Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Last night, I watched the excellent 50/50 at the Blue Loon. It's about a young guy who is suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, and how he copes and how his interpersonal relationships evolve. It was really well-done, with enough comedy to lighten what could easily have been a maudlin, treacly, depressing movie. It had a likeable cast and *spoiler ahead. Only highlight the white space below if you don't mind the spoiler*

a happy ending. The guy survives.

Nevertheless, I did not need to see that. It hit just a bit too close to home for me, and I didn't need to relive the time I spent taking care of my ex, Dan, when he had cancer. It also made me wonder about something else.

In movies and literature that address cancer, significant others, family, and friends divide into two types. The first type turn out to be True Love/Good Family/True Friends who will Stand By the cancer patient. The second type turn out to be the Untrue Loves/Bad Family/Fair Weather Friends who are uncomfortable with our hero and distance themselves. They aren't necessarily presented as bad people; just people who lack the strength to be True.

Even in stories that don't contain cancer explicitly, there are references to idealized, still-in-love-after-umpteen-years couples who Knew Their Love Was True when decades prior, one nursed the other through cancer, when he/she Could Have Run Away. These are common tropes.

There is absolutely nothing in literature or movies, that I have seen, that addresses how a caretaker might happily, willingly take care of a loved one, and then after the cancer has gone into remission, the relationship might fall apart all the same.

When Dan was in California when he was diagnosed, and I took a leave of absence from University to move down there to take care of him, it did not cross my mind at the time that NotGoing was an option. Imagine my surprise to arrive in California and hear friends and acquaintances bang on about about how I was some kind of hero, or martyr, to stay with him through that. Only then did it cross my mind that I might have remained in Fairbanks instead. But I didn't see it as a choice, and anyway, I was thankful for the chance for loving service.

Year later, when Dan's cancer was years in remission, and news got out that our relationship had ended, I heard/read such heart-wrung comments, about how "we had been through so much together" and blahblah, and they could not believe how the relationship could fall apart "after all that" and yakkity-yak. Because they were shocked that the movie trope could possibly be false.

Taking care of someone through cancer is not a proof of True Love that will stand the test of time, because love and affection don't mean a danged thing about long-term compatibility. It's only proof of current love. And it doesn't make you a hero. It just makes you a decent sort of person who steps up properly to responsibilities that come with a relationship.

I think there is a gaping hole in fiction. Watch out over the next few years for my novel. But you've already gotten the spoilers for this one. The Cancer Patient will survive. The ending will come to a satisfying conclusion, but the erstwhile True Love will end.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas treats

The girls got pig ears, and I made a yule log, which was rather impressive, if I say so myself.

Charcoal declined his pig ear. He said he was already full from eating your soul.

Friday, December 23, 2011


We seem to have lost a minute of daylight since the Solstice, but the butt-ass cold forecast has disappeared.

The weather reports! Such fun! Such illogic! Yay!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I guess I ain't that Alaskan after all...

... considering how few of my friends appreciated this gem of mine:

Come to think of it, more than a few of my Californian friends didn't grok it, either.

I can't believe that I sat and stared at the pattern and laughed until my pants got nervous, then IM'ed around asking craftier friends whether it was difficult to cross stitch, and might I learn how from the internet, and then spent four consecutive nights stitching the damned thing, to the tune of 8 hours, and then finally, at the end of my efforts, proudly hung it on the wall, to receive a multitude of blank looks and/or generic compliments on how lovely it is and what a fine job I did with the needlework.

Hrrmph! I guess I'll have to give up what could have been a burgeoning career in ironic cross-stitching. Fo shizzle.

Happy Solstice!

From here on out, the days will be getting longer!

Does anyone else find it strange to call the solstice the "First day of Winter"? If you ask me, the shortest day of the year ought to be the middle of winter, and likewise for the summer solstice in summer, n'est-ce pas? It makes no sense to me to wake up on the longest day of the year, know that the days will only grow shorter from there, and call it the beginning of summer.

In other news, all I want for Christmas this year is to freeze my okole off. Oh look! What luck!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rest in Peace

We lost a professor emeritus last night, Dr. Dave Sentman. He was a very warm, funny man with a gentle, kindly face and demeanor that put me in mind of a beloved pediatrician. He loved to talk about anything and everything--the history of tulips in Holland, the beauty of Bach's violin concertos, the algorithms behind CT scanning and reconstruction, how much fun it is to climb all over the gold dredges in our environs, his life in his rural home, etc.

When I had first moved to Fairbanks, he warned me of the frightening noises a snowpack makes when it slides off a hot roof. He also told me a funny story about how he had once woken up in his home in mid-winter, and checked the clock and saw that it read a bit past 6. Thinking that a perfectly reasonable time to get up and go to work, he did so, only to arrive and find the building nearly empty. He made a pot of coffee, worked for a few hours, and wondered where everyone was, until it dawned on him that it had been a bit past 6 p.m. when he had first gotten up. "These are things that only happen to academics!" he said.

He went off on so many tangents in the middle of his lectures that I was always amazed that at the end of the semester, he was always right on schedule with the syllabus. He must have planned his digressions very carefully!

He had just retired last spring. What a shame. On the other hand, he did truly enjoy teaching, and we students were fortunate to have him.

Here is my favorite picture from his plasma physics lectures:

Weird like me: one of the dangers of being in academia

One thing I've come to realize is that the more you specialize in whatever it is you are doing, the more you limit your human exposure to people who are increasingly just like you. It's great because you can talk to them about whatever comes up in your mind, and not have to waste time filling them in with the background information first. Also, when you confess to having done something that makes you feel weird, you often find that they have done the exact same thing! And you can talk to them freely about whatever geeky thing is on your mind and feel zero embarrassment.

For example, the place where we dry cabin dwellers buy water for some reason only accepts quarters and nickels; no dimes, nor pennies. So I always keep a stash of quarters and nickels in my car. After a while, the nickels always run out, and I have to get a roll from the bank, but the quarters never run out! I always end up with plenty of quarters in my change as I go about my quotidian life. I scratched my head over that one and opened the conversation at my friend C's house, and we all sat around and crunched the odds of getting quarters versus nickels, and that you could get more than one quarter per transaction, but never more than one nickel, etc, until I was reasonably satisfied. And see, this is why it's so good to have like-minded peers. You can talk about what you like to think about.

But it's also very dangerous because it removes the normal societal correction factors that would stop a quick descent into crazy-town. After all, it's not particularly healthy to think about such things too much. We have, after all, normal lives and the rest of society to deal with. Very few people are meant to be true hermits, no matter what they might think of themselves. So I try to maintain my friendships and relationships with folks who are non-academics.

It was easier when I was working in industry, where my daily interactions forced me to socialize with, for example, the administrative assistants, the purchasers, the business development folks, the managers, the human factors folks, etc. Heck, even engineers in a different field of engineering add to social diversity. But here, my 'boss' (adviser) is a nerdy academic just like me, and my 'colleagues' (other grad student friends, who are all in the same field as me) are all nerdy academics, just like me. Almost everyone I see on a daily basis is just like me!

That's part of the reason I make a deliberate effort to get to know my neighbors, and other people I see on a daily basis. They add to my social diversity and give me gentle pokes when I start to go all whacko. :) As BT's brother once said to her (and she subsequently reported to me), "you can't just launch into a problem that's interesting to you just because you find it interesting... you just got back from Hawaii. Welcome f*ing back. Hi! I missed you too! Nice to see you!"

It's also the main reason that after I graduate, I want to return back to industry and work with other people again, and not take another academic position.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Salmon Chowder in da Hizzy

A classic Alaskan meal: Salmon Chowder and Pilot Bread:

Over the weekend, I made jam and this:

I had never cross-stitched a thing in my life, but when I saw the fine offerings of Steotch, I had to order this pattern and make it. I just had to, you see.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Notes to Self

For future reference:

If in the span of thirty hours, you run six miles, skijor five, and shovel the driveway, expect to be sore.

If you wear too much clothes for an unexpected warm snap, expect to be warm.

If you then peel off your clothes and stand around your house with no fire going, expect to get a chill.

So, if you find yourself with bodily aches, sweaty, and chilly, it might not necessarily be that you are getting a flu. Do not panic.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


My friendly neighborhood moose had twins last year. They were having breakfast on the side of the road this morning, so I pulled over, rolled down my window, and snapped these.


Behbehmoose #1:

Behbehmoose #2:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sled Dog to Human to Autumn-and-Linden-speak

A handy translation guide:

Sled Dog Command: Gee
What it means to humans: Go right
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Go right and accelerate

Sled Dog Command: Haw
What it means to humans: Go left
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Go left and accelerate

Sled Dog Command: On by
What it means to humans: Pass by and ignore that person/dog/moose/trail intersection
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Pass by and ignore that person/dog/moose/trail intersection, and accelerate

Sled Dog Command: Whoa
What it means to humans: Slow down or stop
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Pretend you are deaf

Sled Dog Command: Come
What it means to humans: Come here
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Look up at me. Then carry on with whatever you were doing.

Sled Dog Command: Stay
What it means to humans: Stay there until told otherwise
What it means to Autumn and Linden: Hesitate for a quarter of a second before following me.

In other news, this morning I stumbled downstairs to the tea pot and found this on my kitchen counter:

It's an interesting consequence of having a significant other who makes Native art. You learn to take these sorts of things in stride. I posted this photo on Facebook, and folks asked me what it was. Now that's pushing my Going Native just a little too far! At this point in my Alaskan edjumacation, I consider myself doing well if I know what species of animal I am eating for dinner!


F. made this lovely drawing of the girls in like twenty minutes. Talented girl, what?

The girls hangin' out:

Linden looking very cute:

Autumn chillin':

Imagine how startling it was for me to step out to put something on the porch and find this mamamoose right off the porch! Her calf was right behind her, and as I jumped three feet into the air and screamed, they looked up from their willow repast, blinked, and went right back to eating.

A friend of mine just got back from China. Yaaaay!

I'm really glad that temperatures are dropping again! Mid-winter warmth is not only dangerous (as it makes the roads slippery), but it really unnerves me! Where I grew up, we called it 'earthquake weather', and in Southern California, the Santa Ana winds are an ill portent.

Raymond Chandler described them in "Red Wind" as "those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen..."

Joan Didion wrote of them:

There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension. What it means is that tonight a Santa Ana will begin to blow, a hot wind from the northeast whining down through the Cajon and San Gorgonio Passes, blowing up sand storms out along Route 66, drying the hills and the nerves to flash point... I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air...


I recall being told, when I first moved to Los Angeles and was living on an isolated beach, that the Indians would throw themselves into the sea when the bad wind blew. I could see why. The Pacific turned ominously glossy during a Santa Ana period, and one woke in the night troubled not only by the peacocks screaming in the olive trees but by the eerie absence of surf. The heat was surreal. The sky had a yellow cast, the kind of light sometimes called "earthquake weather." My only neighbor would not come out of her house for days, and there were no lights at night, and her husband roamed the place with a machete. One day he would tell me that he had heard a trespasser, the next a rattlesnake.

So I'm very happy that it's cold again! Brrrrr! Yay!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Another warm snap

Aayyyyy! It may be an repeat of last year! Temperatures came above freezing last night, and precipitation is in the forecast! School has been cancelled for tomorrow. Ayyy!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dashing through the snow...

It was warm today, and the snow was slick and I didn't put on kick wax, so I did what I call "sack of potatoes" skijoring, wherein I stand there like a sack of potatoes and let the girls do all of the work. In conditions that slick, I really cannot contribute at all.


I managed to get a video capture for y'all:

And then, we cuddle:

Cuddle and wuddle:

Cuddle wuddle wuddle:

Cuddle pile!

It looks like we are out of our cold snap, which made November the sixth coldest on record.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Proof of a Benevolent Research God

So... I need to run 4 different tests 6 times each, so I mark the snow sample holders how I want them, and put them into the cooler to chill before sample preparation, and look how they fit into the cooler:

Isn't that just awesome???

I think I need to go lie down.

Edited to add: Yay for Carl Hoffman, the father of Fairbanks Bluegrass!

Also, also:

NOAA sez:





Yay! Yay for warmer temps and snow!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Now here is a weather forecast I like to see:

Snow every day, and temperatures hovering around 0F! This is my and my dogs' happy zone. :) Of course, weather predictions around here tend to be quite unreliable, but at least we can be happy in our delusions when they look good. :)

This is also the first time I can recall coming out of an extreme cold snap gently, instead of busting into a Chinook directly afterwards. There are no temperatures above freezing, and no-one is threatening any. Yay!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You know you live in a small town when...

... you dial a wrong number, and someone you know answers.

... people spot you from a distance and recognize you by your jacket.

... you can't go anywhere without being spotted and having it be mentioned later.

... everyone in town is within two degrees of separation, not six.

Oh ALSO... we are above 0F this morning for the first time in nearly a month!

Monday, November 28, 2011


Sammypants at Thanksgiving:

My friends' kitten, Leo:

My girls waiting patiently while I fix my pole strap, which broke while skijoring. Aren't they so sweetly patient?

Miss Millie B. Doofus, Supreme Ruler of the People's Republic of Bunnistan:

Best. Thanksgiving. Evar. Sixteen pies!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And the weather gods exhale...

Warming temps break Interior Alaska cold snap

The temperature at Fairbanks International Airport climbed above 20 degrees below zero for the first time in seven days on Tuesday as a record-setting, early season cold snap slowly began to loosen its grip on the Interior...

It marked the first time in six days that Fairbanks did not set a new low temperature record at the airport and it was the first day since Nov. 15 that Fairbanks’ low temperature wasn’t at least 35 below...

The average temperature for the week of Nov. 15 through the 21 was 30.1 degrees below zero, making it the coldest week during the month of November since 1930, according to the National Weather Service...

Unh-huh. Whatevs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Alaskan Pseudo-Hermits

My rural area has quite a few guys who live alone and talk like this:

I like living out here by myself, on my own land, and I'm all alone in my solitude, and no-one comes to bug me, and--Here, sit down--I just like to be by myself. Here, have a beer. I just get so tired of people, I really like my solitude. Are you done with that beer? Here, have another. Yeah, I don't need anyone else. Just me, myself, and I. I'm practically a hermit. Where are you going? Sit back down. Have another beer...


Temperatures are slowly rising. It was -30F/-34C this morning, and I went for a run instead of a walk for the first time in almost a week. It felt good.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Misc Photos

And this is why I worked from home last week. I neeeeeeeded to stay within 3 feet of the wood stove:

Brrr, baby, brrrrrr!

Autumn sez, "Nice slippers, mama. I'll borrow one for an elbow rest."

Three! Three fuzzies in my cabin! Ah, ah, ah!

This nose-cicle grew on my scarf over my nose after a morning's skijor:

Miss Millie B. Doofus, Supreme Ruler of the People's Independent Republic of Bunnistan, is very cute:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brrrr! And... the reality of aging huskies

We've been buckled down under a cold snap... the coldest temp I'd ever seen at my current home: -45F! But anyway, I had another post up my sleeve regarding Autumn's time on them lam, so here it is...

Autumn and Linden, the World's Most Perfect Dogs, have only two flaws. One is that they have horrible leash manners, and the other is that from time to time they run off. They are traffic smart and direction smart, and in our rural area, there are relatively few hazards, and most people like dogs and would not harm a loose one that's just passing by. Nevertheless, I worry when they run off, and wring my hands for the half hour to several hours it takes for them to get bored with their adventure and come on home. This generally happens about three times a year. Considering that they escort me everywhere, it's a relatively low rate, and each time, it's still a surprise. I'll be working in the yard, or whatever, and suddenly--FOOM!--they are bolting across our land and onto the trail.

Last Wednesday evening, they did it when they went out to escort me to put something on the porch for recycling. I, horrified, hollered after them. Linden came back; Autumn did not. Again, I didn't think anything of it; just figured I'd have to wait it out per usual.

She wasn't back by the end of the night. I went out at one point, and saw her in the yard. What a relief! I called her, and she looked at me and--get this--dashed away like a feral dog. WTF? I would have sworn she didn't recognize me.

The next morning, she still hadn't returned. V was over, and we had spent the night on the couch, so we could listen for her paws hitting the porch, as the girls' do when they come home. Nothing.

By this time I was beside myself, and decided to take Linden for our regular run, hopping that Autumn would see us and join us. Again, nothing. Later that day, neighbors began calling, as they spotted her here and there. Snow fell lightly that whole day, so it was easy to track where she had gone and when... I finally deduced that she wasn't leaving the immediate area; she just wasn't coming home! V's sister, F, who lives across the street, spotted her as she got off the school bus that afternoon. V's sister is a regular dog whisperer, and she is probably Autumn's second favorite person, behind me. Autumn also behaved as if she didn't know her, and she was frightened of her. She ran off! I spotted her again that night, but again, she ran off.

My dogs have a family history of seizures. Their mom, their grandma, and one of their sisters got them when they got old. When they came back from their seizures, they didn't recognize their people or their surroundings for maybe an hour. As best I can figure, Autumn must have seen or done something that triggered a seizure, and didn't recognize F or V or me.

Finally, her dinnertime came around, and it was my great hope. By this time, it was Thursday evening, she had been on the lam for close to 24 hours, and I didn't know if she'd ever be mine again, or she'd turn into some feral dog. Knowing how food-motivated she is, I put her dinner on the porch, figuring that when she jumped up for it, I'd hear her and open the door, and she'd come in. No such luck. She crept onto the porch in silence--I didn't know she was there until I heard her crunching her kibble. When I opened the door, she again ran away!

I figured at this point that chasing her was no good, so I called around to ask where I could borrow a live trap. For future reference, the local animal shelter loans them out. But the next day was a holiday, then a weekend followed, and I was quite anxious to catch Autumn before Monday, four days later! I also called everyone else who knew and loved her--her former family, Dan, who now lives in Wyoming, M, C--to see if they had any input. While I was on the phone with Dan, I heard a familiar thud on the porch. Then a familiar scratching at the door with a paw. I opened the door, and there was Autumn, having walked right past what was left of her supper and acting like the previous 26 hours hadn't happened.

I'm utterly baffled, but I was so happy I started crying. Dan, overhearing this, must think I am insane and must be very happy indeed to be rid of me! :)

Anyway, the conclusion of all of this is that the girls are now 12, and since they are super-athletic huskies, I do know that their minds will go before their bodies do. I cannot emotionally afford another incident like this, so the girls will not be allowed off-leash outside any more. I won't even ski with them loose. From now on, it's skijoring all the way. I'm sad that I will never again witness this sort of joyous abandon from them, but them's the breaks.

Autumn is acting completely like her old self again, but even if she loses her mind and can't look after me the way she used to, it's okay. It's sad, but it's okay. She's taken care of me for four years, through multiple homes and relationships, happiness and heartbreak. I can take care of her for what time she has left, however that time may be.

Monday, November 14, 2011



Also: North Pole family rescues rats. Pretty sweet, eh?

Okay, I'm really beat. On Friday night, I did a second run to enjoy the full moon. Saturday and Sunday morning, the girls and I skijored about 5 miles. Saturday night, another run. Sunday afternoon, a mushing loop--V's dogs' first time out this year. I'm beat! However, the dogs are *very* happy. :)

Also, also: my run this morning, my shirt came untucked, and my belly went numb. Aaaaaaiiyouch!

Here are photos of the beasties...

Miss Millie B. Doofus, Supreme Ruler of the People's Independent Republic of Bunnistan, sez: "Gimme that apple!"

The girls: "Who's at the door?"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Conversation with the kama'aina

(Or whatever Alaskans call their equivalent of kama'aina)

Last week's Saturday ski, the first of the season, was a little rough. My legs were not in skiing shape, and I was uncoordinated and overheating. My arms ached, my thighs ached. I understood then why people roller ski in the summers. To recover my battered self esteem, I decided later to shovel the driveway and walkways. V, who was reading on the couch, assessed the situation and decided that it was unacceptable. He came outside and intercepted me along the path to the shed.

"I can do that."

Yes, I'm sure you can. So can I. (insert big cheesy grin here)

"I'll do it for you."

You think I'm going to let myself go soft just because you're here?



(a few minutes later, during which both of our big, competitively cheesy grins start to make our cheeks ache, and our lips are dehydrating and cracking from being frozen into place, and spittle is literally freezing on our exposed teeth...)

"Do you have another shovel?"


"I'll rock-paper-scissors you for it."


I won. :)

He went back inside and lasted maybe ten minutes. Then he came back out and started making kindling. No argument there. I detest making kindling!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Today we give thanks

In the past few weeks, I three times seriously feared or came close to losing someone I loved--V, M, and Autumn. All three of them are still with me in body and mind, and today I give thanks and once again feel like the luckiest person on earth.

It's funny that this peculiar form of pessimism (always worrying...) leads to such great joy and thankfulness. It's is really quite amazing. People of more supposedly optimistic temperament don't furrow their eyebrows and wring their hands imagining their friends in car crashes, or their dogs dead in ditches, but they also don't know the exquisite joy of imagining their friends in car crashes, and then seeing them alive!

Today I feel so thankful to be alive and whole and loved, and no-one without my neuroses will ever know how that feels, at least not to that extent!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


1) Last night there was a luahoano, a rainbow around the moon. My camera does not love such things, but I still got a few cool photos of the waxing gibbous moon from my yard:

2) There is a crazy "perfect storm" lashing against the Bering sea right now. NOAA is calling it "ONE OF THE MOST SEVERE BERING SEA STORMS ON RECORD" (caps theirs). Here is a report about the effects in Nome. Please keep a thought in your hearts for our friends in Nome, Kotzebue, and other communities in that area.

3) I haven't taken photos of the girls napping in a while, so here you go:

4) We cuddle:

5) Last night, the moon was so bright (bright enough to read a book in the front yard if I had so chosen) that I figured an evening run was in order. However, after I had bundled all up and put on all of our reflective stuff, I stepped outside and realized that under the trees, it was still dark enough to require a headlamp. Bummer! Hopefully, by the next full moon, the Tanana will have frozen up, and we can do a moonlit run or ski there, where it is open enough to utilize the moonlight!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finally skiing! Yay!

Look! I am back on my skis!


Here is the sunrise Saturday as we headed out onto the trail from behind the cabin:

The girls were running around acting like loons:

I love it when we are the first to make tracks on new-fallen snow!

Me and my goober: