Friday, May 30, 2008

The Full Album

Check out 570 photos from our trip here.

North To The Future!

Our Alaska trip was fantastic. The cruise was fabulous and the land portion was great - especially Denali National Park, which was incredible and inspiring. I wish I could sit with you and tell you every little detail. I hope someday each of you reading this can get there.

In the morning we put on jeans and boots and had one or another fabulous adventure - in Juneau we went whale watching and a baby humpback whale came and played with the boat. While mama was below feeding, the baby rolled over and waved its pectoral fins at us. We could see the pleats on its throat, and it would roll over again and show us its flukes. This went on for like fifteen minutes. Amazing! Even the naturalist was almost speechless. I want to be a whale in my next life. A gang of Stellar sea lions came to investigate the boat, and one of the bald eagles we saw was flying with nest materials in its claws.

In Skagway, we went to a dog mushing camp which was soooo much fun being around hundreds of totally excited dogs. They jump in the traces and bark their heads off, they are so excited to run. As soon as they hear "Go!" they put their heads down and take off. Alaska huskies are really mutts, skinny, sprinting dogs that don't look much like the Siberians and malamutes you see in Disney films. We also saw puppies, and one was really active and chewed on my ear. We went to a glass blowing shop and made our own glass balls, shipped to Mom's so we haven't seen them since they cooled. Zirpu did blue with gold flakes, I did red and dark yellow in twists and I hope it looks like Saturn; the red is black until it cools down. The gal who was our tour guide was so enthusiastic about glass blowing that I sucked up some of her energy too.

Then, in the evening, we changed into nice clothes and ate marvelous food on a white tablecloth. Two nights were formal, and when Zirpu realized he'd forgotten his tuxedo parts at home, the DJ, a real sweetie, loaned his shirt studs and cuff links to him. We had good tablemates, a newlywed couple from Pensacola who were cute as buttons and a knowledgeable Canadian couple on their second cruise. After dinner, we went dancing in the Crow's Nest, the bar at the top of the ship. There were not a lot of dancers on the cruise, but we did get in one totally dance-geek conversation with a British couple about International vs. American styles.

In Fairbanks, we went to the Museum of the North and lo and behold, Mt. McKinley was clear as a bell from 160 miles away. Like Mt. Rainer, it is often hidden in clouds about 70% of the time. I'm used to looking at tall mountains because of Rainer and the Rockies, but McKinley is really really tall.

The museum is a must-see, with everything from fine art to natural history to Gold Rush history, all in one place. We could have spent five hours there. The museums in Alaska (we went to like five) are careful to include women in their exhibits, probably because there were so few of them their individual contributions were that much more significant.

I really learned a lot about Alaska and just when I was a little frustrated that there was so little Native history, we went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and learned so much. For example: I'd heard (as have many others) that "Eskimo" is seen as pejorative as it means "raw fish eater." We were told that Inupiaq, Yupik, Aleut, and Alitiiq, who are raw fish eaters, aren't offended by that word, though Athabascans, Tlingit, Eyak, Haida, and Tsimshian, who have always had access to wood, do. I didn't even know there were different groups of Native Alaskans, though in retrospect it seems obvious. The young people at the ANHC emphatically agreed that walrus is the best seafood of all.

Now, I've been lucky to see great, beautiful things like the Rockies, Death Valley, and the "bathtub rings" that mark the prehistoric shores of the Great Salt Lake; Denali took my breath away, repeatedly. We were also lucky in Denali National Park to go on a natural history tour with a guide whose passion for the park was palpable and inspiring. He's a former truck driver, not a ranger, and knew everything about everything. We went to Primrose Point, the usual Mt. McKinley viewing spot, where we talked to an Athabascan person about the subsistence life his people led and still lead. We could not see the mountain because it was snowing!

Animal sightings: Dall porpoises, sea otters, bald eagles, Stellar sea lions, little black and white birds with bright feet whose names I can't remember now, seals, orcas, humpback whales, moose, porcupines, caribou, snow shoe hares, ptarmigan, Dall sheep, mountain goats. We may have seen a bear in the suburbs of Anchorage, but it was pretty far away. We did not take pictures most of the time because our little Canon Powershot has a small lens, and it was more important to me to experience it than record it.

Alaska is gorgeous! It's like the best of the northwest, with the mountains coming right down to the water. It's a little disorienting, because mountains that look like they ought to be 10,000+ feet high are like 6,000 feet high, and they're right next to the water. The light is also disorienting... You look outside and it looks like mid-afternoon, only it's like 8:00 - or even 11:00 - at night. This photo of the foothills outside Anchorage was taken around 11:30 pm.

Travel is supposed to expand your horizons and make you curious about the world. This trip has really inspired me to, among other things, go the museums and aquariums here at home. There were so many great things about our trip, we are already talking about going back!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blog Care and Feeding

This last week has been hectic and I haven't been posting as I said I would (three times a week). I won't be posting at all for a bit as I will be away from the internets, doing something I've never done before.

Zirpu and I are going on vacation. See you later!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another Experience

I had my legs waxed again.

Zirpu and I are going on a cruise to Alaska and I was thinking about swim suits and swimming pools on a ship full of Boomers+ and I just thought, "I'll do this so I can feel normal and not feel like I'm some big political statement." Of course I heard my mom's voice all along.

I visited a different person this time (I found her the same way I found the last one). She looks like she is in her early twenties, and I managed to spare her my feminist angst about leg hair. I understood after just a few words that she wouldn't get it. Also, I decided talking about it would just expose me as a hypocrite.

I've been having conversations with a friend who recently chose not to shave her legs, so far anyway (I'm allowing her the opportunity to change her mind), because she is a feminist. She and I have been talking about it because when she worries about how hairy her legs are, I have shown her mine. Right now, when I worry about being a sellout, I imagine telling this friend that I had all the hair taken off. How can I be her role model if I'm not modeling? On the other hand, I think she of all people would understand social anxiety's ups and downs.

So, like last time, it kind of sucks at the same time it doesn't. I wore a less-than-ankle-length skirt at the dance studio yesterday, and felt comfortable about doing so. I usually don't feel comfortable doing that without tights, including changing from shorts to pants at other times. It was nice, but annoying that that's what it takes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Walking to my car I saw this on an otherwise nondescript white van. Stuck me as odd, though I figured (rightly, as it turns out) that it's a promo sticker for a band I'd never heard of.

Friday, May 9, 2008


I'm reading this memoir right now that so far sounds pretty bitter to me. I wonder if the author meant it to come across that way. The memoirist came to the US when she was about two years old from Vietnam, having fled with her family in April of 1975. Like other memoirs written by immigrants that I've read, there is a lot of discussion of the food the neighbors or schoolmates ate in comparison to the food the writer ate at home with her family: Baloney on white bread instead of falafel in her lunch; banana bread and milk after school instead of sliced steak and pho.

There are, of course, descriptions of the neighbors and the friends in and out of the writer's community. Most of the memoirs I've read are by women who talk about envying their schoolmates' perfect, (usually) blond hair and nice clothes. Often these girls are mentioned by a changed name, sometimes by first name only, and sometimes are composites of people the writers knew in elementary school.

Reading this memoir in particular made me wonder if people recognize themselves in someone else's memoir as the girl next door or the boy who picked on the author every day in third grade. Especially for the neighborhood kids, because everyone who's in a neighborhood for a long time knows where that is. I try to imagine reading along in a book and thinking, "Hey, that sounds like me" if I were to run across a description that sounded like me in elementary or high school. If I had appeared in this book, I would have been the girl with a long brown braid and ham and mayonnaise on white bread in her Holly Hobbie lunch box.

But would I have recognized myself as someone to be envied? Not after starting fourth grade, but how we see ourselves is often so different from how others see us. . .

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Stories Of My Father

I just finished reading Senator Obama's book Dreams From My Father. He wrote it about 15 years ago, and the edition I checked out from the library came out after he'd been elected to the Senate for the first time. I must say that this is the only book I've read by someone running for president, ever.

The book is not about his ambition to be politician. I think that's why I feel like Obama's not power-hungry, though that can't possibly be true since he is, after all, running for "the most powerful position on the planet." It's about his journey of self-identity, figuring out who he is, not just as an interracial person but as a person of color in a family of white people, and a boy and man without a relationship with his father (turns out that he wasn't raised by his "white mother from Kansas and a black man from Kenya" but primarily by his mother and her parents).

Obama goes to Kenya to visit his many half-siblings, aunts, and grandmothers, only one of whom he has met before he gets there. His older sister tells him of the father she and her brother knew, a story of how their father had disappointed them. Toward the end of the book is the long story about who his father actually was, told by Obama's father's stepmother whom he (Obama senior) counted as his mother. She describes her husband, Obama's grandfather, and Obama's father. She describes Obama senior as a boy, a young man, and an adult, both the good and the bad.

This part of the book interested me the most, but not because of Senator Obama. Reading the story of Obama's father, a man he met just once when he was ten years old, made me wish that there was someone I could go to to get that story about my own father.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I found myself in a conversation on Friday with a couple of new friends about privacy. We were talking about "the MySpace generation" and how there's all this concern about how they have a different attitude toward privacy than everyone older than they does.

I remarked that I use nicknames in my blog to protect my and other people's privacy. I heard myself say "my blog" several times, and I heard Zirpu say it too during the conversation. I thought to myself, "Erg, how ridiculous. Pretentious, silly, stupid. 'My blog', 'me me me'." As if I had anything important to say.

The thing is, I read a few blogs. Three I read because they're written by people I know, so I can keep up with them. Two I read because I like the way the authors write. One I read because I promised someone half a world away that I would. Mostly, they also write about issues like politics, food, travel, culture. Reading them has become a habit, like reading the newspaper (even though I mostly get my news from NPR). I imagine that someone who is reading my blog might be doing so for one or another of the reasons I listed, but sometimes it seems pretty pointless to have a public writing space - except that by virtue of its being public, I am actually participating in my resolutions, two years in a row.