Friday, August 31, 2007

Mindset list for the Class of 2011

Let's take a break from the Alaska travelogue for a bit...

The kids are headed back to school, which means it's time for Beloit College's annual effort to make us feel old, the Mindset List. The Mindset List is an attempt to help us old farts understand Today's Young People (tm). This year's college freshmen were born in... 1989! Holy crap. I feel old already.

As is usually the case, some of the stuff on the list is an eyeopener, some of it is wrong (Sorry, but the World Wide Web has not "been an online tool since they were born"--at least not a mainstream tool--and some of us still roll down our car windows), and some is just plain scary. Here are a few of my favorites:

13. “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone. Really? I still accidentally leave my phone off the hook, but then I am older than dirt and still use phones that aren't cordless. I guess now the big problem is leaving it off the charger for too long.

22. No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” No one except Hannibal Lecter, anyway.

24. Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.

35. Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names. Sad but true, as I contemplate going to the Sleep Train Pavilion (known to me as the Concord Pavilion) for a concert next month.

44. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time. Yep, and you're lookin' at it.

55. MTV has never featured music videos. That was my first indication that the '90s would suck.

58. They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper. Don't we all?

So there ya go folks. Just when you started believing that 40 was the new 30, along comes a reality check. I can practically feel my bones creak.

Alaska Adventure Day 4: Whittier to Anchorage

Friday, August 24, 2007

Good news! We weren’t eaten by bears! (OK, are those sighs of relief or groans of disappointment I hear out there?) In fact, we never even saw the bears. I’m starting to wonder if Alaskans just enjoy terrifying the tourists. We spent a leisurely morning wandering around Whittier, walking on the docks, watching the bald eagles perched atop some sort of weird radio antenna thing, and taking lots of pictures:




We had to wait till the tunnel opened so we could leave Whittier. The tunnel I mentioned in my last post is the only way into or out of Whittier by car. It’s only one lane, so they open it for 15 minutes in one direction, close it for 15 minutes, then open it for 15 minutes in the other direction. So if you miss your 15-minute window, you’re stuck for 45 minutes.

The weather began to improve as we left Whittier. By the time we emerged from the tunnel, the sun was shining, though it was still raining. And you know what that means: sun + rain = rainbow!


After leaving Whittier, we headed for the Coal Creek Mine in Girdwood. Husband likes to pan for gold, so we spent the afternoon along a creek. I took pictures and wandered around while Husband tried to strike it rich and Son tried to see how much water his socks could absorb. The Coal Creek Mine, accessible via a 3-mile dirt road, includes a restored mining village. The family that owns it lives on site—with no electricity, running water, or phone service. It’s a gorgeous spot, but when I’m looking for a place to live, no amount of scenery makes up for the lack of indoor plumbing.

Looking in from the entrance to Coal Creek Mine:

One of the original buildings:

Where's my contact lens? I know it's here somewhere...
Tony tries to strike it rich

Dirt and water! Cool!

Since Tony didn’t hit the mother lode, we continued on to Anchorage. The Seward Highway runs along Turnagain Arm, and since the weather was decent this time, we stopped at some of the viewpoints and had a leisurely drive in. We even spotted some Dall’s porpoises and a beluga whale in Turnagain Arm as we drove along.

Turnagain Arm from Bird Point:

We had some time to kill before meeting my friend Arlene for dinner, so we wandered around Potter Marsh outside Anchorage. I’m told the marsh was created when the railroad was built. They had to raise the tracks above the water, which created the marsh on the opposite side of the tracks from the sea. In one of the larger streams in the marsh, we saw spawning salmon. These salmon are the lucky ones—their migration from saltwater to fresh apparently consists of swimming through a big pipe that goes under the highway and railroad tracks. They emerge from the pipe into the marsh and get down to business, and the tourists get to enjoy a fishy peep show.

Stream in Potter Marsh:
Potter Marsh

And... salmon porn!
Salmon spawning in Potter Marsh

Our next stop was the Moose’s Tooth, a brewpub/pizza place in Anchorage. If you’re ever in Anchorage, eat there! The pizza is great, and the breadsticks with mozzarella are to die for. We met up with Arlene, a friend from my grad school days who is putting us up for the rest of our trip. We’re pet sitting for her while she is away at a conference in Chicago. Arlene’s apartment is in suburban Anchorage, which at first glance looks much like suburbia anywhere else. But there are a few minor differences. Arlene warned us to beware of moose, which regularly visit the wooded, marshy areas of the complex, as well as the hiking trails around it. And they aren’t the only visitors. It seems that a grizzly killed a moose near the complex not too long ago, so apparently we have to watch out for the grizzlies too. Back in suburban Portland, all we have to worry about are raccoons, coyotes, and psychotic banana slugs. Clearly we aren’t in Portland anymore. [And yes, the Psychotic Banana Slugs would be a good name for a punk band.]

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alaska Adventure Day 3: Seward to Whittier

Thursday, August 23, 2007

As I type this entry, I’m watching a huge barge leave the dock in Whittier, heading into Prince William Sound on its way to Tacoma. Like everything here in Alaska, the barge is bigger than it looks. The entire lower level is filled with railroad tanker cars. Above those are shipping containers stacked three high. And at the front, on top of everything else, is a small motorhome. It looks almost like a toy, perched atop such a huge ship.

Barge and tugboat 2

We’re staying in a bed and breakfast that overlooks part of Prince William Sound and what appears to be the main shipping dock here in Whittier. Whittier itself is a working village, apparently populated primarily by dock workers, fishermen, tour operators, and the people who supply and serve them. It’s wet, cold, and dreary, a bit like November in Seattle but with more daylight. Yet it’s also beautiful. Whittier sits at the end of a small fjord surrounded by green mountains and blue-white glaciers. The water of Prince William Sound is greenish blue and chalky-looking from the glacial silt that fills the waterways around here.

Our B&B is toward the right end of this apartment complex, built in the 1950s to house military personnel:
Apartment complex in Whittier

Earlier this evening, we walked down the hill from our B&B to the Anchor Inn, which we were told was where the locals eat.

Anchor Inn in Whittier

Sometimes, our hostess warned us, tourists are “put off” by the “local color” in the place, but tonight the local color consisted of one guy having a beer, plus a cook and waitress. Instead, the local color was supplied by the local wildlife. About 100 yards from our lodging, we were approached by a sheriff’s deputy, who asked us if we’d seen a bear recently. Ummm, no. He said a bear had been seen about 20 minutes earlier at the harbor, which was about 100 yards from our lodging in the other direction. He warned us to be careful. A bystander pointed out that the bear had marauded through the building we were standing next to, which is why the deputy had been called. At that point, we contemplated driving to dinner but decided to be brave and continue our trek on foot.

When we arrived at the Anchor Inn, we were greeted by Beer Guy, who asked if we’d seen the bears. Note the plural noun at the end of that sentence. He said there were three bears (but apparently no Goldilocks), and they had been seen all around the hills above the restaurant--that would be the hills that house our B&B. He added that their visits were a common occurrence this time of year, because the blueberries are ripe. The waitress took a different view of the matter, informing us that the bears came down to raid the dumpsters but had never set foot in the restaurant. Clearly we are not in Portland anymore.

We had a completely bear-free dinner, followed by an equally bear-free hike back to our room. Son has alternated between being terrified of the bears and looking out our window, hoping to see them. So far we’ve had no bear sightings, but the night is young.

Today has been a long but fun day. We spent last night in Seward in a bed and breakfast overlooking Resurrection Bay. We began our day at the Alaska Sea Life Center, which has a few aquarium displays plus some marine mammal habitats. Center residents include Pacific octopus, Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, moon jellies, and a variety of sea birds including Son’s favorite, the puffins.

Anemones, my favorite!

All together now: Awwwww....
(the puffin is the one with combed hair)

And a real (but less cuddly) puffin:

Funny bit of artwork from a wall display on the oil spill in Prince William Sound:

Our next stop was Exit Glacier, the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by car. After a stop at the visitor center, where we read about all the bear sightings this week, we headed up the trail to the glacier. Son was thoroughly freaked out about the bears, but once again we had a bear-free hike. As we got near the glacier, it got colder, and the rain got heavier. But we persevered to the end of the trail, which is about 30 feet from the glacier. The glacier is huge, and its size and temperature cause it to create its own wind. Brrrr… We took a few quick photos and headed back down the trail to the relative shelter of the forest.

Closeup of crevasses:

Jerry and me, freezing our butts off:

After that it was time to head on up the highway. We have to be in Anchorage by Friday afternoon, so we wanted to head back in that direction. To reach Whittier, we drove through the longest tunnel in North America, a one-lane hole in a mountain that’s about 2.5 miles long. It’s also the only tunnel in the world that uses the same road bed for both cars and trains (but fortunately not at the same time). Good thing we aren’t claustrophobic.

Portage entrance to Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Tomorrow we’re off to Anchorage. Will we arrive unscathed? Will our son’s whining finally push us over the edge? Will we be eaten by bears? To find out, be sure to tune in next time: same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Alaska Adventure Day 2: Seward

Wednesday, August 23, 2007

We spent Tuesday night in an overpriced hotel in Seward, a coastal resort town on Resurrection Bay, which is actually a fjord but for some reason they didn’t name it Resurrection Fjord. But then Seward is on the Kenai Peninsula, while the Seward Peninsula is way north, somewhere on the Bering Sea I think. Apparently Alaskans like to confuse tourists.

Anyway, we spent Wednesday on a six-hour cruise through Resurrection Bay and the waters off the coast of Kenai Fjords National Park. We sailed past islands, rock formations, and glaciers, spending about 20 minutes in front of a glacier, listening to it creak and groan and even calve. We also saw lots of wildlife: puffins and other seabirds, jellyfish, a sea otter, Dall’s porpoises, killer whales, and humpback whales. It’s impossible to describe the beauty of this place (at least for a 2-bit hack like me), so I’ll let you see for yourself:

Small boat harbor in Seward, where the sightseeing trips begin and the big cruise ships dock:

Leaving Resurrection Bay, heading for Kenai Fjords National Park:

Stellar sea lions lounging on rocks like big slugs:

Aialik Glacier:


Seasick Janet through wet camera lens:

The weather was beastly, rainy and cold and windy, but we managed to be comfortable most of the time. I also learned a good lesson: Visit the doctor for seasick meds before getting near any body of water larger than a swimming pool. I spent the afternoon leaning against part of the aft deck trying to avoid blowing chunks over the side of the boat. It took about three hours on land and a plate of halibut tacos to set me right.

Despite being cold, wet, and nauseated, I had an amazing time. It’s really another world up here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alaska Adventure Day 1: Anchorage to Seward

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Today was the first day of our great Alaska adventure! We flew into Anchorage from Seattle this morning, after getting up waaaay too early. After stopping for provisions, we headed down the Seward Highway. Anchorage, at least the part we drove through, looked like one giant strip mall, but as soon as we got out of town, the scenery became spectacular. The Seward Highway follows Turnagain Arm, a coastal inlet consisting of shallow water and mud flats during low tide, with views of the Chugach and Kenai mountains:



Almost halfway to Seward is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. They take in injured and orphaned animals, and those that cannot be rehabilitated live at the center permanently. We saw deer, elk, moose, caribou, black bears, grizzlies, fox, owls, musk oxen, and bison. Here are a few pics:




Just across the highway from the wildlife center is the turnoff for Portage Valley, where you can find streams filled with spawning salmon as well as Portage Glacier. Since it was getting late, we skipped the glacier cruise but took pics of some of the glaciers in the area, as well as the spawning salmon.



Just before we reached Seward, we saw our first wild moose--two cows in a clearing just off the highway.


Finally we reached Seward, which is hard to describe. It's part fishing village and part coastal tourist town, with incredible scenery. We ate (fresh salmon and halibut... yum) and walked along the shore of Resurrection Bay before calling it a day.



Stay tuned for the next installment of our exciting Alaska adventure! And if you want to see more pictures from our trip, check my Flickr account. I’ll upload more as time and internet access permit.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Finally a post about the Night Ranger show

It's been a busy week, so I'm behind on my blogging. I'm also getting ready to leave for a week in Alaska with the family, so writing time is very limited. But I do want to post something about the Night Ranger concert I went to last weekend.

Last Saturday night was a blast. Hubby and I drove to The Dalles (town about an hour and a half from here in the Columbia River Gorge) to see Night Ranger at an outdoor music festival called Neon Nights. I used to be a diehard Night Ranger fan with a huge crush on Jack Blades, but I hadn't seen them live since about 1985. We had other stuff to do that day and ended up leaving late, so I figured we'd get lousy seats. When we got there, the people selling tickets asked us if we wanted the regular $25 tickets or the "up close and personal" $35 tickets. Well, gee, let me think... After ponying up our $35 each, we walked to the concert area and discovered that there were maybe 15 people in the up close and personal section--and they weren't even up by the stage! So we just walked up and took our places front row center. Nice! By the time Night Ranger took the stage, there were a few more people up there but still not very many. Apparently the people who bought tickets in advance weren't offered the $35 tickets. I bet they weren't too happy. But we were.

The show was amazing! There are only three of the five original members left--Jack Blades, Brad Gillis, and Kelly Keagy--but the band still sounds great. They also seemed to be having a great time. Turns out Jack is hilarious. If he ever gets tired of making music, he could have a promising career in stand-up comedy. They goofed around between songs and even did a cover of AC/DC's Highway to Hell, with Jack doing his best (and pretty darn good) Bon Scott impression.

We took a ton of pictures:

Brad Gillis being a guitar god:

Jack Blades doing his thing:

The best drummer-vocalist in rock:

Group shot:

I posted more pics from the show in my Flickr account.

So that's about it for now. We leave for Alaska on Monday, but meanwhile we're going to a BBQ tonight and a family reunion tomorrow. Life is never dull!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Protecting the viewshed from ginormous Bollywood speed daters

Confused? Then you haven't read the sample list of new words added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. If you really want to entertain yourself, go to the page and try to guess the meanings of any unfamiliar words on the list, then click through to the definition to see how far off you were.

Go ahead. Say it. I'm a nerd.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Farewell to an old friend

Bubbles, 1988-August 9, 2007

The last couple of weeks have been tough. In addition to my dumb-but-painful knee injury (which is now mostly healed--yay), we watched as our beloved cat Bubbles faded away. She has had trouble eating for awhile but seemed to be holding her own fairly well for a 19-year-old feline. But a couple weeks ago, she started eating even less, and by last week she was unable to do more than lick broth off a spoon. She was closest to my mother, who wasn't sure what to do. We didn't want to put her through a bunch of painful tests or treatments just to buy her a few weeks of a lousy existence. So we waited--waited for the inevitable, waited for her to let us know she'd had enough. Thursday morning she woke my mother up at 3 AM, trying (and failing) to climb onto her bed. She was so weak her legs shook when she tried to stand. It was time.

If you've never had to have a pet euthanized (put down, put to sleep... man, I hate euphemisms, but I can't bring myself to say "killed"), allow me to demystify the process for you. They place an IV catheter, then bring the animal to you in an examination room. You have as much time as you want to say goodbye, with or without the vet present. At that point, Mom and I just wanted her suffering to end. So the goodbye was brief. When it's time, the vet injects an overdose of anesthesia into the IV, and it's all over almost before the entire dose has been administered. Bubbles simply laid her head down on her paws and died.

This was the second time I've had to do this, but for some reason it was harder this time. I'd forgotten how much I hate watching something die. It's funny... Most living things are difficult to kill. We creatures cling to our lives, and our bodies fight hard to keep going, even under incredibly difficult circumstances. But on the other hand, life is a tenuous thread. The difference between life and death is immense yet tiny--just an instant in which the flame of life flickers and dies. As my co-worker put it, it's like a candle going out. And what is left is cold, dark, and empty, just the shell that once housed a life, a personality... a companion and friend.

And so I say farewell to Bubbles, who joined our family on Halloween night in 1988. We had a bunch of cats back then (long story), and we let them all in to keep them safe on Halloween. When they all arrived, we discovered that we had an extra black kitten. She just walked in like she owned the place. We looked for "lost cat" signs, but we never saw any, and she had no identification. So we kept her. We moved her from California to Washington to Georgia to Oregon, and she made herself at home in each new place. She got fat--really fat--and her size was accentuated by her long hair. I used to call her a bowling ball with fur and fangs. She was clumsy too. Before we started keeping her in all the time (coyotes and raccoons, ya know), she'd try to hunt birds in the front yard. She never had much luck, though, probably because she was about as stealthy as a kindergartener in a candy store. We'd see her crouch low in the grass, then galumph across the lawn toward the bird. I swear I heard the birds laughing at her at least once. But her best move ever involved our marble-topped coffee table. I had just cleaned it, so it was nice and slick. For no apparent reason, Bubbles ran across the room and jumped on the coffee table. She had lots of momentum but absolutely no traction, so she slid the length of the table on all four paws and toppled unceremoniously off the far end onto the floor. Then, like any self-respecting cat, she gathered what was left of her dignity, licked herself a couple of times, and stalked out of the room. "I meant that," she seemed to say. I think I laughed for a week.

Farewell, old friend. I miss you.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Crocodile Hunter meets Cops

Having buried one of our family cats this morning (more on that in another post, when I find the time and energy), I needed a good laugh. And man, did I find one! Ambulance Driver is a comedic genius--check out his brilliant creation, Dumbass Huntah. Thanks, Ambulance Driver! I needed that.

Another reason to love public libraries

So you live in Waco, TX, and you want to watch the Dixie Chicks' DVD, Shut Up and Sing? Apparently you have two options: buy it or borrow it from the public library. Because it's "controversial," the local video stores won't rent it.

Tuesday's Waco Tribune-Herald includes a great piece by John Young on his attempts to rent a copy of the DVD. He describes trying all the local video stores before finally calling the public library. He ends with:

I told reference librarian Sean Sutcliffe about my problems renting the video. We speculated that this might be a problem elsewhere in America's heartland. Then he did a computer search for the title in other libraries in the country. Publicly supported beacons of free inquiry popped up on his screen by the hundreds.

What a country.

What a country indeed. Regardless of how you feel about the Dixie Chicks or their criticism of President Bush, this example shows how much we need public, non-profit institutions devoted to free inquiry. I can understand why a video store in Waco, TX, would shy away from renting a Dixie Chicks DVD. The last thing the store owner wants is a picket line in front of his store or a boycott of his business. A business exists to earn a profit, not to uphold values. But that means that we can't rely on for-profit entities to make controversial information available, no matter which side of the political spectrum that information belongs to. Public libraries, however, exist to do just that. Whether your tastes run more toward Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, you'll find something in the public library to suit you--and something to tick you off. Or as the classic librarian book bags say, "There's something in my library to offend everyone." May it always be so.

And for those who get irritated that public funds are spent on materials that offend them, I hope you'll remember that something you hold dear probably deeply offends some other taxpayer. I'll let you keep your propaganda if you'll let me keep mine.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Who says I don't listen to new music?

For those of you who think I don't listen to anything recorded after 1988... bzzzzt! Wrong answer! OK, it's usually the right answer, but today I've found an exception. I've become hooked on "Paralyzer" by Finger Eleven:

According to Rhapsody, the band is post-grunge, but this song resembles all sorts of things. It's sort of Led Zeppelin meets Ricky Martin meets Nickelback... or something like that. But it's addictive and stuck in my head, so I thought I'd share the fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Today's funny spam subject line is...

"Worldly polar bear"

With apologies to Dave Barry, that would be a good name for a rock band.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dave Barry has a blog!

When Dave Barry stopped writing a regular column, I went into mourning. Where would I get my booger jokes and tales of exploding whales? But this is the new millennium! The Age of the Blog! Booger jokes and exploding whales are now just a click away, at Dave Barry's blog! According to the most recent postings, he's in Idaho now. I wonder if he's headed my way?

Oh, and here's the video of the infamous Exploding Whale Incident. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Comment problem fixed

One of my readers just told me that comments on this blog were restricted to team members only. I'm not sure how the comments setting got changes (maybe when I migrated the blog to the new version of Blogger), but I've changed it back to accepting comments from anyone with a Google/Blogger account. So please comment away! Otherwise I'll think no one reads this blog and plunge into a deep pit of despair. Then I'll have to spend my plant money on therapy and meds, and that would be truly tragic.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Love and sacrifice

I hadn't planned on posting twice tonight, but I just read the current issue of Heroic Stories, called Love Never Fails, and felt it was worth sharing. For all my snark, I'm still a hopeless romantic, and I've encountered few stories as romantic as this one--and it's true. So often in our culture, love and sacrifice are separated. While I could argue about how this man's sacrifice was unnecessary (stand up to the parents already!), the story is still very touching.

Queen of the couch

I don't have anything important to say (yeah, I know... Do I ever?) It's been an exhausting week. I started the week with a mild head cold. Then, Wednesday afternoon I fell off a curb and landed on my knees in the road. The damage isn't too bad--big ol' knot below one knee and some bruising and fluid around the other one. They don't really hurt that bad, but they feel gimpy and unsteady, and I can't walk very fast. I sort of trudge around like I did when I was pregnant, only I'm a lot smaller, thank goodness. But by this morning, I was wiped out. So I spent this afternoon telecommuting from my couch, which is a pretty nice gig. In case you're thinking of doing the same thing, here are Janet's Tips for Using Your Couch as an Office:

Note for my co-workers and employees: This list is purely for entertainment value. And it'll explain why I rarely telecommute... too many distractions!

  1. Assemble the necessary equipment:

    • Laptop with wireless internet access
    • Pillow(s)
    • Blanket (if necessary)
    • Junk food
    • Drink
    • Phone (regular and cell, so you don't have to get up once you're comfortable)
    • Entertainment: TV remote, iPod, etc.
    • More junk food
    • Chocolate
    • Someone to wait on you hand and foot, so you don't have to get up
    • Couch-side table to hold all this stuff

  2. If you're telecommuting because you have a cold that you don't want to share with your co-workers, you'll need some additional supplies:

    • Case of Kleenex (I recommend the kind with lotion unless you want to look like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
    • Selection of cold medicines to treat your various symptoms. If the box says, "May cause drowsiness," be sure to put your laptop away before they take effect, so the drool doesn't short out your keyboard.

  3. Next, dress appropriately. Remember, even though you're on the couch, you're working, so wear your good sweatpants (the ones without mysterious stains on the butt) and a clean t-shirt. Strong BO can distract you from your MySpace survey... er, I mean spreadsheet.
  4. Use the bathroom. Otherwise, you'll just get comfortable, settled into an IM session... I mean report... when you'll have to get up to pee. Advanced couch commuters, especially males, may want to consider a portable urinal to avoid bladder-related distractions. A catheter, however, is not recommended, no matter how lazy you are.

Now get on that couch and get to work!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How to do a Pelvic Exam

No, I haven't taken up a new hobby :-)

To catch up on the medical blogosphere, I checked out this week's Grand Rounds, which included a link to a great post called How to do a Pelvic Exam. In it, the poster takes us through an instructional video from the New England Journal of Medicine (available to authorized users only), designed to show doctors how to perform every woman's favorite medical exam. I haven't watched the video (yet), but the post is fascinating and even funny in places. Women, you'll find out just what doctors are looking for when they're rearranging your female anatomy. Guys... well, if you read this post, you might understand why your complaints about "turn your head and cough" don't garner much sympathy from us females.