Sunday, August 30, 2009


Warning, this is a bit of a curmudgeon-ly post: you've been warned!

Here I go:

At social gatherings (a.k.a. parties), I do not care to stand around listening to a bunch of guys "male posturing". Because to me, men bragging about their cars, fishing trips, business successes or anything else is just posturing -- they may as well be comparing the sizes of their dicks!
They just go on and on about themselves! No matter where the conversation leads --politics, science, the weather even-- this type of male (type A personality?) just likes to bring the conversation right back to himself and what a hotshot he is!

Myself, I rather go over and see what the ladies are talking about. I don't care about shopping, fashion or make-up, but more often than not, sooner or later they do get around to talking about some stuff is that close to my heart: children, education, family, health... But no matter what the topic, women tend to be more consensus-building, self-disclosing, yes, they're more likely to listen. Most importantly, they don't blatantly think of themselves as the center of the universe!

The question begs: is it all just basic Darwinian evolution at work? Men competing for power and access to females, while women are nurturing their young? Or did I spend too much time in graduate school taking courses in evolutionary biology?

Maybe I'm a bit biased -- just a teensy bit...

Phew, got that off my chest!

Photo credits

Friday, August 28, 2009

Healthcare debate

When I first came to this country, people would asked me if I came from the "socialist or communist" Germany -- and why the heck was it called "democratic" when it isn't? Don't they get free healthcare, and have no choices and freedoms?
Well, I hardly knew where to start answering! In broken English I'd try to explain that
(a) I came from West Germany, which was democratic (official name was Federal Republic of Germany) while East Germany (even if the name was German Democratic Republic) was communist, but that (b) West Germany did also have "socialized" healthcare, but it was not free - it was paid for by taxes (doesn't anybody understand that nothing is ever truly free?), and that you still had choices & freedom, and, most difficult of all (c) that socialism does not equal communism!

Today, I just came across a blog new to me, Solipsist, by a writing teacher. I really enjoyed his discussion on healthcare, and he offers an excellent explanation as to why Americans are so scared by the word "socialized" in front of Medicine.
and here I quote the Solipsist:
...maybe people get turned off by the phrase "socialized," which makes them think of socialism. Now, here again, the main problem is that the word "socialism" has gotten a bad rap. Political scientist Robert Axelrod in a book about cooperation, effectively defined socialism (or at least a socialist state of mind) as "niceness." So what's the problem with "niceness"? Well, nothing, but many people equate "socialism" with "communism"--which are not the same thing--and "communism" with Russia and in particular with "Stalinism." The thing people don't realize is that calling Josef Stalin a socialist is like calling calling Tony "Scarface" Montana a pharmacist...
Anyway, even if my family is among the lucky ones to have decent health insurance through an employer, I do feel that the AMERICAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, and it needs FIXING!
How is it broken? Let me count the ways... the US spends much more on healthcare per patient without delivering better health; the unfairness of denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, the huge number of un-insured and under-insured, and on and on...

Let me just give you one tiny lousy example of BROKEN: a gainfully employed (but under-insured) friend of ours ended up making the risky choice of NOT going to the emergency room with a dangerous bowl obstruction, risking rupture (and thus possibly death), because he simply could not afford it -- he's still paying off the bills from his last one several years ago that precipitated a HUGE chain of medical problems. Note also that an indigent or homeless person in the same situation would have been treated for free. THERE IS SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG WITH THAT!

Don't get me wrong: I don't think that it's "unfair" when the homeless get treated in the Emergency Room-- it's the compassionate thing to do: we don't let people die in the streets! I digress here, but there is a whole big problem with homelessness in this country, and much of it has to do with how poorly we deal with mental illness, and again, healthcare reform could help...

I think that access to affordable healthcare should be a basic right just like access to education -- maybe it would help if called our public school system "socialized education". Most countries have just that, including ours, as it is obviously in a society's best interest to educate its citizens. Imagine a world where not everybody could afford to send their kids to school -- what kind of a heartless society would that make us?

Here's an account of a British(-American) Mommy blogger entitled "Hey America, socialised medicine is not that bad!", very enlightening!
I also recommend any of Honeypiehorse's social commentaries: very insightful.


Both kids kept up their string lessons over the summer, and got to show off their musical prowess at a recital this week.
Wolfman played "Nina" by Pergolesi, and he played it beautifully -- really "polished" that piece! Too bad Pergolesi died so young (age 26) as he wrote excellent lyrical music -- read here for more about Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736).

Liesl played a fiddle tune named "Leatherbuttons", accompanied by big Bro on the cello. She did very well (seems to have gotten over her stage fright earlier in her musical career), and it was so sweet to hear the siblings perform together!

Here are a few more pictures of the recital:
the wonderful accompanist Ruth,

there's always a beginner playing variations on "Twinkles",

many more cellists such as this one playing Bach,

and this last violinist who gets my vote for the most unique shoes!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to School...

Hey ho, hey, ho
it's back to school they go...

Yes, it's that time of year -- the youngstas are headed back to school bright and early tomorrow morning. Parents everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief!

Actually, this summer our kids (the 2 remaining who are of school age, entering 10th and 6th grade) have been a breeze. They're old enough to take care of themselves while mom & dad are off to work, and never set the house on fire even once. They take care of their chores (usually), don't fight too much, and even practice their instruments without being nagged about it -- when did they grow up to be so responsible?

Luckily they're not 9-5 latchkey kids -- our schedules are flexible enough that usually one or the other of us got to be home at least some of the time. But it has been great to be able to trust them, not worry about them, and not have to spend a huge chunk of change on daycare or camps. They both are much happier just "hanging out" en famille -- organized camps are not their "cup of tea". Some people thrive on being busy, but our lot (the kids and the 'rents) love having a laid-back summer -- there's plenty "busyness" the rest of the year...
We did not go on any trips Outside (a.k.a. the lower 48 States) this summer, but have done a fair bit of fun stuff around here, including a few great camping trips. Bicycling, hiking, s'mores around the campfire, reading, picking berries -- that's what summer is about! One of the highlights of my summer was them coming to work with me occasionally -- volunteering to help out at the Nature Center.

When they were younger, I was lucky to be able to stay home with them. My job grew in hours and responsibilities as they grew older -- I started first as a volunteer, then very part-time during the peak spring/summer fieldtrip season with summers off. Now I work 3/4-time year-round, and still get to be home when they return from school -- couldn't ask for a more ideal job!

But I do think that in the American school system summer vacation is too long -- 3 months! True, some children (with rich parents) go on amazing trips and specialty camps. But most don't, and they lose out academically too. Students forget a lot over the summer if they're not engaged and challenged (Nintendo & the tube are unfortunately the entertainment of choice, rather than playing outside) -- i just can't imagine how long it takes teachers to catch them up on math, let alone study habits and routines. If I were gone from my job for 3 whole months, my brain would do a major core dump, and I'd have forgotten procedural details and quite a few phone numbers...

I like vacations -- don't get me wrong. Kids need them, and adults too! I think US workers don't get nearly enough vacation from their jobs to take a good break and RELAX, for their health and sanity's sake-- instead many are juggling to find daycare or summer camps for their children who are out for 3 whole months when they themselves have only a few weeks' leave! I see many of those summer camps coming through the Nature Center on fieldtrips, and they vary greatly -- some of the counselors are great, and some so young and inexperienced that they have little clue on how to deal with their charges... I've met some wonderful dedicated people, but I imagine that many a young college student who's doing this for a summer job ends up getting turned away from this field after negative experiences -- I know it sounds cynical! My sincere wish is that our society learn to place a higher value of those working with children: they're our future, and we ought to pay and respect all teachers much MORE!

So here's a "hip, hip, hoorah" to hard-working and dedicated teachers everywhere!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I nee a Project like I need a hole in the head

I just finished reading the book Julie & Julia, and am looking forward to seeing the movie with Eldest, my daughter known in blogland as "Kitchensister" -- she's a great cook and I'm sure we'll enjoy seeing what probably is best described as a chick-flick food movie (at least that's what I tell my hubby as to why I need to see this movie with Eldest instead of him!).
For those of you not familiar with the movie(click for trailer here), here's the essence:
29 year old NY secretary, Julie Powell, feels a need for a project, and takes on cooking all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's famous cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and blogging about it -- setting herself the challenge of doing it all in year's time...

I just finished the book tonight, and I admit it, I enjoyed it -- it's about two women searching for meaning in life (Julia Child also started her cooking career late in life), and the process of embarking on the "Project" helps both woman find joy in their lives.

The natural consequence of my delving into this story is, naturally, a search for my own year-long personal "Project" and blog about it -- something that will change my life?!?!

Shall I cook my way through all of Paul Prudhommes' Cajun recipes -- that would make my husband VERY happy, and do no good to either of our waistlines? Nix that!

shall I be the perfect "Hausfrau" and actually keep a clean house for a year? Nix that!

shall I cook my way through a different cuisine or cookbook every week? Hey, I like that idea!

shall I pull a Barbara Kingsolver and cook only healthy organic local food for a year? Noble thought, but can't realistically pull that off here in Alaska! Nix that.

shall I spend the winter cataloguing and scapbooking 20-some years worth of family fotos, including an actual digital library that makes sense? Talk about a big job!

shall I make a handknit sweater and/or make a quilt for everybody on my Christmas list? See you in a few years-- I have enough unfinished objects (UFO) in my craft area that I don't need to start any new ones for a good year. Nix that!

shall I forget all about food and crafts and practice yoga until I have the perfect flexible body and find enlightenment too? Too esoteric...

shall I ... you fill in!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing forester again!

I have a degree in Forestry, which I get to put to use occasionally. And this week was just such an occasion: I was assigned to check our trails for hazard trees.

Hazard trees are not exactly a Homeland Security issue. It's a matter of evaluating potential risk: which trees along the trail are likely to fall in a windstorm, and would they cause much damage? It's one thing if they only block the trail until we can send out a guy (or gal -- we do have a few on our trail crew) with a chainsaw. But the most serious case would be if a tree falls on an innocent person sitting on a bench or picnic table...

So I got to do the first round of evaluating hazard trees. Once again, I'm lucky to be paid to spend hours hiking the beautiful Alaskan Outdoors -- can't beat that. And this time, I took my family along: the prof was the photographer, the son was in charge of GPS, and Youngest helped take notes and take samples. We made a great team!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Big Black Box

Last weekend I spent many hours moving a Big Black Box (my compost bin) across the yard to a new location -- a strange thing to do on a picturesque sunny afternoon, but it was worth it.
To me composting is all about enriching the soil for gardening -- plus, of course, reducing waste and watching that miracle of decomposition in action.

I admit that the compost-moving operation turned out to be a LOT of work, and I really did not know what I'd find inside! A pleasant surprise was that I ended up harvesting something 6-8 buckets of decent soil for my vegetable garden!

The reason that I felt the great need to tote a ton of yard waste across my yard was basically that I was unhappy with the lack of progress my compost bin was making -- I knew that it was way too dry (being a big plastic box w/ lid --rather reminiscent of a latrine, actually), and since I could not reach it with the hose, it rarely got watered.

I set up this big black box 2 springs ago, all excited to make my own compost. I picked that location for its distance to the house, and was glad of it when a black bear discovered it shortly after I had started composting in it! Lesson #1: No household wastes.
You should have seen me that day -- banging pots together to get "Blackie" out of my yard. Afterwards, I promptly removed all kitchen scraps (causing some of the frame to break as I precariously leaned over the edge). Since then, I only used it for grass clippings, fall leaves and the dead potted plants from the deck after the first frost.
I basically pretty much neglected it other than throwing in the occasional grass/leaves, having started an indoor worm bin in the garage for my kitchen scraps. Whenever it did look in the big black box, there was a bunch of very dry-looking straw. Last summer we only had 2 days where the temperature got above 70 Fahrenheit, and I had pretty much come to the conclusion that composting in Alaska was a waste of space.But my success with the worm box, and the warmth of this summer, got me to rethinking my hard-nosed position. I came to the conclusion that I could do better by moving the big black box to a sunny spot right behind one of my new raised beds, where I could water it right along with my growing veggies, plus being right there, it would also be a handy receptacle for all the green waste products of gardening such as thinning the carrots, etc.

Today, as I disassembled the big black box, and after getting past the top half of dry grass, etc, I started finding some wonderful black COMPOSTED SOIL! Miracles of miracles -- 2 years of utter neglect did produce some decent soil. How I love sifting my hands through that black gold. Between that and the harvest from my worm box, I added a hefty dent in my newest raised bed project -- yes, I do plan to grow a bigger garden next year.
Ahhh, the satisfaction of a job well done, and as a bonus, clean crocs for the whole family!

If you'd like to see a list of how my garden crops fared so far this summer, click to see "Gardening Successes and Failures", which I posted on my other blog,

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Aha moment -- an addendum to Crow Pass hike

Why did I not think of this BEFORE hiking Crow Pass?

Had a perfectly good solution to the problem of crossing an ice-cold glacier river, sitting right in the attic with the boating gear which we hadn't used in years: neoprene socks!

It was a middle-of-the-night revelation, and I promptly went searching for them (the next morning). I lent the socks to friends who were about to go on the Crow Pass hike for the second time this summer, and we had just compared stories of painful feet!

Here's the glowing report:

"The Socks made all the difference in the world -- my feet never felt uncomfortable, so less painful. Amazing technology!"