Friday, January 30, 2009

Writing Assignment

I was contacted the other day by a lady who is writing a series of books that focus on worldwide volunteer programs. She wanted to include the Earthwatch Institute in them, so asked if I would mind writing a short story – about 300 words or less – highlighting my experiences with them.

Since I am practicing my writing skills for just this kind of assignment, I took a stab at it and ended up using 312 words. I have to say: limiting my words to such a small number is really hard! I have so much to say about Earthwatch I could go on and on and on…

Here is is:

My first expedition with Earthwatch was in Costa Rica where I spent 12 days in the rainforests studying caterpillars and their parasites. I learned a lot during that trip: I learned that Alaskans really don’t do well in the heat. I learned that the bugs in Costa Rica never EVER shut up and they are unbelievably LOUD. I learned how to put on wet cloths each morning, since nothing every dried out. I learned not to touch any caterpillar that has hair because it might be poisonous. I learned how to eat beans and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – for 12 days in a row. I learned not to follow a Blue Morpho butterfly, because they don’t pay attention to the trail system and will get you lost, every time.

My second expedition was a lot different, but no less of a learning experience. This time I spent 15 days camping out in Mongolia to study the ecology of the argali, the world’s largest mountain sheep. I learned how to live in a Mongolian Ger, otherwise known as a yurt. I learned how to wash my hair in a bucket because there’s no shower. I learned how to find my way back to camp after being dropped off out in the middle of the Gobi Desert with nothing but a GPS unit and a bottle of water. I learned how to capture and collar a wild mountain sheep. I learned that Mongolians are very friendly people, even if you can’t speak their language. I learned that fracturing your kneecap takes roughly 3 months to heal. I also learned that dislocating your jaw takes even longer to heal, and is more painful.

I can’t wait for my third expedition to find out what I’ll learn next. This time, I’ll be spending 15 days in Kenya studying both medicinal plants and Grevy’s zebras.


Constructive criticism and/or feedback is always welcome.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

She's Gonna Blow!

The volcano, I mean.

Mt. Redoubt is located 100 miles southwest of Anchorage and is about 10,197 feet tall. This will be her second eruption in 20 years, and it is expected to be quite a show. Unlike volcanoes in Hawaii, which tend to ooze out slow-rolling lava, volcanoes in Alaska usually erupt explosively, shooting ash nearly eight miles high.

According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory "The last time Redoubt erupted - over a five-month period that lasted from December 1989 through April 1990 - the ash plume disrupted international air traffic and coated Anchorage in a thin layer of volcanic ash. It also sent pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock rushing down the Drift River drainage, turning ice and snow into a fast moving river of mud which partially flooded the Drift River Oil Terminal on the western shore of Cook Inlet"

Since volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged pieces of rock and glass, it is being advised that people should stay indoors as much as possible to avoid breathing it in. It also wreaks havoc on your car, so driving should be restricted to emergency use only. Animals need to be brought inside if at all possible, as well.

I know some people are eagerly looking forward to the eruption - namely my friend Anne's boyfriend Sam, whom you met in a previous blog posting - but I am not. I have lived through several volcano eruptions in my time, and know what it's like: not fun.

For one thing, my cat Alien has asthma pretty bad. He had to go to the vet three times during the last eruption (that was Mt. St. Augustine, I believe) because he had such difficulty breathing. A 17-year old cat (that's 102 in human years) does not need to be shot full of steroids unless its absolutely necessary!

I will admit that it's an awe-inspiring sight to see, though.

I remember one eruption from a long time ago: the huge black cloud of ash billowing miles high and traveling towards the city at break-neck speeds. Within mere seconds it hit us, turning day to night in a flash. Sounds inside the ash cloud has a way of bouncing around, creating echoes and eerie unidentifiable moans and screeches. It was days later before the sky finally cleared and people started to emerge from their homes to asses the damage. Thankfully all we had to deal with was the inch-thick layer of ash that coated everything.

Mt. Redoubt is just rumbling at the moment. Geologists are issuing warnings and are keeping watch on it, but for now we can still naively hope that it will pass.

Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us, please!

Blog Update

If you'll glance to your right, along the side of this blog, you'll notice that three links have been added above my picture. Two of these used to be located way down at the bottom of the page but have been moved up to a more visible position and the third link (to my Mongolia travels) added.

Feel free to click on any or all of them and take a look around!

Thank's go to my older brother for doing that for me.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Family Movie Night - Part 3... or was it 4?

This Sunday's Family Movie Night was another good one.

The choice of movies went to my older brother this time. He had some difficulty in finding one that he liked that had captions, but finally settled on "Appaloosa" staring Viggo Mortenson and Ed Harris. Both Viggo and Ed were in fine form and were supported by some really good actors - namely Renée Zellweger.

Here's a synopsis of the movie: "Set in 1882, New Mexico Territory. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are itinerant lawmen, hired by desperate towns as marshal and deputy. The city fathers of Appaloosa hire them after Randall Bragg, a newly-arrived rancher with money and a gang of thugs, disrupts commerce and kills three local lawmen. Cole and Hitch contrive to arrest Bragg and bring him to trial, but hanging him proves difficult. Meanwhile, a widow has arrived in town, Allison French: pretty, refined, and good-natured. Virgil falls hard, and it seems mutual, but there may be more to Allie than meets the eye. Can friendship and skill with a gun overcome a pernicious villain and green-eyed jealousy?"

We had intended to celebrate my younger brother's birthday, since he will be out of town for the next few months working out in the bush and will miss his actual day. Unfortunately, he was out shopping for the supplies he’d need, and didn't show up until the movie was over and people were starting to leave. But I did get to hug him goodbye, giving him my standard admonition "If you go and get yourself killed, I'll never speak to you again!"

My younger brother is an adrenaline junkie and loves to do things that stand a very good chance of killing him. I'm sure he does it just to give me nightmares.

We had good food to eat, as always. Enchiladas made by my sister-in-law Heather (she pressure cooked the beef and shredded it by hand, even!). Rice with meatballs & gravy made by my Mother (unfortunately the meatballs fell apart in the gravy, so it didn't look nearly as good as it tasted). A nice big Caesar's salad made by my sister-in-law Julie (who makes the best salads ever). A platter of fresh veggies with ranch dip provided by my sister Kelly (well, as fresh as you can get in the middle of winter up here in Alaska). Somebody had a tray of cocktail shrimp with tasty horseradish sauce to dip, but I never did really know who provided that. Last but certainly not least, I had fully intended to bring a peach/apple cobbler but ended up grabbing some pudding cake from the store on my way out. I simply ran out of time this weekend and didn't cook it ahead of time like I should have.

I also brought with me pictures of my Craft Corner construction day for Heather. She doesn't have very many pictures of Lauren so wanted to get them from me. I'm not exactly technically proficient, so could only bring them to her on my camera. When she went to put them onto her laptop, we ran in to a slight miscommunication problem. I kept trying to tell her how to get them off the camera while she kept trying to tell me that her computer doesn't work that way. She has an Apple, I have a PC. It took us a while before we were both on the same page, verbally speaking, and finally did manage to download the pictures for her. I take all the blame for that: I barely understand PC-speech, you can't expect me to understand Apple-speech as well.

I noticed on my drive home that those few added seconds of sunlight each day are starting to add up. Typically when I drive home from these events, the sun is low enough that it doesn't bother me much. This time, though - it was in my face pretty much the whole way. I don't want to complain - God knows we need the sun - but my sunglasses barely did the trick. I'm just glad I didn't get into a wreck from lack of visibility.

A Cup of Tea

I had errands to run Saturday, so was out and about in the afternoon and thought I'd treat myself to lunch. The place I ended up eating at was Chili's Restaurant, near my house.

This is a fine restaurant, but not so good for a person who really doesn't eat much in the way of red meat. I had maybe two or three options available for me, so ended up choosing their grilled salmon. It was quite tasty, and came with a side of steamed veggies and a small bowl of black beans.

What I took exception to was the cup of tea they served me. It was a chilly day out, so a nice hot cup of tea really sounded like the perfect thing when I first sat down. Of course, by the time they actually served the tea, I had warmed up by then. Still, a good cup of tea is always appreciated.

I sure wish I had gotten a good cup of tea. What I ended up with was the old stand-by, Lipton. I mean no offence to the company; it's just that Lipton is NOT my favorite brand, not by any stretch of the imagination. In my opinion, when they make tea they start with the full leaf used for loose-leaf teas, then the broken leaves are used for teabags, and finally the dust swept off the floor is used for Lipton tea.

In their defense, I will say that Lipton Tea from India is quite good. It's just the American Lipton I don't like.

To add insult to injury, the restaurant charged $3.00 for that cup of tea. That's outrageous! I'm not one for using a lot of four-letter words, but let me tell you that several of them came to mind when I got my bill. $3.00 for a cup of tea? Good Lord - you can buy a box of 100 for that price at the store. And Chili's charges that for a single cup?

I was so insulted I actually sent them an email when I got home. Their website has contact information for feedback from their patrons. The email I wrote started with "Shame on you!" and went on from there. They stated it would take 2-3 days to respond to any comments sent; I'm curious how they're going to react to my email.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Living with Migraines

The migraines started when I was about 12 years old. I'm 43 now, so that means for the past 31 years I've had anywhere from 2 to 3 migraines a month.

I remember the very first one. Mother told us to clear the driveway of rocks - anything bigger than our fist was to be tossed into the ditch. Unfortunately, I got in the way when my oldest brother tossed a good-sized one. It hit me on the side of the head, knocking me down.

I'm not saying he caused the migraines, not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm also not saying he hit me on purpose, although he was the typical older brother delighting in tormenting his younger siblings. But the rock did hit me, and it did trigger the first migraine.

A head injury in my past may also be playing a role in my tendency for migraines. When I was about 5-years old I fell off some playground equipment, crushing my skull and sending me in to a week-long coma. One very interesting side effect of the accident: my hair grew 6" in 3 days. Mother says you could just sit there and watch it grow. Of course, they had to shave it all off for the surgery that put my skull back together. Still, that's pretty crazy.

Anyway, regardless of the "cause" of my migraines, I get them.

I've had just about every side effect you can imagine. I get photophobia & phonophobia occasionally. I get nauseous and pass out occasionally. I don't get the aura very often, but lately my eyes loose the ability to focus when I have a migraine. Occasionally I smell things that aren't there (oddly enough, it's always hamsters I smell). Sometimes when I try to talk my words come out all garbled up, like somebody mixed up the letters in each word. I've even had a couple of what the doctor called Migraine Strokes, which thankfully were short lived and as far as I can tell did not cause any permanent damage.

There is a lot of medication out there, and I've tried just about every one of them. Some just plain don't work, some work at first but then my body adapts to where they no longer work. I get a lot of weird side effects from them as well: anything from lowing my already-too-low blood pressure to hallucinations and heightened phobias.

As for medical testing, I've had several MRIs, a PET scan, an EKG and an EEG, as well as many others that I've forgotten the names of. I've had neurological exams, psychological exams, IQ tests, the whole shebang. The one thing they all have in common is that they've turned up nothing. The joke in my family is that "They took a picture inside Ruth's head and didn't find a thing!"

What it all boils down to is this: I have migraines. There is no cure, and they don't know what causes them. They can't stop them, so I just have to find a way to live with them.

The Book of Stan

I had an interesting conversation the other evening, with Stan - my Mother's partner.

On a tangent: here is another example of a family gotten too big. I don't know what to call Stan! He and my mother are not married, but they have been living together for the past 15 years or so. I could choose to call him my stepfather, but that has too many negative connotations for my peace of mind. I typically just call him Stan.

Getting back to our conversation: we were talking about his stories and how I thought he should record them for posterity. He has lived a very interesting and full life, and when he passes away he will leave behind several children & grandchildren who would love to have something to remember him by.

My grandmother on my mother's side did this. She had a tape recorder that she used, relating any story from her past that happened to pop into her mind at the time. My cousin then typed them up, leaving her grammar & speech patterns in tact, and bound them up into booklets for everybody to have.

She passed away quite some time ago, but I have this book of hers that I can read through occasionally and remember her. It's full of stories from the depression, from living in the Dust Bowl, from raising her children. It's really fascinating stuff - even though, to her I'm sure it was just every day life.

I offered to get Stan a tape recorder and to type up the stories for him, just like my cousin did for my grandmother. He wasn't too keen on the idea at first, but after a while I think (I hope) he warmed to it. He really does have some interesting stories to tell. Perhaps I can even get Mother to tell her stories!

I think everybody should do this: what might seem like normal daily drudgery to us will be interesting and amazing to our grandchildren. It doesn't have to be an actual book with a publisher and editor and all that. It can be just random stories, in no particular order, written in your own words, and hand copied for family members.

Hmmm... I think I'll make that one of my goals for this year: to write The Book of Stan!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Human Anatomy & Physiology

My class is progressing nicely, now that I'm back in to it.

Theoretically, I should have been doing it all throughout my enforced "vacation" (otherwise known as Unemployment) but just could not get motivated.

Now that I'm back at work, I have a structured lunch hour - the perfect time to read thru the book and study up for the tests. I take the tests on my home computer, but read the material here at the office.

I am holding an average of about 88% so far, which correlates to a B+. Not bad for somebody who never went to college!

Chapter One gave me an introduction to the human body.
Chapter Two taught me about the chemical level of organization.
Chapter Three covered the cellular level of organization.
Chapter Four talked about the tissue level of organization.
Chapter Five was about the Integumentary System, or the Skin
Chapter Six moved on to the skeletal system
Chapter Seven focused on the axial skeletal system
Chapter Eight focused on the appendicular skeletal system

I'm just now finishing up Chapter Nine which covers the joints. The next chapter will be on muscles and muscle tissue.

This is truly fascinating stuff, and I have great respect for people who take this class for real (as opposed to simply reading thru the book at home and taking on-line open-book tests off the internet like I'm doing).

This is HARD!

Open House

NVision has been in this location for just under a year. They bought the building and renovated it for their own occupation on the fourth floor, leaving the remaining 2 floors as tenant space (the first level is parking spaces).

Now that they are (cross your fingers) done with the renovations, they decided it was time to host an Open House. They invited over 200 people from all the companies they work with - as well as ones they don't. It was quite the shin-dig, with catering services and everything.

The biggest effort on our part was getting the place cleaned up for it. Two separate companies had merged together to form NVision, and they had boxed everything up to move in.

What they didn't do was UNbox everything. Stuff was pilled up in every available space, and was shuffled around from here to there periodically when somebody needed something from one of the boxes.

Bill, one of our bosses, made it a company directive that "everything needs to find a permanent home, and it all needs to be straightened up" giving us about 2 days to accomplish this miraculous feat.

We did finally get things straightened up so that by the time people started arriving it looked really good. Our hope is that we can keep it looking this good - which will not be easy as most of the people are used to leaving messes behind them as they go about their daily business.

Unfortunately the weather was not cooperating with us the day of the Open House, so barely a quarter of the people invited were able to attend. Still, we had a good 50 or so show up; more than enough to fill the place. I recognized a few faces from past experience with other companies, but I have to admit that most of them were completely new to me.

We had a ton of really good food, most of which got divvied up afterwards and taken home by employees rather than consumed by guests. I think I am the only vegetarian in the office, so most of the food was not for me. We do have one lady who is allergic to gluten, so she couldn't eat most of the food either. I heard no complaints, regardless. It was all very tasty.

I had invited my family to come see where I work, and thankfully my brother Stewart drove Mother in so they were both able to attend. With the roads as bad as they were, Mother would not have attempted it on her own - and rightfully so. Stewart is a very good driver, though, so they had no problems other than finding a place to park once they got here.

The Open House was scheduled for just a few hours around lunch time, but - as we knew would happen - people hung around for hours, so our day was fairly shot as far as work goes. It was a good day, though - well worth all the effort that went in to it.

The First of the Year

I gave my first presentation of the year last week to The Anchorage Audubon Society. I talked about my Mongolia expedition, showing my slides and telling them about what we did.

It was not the best attendance I've ever had with them, due mostly to the fact that the weather was somewhat less than ideal. Not that it was cold, thank goodness. It had warmed up just that morning so we were finally thawing out.

That was the problem: we were thawing out.

The roads were barely drivable due to the ice, and people's homes were flooding out all over the place. In fact, roads were being flooded out as well as houses, so some intersections were nearly impassable.

About 20 people braved the elements though, so I went ahead with my presentation.

On a more positive note: a local celebrity did the introduction for me! Locals will recognize Mr. Whitekeys as being the inspiration behind the Whale Fat Follies that used to premier at The Fly By Night Club each year; a favorite spot for tourists (and Alaskans, too) to get a rather colorful take on the local news. Mr. Whitekeys is an avid birder and is currently on the board of directors for the local chapter of the Audubon. He is a very nice man, and was very courteous to me.

The meeting was held at the BP Energy Center, a building providing meeting space to non-profit organizations here in town as a community service by BP. It's a very nice building, and the room we were in had seating for at least 100 people as well as a nice big screen to project my pictures onto. About the only thing I could complain about was the fact that I was so close to that big screen I could barely see it. Plus, trying to reach up to point at things during my talk was pretty much impossible: it was just too big.

As always I talk too much, so they had to rush me along when it got close to time to stop. I had planned on showing a bunch of pictures that Dr. Reading (the scientist I worked with out in Mongolia - see previous postings in this blog) had sent to me of various birds he's come across over there. We barely had time to quickly flip thru them, and no time at all for them to come up and look thru all the books, pamphlets, and other material I had laid out for them up front.

But, they all seemed to have enjoyed themselves, so I guess it wasn't a total flop. Not a bad way to start out my year as the Alaskan Field Representative for the Earthwatch Institute.

Wacky Weather

Man, we're having some Wacky Weather lately!

For weeks, the temperatures have been well below zero - now all of the sudden they're way up in the forty's! People are flooding out all over the place and roads are just one big sheet of ice made even slicker by a coating of water on top.

Here's a funny thought: I think we must be the only state in the Union that closes schools down because it got warm!

My brother's house, out in the valley, had it the worst in my family. He was down to about 39 below one day then all the way up to 43 above the next! That's a 82 degree temperature swing - all in 24 hours!

Mother's farmhouse flooded out down in the basement for the first time in how many years? Thankfully, she didn't loose much - just the bookshelf she was painting for me, wouldn't you know. She was able to keep ahead of the water, sopping it up with rags and bailing it out on a daily basis.

My house is on a rather steep hill, so flooding was not a concern. The ice, however, most definitely was a concern! I have a hard time getting into my garage on good days as it is. With all that glaciation going on, it was darned near impossible. I have to get a good running start at it, and just hope & pray I am able to stop the car before hitting the back wall once I do make it up.

Even so, I have to say it is so nice to be warm again finally!

A Birthday Party

The Alaska Zoo celebrated our polar bears' birthday this weekend.

They claimed it was their 10th, but I don't think so. For one thing, the two polar bears are not the same age: our female is 3 years older than our male. And it can't be the 10th celebration of the two of them, because we've only had the male about 3-4 years now. But I honestly can't remember exactly how old they are without digging in to my research papers, so I'll let it stand for now. Off the top of my head, I think that Ahpun (the female) is 11 and Lyutyik (the male) is 8 - but I could be wrong, so don't quote me on that.

Regardless of their age, they did have a good party.

Attendance was good, thanks in part to the weather cooperating with us. For weeks we've been breaking records for cold temperatures - but at the last minute they came up to a more reasonable level and people could get out and enjoy themselves without freezing to death.

Some of the volunteers and zoo employees spent several hours ahead of time creating the snow-packed "cake" for them: three tiers standing a good 10-12 feet tall, decorated with fruits & vegetables and colored with food colorings. As always, a toy was hidden deep inside for them to "discover" as they demolish the cake.

On top of the cake was a whole (raw) butterball turkey! Lyutyik went right for that, dragging it off to the side for his own consumption. He pretty much ignored everything else and spent the entire time working on that, leaving Ahpun to pick thru all the other goodies.

Several colorful packages were made for them this year: cardboard boxes wrapped with colorful paper and filled with goodies like peanut butter, fish scraps, and peanuts. Ahpun made short work of opening them to get the goodies out.

For the party guests, we had a few tables set up around the polar bear exhibit offering various forms of entertainment, from coloring pages & mazes to "Make Your Own S'Mores!". We even had a table of polar bear artifacts set out for people, displaying an entire polar bear hide, a skull, and several radio collars.

I sat at the Hot Chocolate table, selling the cups for $1.00 each. Unfortunately I ran out of hot water after about 45 minutes so had to spend the remainder of my 2-hour shift saying, "I'm out of hot water - but our coffee shop will have more." Eventually, I snagged a zoo employee with a radio to call the volunteer coordinator and let her know I needed more. She came right over once she knew, but I could have sold a lot more than I did.

The cutest thing I saw while I was there was this little girl. She came up to my table and dug around in her little purse until she came up with 4 crumpled dollars, telling me that she was buying hot cocoa for her brothers and sisters.

"That's so nice of you! You must be the big sister, to take care of them like that." I said.

She agreed, saying "I may be small, but I'm seven years old!"

"Well, you're a very good big sister." I told her.

I really wondered how she was going to get four cups of hot cocoa down the stairs to where her siblings were at the craft tables, not to mention the fact that I wondered if they even wanted hot cocoa - particularly if they were younger than she was!

Thankfully, her mother arrived and convinced her that they could all share two cups. I gave her back two of her dollars and she was happy with that.

Craft Corner

Heather and Lauren came over this weekend and spent the afternoon with me. We had fun putting together my new Craft Corner! I'm very excited about this... it will be so nice when it's all finished. I'll have everything organized so neatly, and will be able to create the BEST cards ever!

I had purchased these "storage cubes" ahead of time from Michael's Craft Store: 2 each of 4 designs. They are designed to fit together in various arrangements, each one being about 15" square. Some have shelves, some have drawers, some have a mixture of each. I had several 50% off coupons to buy them with and the store had them on sale as well, so I ended up getting them all for a very good price.

Heather and Lauren spent the evening putting them together while I spent the time getting the corner ready. I had a lot of junk to go thru, tossing out what I really didn't need to keep and organizing the remainder into more logical piles. The iron shelving unit got moved over to the opposite wall, making room for the cubbies, and the piles of stuff got organized onto it. Pictures had to be rehung in a new arrangement, with one picture being relocated to another room entirely.

Speaking of pictures, I also had eight of my own photographs framed. These are photos of various trips I've taken over the years: two from Mongolia, one from Costa Rica, one from Nova Scotia, and the rest from around Alaska (Seward, Hope, Hatcher's Pass, and Eagle River). They got hung up above the where the new craft cubbies go, and I must say they look good. The level we used to mark where to put the nails wasn't exactly level, but I think no one but myself will notice.

The best part of our afternoon together was watching the cats play. They were all excited about having company, plus all the boxes and packaging material tossed into the corner of the room provided great entertainment. Both Thing and Djuna were in rare form, darting around at top speeds like wildcats and checking out each and every part both before and after construction. Alien even woke up to come see what was going on. All three cats are passed out from exhaustion today, I'm sure!

There are just two cubbies left to be put together: the two hardest ones, of course! Heather and Lauren had to go home at a reasonable hour, so were not able to finish up last night. Heather will stop by tonight to get them done, and then I can get my table and countertops cleaned off.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Dozen Frightened Peacocks

About 6 years or so ago, a friend brought to my attention an add in the papers listing 12 peacocks free to a good home. I forwarded it to Mother, who agreed that this was exactly what she needed. So off we went to pick them up.

The shelter they were temporarily housed at was located way out passed Big Lake, which just happens to be one of the coldest spots in the area. As it was December, when the sun sets at 3:00 in the afternoon, it was quite cold and dark by the time we headed out there after work. I think the temperature was down in the twenty or thirty below range.

Mother had saved up feed sacks to put the birds in, slicing breathing holes in them with a knife. Like most animals, the birds would - theoretically - calm down once their eyesight was blocked, and the sacks would make it easy for us to stack them in the back of the Bronco like cordwood. The birds would be safe, comfortable, and compliant till we got them home to Mother's barn.

When we arrived at the shelter, the owner took us around back to the shed where they kept them. It was small, roughly 4-feet square, with barely room enough for the birds and their shedmates: 3 doves.

Peacocks are very bid birds, by the way. Until you get right up close to one, you just don't realize that. They also do not like being chased after by three strange humans, nor do they enjoy being stuffed into sacks, however safe it may be for them.

Picture if you will a very small shed filled with a dozen screaming peacocks who are throwing feathers and shit (yup, that is one of their defense mechanisms: no one wants to eat a bird that is covered in shit) all over the place. Throw three doves into the mix that are also screaming and throwing feathers & shit around. Now place three adult human beings in there and turn the temperature way down so that everybody's breath fills up the place an impenetrable fog, obscuring visibility down to barely a few inches in front of your face, and you get a fairly good idea of what we had on our hands.

We got it down to a science eventually: you grab on to anything you can get your hands on and just hang on for dear life, stuffing madly into a sack all the while trying to protect your face from bird wings, claws, beaks, and shit.

Towards the end, we had maybe three or four birds left to catch. Mother and the owner of the shelter had a few of them cornered, so I had backed off to the opposite corner to give them room to maneuver the bird(s) into the sack(s).

Apparently the remaining birds had the same idea: get as far away as possible. This meant finding the tallest perch they could fine as far away from THAT corner as they could get, all the while protesting as loudly as possible, which I'm sure involved sound waves capable of causing permanent damage to my eardrums.

Unfortunately, that tall perch I mentioned just happened to be my head.

As calmly as I could, so as to not startle the surprisingly LARGE bird clinging to my head with claws the size of a velocoraptor's, I called out to Mother, "Um... I could use a little help over here!"

Mother and the owner both turned about and said, "Oh my gosh!" and came rushing to help me.

Finally, exhausted and elated, we got the last bird stuffed into a sack and loaded into the Bronco, and headed back to the farm.

Along the way, we started to thaw out.

Neither one of us said anything for a while, but you could see both of us stealing glances at each other and making awful faces. Finally mother said, "Boy, peacock shit really stinks when it's thawed out, doesn't it?"

We were covered in it, from head to toe! Thank goodness Mother's farm house has two showers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Family Movie Nights are an ongoing event in our family, and one we all enjoy greatly. We’ve really been having fun with the movies, too. Here are two of the most recent ones:

Heart and Souls
Hollow-hearted yuppie Robert Downey Jr. gets hot-wired to the ghosts of four people who died as he was being born. Their time in limbo is drawing to a close, just when his girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) grows tired of his commitment phobia. To fend off being dumped, Downey must help the phantasmic four (Tom Sizemore, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard and Charles Grodin) fulfill their final wishes.

Bank robbers Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton battle over the affections of a woman (Cate Blanchett) they kidnap before one of their big heists. Adding insult to injury, they then force a TV show host to cover their 15 minutes of fame while they go on a bank-robbing spree -- Blanchett in tow -- and gain notoriety as "The Sleepover Bandits."

In light of these movie picks, I am actually thinking of changing my pick to a different movie. I had thought to show this movie:

The 11th Hour
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary on the global environmental crisis paints a portrait of a planet at risk while also offering some exciting and radical solutions for making life on earth sustainable. Tapping the brains of leading scientists and thinkers -- including Stephen Hawking and Mikhail Gorbachev -- the film ultimately delivers a hopeful message: Our planet may be in crisis, but that doesn't mean it's too late change.

But am now thinking we would enjoy either of these two instead:

Practical Magic
Sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) Owens are modern-day witches whose love lives are complicated by an unusual curse: Men who fall in love with them meet untimely ends. Against the advice of their eccentric aunts, Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet (Dianne Wiest), and even in the face of a murder investigation, the sisters continue to try their hands at romance in this romantic comedy.

The Core
The Earth's inner core has stopped spinning, and scientist Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) must discover the cause before the world literally falls apart. He and a group of brilliant researchers burrow deep into the Earth's center in a subterranean vessel piloted by Maj. Beck Childs (Hilary Swank) and Col. Robert Iverson (Bruce Greenwood). There, they'll detonate a device that they hope will get the world to turn again ... before it's too late.

So many choices!

Lunch with Anne

Lunch with my friend Anne this weekend, at the Middle Way Café, served three purposes.

The first was to finally meet her new boyfriend, Sam. He is a very nice guy = I approve! I’m sure she needed my approval, and would have dumped him on the spot had I not approved. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Thankfully, we’ll never have to test that particular hypothesis because I do in fact like him. I am also very happy for her in having found what seems to me to be the last decent guy in the entire state of Alaska – but that could just be my 20+ years of frustration speaking. We won’t go in to that at this time.

The second was to exchange Christmas gifts. I had found a few models for her; in the hope that it might be something she would enjoy doing. She is very crafy and is always coming up with unique and off-the-wall art projects for herself. These models, of various famous buildings around the world, may prove to inspire a few more crafty ideas: who knows? In return, she made for me some of her absolutely scrumptious chocolates! Thank goodness she only makes them for the holidays; otherwise I would be a much rounder person than I am. She also included in my gift bag some German chocolates sent to her by her parents, which I will have to hide from my cat Djuna who apparently REALLY likes German chocolate (who knew?). I also received a book on Living Green, which will come in quite handy as I continue on my personal quest of reducing my carbon footprint, thereby reducing my heating & electricity bills in the process.

The third purpose in meeting with Anne this weekend was to discuss my 20-hour layover in London this coming November. I know – I have many months ahead of me to get things planned out. But, I am SO EXCITED I could just spit. Anne has been to London many times, and knows exactly where I should go in my limited time, so has lined me up with a walking tour and a list of things to check out (see previous posting on this blog).

After lunch, and after Sam left to get his car worked on at the garage next door, Anne and I retired to the bookstore to browse the travel section. We pulled just about every London Travel Guide they had and sat down in at a corner table to go over them. We chose the perfect one for me; a pocket sized one containing not only a map of the area, but also a map of the underground as well as a listing of possible hotels and places to eat. Added to my purchase was a travel guide on Kenya as well as the book “Out of Africa” and we parted ways.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Books About Africa

Can you recommend any books to read before I head out to Kenya?

Right now, I'm reading "Imperial Reckoning" by: Caroline Elkins. It’s very well written, but has uncomfortably disturbing content.

I just recently finished "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" by Philip Gourevitch. This is another very well written one with disturbing content. It’s not necessarily set in Kenya, but is a neighbor of theirs (Rwanda).

On the shelf to be read is "Unbowed: a Memoir" by Wangari Maathai. She is the first African woman, and the first Environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize, back in 2004.

These will give me a fairly good understanding of Africa and/or Kenya, as well as the people who live there. But I love to read, and have months ahead of me - so am always looking for more information.

Some time ago I read "The River" by Edward Hooper. Perhaps I should get that back out and read thru it again, since there is so much HIV and AIDS there.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fourty Below

Man, is it ever cold outside!

This isn't the coldest it's ever been, but it's been cold a very long time. We're actually breaking a few records for the longest cold streak.

Thankfully, my car does alright in the cold. It starts right up and goes, even though it complains a bit while doing so.

I feel sorry for the local homeless people. Can you imagine being out there, with no where to go and no warmth to be had anywhere? The only thing I can think of that is in their favor is that they are mostly native people; they have the cultural advantage of generations worth of being used to the cold. They fare much better in it than us white folk would, and that's for sure.

My brother's house registered fourty below. My mother's farm hovers aroun 29 below. Here in Anchorage, we're bottoming out at about 16 below.

That's just too damn cold!

Monday, January 05, 2009


I had some time on my hands today at lunch so I thought I would check on the price of tickets to Africa. A friend had told me that the best price she could find was with Delta Airlines. I have to admit that I was skeptical about that: Delta Airlines has not been, in my experience, the best at anything.

But I checked them out regardless. I am willing to travel with just about anybody so long as they’re inexpensive. The best price I could find on their website was somewhere around $2500.00 not including taxes. That’s a bit higher than I’d budgeted for – but if I had to, I could do it.

I don’t remember how I got there, but somehow I ended up on the website for and figured I’d check them out while I was at it.

I found a ticket for $1002.00 not including taxes!

You can bet your bottom dollar that I bought that ticket right then and there! My final price turned out to be $1,763.17 with all the taxes and travel insurance tagged on to the price. Still – come on: that much of a difference?

And they’re good airlines, too. I’m traveling on Alaska Airlines from here to Seattle, then switching over to British Airways from Seattle to London and then on to Nairobi.

Best of all is that I get a 20-hour layover in London! Of course some of that will be spent sleeping – but some of it can be used to do some sightseeing!

Does anybody have any suggestions? Where should I go, with limited time & money? What should I absolutely not miss?

I’m so excited!

I’ve paid my deposit on the expedition. I’ve got my tickets taken care of. Now all I need to do are reserve some hotels, get my visa for Africa, and take care of the inoculations!