I’m back. And ranting.

So, it’s been forever. Sorry. Anyway, I’m back. With a rant.

I have a problem with selfies.

 

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The joke goes like this: Why are selfies called selfies? Answer: Because narcissisties is too difficult to spell.

So, I have teenage daughters, and yeah, they post selfies from time to time. On Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and whatever other cool app kids are communicating on these days (yes, I am old – deal with it) in various poses ranging from “kissy face” to librarian face to sultry vixen (stop that!). I’ve even posted a few selfies of my own. They’re harmeless fun.

Mostly.

Here’s my thing though. I was scanning through Instagram the other day while waiting in line at the grocery store, and as I follow several of my daughters’ friends (and they follow me back, because I’m that cool they’re polite), my feed was … well, awash with selfies. Now this is not a problem in and of itself – I love seeing what beautiful young women my girls and their friends have become, as old as it makes me feel. It’s just that selfies are so … silent.

Obviously, selfies are huge. Duh. A quick wiki search showed me that the term was first coined in 2005 by some photographer and that the phenomenon gained quickly in popularity because of the whole MySpace thing. Whatever. I’ll buy that. I’ll believe Instagram has over 53 million photos tagged with the hashtag #selfie, if Wikipedia says so. And Wiki says they’re popular among both sexes, but that’s where I’ll depart from convention a little. Maybe I only see a wee slice of humanity on my social media feeds, but the slice I do see is hands-down mostly female. A huge majority of the selfies I run across are of girls. Beautiful girls, yeah. But mostly, girls.

Here’s where the little voice in my head rolls its eyes and goes, “yeah … so?” The little voice has five kids, so bear with me.

So … this. Day after day, my social media feed is full of photos of beautiful girls who are mute, silent. They’re content to post a photo of themselves and leave it at that. Okay, I take it back – you gotta have hashtags … #selfie #selfienation #selfiequeen. There’s #selfieoftheday, #selfiemonday, #selfietuesday … and so on. But what I noticed the other day at the grocery store was a wall of silent women content to be seen and not heard (hashtags not withstanding). Like being seen, being beautiful is ENOUGH (it’s not), like the face you present to the world is the most important thing about you (it’s not).

I know of some young women who post up to half a dozen selfies a day. And this doesn’t even count “wefies” or “usies” (couples selfies) or group selfies (groufies). But with group shots, since the company you keep says a lot about you (God, I sound like my mother!), at least you’re saying something.

And that’s the crux of my issue here. I want all of these beautiful young women to say something. Something more powerful than, “Hey, look at me!” At least, please tell me, “Hey, look at me in my cap and gown!”or “Hey, look at me on this mountain I just climbed!” or “Hey, look at the book I just read!” What would that be, a boofie? I don’t know, but it should be a thing. Books are awesome. Better yet, TELL me what you THINK about all these things. Because – and you’ll learn this someday, most of you – it’s what’s inside of you (guys and girls) that makes you beautiful, worthy of note, worthy of presenting to the world. I already know you’re beautiful on the outside. Show me what makes you tick. Hashtags optional.

Dots and dashes – they’re everywhere, man!

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When my daughter was at summer camp one year, she and a friend devised a secret code. It involved different configurations of coughs, sneezes, pencil taps, and throat clearing sounds, and it enabled the two girls to communicate during quiet time.

Slightly evil and remarkably devious, perhaps. Hilarious? I thought so. So did one of the counselors, when I told her about it years later. We shared a good belly laugh over it.

People have been communicating without words for centuries, from drums to smoke signals. One of the best-known methods in our day and age is Morse code, although already it’s becoming something of a lost art. In my book, THE VOLUME OF WATER, one of my main characters, Mary, is a HAM radio nut. Back in the 1960s, when my novel takes place, you had to be proficient in Morse code to get your HAM license (that’s no longer the case).

315px-International_Morse_Code.svgMary, lonely kid that she is, is an extreme audiophile. She hears Morse just about everywhere. A bird, her heartbeat – it’s all translatable for her. In other worse, the world literally speaks to her through Morse.

She’s not the first one to feel that way, I was rather surprised to find. A quick and unscientific Google search proves that Morse is sort of everywhere. Every subject has its nerds, and that goes for birdwatchers and rock-n-rollers as well. Case in point, the Junco hyemalis oreganus, also known as the Morse code bird. Here’s a sampling of their sound, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Morse Code bird

The Morse Code bird: the original Twitter

There are even secret Morse messages in popular music – and I’m not just talking Abba songs here. Not to suggest that Rush fans are a bunch of giant nerds, but well

Fortunately, learning Morse is relatively easy. There are several sites that will even translate normal type into code for you so you can impress your friends. Can you guess what hopeful bestseller this is? – …. . / …- — .-.. ..- — . / — ..-. / .– .- – . .-.

I typed the title of my book into a Morse code music making page I found, and now I can’t get the rhythm out of my head. I think it’s a rhumba. Either that, or headhunters will be here shortly. Hmmmm, wonder if there’s a way to incorporate subliminal audio messages into a query letter?

We are all abuzz

Spring is in the air. Finally. In Alaska, Spring usually takes it’s own sweet time, usually emerging in all its glory around about the time most people in the Northern Hemisphere are well into summer. This has been an unusually warm winter, and so almost all of the snow is already melted. Bemoan global warming all you want; no one up here is complaining.

hinting-springThe leaves won’t really fill the trees until late May/early June

April is always a busy month for us. There’s Pascha (Orthodox Christian Easter), and the end of the school year is just around the corner. Seeds for the garden must be started indoors, because the growing season in Alaska is short and intense. We’ll transplant the small plants we’ve grown usually around the first week of June, by which time we hope it no longer freezes overnight. We need to get new baby chicks in as well, as our older girls are no longer laying. Sometimes we also raise a few baby pigs for slaughter later in the fall to supplement our supply of salmon and moose, but we’ve still got some pork in the deep freezer, so we’ll skip it this year.

And then there’s bees. We’ve kept bees for a few years now; last summer was the first time we really brought in a honey harvest (about 70 pounds from two hives), and let me tell you it was worth the wait. I decided to become a beekeeper because I’ve always had a phobia of bees, and I thought what better way to get over that fear than to own it? (You can read a piece I did for our local paper about my initial bee drama here). It worked. Sort of. I fell in love with bees – just not at harvest time. In the Spring, they’re adorable. When you try to harvest their honey in the fall, they’ll try to kill you. With bees, it’s all or nothing.

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We have to order our bees every year from a local bee dealer. It is unbelievably difficult – almost impossible – to keep bees year-round in Alaska, because of the cold and total lack of pollen and nectar. We have two hives right now, and we just ordered a four-pound packages of Italian bees for each. In the past we’ve kept new World Carniolans, but both of our hives swarmed last summer, and the Italians are supposedly less likely to do that. Our bees will be “grown” in Northern California and barged up to Alaska, in huge, buzzing pallets. I always wonder what the freight handlers think when they unload them.

Each 4-pound package will hold anywhere from 16,000 to 18,000 bees. That’s a lot of bees, especially for a woman who still has a latent tendency to run screaming at the sound of just one. Fortunately, initially the bees are very laid-back – even when I shake the package into the hive. Of course, I always wear a full beekeeping suit (my “astronaut” suit, as the kids call it) because I have so many allergies it’s likely I’ve developed one to bee stings as well. I’d rather not find out.

For now, it’s just a matter of cleaning up the frames a bit and setting up the hives. I’ll be stopping by Costco to pick up a few 25-pound bags of sugar, as they’ll live off the sugar water we give them until the pollen and nectar begin flowing. I’ll post more when they arrive, but for now here are a few photos from last year:

IMG_7303Dad checking the hives. It’s a family thing.

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51 years ago today…

On March 27, 1964, at 5:35 pm,residents of Alaska were heading home from work, making dinner for their families, getting ready to attend services (it was Good Friday).  At 5:36 pm, a 9.2 megathrust earthquake violently shook the state. All over Southcentral Alaska, buildings collapsed, man-sized fissured appeared in the earth. Some houses literally slid into the sea. Fuel containers caught fire. Trains derailed.

Within an hour, tsunamis struck coastal regions and small islands that were home to dozens of canneries and small fishing towns. Local tsunamis caused by calving ice walls hit almost immediately; tectonic tsunamis from father out in the ocean shortly afterward reached as high as 50 feet when they slammed into the island of Kodiak. One wave completely wiped out the village of Chenega, killing a third of its residents.

My novel-in-progress, THE VOLUME OF WATER, is set in Kodiak and the surrounding islands in 1964, and I’ve done a lot research into the devastation caused by the quake and tsunamis. It’s terrifying to think that something could happen so unexpectedly and literally wipe out your way of life forever, but that’s exactly what happened.Some villages were so badly devastated that the residents chose to move elsewhere rather than try to rebuild. The town of Port Lions, on Kodiak Island, got its name when villagers from the decimated island village of Afognak relocated there – with the help of the Lions Club.

Here’s an old photo of the town of Kodiak before the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis:

11080348_10153199688298588_8128959915429678759_oAnd after.

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11096488_10153199688293588_504800570514641664_oAlaska’s governor Bill Walker has declared a day of remembrance, with state flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the more than 130 Alaskans who lost their lives because of the quake and tsunamis. Today is officially “1964 Alaska Earthquake Remembrance Day.”

For those who lived through it, and those who lost loved ones, every day is remembrance day.

The first five minutes

Sturdy-leather-work-boots2In researching personal accounts of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake for my novel THE VOLUME OF WATER, one of the things that stood out to me was the amount of damage that occurred in the first few minutes of the quake.

Fortunately, the quake, a 9.2 megathrust which was the largest ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere, occurred during the day – at about 5:30 pm. It happened just after people had vacated office buildings in the busy Downtown Anchorage area; experts have stated if it had happened an hour earlier, hundreds more may have been killed.

I cannot imagine how much worse the devastation would have been if the initial quake had occurred at night. At least in the daytime, people can see debris falling toward them, they can see the earth literally coming open under their feet. In the daylight, we can find and hold onto our loved ones. If we have to, we can see to grab out coats and boots before we run out of a collapsing building or home.

Anyone living in the area of the Pacific Northwest known as the Rim of Fire knows that another “big one” could be just around the corner. Most prepare to some degree for such an event. However, since disaster can strike anywhere at anytime; it is important to be able to react quickly in those first few minutes. How many of us are prepared to do that?

Last year, to commemorate the anniversary of a local fire, I did an article for the Frontiersman Newspaper in which I interviewed the spokeswoman for our borough’s emergency preparedness department . What I expected was the same information everybody gives out – have canned food on hand, stash some candles and blankets, lots of water, etc. Instead, the first thing that came up was … tennis shoes.

“Say you’re sleeping, and a quake happens,” she said. “Maybe the power goes out. Maybe it’s the middle of winter. Would you even be able to find your shoes? Your house keys? Your front door?”

Um … no. Probably not. One likes to hope, if disaster must strike, that it doesn’t happen when it’s dark or 20 below outside, but then, I live in Alaska – what are the odds? That thought haunted me.

We are a large, homeschooling family. That’s code for “our entry way is usually a hot mess of random shoes, socks, mittens, hats, projects, books of all shapes and sizes and the occasional sharp Lego toy.” If I had to get my family out of the house in a hurry, especially in winter, we’d all be in deep trouble.

The preparedness spokeswoman pointed out that if a large quake occurs, it’s possible – even likely – the floor will be covered in broken glass (and, of course, Legos). So it’s a good idea to stow a pair of tennis shoes (sturdy shoes that can be slipped on easily) under each bed. Some people keep a large ziplock bag under the bed with their shoes, a light jacket, flashlight, maybe a whistle, and other must-have items (like an inhaler if you have family members with asthma, which we do). You can even secure the bags to the frame of the bed so they don’t get pushed back out of reach.

I am working toward the goal of going to bed at night with an entry at least organized enough that everyone could find their own coat and boots with a flashlight. We’ve designated specific places in the house for those flashlights, too. I now sleep with a pair of shoes or boots next to my bed that I can slip on in an instant. I keep my iPhone charged at night, and I have an app for it that provides a quick flashlight. I keep it and my keys on my nightstand, an arm’s reach away. My older kids know how to open the garage door if the power goes out, so if the house becomes unsafe and it’s too cold to remain outside (which it is much of the year), we can pull the car out and at least be out of the elements.

I read enough first-hands accounts of the devastation that occurred after the 1964 quake, and the tsunamis that hit the coastal regions afterward, to believe that those first five minutes can be key to survival. Maybe you don’t have earthquakes in your neck of the woods, but I bet you have fires, or tornadoes, or riots, or something else equally dangerous and unpredictable. Having a pair of shoes and a plan to survive the first few minutes of an emergency is easy and inexpensive, and it might make all the difference to you and your loved ones.

Do you have a “5-minute bag?” Is there anything I’ve forgotten? If you have any tips or advice, please let me know in the comments section! Thanks!

Those were the days

I ran across this ad from a 1964 magazine. My goodness, how times have changed. I love how they proudly proclaimed they could now be found “throughout the Rocky Mountain area.” These days, according to Wikipedia, “The McDonald’s Corporation is the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving around 68 million customers daily in 119 countries across 35,000 outlets.”

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Maybe I’m a little crazy, but the proportions of the meal look different. The bag of fries looks almost as big as the burger. I won’t even go into the whole “100% pure beef” claim. That was then and this is now.

I was surprised to learn that McD’s wasn’t the first fast-food restaurant in America. Actually, that title goes to White Castle, of the famous sliders. White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas – at the corner of First and Main streets. How all-American can you get?

Far more interesting, I think, is the not-remotely-American versions of the Big Mac that can be found around the world. In Egypt, for example, you can order a McFalafel. In Indonesia, all meals are certified halal, and you can order McRice and McSoup, a chicken flavored soup with bits of croutons and vegetables, to go with your McSatay, a hamburger with satay sauce and Buryam.

In Japan, your Teriyaki McBurger will be made with ground pork patties, mayonnaise, lettuce, and teriyaki sauce, and you can dip your Ume (Chicken) Nuggets in plum sauce. Menu items in the Philippines include McSpaghetti, Chicken McDo, Burger McDo, and the Hamdesal – a Pandesal bun with pineapple glaze syrup, mayonnaise, and Canadian bacon served with scrambled eggs, cheese, or both.

McDonald’s in Cyprus sells the Greek Mac, a Big Mac variant with pita bread and tzatziki sauce, and the Greek Chicken, a Greek Mac with chicken patties instead of beef. A shrimp burger is also sold during the period of Lent when Orthodox Christians (of which I am one) don’t eat meat. Clearly, I am living in the wrong country.

That 47-cent price tag, though! I ran that through an inflation calculator, and it turns out that’s equal to about $3.57 in 2015 dollars. I’m not sure where the data is based on, because here in Alaska the typical regular-sized meal (with a Coke, not a shake) costs double that, easily.

In any case, sorry if you’re craving a burger now. I know I am .Some things never change.