Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Year's Resolutions - Final Tally

Resolution #1: Ride the Bus to work at least once a week during the summer months---possibly extend into the winter months, too

# summer – such as it was – is pretty much over, and I did not ride the bus even once. I’ll keep this on my list, and hopefully will someday overcome my fear of public transport. It really is the way to go.

Resolution #2: Work out at the gym at least 3 times a week---loose a pound a week---improve my lower back

# I did hire a personal trainer, and she worked with me for 10 sessions at the gym. However, I did not re-hire her once that was over – and have since decided that I really don’t like working out at the gym. I did do a lot of out-door activities this summer, though. Hiking with the family, walking with friends, tours at the zoo. I think that’s a fairly decent trade-off, even though I didn't loose a single pound.

Resolution #3: Organize my recycling efforts better---get bins set up in garage---set a regularly scheduled recycling day, perhaps quarterly

# the city stepped in for me on this one, and has implemented a curb-side recycling program. I was one of the first to join up, let me assure you. I now have a huge recycling bin on wheels, and twice a week it gets picked up right in front of my house. They take pretty much everything except glass. I’ll still need to go do that one myself.

Resolution #4: Be more aware of where my food comes from and the actual cost to our environment---buy from local Farmer's Markets---buy Organic

# I’ve been making my weekly soups out of fresh veggies I get at the farmer’s market right near my house, as well as with veggies from my family’s gardens. And I must say, the taste is wonderful.

Resolution #5: Take a load of unnecessary "stuff" to Goodwill

# I’ve given away all the stuff I had set aside, and will continue to do so as I accumulate more stuff.

Resolution #6: Vote

# I located the early-voting station right across the street from me! I’m actually pretty excited about this. I will certainly vote from now on, as I no longer have any excuses not to.

So: out of six resolutions, I’ve accomplished four of them, and one got slightly modified to where I did accomplish it, just not exactly the way I had originally intended.

That’s not bad for New Year’s Resolutions!

Dinner with my Friend

My friend Anne came back from Germany the other day. She’s the one I’ve been watering her plants for (and eating her strawberries). We met for dinner so that I could return her key.

The place we met is a pub/movie theatre type place. One where you can eat & drink beer while watching a movie. They show the artsy type films as well as the hard-to-find independent ones. They also make their own beer, and have really good pizza and burritos.

Anne and I did not watch a movie, however, we ate in the pub instead. The food, as mentioned above, is really good with lots of choices for a vegetarian. We ended up eating nachos = not the healthiest choice in the world, but it was really tasty.

It was Anne’s birthday (Happy Birthday Anne!) so I gave her a gift certificate to Modern Dweller’s Chocolate Lounge. That’s one place I know for a fact that she will find something she likes.

We sat for hours, eating and chatting. She told me all about her trip, the surprise party for her grandmother, her drama concerning her teeth (she is terrified of dentists, and yet has to have work done), and her plans for the future.

And, speaking of plans for the future, she has a doozey! She has decided to return to Germany.

This is a very big decision for her, and one that she has agonized over for quite some time. She loves it here; she has a great job and lots of good friends - but her family and her culture is over there. Love of family won out, so she says that when her visa runs out, in September of 2009, she will move back home.

I completely understand, and am behind her 100% - but I will miss her.

Africa Here I Come

I put my deposit down on my next Earthwatch expedition: I am going to spend 2 weeks in the Samburu region of Kenya studying Medicinal Plants!

I’m so excited!

They don’t have any actual dates yet. I put my deposit down early to lock in at the 2008 prices, since they most likely will be raised for 2009. They won’t know when, or even if, the expedition will be heading out in 2009 until sometime around October. At that time, I will pick an exact date – but for now, I’m generally planning on going sometime in March.

There is so much to do!

I need to get my inoculations updated. Since I’ve had so many for my previous trips (Costa Rica needed 10 shots – Mongolia needed 1 more) I probably wont need much. I might need one for Yellow Fever. I will definitely need to take Malaria pills, and possibly Typhoid as well. Unfortunately, they don’t make one for AIDS – but I should be safe, since I have no plans of sleeping with anybody while I’m there.

I need to get started as soon as possible on finding plane tickets. Those of you who know me best know that I absolutely loath making travel arrangements with the airlines. Nothing aggravates me more! Thankfully, my sister-in-law has said she will help me. She’s good at getting the best prices, and doesn’t mind doing all the research required. Otherwise, I would simply go to a travel agent and pay him/her to do it for me.

I need to get started on gathering up the gear required. This one is not a camping trip, so I will not need a sleeping bag like last time. But, it is on the equator so I will certainly need to pack appropriate clothing and sun protection. It’s also a high elevation, so that will require a sweater or two for the evenings. I need a hat, too. I don’t particularly like hats, but I’m almost certain I will like one over there.

I need to get started on reading up on the place. What kind of bugs will I see there? What kinds of animals? What’s the vegetation like over there? What are the people like? What is their history? I know they are having some political difficulties: what’s up with that?


Slug Fest

I know that finding lots of earthworms in one’s yard is a sign that your lawn is healthy – but what about slugs?

This morning, as I was taking my recycling bin out for pick-up, I counted 16 slugs all within about a square foot of lawn. That tells me that there are probably hundreds of the little things all over my yard.

What are slugs anyway? What purpose do they serve?

I’m fairly certain nobody eats them – meaning birds, of course. I do know they can eat your plants: Mother has chickens who eat the slugs out of her garden.

And there, I’ve just contradicted myself: I guess some birds do eat them after all.

However, I do not have any chickens. I don’t think the city would allow me to have chickens, in fact. So, what do I do to get rid of slugs? Do I even want to get rid of slugs?

I know from past experience that I have a lot of earthworms in my yard – see previous posting Confessions of a Killer from the archive files for January 2008. I thought that would negate any slug problem, but I guess I was wrong.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Saturday at the Zoo

My Discovery Tour was a bust this weekend. I showed up, but no body elected to take the tour. This is fairly common, particularly at this time of year: school has started, tourists are thinning out, and the weather is cooling off.

In the parking lot, as I made my way back to my car to head on home, I ran in to a couple of girls from the office. They were planning on spending a few hours at the zoo with their children before having lunch – so, I offered my services to them.

It was nice: I had three adults and 6 children, all of whom were under the age of 6. We went at their pace, of course, but still got to see the whole zoo.

The only animal we didn’t get to see was the new bear cub who is waiting to be sent outside to his new home. His mother recently had to be put down because she mauled a runner out on the trails. His twin is still out there, somewhere. The officials had hoped to be able to capture both cubs, but only got the one. Most likely, the one that didn’t get caught is dead by now. They don’t survive for long without their mother.

All in all, it was a very nice 2 hours.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Well, that wasn’t painful at all!

One of my main excuses for not voting before has always been my dislike of crowds. I’ve heard stories year after year of the crowds at the poling stations: parking lots full to overflowing, lines wrapped around the buildings, hours spent waiting in line… who needs that?

Another excuse has always been that I didn’t know exactly where to go. I know it’s easy enough to find out, and that there are probably several locations to choose from within each voting sector – but it’s an excuse, and excuses don’t have to be logical.

Once I found out that a person is allowed to vote up to 15 days prior to the actual day of elections, and that one of the places where early voting is held is right across the street from my office downtown – well, all my excuses ran out the door.

Being the anal person that I am, I printed off a sample ballot from the MOA website so that I would know ahead of time how I wanted to vote on the issues. I read up on the candidates and made sure I got the right ones picked.

At lunch, I walked over to the city hall and was back at my desk 15 minutes later!

I feel pretty good about that, too.


I was supposed to have dinner with my brother and his wife last night, but it turned out that only my brother could go.

My brother is a lineman for the electric company and works very hard, long hours. Yesterday was a very interesting day for him.

We had one of those freak thunder storms, with lightning and everything. TONS of water came down in a very short period of time. Whole neighborhoods got flooded out, with literally feet of water standing in the streets.

Of course, he was in the middle of it all. Nothing like working on live electricity while being submerged in rainwater to get the heart pumping!

By the time he got off work and made it over to my house, he was soaked thru to the bone and was actually shivering. I offered to throw his clothes in the dryer, but since they were filthy dirty he declined and just dried out naturally.

We ended up eating dinner at a wonderful little Thai place near my house. It normally takes all of 5 minutes to get to, but with all the road construction currently going on it actually took us about half an hour. He had the heater going on full blast the whole way.

The food was wonderful – he ordered a garlic chicken dish, while I had my favorite Kang Kari (a yellow curry with veggies & tofu), and as always we had the fresh spring rolls as an appetizer.

And the best part is that not only did I get to have dinner with my brother, but I also got leftovers for tonight’s dinner as well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lap Full O' Cats

So, last night I tried something different.

Alien keeps me up at night with his yowling, so I thought I would preempt his actions by waking him up right when I got home after dinner and tiring him out so he’d sleep thru the night. I took him to the couch to watch the last half of CSI:NY with me, and snuggled with him for half an hour.

Djuna kept trying to get up on my shoulder like she always does, but she’s very unsure about the alien (he smells funny) so just sat on the floor and complained. Finally, she gave this huff – as if to say, “Oh, all right.” - and came up to my shoulder anyway.

I had Alien on my left side, Djuna on my right side, and their bodies were snuggled up together in my lap. We all three of us sat there like that for a good 15 minutes!

And yes, Alien slept thru the night – at least until about 5:30 this morning, when he woke up and started in on the yowling again…

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lost and Found

Marie, one of the girls here at the office, found a dog today. He’s a young black lab, and is very friendly. He was running around outside, in and out of traffic, and was in danger of getting hit.

Marie has a soft spot for dogs, so caught him and brought him into the office for safe keeping. She posted a notice downstairs in hopes that his owner would come looking for him.

The dog, as mentioned earlier, is a very friendly guy. He ran all over the office, checking everybody out rather enthusiastically. Somebody gave him a stuffed toy, in hopes of calming him down a bit – but that only gave him something to chew on and toss about while running around the office.

Deanna, another girl here at the office, tried to corral him in her cubicle space by blocking off the area with bookcases, boxes, chairs, and whatnot. But the dog, being the amateur Houdini that he is, took all of 30 seconds to break out and continue his exploration of the office.

This dog apparently does not believe in confinement. One begins to see how he ended up out in the middle of the street. He even has a shock collar on – which obviously has no effect on him at all.

In desperation, Marie finally took the dog to her house and locked him up in her room so that he could not get in to any more trouble. When she got back to the office, she got a phone call from the maintenance guy at the apartment complex saying that the dog had jumped out of her window and is now running around in the streets again.

What makes this even more amazing is that her bedroom window is on the third floor!

The dog jumped out of a third story window onto the pavement below and is running in and out of traffic on very busy streets – his guardian angel is definitely being over-worked and under-paid.

Thankfully, his owner has contacted Marie and is on her way over to pick him up again.

His name is Sparkie.

Comfort Food

For lunch today, I have a big bowl of soup. The only thing that would make it any better would be the thick slice of fresh-baked bread spread with gobs of honey-butter!

I started with an organic vegetable soup base to which I added 6 chopped up turnips that came out of my sister’s garden and a container full of fresh-picked peas I got at the Saturday Market, grown right here in the Valley.

I have a huge container of soup mix made up of 10 freeze-dried vegetables with herbs and spices included that I use, as well as freeze-dried chopped onions. These came from Spices Etc. ( and are a staple in my house. I always put a handful of the onions and two handfuls of the veggies in all my soups. Sorry, I stopped using measuring cups years ago – I go by look and/or feel.

Another thing that goes into all of my soups is garlic. I found a big container of chopped garlic in water at Costco a while ago. This is very convenient, since its stored in the fridge and doesn’t go bad. A huge heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic makes any soup that much better, in my opinion.

Since this is the main meal in my day (breakfast consists of a container of yogurt, while dinner is typically a couple pieces of toast) I load it up with veggies of all kinds – so I have packages of mixed vegetables in the freezer. This time I chose a medley of corn, black beans, and poblano peppers.

And, last but most certainly not least, I have packages of rice and/or beans that I ordered from Indian Harvest. Right before they stopped selling to the public a while ago, I stocked up on all my favorites. I have 5-6 different kinds of rice, several different kinds of beans, as well as mixtures of both. Since these things really don’t ever go bad (assuming they’re stored properly) I bought several years worth, so I’m set for quite a while, despite current food pricing hikes.

Put it all together, and mmm…

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to School

The Anchorage School District has announced that school will begin tomorrow; but for me, school began on Sunday. That’s when I finally cracked open the text book my cousin Chris gave me: Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th edition.

So far, I have tackled the first chapter: reading the pages in the book, reviewing the on-line materials, and referring to the supplemental booklet that came with the textbook. Last night, I took the test: I got a 78%, which is fairly typical for me. Not a bad grade, but not the best either.

Also this semester, I have signed up for a class from UAA relating to work: Construction Materials, Methods, and Techniques. I have been trying to get into this class since I started working at kpb 3 years ago, but it’s always been full up. This year I decided to simply buy the book and take the class on my own.

Yesterday was the day that the entire student body enrolled at UAA goes to the bookstore to pick up their textbooks for the coming semester.

You can imagine the line.

Actually, it really wasn’t that bad. They had a good system in place, and everybody was pleasant and cheerful. I guess the excitement of new school supplies still gets to you, even at our age! I can remember being so thrilled with my new pencils and paper in grade school.

I did encounter a slight problem: apparently they changed the course material at the last minute and so cancelled my order because it was for “the wrong book.” What they didn’t do, however, was TELL anybody they’d done that. So, when I showed up with my receipt in hand, they couldn’t fine my name on the list.

This list was about 10 pages long, double-sided, and small print. They’d organized it alphabetically by the last name, which normally helps to make things go quickly – but if they should have to look things up by the order number, that gets a little more tricky.

Jenna, the Admin Assistant, came down from the offices upstairs to help me out personally. She was finally able to figure out what was going on, and was even able to find me a book once I assured her I really didn’t care if it was exactly the book I was supposed to have.

So, now I am lugging around two very large, heavy text books. My intention is to alternate between the two of them. I’ll do one chapter from one book, then one chapter from the other book, and so on.

And during the weekend, I can tackle my birthday book = Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Yak & Yeti

I finally got to eat at The Yak & Yeti last night! I’ve been trying to go there ever since I read about it in the paper several months ago – but for whatever reason it just never happened.

More often than not, it was simply because I couldn’t find the place. I kept forgetting to print out the address and take it with me. I knew it was on Spenard, but didn’t know exactly where.

Even having the address with me, I still drove right passed it. It’s a small place, and the sign on the door is even smaller. I’m afraid I caused a minor traffic “burp” by suddenly swinging over into the other lane to get to it, even. Oops! Sorry about that!

It was definitely worth all that, however. The food was truly fabulous! I’m afraid I don’t know the names of anything – it’s either Indian or Tibetan food – but I ate something full of lentils and curry over rice. Jana, my friend from the zoo, had a chicken tandoori dish, and her boyfriend was eating a different chicken & curry dish. All three dishes were wonderful.

I highly recommend the Chai tea – that was the best I’ve had since my yoga days. I used to go to kundalini yoga class each Saturday out in Rabbit Creek. Nirvair Singh, the man who taught it, would have a big pot on the stove, with all the spices and tea, steeping throughout the class. I could barely wait to get finished so I could go downstairs and curl up around a steaming hot mug full of the stuff! This chai brought all those memories back with the first sip.

I must say, the ratio of servers to patrons was a little lop-sided. The building has room inside for maybe 10 little tables, but they had 4-5 people wondering around the place, refilling water glasses (actually, they were metal cups, not glasses), bringing out the food, and just generally making sure you were enjoying your dining experience.

Having the owner of the restaurant fuss over you while you eat such wonderful food is not, by any means, a bad thing! As I recall from my 3 weeks spent in Mongolia last year, it is simply indicative of their culture over in that part of the world, and simply makes the meal that much better.

All three of us were doing the “happy dance” in our chairs as we ate, and none of us had any room left over for desert. I shall have to go back again and make sure I leave room – I’m sure the deserts will be just as good.

The Yak & Yeti
3301 Spenard Road

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lauren and the Giant Cabbage

I got to see my nieces giant cabbage garden last night, and I must say she has outdone herself this year! Those cabbages are not only HUGE but they’re beautiful, too.

She starts out the season with probably 10 to 12 cabbages, and as the season goes on, she weeds out the smaller, weaker ones to where by the last month or so, she only works with the top 4.

She has quite the elaborate contraption built for her cabbages. All sorts of pipes, tubes, tarps, and whatnot are set up to help her grow the best cabbage ever. She doesn’t share her secrets either: apparently, this is a very competitive sport, and any advantage gained is very zealously guarded.

A decoy cabbage is growing out in the front of the house, to distract from the “real” work going on in the back. They actually get tourists stopping by all summer long to take photos and stare in amazement at it.

One year, her garden was vandalized – can you believe that? Some jerk out there would actually sneak in to somebody’s yard and literally chop up the competition. It was heartbreaking, and even made the front page of the local newspaper. Lauren works really hard at this, and to think that somebody would do that to her is just sickening.

Thankfully, that has never happened again (hopefully the perpetrator has died of shame), so each year my niece gets to enter the fair and participate in The Great Cabbage Weigh-Off.

I encourage everybody to go to the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 29 at 6:00 to witness her big day.

In her own words: “I think this is going to be my year!”

Diner at my Sister’s House

I brought the Salmon. Noel brought the Salad. We all sat down to a wonderful meal.

The salmon recipe we used was one that I’d found on a website somewhere and passed it around, since we’re always looking for a new way to serve such an abundant fish.

Boy, was it ever good! Definitely a keeper:

Salmon in Lime Ginger Sauce

- ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 3 Tbs. fresh ginger, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
- Juice from one lime, (about three Tbs.)
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- ¼ tsp. turmeric
- Four, six-ounce salmon fillets

Combine first four ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding a little water if necessary. Add the next three ingredients and mix thoroughly. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish and coat the fish fillets well, then cover and marinate for 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Spread enough marinade to cover the bottom of a large, heavy skillet, and add the fillets. Spread the remaining marinade on the fish. Cover the skillet tightly and cook for 15 minutes over medium-low heat until fish is opaque throughout.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Drink of the Gods

I was feeling whiney yesterday – not to go into too much detail, it was just one of those days where you wallow in self pity for no apparent reason.

I had all sorts of obligations, too: things I had said I would do, and places I had said I would go. I just really couldn’t do or go to one of them!

Instead, I went to the one place I knew would make me feel better: the Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge.

It’s a tiny little place full of wonderful chocolate. They have chocolate bars from all the distant places of the earth. They have chocolate truffles hand made by the staff right there in the store. They have liquid chocolate served in a cup, but is eaten with a spoon. They have an eclectic grouping of chairs, stools, and couches to lounge on while savoring your selections.

About the only thing they don’t have that would make it even better is a resident cat to snuggle up with. I’m sure my Djuna would love to live there = she does love German chocolates!

I got myself a full-sized bar of Dolfin Chocolate Noir (dark chocolate with green aniseed) and a sample-sized bar of Vosges Haut Chocolate (dark chocolate with Mexican ancho & chipotle chillies and Ceylon cinnamon) as well as a cup of their liquid chocolate.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Its official: I am in heaven.

I have before me now a huge bowl of fresh just-picked strawberries and raspberries! Life could just not get any better than this.

The strawberries came from my friend’s yard. I am watering her plants for her while she’s on vacation, and of course I’m going to pick a few of the ripe strawberries as I make my way too and from her front door – who wouldn’t? If I don’t pick them, they’ll rot on the vine and be eaten by the spiders.

I had a cup with me, intending to fill it – but there were so many I ran out of room. I scrounged around in my car until I came up with a wide-mouthed water bottle. Out goes the water – in goes the strawberries!

When I got home, I went out back in my own yard and discovered several raspberry bushes I didn’t know I had, so I harvested all the ripe ones I could reach.

Now – I’ve lived in my house for well over 10 years. How is it that suddenly this year I have raspberry bushes? Where did they come from? Why didn’t I know about them before?

Not that I’m complaining in the least – although it would have been nice to be munching on fresh raspberries all these years.

Not to fear, however – I fully intend to make up for lost time!

A Weekend in Seward

I took off work an hour early on Friday in order to meet up with Mother at my house so that we could head out to Seward for the weekend.

She, of course, arrived early – so I found her poking around in my yard, weeding the flower beds and checking on my plants. She is the only reason I even have a yard, so I do not mind in the least when she stops by to check on it.

Once I gathered all my stuff together and said goodbye to my kids, we hopped in the truck and started on our way.

Seward is only a couple hundred miles from Anchorage, so in no time at all we arrived at our hotel. We had rooms at the Edgewater Hotel; a very nice Best Western located at the water’s edge (hence, the name). Kelly and Danny had arrived a few hours ahead of us, and were waiting in their room for our arrival.

The rooms are very nice. We had two queen sized beds, a rather large bathroom, and a little sitting area off to the side overlooking the ocean. That was on the third floor: on the first floor, Kelly and Danny had a slightly smaller room with two double sized beds and no sitting area.

I saw several “green” things going on, and initially thought they were being so environmentally friendly – until I realized that what they were doing was driven purely by cost rather than by any urge to be good stewards of the planet.

They had changed out all their light bulbs and were encouraging people to use their towels more than once. But they were still using throw away everything, all wrapped in plastic packaging, and nothing but Styrofoam cups and plastic tableware were available at the coffee bar.

Aside from all that, it is a very nice place to stay. It’s within walking distance to just about everything in Seward, and has all the amenities you could ask for.

Our first dinner that weekend was at Yoly’s Restaurant: very good food, beautiful décor, and lively music. In fact, it was so good we ate there the following night as well, but mostly that was because the other place we wanted to go to was full up that night.

Our visit to Seward had us at the SeaLife Center and hiking at Exit Glacier, as we always do when visiting. You can read about those events in previous posting on this blog.

The morning of the day we left, Sunday, was spent walking the docks and checking out the boats in the harbor – another traditional occurrence on our visits to Seward.

We are nothing if not consistent, I’ll say that for our family!

Baby Birds

The last time I was at the Seward SeaLife Center, they had taken me and my guest back to see the birds in the aviary. They had several eggs cooking in the incubator, and were just about ready to put them back under their actual mothers in hopes that they would hatch.

Last week, sinc I was arranging the whole Squid Thing (see previous posting to this blog) for the weekend, I asked if it would be possible to go back again to see the results. Thankfully, Kerri – the supervisor of the Aviary – was happy to show off her babies to us.

Kelly and I headed back with Kerri once we had finished our squid dissection while Mother and Danny elected to sit in the café and have another cup of coffee.

The first babies we got to meet were two little Long Tailed Ducklings. They had just taken a bath in the tub and were drying off under a heat lamp when we arrived. They were tiny little things! Normally, they would be in a brood with many, many ducklings all together – so the staff at the SeaLife center placed a mirror in their tub, to simulate the crowded conditions they should have had.

Right behind their tub was the computer monitor where the staff keeps an eye on the birds out in the exhibit. We got to check in on the Red Legged Kittiwake chick via the computer monitor. He is a monster, according to his handler. Kerri said that he is voracious and demanding, and his parents work day & night stuffing food down his throat. He is the same age as the two ducklings, but much larger by far!

Red Legged Kittiwakes are extremely endangered here in Alaska, with only 26 known mating pairs left – so this little boy (assuming he actually is a boy – it’s almost impossible to know for sure without blood work) is very precious indeed.

We got to go in the back, outside, next to visit the King Eider ducklings. These two are fortunate enough to have a very attentive mother who takes very good care of them. They, too, are much larger than the Long Tailed ducklings. Might just be the breed, since I know that all of them are very healthy and well taken care of.

Kerri told us that the puffin eggs just didn’t work this year. They did get some actual chicks hatched out of them, but they didn’t survive. This is very distressing, but since the breed is not endangered, I suppose it’s not so bad. They will certainly try again next year.

Exit Glacier

Our trip to Exit Glacier was really a great one this year.

The glacier has retreated so far that the old trails have had to be abandoned and new ones built to take you to the foot (or Toe, as they called it). They did a fantastic job with the new trails – they are just beautiful, well made, and very accessible.

The distance has – of course – increased. That’s only logical when you take in to account the fact that the glacier is farther away from the parking lot now. To me, that just makes it all the more attractive, since I had always felt like it was not that good of a hike – more like just a stroll on the sidewalk.

The trails now actually involve some elevation gain, with the accompanying spectacular views of the valley below. I never realized just how beautiful it was out there until I saw it laid out in front of me.

Because it is such a new trail system, my fancy trail book doesn’t give me any information on it. They still have you going the old route, which only has a 100-foot gain in elevation. I’m guessing this new route gives you perhaps a 1000-foot gain.

The four of us (Mother, myself, Kelly, and Danny) had just eating lunch at the Resurrection Lodge, and unfortunately my stomach decided to complain rather distressingly about what I had chosen to eat. It wasn’t life-threatening or anything like that, but it was very uncomfortable. I would have gone farther/faster, I think, had I not had to deal with that.

But, it was still well worth going to, and I look forward to future visits with the family and/or visitors!

It’s a Squid Thing

I was beginning to think the whole Squid Thing wouldn’t take place. I just kept running in to one stumbling block after another.

The Seward SeaLife Center has a 4-person minimum requirement, and at first I couldn’t get four people to commit to going. When I finally had my four, the SeaLife Center was booked for the day we wanted to do it so we had to change gears and go a day earlier. And then, two days before the big event, one of my four backed out on me, saying he really wasn’t interested after all. We subtly talked him in to it, so that on the day of our reservations we had all four people show up at the center – only to find that they didn’t have anybody on hand that could conduct the Cephalopod Encounter (as it is officially known as).

Finally, however, it was all good to go, and we all sat down in one of the education rooms and prepared ourselves for The Squid Thing.

Our guide for the Cephalopod Encounter was Kathleen (or at least I think it was – I’m so bad with remembering names!), and she was great. She gave each of us our very own squid, all laid out on a little tray with our dissection tools neatly arranged off to the side. The squids were roughly 8 inches long and were originally intended as feed for the local residents of the center.

Kathleen went over a bit of the family tree for us, to give us some background on the animal. There are four members of the Cephalopod class: the nautilus, the cuttlefish, the squid, and the octopus. The nautilus, of course, still has its shell – while the squid and cuttlefish both have vestigial shells, and the octopus has no shell at all.

We looked at its mouth parts, located in the center of its eight tentacles (arms) and two longer feeding arms. Using a pair of tweezers, we not-so-gently pulled the beak off. If you did it right (which I did not), you got the esophagus along with it. The esophagus is a very skinny tube, so the animal has to swallow very tiny pieces of food to get it past its head, or it could cause serious brain damage!

Next, we took a pair of scissors and cut down the “belly of the beast” and opened it up to inspect the internal organs. We located its gills: long grayish looking things that looked like intestines to me. At the base of the gills, we located two of its three hearts: the fact that the animal actually has blood is rather impressive, when looked at from an evolutionary point of view. We even located its ink sack, and several other organs which scientists have no clue as to what their purposes are.

By taking a firm hold of its head and firmly/gently pulling, we detached the mantle and were then able to locate the vestigial shell: a plastic-looking piece they call a “pen”. It’s truly remarkable, actually, and you can literally dip the pen into the ink sack and write your name. Kelly wrote hers on her napkin, while Mother’s squid had inked itself during dissection so didn’t have enough left over for such a long name (Maureen).

Next came the really gooey part: we got to cut into the eye and locate its lens: a teeny tiny little thing that looks like a glass bead. A squid can apparently only see in black & white – which is quite amazing once you realize that it changes color to match its surroundings. Scientists have no idea how it can match colors that it can’t even see. They’re still working on that.

To round out the experience, Kathleen showed us how the squid changes its color by manipulating tiny muscles on its mantle. We simulated this by rubbing vigorously with our finger and got the animal to turn red. Or, like me, you simply ruptured the skin and got goo all over your finger.

All in all, it was quite an exciting day – once it finally happened!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thunder and Lightning

Man, we’ve got some freaky weather going on lately.

Yesterday started out with clear blue skies: a bright sunny day. People were smiling and everybody was chipper.

Then, out of nowhere, we have HAIL coming down! It was bouncing off the window sill – which was very puzzling at first. I initially thought it was bouncing off the street all the way up to the window, but then I remembered that we are up on the 8th floor. That would be quite the bounce!

On the drive home, it started to rain so hard my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with it. It was like driving thru a hurricane or something. Thunder and lightning added a whole new element of fear to it all.

I had to stop at the grocery store, which meant running from the parking lot to the building while being pelted by raindrops the size of gumballs. They even set off my car alarm, which meant I had to go back out in the elements to turn it off, since my magic button (the one on my key chain that turns it on and off) doesn’t work unless you’re right up next to the car.

Once inside, you could barely hear above the sound of all that rain coming down on the metal roof. People were walking around with a spooked look in they eyes – we’re not used to storms like this!

By the time I got home, it was back to being clear, blue skies again.


After a long period of not a whole lot of work to do, things have finally started to pick up. Thankfully! I kept myself busy, but I prefer to have an actual job to charge my time to, rather than continually taking tutorials and reading source material.

So, for a couple hours the other day, I got to go do an as-built of some offices across the street for our Interiors department. The client had given them a floor plan but something wasn’t quite right about it, so they wanted me to go verify the measurements.

I love this sort of thing: you take a tape measure and basically get the length of each wall, locating windows and doors along the way.

This particular space has about 6 offices with a common area in the middle. Windows are scattered here and there, along with half-walls, cabinetry, built-in countertops and whatnot.

Some of the walls are tricky, being at an angle. I don’t know how to calculate angles in real life situations like that, but do know that if you measure the heck out of everything, you can usually figure it out on computer once you get back to your desk.

Drawing up what has been measured is always a challenge. While you’re out there with your clipboard, tape, and pencil – things look so easy. You run your tape out from wall to wall and jot down numbers, and there you have it. But when you attempt to draw it on computer, you realize that things aren’t as easy as all that. Going back a second time, and sometimes a third or even a fourth time, is not unusual at all.

I eventually got it done, though – so they sent me out to another site for another round of the same!

This time, the site is occupied… that’s always more challenging. Not only do you have to deal with people wondering what you’re doing and asking all kinds of questions while you’re trying to concentrate on getting the proper measurements – but you also have to deal with all their stuff. Invariably, their stuff is piled right where you need to be, so you either juggle things around their piles or you relocate things temporarily and then try to get them back to their original place without upsetting anything.

The fact that this job is done on the new computer program makes it even more of a challenge. I am really good with AutoCAD… not so good with Revit yet. What should take me only an hour or so is turning in to a full day now, what with the learning curve and all.

But, at least I’m billable!

One of Those Days

I came to work early the other day, intending to get a head start on my job because I knew I was going to be leaving at noon for the job fair.

Upon arriving at the lobby downstairs, I discovered that the elevators were not working! This meant that I had to take the stairs, of course – all the way up to the 8th floor… I was not exactly happy about that, but gamely headed up the stairs anyway. What else could I do?

When I got up to the 8th floor, I discovered that the key I have doesn’t work on that door! I tried for several minutes, thinking if I just jiggled it in the right way, the door would magically open.

It did not.

So, I sat there for a while, reading my book, in the hopes that somebody else would show up – also in the hopes that they would have a key that worked.

Nobody showed up.

After a while, I decided to head down to the 7th floor to see if those doors worked. Thankfully, they were open – so I headed in to the accounting offices where I discovered Leo and Jeff. Both of them were in the same boat I was, so we all sat around the coffee table, commiserating with each other about being locked out.

Eventually, it was decided that we should call upstairs and see if anybody was there – and discovered that several people were there! Apparently their keys worked… so they opened the stairwell doors for us, and we finally got to get started on our day.

My first task for the day was to load photos onto our FTP site from a site visit I had gone on the day before. The architect down in Washington gets a copy of my photos each week so he can keep tabs on his job.

However, when I logged on to the FTP site, I discovered that all of my settings had somehow been wiped out – which meant I couldn’t log on! While this may be puzzling (since I have no idea why my setting would suddenly disappear on me) it is typically not that big of a problem: just call the IT guy and he fixes it.

Wouldn’t you know it: the IT guy is on vacation for three weeks! So, I did the next best thing: I got upset and threw a hissy-fit.

Thankfully, my fellow co-worker took pity on my and tried to help out. We eventually got things running again, and I was able to get the photos loaded.
I could tell right then that this was going to be one of those day, and it did not disappoint me. Pretty much everything I did that day was way more difficult than it should have been.

Career & Leadership Job Fair

I took half a day off, as personal leave, on Wednesday in order to attend the Career & Leadership Job Fair, put on by the Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) and the Alaska Youth for the Environment (AYEA). I was there as the Alaskan Field Representative for the Earthwatch Institute.

They had the upper level of the Atwood Hall, one of the buildings on the Alaska Pacific University Campus, all set up with tables lined up for about 25-30 different businesses. Most of them were offering employment for the kids, but some – like mine – offered opportunities rather than jobs.

Earthwatch sent me a bunch of brochures, catalogs, postcards, and whatnot for this event, and I had my lap-top (thank you, Stewart) with me to show my power-point program. Set up was easy enough: simply lay the material out and get the lap-top hooked up and running.

I was supposed to share a table with the Imaginarium, but they never showed up. That would have been cool – I like them.

There were probably about 50-60 kids attending the event, and all of them – at one point or another – stopped by each table to see what was offered. Some of them were clearly not interested, but other’s got very excited about us. I handed out most of my postcards and even some of the catalogs.

My student shadow was there: Melissa stopped by with some of her friends to check out my computer program. She is very much in to travel and volunteering, so was one of the ones who was most interested. I’m hoping that she will actually go on an expedition – I think she’d love it.

Unfortunately, I was fighting a bad migraine the entire time. It was a struggle just getting thru the 4 hours without throwing up! Thankfully, the event wound down slightly earlier than anticipated, and I got to finally go home to bed.

It was worth it, though. I think the kids really got a lot out of their day!

Tuesday Night at the Zoo - Part 7

The program this time was Batty for Bats, and was presented by our own Education Director, Katie Larson. Katie is from Kansas originally, and did her thesis work on bats for her degree in Biology from Kansas State University.

I had just spent the day with my “shadow” at work, so was a little bit worn out – but was in a good mood despite the burgeoning migraine. I was a little bit late in arriving, however, so they were already starting to set up by the time I got there.

Setting up simply means hauling all the chairs out of the greenhouse and setting them up on the lawn out in front of the coffee shop. Typically, the tent is already up, so we make use of that. Several tables go out there as well, one to set the big screen TV up on and one to set out any hands-on items that might be needed for the program.

This time, we tried something new. We had another set of tables set up at the opposite end of the lawn which had lots of crayons, papers, scissors, glue, and the like. Our intention was to give the kids something to do so that they don’t distract from the program. Kids can get a bit rambunctious, as I’m sure you all know, and they sometimes can’t sit thru a 45 minute program without running around, screaming and yelling.

I must say, the idea worked out wonderfully! We had close to 25 people gathered around the table, coloring bats and making bat puppets – while over at the presentation, we had another 60+ people listening to Katie. Not a bad turnout at all.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear the program. I ended up sitting on the lawn and playing with Katie’s 2-year old daughter, Elka. We had fun with a rubber band, some tiny apple buds (the apple trees are TRYING to grow something, despite the horrible weather we’ve had this year), and the grass.

Once the program was over, it was a matter of minutes to get everything put back into the greenhouse, and I finally got to go home to my own kids.

AYEA Student / Shadow

I got a phone call a few weeks ago from a girl, Megan, who had seen my name on a USGBC event announcement (advertising really does work!). She asked if I thought our local Green Building group would be interested in attending a Career & Leadership Fair put on by Youth Employment & Parks (YEP) in partnership with Alaska Youth for the Environment (AYEA).

While explaining what the whole thing was about, she also mentioned that they were trying to gather together some businesses who would let the kids “shadow” one of their employees for the day, to get an idea of what the real world is all about.

I forwarded her request to the chair person as well as to a few other people who might be interested in the job fair, and also passed on her request to my boss about the job shadowing thing.

KPB Architects was quite happy to open their doors to Anchorage’s youth, so two girls came and spent the day with me. Melissa and Desiree, both high school students, arrived here at the office at 9:30 in the morning and we started our big day together.

I had arranged for representatives of each of our “departments” here at work to meet with the girls and give them an idea of what we do and how we do it. Their first meeting was with our Landscape department. Tamas was busy, so Ed came in to the conference room and spoke with them for about an hour. He was very interesting to listen to, and the girls seemed to be actively listening to him. They asked questions, at least. That’s always a good indicator.

The next meeting was with our Interiors department. Melissa and Marie took us back into the interiors library where they had a bunch of things laid out to talk about. I told people ahead of time that the focus should be on Green Building and Sustainable Practices, so the materials were along those lines.

It just so happened that the office had a Brown Bag scheduled for lunch that day, so the girls got to sit in on a design discussion on a school we’re doing for one of the bush communities. It was an eye-opener for them, I think. They didn’t realize just how much thought goes in to a building like that.

Desiree had to leave after lunch for her tennis practice, so Melissa and I headed off to the job site on our own. The Native Hospital is putting an addition on to their clinic, and I had worked on the drawings that designed it. As part of my on-the-job training, I get to go on weekly site visits to see the building get constructed, and was quite happy to bring my student shadow along with me.

I had Okayed it ahead of time with Billy, the General Forman on the job, so he met us at the job shack with all the safety gear (a hard hat, a fluorescent orange safety vest, some safety glasses, and the like – the one thing we should have had but didn’t was ear protection) and we headed out from there. He took us thru the construction site and up onto the parking garage next door so we could see the "bird's eye view". It was very interesting!

When Melissa and I got back to the office, we met with our Marketing department and got to take a look at some of the projects KPB has done in the past, and learn about how to “sell” a building concept.

Last on the list of meetings was with one of our intern architects. Mathew spoke of his experiences in school and at the job. He showed some examples of work he’d done, and talked of what his plans were for the future.

By this time, poor Melissa was on over-load. She kept saying, “wow… I had no idea…” Hopefully, she enjoyed her time with us.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Family Hike Series - Part 6

Our hike this Sunday was spectacular!

We all met up at Jitters, in Eagle River, ahead of time. The parking lot at the trailhead is small, so I like to consolidate cars as much as possible. Mother, Kelly, and David went together in one car, while Rachel and I went together in another car. We could have all gone together in just one car, but since I head back in that direction anyway, I just took my car with me rather than have to double back.

It made sense in my head, whether it makes sense in writing or not!

And, sure enough, there was not enough room to park both cars at the trailhead. I’m sure the people who live nearby just hate the fact that cars park alongside the road all the time, but I really had no choice. I tucked my car as far into the ditch as I could while still being able to get out, and left it at that.

The first part of the trail is a bit steep: my calves were complaining by the time the trail leveled out. I blame that on my shoes. I bought these really expensive, supposedly really good shoes a while back, but they really don’t agree with my body. I keep wearing them, thinking either they will “break in” someday or I will… but until then, I have to put up with shin splints and sore muscles.

South Fork Eagle River trail is just beautiful up there. You’re up above the tree line with a gorgeous view of the valley below. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes see a golden eagle fly passed you, and certainly can see lots of other birds. The plant life is alpine, with lots of dwarf birch trees, monks hood flowers, and mountain harebells.

Last time we went up there, I ended up overheating because it was so hot. This time, I dressed a little bit more appropriately, so did not have that problem. I also made sure to be well hydrated, and carried a water bottle with me – along with everything else in my pack.

At one point, Mother held my pack for me. “What have you got in here!” she exclaimed once she felt how heavy it is. That’s what I get for having all those books, I suppose. But you just never know when you’ll come across an unknown plant or tree or animal track! We actually look things up all along the trails we hike, so it’s worth it to carry them.

Thankfully, the one thing I always carry but have never needed is the bear spray! Please God, I hope we never use that…

Discovery Tour

My Discovery tour Saturday was a good one. I had two couples signed up, one with a little girl about 7-8 months old.

Typically, the way I locate the people who have signed up for the tour is by looking for the big green Discovery Tour tags that Admittance hands out. They are told to wear them around their necks, so I can just scan the crowd till I see the tag on somebody’s neck. I usually go over and introduce myself to them to let them know what to do and where to meet with me.

However, somebody at the zoo got ambitious and changed the tags on me! I looked all over the place and couldn’t find a green tag in the bunch, even though I knew there should be at least two of them out there.

I finally saw somebody with a chord around their neck and asked them if they were waiting for their tour guide. They showed me the new tag: it’s a picture of Ahpun, our female polar bear. Not exactly visible from a distance, but at least now I know what to look for.

One couple was from Fairbanks, in the Military. They had just moved up from Alabama, and have been in Alaska now for about 6 months. The other couple are locals who just wanted a guided tour for the day. Both were very nice, and I think we all had fun.

The tour includes two behind-the-scenes events, and both were very exciting this time.

All too often the polar bears are sleeping when we take people back there to view them. But this time the male was up and about, so they got some really good pictures. He is certainly an impressive guy, to say the least. Our female was up as well, but she spent most of her time back by the waterfalls, so was not as readily available for the camera.

When I took them to view the tigers close-up, I warned them ahead of time that they probably wouldn’t be able to see them, and sure enough they were not in their usual corner when we got there. However, just as we were leaving, one of them showed up so we were able to see them after all. They are definitely impressive, particularly when you take into account the fact that they are not yet full grown! They still have a few hundred pounds to grow into.

The other highlight of the tour was teaching the military guy from Fairbanks about the Cow Parsnip. He does a lot of hiking outdoors, so I wanted to make sure he knew to avoid the plant. I pointed it out everywhere I saw it (which is all over the zoo) so he got a good feel for what it looks like in many different settings.


I stopped by my friend’s house to water her plants the other day. She has three big ones and several smaller ones – nothing to strenuous to deal with. The job was done in half an hour, and that included time to dawdle.

What took longer was getting from the house back to my car.

Her walkway is lined with strawberries, so of course I had to pick a cupful to take home with me for my desert that night. They’re ripening on the vine as we speak, and she is gone for three whole weeks – I have to eat them! It’s my duty as a concerned friend to make sure her house and yard are well looked after, and that includes insuring that things don’t go to waste.

And, oh my… do they ever taste good! They’re the “wild” ones that haven’t been bread for size, thereby loosing all their flavor. They are covered in spider webs, and the local birds have been at them – but wash them up a bit, trim off the nibbled parts, and they are absolutely scrumptious!

I can’t wait to go back again – this time, I’ll take a bigger cup with me.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Update on my cats

The Alien:

He is definitely going blind in his old age. The vet says he can still see light & dark, but not very well. He bumps in to things and gets lost easily. He is also going deaf, which just makes him even more lost. I have discovered that if I clap loudly down low to the ground as I walk up to him, he can hear that and thereby knows that I’m coming. I don’t like to pick him up unless he knows I’m there because it startles him so much. He’s still a snuggle-bunny and loves nothing more than to lean his face into my neck and snort. He’s sleeping a lot, though, so only snuggles for about 10-15 minutes before he wants to be put back into his box. He’s got his heating pad in there, and he knows he’s safe.


I came home early from work the other day, and laid down on the bed with my book for a while. Thing came up with me and sat down on my chest to chat for a while. She’s very talkative, and – while she isn’t quite the snuggle-bunny that Al is – she does like to have some attention once in a while. A big airplane flew passed the window while she was sitting on my chest, and she actually watched it go by – leaning to one side so she could see it better. She was pretty impressed with it, I could tell.


Junie is such a sweetheart. She has calmed down considerably since she first arrived, and loves to stretch out on my lap the very second I sit down. One of her favorite things to do is snuggle up on my shoulder while I do my card-making crafts, or while I’m on the computer. Both situations makes my work just that much more interesting – typing with one hand, trying to glue paper down just so while balancing a certain kitty on my shoulder. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.