Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Playing with my Thing

My first year of employment at kpb architects saw the whole office going out to lunch for Christmas at one of the nicer restaurants in town. We all gathered together for a festive meal, with lots of laughter and good holiday cheer, paid for by one of the founders.

I ended up sitting next to one of the intern architects, and was chatting with him about this and that. I’m not really good at social events, nor am I any good at idle chatter. Unfortunately, my mouth got me in to trouble – as frequently happens with me.

I actually told him that every night, I go home and play with my thing.

What he didn’t know was that Thing is my cat, who happens to be a very playful little girl. She’s such a sweet little thing – that’s how she got her name, Thing.

I really should name my cats better…


Back in my Pipe-Line days, I lived and worked in Valdez for a year. Valdez is a beautiful little town: the kind of small town where everybody knows what you’re doing even before you do. I loved it, though. It’s so nice to walk into the post office and be called by name, stop and chat with whoever happens to be standing in line that day, and just basically be acknowledged. This doesn’t happen in the big city, believe me.

The people of Valdez were very welcoming people. When I first arrived, they all seemed to go out of their way to make sure I was settled in and had everything I needed. The wife of the man I worked for at the Terminal even thru me a welcoming party so that I could meet everybody.

The one thing that Valdez really didn’t know how to accommodate was my vegetarianism. Apparently that whole concept hadn’t quite made it that far down the peninsula yet, and I’m sure that I was the first one some of those people had ever seen before.

Not only was I female (the ratio down there is like 10 guys to every girl) but add in my choice in food intake, and that made for front page news down there. Guys would actually come over to my desk at work just to look at me. I’d be concentrating on my job, just working away, and causally look up to find 5-6 guys standing there looking at me. When I’d ask if I could help them, they’d all just hem and haw, and walk away back to their own jobs.

So, at the welcoming party thrown in my honor, the lady of the house greeted me at the door, saying “I GOT YOU TOFU!” and handed me a plate.

She didn’t even say hello – just basically exclaimed in a very loud voice that she had gone to very great lengths to find what was most likely the only package of tofu in a 20 mile radius.

The plate she handed me held the entire block of raw tofu. She had sliced it, like you would a loaf of bread, but otherwise it was just a block of raw tofu.

“Oh, thank you!” I said – all the while, that little voice inside my head was saying, “Well, now you’re going to have to eat it. The whole thing, too. You simply can’t leave it, not after she went to all that bother and was so proud of herself for providing special food for you.”

I was touched, really I was. But a whole pound of raw tofu? I’m lucky I still like the stuff…

A Comedy of Errors

I gave an Earthwatch presentation to the Alaska Prospector’s Society last night. Man… If it could go wrong – It did!

This was one where they contacted me and asked if I could speak to their group. Prior to their phone call I didn’t even know they existed, so I knew nothing about them. I guessed by their name that they had something to do with Gold, but other than that I was clueless.

I had down on my schedule that it would start at 7:00 at the local United Methodist Church – so I arrived about 10 minuets early, as is my custom. They told me there would be a sign on the door, but I walked all the way around the building and didn’t see any sign – so I tried the front door.

It was open, but I don’t think it was supposed to be because I ended up setting off the alarm! Not knowing what else to do, I stepped back outside and closed the door (even though I knew that would not make the alarm turn off). It just so happened that two bicycle cops were riding past, so I tried to flag them down but they didn’t see me.

I walked over to the next door just in time to see the man inside fiddling with the alarm key pad, so I knocked on the door and he let me in.

That’s when I discovered that the presentation was supposed to be at 7:30, which made me about 45 minutes early.

Al, the man who let me in, was all in a fluster because the church people had left the room set up with tables all over – and he was going to have to take them all down to set up the chairs for this meeting, and then would have to put it all back the way it was. He had his measuring tape out and was creating a map, with dimensions and everything, so that he could get it back exactly right. Having to deal with the alarm and with me just really upset him to where he kept measuring the same thing over and over again.

That’s when I realized that the alarm had not been turned off, and was still going on loud as ever outside the building. About then, the cops showed up: those two bicycle cops as well as a police car full of another pair. They came in and talked to Al and me, and then left.

Al eventually got the alarm turned off, and I went outside and sat on a parking bumper to give him space so that he could deal with the seating arrangement without any more interruptions.

As I sat out there, I watched car after car show up and people head on into the church. I realized that there was nobody under the age of 65 at this meeting, and most of them were well on their way towards 90. Not exactly what I was expecting… but still doable.

When Al finally got things set up, he asked me for my computer. Well, I had been told they would provide the computer, so all I had with me was my disc containing my presentation. This threw another monkey in the works, and poor Al was going to have a heart attack I thought (not an idle threat considering his age). I finally had to run back home – 10 miles one way – to pick up my laptop and bring it back to the church for the presentation.

Once I actually got to give the presentation, it went quite well. The people were all very attentive and had lots of information to add, since they’d been all over the world themselves. I have to admit, I played the “youth card” to the hilt, promoting their “grandmotherly” instincts towards me.

One lady in particular came over to me afterwards to encourage me – I had said I needed to learn how to swim so that I could swim with the whale sharks. She gave me all kinds of information on where to go, who to learn from, what equipment I would need, how easy it would be… all that. It was cute.

One very good thing did come out of all this: I am now an Honorary Member of the Alaska Prospector’s Society!

I’m surely their youngest member…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Walk in the Park

Mother came in to town last night, along with my sisters Kelly and Noel, and our friend Lisa. We all met up at the “sun” near my office.

This is actually the starting point for Anchorage’s Planet Walk. The “sun” is a to-scale model of our sun with informational plaques giving all kinds of information about the solar system. Each planet also has a plaque showing the relative size and giving recent scientific information, each one being the correct relative distance from the sun. It’s a really cool walk, for any of you out there interested. I highly recommend it.

Our purpose for being there last night was not to take the Planet Walk but to survey the flowers around town. The municipality has a superb gardening division – part of the Parks & Rec, I think – and each year they put out the most beautiful flowers, scattered around town at all the different parks.

We like to wander around and see what flowers they’ve chosen each year; some of them we can identify, but some are completely new to us. It motivates Mother to try out new things each year, so that she can compete with them. I just like getting my family together for an excuse to walk around outside.

It was raining last night – not hard enough to stop us, but enough to put a slight chill to the air. The flowers this year are having a hard time coping with this bizarre “summer” we’re having. I’m sure the gardens would have been truly spectacular in a “normal” summer, but they were still quite beautiful, regardless.

We wondered around for a while, until Noel had to leave for her choir practice. That left Mother, Kelly, Lisa, and myself to have dinner at the Sleeping Lady Brewery.

I had the best halibut tacos…

The Lost Art of Writing Letters

A typical Sunday afternoon for me involves writing letters, eating lunch sitting in “my” corner table, reading my book, people watching – basically just having a nice 2 hours out at my favorite little café.

The Perfect Cup is located in the Dimond Mall, and is the best place to get a really good cup of Market Spice Tea. They sell the tea by the pound as well as by the cup. My niece Lauren recently gave me a pretty little jar that holds one pound of tea just perfectly, so I refill that about once a month and am set for tea at work!

I’ve been going there so often the waitresses all know me. They see me coming down the hall and have my cup of tea waiting for me by the time I get there. They know that I usually spend the first hour writing and/or reading – doing homework, whatever – before ordering lunch. They even know what I usually order, since I typically get the same thing each time.

It’s nice to be regular…

This time, I had note cards that I made myself the day before. I’m really getting in to the whole card-making thing. These cards weren’t exactly spectacular, but I had fun making them. I also had fun writing in them, and hopefully the recipients will have fun receiving them. It’s a win-win-win situation!

Typically, I write to my niece Lauren, who is deaf so I can’t really talk to her on the phone. I also write to my other niece Laurel – she just had a baby; I’m sure appreciates a moment or two to relax over a chatty letter. My other niece Tara also gets a letter each week, mostly because I print out the latest Sudoku puzzles for her – I know she loves those.

This week, I also included my sister-in-law, Heather. She had made a necklace for me so I wanted to send a thank-you note to her. It’s a really nice one, with leather, glass, and silver all mixed up together.

Now if only I could get even one of them to write me back!

Rabbit Creek

Sunday was my Creek Monitoring day, so I met up with my partner at his house promptly at 9:00. I say promptly, but honestly I was early. Those of you who know me well know that I am chronically early for just about everything in my life. Mother says I was born early even! But, I tried really hard to be there on time since I know that he is busy with his family and his business and doesn’t need me hanging around unnecessarily.

Anyway, we gathered up the kits, calibrated the Hanah meter, and headed out to the creek. Once there, he grabbed the bucket while I set up on the tailgate of his truck.

Our creek is slightly swollen from the recent rains, and is running beautifully despite a few logs jamming up the curve. It amazes me that it actually looks different each time I go there: we’re on a twice-a-month schedule at the moment, as opposed to the once-a-month schedule set during winter months. A lot of water goes thru there, changing the banks subtly on a daily basis. I guess that’s one reason they have us take pictures each time.

Another thing that amazes me is the mosquitoes. I associate mosquitoes with standing water, and Rabbit Creek is most definitely MOVING water. Where are all those bugs coming from? And of course, I never remember to bring bug dope: I’m scratching at the back of my neck as we speak, thanks to several lucky mosquitoes who managed to avoid getting squished.

We were able to do most of the tests right there at the site except for the Dissolved Oxygen test, and that only because we had forgotten to bring a waste container with us. We don’t want to be dumping chemicals anywhere near our creek, since the whole point of this operation is to monitor the water quality – not make it worse.

The dog that lives at the house nearby was not out on his leash when we arrived. He is a small beagle type dog, and is always quite vocal with us. He’s nice but cautious, but got completely won over when my partner gave him some beef jerky. Each time we go to the site, we always bring him some – and almost always have to go over and untangle him from the bushes, too.

When we were packing up our kits to head back to the garage and finish the tests, he came out of the house. He wasn’t on his leash so came over to us. Again, he was cautious… but he wanted his jerky, so when I crouched down to the ground he came over to sniff at me, and allowed me to pet him.

Back at my partner’s house, we quickly to the remaining tests done and wrapped up the whole thing till next time.

All is good in my creek yet again!

Babysitting Plants for a Friend

My friend Anne is vacationing in Germany for the next 3 weeks. She asked me to take care of her plants for her while she’s gone – so I met up with her on Saturday to get the keys and instructions.

Her place is a really cute little duplex just off of Valley of the Moon park. I worried about her moving in there at first: that park is notorious as a hang-out for the homeless. I just knew she would have scary people living in her back yard, or worse yet trying to get into her place on a cold winter’s night. But, she’s been there a whole year now, and hasn’t seen even one – so I guess they’ve cleaned up the park since I last had a picnic there.

The plants that she has are all very easy to take care of; most of them come from my Mother, even! Anne asks me to take care of her place each time she leaves, and I always end up added more and more plants to her collection each time.

The minute Anne leaves, I call Mother and tell her, “I have the keys to Anne’s house again, if you have any plants you want to get rid of!”

Anne obviously doesn’t mind, since she keeps asking me back. Either that or she forgets each time. And it’s not like I’m killing her plants… just multiplying them.

Since she will be gone for three whole weeks, she gave me some chocolates that she had around the house because they would “go bad” before she got home. Personally, I didn’t know that chocolate could go bad, but who am I to refuse good chocolates?

These are from Germany, given to her by her family (yes, she’s German and is going home to visit her Grandmother), so are extra special. Oddly enough, my cat Djuna LOVES them! She keeps getting in to them, no matter where I put them. Currently, I’ve got them up high in the cupboards in hopes that Djuna won’t find them. I don’t know for sure, but I think chocolate is bad for cats… not to mention the fact that they’re MY chocolates, and I don’t share!

Earthwatch Presentation

I had my final Earthwatch presentation at the Elim Café on Saturday. It went surprisingly well – I expected something horrible because I know that there are some really awful things going on behind the scenes over there. I have to admit I was dreading the whole thing – but I had said I would do it, so I gathered up all my stuff and headed on over.

There was a moment of uncertainty when I asked the owner to get the computer set up and ready for me. She had no idea how, and I didn’t know either since it had always been done for me ahead of time by their marketing director who no longer works there!

But, we persevered and got it going with minimal difficulties.

By the time I was set up and ready to go, we actually had an audience! Several families arrived with their kids in tow, ready and eager to hear my talk on Costa Rica: Caterpillars and their Parasites.

It was fun with all the kids: I got to talk about the bugs, and the caterpillar poop, and all the things that make you go “EW!” that kids love so much.

It probably wasn’t so good from Earthwatch’s point of view, since none of the audience had any intention of signing up for an expedition of their own any time soon. One lady was interested, but it will be several years before her kids are old enough to go.

One of the boys from the audience was really cute. He had his nose buried into my book on parasites, and even asked his mother to get it for him from the library so he could read the whole thing. He was at the most 8 or 9 years old, and he’s interested in a scientific book on parasites! He could quote all sorts of facts and figures he’d learned from the Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel. If that boy doesn’t become a scientist when he grows up, it will amaze me.

As I packed up my stuff to take home, the owner came over to thank me and said she’d be interested in having me come back again sometime, even though I’d be repeating my presentations since I only have three at the moment.

I will have another one soon enough – when I come back from Africa next year!

Discovery Tour

My tour this Saturday was a fun one. Not that that’s unusual; most of my tours are fun. But every once in a while I get an extra-special one.

This one was a family with 3 young kids who were celebrating their 8-year-old’s birthday by taking her and a few of her friends to the zoo. She actually chose to go to the zoo for her day, and was the one who wanted to take the tour!

I had 6 kids (5 girls and 1 boy), ranging in age from about 10 to probably 4, and two adults. They were a very well behaved group of kids, and all were excited to be there. I loved the way the family worked together – the parents were very attentive to their kids, making sure they understood everything and were having fun, and did not spend the entire 2 hours yelling at the little ones. I see that all too often, unfortunately.

Since my audience was mostly kids, and it was their event anyway, I spoke to them and at their level. That’s always fun: you get to make animal noises and wild gestures with your whole body – all without caring what the adult might be thinking of you!

The animals were cooperative, for the most part. We never did get to see the tigers, but the polar bears were both up and about. Those are the two “behind-the-scenes” portions of the tour, which is why we’re able to charge for it, since those are places the average zoo-goer doesn’t get to see normally.

The wolves were a big hit. They all come running up to the fence whenever the little ones arrive. The girls were all excited about that until I explained exactly why the wolves did that: little ones are their preferred prey! The youngest girl – the 4 year old – got a little nervous at that, but took it all in good fun, as it was intended.

The mushrooms are starting to peek up out of the ground, so I got to include them into my talk. They are fascinating to me, so I like to share what I’ve learned with people.

I’d also just read an article about Cow Parsnip, so was able to give some interesting information about that plant to them. The Mom was rather amazed to learn that the Russian settlers, back before Americans showed up, used to use it as insulation in their cabins.

Two hours is an awful long time when you’re only 4 years old, so by the time the tour was over the kids were more than ready to sit down and eat their lunch. I left them at the picnic tables and headed home for my own lunch.

The Saturday Market

I managed to make it to the Saturday Market again this week, to get some veggies for my weekly pot of soup.

The market is set up in the parking lot of the sports arena in South Anchorage, and is just down the street from my house. I could actually walk to it, but since I have to go to the zoo each Saturday for my Discovery Tour it just works out best if I go by car.

There are perhaps a dozen different farms represented at the market, selling anything from bread, fresh veggies, or jams to sod, flowers, and even tractors. I like it because it hasn’t turned into a tourist trap like the one downtown: full of plastic toys made in Taiwan, elbow to elbow with crowds of people, and not a veggie to be seen.

I wandered thru, surveying the wares for sale, and finally settled on some really good looking organic Kale. While waiting in line to pay, I looked up from admiring my bundle of green to find a lady looking at me with an inquiring look on her face. She pointed at me and said, “You’re an Amgwert!” at the same time I pointed at her and said, “You’re a Remple!”

Turns out, she and I grew up together out in the valley. Well, at least our families did. She is probably more my older sister’s age. But the family resemblance is unmistakable in both our cases, so it was fairly obvious who we both were.

That made me feel twice a good: not only am I buying fresh, local, organic food – thereby reducing my carbon footprint - but I’m also supporting a local farmer who also happens to be a family friend!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Stamp Attic

The Stamp Attic is a tiny little store just off the Old Seward Highway, between Dimond and O’Malley. It is a very dangerous place! Be warned…

Inside you’ll find hundreds of stamps, inks, cards, papers, punches, books, templates, stickers, and supplies of all kinds. As I said, it’s a very dangerous place to be, since I rarely walk out of there empty handed.

I have my friend Corissa to thank for getting me hooked on all of this stuff. Oddly enough, my friend Shelly has a part to play in all of this as well, even though she moved out of state 4 years ago. Turns out, both Corissa and Shelly are friends with the owner of the store, Betty. It’s a small world…

Last night, I joined Corissa and her mother at The Stamp Attic for one of their classes. For just $18.00 we got a head start on our Christmas cards, making 5 cute little ones (blank on the inside for letter writing) out of a new line of stamps that just got released.

There were three other ladies at the class as well who were all very friendly. Actually, they were a little too friendly at times. I am a novice at this – in fact, those of you who know me well know that I have never shown even the slightest bit of artistic talent in my life until recently. These three ladies sat down at the end of the table with me and “helped” me make my cards.

I really did appreciate the help, but I must say… having three ladies all talk at the same time, each one telling me how to do it differently, and each on offering ideas and suggestions throughout the class was a little overwhelming. To say the least!

But my cards turned out very well, if I do say so myself. I will be proud to send them out come December.

I even signed up for another class next week!

Alaskan Salmon

Five different kinds of Salmon swim Alaska’s rivers, streams, and lakes.

King (Chinook) = largest and least abundant of the species. Prized for their vivid color, high oil content, firm texture and succulent flesh

Sockeye (Red) = sockeyes are known for their rich, bountiful flavor and deep red flesh.

Coho (Silver) = Cohos are the second largest of the species. Brilliant, orange-red flesh, firm texture and delicate flavor make them popular in both frozen and smoked forms.

Pink (Humpback) = pinks are the smallest and most abundant of the species. Tender texture and light flavor make Pinks a great choice for a variety of recipes.

Keta (Chum) = Keta have a firm texture, tempting orange-pink color and delicate flavor which make Chum salmon perfect for smoking.

Fun Fish Facts

The sport-caught world record King salmon, landed on the Kenai River in 1985, weighed more than 97 pounds.

Alaska accounts for more than 50% of the nation’s commercial harvest of seafood.

Migrating Salmon are able to jump 12-foot waterfalls in order to return to their home stream for spawning.

Salmon can travel for two months or more to reach their spawning streams – all without eating.

Salmon have 300-degree vision, seeing in all directions except directly behind them.

Other Wild Alaskan Seafood Options

Whitefish: Cod, Alaska Pollock, Black Cod, Lingcod, Rockfish, Sole/Flounder and Halibut.

Shellfish: King Crab, Snow Crab, Dungeness Crab and Alaska Weathervane Scallops.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday Night at the Zoo - Part 6

This Tuesday night at the zoo we had one of my favorite programs = the Reptile Rap. I do love our reptiles, and it’s nice to be able to show them off to the crowds.

For this program we had people from the Imaginarium come, and they brought a few of their reptiles with them: they had a 35 pound snapping turtle, a monitor lizard, a Chinese water dragon, and a tiny little American alligator. They spent about 10-15 minutes on each animal, telling people about them and answering questions.

After the Imaginarium introduced us to all of their guys, a friend of Katie’s stood up and showed off his bearded dragon. He’s been at past reptile programs also, so I’ve gotten to see the dragon grow up from just a tiny little thing to his present size at about a foot long. The kid (I’m so sorry – I don’t know his name) was nervous standing up in front of people, but did a great job – particularly for a teenager!

Then Katie stood up (not an easy thing for her these days, as she is about 7 months pregnant with a rather large baby boy) and talked about our animals. Three volunteers – myself included – got to be the handlers.

Brian held our ball python, who is a very nice snake. He wasn’t entirely comfortable handling snakes, but he did a good job.

I got to hold the Western hog nosed snake, who is just the sweetest little thing! She is absolutely beautiful, and quite feisty too. She hisses at everything (which is why I held her and not Brian) and sounds exactly like a rattlesnake. People in the crowd were jumping every time she hissed: she’s very loud.

Britt, the zoo photographers assistant, handled our Eastern box turtle: not an easy job as he is a wiggle-worm and is very strong.

The last few minutes of the program allowed people to come up and get a closer look at all the animals. They got to ask questions and even pet most of them – not the snapping turtle or the hog nosed snake, however.

All in all, it really was a great program.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Port of Anchorage

The Port of Anchorage is offering free tours each Sunday so David, Ellie, and I all decided to take them up on their offer. The busses are running every half hour, and the tour lasts one hour in length. We met down at the Railroad offices, on Ship Creek Avenue, at 2:30 - which of course meant that we missed that first bus and had to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus.

That gave us time to wonder over to the Ulu factory and browse their wares. Way back when, I used to work for an architect who was designing a new factory for these people, but I guess it never got built because they’re still using the old, much smaller, one. I must say, the newer one would have given them much more space for making their ulus, and would have offered much better viewing space as well.

But, finally it was time for the bus to arrive, so we headed back over to the pick-up spot to wait. The bus was one of those fancy touring busses, with really comfortable seats and even screens that could fold down for viewing movies. Our bus was not particularly full that time, and the tour guide said that all his other busses that day had been full up, with a waiting list even. I guess we chose the right time for our tour! (I don’t like crowds)

There was an initial hold-up on my account – they required I.D. but I had left mine in the car. I offered to run and go get it, but the bus driver said, “oh, you look trustworthy. I’ll let it slide this time.”

I have a feeling that if you asked Ellie, she would say that the tour really wasn’t all that exciting. We just drove out to the end of the point and then turned around again. The tour guide pointed out where things are going to be once the expansion project is completed – but currently it’s all just a bunch of dirt.

What made it of particular interest to me is that the company I work for has a term contract with the Port of Anchorage, and all this work they are planning to do could potentially wind up on my job plate and in my paycheck!

We got to see the tank farms, which was rather cool. The Port handles all of the jet fuel that comes in for the military bases, as well as about 80% of the jet fuel used at the International Airport – so you can imagine the size of the holding tanks. I was not aware of this, but the fuel is transported from the port to the airport(s) via a system of underground pipelines!

We also got to see the two loading docks, each with a ship at port being either off-loaded or on-loaded. One was set up so the trucks actually drive up into the ship itself before depositing it’s container inside. The trucks & their containers have to be small enough to turn around inside, so it is slightly limiting. The other dock had an aerial crane that picked the containers up off the trucks that were lined up beside the ship, and then placed in a very orderly fashion to maximize the loading capability.

We got to get out of the bus at this point, and were led up to the third level roof of one of the office buildings to have a free hot dog (not exactly exciting snack for a vegetarian, but Ellie and David each had their share) and to watch the loading docks from on high.

After that, it was back to the railroad offices and off the bus. It was a nice afternoon – I’m glad that David suggested it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Disaster Tour

This Saturday I was scheduled to give two tours at the zoo, back to back. The first one was a group from the Ft. Richardson Air Force Base and was to be from 10:00 to 11:30. The second one was my usual Discovery Tour, from 12:00 to 2:00. Theoretically, I should have had half an hour between tours to regroup, grab a bottle of water, and prepare for the next tour.

Things don’t always go the way they should.

The group from Ft. Rich had made arrangements ahead of time, saying there might be as many as 50 people attending. Katie, the education director for the zoo, had three tour guides lined up in preparation for them. As it turned out, they only had about 25, so Heather, the volunteer coordinator, got to go off to other duties and Mary and I did the tour.

We had the Ft. Richardson people split themselves into two smaller groups, and Mary went off in one direction with her half while I went off in the other direction.

It was kind of a chilly day to start out with, but it soon turned in to a gorgeous day. My group of people were all really nice; a few jokesters in the crowd, which made them even more fun to be with. And as always, I do tend to talk a lot.

So, about half way thru the zoo I asked one of the guys what time it was – and just about had a heart attack when he said it was 12:15. Not only was I 45 minutes over due, but was also 15 minutes late for my other tour!

That’s not good.

Thankfully, I had Rikki as a shadow that day – she is learning how to give tours (and one hopes she does not learn too much from me!) – so I sent her off to try to find a replacement to finish the tour for me so I could go take care of my Discovery Tour people. Of course, no one had a radio in hand and we had no idea where the volunteer coordinator had gotten off to.

Finally, Mary ended up taking my people off to finish their tour, and I went and gathered up the Discovery Tour patrons – all the while apologizing profusely for the delay.

Two out of six of the people decided to get refunds, unfortunately. But the remaining four gamely went on – and I hope had a good tour. I was so flustered and upset over the debacle that my head was just pounding.

By the time I made it home finally, I actually threw up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Weekend in a Nut Shell


I went to the Saturday Market to browse the local farmers selection of organic vegetables. I always cook up a big pot of soup on Sunday, so I thought it would be good to purchase local veggies instead of the other stuff. The market is just down the street from me, so I will be able to do this every Saturday on my way to the zoo!

At the zoo, I did my usual Discovery Tour. I had four people sign up for it this time, two from New Zealand and two from Malta. They were all very nice, interesting people, so we had a good tour. I unfortunately went a bit long this time, so they missed their 2:15 bus back to town. There is another bus at 3:15, so they were not totally stranded. I pointed them towards the gift shop and the petting zoo, so hopefully they found something to amuse themselves with for the next hour.

I got home in time to clean up the house a bit before my friend Anne came over. My brother had given me a brand new flat-screen monitor for my computer (aren’t big brother’s wonderful) and since I am totally useless when it comes to electronics, Anne got it all hooked up and working for me. We then took off for some antique shopping and a late lunch/early dinner.


I slept in! It felt so good… both Djuna and Thing were curled up with me in bed, and we just laid there basking in the morning sun. Until the Alien started crying, that is. He is so old, and is now blind and going deaf – sometimes he gets lost, or perhaps just lonely. I got up and comforted him for a while, then got dressed and headed out the door for my weekly letter-writing session.

At The Perfect Cup, I sat in my usual corner table and got caught up on my letter writing, ate a leisurely lunch, read a research paper on cinereous vultures, and had several cups of Market Spice tea. All in all, a very relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

On the way out of the mall, I stopped in at the blood bank to give. Unfortunately, my body was not cooperating that day. They could barely find my pulse, and when they stuck the needle in, it punctured the vein – which caused a blood clot to form – which caused the blood to stop flowing into the bag – which caused the nurse to wiggle the needle around, trying to find more blood – which of course caused me to get all weak and feint. Finally, she gave up and sent me home. They were not able to fill the bag, which means they couldn’t use what I was able to give, and I now have a huge bruise on my arm.

Once I got home I just relaxed, made my soup, then sat down with my girls (Thing and Djuna) and did some paper crafts.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Visit to the Eye Doctor

I had my first eye exam in probably over 10 years yesterday.

I’ve been having problems with my vision whenever I have a migraine – which those of you who know me know that happens a lot. I am unable to focus, which concerns me a little bit (understatement there). Add in the fact that most everybody in my family wears glasses plus the fact that my job puts me in front of a computer for 10 hours a day – I felt it would be prudent of me to have things checked out.

My appointment was with Dr. Kjome (pronounced “Cho-Me) at the Dimond Vision Clinic – conveniently located next door to the bookstore! I didn’t need to be there until 3:30, but went ahead and left the office at 1:30 so as to have time to browse for some books. Lord knows I need more books!

There was paperwork to be filled out, of course, since I am a new patient. They also ran the typical eye exams on me – but with “new fangled” machines instead of the old eye chart on the wall. The machines are much more accurate, but I must say they do aggravate the head – I started getting a migraine about 2 minutes into the tests. I actually got a little nauseous, even.

Back out in the waiting room, I sat and tried to read my book (“The Firecracker Boys” by Dan O’Neill) and listened to the lady next to me speak on her cell phone for half an hour. It was a fairly private conversation she was having – and yet she didn’t seem to realize (or just plain didn't care) that the whole office could hear her. Cell phones should be banned… but that’s a whole other story.

The doctor was finally able to see me, so they took me back to the exam room. Dr. Kjome is a very nice man, and was very solicitous of my burgeoning migraine. He kept offering to postpone the exam rather than exacerbate the problem, but I decided that since I was going to have a headache anyway, I might as well do what I’d come there to do.

I explained why I was there, and a little of my history. He checked out my eyes and pronounced them healthy. The drops in my eyes stung a little at first, then turned them numb and a little tingly (not the eyes, exactly – they have no nerve endings – but the tissues surrounding the eyes). I could tell from the tissue he gave me to wipe off excess drips with that it was a fluorescent yellow. I could just imagine what my face looked like, so kept wiping my eyes so as to not have yellow streaks down my cheeks.

When all was said and done, I walked out with a prescription for glasses and a bill for $148.00. The glasses are not mandatory, and will not help the migraine problem (I knew going in that he wouldn’t be able to do anything about that; I just wanted to know for sure that there was no serious problem developing) but are to help with my far-sight. Should I feel the need to be able to see things sharper farther away, I can get them.

I’ll have to talk to my family and see what they think. I’d need help picking out glasses anyway, since I probably would get “nerdy” ones if left to my own devices.

As my nephew Robin would say, “Oh Aunt Ruthie… you’re so not cool.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cute Scientist Guy

It all started back in 2006, when I was trying to decide which Earthwatch Expedition to go on next.

I had several options to choose from – well, ok… I had 125 options to choose from! But I had narrowed it down to just a few. I printed off a brief description and a few photos from each one and showed them to my friend Katie to help me decide. She looked at the Mongolia Wildlife one and said, “Oh, he’s cute – do this one!” She was referring to the scientist in charge of the project, so from that point on he became Cute Scientist Guy.

Unfortunately, he ended up not being in Mongolia at the time that I was, so I did not get the chance to actually meet him. I did keep chatting with him (via email) however, even after I returned home.

I was so excited about my trip when I got home (despite a fractured knee-cap and dislocated jaw) that I told my friend Katie that she had to find a way to get Cute Scientist Guy to come up to Alaska. Katie is the education director for The Alaska Zoo, so this request was not as unfeasible as it might sound; she suggested our Tuesday Night at the Zoo program as the venue – and Bactrian Camels as the topic.

To be honest, when I suggested that she invite him up I didn’t really think she’d do it. And when I asked him if he’d consider coming up to do the talk, I didn’t really expect him to say yes! But he did say yes, and Katie did find a way to get him up here – and I ended up with a house guest for a week!

I was more than a little nervous on two fronts. First: he is Cute Scientist Guy, after all, and would be sleeping in my house with me for a whole week. Not exactly something that happens to me on a daily basis, if you know what I mean.

Second: I had never actually met the guy and had no idea what he sounded like as a speaker! He could have been exceedingly boring with a high squeaky voice or something. Thank goodness he has a very pleasant voice, and is very easy and interesting to listen to. He was a very nice house guest, too. I had nothing to worry about on that account, either.

Originally, he had planned on having his wife come up with him (I called her Cute Scientist Girl) but she ended up not being able to – so he asked me if I’d consider “playing with him” while he was up for a week.

What? Me? Play with Cute Scientist Guy for a whole week? Do you even have to ask?

Mere seconds after he asked, I started putting together the itinerary for the week! We ended up with a very busy schedule, but I managed to pack it full of all kinds of Alaskan activities.

Saturday: arrive at 10:00 pm
Sunday: air show at military base at 9:00 am, hiking out in Girdwood at 2:00 pm, look for sheep at 5:00
Monday: birding with Audubon Society at 8:30, dinner out in Palmer at 6:30 pm
Tuesday: hiking up in Hatcher’s Pass at 9:00 am, zoo lecture at 7:00 pm
Wednesday: drive out to Denali at 6:00 am
Thursday: drive back to Anchorage at noon, drive out to Seward at 6:00 pm
Friday: 9-hour wildlife watching cruise at 8:30 am
Saturday: Seward SeaLife Center at 9:00 am, hike Exit Glacier at 1:00 pm, drive back to Anchorage at 4:00, birding & wildlife viewing at 7:00 pm
Sunday: birding with Audubon Society at 8:30 am, wildlife watching in Kincaid Park at 10:00, hiking in the Chugach National Forrest at 2:00, dinner at 6:00 pm, drop him off at the airport to depart at 10:00 pm

You can read about most of our adventures together in previous posts on this site. All in all, I think he had a good visit to Alaska – at least, I hope he did.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Alaska eBird

What is Alaska eBird?

Alaska eBird is a powerful on-line tool to record your own bird observations made in Alaska or anywhere else in North America.

Why should you use Alaska eBird?

- to organize and maintain your life list
- to create lists of your bird sightings by place, time, or species
- to design maps and graphs of your observations
- to find birding hotspots as you plan your travels
- to discover places to find you “life” birds
- to look for trends and patterns at any geographic scale
- to contribute your observations to science and conservation

How do you use Alaska eBird?

It’s as simply as: register, create checklist, and submit! Alaska eBird is easy to use. Each checklist needs the following:
- where did you go birding?
- Date and observation type
- What did you see or hear?
- Confirmation of your date

That’s it! Don’t worry about someone reporting a flamingo in Alaska because Alaska eBird has a series of filters developed by regional bird experts who review all submissions before they enter the database. This ensures the basic quality of all entries.

Contribute to Science

With each checklist you submit to Alaska eBird, you provide scientists with increasingly valuable data on the distribution and abundance of birds, and you help monitor the health of bird populations and their habitats at Important Bird Areas and other key locations.

Go to – to begin your birding adventure!

Brought to you by Audubon Alaska

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Adopt a Bird Today

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of Alaska’s marine ecosystem through research, rehabilitation, conservation and public education.

Visitors to the center’s seabird aviary are introduced to ten species of seabirds, seaducks and shorebirds, all native to coastal Alaska. These birds aid in creating an awareness of their species and inspire conservation of their vital habitat.

Harlequin Ducks
Common Murre
Horned Puffin
Red-legged Kittiwakes
Rhinoceros Auklet
King Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Tufted Puffin
Pigeon Guillemot
Black Oystercatcher

These birds serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts and play an important roll in the center’s educational programs.

You can adopt (sponsor) any of these birds for just $50.00 and help the center achieve their goals. You will receive a package containing a photograph and biography of your chosen bird species, a certificate of appreciation, and a letter of receipt since your contribution is tax deductible.

Contact the Seward SeaLife Center at and adopt a bird today!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Captain's Choice Wildlife Watching Cruise

4th of July this year was spent out on a boat in the ocean – I can’t think of a better way to celebrate!

I drove down to Seward with Rich, my guest from the Denver Zoo, on Thursday evening, checked in to our B&B that night, and got up bright and early Friday morning to get ready for our trip.

We booked our cruise with the Kenai Fjords Tours ( and chose to take the Captain’s Choice Wildlife Watching Cruise with Mariah Charters. Several people we met along the way to Seward told us that we’d chosen the best one, so we were pretty stoked for our day by the time we got there.

At 8:30 am, we boarded the Misty, with Captain Andrea and First Mate Liza (yes, both females) and 12 other paying customers. The brochure said they had a maximum capacity of 23 people, but I honestly don’t know where they’d put all those people – it was crowded enough with the few we had on board that day.

The weather was typical Seward weather: slightly rainy, mostly cloudy, with seas that were just about to make one sick – but not quite. Rich had his bracelet that uses acupressure points and I had a pocket full of fresh ginger, so neither of us were too worried about getting sea-sick.

After going over the safety features of the vessel, the captain made her way up to the wheel house while the first mate went below to get breakfast ready, and we all settled in to watch Seward pass by us on our way out of the harbor. There were, of course, several sea otters there to wave us on our way – that’s almost a given.

This was one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on for animal sightings: we saw the otters, harbor seals, sea lions, humpback whales, orca’s, birds of all types, and spectacular scenery.

Rich was like a little boy in a candy store: he kept running from one side of the boat to the other, with all four of his cameras at the ready so as not to miss a single shot. I can’t wait to see what he came up with, too – he is a great photographer (despite what he says) and has promised to send me a CD once he gets home and has the time to go through the millions of shots he took on his week-long vacation up here.

9 hours later, we trudged back to the car from the harbor; tired, cold, and worn out – but grinning from ear to ear.

Seward SeaLife Center

I took advantage of 10 years worth of volunteering at the zoo to request a favor from Shannon Jenson, the Curator of The Alaska Zoo, last week.

Dr. Reading was in town to give his lecture for our Tuesday Night at the Zoo program and wanted to go to Seward while he was here, so I asked Shannon to arrange for some of the scientists at the Seward SeaLife Center to meet with us and show us around.

I am so glad I did – we had a great time!

At their suggestion, I booked us for their regular behind-the-scenes tour, available to anybody who pays the extra $20 per person. This is a very informative tour which takes you back behind the exhibits (as the name suggests!) and explains the science and technologies being used.

You really get a sense of just how impressive it is over there when you stand next to the huge filtration systems, seawater intake valves, and quarantine tanks back there! We even got to go back to the scientists’ offices to watch them as they do a video-survey of the sea lions on Chiswell Island where they keep track of the babies who had just been thermally marked (which basically means branded).

After the tour we were met by Nicole Brandt, the head of the “bird people” who take care of the puffin exhibit. I love that exhibit – it’s one of my favorites there at the center.

Several of the birds have nested and laid eggs this year, so – in order to ensure that all the eggs have a chance at hatching, they have taken the eggs away from the nests (leaving fake ones in their places so the female birds will continue to lay on them) and placed them in incubators. Once the eggs begin to hatch – which could happen any day now – they will put them back under their respective moms so that they will have a normal birth and the females will take care of them just like nothing ever happened.

They have nesting boxes scattered throughout the exhibit, hidden amongst the nooks and crannies in the rocks. The back of the boxes are easily accessibly to the scientists, so they can monitor the nestlings health and make sure everything is going according to plan. Nicole showed us several of them, but not the occupied ones! Don’t want to disturb anything…

The best part of all, however, was when she took us into the exhibit! We got to walk around in there, with all the birds coming to check us out. They are just adorable things, and quite habituated to humans so they’d come right up to us – and peck at us, too! I wanted to pick up this one horned puffin – he was too cute, and really looked like he wanted to jump up into my lap.

After spending about half an hour with all the birds, we finally let Nicole get back to work and met up with the supervisor of the mammal department, whose name I am afraid I have forgotten. She was just as nice as Nicole, however, and took us back to the holding pens to talk about all the research going on with mammals.

Sugar, one of the female Stellar’s sea lions, was hanging out with her. What a beautiful animal she is! And quite verbal, too – which means she did a lot of “burping” at us while we were there. Her handler said that what she really wanted was a treat, so was ready, willing, and able to do anything that might be requested of her in order to get one!

Their male Stellar’s sea lion, Woody, is in full rut-mode this season – so we were not able to meet with him. The sealife center has moved to a no-contact method of working with him due to the fact that he weighs well over 2,000 pounds and could inflict some serious damage if he felt like it. He is a character at the best of times, but when you add in all the raging hormones the rut brings on – he’s best left alone.

All in all, this was a great SeaLife experience – for both of us!

The Perpetual Kettle

If anybody is going down to Seward in the near future and is looking for a place to stay, I recommend The Perpetual Kettle. This is a very nice little Bed & Breakfast about 6 miles out of town, nestled into the woods next to a little river with all kinds of birds and wildlife just out your window.

The accommodations are very neat and tidy, with a country flair reflected in the color schemes and furnishings throughout the house. The proprietress is very friendly, going out of her way to ensure that her guests are comfortable and well fed.

My guest and I are both vegetarians, and while this did initially throw a loop in her plans for breakfast, she quickly overcame the initial “Uh oh” moment and served up a tasty fruit salad the first morning, and had bagels & jamb for the next day. She had brownies sitting out for us that evening, even, and tea & coffee is available at any hour.

Our room was cozy, with two twin-sized beds laid out with beautiful quilts and a fuzzy teddy bear that reminded me of my Thing (my cat, whose hair feels just like the teddy bear did). We could have opted for a queen size bed in the other room, but since my guest is married I didn’t think that would go over very well with his wife back home!

We were lucky enough to be there in time to meet their 9 little yellow lab puppies who had opened their eyes just the day before.

I love the smell of puppies in the morning!

You can check their website out at:

Family Hike Series - Part 5

We had all the ingredients for a true Alaskan Experience at our last Family Hike: we got lost out in the deep underbrush, we had to keep a vigilant watch for marauding bears, we were being eaten alive by great swarms of mosquitoes, we had only a handful of cherries to share between the 6 of us, and only two people had water with them.

As one might suspect by reading the above list, the hike took considerably longer than planned. Mother and Kelly had both planned on shooting up on the mountain afterwards, but were thinking that the others had gone on without them since they were so late.

Rachel and Ellie had nothing in particular planned, but since Ellie did so well (she didn’t complain about being tired at all, even though she so clearly was and had every right to say so) they ended up stopping somewhere to get a special treat to celebrate the fact that we did finally find our cars again.

My guest Rich (from the Denver Zoo) and I had dinner plans that night, but were in no particular hurry – however, we had just come from Kincaid Park where we hiked for about 3 miles along the Coastal Trail, looking for wildlife (and found a mother moose with two calves!), so were getting more than a little tired ourselves.

Poor Rich: he kept saying “I know exactly where we are. We need to take THIS trail.” He finally had to admit that he had no idea where we were - not an easy thing for a biologist who routinely treks for miles out in the Mongolian Steppes.

A majority vote put us on a trail that did eventually lead us out of the woods, thankfully. We’re guessing now that we ended up going about 8 miles instead of the 4 we had planned on.

The original intent was to take the new Campbell Tract Loop trail that circumnavigates the Campbell Creek Science Center and the BLM Land Management offices in the Chugach National Forest – a place that has been in the news a lot lately, due to a girl being mauled by a bear not 5 days prior to our hike! We had several people with bear spray and bear bells, and spent the entire time talking amongst ourselves, so felt relatively safe enough.

The problem was the maps. The BLM has trail markers out, but it seemed like each one had a different map on it. The map I had downloaded from their webpage was not matching up with any of the trail markers, and even if it did I had somehow managed to leave the thing in the car up at the trailhead anyway! By the time we got to a map that made any kind of sense to us, we realized we’d gone WAY off the mark and were miles away from where we wanted to be.

I think this hike will not be put back on the list for a while. Let’s let the BLM update all their trail markers first before going back there. On a more positive note: our next hike out at Gull Rock will be an 11-mile hike… so this hike could be viewed as a warm-up hike for that one!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Snow Leopard Cubs Have Died

I'm sorry to say that I just found out both cubs have died.


There are so few of these animals left in the world, this is a huge loss.

I'm sure our zookeepers are really upset about this. If you have any prayers you can spare, please think of us.

Baby Snow Leopards!


Alaska Zoo director, Pat Lampi announces that Molly, our female snow leopard, gave birth to two babies Tuesday night. The first cub was born at 5:22 p.m. and the second born at 6:23 p.m. One cub passed away this morning and the second cub is in critical, but stable condition.

The cub that passed away died of complications due to a cleft palate. The surviving cub is female and has no congenital abnormalities. She is learning how to nurse off a bottle and her chances for survival increase daily. The two babies were pulled from their mom after she turned aggressive toward one of the cubs. The cub will be hand raised by zoo staff. Molly, the mother is recovering and doing well.

If all goes well, we hope to have a photo opportunity for the media in the next few days with our new baby snow leopard.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tuesday Night at the Zoo - Part 5

Last night was Dr. Richard Reading’s presentation on the Bactrian Camel at The Alaska Zoo, part of our Tuesday Night at the Zoo program.

We were all very excited to have Dr. Reading come speak at our zoo for several reasons. Not only is he the first to speak of these animals for us (very interesting creatures, to say the least) but he is the also scientist I worked with in Mongolia when I went to study the Argali sheep! He is based at the Denver Zoo, but works all over the world on various projects – one of which is the Bactrian Camel project he spoke on last night.

He began his talk giving a brief description of Mongolia, since most people don’t really know that much about the place. Turns out Mongolia is roughly the same size as Alaska and sits on the same latitude as the line that divides the U.S. from Canada. It has wild temperature swings ranging from 65 below in the winter to over 100 in the summer, and 40 degree swings in a 24-hour period are not uncommon! The bulk of the Mongolian population live in Ulaanbaatar, their capitol city, with the remainder living a nomadic life out on the Steppes.

He then told a bit about some of the research he’s involved with, on animals like the argali, the ibex, and some other larger animals, as well as the smaller ones like the pallas cat, foxes, wolves, and even the hamsters and hedgehogs native to the area. His favorite subject is birds, and he works with several of them over there as well: the cinereous vulture, with the 10-foot wing span, is truly an impressive bird!

From there he moved on to the camel research, mostly describing just how difficult it is to even find the animal, let alone research it. The area where they live is a vast open plane that covers an area equivalent to roughly four Yellowstone parks! Add to that the fact that there may be less than 1000 of them left, and you can see how difficult it can be. That doesn’t take in to account the mechanical difficulties you can encounter. If you’re 250 miles out in the middle of nowhere when your vehicle breaks down – you better know how to jerry-rig it to limp it back to town somehow!

The question and answer part of his presentation was rather up-staged by the arrival of our female Bactrian camel, Tula. She is elderly and arthritic (she’s 15 years old, which – according to Dr. Reading – is quite old) but is still a beautiful animal. The kids all got a chance to either pet her or feed her a twig of birch tree browse.

Hatcher's Pass

I took my guest from Denver up to Hatcher’s Pass yesterday for some hiking around the old gold mine up there. What a beautiful day it was: crispy cool temperatures, sunny spots to warm up in, and lots of wildlife to observe!

Rich, the guy visiting for a week, really wants to see some Dall Sheep. He is a scientist who is studying the Argali seep over in Mongolia, which are related to our Dalls, so it’s really more than just a personal wish. However, we have not yet been able to find any. I had thought we might up there, but no such luck.

What we did find was a nice little trail that meandered its way across the mountains, in and out of rock outcroppings and over the various creeks that flow through the area. There were all kinds of flowers out, so he got to take lots of close-ups with one of his cameras.

The man has three cameras, by the way. One small one for the close-ups; one medium sized one for the everyday shots; and one serious one for the really important shots – and that one has multiple lenses that he switches out all the time.

We also saw a lot of birds. Rich is an avid birder, and is always on the lookout for one he’s never seen before. We managed to spot an owl perched on top of a small spruce tree way, way, way over across a creek gorge at the entrance to the park. We looked at it thru his binoculars, but didn’t get a very good look at it – binoculars are only so good, even the best of them. He thinks it might have been a short-eared owl.

The best treat, at least in my mind, was coming across a hoary marmot in one of the biggest rock out-croppings! He was so cute – out sunning himself on the rocks. Rich managed to get relatively close to it and got a whole bunch of pictures. When it ducked back down into it’s den, I sidled up next to Rich and we both sat there quietly till it came back.

My camera is not nearly as good as his, but I did get some really good photos that I’m rather proud of. If anybody wants to see them, just let me know. I’ll figure some way of showing them off perhaps.