Friday, March 28, 2008

Romance with a Side of Cold, Cold Water

Gordon had a long workday yesterday, so we decided to break it up with a picnic dinner. I put together some food for both of us and drove out to Cheney to meet him at work. He closed up shop and we drove out to Fish Lake to sit at the park there and eat our dinner.

Fish Lake has a grassy little park area and in warmer weather is generally swamped with children and families enjoying the swimming or barbecuing on the beach, but it being March, we found the beach mostly empty (there was one teen-age couple making out on a bench at the far end of the beach). There is a floating dock at the lake that is usually connected to the beach by a floating boardwalk, but as the water level had risen with the spring runoff, it was a long-legged jump from the beach out to the boardwalk, then we could walk out onto the dock. We sat on the dock and enjoyed the sunset over the water, chatting and laughing until it was time for Gordon to get back to work. Getting up from our perch at the far edge of the dock, Gordon was the first to notice our little dilemma.

While we were enjoying the view, the dock--boardwalk and all--had been slowly floating away from shore. What had been a simple jump on the way over had become a run-and-jump-and-cross-your-fingers type situation. We hadn't fully considered this possibility. We thought about just staying out on the dock until it floated back to shore, but we didn't know how long that would take. We hadn't really brought provisions for a lengthy stay and Gordon had just finished eating our last cookie. The sun had just slipped behind the hills and it was already getting quite chilly. Finally, Gordon took a run for it and made it to the beach safely, just barely getting his heels in the water. Unfortunately, the motion of his jump had caused the whole dock to begin floating away from the beach very quickly. I was now stranded a good eight or ten feet out, and the space was ever widening. Gordon at first suggested just leaving me there--he had to get back to work, after all--but eventually decided to help me out*. He wrestled with a nearby tree to break off a long branch (this took awhile**) which he tossed across the water to me. I used the branch to pole slowly back to shore, until I was close enough to jump. Somehow, we managed the whole thing without getting our feet wet or swimming or spending the night floating in the middle of a lake. It was a really nice picnic, actually.

*This same Gordon was recently awarded the People's Choice Award for Most Romantic Phone Call This Decade, after he skied up a mountain in the Pasayten Wilderness so he could get a cell signal to call and tell his wife he loved her. Apparently, in this current situation, he felt he had some romance points to spare.

**For more information on Gordon's branch-breaking skills, see the entry below.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Introducing TLAJ's First Guest Blogger: Gordon!

So, I just spent five days in the back country, skiing and snow camping with Jilly's dad Bob, Gary & Mark Johnson, and Cousin John. We had a great time.

Top 5 most memorable moments:

1. Bob, Mark and I were skiing a boulder field when Bob nearly missed a turn and flew off the mountain.

2. Rolling down a hill and cracking a ski pole with my torso. (Still aches a bit)

3. Hearing Bob describe the experience of smoking while swimming.

4. Waking up the second morning and discovering that our fire platform had sunk four feet into the snow.

5. This one isn't a particular moment, but when you are snow camping a lot of things tend to freeze (contact solution, candy bars, water and any other things that get cold or wet; socks, gloves, hats etc). The only answer... put it in your pants :-)

Grand Prize: I was trying to snap a tree limb with my knee and couldn't quite do it. Bob was sitting down in the "living room," a snow bench we had dug around the fire pit on the second day. He said something to the effect of, "If there is one thing I can't stand it's a puny fellow!" He took the limb from me and tried to snap it over his knee, but just as the limb snapped, the snow bench collapsed beneath him! It was quite funny :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Price of Oil

I recently read a great interview with John Hess, the CEO of global oil company Hess Corp that was very enlightening with regard to the ever-increasing oil prices here in the States. I’m not one to complain about it—I know other countries pay a lot more—and I’m not one to drive around town for the cheapest price, saving mere pennies. I admit, though, it does appear to be getting to a point where summer road trips or even quick trips across the state to see the in-laws seem a bit profligate.

In the interview, Hess was asked why oil has moved up to over $100 per barrel. He responded, “We've moved from a supply-led market to a demand-led one. In the past, the world has relied on OPEC's spare capacity, which in 1985 was 10 million barrels per day. Today that number is about 2.5 million barrels a day. We no longer have a safety margin to ensure price stability in the face of supply interruptions and demand spikes. Right now it's hard to see any relief in sight. Then there's demand. About 50 percent of oil demand is for transportation, and auto ownership in the developing countries is growing swiftly, especially in India and China.” Experts have been saying for years that rising oil prices would eventually cause a swift downturn in consumption; as soon as gas prices became too high, consumers would start to cut back on driving and start carpooling or taking the bus. But that hasn’t happened, and Hess explains why: “The reason we've withstood the increase is that consumer income has grown faster than energy expenditures have. We spend about 6 percent of our income on energy, down from 8 percent 20 years ago. Energy just isn't the largest or most important item in our personal spending. Even after the recent price increases, gasoline is still two times less than the cost of Evian water, and 10 times less than a Starbucks latte.”

Hess is optimistic about opening up new oil reserves around the world—the high price of oil has now made it possible to consider drilling in places where 20 years ago no one would have thought to try, such as in deep ocean water. But even that won’t solve the current supply problem completely. Something must be done on the demand side as well. Hess says, “We can't blame this problem on OPEC, because we have so much wasteful and inefficient consumption. The automobiles we have on the road today are quite inefficient—less than 20 percent of the fuel energy is actually converted to useful energy. We should certainly increase hybrid ownership, but I believe that hydrogen fuel cells are the breakthrough technology we need.”

According to Hess, we’ve taken about one trillion barrels of oil from the ground so far and it’s generally understood that there are about two trillion barrels left down there, but what’s left is the stuff that’s difficult to get to or requires extra processing. For sustainable economic development, we simply must find more efficient energy sources. In the meantime, don’t expect oil prices to significantly lessen….ever.

Friday, March 21, 2008

World Poetry Day

In honor of World Poetry Day, here's a great one from Scott Poole, a favorite local poet:


When the car broke down outside The Dalles, Oregon,
my suggestion was to get the spear from the anthropology conference
out of the trunk and stab the damn car several hundred times
in the tires, hood, lights, roof, trunk, windshields
and doors. I lamented that we didn’t have a hundred spears
so we could leave them stuck in the car every time we stabbed it
thus giving it the look of a giant porcupine with wheels.
I thought we should get some hot oil from somewhere and pour it
over the top of the vehicle. Why not
beat on it with a shovel until it took the shape
of a giant metal head with wild spear hair?
Think of all the people that would pull over
imagining the giant melted head a “tourist event.”
Consider the traffic, the police, the imitators
burning their cars in joy, the art critics, wine
& cheese events in the half-light of the canyon,
people in black milling about, talking about raw energy,
Renoir, C├ęzanne, Rodin, everyone French.
We could just hang out there
in the caves way up the canyon wall and watch,
eating popcorn and rabbits, making buffaloes our pets.
Oh would I love to ride a buffalo down the hill
with a six-pack hanging over its neck so I could huck
a can at a tourist and say “Gentle traveler. There’s a special music
when you run your hand along the spine of a salmon.”
Let’s just attack every car that drives by with
spears, dynamite, and giant boulders like German deities,
and then run back to our ancient cave womb and
make love so beautiful it changes the shape of the planets.
She looked at me, then called a tow truck, thank God.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Several Ways that My Cat Seymour and My Friend Drew Are Alike:

1. Seymour sometimes sits silently and glares/stares.
Drew sometimes sits silently and glares/stares.

2. Seymour loves to play with his catnip mouse.
Drew loves to play Modest Mouse.

3. Seymour is always demanding that we feed him.
Drew eats over at our place a lot.

4. Seymour seems to have a limited aptitude for happiness.
Drew has his "short list."

5. Seymour prefers the cheap cat food and turns his nose up if we buy him anything nicer.
Drew drinks Miller High Life almost exclusively.

6. Seymour never gets any girls.
Drew says he prefers to "let the girls come to him."

7. Seymour is unnecessarily snuggly at times.
Drew gets "handsy" when he's drunk.

8. Seymour is deathly afraid of water, but is also unnaturally drawn to a full bathtub.
Drew is a whitewater kayaker who has "the fear."

9. Seymour is obnoxious, yet strangely lovable.
Drew is obnoxious, strange and lovable.

Eerie, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today in History...

In 1915 our favorite ex-planet Pluto was photographed for the first time. It wasn't recognized for what it was, however, until 1930. For years around the turn of the century, astronomers in the States and abroad had been looking for a Planet X out there at the edge of the solar system. Their calculations of the orbit of Uranus didn't seem to jibe with the observable evidence, so they hypothesized that another planet must exist out there, a massive planet with enough gravitational pull to change the orbit of Uranus, throwing off the mathematical calculations.

In 1930, Pluto was finally discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Clyde had only just begun to work at the observatory; he was 22 years old. The Lowell Observatory had been central to the search for Planet X since 1905 and was very proud of the achievement, particularly because it brought some positive press to the place which had previously been mired in ridicule due to the fact that the founder, one Percival Lowell, had made repeated and very public comments claiming that the channel-like features visible on the surface of Mars were canals built by an alien race.

There were three names on the short list for the newly-discovered planet, which was named on March 24th, 1930: Minerva, Cronus, and Pluto. Since Minerva was already the name of an asteroid and Cronus had been suggested by a guy at the observatory that everyone hated, Pluto received the unanimous vote.

Of course, it was soon realized that Pluto was nowhere near big enough to have any gravitational pull on the orbit of Uranus. This was further confirmed when it was discovered that part of the mass everyone had assumed was Pluto was actually its moon, Charon. Further attempts were made to find Planet X, but to no avail. Finally, in 1993, data from the Voyager 2 was used to show that astronomers had overestimated the mass of Neptune, throwing off their calculations of Uranus' orbit. No Planet X exists.

In researching this, I was surprised to discover that we currently have a mission on the way to Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft took off in January of 2006 and should be coming in for a close look at Pluto in July 2015. Ashes of Clyde Tombaugh are on board.
Note: The photo above was taken in September 2006, by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kayaking: Take II

I went to Open Pool at Eastern again last night--and it was AWESOME! I had the best time. I was much more comfortable in the water this time (and in the boat, for that matter) and I really feel like I learned and improved a lot. I got the T-Rescue thing sorted out for the most part (no more near-drownings for me!) and Gordon taught me high bracing, sculling, and some new strokes. I did unexpectedly flip a couple times, but Gordon was right there to rescue me with the Hand of God maneuver. I can't wait to try it again--it's really tragic that it was the last Open Pool session for awhile. Now I'll have to wait until I can take the class (late April or early May).

In other news.....
It's official: I'm closer to 30 than 20!

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Imaginary Date

Yesterday afternoon while I was working on the dishes, Gordon was doing his homework in the kitchen and grumbling about "some dumb assignment" that one of his teachers had assigned.
"Here, read this." He thrust the assignment page toward me with a look of disgruntled disgust. I scanned the page. The assignment required students to come up with and carry out a creative date that followed a specific set of guidelines. The date had to cost less than $5 and any transportation involved had to be green, so no gas-powered vehicles allowed. It had to involve the use of a creative invitation which would then be turned in along with a one-page summary of the date. Of course, it was due the next day.
"Gordon, this sounds really cute--It could have been fun!" I said, handing the page back to him and getting back to the dishes.
"Well, I think it's dumb. What are we supposed to learn from this anyway?!" Gordon sighed and started typing out an imaginary date summary.
"Can I quote you as saying that this assignment is dumb?" he asked.
"No, I told you I thought it was cute."
"Okay, can I say you thought it was a dumb assignment, but kind of cute?"
He went back to typing.
"So, what are we doing on this imaginary date?" I asked.
"Making cookies and playing pool."
"But I don't like cookies."
"It's an imaginary date. Imagine that you like them."
He went back to typing.
"What are you using for the invitation?" I asked.
"That's what the cookies are for."
"But don't you actually have to turn the invitation in in class tomorrow? So we actually have to make the cookies?"
"Yeah, I guess we should." Gordon finished typing up his summary of our date and we went up to the store to get cookie ingredients. According to his imaginary date write-up, he made cookies decorated with frosting to look like billiard balls as way of inviting me out to play pool with him. At the store we picked up refrigerated cookie dough, cream cheese frosting and a food coloring set. Back home again, Gordon put the cookies in the oven and we set to work mixing colors and frosting for our pool balls.
"Okay, we have red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. With two balls of each color--one solid, one stripe--that gives us twelve balls, plus a white one for the cue ball and one black 8-ball, right?" I asked.
"Yeah, but I think there should be fifteen balls total, so we are missing a color." He responded, puzzled. We couldn't think of it.
"Okay, I'm going to call our personal pool hall expert, Caitlin." I picked up the phone and dialed my sister's number.
"Hi, Jill." She said.
"Hi. Listen, I have a pool question for you. What is the seventh pool ball color?" I asked, explaining the situation briefly.
She thought about it, discussed it with her friend Ashley, and got back to me, "I have no idea. I just can't think of it right now. Maybe you could Google it?"
Good idea, I thought, but we don't have Internet at the house. I said goodbye to Caitlin and dialed another number.
"Hi, Jaima." I said, "I need you to do some quick Internet research for me and find out what the seventh billiard ball color is." She got right to work.
"Okay....looks like....maroon?" She said, scanning a web page.
"Great, thanks," I said goodbye to Jaima while we got to work trying to make maroon using the red, yellow, blue, and green colors we had bought. We finally got it to a dirty mauve color and decided that was good enough. Gordon put the colored icing on the cookies and I wrote out the numbers in black gel until we had one whole beautiful set of pool ball cookies. We took a couple photos, shared an extra cookie (dipped in all the leftover colored frosting, of course) and put the cookies away, so he could take them to school.
"So now what should we do?" Gordon asked. "I still have some time before heading out to meet with my study group."
"Well, we could actually go out and play pool." I said.
"Okay, that could be fun."
The closest bar to our house is Chan's Dragon--a strange little dive that doesn't allow patrons to open tabs and is generally full of drunk, middle-aged people at any hour of the day. In Gordon's imaginary date write-up, I believe he described it as the mysterious, smoky type of bar you'd see in old black and white detective films, but that might have been giving it a fair amount of extra credit. Nevertheless, the drinks are cheap and there's usually a pool table free, so it's become something of a regular hang-out. We played pool for a little over an hour. Gordon gave me plenty of do-overs, but he won in the end anyway which was fitting, I suppose, since that's how he'd ended his imaginary date write-up as well.
"Thanks for the imaginary date; It was really fun," I said as we were leaving.
"No problem," he replied.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stress and Kayaking

Trying to break down my own panicked near-drowning experience from last night (not to worry, I'm going to continue kayaking) got me thinking about Adrenaline (also called Epinephrine) and Cortisol, (the other well-known stress hormone). Ideally, kayaking would bring about the longed-for adrenaline rush, which would focus mental activity, increase oxygen and glucose levels in the brain, and generally provide a more focused experience. Unfortunately, I think last night my body went with cortisol instead. Cortisol & Adrenaline are both stress hormones, although adrenaline seems to be the more useful response to stress in modern times. There is a theory that we developed the cortisol-fueled stress response to combat potassium loss during certain types of illnesses. Adrenaline was probably developed as a way to deal with the stress of being chased by lions on the open Savannah--it's often alluded to in discussions of the 'fight or flight' response.

The problem is, our lives are stressful today in much different ways than they were when these hormones developed as survival techniques. When your body floods with cortisol before that big presentation at work, it's not exactly working with you for your survival, you know? If cortisol's main function is to regulate potassium levels and the rest of the effects are just side effects, that makes it a pretty annoying little hormone. Blood pressure goes up, the immune system is suppressed. Over time, too much cortisol in your bloodstream can wreak havoc on your heart and increase your chances of heart attack and heart disease.

But back to kayaking. I expected it to be a little scary, but I also expected my body to cooperate with me--it didn't. I was flooded with cortisol and ended up shaky and exhausted (nothing a little post-kayaking beer can't fix). Nevertheless, I feel like trying it all over again, so it can't have been all that bad. Gordon and Drew say that there's a Zen aspect to kayaking: In order to keep from drowning, you have to be willing to take your time under water, calm down, and not breathe for awhile while someone comes to rescue you or you get your bearings. You have to train yourself to do the opposite of what you feel like doing. That's going to be a challenge for me I think. Bring it on. : )

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

With Friends Like These....

In this world there are friends who are supportive, kind, and encouraging and then there are friends who repeatedly try to force you into a dangerous, cold, and expensive new sport and refuse to take no for an answer and slowly wear you down until you finally agree to try it. My friends are of the second variety and today is my first whitewater kayaking lesson. Granted, there will be no whitewater involved today and the likelihood of drowning in the EWU pool has to be close to nil. Nevertheless, I reserve the right to complain heartily about the whole experience.

Except, I read yesterday about an anti-complaining movement that was started by a pastor in Missouri. He challenged his congregation to stop complaining altogether and handed out little bracelets to help them out. They were instructed to switch the bracelet from one wrist to the other every time they caught themselves complaining about anything. It took the pastor three months to kick the habit; some of his parishioners took longer. Everyone who gave it a try reported that their lives were improved in many ways; they were happier and less stressed, their relationships were stronger. This isn't just some churchy gimmick, either. Cognitive behavioral therapists use a very similar method of behavioral modification to help those with severe and long term depression and similar ailments. From a neuroscience perspective, the process works because it re-routes the neural pathways in your brain. What were once negative connections that always brought about negative feelings can be changed to positive or neutral connections if you make an effort to change your way of thinking. Stefan Klein writes about this in The Science of Happiness (one of my favorites) and you can read more about Pastor Will Bowen here:

Actually, I am really excited about learning to kayak and I expect I will like it very much. So thanks for all everyone. : )