Sunday, February 28, 2010

Earthquake in Chile

An earthquake of 8.8 magnitude hit Chile at 3:34 am on Saturday, Feb. 27th. There are reports of many deaths (in the hundreds) and many more people left homeless! My heart goes out to the people of Chile, and I hope that the world community be as willing to lend them a hand as they have been in Haiti...

The city of Concepcion was hardest hit. The epicenter of the earthquake was in the Maule province, North of Concepcion. The area most severely affected by the earthquake is also the most populated area in central Chile -- between Valparaiso and Concepcion.
I spend much of the 1960's living there, on the coast in Vina del Mar, nextdoor to the port City of Valparaiso. We moved there after the 1960 earthquake -- the strongest ever recorded at 9.5.

I remember seeing some of the remaining damage as a child, but even more so, I remember how acutely aware everybody was of earthquakes. In fact, we were drilled in earthquake preparedness in school before learning how to read and write -- we'd have drills and everybody would disappear under their desks within seconds!

The Spanish word for earthquake is "terremoto", literally "earth shake", and the German word is "Erdbeben" which also means earth shake. I was 3.5 years old when we moved to Chile, and shakely began my first of several bilingual careers. I do remember small earthquakes -- nothing terrible happened, but understandably, everybody around us was terrified whenever the earth shook, and a kid picks up on this. The concept and words "terremoto" and "Erdbeben" therefore, were both very scary to me! One day when I was probably 4 0r 5 years old, I was asked by a elderly German lady if I wanted some "Erdbeeren" (German word for strawberries), and I ran away screaming "NO TERREMOTO!!!!" thinking she had just asked me if I wanted an earthquake!

Nobody wants earthquakes, but they are a fact of life along the Pacific Rim. Here in Alaska, we're also in a very active earthquake and volcano zone, and we too, could get hit anytime (1964 Anchorage got hit with a 9.2 earthquake on Good Friday). We like to think we're prepared, but I'm sure we would also be greatly impacted!

Many of Chile's earthquake experts were helping Haiti when this earthquake struck. I hope the good "karma" of helping in Haiti will be repaid by the world community helping Chile in its time of need.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Felix & Pedro

Let me introduce them: they live on my kitchen counter.
Pedro is my "pet" a.k.a. sourdough starter, a live culture of bacteria and yeast, and I feed him every day with water and flour (but when we go on vacation, I store Pedro in the frig -- unlike pets).

We've been eating lots of home-made bread, everything from traditional sourdoughs to potato bread, whole wheat breads with sprouted grains, and rye breads. Recipes, trials and tribulations are posted at my rambling food blog, Borealkitchen.

Every weekend, I combine 1 cup of Pedro with 1/2 cup from the other jar, which I've name Felix (plus some oil and an egg). Then I fry up a batch of Sourjacks, or Sourdough pancakes. They are about as authentic Alaskan as you can get, and absolutely delicious! Exact recipe can be found here.

Why did I name them Pedro and Felix?
"Sourdough" is a nickname for old-timer Alaskans (especially miners), because in the Gold Rush days, the only way to get bread or pancake to rise without the use of Baker's yeast or eggs was, of course, by using a sourdough starter.

The "Sourdough" miner who first discovered gold in Fairbanks (which was our first Alaskan home, and where I first started regularly baking our daily bread) was an Italian immigrant named Felix Pedro --more about him and Fairbanks Gold Rush history here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What religion am I?

Today I came across an unusual, interesting website, called Beliefnet.
I took a quiz to find out just where my religious views fit. I was surprised how thorough and thought-provoking the questions were, and liked the fact that I was asked to weigh the importance (low-high) of each question. It starts asking about concepts God, afterlife, human nature, but goes into moral issues too. Like I said, I found it more thorough than most quizzes of the "20 questions" variety...

The top 3 that came up for me were:

Liberal Quakers
Unitarian Universalism

The first 2 did not surprise me at all (that's pretty much what I had figured), but the third came as a bit of a surprise -- I suppose it has to do with my love for nature, rather than any Wiccan tendencies hidden deep in my soul...

On the very bottom of the list (which basically ranks how much your view match with over 20 religions), I found out that I match the very least with the Roman Catholic Faith. That did not surprise me either, but I do still have a a great deal of respect for RC and other traditional/orthodox religions. That is, if they truly follow Jesus Christ's teachings, concentrating on things like love, and fight for social justice rather than stupid things like opposing gay marriage...

When asked to describe her religion on her Facebook profile, a friend of mine put "Religious no, spiritual yes", which I think describes me too.
I do care deeply about many things, and do believe in some sort of supreme force or Ultimate Truth, but am not too worried about details. I think there are many paths to God, and that no one religion or belief system holds a monopoly on truth or salvation.
What matters to me a great deal is how we treat life on this earth: each other, animals, plants, the environment (and I suppose that makes me a Pagan!? -- for a discussion of the origin and definition of the term "pagan", see this Religious Tolerance website)

If you're curious and want to take the test for yourself, here's the link:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Those darn grocery bags...

Photo credit:

Are you as tired of plastic grocery bags as I am? Here in Alaska we still see WAY too many of them, often flying around in the wind and getting caught on whatever protrudes from tundra or taiga. A few communities, such as Bethel, Alaska, have managed to outlaw them (Bravo!) and I hear that Los Angeles is planning to this coming July, but here in the Anchorage area their use is still rampant.

I try to bring my own bags whenever I go shopping, but I admit that I don't always succeed. And even if I do remember (or have run back to the truck to retrieve them), I find that the sales clerks are not always very accommodating to us BYO baggers. I practically have to force my canvas bags on them, and if I was too slow but still insist on using my own (after they've started bagging), they've been known to sigh and wad up the plastic & toss them. I once asked a teenage bagger to please re-use the plastic for the next customer, and he said "why?"

In fact, I've discovered that those self-checkout stands that are cropping up everywhere are my friend after all, since I get to bag my own groceries, and take my own sweet time instead of being rushed by a clerk...

Here's a funny anecdote: Right before Christmas I found myself shopping at Office Max, ending up with way more than the 1 item I went in for -- and no canvas bag with me -- and so I decided to purchase an oversize (very useful) re-useable bag that say in big letters "REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE". And the clerk scanned the pricetag, and proceeds to pack it in a plastic bag!
Go figure...
ALASKA: We still got a long way to go, baby!

Recently at the Nature Center, we had a well-attended program about permaculture (Thanks Dani & Gus!), and we had a lively discussion about what steps we can take in our own lives to reduce waste and live in better harmony with our environment.
As part of the program, Dani showed us how to crochet those flimsy grocery-store plastic bags into sturdy baskets using "Plarn" (plastic yarn). And I got hooked (pun intended)!

I already made 3, and just started another (it's fun!!!!)
Here's the how:
Step 1 (non-crocheting husbands and boyfriends, step right up -- you can do this!)
Cut the grocery bags into strips. Either cut rings across and loop them together, or cut them in one continuous spiral, starting at the handle. Optional: rolls these up in a ball (loosely). you'll need a LOT of bags, one or two dozen depending on the size of your final project.

Step 2
Using a large crochet hook (size N or larger), start by making a circle or oval. I like to start with an oval of 4-10 stitches, making single stitches and increase at each end as needed to get a flat oval (at each end, I make duplicate stitches in 3-5 stitches for the first few rows). Once my base is large enough, I switch to double stitches.Then continue to crochet to desired size. I find that a large opening is more "user-friendly" at the grocery store.

Step 3
A pair of handles is made by crocheting a chain of 15-20 stitches, reinforced by single stitches or wrapping. Alternatively, sew on a rim and handles of strips cut from old jeans.

Voila, you're done. You can stretch this bag quite a bit still (use your feet) and it will keep the shape. Remember, these bags are quite strong, and it's fun to do. You'll find yourself raiding your friends' recycling for fun colors -- I'm now making orange stripes from the newspaper baggies, green stripes from the PetZoo, and red dots from Target...

Careful, this is so much fun it can get addicting!

Fruit bats in Alaska?

Maybe the long Alaskan winters are getting to us.

I call my Youngest "my little fruit bat". She LOVES to eat fruit. While most kids crave sweets or carbohydrates, my little Pixie is always asking for fruit. Bananas, oranges, apples are currently our fruit staples during winter. But she's getting a little bored with the menu.

Youngest: Mom, next summer, could we PLEASE grow some fruit in our garden?
Me: Do you mean berries?
Y: Not just berries, lots and lots of fruit, like cherries, peaches, pears -- you know!
Me: But fruit trees don't survive our Alaska winters. Sorry!
Y: Ooops, I forgot! (Pause)

Y: Mom, can a human survive on just fruit?
Me: Not here in Alaska, but I suppose, if you include nuts, you probably could -- strictly speaking nuts are seeds...
Y: Yeah, I would like living on a tropical island: coconuts, pineapple, mangoes...
Me: ...papayas, jackfruit...
Y: What' that?
Me: I think we need a fieldtrip to Hawaii...


Sunday, February 14, 2010

a dozen roses for...

My son bought a dozen roses for his sweetheart today: they're white with a hint of pale peach. Very lovely!
Here's a picture of Wolfman and his sweetie.

That reminds me of Valentine's Day a long time ago, in a place far far away:
When I was about his age, we had moved to the Philippines, and I attended Brent International School in the Philippines. I was shy, barely spoke English, and had a crush on a senior. Not expecting that he'd even noticed me, I was completely surprised when I received a single red rose from him on Valentine's Day!
It absolutely blew me away -- even though he'd given roses to several girls, that did not matter -- he had noticed me!!!

Ahhh, to be young...
Thank you, Jaime, for making my Valentine's Day some 30-odd years ago! And kudos to my son, who made somebody very happy with a bouquet of roses today.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Great Cricket Getaway

The other night, just starting to drift off to sleep after late-night blogging about my lastest sourdough baking adventures (, I was awakened by a panicky 12-year old: "Mom, help, I bumped the cricket box, and it fell, and now they've all escaped in my room!!!"

Yes, indeed, of the newly replenished stock of crickets (a.k.a. lizard's lunch box), all but 2 had gotten away. What to do?

Well, I tell ya, those crickets are VERY good at hiding. We looked, and looked, and found 1.
Next, I'm dragging the vacuum cleaner up the stairs (it's well past midnight by now), and we start trying to "find" crickets in the crooks and nannies of a very messy room. I doubt we found any.

Finally, we give up. I convince her it's safe to go to sleep "No, they won't hop all over you while you're sleeping...", and crawl into bed. I don't think I got to sleep until after 3 am -- was just way to awake (this old body does not deal well anymore with late-night interruptions!)

Ever since then, even after a THOROUGH vacuuming of the "cricket room", we've been encountering the occasional cricket here and there -- most frequently in the bathroom (Moisture attracts them thirsty little critters).

I hope there are not too many survivors, and that they don't start mating!
I'll keep you posted ...

photo credit:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Golden Wedding Anniversary

My parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary this past weekend!
I wish I could have been there to help celebrate the big event, but alas, it is a rather long way from here to Germany (there are no direct flights from here during winter!)

From all the reports, it sounds like the weather in Germany was rather Alaskan -- snow and unseasonably cold temperatures. But the weather did not dampen the spirit, and relatives and friends congregated for a big feast. Note to Americans: Europeans really know how to mark special occasions! While many Americans prefer to hide the passing of time, Europeans will acknowledge and celebrate big birthdays & anniversaries by inviting their friends to a big formal affair!

Here's a picture of my parents -- in icing -- from their wedding day 50 years ago!I've always thought that when my mother was young that she resembled Ingrid Bergman, whereas my father has always looked like a quintessential professor to me, then and now!
I want to wish my parents all the best on this special occasion!
And I'll excuse them & my siblings from having to travel to chilly Alaska in another 10 months, when I reach the ripe old age of 50! Instead, we'll all get together in Germany at some other time (preferably when it's warm) and celebrate a family reunion...

For an anniversary present, I gave my parents a Llama.
Yes, that's correct!
I donated funds in their name to Heifer Foundation. I actually chose the category "where most needed", given the crisis in Haiti right now, and a food- and income-producing animal (such as a llama, goat, chickens, rabbits, cow) will go to a needy family somewhere to help them move toward self-reliance, with the animal providing a sustainable source of food and income.

Why a llama in particular? Our family lived for many years in Chile, and thus our family has a soft spot for the people of South America.
Read more about llamas here.

Liebe Mutti u.Papi, Hier sitze ich im kalten Norden und ueberlege mir was ich Euch zur
Goldenen Hochzeit schenken kann? Es soll etwas besonderes sein, etwas sinnvolles, etwas
was lange haelt, darf nicht viel Platz einnehmen, und es soll Bedeutung haben --
immerhin habt Ihr 50 Jahren, viele Weltreisen, 3 Kinder, 7 Enkelkinder zusammen-- und so
kam mir die Idee: Ich schenke Euch ein Llama.
Keine Sorge, dieses Llama kommt nicht auf den Balkon! Eine arme Familie irgendwo in den Anden bekommt in Eurem Namen dieses Llama durch Heifer International geschenkt, und verhilft ihnen zu einer besseren Existenz. Dieses Geschenk ist in dem Motto von Confucius: "Give a man a fish, and he has food for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime."

Ihr habt uns Kinder durch Euer Beispiel und die vielen Jahre in Chile und Philippinen gelehrt auch an andere Menschen zu denken, und ich hoffe Euch mit diesem Geschenk eine Freude zu machen.