Sunday, April 29, 2012

Birthday By Proxy

I don't have a cool bone in my body.  I'm so uncool, I'm almost hot.  Not hot in today's vernacular, just, you know, the complete opposite of cool.  I say that as preface to admitting a quilty pleasure I have.  I think that if you're not cool, it kind of negates the whole guilty pleasure idea.  But when it comes to food, I think I know worthy food, good-tasting food, for those of us "super-tasters" with discerning palates, as opposed to just stuff you eat because somehow it got put on the grocery list. 

Let me just spit it out:  I eat at Chuck-A-Rama. It's kind of a tradition for my birthday.   I always start with the salad, but not in an "I'm a lover of green healthy foods" kind of way.  It's not special.  And if my birthdays didn't last at least a couple of weeks each and get celebrated at a number of restaurants, I wouldn't choose this place for my birthday dinner. 

My daughter does not like it very much.  So many times after we've finished a meal there, I will say to her, "You know, this really isn't that good.  Remind me of that the next time I say I want to eat here."  And after months of not even thinking about Chuck-A-Rama, I will suddenly have an urge to go eat there, and Katy will descend.  She'll remind me that I don't want to waste my money or time eating mediocre buffet food.  Sometimes I will trust my past self, but sometimes I just want to go to Chuck-A-Rama and get a piece of fried chicken that really isn't good after the first bite or two of really salty skin. 

This year, Katy and Jon decided to celebrate my birthday long distance by doing things in my honor, for a couple of days, since I'm not where they are.  Things that I would enjoy doing with them if we could be together.  Going to see a movie I like at the Egyptian theatre, visiting a bakery in Salt Lake City for some of my favorite pastries, going to a drive-in movie, and yes, having dinner at Chuck-A-Rama.  That's satisfactory to me.  I had my own (better-tasting) birthday dinner here in Anchorage at Fressen German Cuisine and then I visited friends for dessert and a new game about Alaska that some of their friends invented.  The best of both worlds, as they say.   I don't think it's too ironic that Katy's the one who had to actually eat at the buffet, do you?

On my actual birthday, I was finishing up a road trip for work that felt like a little vacation.  That's another thing I like remembering about spending time with them.  Road trips. I do certain things in rememberance of their having been with me when I visit places we have visited together.  I think we are too far away from each other and of course it would be more fun to do these in the real physical presence of each other, but so far, we still have the future.  I especially like it that we can talk about it over the phone.  Doing things in honor of someone who is still alive is a good thing, I think.

And, oh yeah, they're having a baby.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Vagaries Of Wanderlust

What does it mean to "live in a place?" This is not a rhetorical question.  It may be somewhat esoteric, but I have been pondering that question of late.  I have yet to visit any place and not immediately wonder if I could live there. I don't mean to think about that. The prospect just comes unbidden as a tag-along to my sense of wonder at new places. It happens like this: I'm driving through town or around a neighborhood and something strikes me about the area, something reminiscent or on the other hand, some new pleasantry I haven't lived with before. I look around, feel sort of wistful and think, "I could live here." Warped-wood homes on stilts, rivers running through the city, tree-lined streets, friendly drivers waving at me, the smell of sea water, green growing things on all sides, a yarn store inside a yurt. Then when I get in the yarn store, I imagine what it might be like to live in a yurt!
Yurts don't have walls, you guys. I don't know about that one. I like open areas, but I like at least a couple of walls, even if I live alone. Once, when I lived in Korea many years ago, I took a bus trip from Seoul to the east coast with some friends. At that time, I was living with a family in a big house that had some plumbing and even though the "facilities" were outside the back door and were not part of the plumbing, at least there was a door I could shut, and there were walls. Well, on this trip to the country side, we had to walk a distance from where the bus let us off in front of the market to the farm house where we would be staying.
Off the side of the road were the facilities, a hole in the ground with three ... OK, I'll call them walls... three walls on poles. The missing wall at least faced away from the road, but there was one other problem. The walls didn't reach all the way to the ground! I'm going to let you put this one together. A latrine-type hole, flush with the ground (oh, wait...get it? "flush?" and of course, no flushing!) and three walls NOT flush with the ground. As a matter of fact, they were about a foot away from being flush. Would it ease your mind to know that it got very dark at night and there were trees off in another direction? Or are you going to start worrying about wild animals in the Korean countryside, now?
When I first moved to Anchorage, I spent about a month "residing" in a room at the center where I came to work. Our building has been converted from a set of joined condominiums (why is that not condominiae?) People reside there sometimes when they come for vision rehab training. It felt more than just a little strange to get up and get ready for work of a morning, and walk down the stairs to my office. My stairs let down into an area where we had some classes and staff meetings. I was never late for work during that month. What is it about not wanting your new co-workers to see you coming from your bedroom or bathroom to staff meeting? Just weird and uncomfortable. 
I found an apartment, mostly to my liking, downtown. There are a lot of good reasons to live downtown. I like it very much. Ease of bus and foot travel, accessibility, proximity to "goings on," liveliness, diverse places to explore. Had a great "double" view from the 6th floor out over the inlet, across the rail yard, over to the mountains. On some clear days I could see Denali, 300 miles away.
I "lived" there for about nine months until I moved to this place where I am now. And now, I "live" here. It's very different. It's not downtown, but it's not far from downtown.  I still have a nice view of trees on the property and mountains in the distance.  When the Break Up floods subside, I can walk to a bus stop, but it will require transfering once to get to work on the bus.  I'm not paying as much for rent, I have a very nice, fun, young roommate who goes to bed earlier than I do and we have a lot of walls in this place.  It's almost, sort of, in a way as though we each have our own apartment within the apartment.
I travel a lot.  I put my head on a lot of different pillows (but always with a clean towel as protection, because, let's face it.  Do you really think they wash those things?)  I move a lot.  I've lived in cities, towns, countries, countrysides, deserts, mountains, seasides, north country frontiers.  I've lived alone, with a few people, with a lot of people, with relatives, strangers, strange people, and friends, in houses, apartments, basements, high-rises, office buildings, old parsonages, motels (my least favorite "between real homes")and cabins. No yurts, yet.
It's not as though I am overly dissatisfied with life in general. I feel quite happy very much of the time, I think.  I get homesick, I miss people, but I'm still pretty content with most of my life.  I wonder why it is that I don't really stay put and why, when I know I don't want to ever go through moving again, I can't help fantacizing about living in a place I'm just visiting.   
And then sometimes, I can't wait to leave a place. "Boy, I'm glad I don't live here! This place feeds my misanthropy!" That thought usually comes with noticing how people drive. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Penny, You're Such A Dork, (Hear Ye, Hear Ye)

If someone were holding a gallon-sized ziplock bag jumbled full of these things, wouldn't you think they were taffies?  Would you still think that if the person holding a bag of these "softies" were a flight attendant offering them to passengers as they boarded the plane?  I did.  It was as I climbed aboard the PenAir turbo-prop which always seem kind of small and budget to me.  And handing out mini-sized taffies just confirms how cheap the airlines are getting these days.  I mean, even for a turbo-prop ride with only one flight attendant dressed in work pants, that is really budget!

Those planes are noisy, too.  Boy.  My whole body buzzed and rattled all the way til we landed again.  I glanced across the aisle and noticed that a passenger had ear plugs in his ears.  Hmmm.  Next time I'll try to remember to bring some ear plugs.  I could probably pick up a pair at Walgreens or somewhere like that.  

I mentioned to someone later, on the ground, that I wish I had known ahead of time to get ear plugs and she said, "They usually hand those out as you get on the plane. I'm surprised they didn't do that on your flight." 

Oh, those weren't cheap Hallowe'en candies, after all.  They were ear plugs!   I drew in a breath to exclaim I thought they were taffies and then caught myself.  If I had continued to admit to this new aquaintance that I had made that mistake not only once, but twice, I would have advanced from dork to nimrod. 

Now, let me tell you something pretty cool and interesting that you might like to try yourself.  If you drink a coke that makes you burp while you're on one of those excruciatingly buzzy flights that rattle your little melon, and you are using ear plugs, it makes a sound like a didjeridoo right between your ears.  Delightful! 

Yawning makes a funny sort of "wave organ" drone, too, but don't do a lot of facial contortions just to hear concrete acoustics in your head, especially if you're in the front row where the flight attendant can see you and pity you and pretend she didn't catch you pinching your nose and rubber-jawing.  That could be a little embarrassing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

So A Priest, A School Psychologist And Three Fishermen Walk Into A B&B

A traveling low vision therapist looks at them and says, "Is this a joke?"

(Har Har.)  No really.  That's what I said. And then I became somewhat normal again while we ate our bacon, eggs and toast.  Finally.  A real breakfast at a B&B.  No more granola stirred into a half a cup of yogurt.  That's the real joke, that anyone ever thought crunchy horse food in a cup of thickened sour milk constituted breakfast.

We're in Sand Point, AK on the Popof Island, Shumagin Island group, south of the Alaska Peninsula, still in the Eastern Aleutian Borough.

The priest is here to conduct Easter mass at the mess on Trident Seafoods compound.  The commercial fishermen are stopping over on their breaks from cod season, which was a little bit longer this year.  The school psychologist was at King Cove the same time I was this week.  He has 30 hours of leave before he hops on another plane to another district school. 

And me?  I'm just hanging out for the weekend until Monday when I can see some people here who can't see very well anymore.  I hook them up with all kyna goodies, and even a little bit of hope after the opthamologists tell them there's nothing else to be done for them.  I travel with about 100 pounds of equipment to show and tell and give away.  Some very simple adaptations and some very sophisticated electronic devices. 

They are so appreciative of even the smallest things, like orange neoprene glare reducers that fit over their regular glasses.  These little plastic goggle-like cheapos that cost about 2 bucks actually restore a bit of vision for most people.  They filter out blue light and when people put them on, thinking they will just sort of shut out a bit of glare, they are surprised to find an amount of visual clarity has been restored.  Not really magic, but people break into surprised smiles and say things like, "Hey, this is great!"  They roll their heads around taking in a sweeping view of the room.

"It makes things sharper!"

"My eyes feel more relaxed."

"I'm seeing things I didn't know existed before. Can I order some of these for my friends?  Oh, nevermind.  They're not blind.  I'll just get some for me."

Here's a representative picture just because I'm having a hard time blogging without posting a picture:

No.  Not representative of glare reducers, silly.  Of the Aleutians!

Well, back to more about me.  I was socked in by windy snow in King Cove, waiting and figuring out a way to get at least as far as Cold Bay so I would have a better chance at reaching Sand Point on a later flight.  At Cold Bay, they have a runway that can accommodate a real airplane, even though it's still small enough for me to call it a knock-off of the real thing.  If I couldn't make it out yesterday, as I so fortunately did, I would have had to wait another day or two (no flights on Sunday) to see to business here and that would extend an already expensive trip. 

I got a heads up on a Peter Pan fishing vessel charter, but missed the boat as I waited around to hear about it.  Finally got a call from Cold Bay terminal: "We're flying over to pick you up in twenty minutes."  So, I rushed around to find a ride, left the key and my billing address on the seat of my rental car, and hot-footed it to the tarmack to catch the flight with the school psychologist and another fisherman. 

We were all very relieved and happy.  I feel as though I have been initiated into an "odd-mix" club of people who finally accept that this is how it's done because you don't really get to decide.  My supervisor keeps telling me how lucky I am to get to travel when 95% of the rest of the people in the state don't have that kind of fun in their jobs.  Her statistics are quite off the cuff, as you would imagine, but I've met a few of the 5 % and some of them aren't that excited about it all.  Some have families they have to leave behind for too long, having been given a job they didn't really bargain for.

So far, most of my business travel has been in the winter--this worst winter Alaska has seen in decades!  I have taken lots of pictures of this last trip and as I have already lamented, am unable to post them from my phone where I don't get network access.  They aren't the lush, lovely oceanic/volcanic island pictures I would get in warmer times and climes, but there is something to be said for snow on sharply jagged mountains and huge ice chunks floating on water.  Until I make it here in the summer, I can only wonder and feed off other people's pictures. 

And as I've said before, the most enjoyable part of traveling for me is the actual work with people thing that I do.  Having said that, yet again, it is with great anticipation that I am planning a trip to Manley Hot Springs (in the interior) for the summer!  I think I fly into Fairbanks for this one and then charter a flight to the village out Manley way.

This...we're going to call it "spring," no matter what it feels and looks like...this spring I have a trip coming up to Unalaska, which is further south on this chain of islands I'm on now, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, by the way; Copper River/Glennallen/Valdez; and another little jaunt down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, Soldotna and Homer in June.

Then I am going to take a real, personal vacation to Utah over the 4th of July. 

Hey, I hear someone's power tools buzzing outside my window.  Does that mean it's clearing up enough to do projects outside?  I'd better go check on that.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What, Me Worry? I'm Not Worried. Are You Worried?

Beyond any reason I can come up with so far, I have been anxious about this trip to the Eastern Aleutians.  When I made plans to come several weeks ago, I had the same, but stronger, feeling and eventually the trip was cancelled due to inclement weather.  I am now in the midst of this rescheduled trip which, obviously, has not been cancelled, but we are experiencing weather that isn't usual for this time of year in this area.  I'm supposed to be flying on to Sand Point on Friday, and then back to Anchorage next Tuesday, but I'm not really counting on much of anything to be as it is supposed to be. 

It's all right, though.  I'd much rather be grounded in bad weather than flying in it. And I don't think the difficulty in traveling is necessarily the root of the anxiety.  I got into town yesterday afternoon, got a ride from the tarmack to the B&B where I'm staying, but the downhill driveway was so snowed in I didn't want to drag all my luggage through the icy slush and mud, so the clinic staff member who was giving me a ride, took me over to the clinic where I re-packed my personal belongings in a new little piece of luggage I bought at the airport before leaving on Monday.  I met people I would be working with, spent a bit of time parking my equipment in the exam room I would be using for my low vision assessments, and then just piddled around for a while. 

We had made arrangements for a staff member to take me back to the B&B and pick me up this morning for my appointments, but I decided to see if I could rent a car instead.  They gave me Bash's number and I called him.  Not a rental agency.  Just some guy in town who has a lot of cars.  He's not set up to take credit cards and he said I should just wait til I get back to Anchorage and send him a check.  He brought over some sort of good "bad-weather" vehicle that smells like the old 1974 two-toned green Ford Ranger that made its rounds through several members of my family.  (My brother gave it to me back before the turn of the century.  I haven't owned it for several years now, but being in this rental evokes happy, sun-filled memories.) 

Bash drove me around town a bit to show me where I  might get groceries and Chinese food and mess at the Peter Pan cannery for $10 a pop.  As we drove around the cannery, down by the docks, we saw a lean-looking hound come running toward us.  Bash rolled down his window and whistled at his dog to come follow us and that lean houndy-looking dog did just that.  "That's my dog."

"You don't want to stop and put him in the car with us?" 

I thought he had escaped from a fenced yard or something, but Bash just said, "Nah.  He can run.  He likes to run." And so he did.  That happy, trotting bird dog ran along with us, overtook us when he saw some magpies he wanted to show off for and even tried to chase some birds in flight. 

After dropping Bash off, I went to the grocery store and bought some Fritos and cheese dip in case I would need something to eat that night, hedging my bet against the unknown Chinese restaurant fare.  And then I acutally went to King Cove China for dinner.  Drove back to my bed place, parked up the hill from the driveway which besides not being fit to lug luggage down is also not fit to drive down at this time. 

So far, not such a hair-raising experience, right?  A little more sincerely quaint and folksy than previous trips and let me just say right now that a lot of places I've visited in this state could claim at least a degree of folksiness. (I drove around town this afternoon when the sun was shining to see what there was to take pictures of and I think there's a law on the books that drivers have to wave at each other.  I'm not making this up.  Every single driver I passed waved as though they were obliging a long-standing custom of King Cove, Alaska. If you know me at all, you know I like waving, although I caught myself just tipping my chin up a couple of times instead and feeling like an old man in a saddle. "Howdy, Ma'am.")

I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.  I'm still trying to figure out the anxiety part of being anxious on this trip.  I was safe and warm last night in my comfortable little room with a cat doll at the door.  There are cat statues of various types in various places in this home.  I walked out of the bathroom and saw a big marmalade tabby out of the side of my vision sitting on a bed, looking straight at me with glassy eyes.  It didn't move.  I looked closer.  It didn't blink, move or otherwise appear to be alive, but it was very real looking.  I walked in closer and looked harder because damn! that was a real-looking fixture.  Was it stuffed?  I mean, there were fox pelts hanging over the backs of chairs here, too.  You never know what you might encounter when you're on this planet.  (I'll write about the real-live foxes outside my windows and a few other interesting little things that I have taken pictures of after I get back into Anchorage where my camera/phone network actually works.) 

As I turned to walk out of the room, the cat statue blinked slowly. OK.  Now that's settled.  Then when I saw a similar looking, less real marmalade cat doll lying by my door, I jumped a bit, feeling relieved that I hadn't stepped on it's tail.  There I was again, faced with a cat that didn't move, but this one had a good excuse.  It wasn't real. 

I finally got to sleep last night and had a horrible nightmare.  I dreamt that I had blown off all my appointments, completely missed my whole two days at the clinic and gone back to Anchorage not having done anything for anyone.  Why didn't they call me when I didn't show up?  I thought, "Boy, those people really are casual!" Now what am I going to do?  All that expense and trouble to get me to King Cove--how do you fix that one?!

Fortune smiles brightly upon those who finally wake from nightmares and can say, "Whew.  I'm glad that was only a dream."  And I had a wonderful day, today...EVEN THOUGH I FORGOT TO FINISH GETTING DRESSED BEFORE I WENT IN TO WORK!!

I didn't discover this happy fact until I was back in the exam room taking off my coat. Getting up that slickery hill to the car this morning took a lot of faith, hope and bargaining.  There was no way I was going to go back and finish getting dressed.  I would wear my coat all day long if I had to. The one with the buttons that popped off when I climbed on the toy airplane wing. Or would I run back home and get the top layer to my layered top?  I wished I could go to the office and call home for someone to bring my clothes to me.  Why wasn't this just a dream, too? 

Hmmm.  Black pants, black shoes, black long-sleeved pajama top.  Could I pull off being "emo" today?  Well, I was just going to have to.  And you might think it's not such a hard thing to do, to work with people who don't see very well and stay in the room and not walk the halls.  Ahh, but you would not be knowing that I also had a presentation to give to the staff.  Standing.  In front of strangers with perfect vision in a conference room.  Pretending that I was fully dressed in the right clothes to be giving a presentation.  Standing.  In front of people.

And this was only my first day.  I still have people to work with tomorrow, two more nights to stay in this cute little place on the hill with no window treatment on the big bathroom window.  How long can I go without showering?  I mean, yeah, maybe there are no houses out that way, but I know there are animals on the hills--I've seen their eyes shining at me.  How can a person get undressed in a room with a big picture window that is not covered, especially at night when she can't see what's out there?  Could I maybe just get undressed and dressed in the shower behind the shower curtain or possibly wrap myself in a towel and run back downstairs to my room to get dressed?  Yeah, that's better--running half naked through a stranger's house where there really are other people...and a cat...or maybe more.

To recap:
  • People are eerily casual around here
  • I can't tell the difference between live and stuffed cats
  • I know I'm just going to have to go ahead and fall on the driveway to get it over with
  • I actually went to work in perjammas in a fully awake state
  • And stayed there
Maybe it was the MSG in my dinner last night, but I still don't know why I began this trip feeling unsettled about it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Headed To The Aleutians East Borough

First up, King Cove, AK
After several push-me-pull-me telephone exchanges with Pen Air about when I can get into King Cove and then into Sand Point and back to Anchorage (never mind all the stops in Cold Bay and False Pass, etc.) given their intermittent flight schedules this time of year, I finally booked passage on Monday (today,) but soon realized that didn't work well with the clinic visits in both places, so I girded up my loins, made yet another call to the airlines and asked them to change the departure date to Tuesday (also "today," unless I finish this by---oh, oops too late. I was going to say midnight, but, laid plans and all that.)
Got that all straightened out and then called the B&Bs that were recommended by the clinics, and the proprietor at Marine View in Sand Point remembered my failed attempt to stay with them before my previous visit was "compromised" by the weather. Very friendly, offered to pick me up at the airport, made me feel welcomed even before I get there. Then I called the Salmon Berry B&B in King Cove where I am headed first. On vacation until Tues April 3, says the answering machine. That's cutting it quite close and even though I know I should have more than one iffy plan up my sleeve, I kept procrastinating calling the other lodging options until this evening after 5 PM, when instead of calling a different place even for just the one night, I called the vacationing B&B owners and their house-sitter answered.
He explained that Marty, who runs the place, said before she left that she would not be ready for guests until next week. I was fine with that answer, except somewhere in my bones I knew I would be staying at that particular B&B on this particular trip.  When I asked the house-sitter if he had another recommendation, he said he would try to get a hold of Marty who only sometimes answered her phone when he called and give her my number in case there were a possibility I could indeed stay there for at least part of my visit.
She called me within 10 minutes, we spoke like old friends and she told me her house-sitter reported that the place was clean, there were clean sheets on all the beds and they would be ready to have me stay there. When I asked her advice on getting from the airport to her place, she said she would be on the same flight I was taking.
"Out of Anchorage? Really? That's going to be funny both of us going the same place and we won't even recognize each other until we get there!"
She said, wisely, and somewhat cryptically, as a lot of people do when I say things only an outsider would say, "Oh, I will recognize you! And my house-sitter is picking me up, so we can give you a ride, too."
Sure enough, several hours later, I was sitting outside the Pen Air gate with a handful of other people, and there were also travelers inside the Pen Air gate area, and I suddenly heard a woman's voice say, "That must be Penny right there!" 
Who's so casually speaking my name in the airport?  A stranger I've never met who warned me she would recognize me?  Yes, it was Marty, walking up the corridor with her husband, but you already knew that, didn't you?
What you didn't know, however, is how the rest of the trip plays out and that is for another post when I can get pictures uploaded, because you have to see it to believe it, or at least to be impressed by it.  I've been here a few hours and am already nestled in my Bed & Breakfast bed, looking out over the sprawling little city of 952 human residents. (I'm not sure if that includes seasonal workers at the Peter Pan Cannery, though.  I traded places with a handful of them at the "airport," which term I use veerrry loosely.  They were just finishing up cod season, I think.)