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Bering Strait: gateway to the Arctic Ocean

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2013 at 11:47 pm

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-Mike, our ice guide takes us to the edge of the shorefast ice in Wales, Alaska –

You will find few places left on earth where people remain so intimately dependent on their environment. The native communities along Bering Strait do not hunt for sport, but they hunt for meat to supplement their diets particularly when the small bush planes stop bringing in outside food as winter weather sets in. You eat what you can hunt and what you have left in storage. No last minute trips to the grocery store here.

In case you were wondering, Bering Strait is a fairly narrow channel that connects the Bering Sea to the Arctic, and Wales, Alaska is so close to the Russian coast that you can see it across the strait on a fair day.

It has been an amazing experience to visit with villages of Wales and Shishmaref in Alaska where my boss, colleague and I went to talk to students in the schools and conduct some research on the sea ice. The smaller community in Wales has a runway accessible by snow machine, and strong winds frequently change the availability of open leads in the ice. People have noticed changes in snowfall patterns and thickness of the ice, as confirmed by our most recent ice core measurements. The ice is thinner in Wales this year. Whalers are readying their crews in hopes of catching another bowhead whale this year – hopes buoyed by seeing a few beluga whales a few days ago. We also saw some bearded, ringed and ribbon seals out on the ice and our ice guides referred to them half-jokingly as juicy steaks.

The changing Arctic affects these communities in a very real way that is hard to imagine as an outsider. Shishmaref is facing erosion problems as waves batter their coast, no longer protected by ice. Changing sea ice affects animal migrations and can sometimes shorten hunting seasons, as described by some hunters we talked to. However, in a world where elementary school students continue with their ski meets in 30 to 40 mph winds in freezing temperatures with bear guards on the lookout for polar bears during the event – it struck me that people here are tough, and they live with an interesting dichotomy of resources. For example, most people do not have running water, but almost everyone has a cell phone and are internet-savvy. Despite the strong relationship to their environment here, I get the feeling that not too many students have ambitions to study this fascinating ecosystem that they live in. Doubtless, the resilient spirit of the communities will continue to adapt to changes from natural and human-based impacts, but as a biologist I feel that I’m no longer just interested in what the walrus are doing – but also in how the people adapt.

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A girl and her dog – journey 4150 miles in 8.5 days to Alaska

In dogs, life, travel, Uncategorized on October 29, 2012 at 3:29 am

It has been a while – but Connor and I are currently in Alaska. We made the trek together in late August/September and it was quite an adventure. I am a pretty wimpy driver. Before attempting the drive from northern Virginia to Fairbanks, Alaska the furthest solo drive I made was only 4 hours long. Needless to say, this road trip was beyond my tested endurance levels, so I planned to cover no more than 550 miles a day, with 8 hours on the road.

Planning is key when setting daily goals. It also helps to set up pet-friendly hotel bookings in advance so that you have no surprises on your trip about whether your puppy would be welcome in your room. When traveling alone, I highly recommend bringing your puppy with you. Connor is no mean guard dog, but he’s big enough to make someone think twice about approaching me.

You cannot plan for every possible situation on such a long trip, but here is a check-list that may be helpful for future Alaska-bound travelers:

– Have a valid passport (and in visa/ green card) for border crossings

– Have a health certificate and rabies certificate for your dog completed within 30 days of travel

– Have roaming enabled for your cell phone for calls (I disabled data roaming services)

– Inform your credit card company that you will be traveling to Canada

– Join AAA (great for hotel discounts and car emergencies!)

– Check tires (including spare), carry a can of tire inflation slime in case of punctures

– Check all fluids (I carried spare windshield fluid, and engine oil)

– Have some windex and paper towels/ rag to clean your car as needed (I tried to wipe off the bugs from the bumper and windshield each night)

– Book hotels (especially important to ensure pets are welcome at your nightly stops)

– Have cash on hand (some gas stations in remote areas don’t accept cards)

– Have snacks and drinks packed (also for your dog)

– Enable satellite radio (I had a free trial subscription to SiriusXM) or have a good selection of CDs or music on your Ipod available. Satellite radio worked well all through the drive until I got to Tok, Alaska – at which point I had to change to cds/ my Ipod

– Have a good GPS (I had the one that came with the car and a GARMIN portable GPS – the car’s GPS worked reliably in rain or shine; unfortunately my GARMIN lost signal at inopportune times so I gave up using it after the first day)

– Carry something for self defense (just in case – I had easy access to several self-defense ‘tools’)

– Carry a first aid kit, and sleeping bag

– Have a copy of the Milepost. Incredible resource for navigating the Alaska Highway.

Here’s Connor at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. Boy did we have a drive ahead of us!

Finally, there are a few things I learned during our trip:

  • Road trips are better when you have company – even if he sleeps through most of it.
  • Make frequent stops to stretch your legs and enjoy the scenery. You may never be back in the same place again.

  • Yes, you can make it through bumpy rough roads and scary fog. If you quit in the middle, you’re simply stuck in the middle of nowhere. Just take a deep breath and carry on.
  • Be prepared for good and bad things to happen. Sometimes you just have to roll with it
  • Don’t pass up an opportunity to stop for food, ask for directions or take a bathroom break – especially the further north you get. Sometime opportunities are few and far between.
  • Keep a camera in easy reach, and take lots of pictures! Pictures can help you remember  what you’ve done and how far you came.

Minions – you know you want some

In dogs, life, Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm

If only I had minions to plough through the seemingly endless hours of writing emails, reports and processing data. Whenever a new task arises, wouldn’t it be nice to assign it to someone else, and have your minion obediently say, “Yes Boss. Right away”. In return, I would provide medical and dental care for my minions – and the occasional liver treat for a job well done.

Who am I kidding, though? Puppies can’t type.

Passing on the Versatile Blogger Award love

In dogs, life, Uncategorized on June 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm

My very first blog award nomination was very kindly given from teepee12, whose writings on the ups and downs of life have kept me a follower of her blog Serendipity.  Thank you so very much for passing along the nomination! Our ‘versatility’ tends to come as a result of a lack of direction.

Chloe and Connor are proud of this achievement, especially since they provide much of the entertainment and subject-matter of my blog. I believe they now expect some sort of reward for their part in the award which will likely come in the form of something tasty to eat.

Part of the Versatile Blogger Award rules is to nominate other deserving blogs, and to provide 7 facts about yourself. I don’t follow a lot of blogs at the moment, and I believe some of the blogs I love have already been nominated for this award, so here’s my list of nominees to pass on the VBA love:

1. Nikitaland’s blog follows the life of one of the cutest dogs out there – Nikita. It also includes crafts and free printables, and is a lot of fun for anyone that loves dogs and DIY projects.

2. M.K.D. provides versatile uses of everyday objects to create a bird-a-day art. It is amazing what he can do with something as mundane as splashes of water on pavement, and soy sauce.

3. Allen’s Zoo is another favorite for his creative style of illustrations. His marine life series is what really drew me to his work.

4. Mermaid Scientist is a beautiful blog that combines the science of marine biology with the beauty of art. It reminds me of the fun of being a marine biologist, and the importance of conserving our oceans.

5. Sadie and Dasie is a like a visual candy, with a mix of home decor, dogs and fashion pictures that fall into themes. I love what she puts together.

6. Oscar the English Bulldog is a blog about Oscar. He is possibly one of the cutest puppies around, and there are many pictures to prove it.

7. Cooking College Chick is a blog about easy recipes. The fact that chocolate and peanut butter are some of her favorite ingredients makes this blog a must-read for anyone with a sweet-tooth.

8. The Other Alaska – a blog that shows Juneau is worth a visit gosh-darn-it!

Now on to the 7 facts about us:

1. We love pizza.

2. Connor has consistently stayed 5 lbs heavier than Chloe over the last year, but Chloe is still the bully dog.

3. Chloe recently had a tooth extracted for a fracture. Some dogs shouldn’t have very  hard things to chew.

4. The patience exercised by the dogs in costumes is directly proportional to the tastiness of the treat that awaits.

5. We believe in off-leash fun for well behaved dogs.

6. Connor survived eating a partial bag of Raisinettes left out by a child with no ill side-effects.

7. Chloe would rather starve than eat plain kibbles.

Flowers and begrudgingly cooperative dogs

In crafts, decor, Etsy, Uncategorized on February 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm

A carry-over from living in Hawaii is my obsession with wearing flowers in my hair. Chloe and Connor make great, albeit unenthusiastic models for my collection of flower clips and accessories. Interestingly only one of these flowers actually came from Hawaii – the rest were either bought or made in Virginia, and one was a gift from my sister in Malaysia. I imagine our future home in Alaska will still have tropical accents – including faux tropical flowers.

Yes, Connor you get to wear flowers too.

Chloe imagines life with a mom who didn’t spend so much time playing “dress-the-puppy”.

Connor shows his feminine side with a white Phalaenopsis orchid.

Any votes for which picture has the most unhappy-looking puppy face?

Could you leave your baby behind?

In life, Uncategorized on February 19, 2012 at 5:21 am

This is Claire, my first foster puppy. I got to love her for a month. The animal shelter I volunteered with asked me to keep her until she got all her puppy vaccinations and could safely return to the shelter to get adopted. Claire had all the love and charm of a happy, well-adjusted puppy. and she never met anyone she didn’t love. However, trying to potty train her from my third floor apartment was difficult, she always woke up barking too early in the morning, and I was constantly cleaning her kennel. It was a rather challenging fostering experience, but I loved her so much. At the time I only had Chloe as a forever dog, and had no idea I could get so attached to another dog over such a short period of time. As a foster mom, I was completely unprepared to say goodbye.

When I brought Claire in for her last round of shots, the shelter happily announced that she could now stay with them again. I put on my brave face, smiled and kissed Claire goodbye, and somehow managed to drive myself home through my tears. Dearest, sweet Claire – how hard it was to leave you behind. The story ends happily – Claire’s forever home family found her the same day I dropped her off. She was adopted almost instantly. I still miss her even though I know she was never really mine.

I now have two dogs, and could not fathom leaving either of them behind. That said, I am appalled at my husband’s ex-wife who is making a choice to leave her kids a continent away.

This mother will soon follow her third husband to Germany with only ONE of her three children instead of staying in the country so that she can raise ALL her children. She has chosen to take her 14 year old daughter with her, and is leaving behind her 9 year old autistic daughter and 16 year old son with their respective fathers.  How do you pick between your children? How do you leave a child behind in another continent for the better part of 4 years? After fighting so hard to keep his daughter in the country, my husband is now dealing with a daughter who is so afraid of being abandoned by her mother that she has allowed her mother to convince her that this move is a good idea – even at the expense of everyone else in this now very broken family.

Shame on this mother for voluntarily abandoning two of her children for another continent. Shame on the judge for thinking a broken family is in anybody’s best interests. If someone can explain to me how a mother can leave her babies behind, please do. I just cannot fathom the idea, and all I have are puppies.

Connor smiles for Valentine’s Day

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Mom's Valentines day/ birthday loot from dad

Having a birthday today is not that unusual. I have three friends who were also born on Valentine’s Day. My family in Malaysia were first to wish me a happy birthday, followed by my handsome husband, and then the dogs – but they only figured it was a special day because THEY got presents today too.

Connor is a special dog. He was abused as a puppy, and now is very wary of people. However, Connor loves girls, squirrels and food of any sort, and he will occasionally reward you with a Connor smile. This involves raising his left lip, which looks like a goofy half-snarl. Today his smile was his birthday present to me.

Connor’s dad bought him and Chloe new toys for Valentine’s Day, and Connor rewarded me with his famous smile (which doesn’t quite come through in my pictures, hence the highlight with the arrow). If you are feeling less than loved this Valentine’s Day, and have room in your heart for unconditional affection, then I highly recommend adopting a dog. If nothing else, he’ll make you laugh out loud at least once each day and remind you not to sweat the small stuff.

The Job Hunt Continues

In crafts, Etsy, jobs, Uncategorized, wrinkled sea dog on February 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Picture3 Here’s Chloe doing her impression of me from two weeks ago – going to my 9 to 5 office job, complete with hour-long commute. Now that my fancy fellowship is over, it is back to the drawing board. As many others (exhibit 1, exhibit 2, exhibit 3) have blogged before me, it is tough times for a PhD or any young professional in this job market – much more so when you are still considered a lowly foreign immigrant.

A higher degree certainly puts you out of the market for a lot of jobs, and after years of studying to be an academic, I’m still not sure that is the best path for me. In the meantime, I am working on writing up by dissertation for publication, and keeping my sanity with little art projects.

I think that a lot of scientists get burned out these days. The pot of research funds is shrinking, competition is increasing, and the work-life balance is becoming increasing UN-balanced. I’m slowly becoming more drawn to the idea of owning my own business, and doing small research projects in Alaska.

I miss being out in the field – in addition to being outdoors and doing good science, it inspires me to paint my little cards like this one. Unfortunately, art projects don’t pay the bills and the Washington DC area is a very expensive place to be unemployed. Thank heavens my husband was smart enough to have skills that keep him employed. In the meantime, it’s back to the part-time jobs classifieds for me.