Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Boys

Several weeks before my vacation I got a phone call from my friend Tracy, in Seldovia. Tracy is the one who allowed both Thing & Djuna to come live with me, for which I am eternally grateful. This time, she had news of two boys in desperate need of a home.

I have inherited many traits from my mother such as my strength of character, an inordinate fondness for socks, and the complete inability to say no to an animal in need. I am smart enough to realize that I simply cannot have 4 cats, however, so I agreed to rescue the boys only as a foster parent. The Devon Rex Rescue Group agreed to find them a permanent home as soon as they could, and I agreed to house them until then.

So that’s how Floyd and Thorvald came to live with me. I put them up in the spare room upstairs with a litter box in one corner, a scratching post in another corner, and an electric blanket on the bed.

Thor was a tiny cream colored cat, and was beyond cute with a smudgy little face that just made you want to kiss him every time you saw him. His favorite thing to do was to curl up in your lap and snuggle.

Floyd was white with big green eyes, and was huge. The average Devon weighs perhaps 7 pounds – he weighed 18. His hair was softer than a chenille blanket, though, and he had the biggest ears I’d ever seen on a cat. Oddly enough, he was completely deaf. He also had some sort of neurological thing going on, making his head wobble all the time.

First thing I did after their arrival was get them a doctor’s appointment. Dr. Kavenaugh, at The Pet Stop, gave the boys a thorough examination, administered their shots, clipped their toe nails, and cleaned out their ears. She sent them home with eye drops to clear up some conjunctivitis, and pronounced them healthy.

Finding a home for them turned out to be more difficult than I expected, and took a lot longer than I ever thought it would. The issue was exacerbated by the fact that I needed to clean that spare room out and get it rented to help pay my bills. Thankfully, however, a home was eventually found – the boys are now happily (I hope) living in Homer with their new human.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Cow

One day, as we were driving back to base camp after our work in the field was done; we came across a herd of cattle in the road. Mind you, “road” is rather misleading: we were on a trail in the dirt. Also, the cattle, as well as every other animal in Kenya, were basically just bones with skin hanging off them. They are “recovering” from a 2-year draught.

So, anyway, we come across this herd of cattle in the road. Our Land Rover was moving at perhaps 25 mph at the time, but as he saw the cows the driver, Hassan, slowed down. The cows didn’t move, so Hassan slowed down some more. Eventually it was fairly obvious that the cows were not going to move, so Hassan had to basically stand on the brakes. He didn’t stop in time, however, and ended up hitting one of them. In reality, it was more like he bumped one. But he did hit the cow. And the cow went down.

Now, I’m sitting in the passenger’s side - which over there means I’m on the left side of the vehicle. This also means I have the best view of us hitting the cow, and I start to freak out. “You hit the cow!!! You hit the cow, and the cow went down!!! You hit the cow, and the cow went down, and it’s not getting back up!!!” I kept shrieking this over and over again – I couldn’t help myself. But it’s true; the cow was not getting back up again.

So, Idi (our guard, a local man) got out of the vehicle to assess the situation. I think part of what was freaking me out was that I was absolutely positive that he was going to shoot the cow, right there in front of me. Thankfully, he didn’t. What he did was actually pick up the cow and set it back on its feet again. He then held it for a minute while the cow got its balance back, and then helped it across the road to the other side where the rest of the herd was.

These animals are so weak from the draught, they can barely stand up. It was so … so… I don’t know what to call it. And I’m still sitting there, shrieking “You hit the cow!!!! You hit the cow and the cow went down!!!” over and over again…

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coming Soon!

I finished my Africa Travelogue today. Got the write-up done and spell-checked, the pictures chosen and arranged properly, and the captions all figured out. Now we're just waiting on my brother to put it together on my brand new website!

Keep your eyes peeled... it'll be up and running soon.
The link is to your right >

Sunday, December 06, 2009

That's Just Wrong

I wrote something today, fully intending to post it on my blog for all the world to see. What stopped me is the realization that my family would all see it, and read it.

Isn’t that funny: I’m okay with the entire world knowing personal things about myself, but I’m not okay with the people who are supposed to be closest to me knowing those same things.

That’s backwards… don’t you think?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blog Updates

Check out the new links located to the right of this posting.

My brother is unemployed for the winter season, so is keeping himself busy on the computer. I benefit by not only getting my computer serviced and upgraded with new software, but also by getting my Blog updated as well!

Let me know what you think... and sign my Guestbook.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Best Part of a Vacation

Mother says "The best part about going on vacation is coming home." and I have to say, I tend to agree with her.

Not that I had a bad time, or anything. I really enjoyed my vacation: great people, awesome place, interesting work. Really, it was fantastic.

There's just nothing to beat sleeping in your own bed, you know? Or, better yet, taking a shower in your own bathroom! With water, even. Hot water. Water that washes out all the soap from your hair.

And I get to eat all my comfort foods again: Soup. Fresh baked bread. Tea out of my favorite ceramic mug. Liquid chocolate shared with a good friend.

It almost makes up for the 85-degree temperature drop I experienced in roughly 24 hours.

3 Gallons

I recieved a certificate in the mail the other day from The Blood Bank of Alaska saying that I'd reached the 3-gallon mark!

That's a lot of blood.

I'm rather proud of myself, actually. I just might have that thing framed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm Back

I arrived in Anchorage late last night after about 34 hours of travel time. It was quite a shock to the system to step out into -3 degree temperatures after having spent the past 18 days in 100 degree temps! I was not dressed for it... I will be posting more on the expedition soon, I promise.

I have a ton of stuff to do now. I need to unpack everything and get settled in. I have to snuggle with the kids and reassure them that I did not abandon them. I really need to find a place for the boys; they are such sweethearts, they deserve a loving home.

I need to go thru all the photos I took and create a travelogue of my trip. I also need to create two power-point presentations of the expedition: one of Earthwatch in general with Africa tacked on at the end for the Eagle River Nature Center talk I'm giving on the 16th of December (all are invited!) and one of the trip exclusively for any other talks I'll give in the future. Perhaps the zoo will let me present? I want to show my family the trip, as well. My brother has a big screen TV that will work just fine: a great way to kick off our Family Movie Night perhaps.

All the paperwork and receipts I came home with need to be organized. Earthwatch is a nonprofit organization which means I can deduct the whole thing off my taxes this year! Airfare to and from Africa, the cost of the expedition itself, as well as any taxis and/or food = it all adds up.

I have to re-register for unemployment again, since being gone for 3 weeks closed my account down. I also need to get an add up at the University offering a room to rent. And I really need to work hard at finding myself a job. I have plans for my next vacation, don't you know - a job would really come in handy for funding that!

My Christmas cards are all ready to go - they just need to be addressed and stamped. The Christmas letter needs to be written up, however. I had hoped to do that before I left but never got around to it.

Then, to top it all off, I really should take a look at all my investments, banking, and money issues to make sure I have things as organized as I can get them. I have limited funds available so really need to keep on top of it all to make sure I don't run out unexpectedly.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I'm Off to Africa!

I fully intended to write this long fantastic post to send myself off to Africa with, but I just never got around to it. So, you'll have to make do with this last minute one...

I leave tomorrow morning, bright and early! Hard to believe I'm actually going. But, everything is in order and I'm ready to go.

My bags are packed: I got everything in to one carry-on even! This way I don't have to worry about Lost Luggage, extra fees for checked baggage, or things getting stolen out of my bags. I also don't have to wait around for baggage claims - I can just step off the plane and head out into the world.

My friend Lorna is going to drive me to the airport early Monday morning. She is being extra-generous as it will be 6:00 in the morning. But she insisted, and I certainly don't want to take a taxi. She will hopefully wait around till I've cleared security in case I have to unpack the bug dope. I'm not sure if they'll let that go thru since the container is larger than 3 ounces. If it doesn't go thru, I'll give it to her and just buy some more when I reach Africa.

My niece Katy is going to meet me in Seattle for my layover there. I don't have enough time to go anywhere, but I have just the perfect amount of time to sit in a cafe at the airport and chat over a cup of tea! I'm excited to see her again - it's been a whole month.

For my 22-hour layover in London, I have a friend who said she'd meet up with me and show me the sights there. I don't actually know her, but have spoken to her on facebook for several months now. I'm so very glad that she agreed to meet up with me. Contrary to what you might think, given the evidence on hand - I am not a very brave travelor! Knowing that I will have a freindly face waiting for me in an unfamiliar city makes me a lot more comfortable about going.

And finally, once I arrive in Nairobi, I will have a whole day to myself and plan on seeing the sights there. More than likely one or two of my fellow Earthwatch volunteers will be there early as well, and will hopefully like to join me. Nairobi is not exactly a safe city to be wondering the streets alone, unfortunately.

When I get back in to Anchorage my friend Heather has said that she will pick me up. It's late at night and is also 3 weeks away - we'll see if she remembers!

Till then - I hope everybody has a great November - be well, be safe, and I'll talk to you later.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My Kindle

I got my Kindle the other day! I love it – it’s so much easier to use than the other electronic book reader I had, and not just because this one actually works.

First thing I did when I got it home was plug it in to fully charge it. That was Sunday night, and I’m still going strong without having to recharge again. Of course, it’s been off a lot. We’ll see how well it holds its charge on the planes when I’m reading it for hours at a stretch. The manual says it should last several days minimum. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it while out in camp – but perhaps I’ll be so busy with the African Wildlife and my job there that I won’t have time to worry about reading anything.

On Monday I got the manual out and read thru it with my Kindle in hand, familiarizing myself with all of its functions. As I said, it’s very easy to use. The keyboard is really small, though: I’ll have to get used to clicking on teeny tiny buttons if I want to download any new books. But honestly, it’s not that difficult. I could use a pencil eraser if I really got concerned about fat fingers.

Once I figured out how to use the thing, I went shopping! That’s one feature on this Kindle that is just the coolest thing ever: you don’t have to be at home on your computer - you can shop for books from anywhere. It’s all built in to the unit.

The price of books is really cool, too: the new releases are typically just $9.99, and some of the older releases (equivalent to paperbacks as opposed to hard bounds) can be as low as $1.00. I think I even saw some that were free – can’t beat that price.

So far I have the following books, for which I only paid $34.95 (which averages out to be $5.83 per book):

The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Claws by Stacey Cochran
The Walk by Lee Goldberg
Origin by J.A. Konrath
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

My credit card gives me points for each dollar I spend (as I’m sure most everybody else’s credit card does). The reason I mention this is because one of the rewards available to me is a gift card to I got all excited about that, and ordered one so that I could use it to buy books for my new book reader.

Unfortunately, now that I actually have the Kindle in hand, I find that my idea just isn’t going to work. There’s no way to use a gift card when downloading books directly into the thing – it just automatically gets charged to my credit card without giving any other options. I suppose I might be able to shop on-line at home and download the books later - I honestly just now thought of that and haven’t had a chance to see if that’s an option or not.

But what I’m thinking I’ll do is purchase the leather holder that’s made specifically for the reader. It’s a nice black leather thing with special clips to attach to the reader, while still allowing you access to all of its functions. It protects the screen from any scratches or dings, and even provides a mental “feel” to the reader, as if you’re holding a book rather than a screen.

There’s also an Extended Warrantee available that I probably need to get. After having gone thru that whole mess with my last one, I can definitely see the benefits to having a warrantee, and will even make sure it’s valid prior to needing to use it.

As for transporting the Kindle to the opposite side of the world, I have a pouch that fits it perfectly (even with the new leather covor). My friend Shelly made it for me a while back. She actually thought I would give it away as a gift to the Africans, but I’ve decided I’ll keep it instead. It’s made of a red tapestry material, with a red trim that turns into the strap that fits just perfectly over my shoulder. It even has a zippered pocket to hole the chords for recharging it!

Thank you, Shelly!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Broken Toe

It’s not really broken - but it sure hurt like the dickens!

I stubbed it the other day, taking a corner in my house too fast. I miscalculated my trajectory and slammed my foot into the leg of my couch. It hurt so bad I almost passed out!

Thing was with me and she got really upset about it (cats are empaths, you know, so I think she got hit by the sonic boom of pain that emanated out from the event) – almost more than I was.

I had been rushing to get my things together so that I could pick up my niece from her dorm room and meet up with Mother to have pancakes that day – so I just put my shoes on and limped out the door without really checking on it.

Afterwards, when I finally got back home again, I pulled my socks off and took a look. It was pretty nasty looking. My toe (the one right next to the pinky toe) had swelled up to almost twice its normal size, and was a sickly shade of bluish-grey with lots of dried blood all over the place. I could manually move it around with minimal pain, so figured it wasn’t really broken – just severely bruised.

Today, 6 days later, I can still see the bruising but the swelling is entirely gone and the pain is only a problem when I stub it again. I’m really trying NOT to stub it again, but as you know – once you’ve hurt yourself somewhere, you are hyper-aware of it and can’t seem to stop bumping it every time you turn around.

Mother offered to amputate it for me but I really think it will come in handy out in the plains of Africa – so I think I’ll keep it for now.

Electronic Book Reader

My brother gave me an Ectaco jetBook for Christmas last year. For those of you not familiar with the item, it is an electronic book reader – plus a whole lot more. It is a spiffy looking one, too: sleek and slender, burgundy in color, with a good-sized screen to read the books on. It not only hold electronic books, but also music and photos.

The problem, however, is that it doesn’t work.

It took me a while to figure that out, too. I am not the most technologically advanced person in the world (which is odd considering the fact that my job requires me to work on computers all day long), and I tend to have a disastrous effect on anything electrical (my own electrical field shorts them out when I get worked up about things).

So when I finally realized that it really wasn’t working properly, I called the company that made it. The help desk there at Ectaco was really quite helpful, yet they really couldn’t do a thing unless I could produce a receipt proving that it was still under the one-year warranty. Unfortunately I’d waited so long to deal with the problem that my brother no longer even remembered where he bought the thing.

So, all I can do is send it back to the company and have them recycle it.

However, I have the World’s Best Big Brother – because rather than get upset at me for not having taken care of the problem back when I first got the book reader like I should have, he bought me another one!

This one is a Kindle, which is more universally recognized and should therefore be easier to deal with. I don’t physically have it yet, but it has arrived and is waiting for me to pick up at his house.

The whole reason I need one in the first place is for traveling. I read a lot, and while spending 17 hours on a plane with nothing else to do I could theoretically read 2-3 entire books. That’s just one flight, too. When you go to some of the places I’ve been to (most notably Mongolia, which took about 42 hours to get to) you have to bring a lot of books just to get there, to say nothing of having to get back. And my next trip – to Africa – I have a limit of 22 pounds worth of gear that I’m allowed to bring, so 6-8 books are not practical.

Hence the electronic book reader.

My Kindle is slim, at just over 1/3 of an inch thick. It’s lightweight, at 10.2 ounces – so it won’t take away anything from my weight restrictions. And it can hold over 1,500 books!

Camryn Amry Schock

I got to meet a brand new baby girl last week, and she is just the cutest little thing.

Camryn was born on Thursday, October 17 – weighing in at 7.6 pounds and measuring 20.5 inches long. She has a cute little button nose and the tiniest little fingers and toes.

I waited to go visit her till about a week had passed, to give her and her parents a chance to get to know each other without intrusions. This is their first child, and is quite a huge deal – as those of you with children know well.

Even though I don’t have any myself, I do love babies – and am looking forward to watching little Camryn grow up.

It’s Just Not Fair

I got a call this morning from a company located out-of-state. They are recruiting for a job by large Engineering firm and had my resume on hand.

They went thru all the requirements, which I meet. They went thru the job description, all of which I can do quite well. They went thru the benefits, all of which sounded good to me.

Finally, after talking up the job to where I was quite excited – they finally get around to the location: Ft. Greely.

Damn. That’s about a 6-8 hours drive from here! Completely not doable.

In his defense, he didn’t know that. That’s one disadvantage of being recruited by a company from out-of-state. In fact, when I said how far away that was, he said he’d go talk to somebody and confirm that the job was in fact located out there and call me back.

He did, and it is.

So now, he’s going to keep my resume at the top of the pile because “Jobs come up all the time, and you just never know.”

I’m wondering how he got my resume in the first place. I don’t recognize the name of the company he works for, and I keep fairly good track of who I send things to. Not that I’m upset in the least, especially if I can land a job like the one he called me on.

In other job news, I attended a job fair the other day at the Sullivan Arena. I hate crowds and I hate the Sullivan Arena, but I hate not having a job even more – so I went. I went early, right as the doors opened, so as to avoid most of the crowds. That worked quite well, except that some of the booths hadn’t arrived yet, so I did miss out on one or two opportunities.

I have to say, however, that the whole event was rather unexceptional. There was nothing there that I didn’t already know about, and had already applied to the ones that fit me. But, I did have a chance to talk to a recruiter who had “lost” my resume, so they will now have no excuse since I gave them another one.

And – I apparently won a drawing! I’m to go pick up my $50.00 gift certificate to Fred Meyers today from the Anchorage Daily News.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Acidophilus Pills

On the advice of several trusted friends, I went to Natural Pantry the other day and picked up some Acidophilus pills for my trip to Africa. I’m told that this will help calm my stomach down despite all the foreign foods I will be eating, and might even keep me from getting the dreaded Traveler’s Diarrhea.

There were several brands to choose from, most of which required refrigeration. Since I will be out in the middle of nowhere for 16 days, to say nothing of the three days on either side of that just getting to and from my destination, and will not have access to electricity of any kind – I had to go with the brands that can be kept at room temperature, which narrowed down my options considerably. I still had four to choose from, however, so asked the clerk helping me which one she would recommend.

I ended up purchased Jarro-Dophilus EPS, whith each individually blister sealed capsule containing 5 billion organisms “for intestinal and immune health.”

Right on the front of the box, it states that these are vegetarian capsules – and yet, if you read the back of the box it states (in very small lettering) that it contains “less than 0.01% milk”

How can it be considered vegetarian if it has milk in it? Isn’t milk an animal product? Or am I thinking Vegan rather than Vegetarian? Is it the amount that makes it vegetarian? I mean, 0.01% is a very small amount… it’s just all so confusing.

Another question I have is: Does “room temperature” include temperatures that I will be encountering in Africa? I can assure you they will be nothing like the “room temperatures” I am used to up here in Alaska!

Room to Rent

I posted an add on Craig’s List last night, offering up my spare room to rent. I worked on the add for a couple days, drawing on a friend’s experience from when she had to look for a place as well as on my own wants & needs. What we came up with was short and sweet, but enticing and gave all the pertinent information.

I already got two responses!

Oddly enough, both of them are nurses: one is from Finland and the other, while she doesn’t exactly say so, I am assuming is also not American. That is more than fine with me: I like being exposed to other ethnic personalities as it helps expand my own individuality.

Hopefully I will have the room rented out by the time I leave for Africa. Also hopefully I will be comfortable with my new roommate so will not have to worry about her while I’m gone.

I have responded to each girl’s contact with a follow up email. I’m hoping to be able to meet with each one so that I can make a decision. Both sound quite nice so far.

I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ticket Price Check

I just checked on the price of a ticket from Anchorage, Alaska to Nairobi, Kenya: it is currently sitting at about $2,228.00 (including taxes). I bought my ticket back in January and only paid $1,763.00

That’s a savings of $465.00 – quite a good deal, I’m thinking!

My flights will take me from Anchorage to Seattle on Alaska Airlines, and then from Seattle to London on British Airways. In London I get a 20-hour layover: part of that is over night, but I will at least get to spend the evening in town. My friend Anne has given me some advice on a walking tour to see as much as I can while I’m there. I will take off again the next morning from London to Nairobi on British Airways.

My return trip is basically just the reverse, except the layover in London is just 9 hours. That’s not really enough time to get out and see much, so I plan to just stay at the airport. I’m told it’s like a huge shopping mall anyway, so I will be able to keep myself amused, I’m sure.

Maybe I can get some good Tea while I’m there!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer Hiking

Had a great summer’s hiking season this year. Most of the hikes listed below were with family – but some of them were with other friends, too. All of this was to get me in shape for my Africa trip, and I think I did fairly well.

May 04 = Ptarmigan Valley
May 16 = Potter’s Marsh
May 24 = Ship Creek Trail
June 02 = Eklutna Flats
June 7 = Coastal Trail - Point Woronzof
June 11 = Seward
June 13 Bird Point/Potter’s Ridge Trail
June 21 = Power Line Pass
June 27 = Winner Creek
June 28 = Matanuska River Trail by Noel's House
July 5 = Albert Loop Trail (ERNC)
July 19 = South Fork Eagle River
July 26 = Hatcher's Pass
August 2 = Alaska Botanical Gardens
August 16 = Winner Creek
August 20 = Trail of Blue Ice
August 23 = Walk of Trees (UAA)
August 30 = Crevasse-Moraine Trail
Sept 13 = Trail of Blue Ice
Sept 21 = Dew Mound Trail

If anybody wants to see pictures, just ask and I can send you some.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

It’s actually been quite a busy week for me.

Monday I had a Discovery Tour. It wasn’t the best one I ever had, but it was a good one, still. The fall colors and the new baby yak – it was a good way to end the season.

Tuesday I had a Green Building Council meeting and then met my friend Lorna at Century 16 for a movie. We saw “Whiteout” which got me so excited about Antarctica I went and applied for a job down there! Not that it will actually happen – but you never know!

Wednesday I attended a lecture at the Museum. It was sponsored by the Green Building Council, so I worked the table at the entrance, and then had to meet up with a few people afterwards to schmooze with the speaker at a bar for a couple hours.

Thursday I had lunch with my niece Lauren at UAA, then came home and got ready for an Earthwatch presentation, which I gave at the Grassroots Store, next to REI. It was not a bad turnout, and people were quite interested…

Friday I met my friend Lynn at the AIA Conference at the Hotel Captain Cook: she’s a vendor for the DIRTT Wall Systems and she let me sit at her booth pretending to help her. It was a chance for me to get inside and talk to all the architects in town. I got to see a bunch of people I haven’t seen in a while, so it was good.

Saturday I worked at the zoo for 6 hours. They had organized a Teacher’s Workshop that gave all the teachers in the area an idea of what the zoo can do for them. We also gave them a tour of the grounds, which was (as it always is) fun.

Sunday I picked my niece up at her dorm and took her to lunch with me at the Perfect Cup. She had a little bit of shopping to do at the GCI store and at Wal-Mart, and then I dropped her off at her dorm and headed back out to the zoo by 2:00. I sat in the Discovery Center for 2 hours, writing letters and reading my book. I did have about 8 people come in to look around, so I talked to them as well.

Today I’m not going to do a thing except maybe make some cards, read my book, play on the computer, snuggle with my girls, and write up an add for Craig’s List looking for a roommate.

Tomorrow I have a job interview out at the Eagle River Nature Center - Wish me Luck! Since I’ll be there at noon, I’m thinking I’ll go ahead and hike the trails afterwards. I’ve been wanting to check out their Dew Mound Trail, so might do that.

And then finally on Wednesday there is a Job Fair at the Sullivan Arena from 10:00 till 5:00. Much as I hate the Sullivan Arena, I think I do need to go and spread my resume around a bit.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

10 Books to Read - In No Particular Order

Necroscope By: Brian Lumley

This is NOT your typical romantic vampire story. It scared the crap out of me when I read it 15 years ago, and all the books that follow it are just as scary. Highly recommended!

Harry is startled to discover that he is not the only person with unusual mental powers--Britain and the Soviet Union both maintain super-secret, psychically-powered espionage organizations. But Harry is the only person who knows about Thibor Ferenczy, a vampire long buried in the mountains of Romania--still horribly alive, in undeath--and Thibor's insane "offspring," Boris Dragosani, who rips information from the souls of the dead in a terrible, ever-lasting form of torture. Somehow, Harry must convince Britain's E-Branch that only by working together can they locate and destroy Dragosani and his army of demonic warriors--before the half-vampire succeeds in taking over the world!

Decipher By: Stel Pavlou

This is a very exciting book – I had great fun with it, and wrote about it in my blog even. What was even more amazing was that the author himself put a comment in my blog thanking me for my good review!

For 12,000 Years, The Message Has Been Buried. In a frozen Antarctica wasteland, in the depths of the Amazon River, in a chamber beneath the ruins of the Sphinx, something has surfaced: a cluster of crystalline artifacts composed of an energy source unknown to modern science, and inscribed with ancient hieroglyphs. Between them a strange signal courses through the oceans. Where it emanates from is a source that has stunned mankind. The lost city of Atlantis has been found.

Subterranean By: James Rollins

This is another exciting book. In fact, it’s the one that got me hooked on this type of book. I think I read it in three days, and was so tense by the end I was sore for a week afterwards. Very intense.

Beneath the ice at the bottom of the Earth is a magnificent subterranean labyrinth, a place of breathtaking wonders—and terrors beyond imagining. A team of specialists led by archaeologist Ashley Carter has been hand-picked to explore this secret place and to uncover the riches it holds. But they are not the first to venture here—and those they follow did not return. There are mysteries here older than time, and revelations that could change the world. But there are also things that should not be disturbed—and a devastating truth that could doom Ashley and the expedition: they are not alone.

The Skystone By: Jack Whyte
I am a King Arthur fan and have read pretty much everything I can get my hands on about him. This series offers a very unique take on the story: it’s very believable, and just might be how it really was.

Before the time of Arthur and his Camelot, Britain was a dark and deadly place, savaged by warring factions of Picts, Celts, and invading Saxons. The Roman citizens who had lived there for generations were suddenly faced with a deadly choice: Should they leave and take up residence in a corrupt Roman world that was utterly foreign, or should they stay and face the madness that would ensue when Britain's last bastion of safety for the civilized, the Roman legions, left? For two Romans, Publius Varrus and his friend Caius Britannicus, there can be only one answer. They will stay, to preserve what is best of Roman life, and will create a new culture out of the wreckage. In doing so, they will unknowingly plant the seeds of legend-for these two men are Arthur's great-grandfathers, and their actions will shape a nation . . . and forge a sword known as Excalibur.

Firefly By: Piers Anthony

If you’re familiar with this author at all, you’ll know him for his whimsical humorous stories. This is his first (and only?) attempt at horror, and I must say – the man has a sick, twisted mind.

Anthony conjures up a nightmarish creature who stalks humans through sexual attraction and leaves them grotesquely sucked dry of their protoplasm. When bodies reduced to skin and skeleton are found on a remote wildlife sanctuary, the reclusive owner of the estate refuses to call in outside help to track down the killer. His employees are left to fend for themselves against the menace of a predator who lures them in the way a firefly traps its prey--by emitting pheromones, powerfully sexual chemicals--and uses digestive acids to dissolve the bodies of its victims.

Gravity By: Tess Gerritsen

I thought for sure they were going to make a movie of this one. It’d be a good movie, too – although as always, I’m sure the book is better. She has since written a lot of other books, but I have to say this is her best.

Much of this scary thriller is set aboard the International Space Station, where a team of six astronauts suddenly find themselves threatened by a virulent biohazard. Victims first register a headache, followed by stomach pains; then their eyes turn blood red. Finally, they convulse so violently they literally bash themselves apart. Most frightening is what spills out of their bodies: green, egg-filled globules. As astronaut Emma Watson, the station's onboard doctor, struggles to fight the outbreak, her colleagues are dying one by one. A Japanese astronaut, the first to get sick, is sent down to earth via the space shuttle, but he's dead on arrival. Panic spreads when military physicians discover a deadly mutant--a creature that's part human, part frog and part mouse--in the eggs that spill from his body. The military, fearing bioterrorism or even an extraterrestrial invasion, quickly traces the contaminant to an experiment on the space station that was funded by a company researching tiny organisms in the ocean off South America, where an asteroid hit thousands of years ago. Meanwhile, back on the station, Watson is the only one left alive. The military says she's already infected and must be left to die in space, but Watson's husband, fellow astronaut/physician Jack McCallum, won't tolerate that decision, and scrambles to find a way to get her home.

The Descent By: Jeff Long

This is another book that scared the crap out of me. It’s a MUST read, for sure. The author has several other books out, and they’re all quite good.

Hell Exists. In Tibet, while guiding trekkers to a holy mountain, Ike Crockett discovers a bottomless cave. When his lover disappears, Ike pursues her into the depths of the earth.... In a leper colony bordering the Kalahari Desert, a nun and linguist named Ali von Schade unearths evidence of a proto-human species and a deity call Older-than-Old.... In Bosnia, Major Elias Branch crash-lands his gunship near a mass grave and is swarmed by pale cannibals terrified of light..... "So begins mankind's realization that the underworld is a vast geological labyrinth riddling the continents and seabeds, one inhabited by brutish creatures who resemble the devils and gargoyles of legend. With all of Hell's precious resources and territories to be won, a global race ensues. Nations, armies, religions, and industries rush to colonize and exploit the subterranean frontier.. "A scientific expedition is launched westward to explore beneath the Pacific Ocean floor, both to catalog the riches there and to learn how life could develop in the sunless abyss. Is there a natural explanation, as the scientists hope? Or is there a true supernatural basis? Are the "demons" part of our evolutionary family tree? Is their enigmatic leader merely a freak genius, or could he be the legendary Satan?

Moonseed By: Stephan Baxter

I love the concept of this one! It is so possible, and so ingenious. Talk about a disaster movie… I have actually bought this book multiple times to give to several people.

When a mysterious "moonseed" dust is accidentally spilled in a Great Britain lab, it begins to eat away at the Earth's crust; soon the rock-solid crust is altered to shifting sand. NASA geologist Henry Meacher is the only one who fully understands the situation's serious implications. Moonseed is a taut, well-researched, and finely tuned speculative spine-tingler that solidifies Baxter's position as one of the genre's most imaginative scribes.

Evolution By: Greg Bear

This one starts out before history began and ends millions of years in the future. In between is some very interesting content… really makes you think. It’s a little hard to “get” at first, but if you persevere, it will get better so that by the time you’re finished, it will be one of your favorites, too.

Stretching from the distant past into the remote future, from primordial Earth to the stars, Evolution is a soaring symphony of struggle, extinction, and survival; a dazzling epic that combines a dozen scientific disciplines and a cast of unforgettable characters to convey the grand drama of evolution in all its awesome majesty and rigorous beauty. Sixty-five million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, there lived a small mammal, a proto-primate of the species Purgatorius. From this humble beginning, Baxter traces the human lineage forward through time. The adventure that unfolds is a gripping odyssey governed by chance and competition, a perilous journey to an uncertain destination along a route beset by sudden and catastrophic upheavals. It is a route that ends, for most species, in stagnation or extinction. Why should humanity escape this fate?

Dust By: Charles Pellegrino

This one is a great story of what could happen if we continue to abuse our planet. I tell everybody I know to read it, and have given it out to several people to make sure they do.

The change begins silently, imperceptibly, inexorably. One natural effect topples into the next, like an array of dominoes that stretches to every corner of the globe. Before anyone realizes it, the earths ecology has utterly transformed itself. And the days of the old world are finished. In an idyllic Long Island community, paleobiologist Richard Sinclair is one of the first to suspect that the environment has begun to wage bloody, terrifying war on humanity. What initially appear to be random, unrelated events are, in actuality, violent eruptions in a worldwide biological chain reaction. Along with a brave group of survivors, Sinclair must learn to understand the catastrophe while it rolls around them, slowly crumbling a panicked world and energizing a reactionary fringe that welcomes the apocalypse. The survival of humankind depends on finding an answer immediately—for all else is dust.

The Ruins By: Scott Smith

This book is fantastic. You’ll never go on vacation again! Or at least, not to Mexico. They mangled it in the movie – so even if you’ve seen it, you simply must read it. As far as I know, he’s only written one other book; it was good, but not nearly as good as this one.

Best friends and recent college graduates Amy and Stacy and their boyfriends, Jeff and Eric, are thoroughly enjoying their summer vacation in Mexico. In a few weeks the quartet will begin new chapters of their lives -- but until then, the group is partying with fellow travelers from all corners of the globe. One tourist, a German named Mathias, tells the four about his brother, who disappeared with a seductive female archaeologist working at a dig near Cobá, one of the oldest Mayan settlements on the Yucatán Peninsula. The four Americans agree to accompany Mathias in his search but the journey quickly turns into a waking nightmare…

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Earthwatch Update

My duties as the field representative for all of Alaska have been relatively light lately – I haven’t done much of anything except hand out a few brochures and talk to people. But a few weeks ago I happened to be in a cool store called “Grassroots a Fair Trade Store” and talked them in to letting me do a presentation for them!

Check out their website at

I’ll be there on Thursday, September 16, from 7:00 to around 8:30 talking about Earthwatch. Feel free to stop in and join me!

I also got a call from the Eagle River Nature Center a few days ago asking me to do another program up there! I do love that place, so was quite happy to agree. I’ll be there in December talking about my trip to Africa.

While I was on the phone talking to them about doing the presentation we ended up talking about a job opening they have for an Operations Manager. I went ahead and applied – we’ll see what comes of it.

Cross your fingers for me!

Africa Update

Just eight weeks left – I’m definitely getting excited.

I got my inoculations all taken care of. Thankfully I only needed a Yellow Fever shot. It wasn’t too bad: I ended up with quite a knot in my arm at the injection site, but that went away fairly quickly. The doctor also gave a prescription for malaria pills – I’ll have to fill that in about 7 weeks and take them throughout the trip and for a month after.

Other than that, I have just the basic travel medicine kit full of things like aspirin, Benadryl cream, Neosporin ointment, bandages, and my migraine pills. I got myself a blue plastic pencil case from the Back-to-School sales that everything fits into quite nicely. Funny: no matter how old I get the Back-to-school isle still gets me all excited. I just love brand new pencils and packages of paper that haven’t been opened yet.

Anyway – I’m getting all my gear gathered together. I found a really nice hat and a clip-on watch for my backpack. I even got a clip-on thermometer that is also a compass AND a magnifying glass! Never know when that will come in handy. My friend Rachel loaned me her neck pillow for the airplane ride: my doctor recommended that for my neck, but honestly I’m not to sure about it. I’ll have to get used to it before hand and decide later on if I’ll actually take it. Mother has been finding all sorts of knick-knacks that I will need to have with me, and I hit the End-of-Summer sale at REI to get some pants and a nice shirt for the trip.

I am in the process of leaping over the last major hurdle: getting the visa from the Kenyan government. I went to the photography department at Sears to have the photos taken. The girl operating the camera was a tiny little thing. She had to stand way up on her tippy-toes just to ensure the picture was full-on to my face! I offered to kneel, but it worked out anyway. I packaged up all the paperwork, my passport, and the photos into an envelope and sent it off via certified mail. According to the email I received a few days later, my visa & passport will be sent to me within the next week or so, and I’ll be good to go!

Now if I can just figure out my bookreader…

Zoo Update

I took a bit of a break from the zoo: it was getting just too hard to pretend to be happy and cheerful for the tourists on my tours. I do love giving tours, though, so I’m back at it again - albeit on a scaled back schedule now that school is back in session. Fall in Alaska is beautiful and the animals do love the cooler weather, so this is a great time to come visit us.

I’ve been helping out with bottle feeding six orphaned moose babies, which has been a wonderful experience. There’s nothing quite like being covered in moose snot/formula! They’re all weaned off the bottle now, and are getting ready to face the world on their own soon. They will be tagged and collared before being turned loose so the Fish & Game can track their progress, but honestly they don’t really stand a chance. We’re hoping for the best but are prepared to hear of their demise soon after being released. We just don’t know how to teach them what they need to know to survive on their own – and we couldn’t find a home for them elsewhere.

We got an orphaned river otter this year, and she is a doll. We are slowly introducing her to our male with the intention of having them live together once she’s bigger. It will be nice to have a pair again after our other female passed away early this spring.

The fox kit that came in a few months ago is making great progress. He’s almost brave now, and no longer screams in fear when somebody enters his cage. He’ll even take pieces of food off a stick when offered to him from a distance. He is a beautiful one; a dark-haired Cross fox. We have hopes that he will become an educational animal, helping our education staff with their outreach programs.

The two brown-bear cubs that came to us last fall are getting ready to depart soon. They will be living in Minnesota, I believe, and have a very nice enclosure awaiting them there. They are quite healthy now, and have gained all the weight they were missing when they first arrived. Their hair is filled out, too – which is a good thing, because when they first got here they looked quite frightful.

Our musk ox baby is growing up big and strong, as is our little yakling. Both of them still have a year or so to be with their mothers before we have to start thinking about finding a home for them. I may have heard a rumor that we’re planning to keep the little yak – I haven’t confirmed that, though.

Just last week I got to help take our porcupine on an outing for an outreach program. That was fun! She loves to go out, so all you have to do is put her traveling cage next to her and she runs right in. She knows she will get her favorite treats, and will beg for them the entire time. Unfortunately she wasn’t in a very good mood this time, and was not very cooperative – but she was still a big hit, and the tourists loved meeting her. When she got back to her house, she ran out of the cage and just flopped down in a corner like it was the most exhausting thing she’d ever been forced to do!

Can you say “spoiled”?

Unemployment Update

Not much to report on the job front. Those two job interviews I wrote about earlier on in my blog never evolved in to anything other than a vague promise, so I’m still unemployed and am still searching for a job. At this point in time, I’d take pretty much anything – although I do still hold on to a shred of hope that I’ll get “the perfect job”

Money is tight, but it’s still there. I have to be very careful with my spending, but at least have a little bit of wiggle-room. I can splurge on the occasional lunch out, either with friends or by myself. Life would be really depressing without that.

I am going to have to get another roommate, however. I really got spoiled on my last one (you rock, Trish!) and hope that I can be just as lucky the second time around. If anybody knows of somebody looking for a room, please pass this on:

For $650 a month you get your own bedroom, your own bathroom, access to the rest of the house, and parking on the side of the road. I’m thinking of offering either a 3-month, a 6-month, or a year’s lease – with perhaps a discount on the year’s lease.

Of course I prefer a female, non smoker, no pets, and they must love cats. I’m right on one of the major bus routs, so it would be the perfect place for a college student.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Natural Bug Repellants

I am heading out to Kenya, Africa for 3 weeks to study medicinal plants with the Samburu tribes in November. I just realized that they have BUGS over there.

You laugh, but I'm from Alaska - we don't have bugs up here except for the killer mosquitoes. So, my question is = how do I avoid them?

Say for instance: LICE = how does one ensure that they don't take up residence in ones head?

And how about FLEAS = how does one go about avoiding those little buggers (no pun intended).

I know there are sprays and whatnot that can be purchased over the counter at just about any supermarket - but are there any reliable natural ones? Just about everybody I've spoken to so far says DEET is the thing, but I don't know ... sounds pretty scarry to me.

And most important of all - is there something I can put in my luggage that will deter them all from coming home with me? Something that won't get me arrested at customs, by the way.

Monday, August 03, 2009


I know, I know. I’m not supposed to have a birdfeeder out during the summer months due to bear activities in the area. But there hasn’t been a bear sighting in my neighborhood in over two years, and the girls just love it.

One of the superfluous expenses I’ve had to do away with, what with the whole unemployment thing and all, is the luxury of having my yard maintained by a professional. I can’t mow it myself because of my back injury, so the yard has gone native this year. I love it! The back yard in particular is just wonderful. Fireweed has sprouted up all over the place, even coming up between the floor boards of the deck. This allows the birds to feel safe and protected (rather than being out in the open) so they are coming to the birdfeeder a lot more than I’ve ever seen before. They hop around on the deck, coming right up to the screen door at times, even.

My girls are beyond excited, let me tell you. They sit there, glued to the screen door, and just quiver with excitement. Oh, they want one so bad! Both of them make that chattering noise, and their big eyes get even bigger when a bird gets close to them.

Thank goodness I have a screen door, or I’d be cleaning up feathers all day long. Not that I would let them outside, however. But still – given the opportunity, I’m sure both girls would be great hunters. Well, maybe not Junie… she’s a bit of a klutz. Thing, however, would make a deadly hunter, I’m sure.

I’m not the most experienced birdwatcher in the state – anyone can verify that for you. But, according to the bird book I have, I’m getting chickadees, junkos, warblers, sparrows, and even the occasional Steller’s jay!

Single Again

I am once again single: my roommate Trish has gone back to college.

Her last day here in Alaska was Friday. She got to spend her last day at the zoo on a field trip out to Seward to see the SeaLife Center! I haven’t heard how that went, but really – how could it be anything less than great? It’s the SeaLife Center, after all. That pretty much took up her entire day, so she had packed up her stuff the night before.

While waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up to take her to the airport, she spent her last hour or so cleaning up after herself. She did a great job, too – the room is spotless, as is her bathroom. She had a few food items left over in the fridge; those will either be eaten by me or be passed on to others in my family.

Now the house is quiet, and I find that I actually miss her. It’s funny because I really didn’t want a roommate in the first place, but now that she’s gone I find that I had gotten used to her being around.

Unfortunately, I will have to rent the room out again soon. I only hope I get another good one!

Doctor’s Appointment

I had to go to the doctor the other day – not because I was sick, thank goodness, but because I had to get certain forms filled out for my Africa Expedition.

The office is just down the road from me, so I was able to walk there. I arrived with about 5 minutes to spare, so sat down in the waiting room and looked thru the expedition briefing that I’d brought along. Soon enough, the nurse was calling my name and leading me back to the exam room.

She took my weight, my blood pressure, and asked all the normal questions. I handed her the paperwork and explained what the doctor needed to do for me, then sat back and waited for him to arrive.

The office where I go for medical attention has many doctors working there, with many different specialties. When you make an appointment, you can specify which doctor you want or just take whoever is available. I chose the second option and ended up with a doctor I hadn’t seen in quite a while. He is German by descent, and unfortunately has inherited a few of the least desirable qualities of that race; namely the appearance of being rude.

I say “the appearance” because I know that Germans really are not rude – they just appear that way to me because of their abrupt nature. They tend to say exactly what they mean with no beating around the bush, and are very direct in their manners. And I should qualify my use of the term “they” = I have known perhaps two Germans in my life. That’s not really enough to make sweeping generalizations, but I work with what I have and apologize if I offend anybody because of that.

Anyway, the doctor finally walked into the exam room with my paperwork in hand. He was looking thru it as he asked me a few questions, and never once actually looked up at me. He stuck the thingy in my ear, then listened to my lungs, asked me a few more questions, and signed the paperwork. All that for $130.00 (and no insurance).

It just amazes me that he could conduct the entire exam without once looking me in the eye. But, hey – he signed my paperwork: that’s all I really wanted.

So now that the forms are faxed in to the Earthwatch Institute, I can get busy on the next step towards my journey to Africa = getting all the inoculations required!

Packing List

I'm limited to 22 pounds, so I have to be very careful what I bring with me. I need everything I need, but nothing I don't need - if you know what I mean!

Benedryl cream
Brush/comb/hair bands
Hand wipes/hand sanitizer/moisturizer

Flash light
Pocket knife
Camera/batteries/memory card
Electronic reader/batteries
Bug dope/DEET
Sun screen/sun glasses/hat
Water bottle
Field Guides
Clip-on watch/thermometer


Expedition briefing
Innoculation booklet

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Job Interviews

Things have picked up a little bit on the Job Hunting scene. I have actually had two interviews this past week!

The first one was for a State job – I’d be working for the DOT in their Right-of-Way department. The job interview was held in “the upside down building” near the airport.

From an architectural point of view, this building is quite unique. It really does look like it’s upside down! It’s roughly triangular in shape, only the pointy end is on the bottom and the larger flat end it on the top. This was an experiment in seismic construction, trying to find a way to withstand all the earthquakes we get. I think it’s held up quite well since it has held up a good 20-25 years so far. But it’s the only building of its kind, so apparently it did not exactly win the popularity contest.

As an aside here, we have another unique building in Anchorage that was a seismic experiment also: the Wells Fargo Bank on the corner of Benson and Minnesota. This one was built on rollers, some how. I’ve been in it during an earthquake before and I know exactly why it didn’t gain popularity either = that thing rocked worse than a boat on rough seas, and kept going long after the earthquake finished. But again, it’s an older building and it’s still standing – so it must work structurally.

Anyway, back to my job interview.

Turns out I used to work with the lady conducting the interviews back in my pipeline days! I think that’s how I made the first cut: she recognized my name and pulled me out of the huge stack of applicants because of it. I’m definitely okay with that – anything to get to the top of the list.

The interview went well. She asked a lot of very detailed questions about my computer experience as well as my knowledge of surveying and construction processes. She said it would take a while for them to make their decision; it could be as long as 6 weeks. I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.

My other interview was just this morning, at the Kaladi Brother’s Café on Tudor and Muldoon. This was rather a strange place to have a job interview, I thought – but it was really quite nice. It made me a lot more comfortable and was not nearly as nerve wracking as some offices can be.

The man I spoke with is the founder of a construction company who is hiring two people to help out with a large contract they just got. They do a lot of military work, so it’s all LEED Certified construction (which I really like, being as I am the president of our local USGBC group), and it’s at a minimum a 5-year position. He is a disabled Vet, so is eligible for a lot of the contracts other companies are not.

I had to laugh when I realized the reason my resume got his attention. It wasn’t because of my three years experience with project management (the position he’s hiring for) – it was because I’m a drafter who used to work on the board! He began his career as a drafter, too, so was really excited to meet someone who also started out that way also. He was actually quite surprised when I mentioned my CA experience.

I’m somewhat wary, though. It is a small company and I don’t have good luck with small companies typically speaking. The work they’re doing sounds very interesting, however, and the interview went very well. I’m inclined once again to take a chance, even though my cautious side is telling me not to.

He said he’d have to run the two resumes he picked out (mine and one other) passed the military guys to get their approval. He should know within about two weeks, probably sooner. It almost sounds like the job is mine, although we haven’t discussed a salary yet.

Let’s face it: any salary is better than unemployment…

I Love My Dentist

My normal routine: wake up in the morning. Snap my fingers to get Djuna off my hips. Roll over and snuggle with Thing for a few moments. Get up and make the bed. Stumble down the stairs dodging my girls the whole way. In the bathroom: fill the water bowl for the girls. Brush my hair. Brush my teeth. Floss. Wash my face. Then head back up to my room to get dressed. Face the world one more time.

But Sunday, my normal routine was interrupted. As I flossed my teeth, one of them broke in half and popped out! I stood there for a while with the piece in my hand, wondering what to do now. It was just so unexpected.

And unwelcomed, to say the least. I have no insurance. I have no job. I have no money. What am I supposed to do with half a tooth in my head?

My plan = ignore it.

That worked, believe it or not. It wasn’t hurting me as long as I chewed on the other side and kept my tongue away from it the rest of the time.

During the hike that day, Mother convinced me to call my dentist anyway. I couldn’t just leave it like that: a huge hole in the back of my mouth. Who knows what kind of damage I could do to it, making it even worse in the long run.

So, Monday morning I called Dr. Welch – he’s been my dentist for about 20 years now. Celeste, his assistant, answered the phone and got the whole sob story from me. She told me to come on in anyway and they’d see what they could do.

They had to take an x-ray, of course – to see just how extensive the damage was. Then they packed the hole with some temporary goop, saying that it might pop out again tomorrow or it could last 6 months – they had no way of knowing. Dr. Welsh told me to be careful with it, and showed me how to floss around it. Then they sent me home.

And all of that was FREE!

The very moment I get a job (oh, please let it be soon) I’m to have it taken care of, of course. This really is just a temporary fix.

But still – I can’t believe they did all of that and didn’t charge me a dime!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Saturday Market

I am so lucky: I have a Farmer’s Market within walking distance of my home!

Each Saturday throughout the summer months I have readily available access to all the fresh, local, organic produce I could ever dream of! Farmers from the Matanuska Valley (my hometown) as well as a few from the Kenai Peninsula gather to offer their produce directly to the consumer rather than thru the middle man (that being the grocery stores).

Today’s market had every type of lettuce you can think of, as well as peas, beets, turnips, zucchini, cucumbers, kohlrabi, chard, kale, parsley, carrots, rhubarb, and strawberries. They even have a few booths offering breads, pastries, jams & jellies, fish, mushrooms, house plants, sod, herbs, teas, lotions, lip balms = all of it Made in Alaska.

You gotta love that!

I came home with a huge bundle of kale, three gorgeous white turnips, and a bag full of fresh-picked Matanuska peas. This will make a fine soup, I’m thinking…

My Djuna is So Talented!

I have not been feeling well of late, so have spent the better part of this past week sitting on the couch wrapped up in my wool blanket and watching TV. My girls have loved this and have taken full advantage the readily available lap.

Last night, Djuna was lying on a pillow in my lap with her head draped over the side. Thing was nestled up beside me, and would occasionally look up at me with a look in her eyes that said, “I love you, Mommy!”

So sweet!

Unfortunately part of my not feeling well involves body aches, which means I really can’t sit in one place for very long. My cats get very annoyed with me because every 10 minutes or so, I have to shift my body and try to find a comfortable position – which disturbs their naps, and that is a cardinal offence!

Whenever I shifted, poor Djuna (or Junie, or June Bug, or my Gorilla Pez Dispenser) would have to wake up and get herself resituated once I settled back down. Each time, she’d go thru this routine of yawning, stretching, and getting up off my lap to await her chance at getting comfortable again so she could go back to sleep.

It may have been the angle I was viewing her from but I swear at one point, she actually stretched her ears! It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen – I didn’t even know it was possible.

She's so talented!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Expedition Update

I just made the final payment on my expedition – I’m getting excited!

Earthwatch only requires a down payment of $300 to hold your space on an expedition, with the remainder of the costs due 120 days prior to the actual date. I always make sure I have all the money in a bank before I even sign up for one, so my current unemployment situation didn’t impact my ability to go.

I got my ticket all paid for back in January, so that is taken care of. I also got all the hotels booked that I’ll need – both in London and in Nairobi - so that’s all taken care of. The only things left to do is apply for a special visa to get out of Kenya, get my inoculations up to date, and finish filling out all the paperwork.

The visa is a special one, over and above your regular passport, that is required in order to leave Kenya. It costs $50 and is only good for 6 months, so I need to time it just right. I’ll send the paperwork off to Washington D.C. about 6 weeks prior to my expedition, and hope they only take maybe 4 weeks to process them. That will ensure that I have enough time on it, should the worst happen and I get stuck there for whatever reason.

Since I have traveled out of the country twice before, there really are only two diseases I’m not covered for yet: Yellow Fever and Malaria. The first one will be a shot (maybe two or three?) so I’ll do that about 2 months prior to my expedition, just incase I get a reaction to it. The second one is typically pills that you start taking a week prior to leaving and on thru a month after you return. At least, that’s what I did for my Costa Rica trip – but I think I read somewhere that the malaria in Africa is resistant to certain types of drugs, so it might be a different medication that I need. We’ll see…

The paperwork is partially filled out. Earthwatch has 4 different forms they need for each volunteer: the first one is a personal profile, to let them know who you are and why you chose to go on that particular expedition. The second one is a health questionnaire that lets them know your general health and what special attention you might need. The third one is the travel form that gives them all your flight information so they know when to expect you and how to get hold of you if you’re late. The final one is a liability release – this is field work, after all, and accidents do happen.

It’s the third one is the one that’s holding me up. It has to be signed off by a medical doctor - which requires a physical examination – which in turn requires an actual doctor’s appointment. Since I have no job, I have no insurance. I was really hoping that I would have found a job by now, but since it hasn’t happened yet, and since most places have a 90-day waiting period before insurance kicks in, it looks like I’ll have to pay for it myself.

And the inoculations, too – come to think of it. Perhaps I could combine the two? Get my physical AND my shots all at the same time… I’ll have to think about that.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Hate It When That Happens!

We had another Family Hike yesterday – up at the Eagle River Nature Center. It was a gorgeous day, with clear blue skies and lots of sun (read: it was excruciatingly hot). The group was small – just Mother, Trish, and myself – but we had fun anyway.

It didn’t quite go as planned, however. We were supposed to have hiked the Dew Mound Trail – a 6 mile loop that heads out to a small lake and loops back around to the nature center again. Unfortunately the cow parsnip had grown so fast and so thick the volunteers at the center hadn’t been able to clear it off the trail yet, so we decided to be safe and simply hike a different trail. We really didn’t want to risk anybody having a bad reaction to it – a trip to the hospital does NOT sound like fun.

The trail we actually did hike is the Albert Loop Trail – a smaller 3 mile loop that takes you out to the beaver ponds and past the river. There is a lot of bear activity out at the nature center on a regular basis, and that day in particular they had just spotted a black bear not 10 minutes prior to our arrival – so we had to be extra careful. If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Hiking in Alaska can be an adventure… but that’s why we love it.

As I said, the day was gorgeous – the company was great – and all in all we had a good hike.

When I got home, I downloaded my memory card onto my computer (all 70 photos) just like I always do. I put them into a temporary folder, then deleted them off the memory card and reformatted it for the next hike.

Once that was taken care of, I went to the temporary folder and copied all the photos out of it and into the Hiking files, where I keep all my pictures. Then I went back to the temporary folder and started weeding thru the pictures, picking out the six best shots. I deleted the ones I didn’t want, made a PDF of the ones I did want, and uploaded the files onto my facebook page.

I am always very careful to delete files I don’t need, and to keep my recycle bin empty as much as possible, so when everything was taken care of and I had it all set up the way I wanted it – I deleted the temp file, emptied the trash can, and cleaned everything off.

Then I went back to my Hiking folder to look at the pictures one more time = only to realize they weren’t there!

All 70 photos were gone!

Apparently what I had done without realizing it was – rather of copying and pasting them into the folder, I created a short-cut instead. So, all those files in my Hiking folder was simply a link back to the temporary folder WHICH NO LONGER EXISTS!

I hate it when that happens…

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Cat Sitting

My friend Elizabeth went out of town (out of state, actually) for a long weekend, so asked me to take care of her cats for her while she was gone. I was happy to accept, and even got paid for doing it (this was a surprise – I didn’t really expect that).

She has three cats: Thumbelina, Lumpy, and Moesha. All three of these cats are about five times bigger than my two combined! I’m always amazed at the size of normal cats…one of the draw-backs to having tiny girls, I guess.

Anyway, Lumpy is a gorgeous long haired grey cat. He’s a Norwegian Forest Cat, I think – he has papers, but since he was adopted from a homeless shelter, they got lost somewhere. He is a very sweet cat; friendly and loves to play with a feather on a string. He does have a few issues with the potty, so I had to clean up after him. Thankfully, he wasn’t as bad as my Alien – the clean up was just a matter of picking up the poop from the floor next to his potty.

Moesha is a mutt-cat. I honestly never even saw her: she hid out behind a pile of clothing in the closet the whole time I was there. I did see the occasional ear poking out, so I think she’s a chocolate brown colored cat. Elizabeth assured me that was normal behavior for her, so I wasn’t too worried. I did check on her each day to make sure she was still there, but other than that I didn’t have much interaction with her.

Thumbelina was the problem child. Contrary to what you might expect from a cat named Thumbelina, this girl is HUGE. I’ve never really seen a cat quite that large. Her name comes from the fact that she has extra digits on each paw – two thumbs for each foot. She is all nice and lovey-dovey to her owner… quite a different story for every other person on the planet. And unfortunately she’s the one who had to have medication administered each day.

She has a colon problem and gets her medicine smeared into her ear once a day (the ear provides quick access to blood vessels, allowing the meds to be absorbed into her system quickly and painlessly). Elizabeth showed me how to do it, so nice and easy.

Quite a different story when I tried it. Thumbelina turned into the Cat from Hell in about two seconds flat.

My first day, I attempted to do it on my own. I had a towel and threw it over her, then tackled her with the entire weight of my body. I actually had her down and immobilized, but couldn’t reach the meds so had to let her go. There was no second chance. Thumbelina was hissing, spitting, growling, howling, and running. And I have to admit, I was shaking. She can be pretty intimidating…

I let her calm down for about an hour, then went downstairs to the café and got reinforcements. Once again, a towel thrown over the cat – this time with somebody else holding her down – allowed me to very quickly smear the meds in her hear. In about 2 minutes it was done, and we left Thumbelina to recover on her own.

The following three days, I brought my roommate to help me. We managed to get her each time with minimal stress for all involved. Thumbelina managed to wound both of us, but not too badly. I think everybody involved was very happy when Elizabeth came home!

Living with a Roommate

I’m happy to report that having a roommate again, after over 20 years of living alone, has not been as bad as I feared it would be. I lucked out, I think…Trish turned out to be a very nice girl.

She’s younger than I am – about the age my niece Katy is – and is definitely a night owl. If she had her “dream schedule” she would stay up each night till probably 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, then sleep in each day till 1:00 in the afternoon. Me, I’m in bed by 10:00 and up by 6:30 usually.

Her work schedule is not so flexible, however – although it is a rotating one. Some weeks she’s on the 1-10 shift, then she’s on the 9-6 shift, then the 6-3, the 8-5, and then back to the 1-10 shift. It’s all very confusing but she has a schedule printed out that she follows, so she always knows when to set her alarm each morning. I rarely even see her more than a few minutes a day during the week.

Our weekends have been quite fun, though. She’s really interested in seeing as much of the state as she can during her short time here, so I’ve been taking her out hiking all over the place. She joins in on our Family Hiking Series, so has been to the Coastal Trail, the Power Line Pass Trail, the Matanuska River Trail, and will go with us this Sunday to the Dew Mound Trail out in Eagle River. I’ve also taken her to Winner Creek, which is one of my favorite trails out in Girdwood. In the few weeks left to her, she’ll go with us on several other hikes as well, including up to Hatcher’s Pass and out to the South Fork Eagle River (two more of my favorites).

Mother kindly invited us out to dinner at the farm, so the other day we took off right after work. It was a nice sunny day, so the farm with beautiful with all the flowers and gardens growing. The chickens were out and about, but the turkeys were busy setting on their nests so we didn’t get to see them. We even got to meet the burros, although I couldn’t get them to talk to us. Mother fixed a special meal for Trish featuring moose meat and halibut filets, along with home-grown salad (picked right there from her garden), yams, corn on the cob, yogurt & berries, and cinnamon rolls. We ate so much it hurt…

Our best weekend yet was when we got to go to Seward for a cruise out in the fjords! We drove out to Seward Friday after work, getting to our hotel by 8:30 that night. We boarded the boat Saturday morning and headed out by 10:00. We got to see all sorts of animals: humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and birds of ALL kinds. We even got to see a HUGE hunk of the Aialik Glacier fall off into the ocean (captain said it was bigger than 3 houses), creating a wave over 100’ tall. On the way back in to harbor we got to stop off at Fox Island for an all-you-can-eat dinner of prime rib, salmon, and king crab! The next morning we had about 2 hours to spend at the Sea Life Center. Admittedly, that’s not nearly enough time – but at least she got to see it, and did some shopping at the gift shop for some souvenirs.

Hopefully, she’ll go home at the end of the month with some good memories of her time here. Maybe even she’ll come back some day!

Green Building Council Update

My biggest task as chair of the CRGBC-AK group (Cascadia Region Green Building Council – Alaska Branch) has been to ensure that meeting notices get out to everybody.

I am rather anal and obsessively tidy so this is relatively easy for me. I created a template for both the meeting announcements and the meeting minutes: I simply fill out the pertinent items each time and have it ready to go in a flash. The announcement goes out a week before the meetings, with a reminder email going out the day before. The meeting minutes go out the day after the meeting (or as soon as I get them written up, depending on my schedule).

Creating the distribution list is an on-going thing. I got the main list consisting of actual paid members from our director and have been adding names to it on a regular basis. Eventually, I’ll have the whole group on one list. From that we can start recruiting more actual paid members and generate more activity in general.

Of course, having meeting announcements and minutes is only part of the program: you also need speakers for each meeting. So I’ve been working on our schedule, too. I’ve got speakers lined up through November, and have sent out an email asking for input from the group as to what/who they might like to have as a guest speaker.

I have a lunch meeting next week to hopefully line up another one!

Speaking of lunch meetings, I had one just last week with our Events Coordinator, brain-storming over ways to get people more interested in our group. We got some good ideas going, and hope to have an event each month. I believe the event for July is going to be a group hike followed by a pot-luck cook-out. This will be a good way to get people outside and talking together: sort of a social gathering more than an actual learning event. Later on we’ll work on things like panel discussions, workshops and the like.

Four times a year, the Cascadia Region has a teleconference meeting for all the branch chairs; I got to participate in my first one last week. There were a lot of people on the line from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska! We all talked about things that were going on in each branch; what works well, what needs worked one, and what is being planned for the future. It was really enlightening being part of this phone call, I must say. It gave me a lot of ideas to pass on to our Events Coordinator and to our Membership Coordinator, too.

All in all, it’s going pretty well so far. Let’s hope I can keep the momentum going…

And if you’re at all interested in Energy Efficiency and finding a better way = feel free to join us. We meet on the third Tuesday of each month, from noon to 1:00.

We’d love to see you there!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lots Going On in My Life

My own life is pretty busy lately too. Once again, I’ll offer up a brief recap of all the goings on for you.

Family Hiking

Our Family Hiking season is in full swing, finally. I do enjoy hiking – especially with family and friends. Our last hike, however, wasn’t so much fun. We met down at the Pt. Woronzof parking lot and headed off on the coastal trail towards Kincaid Park. Normally, this is one of my favorite stretches on the coastal trail: it’s away from downtown, so you don’t have to walk past people’s back yards, or deal with parking lots every 10 feet. Instead, you get the ocean on one side of the trail and the forest on the other side = both spectacular in their own rights. This time of year, and this year in particular, the mosquitoes are just woken up from their winter hibernation – and they are HUNGRY. It was bad at first, and just kept on getting worse the farther into the woods we went. By the time we finally decided to turn around and head back to the car, we were almost running to get away from the nasty little beasts. I had to laugh: my sister-in-law wanted me to take a picture of one of the mile markers for her. I had to snap a shot as fast as humanly (and technologically) possible just to avoid loosing a pint of blood. I hope that shot was worth the sacrifice I made to get it!

Our next hike is going to be much better. It’s up in the mountains, so the bugs wont be as bad (they don’t really like high winds, and it’s typically windy up there) – and at this time of summer the trail should be cleared of all the snow & ice. Last year, we tried it a bit too early and had to make our way thought drifts of snow that were up to my hips! I’ll let you know how it goes later one…

Bird TLC

As I mentioned in my previous posting, I gave a tour at the zoo to a friend who volunteers at Bird TLC a few weeks ago – and she returned the favor by giving me a tour of Bird TLC! I’ve never been there before, so this was quite a treat for me. It’s rather an industrial sort of building; not very impressive from the outside. Once you get inside, though, you start to see all the work they manage to do in there. It’s really quite something! They take in injured and orphaned birds from all over the state and nurse them back to health so they can be rehabilitated and released back out into the wilds, where they belong. Unfortunately, some birds that come into their establishment can never be re-released. That’s how the zoo gets all of their birds: the ones who couldn’t live by themselves. I got to see a lot of really cool birds on my tour: a nest of tiny little chickadee hatchlings, some older not-quite-flighted-yet magpie chicks, a red-tailed hawk recovering from a car accident, a tub full of baby ducklings of various breeds, several bald eagles out back who are too injured to ever be released, and one bird who was seriously injured laying flat out on its back all bundled up in bandages (I don’t know what kind of bird that was – but it was big enough to have been an eagle).

Seward with Mother

Mother decided that she wanted to take a drive out to Seward the other day, so she invited me to go with her. Her excuse was to look at some property she found for sale, but honestly she just likes Seward. Any excuse will do! And I was quite happy to go along, too. We took off about 10:00 from my house and got to the Summit Lake Lodge just in time for a late lunch. From there, it was just a short way to Seward, so we were able to check in to our hotel by 2:00. Once we got all our stuff stored away, we headed out to the lake that’s just on the outskirts of town. There’s a boardwalk that goes around part of the lake, and a footpath that completes the loop. We’d never been on that trail before, so it was quite fun for us. We saw a lot of wildflowers, interesting houses, HUGE rocks, and the cutest little creek that ambles by a park bench. Dinner that night was at a Chinese place we’d never tried before: I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either.

Early to bed means early to rise: we got checked out of the hotel and made our way to Exit Glacier for a nice stroll there. Again, we tried a few trails that we’d never been on before, so it was fun too. I had to laugh: at one point we came across these three girls walking up towards the trail from the river bed. They were barefoot – which is impressive since it’s cold and rocky – and one of the girls called out to us, saying “Whatever you do, don’t go wading in the river: it’s Cold!” I laughed and said “Well, yeah - it’s a glacier river!” A guy behind us just about fell over, he was laughing so hard. He thought it was so funny they hadn’t realized a glacier river would actually be cold! Some things you just have to experience yourself to understand.

We headed on home from Exit Glacier with me driving while Mother napped. At Summit Lake Lodge, we stopped for a brief snack (Mother made chocolate cookies for the trip), switched places at the wheel, and headed on back to Anchorage.

And yes, we did look at property while in Seward: turns out the property listed in the newspaper add was being rented out to a family who had no idea the property was posted for sale! We may have inadvertently stirred up a hornets nest, there.

Eklutna Flats with Lorna

In preparation for my up-coming Africa trip, I am practicing my photography skills as much as possible in order to be Africa-worthy once I get there! My friend Lorna, herself a published photographer with several books under her belt, has been quite helpful in that endeavor (Thank You Lorna!) and took me out to the flats just outside of town a while back. The wild Iris were just beginning to open up, and the Choclate Lilies were everywhere – as was a flower called False Soloman’s Seal, a very pretty little white one with a leaf pattern that was fascinating to me. We had a great time wandering thru the fields, ending up out at the river delta where it meets the ocean. It was a bright and sunny day – not the best conditions for taking photos, but I wasn’t complaining – and best of all the bugs were not up yet, so we weren’t plagued by bloodsuckers to the point of going insane trying to avoid them. We got some really nice shots, too!

Job Hunting

My job hunt continues; nothing promising yet – but a few with potential. The worst shock of the week was getting a letter from the state telling me that my unemployment had run out. Thankfully, I qualified for extended benefits or I would really be in trouble!


Trish and I are getting along great – partially because she’s gone most of the time, but also because she is a nice person. She’s only here for a few months, so wants to get out as much as possible to see the sights. We’ve been going out on little hikes, just the two of us, as well as joining in on the Family Hikes. This weekend, we’re heading out to Seward for a cruise out in the Kenai Fjords (yay!) and next week we’re hoping to take the train from Whittier to Fairbanks.

Lots Going On at The Alaska Zoo

I’ve been slightly remiss in my blogging duties, so I’ll try to do a brief recap here of all the goings on at the zoo lately. I had thought it would slow down since school is out and there are no more field trips to deal with, but this month seems to be just as frantic as last month - just in a different way.

Tuesday Night at The Zoo

This is one of my favorite events here at the zoo: we have lectures each Tuesday night throughout the summer months highlighting a different zoo animal, giving people a chance to meet the zookeepers and ask any questions they might have. We try to have that animal on hand – if at all possible – so they can see it up close. We sometimes even have guest speakers come from outside to give the talks: our kick-off lecture this season was by Dr. David Kenny V.M.D., the Field Veterinarian for the Conservation Biology Department of the Denver Zoological Foundation. This one was of particular interest to me since he is part of the team working on the Mongolia project I got to join in on last year. Check out our website for more information on the TNATZ program!

Guided Encounters

I’ve done several Guided Encounters this month. This is a special tour that groups or individuals actually pay for, so I always try to give them their money’s worth. I get to take them behind the scenes at the Polar Bear Exhibit, which is always fun. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, the polar bears will come over to check us out: this gives people an up-close encounter with an incredibly awesome animal.

One of the funnest groups I’ve had in a long time was a troop of Girl Scouts from Kodiak. There were about 10 little girls, age 10-12, along with their 4 chaperones and their troop leader. We had such a great time together; they even sang to me at the end of the tour! I’ve never been sung to before…

Just the other day I got to do one for a class from The Imaginarium consisting of about 8 little 5-year olds and their 2 teachers. They were a fun group too – but Oh My Gosh! What a handful 5-year olds can be. William was the cutest, and of course he was the one who got into trouble the most. I was very impressed with how his teachers dealt with him.

Other Tours

A couple years ago, I took a Nature Writing Workshop with a local author and about 12 other people. We met once a week for 12 weeks and critiqued each other’s writing, learning a lot in the process. One of the ladies I met in the class happens to volunteer at Bird TLC, a group the zoo works very closely with. She contacted me a few weeks ago wanting to take me up on my offer of a guided tour at the zoo. I was very happy to take her and her husband around: she had worked with our Stellar’s Jay in his time of convalescence, so I made sure she got to meet him again.

Last week I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got the opportunity to give a Golf Cart Tour! Our zoo sits on about 25 acres of dirt & gravel paths, so we have a (very old) golf cart that we can offer to patrons who have difficulty getting around. It has to be arranged ahead of time, and I’m thinking there might be a fee involved – but it is available if anybody really needs it. The gentleman who requested it this time was a very nice man who was recovering from lower-back surgery and had never been to the zoo before. Pat Lampi, the director of the zoo, had planned on giving him the tour – but since I happened to show up at the admittance building at just the right time, I volunteered to give it instead and let Pat get back to work. I love golf cart tours! Golf carts just so much fun to drive: it’s like riding bumper cars. Thankfully, my guests (the man and his wife) had as much fun as I did, and didn’t mind the occasional mishaps with the cart.

Animal Updates

Spring in Alaska means there are lots going on with the animals. Moose are giving birth all over town, which unfortunately means lot of orphans: Moose –vs- Car = Orphan. We have 6 of them in the infirmary right now. Baby moose are just the cutest little things but require a lot of hands-on attention when orphaned. They get bottle fed about 6 times a day and typically drink up to 3 gallons of formula each day per baby. This means hours and hours of mixing formula!

Our own musk ox gave birth just three days ago! He/She is a rambunctious little one already, testing out wobbly legs by running real fast and bumping in to things. Apparently turning corners is not as easy as one might think! Mom gets a little concerned whenever her baby gets too far away from her, but one growl sends it right back underneath her, safely tucked between her legs. We don’t know what the sex is yet: it’s a little difficult to tell right off the bat and there’s no way we’re getting in there to look. Mother is WAY too protective for us to attempt that.

The two bear cubs that came to us last fall have finally been moved into their new exhibit. The Bear Cub Den took a bit of prep work to be safe for them, but finally they’re in there and are enjoying the great outdoors. The old elephant house was the perfect place for them when they first arrived: it gave us easy access to them to monitor their health & progress (they were severely underweight and malnourished) but nothing beats clean fresh air and actual dirt to play in!

We got some sad news this past week, too, unfortunately. Sally, our female river otter, died very unexpectedly. A necropsy (an autopsy performed on an animal) revealed that she died of heart failure brought on by renal failure. Sally was brought to us about 5-6 years ago as a tiny little pup who was barely alive. She required months of tube feeding: a tube stuck down into her stomach through which food was given to her. She pulled though and turned in to a lovely young lady, just a joy to watch as she expertly maneuvered her way around the pool of water with her mate Turbo. She will be greatly missed.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Hike with My Roommate, Trish

For Trish’s first day in Alaska, I took her up to the Eagle River Nature Center for a hike! That is one of my favorite places to go and I thought it would be a good introduction to our beautiful state for her: she loved it!

The center was offering one of their free programs that day, titled SPRING WILDFLOWER WALK: naturalist UTE OLSSON will lead a search for the Calypso orchid, wild violets and other early Alaskan spring wildflowers along the Albert Loop trail (3 miles roundtrip). I really like Ute Olsson and know that she is very knowledgeable about this kind of thing, so I thought it would be a really interesting one to attend.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of other people thought the same thing. There were perhaps 35-40 people bunching around Ute trying to hear what she was saying and to see what she was pointing at. Trish and I decided that just wasn’t what we came for, so we ditched the group and headed out on our own.

Back in Anchorage it was overcast and chilly, with spurts of rain off and on – so Trish and I had dressed in sweaters and raingear. In Eagle River, however, it was a bright, clear, sunny day with just the slightest breeze to refresh you as you hike along the trails. It was gorgeous out: we were so happy to be there, even if we did have to peel a layer or two off as we went along. And of course, once again, I forgot to bring my water bottle.

I’m not very familiar with the Albert Loop Trail, but it’s well marked so we had no problems finding our way. It has several boardwalks built out over the water, giving access to some spectacular views along the way. The mud had, for the most part, dried up allowing for easy walking. We even came across a couple of Blue Jays playing in the bushes alongside the trail.

Our hike also gave me an opportunity to practice up on my plant-identification skills, although I had forgotten to bring my books with me so there were some I just couldn’t remember. Trish was polite enough to be interested in everything – and had lots of questions of her own to ask. Before we knew it, we were back at the main center and found that two hours had passed!

Funny: Trish kept saying “The air smells different – I can’t quite figure out what it is.” I thought maybe it was just a whole new ecosystem, with all new plants, animals, and even soil that made things smell so different to her. She thought perhaps it was the remoteness of it all (not so much pollution in the air). Regardless, she loves the smell and kept taking in deep breaths and looking about her with a smile on her face.

Discovery Tours are Back!

This is my favorite kind of tour to give at the zoo: it’s offered every day from Noon to 2:00 and costs $20 (this includes entrance to the zoo). For that, you get a guided tour of the zoo, behind-the-scenes visits with both the polar bears and the tigers, and all the information I can think of about both animals AND plants, as well as some personal history of my life in Alaska. It’s open to anybody who signs up for it and you don’t need to make reservations: just show up, pay the fee, and off we go!

It took a bit of study to prepare for it, I have to admit. Prior to its conception, I barely knew a thing about plants. The education director for the zoo printed out a few pages of information on a handful of plants that can be found at the zoo, so I at least had that to begin with. But I love to learn new things, so took it upon myself to find out more.

The Eagle River Nature Center offers free programs to the public pretty much every Sunday throughout the year on various subjects, some of which were happily on the native plant life in the area. I attended a few of them - with my camera, clipboard, notepad, and pen in hand – and ended up getting to know the presenter well enough to ask him for one-on-one help.

Let’s call him The Plant Guy.

The Plant Guy was very knowledgeable about native plant species and took me on several hikes around the area, answering all my “What’s this one?” questions and giving me all the information he had on them. He even agreed to come with me to the zoo and led an informal training session with our tour guides. He also happened to be the president of the Alaska Native Plant Society group and invited me to several of their outings, introducing me to Verna Pratt (a local native plant HERO) and giving me all sorts of new contacts for more information.

On top of all that I did some research on my own: taking an on-line botany class, buying several native plant guides for the area, and scouring the local newspaper for articles on plants, gardening, and the fight against invasive species.

All in all, I discovered a love for plants that I didn’t know I had. They are truly fascinating creatures, and it has made my hiking all the more wonderful by opening a whole new landscape to my vision.

Getting back to the subject of the tour, I think my guests have fun with it (and me). The first one of the season is always a bit nerve-wracking however. Over the winter, with all the snow & ice, one tends to forget about plants and green stuff – so when summer finally does arrive again, I always worry that I’ve forgotten everything. I typically will go to the zoo with my books for a walkabout on my own, just to reacquaint myself with the plants and try to pick up a few new tidbits to share with my guests. So by the time I actually do a Discovery Tour, with actual paying guests, I feel more confident that I can give them their money’s worth.

My first tour this year was with a local man and his wife, as well as their guest from out of state. Unfortunately, that guest happened to be a Biologist who is moving up here to work with our local Fish & Game people – so that added a whole new level of intimidation on me, because I knew that he knew stuff I didn’t and would spot my mistakes immediately!

Thankfully, though, he was very nice and if I did make any goofs, he didn’t bring them to my attention. He actually asked a lot of really in-depth questions and got me going on some really fascinating subjects. That did make us about half an hour late finishing the tour, but since nobody had any pressing chores waiting to be done, it was ok.

I even managed to put in a plug for our Tuesday Night at the Zoo program, telling them about the speaker who is coming up from the Denver Zoo to present our first one:

“Travel Diaries of a Zoo Vet” – Dr. David Kenny V.M.D. will share animal highlights from his travels conducting research as a Field Veterinarian for the Denver Zoo Conservation Biology Department. Join us for this talk at The Alaska Zoo at 7pm on Tuesday June 2 and help us kick-off our annual "Tuesday Night at the Zoo" summer lecture series. Each Tuesday features a different speaker and topic, sponsored by ConocoPhillips and Anchorage Daily News. Admission rates apply, with no additional charge for attending programs.