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WordPress is failing me. This showed up in my RSS feed but REFUSES to show up on the site. So, sorry if you’ve already seen this. (This bodes POORLY for the WordPress class I’m teaching in less than a month…) Anyway, on to the post…
(Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to bug Dale to write a post all about himself and what he’s been up to, when his Alaskaversary happens, in January. Or sooner. He’s been up to cool stuff, but it’s all his story to tell.)
Four years ago last week, I was driving a car full of stuff (and I love how neither the Canadian nor the Alaskan border gave me trouble about all the buckets and tubes and graduated cylinders I had; I suppose they all recognized brewing equipment when they saw it), including small cuttings from some house plants (now grown quite big, some of them with babies in other pots) and three birds. Both cockatiels were a little bit injured, when I entered the state, and all three birds were prone to night frights for months after the move. (That might have been that Dale wasn’t here, yet [flock animals], and my upstairs neighbors were noisy at night, too.) On the last couple of days of the drive, we all listened to AM radio when we could get it, because my iPod fell out of the car somewhere in Canada, and I couldn’t stand the CDs I had with me anymore. I was all freaked out about the crack in the windshield, which, by the way, is still there and has been joined by several others. We’re thinking of replacing it sometime soon, probably. Maybe. It’s weird to look back and remember all that. Even though 4 years isn’t that much, a lot’s changed. We’ve made and lost friends, gotten married, watched friends get married, bought a house, and generally grown up a bit more. (Adulthood will come, eventually, right? :))
This post comes about because I’ve been very reflective, these past two weeks. I had to do my yearly activity report for work, and as part of that process I realized that this has been an insane year. I have accomplished multitudes. (I had been beating myself up for not updating my library’s website’s front page. Which is a dumb thing to beat myself up for, in general, and even dumber when you take into account all of the other things I got done. I’ve really stepped up my game and led a bunch of initiatives and generally gone above and beyond, this year. I’m proud of myself.) I’ve also started gearing up for my first-ever solo national presentation (well, sort of solo–I’m presenting for half the time, and I’m getting the audience to interact for half the time), which has required a lot of thought about everything I’ve been doing, and my coworkers have been doing, for the last four years. My job now is very, very different from the job that was described in my interview and that I did when I first arrived. And that’s kind of cool.
In my personal life, I’ve been balancing my service overload—which is academia speak, meaning “the volunteering I want to do, plus the volunteering I have to do for work adds up to too many hours to get very much of it done at work and still do my job”—with my desire to learn Python (that’s a programming language) and play with a Raspberry Pi (a tiny computer that, if I can get it set up right, will let me write code in Python to control LEDs and other cool stuff—if I can’t get the Python libraries loaded, I’ll still be able to do cool stuff, but I’ll have to write in C, which I haven’t done for 10 years). I feel like I’m constantly busy, but part of it is…
…my doctors have all agreed that there’s probably some underlying issue going on with me. (The rest of this paragraph is boring medical stuff. Skip to the next one, if you like!) I’ve got a foot with “inflamed bones” in the third and fourth metatarsals, as confirmed by an MRI. Weirdly, I should be getting better, and I’m not. (We’re trying a new thing with the orthotic, but…) I damaged one joint in my right thumb, back in May(?), and that’s turned into pain all the way down into other joints and tendons, even my wrist. That, at least, is getting better, now that my hand therapist has me doing exercises with it every day. The pain in my hips, that I’ve been complaining about since December or January, is not going away, even though I’m no longer really limping (that was the working theory: limping for months on end threw something out of balance). I can’t walk up stairs or get out of a chair without pain (sometimes severe pain), which, as you can imagine, is inconvenient. Oh, and my body eats cortisone shots, so that within two weeks it’s as if they never happened. Nobody I’ve talked to knows what this all means, but I’ve been referred to an excellent diagnostician who will no doubt interrogate me and drain me of several vials of blood, helping her to hopefully put it all together. As my PA (who is excellent) says, if they know what it is, they can treat it—although I’m on a daily anti-inflammatory, there are better medicines available for many of the possible underlying conditions. (Podiatrist thinks it’s some kind of arthritis, PA thinks maybe it’s some kind of -algia, but probably not the one everybody always talks about and nobody believes is real. Both agree that this diagnostician will help me out. And, no, I don’t think it’s lupus. :)) In the meantime (and I really mean “for MONTHS, now”), I’m avoiding sugar, alcohol, aspartame, and most carbohydrates (even fruit and some carby veggies—again, for now) and generally doing my best to decrease inflammation and lose weight (with my PA’s blessing and, you know, monitoring). Losing weight without the ability to exercise in any meaningful way is a challenge; I can stationary bike, a couple of times a week, without irritating the foot or hips too much, and I do, but that’s a pretty small burn. So it all just means I have a very limited menu, for now. But I’m doing well: I’ve burned off more than 15% of my initial body weight, and I’ve sent a lot of clothes to charity. My PA is super pleased with me. The fact that I am not experiencing the major energy surge that’s supposed to come with that kind of weight loss—I seriously need 10 hours of sleep every night, or I’m tired all the time—is definitely one of the things causing her to worry. I should be feeling awesome, and I’m not.
So I need a lot of sleep, I have a lot of projects, I’m slower at some of the things I just kind of need to do to live, and I’ve got a lot going on at work. It’s a little stressful. But that’s OK!
Dale and I are finally taking part in an important Alaskan tradition: going to Hawaii. (Non-traditionally, we’re not waiting until the dead of winter. That’s mostly a financial decision.) Neither of us has been before. I’m excited to see all of the birds and lizards, hopefully some magma from the volcano (depends how long a hike it is, on what kind of terrain), a vanilla plant, a coffee plant, maybe a baby seahorse, maybe a sea turtle, some rays, and some coral reef. I didn’t used to like Kona coffee, but I’m giving it another try. And I’ll probably cheat a bit on my diet with a little fresh coconut, because fresh coconut! (I’ll be good, mostly.) We rented a car, so we can drive all over the island and experience various micro-climates. And we’ll both do some reading (NERDS!) and hang out by the pool and by the beach. It should be a great time!
Anyway, I know this post was all over the place. I’d say “If I posted more often, this wouldn’t happen,” but I didn’t really want to post about any of these topics by themselves. I think you’re all caught up, though, at least on my end. Once again: bug Dale! Get him to post! :)
I went to the doctor two weeks ago, and she put me on a so-called “elimination diet,” where all of the common allergens are off-limits, and gave me a bunch of blood tests for different food sensitivities. (I’m jumping into this story part-way, to keep it short.) The test came back today. I can’t have gluten, dairy, or eggs, including duck eggs. This might be a for-now thing, or it might be a forever thing. Sometimes, with a gluten sensitivity, one develops other sensitivities, temporarily, until gluten is cut out for long enough. We’ll see.
Assuming this is a forever thing, I’m bummed, especially about the duck eggs. I mean, there are other down sides: I enjoy being able to go to restaurants, and that’s going to be tricky, with these three restrictions. (I was looking forward to eating pizza again. Guess not.) And most processed foods are off the menu, since most of them use some combination of egg, dairy, and gluten (seriously, if it isn’t marked “vegan” and “gluten free,” odds are I can’t have it). But I was really looking forward to raising ducks. For their eggs. Which we would eat. If I stay sensitive to duck eggs, that’s not going to work out so well.
Beyond the ducks, I’m still coming to terms with other consequences of this. I’m going to have to learn to cook in a very different way. I probably won’t send or receive baked goods anymore. (Gluten-free does NOT ship well.) A lot of my dietary staples will have to be replaced. On the whole, it’s not a huge thing, or it won’t be once I get a handle on it, and it’s not something I want to talk about at great length (this blog post is being written primarily in an attempt to prevent future awkwardness with friends and family, who I hope will see it and won’t be insulted by my weird eating habits). It’s just one of those things, like my cat and dog allergy, that I’ll learn to deal with. It’ll be OK.
Here’s a photo I took, in our kitchen, while I was cleaning all of the flour and gluten out. (By the way, if you’re local and want some flour, steel cut oats, or whatever… let me know.) That sunbeam is coming from the north. At 9:30pm:
We had a bunch of friends over for a fundraiser-party, to benefit our Tour de Cure ride for diabetes research. To that end, we spend most of the previous week cleaning and decorating the basement. We raised over $300, and as a bonus, you get to see pictures of a fairly-clean house.
This post has nothing, really, to do with life in Alaska, besides maybe some side-notes about the shock of going back “Outside,” as we say. (Did you know that there are restaurants that won’t let you in if you’re not dressed nicely enough? I had forgotten. And there are mosquitos in October! And [marginally] more sedans than SUVs! And old southern ladies who are passive-aggressively mean to you just for having bright purple hair! And, most importantly, cheap and plentiful fresh food, especially fruit! What a strange place.)
Instead, I want to write about what a lovely place Janes Island State Park is and how nice it is to have had the ceremony we always intended to have–even if it was a year and a half after what we call “our paper wedding” (a very nice ceremony, itself, made all the nicer by Dale’s immediate family; but not really the real one, in our minds, even if it was the legal one). And, if I’m feeling sentimental, I might wax melancholy about how many wonderful people live much too far away–not that there’s anywhere we could live and be near everyone we care about, or even necessarily most of the people we care about, but, wow, are there great people, living at great distances from one another!
So, the park. First off, the main question we got was “How did you find this place?” Sometimes, it was delivered in a pleasant tone, as if to say “It’s lovely and very well suited to this kind of event, but you live awfully far away to have known that.” Other times, there was an edge of “It’s so freaking far from everything!” … Which I can understand, I guess, because I remember thinking of 180-390 miles (the range of distances our east coast friends and relatives traveled) as a long way, too. I mean, it sort of is a long way. But it wasn’t really that far off the beaten path; it’s right near Ocean City, after all. And his whole family is concentrated in one place, so they could ride together (and several did). Pittsburgh friends could ride together. Some of my family could ride together (and a couple did). (Also, we flew 12 hours to get there. Our Californian friends also had to fly, of course. So, while we understood the complaint and were at least abstractly sympathetic, we didn’t actually apologize for the length of anyone’s drive. ;))
We wanted to be fair, distance-wise, to the CT and VA contingents–we did look in both places, but nowhere really met our requirements (enough space for a large guest list [which ended up being less of a problem than anticipated], alcohol permits available, cover in case of rain, cooking facilities, real restrooms [look, Pittsburgh’s parks don’t have those, so it was a thing we searched for]). At some point, it became obvious that the Chesapeake Bay, while not truly equidistant (my family had a bit of an edge), was at least reasonably equitable, travel-wise. More importantly, I have spent some of my very happiest times by the Bay and have a surprisingly strong emotional attachment to it, given how far away from it I actually grew up. Dale was more or less neutral about the Bay, liking the general idea of a body of water, but not having direct experience with that particular one, himself. So we started focusing our search there, and we came up with Janes Island. My dad (who was, by the way, amazing, in all of the prep work he did, along with my stepdad, Mike, and my pretend half-brother, Ray [long story] — this whole thing would so not have happened, at least not nearly as well, without their part in planning) did a recon mission and took a bunch of photos. And we decided that was the place!
Seriously, I want to go back and do a vacation there again. Beautiful location. The Conference Center, as they call it, has room for 16 people to sleep (if you can find 8 who want to sleep on top bunks, anyway :)) and room for at least 65 indoor partiers. There’s no drinking outdoors, which is a minor bummer, but our guests didn’t seem to mind. The three cabins around the Conference Center each have room for up to 3 couples. There’s air conditioning. There are kitchens–the one in the Conference Center had a really sweet oven, too! It was well-stocked, in terms of cooking equipment, and had a full-size freezer and a full-size fridge. Upscale appliances aside, there’s sort of a rustic feel to the whole thing, which suited us fine. And there’s a dock for fishing–or, as we used it, for enjoying sunsets and watching wildlife. We saw herons, egrets, hawks, an eagle, several tiny crabs, a bunch of mussels and oysters, snails, many (many!) little fish, and some honest to goodness blue birds! The only complaint I could possibly make, besides maybe the outdoor-drinking, is that it was so windy on the day before and the day of the wedding. And it was so still the following two days–people wouldn’t have recognized the place!
As far as our guest list, we invited a whole lot of people. Honestly, we got a bit out of hand, when we were planning whom to invite. We’d have been delighted if they all could have made it, but we also would have been hard-pressed to fit them all in and around the Conference Center. We’d have needed to spring for a pavilion (which they have, but they close at dark and are something like half a mile away), on top of it. Or something. Anyway, a bit more than half of our guests RSVP’d. We knew the “no” responders weren’t coming, but the standard number for non-RSVPers showing up anyway is around 10-20% (and there were several we knew would be there, even if they didn’t say so), meaning we needed to build in an error margin of something like 5-10 people. Then, of the 60-70 who said “yes” or “probably,” about 30 of them either emailed us in the two weeks before the wedding to say they couldn’t be there, or they just totally didn’t show up, with no word. To our great surprise, nobody from the non-RSVPers showed. Out of the people who came, only 3 or 4 had been in touch to say they were bringing a potluck item and what, so we were convinced people had missed the “this is a potluck” memo. … Which I only mention in hopes that our parents see this and stop thinking I’m insane for how much food we bought and cooked. Seriously. It was way too much. We had so many fewer people than we were expecting (40ish, out of up to 80), and pretty much everyone brought something (though, if we hadn’t done at least some of that cooking beforehand, everyone would have mostly had cheese and cookies to eat–and there would have been major fights over the chicken. :)).
I way over-planned some aspects of the food (my plan being to have nearly enough for 60-70 people, if possible, in case of potluck failure), and I way under-planned others. We brought many kitchen supplies (“we,” here, includes our families, who all shared a Google Doc full of equipment we’d need–very little of it came from Alaska, though some did) that the park already had. We neglected other supplies, such as a pizza peel, which it turns out is really necessary for making recipes from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. (Boy was my bread ugly.) We over-purchased some foods, due to miscommunications, and we missed a couple of others we needed. But it sort of worked out.
Anyway, as far as the party aspect of it goes, I think everyone had a great time. I know we did! I feel bad that we probably didn’t split our time equitably between everyone who came, opting instead to just do what seemed fun at the time and hoping we’d run into everyone at least a couple of times. There was a fire (at least for a couple of hours), and there were pictures on the deck, and there was crazy dancing (no, really, we danced like idiots :)), and there was chatting on the dock and in the kitchen and all over. It was very fun. A number of people got into some boardgames, or card games, or something–which makes me happy, because we have some introverted friends, who probably appreciated that more than the dancing, at least. The smokers all hung out on the deck in the evening (I felt bad about closing the door on them over and over, but it all kept trying to blow indoors). The dancers had lots of space. The drinkers were … everywhere, I think. And I know of one group who decided a walk was just the thing and seemed to enjoy that, as well. Something for everyone, it turns out.
And as far as the ceremony goes, it was pretty much exactly what we had hoped for. Due to the wind, we held it indoors, in the beautifully decorated meeting room that later served as our dance hall. (We’d been hoping to have it on the dock, but it was not to be.) Our friend Warren officiated and did an amazing job. The first reading was an excerpt from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, legalizing gay marriage, which I’ll include below; it was read by Dale’s sister, Meghan. The second was The Day the Saucers Came, by Neil Gaiman, read by our friend Marc. And the third was an excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book True Love, the last couple lines of which keep being misattributed to Dr. Seuss, on the internet, read by our friend Jen. My bouquet was daisies and statis, held in a mug. (Well, the florist cut the stems pretty short.)
We wrote our own vows–or, well, at least remixed them. I was so totally blown away by Dale’s reading of our vows (if I ever manage to post the video, you’ll see what I mean) that I completely stumbled through my own. And we both botched a word, which is funny. But it was nice to have chosen for ourselves what promises to make to one another.
And it was all very sweet and just a little strange, which suits us.
We owe some serious props: of course, to my dad and Mike and Ray, as I said before, for so many things, including decorations and a sound system and alcohol; to our moms for their help in pulling together cooking materials and in preparing the [way too much] food and also for all of the kitchen cleanup they did after the fact; to Dale’s dad for making both fire and ice; to our wonderful officiant, Warren, and his amazing wife Diana, for officiating and taking video, respectively (and for being generally awesome); to our fabulous readers, Meghan, Marc, and Jen, for being willing to read the weird and political things we gave them–and for doing it so well; to our super sweet friend Jason, for his help with, um, everything on the day of (my mom just keeps raving about his helpfulness, no joke); to DJ and Ian for all of the carrying we had them do, which, it turns out, was a whole lot; to my cousin Lauren and (again) DJ for the beautiful photos they took; and to everyone who showed up, brought potluck items, gave us drinks throughout the evening, and made the day so thoroughly enjoyable with their presence. We had a great time, and we hope that everyone else did, too.
And now, we’re nesting in the new house. Our next post will probably be about that. :)
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court excerpt:
“Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.
It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a ‘civil right.’ Without the right to choose to marry, one is excluded from the full range of human experience.”
The excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book True Love:
“I think what we mean by “weird” is that we wouldn’t do something like that or that’s not love to us. Or else it’s weird because we’ve added our imagination to the story–details and motives and reactions–that are not really in the story as written but in our minds as readers. The story isn’t weird, we are.
“A psychiatrist once told me that if we knew exactly what went on in the minds of the apparently normal people around us all the time we would run for our lives. Or if our friends and families knew what happened in our own secret minds, they would have us arrested. But when we’re in control of our weirdness and it works in our favor, that makes us at least appear normal.
“Recently I went to a Friday evening Big Band Dance in Seattle. Hundreds of couples waltzing and two-stepping and fox-trotting around. Tall blond stick of a woman dancing up close and tight with a a huge fat guy with tattooed bald head and a bushy beard. Weird. Across the floor, an ancient couple–Asian–dressed almost exactly alike in khaki pants, plaid shirts, and tennis shoes–wrapped in each other’s arms like vines–not dancing, just swaying to the music. Weird. Beyond them, a flashy young woman dancing like she was in a chorus line, while her dull little man stood in one place like a ship anchored in a storm. She kissed him between pirouettes. He just grinned and held on. Weird. Everywhere–weird love.
“There were no glamorous couples–no perfect matches–but so what?
“You want my opinion? We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness – and call it love – true love.”
We’d been to the Alaska SeaLife Center before, but when we decided to keep our vacation in-state (to save money in case the house thing pans out) and then Coral won a free year membership, we had to go back. When we found out that membership included a discount on animal encounter programs, well, of course we knew what we had to do.
It was cloudy the whole time we were in Seward, and it rained almost the whole time, but who cares, we got to play with puffins! Horned puffins, specifically (ASC also has tufted puffins, but none came over for feeding.) We also got to feed kittiwakes, murres, guillemots, eider, and ducks. We showed up to ASC early, thinking we’d make friends with the birds before our encounter by visiting their enclosure. They didn’t quite fall for that trick. And we came back afterward for pictures, which prompted the attendants to say “You guys can’t get enough of the birds, can you?” No, apparently we can’t.
I think there might have been some fish there too, maybe?
Next time, before our membership expires, we’re going to meet the octopus.
Outside the SeaLife Center, we saw a group of 8 sea lions hanging out in the bay, part of a 30-member pod that’s come in for the summer; we didn’t get pictures of them (note to self: buy a better camera) but we did get a few of Woody, ASC’s resident male sea lion. 2,200 pounds, and he’s a lightweight compared to his wild cousins. We also hit up every gift shop and about half the restaurants in town (which doesn’t take long, Seward isn’t that big of a town.)
On a whim, we headed home early, stopping only to take some photos of a breathtaking lake outside of Seward. The wind had died down and the blue-green glacier melt was mirror-like in the overcast late-evening pre-twilight (sunset is around 11:00 these days.)
And when we got home, an email was waiting for us; turns out saving our pennies may be worth-while after all. Our repair request was accepted without amendment, so the house may work out!
It took me over two months to get to these, but it’s amazing how many different species you can see in just a few hours. (But I think I’m going to need a better camera for long-range wildlife shots.)
Man, we’ve done/seen/taken pictures of so much amazing stuff since the Iditarod, but I’ve neglected to post them. So you get four months of photos all at once:
- We went to see Portage Glacier (and saw wild sheep!)
- We saw the animals at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
- We took pictures of beaver family hard at work at a nearby lake.
- We got some stunning landscape photos on our drive home from Fairbanks.
- We pretended to be tourist (with some local Twitterers) in downtown Anchorage.
- We got some great photos of flowers, berries, mushrooms, and ducks around University Lake (but only ate the berries.)
- And then we got REALLY close to Exit Glacier down by Seward (sadly, the “touch a glacier!” area was closed :(
Hope you like them!
The actually Iditarod start is in Willow, but there’s a ceremonial start that takes place right in downtown Anchorage. We happened to be in downtown stupid-early that day (actually, every day that weekend) for other reasons, but we took some time out to go meet some of the dogs, and get some pictures.