says “Uh”, and throws in just the right amount of humor. I am curious to see if his tie ever changes throughout the series: I am on lecture number 3 so far, and it is still red with blue stripes.

I do admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed. This is a college level class, after all, and as I am a little too fond of pointing out constantly – I did not go to college. But it is a subject that is very interesting to me, and I am finding that it is a familiar subject as well. Somehow, over the years of reading 1-2 books a week, I have managed to cobble together a fairly cohesive understanding of the subject!

I only hope I can complete the series before Steve asks for it back. I also hope he will be kind enough to loan the Great World Religions once he has finished with it.

The titles of the lectures are:

1. “Western,” “Civilization,” and “Foundations”
2. History Begins at Sumer
3. Egypt—The Gift of the Nile
4. The Hebrews—Small States and Big Ideas
5. A Succession of Empires
6. Wide-Ruling Agamemnon
7. Dark Age and Archaic Greece
8. The Greek Polis—Sparta
9. The Greek Polis—Athens
10. Civic Culture—Architecture and Drama
11. The Birth of History
12. From Greek Religion to Socratic Philosophy
13. Plato and Aristotle
14. The Failure of the Polis and the Rise of Alexander
15. The Hellenistic World
16. The Rise of Rome
17. The Roman Republic—Government and Politics
18. Roman Imperialism
19. The Culture of the Roman Republic
20. Rome—From Republic to Empire
21. The Pax Romana
22. Rome's Golden and Silver Ages
23. Jesus and the New Testament
24. The Emergence of a Christian Church
25. Late Antiquity—Crisis and Response
26. Barbarians and Emperors
27. The Emergence of the Catholic Church
28. Christian Culture in Late Antiquity
29. Muhammad and Islam
30. The Birth of Byzantium
31. Barbarian Kingdoms in the West
32. The World of Charlemagne
33. The Carolingian Renaissance
34. The Expansion of Europe
35. The Chivalrous Society
36. Medieval Political Traditions, I
37. Medieval Political Traditions, II
38. Scholastic Culture
39. Vernacular Culture
40. The Crisis of Renaissance Europe
41. The Renaissance Problem
42. Renaissance Portraits
43. The Northern Renaissance
44. The Protestant Reformation—Martin Luther
45. The Protestant Reformation—John Calvin
46. Catholic Reforms and "Confessionalization"
47. Exploration and Empire
48. What Challenges Remain?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Special Zoo Tour

I got to do my first zoo tour of the season this past weekend: for a lady from my mother’s church. She just recently moved back into the state and hadn’t been to the zoo in over 10+ years. Things have definitely changed since then!

The big surprise of the day was the weather. I woke up Saturday morning to find several inches of snow on the ground, with more coming down. It’s April, for goodness sake! I so wasn’t ready for snow again.

The tour went well enough, but we were both bundled up against the wind and horizontal snow. It wasn’t the cold so much as the wind that got to us. The animals loved it, however!

We got to watch the polar bears play – always a beautiful sight. Our polar bears are so majestic looking: big, fat, and healthy. They were certainly enjoying the last burst of winter weather.

We even got to watch the wolverine! I hadn’t seen him out and about in a long time. He is very old, and spends most of his time sleeping in his little log cabin. The snow was just to tempting, however – he was out rolling around and having fun.

Our golden eagle is finally out on exhibit. He’s been back in the infirmary for so long, I didn’t know if he’d ever be well enough to handle the stress of being out in the public. He is such a beautiful bird, I hope he does well.

I even caught a glimpse of the snowy owl actually fly around her cage! Her eyesight is poor in the extreme, which is why she is with us (she couldn’t hunt on her own), but the cool weather made her feel good enough to give a twirl around her enclosure!

No tour is complete without stopping in at both the coffee shop and the gift shop. I always include both of those because they do generate more income for taking care of the animals. Plus, the coffee shop is conveniently located in the middle of my tour and provides the perfect warm-up and bathroom break.

All in all, it was a great day – in spite of the snow!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My Favorite Books (in no particular order)

Taiko, by Eiji Yoshikawa
Yoshikawa is one of Japan’s greatest historians who died in 1962. His work is now starting to hit American shelves, but you need to be careful of the translator. A good one makes the book an incredible read, as in this example – however, a bad one is just not worth your time, as in another readily available one called “Musashi”. Taiko tells the story of Hideyoshi, who lives in the sixteenth century and winds up becoming the ruler of Japan.

A Short History of Just About Everything, by Bill Bryson
Most of you recognize Bill as a travel writer, but he also has several other types of books under his belt. This one I would take with me to a deserted Island! It is truly about pretty much everything there is to know about, and his humorous writing style makes it a joy to read. I have given this book as birthday gifts to all of my family members, and even as a wedding gift once! There is a coffee-table version, with bright shiny pictures – but I prefer the version with just words, as the pictures tend to distract from the text.

The Chess Garden, by Brooks Hansen
This is a shining example of how the English language should be used. Reading this book was totally awe-inspiring from a grammatical point of view. The story is quite interesting, as well, in that the main character tells many stories, some of which have their main character telling stories – so there are multiple levels of stories going on all at the same time. I have read other books by this same author, but this is by far his finest.

Bully for Brontosaurus, by Stephan J. Gould
This was my first exposure to Stephan J. Gould and is still my favorite. He has an amazing ability to start his essays on one subject and, by taking you on a long and winding path thru a great many mental twists and turns, wind up on a completely different subject while still making complete logical sense!

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
This is an incredible story of just how much impact one man (or woman!) can have, and shows that anything is possible. With no money and no experience, this one man winds up changing the lives of almost an entire country, one village and one school at a time. I took this book with me to Mongolia and passed it on to my fellow travelers, and fully intend to get it for my family members as well.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
I have to admit that I am not fond of this author normally, but she truly outdid herself on this one. This tells the story of a Baptist missionary who takes his wife and four children to the African Congo back in the early 60’s. Their experiences are told thru the eyes of the girls, age 5 through 16 – and as each girl “steps forward” to tell her story, the style of writing changes to fit the child’s age. When the 16-year old speaks, she uses big words to sound grown-up but she doesn’t really know what they mean and ends up using them incorrectly. When the 5-year old speaks, she talks about bugs or sugar candy or how her sisters pick on her. It’s amazing to me that only one person actually wrote the book and not six (there are six main characters).

The Island of the Day Before, by Umberto Eco
This is the story of a ship-wrecked man who washes up onto a deserted ship located roughly a mile from an island that he can see but cannot get to (he can’t swim), so he spends his time trying to figure out what happened to the ship’s original crew. The book is written in a Journaling style, so you read about his life day by day as it unfolds, and the ending is just perfect! (some might disagree with me there, but I stand by my statement)

Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
This is a great book, based on the wife of the fictitious main character from Moby Dick. As Ahab goes off to see to search for the white whale, his wife is left behind to make her way thru life never knowing what happened to her husband. It’s a great twist on a story everybody knows of, and is so well written it has been widely mistaken as an historical novel.

Babylon’s Arc, by Lawrence Anthony
Here is another story of how one man can make a difference. The war on Iraq has had many victims; this story talks about the animals. By the time Lawrence arrives in Baghdad to rescue the animals of the zoo, most of them have either been eaten by the locals or starved to death because they’re locked up in a cage and have no food or water. With bombs going off literally right in their back yard, Lawrence and his team of volunteers struggle to save as many as they can. I warn you: I cried.

The Book of God, by Walter Wangarin, Jr.
If any of you have ever read - or tried to read - the bible, you know that it is not easy. The language is jerky, the text can be unbearably boring, and the whole thing can be dry beyond belief. This book gives you the stories in a readable format, without losing any of the content. And you just might be surprised at how much of the bible you actually know already!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Two Pair of Pants

About 6 months ago, I ordered two pair of pants from Eddie Bauer’s to take with me on my Mongolia trip. They arrived on time and I paid for them – just like normal.

But then, the other day, I get those same two pair of pants in a package sent from Eddie Bauer! The only thing I can think of is that they have some sort of glitch in their ordering software.

I took them back to the store here in town, and the lady at the front desk got the main office on the phone and straightened it all out for me, even making sure that my credit card was not going to be charged. She then helped me re-package them up and tape the return label on. She told me all I would have to do is drop the box off at the post office: I would not need to pay any postage or anything.


Guess what I got in the mail last night?

Yup, the box.

With a stamp on it that says “POSTAGE DUE”

So, now I get go back down to the store and explain the situation all over again. This time, I’m going to let THEM mail the package back.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I had the best afternoon yesterday.

I spent about 2 hours outside after work, walking the coastal trail with my friend Elizabeth. I’ve been stuck inside all winter long due to the ice, snow, and cold weather – so it was really nice to get out. There’s still a lot of snow and ice, but the weather was definitely Spring weather!

I met Elizabeth at the Bioneers Conference this past year. She and I were both taking a workshop on how to make your home more energy efficient. We got to talking and discovered we had something in common: She is the girlfriend of the owner of my favorite sandwich shop downtown!

After running in to her several times down at the café, we finally decided to get together for a walk, once weather permitted. That day finally came yesterday.

We started out at the trailhead off of 3rd Avenue and H Street, and made our way from there. I think all told we ended up walking about 3 miles, maybe more. As mentioned earlier, there is still a lot of snow and ice on the trail, so I had to be very careful as I had forgotten to bring my ice cleats with me.

As most Alaskans know, spring time means that all the dog poop is thawing out, so the aroma is at times overpowering. It also means all the trash is starting to surface out of the snowbanks.

Anchorage has a Spring Clean-up Week where concerned citizens get out and clean up the place – but until that happens, you have to put up with the mess. And it’s pretty messy, let me tell you.

If you can look over the poop and trash, Anchorage really is a beautiful place. The birds are coming back in on their migratory paths – a bit early this year, actually. The ice out in the ocean is breaking up. The sunlight is lasting longer and longer each day. Soon enough, the green will start to happen: almost overnight it sometimes seems!

It’s a wonderful thing!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

My Children

I have two kids: a 17 year old girl named Elena Margarita Lopez Angulo and an 8 year old boy named Axel Ariel Ixcoy Balan. Elena is from Colombia, and Axel is from Guatemala.

Both of these children participate in the Children International program, and I am their sponsor. I get a photo of them each year, several letters throughout the year, and quarterly updates about the programs in their areas. All for the monthly fee of $18 per child.

I have been a sponsor for the past 15 years or so, so these are the second (or third, even) pair assigned to me. Once a child has grown up and is considered an adult, they are no longer eligible for the program. I take pride in the fact that both my original children are healthy, happy adults now.


As a nonprofit humanitarian organization, Children International focuses on easing the burdens placed on impoverished children. Caring sponsors and donors give poor children from around the world an opportunity at a better life.

Children International’s unique set of life-changing benefits and services has been delivered to over 1,000,000 poor children. They currently serve over 300,000 children in 11 countries.

Children International’s sponsorship program is designed to impact every aspect of a child’s life. Sponsored children receive life-changing assistance in areas such as:

Health: access to a doctor, dentist, vaccines and medicine

Education: uniforms and school supplies, tuition assistance, access to libraries and tutoring

Nutrition: malnutrition screenings, feeding programs, supplements and educational programs

Youth: peer education, leadership and vocational training, civic responsibility and scholarships

Community: clean-water initiatives, sanitary latrines and micro-enterprise programs and grants

Family: household items, income-generation programs, educational opportunities and housing and home-repair assistance