Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SNOW: The Case For It and the Case Against It

And now a guest column from the Prof, my dear husband:

FOR—There is no denying it, the stuff is pretty in a wholesome, clean baby, fluffy kitten sort of way. I have seen 3 inches of fresh snow cover up the horrid remains of a month-long midwinter breakup like a clean bottom sheet covers up the worst mattress stains. It even smells fresh – not like the in-your-nose way that a thunderstorm does, but rather so softly, like a tentative Chopin nocturne. And in the ultimate testament to the possibilities of evolution, the boreal forest ecosystems nurture themselves on the seasonal snowpack in a life-giving thermodynamic Dance of the Hours.

Acoustically, snow is again a wonder substance. It is eery(sp) to wake up in camp in the morning and find all the noises strongly damped by five inches of snow where there was none the afternoon before. Someone seems to have gagged the squirrels, and the monotonous highway whine of tires that kept you awake last night is now just a whisper of places you haven’t seen. And the Leatherman you accidently left out overnight has disappeared just as efficiently as the raven’s cries.

And then there is skiing. Ah yes, skiing! The infinite wonders of physics adapt crystalline water to the vagaries of ski base, producing a ski/snow interface that is balls-to-the-walls, gut-wrenching, gonzo, totally tubular. Well… if said snow is on a steeply sloping surface, that is.

AGAINST—Snow feels COLD, no dodging the fact. And it is not just that winter is cold anyway. Actual contact with winter’s snow brings out the real meaning of the phrase “butt cold”. For example. Sometimes I get up to “check the stars” as men are sometimes wont to do (a rural living experience only, I’m afraid) in the middle of the night. My version of this sport typically involves a quick jaunt across the deck in bare feet, summer or winter. Let me tell you, the trip is a vastly different experience when there are 4 in. of fluffy new snow. The old dogs cool down mighty quick as those flakes melt like bacon grease on a hot grill. One gets down to business real quickly! No dawdling to actually check the stars. No way, no how!

And then there is that darn downside to the slipperiness thing. Due to an under-regarded phenomenon known as “regelation” (whose derivation is well beyond the scope of this course), ice and snow get a LOT more slippery when subjected to high pressure. Ever wonder how ponderous glaciers can move or why ice skates glide so fast? Works with shoes too, sometimes, wouldn’t ya know. And bare feet on the deck, too. Not to mention car tires. (I warned you not to mention them).

DENOUEMENT— White, clean, wholesome. Cold, slick and dangerous. How to reconcile such disparate properties of a single substance? In Alaska, one tends to be in the FOR camp, at least for most of the winter. Or else why in the world would one live here? “Outsiders” (that is, Lesser 48’ers, those that hail from outside the “Last Frontier”) frequently fall in the AGAINST camp. Not all, mind you. There are several Outsiders that think they are in the FOR camp, but that is because they do not have to live the FOR life 24/7 for 6 months. And then there are those Outside who truly prefer flakes over snakes (as do we). This group rightly comprises honorary Alaskans, even if their values are a bit skewed.
And then there is this last group—the AGAINSTERS-- who only like their flakes frosted and drenched with a dose of cow squeezings over the whole mess. No time for snowblowers and roof rakes for them, they have a golf date with the front 18. The only thing slowing them down is that bowl of increasingly soggy flakes.
I’ll take my flaky problems over theirs any day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Sometimes I feel like I never have enough TIME. It seems to be slipping away from me (like in Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory painting) despite my most valiant efforts to "manage" it.

But time management is just an illusion -- it marches on, no matter what I do. I certainly cannot control the march of time itself -- all I can hope to do is to wisely use the time that I do have. My problem is that I expect to do way too much...

I'm a fairly hard-working person, keeping busy with many projects at home and at work. After a hectic day of teaching, running errands, cooking, etc., I'm either exhausted enough to just go to sleep, or else I sit down with some knitting, sewing, or laundry-folding. Working with my hands does relax me -- it may seem like nervous energy to an outsider (can't she just have her hands still for a change?), but it actually helps me unwind...

For some reason, I go thru periods where I'm super critical of myself (I feel I can't get my work done -- the household is going to pieces...), when I feel like a failure. Not only am I falling short of being a good german "Hausfrau", I'm not even managing to be a loving mom and wife! Suddenly the messes in the kitchen, the shoes & boots strewn over the entryway, the piles in the garage are just driving me NUTS. In a way, during those (PMS?) moments, I lose all perspective over what really matters in life. Time, or the lack thereof, looms very large.

Here I am at the end of busy week with 2 birthdays, and at work I'm organizing the children's Halloween events -- there's lots to do, and I've got to keep on top of a lot of stuff. But I'll get thru it -- I always do! What will I do when I get to the other side of this task? Relax? How?

This reminds me of a passage in Antoine St.Exupery's The Little Prince.
He meets an inventor with a pill that replaces the need to drink water. He says, "Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week."
The little prince asks him, "What would I do with those fifty-three minutes?"
"Anything you like..."
"As for me," said the little prince to himself, "if I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water."

Papa's Birthday today!

Happiness is:

summer evening on the Gulf of Alaska...
skiing powder, holding a new baby...

Here's a big hurrah to our Papa, FAMILY MAN, who is also an October Baby!
The lil' sprout was Papa's Birthday present 11 years ago in Fairbanks, born exactly 1 week before his 41st Birthday (so now you can do the MATH!)

Papa: you've introduced us to so many wonderful places -- from the desert to the arctic.
Here we're a slot canyon family in Utah this past March.

And now for some old "all-dressed-up-for-Easter" pictures from many years ago, when Eldest was in Middleschool and Wolfman in Kindergarten (and youngest probably still searching for Easter eggs..?).

We love you, PAPA!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lorsch & Heidelberg, Germany

More pictures from this summer's Germany trip.

My brother took us on a bicycle trip to the nearby small town of Lorsch (not far from the city Worms, whose name makes most Americans giggle), site of a very famous Benedictine cloister. The Imperial Abbey of Lorsch was one of the most renowned monasteries of the Carolinian Empire, established in 764 and destroyed during the Thirty Year War in 1600's. Most of the original complex is gone -- only an ornate gate and one ship of the cathedral remain -- just look at the size of the buttressing behind the kids!

We enjoyed the little museum: it gave a good overview of the role of monasteries in over a thousand years of European history. The museum also houses a comprehensive section on tobacco (cigars were made in Lorsch until the 1950's) and an attic full of everyday objects -- including the history of bathrooms!
I would have enjoyed more time studying the Abbey's extensive garden with medicinal plants used by monks, but alas, the heat was wearing on the kids' patience. Altogether, I must say they were great sports, and did indeed absorb much of the richness of European history.

On the bike ride back, we took a rest at the ruins of another smaller monastery, discovered when farmers were plowing their fields some 40 or 50 years ago-- here the kids pretend to disappear into a well!

We loved being able to bicycle everywhere -- they are truly an important mode of transportation. My brother's family of 4 manages with one car, even though my brother and his wife both work. Besides bikes, there is also an excellent public transportation system: trains and buses are convenient, and heavily used! This sea of parked bicycles at the train station is proof (click on the picture to appreciate how many bikes are parked there -- how do you even find your bike at the end of the day..!?)

I feel a rant coming on! We sure are way behind in the US, where we rely so very heavily on our automobiles (many of which are still very energy-inefficient). Here in Alaska and many parts of the Western US, one could argue that distances are just too great for public transport. But even where railroads exist, for example, they are often not really meant for routine transportation. Take the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage: only tourists can even take the train to/from airport to downtown hotels, but I can't. Now that's anathema to a European or anyone concerned about all the fossil fuels being burned up and becoming greenhouse gases. Perhaps gasoline is still too cheap -- but as prices continue to go up, Americans may start paying attention (let's hope so, esp. with some leadership from Washington, DC). But I digress...

Back to sightseeing: we took a day trip to Heidelberg, famous for its castle and university.

Parts of the castle were destroyed during the various wars, such as the tower below where half fell off, plus there's always restoration going on -- I love the way they even made the construction canvas look more interesting!

The details are AMAZING-- for example, look at the facade of the building below with all the dignitaries' stone statues, such as portly Frederick with his sword:

Back in the old town square, there are lots of vendors -- their stalls are build right onto the church's outside walls between the buttresses:

We treated ourselves to some delicious italian icecream, including the favorite Eiskaffee and Spaghetti Icecream!

And last, lest you think Germany is all medieval -- there's plenty modern, such as this mechanical horse sculpture near the main train station in Heidelberg, where we hopped on the train to return to Bensheim, tired and hungry for the delicious cooking of my sister-in-law!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Liesl!

Our youngest turns 11 today!
Happy Birthday -- what a joy you have been, and continue to be, to us all.
Here some pictures of our lil' pumkin.

Our good friends' wedding was one of the rare occasions you wore a dress!

You've always been such a hard worker, trying to keep up with your big brother.

On these last few pix you are 2 years old, and we had just moved here.
You used to call yourself "Coin-coin".

Happy Birthday, Bean!