What are you reading? Non-fiction edition.

Currently open in my eReader: “The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander

“The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.

As the United States celebrates its “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of black men in major urban areas are under correctional control or saddled with criminal records for life. Jim Crow laws were wiped off the books decades ago, but today an extraordinary percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a parallel social universe, denied basic civil and human rights—including the right to vote; the right to serve on juries; and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. Today, it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet as civil-rights-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander demonstrates, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once labeled a felon, even for a minor drug crime, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal again. In her words, “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community—and all of us—to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.”

What non-fiction work by black writers are you reading?

Black History Month – Marine Biology edition

Behind the scenes at the Monterey Bay Aquarium: Large rectangular aquarium with pale white Moon Jellyfish inside. On the outside of the tank are two circles made of dashes and arrows to show the water movement in the tank that keeps the fragile Moon jellies safe as they float in the tank.

While reading many great articles about #BlackExcellence this month I thought about how I might contribute to the conversation, if at all. I finally settled on doing some research on one of my favorite topics: Marine Biology. Specifically, I was looking to learn about Black Marine Biologists and what work they were doing. Given the issues with discrimination in STEM I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of information available. Still, I have yet to meet a research rabbit hole I didn’t like, so down I went.

Bellow you will find information on several Black, primarily American, Marine Biologists. I imagine there are more, certainly around the world, and hopefully in the US, but this is my start on the topic. Additionally there are links to several articles that I found helpful and some of the programs available to Black and other minority students interested in getting into the marine sciences.

I have not touched on any of the reasons why there are so few Black Marine Biologists, or why the information is not simple to find, that is a much larger and longer book that I am not currently educated enough to write. Suffice to say, as with so many other areas of discrimination and structural racism, we have a lot of work to do still to empower people with the knowledge that they can in fact study what they love and share that love with the rest of the world.

Marine Biologists

Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., in oyster bed

Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D.

“Dionne Hoskins-Brown, Ph.D., is a change maker. When she was approached about a need for a summer pre-college experience for students interested in marine sciences, she created Coast Camp. When she saw that Savannah-area students weren’t as prepared as they could be when entering college, she sought a position on the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) Board. And most recently, when she realized how strong the connection was between her beloved field of marine sciences and local coastal African-American communities, she joined the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.” – Savannah State Faculty Spotlight


https://www.youtube.com/user/invertegirl/featured – her Youtube page “Invertegirl” with lots of videos of marine invertebrates!

Dr. Dijanna Figueroa speaking at William & Mary

Dr. Dijanna Figueroa

“Dijanna Figueroa has made a career of exploring the mysteries of the deep. In 2005, she was featured in James Cameron’s documentary Aliens of the Deep, which follows Cameron and NASA scientists as they explore the some of the deepest parts of the ocean and learn about the unique life forms that inhabit those spaces. Recently, Figueroa has become an advocate for STEAM education—adding art and design to the science, technology, engineering, and math equation. She’s spent more than a decade teaching STEAM to grades K–8 in the greater Los Angeles area, formerly served as global director of the National Geographic Society’s Green STEAM program, and has advisory roles with many STEAM nonprofits. If that isn’t enough, Figueroa is a committee director for Blue Ocean Sciences, an organization of scientists conducting high-level research that addresses the needs of the global community.” – Beyond Curie




Dr. Daniel Pauly

“Dr. Daniel Pauly is a French and Canadian citizen who completed his high school and university studies in Germany; his doctorate (1979) and habilitation (1985) are in Fisheries Biology, from the University of Kiel.”

“Since 1999, Dr.Pauly has served as Principal Investigator of the Sea Around Us, based at the Fisheries Centre(now the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries), UBC. This initiative, which is devoted to studying the impact of fisheries on the world’s marine ecosystems, was supported mainly by funds he secured from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, USA, and since 2014, from a number of philanthropic foundations.” – Sea Around Us



Robert K. Trench

Robert K. Trench

“While a professor of biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Robert Kent Trench earned the reputation as the world’s leading expert on corals and their symbiotic algae, more specifically strains of zooxanthellae adaptation to certain coral species.  Born on August 3, 1940 in Belize City, British Honduras, he studied at the University of the West Indies, Oxford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on invertebrate zoology in 1969.  

“Trench’s areas of expertise encompassed coral reef ecology, physiology, biochemistry, phylogenetics of symbiosis, and intercellular recognition phenomena.  He taught for four years at Yale University before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 1976.  The author of several dozen scientific papers, in 1994 his groundbreaking description of metabolite flux from kleptochloroplasts to host won him the coveted Miescher-Ishida Prize for outstanding contribution to the field of endocytobiology.  A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Trench retired from university teaching in the year 2000.” – Black Past




Samuel Milton Nabrit

Samuel Milton Nabrit

“A celebrated marine biologist who specialized in studying the ability of fish to regrow their fins after injury or disease, Samuel Nabrit was the first black representative on the United States Atomic Energy Commission. In a long career, Nabrit found success on many fronts. He was the first alumnus of Morehouse College to receive a doctorate and the first black to be awarded a Ph.D. at Brown University. He served on various committees under three United States presidents and as president of Texas Southern University he steered the institution through many years of civil rights protests and change. Commenting late in life on the difficulties he experienced in advancing his own career, Nabrit is reported to have said that “no kite can rise unless it’s going against the wind.” – Samuel Milton Nabrit Biography – Selected writings



Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Just

“Born in 1883 in Charleston, S.C., Just attended the Kimball Union Academy, a boarding school in Meriden, N.H., graduating in 1903. He then enrolled at Dartmouth College and graduated magna cum laude in 1907 as an esteemed Rufus Choate scholar. He immediately accepted a teaching position at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he quickly rose through the academic ranks, becoming full professor in 1912. He chaired the department of zoology at Howard and, with the help of the Rosenwald Fund, established a master’s program in that field.

“In 1909, Just began making annual summer excursions to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., where he worked under renowned embryologist Frank R. Lillie. Almost from the beginning, his work was significant. His first paper (5) showed that the sperm entry point determines the first cleavage plane in the egg of the marine annelid Nereis limbata. The body of work for his doctoral degree, which he obtained from the University of Chicago in 1916, was based on his study of the breeding habits of N. limbata and Platynereis megalops (another annelid) and the fertilization reaction of the sand dollar Echinarachnius parma. While at the MBL, he rose from student apprentice to internationally respected scientist.

“Just was known at Woods Hole and beyond for his uncanny ability to coax marine invertebrate embryos to develop normally, and many sought his advice on the proper handling of marine animal eggs and embryos. He compiled a set of indices of normal development based mainly on the timing and quality of fertilization envelope separation, allowing him to predict with great certainty whether or not development would be normal for a given egg. In 1939, he published a laboratory manual, “Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals” (6), which applied his deep storehouse of knowledge on egg handling.” – American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology / ASBMB Today Feb 2010



Roger Arliner Young

Roger Arliner Young

“[B]orn in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology and to conduct research at the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Young conducted research on the anatomy of paramecium and the effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs.

“Young enrolled at Howard University at the age of twenty-seven, intending to major in music.  After struggling through a biology course with African American biologist Ernest Everett Just, she changed her major to that subject, earning a B.S. in 1923.  Just hired her as an assistant professor at Howard while she attended graduate school.  The next year, Young enrolled at the University of Chicago in Illinois part-time and published her first article on paramecium which achieved international recognition. She received her M.S in Zoology in 1926 and was elected to the honor society Sigma Xi.” – Black Past



And FYI the Urban Scientist who wrote the second link on R A Young is a black scientist herself, Danielle N. Lee. Check out her blog at Scientific American:



Minorities in Marine Biology: The Dearth of Black Professors
An old but interesting piece about the lack of minorities in the marine sciences with a focus on black students and teachers in particular. This is one time the comment section is worth reading several of the names and organizations I have linked came from information in this comment section.

African Americans in Marine Sciences
“African Americans have made contributions to maritime history and the sciences from the colonial period forward. The first wave of academically credentialed African American marine scientists, however, would not be born until toward the end of the 19th century. HarborLAB serves budding African American scientists through its youth programs each year, and for Black History Month honors trailblazers from years past.”

Minorities in Water Sciences
“As with so many other scientific fields, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders are poorly represented in the ranks of practicing water science professionals. Minority students interested in becoming oceanographers, marine biologists, fisheries scientists, hydrologists, ecologists, aquatic chemists, or limnologists have few role models to emulate. In part, this reflects a history of a lack of minority science and mathematics teachers in the K–12 schools. A number of institutions, such as Northern Arizona University and State University of New York at Oswego, are trying to correct that by offering programs that are directed towards elementary and secondary environmental education.“

The article includes many links of interest for minorities wanting to explore and/or get started in the marine sciences.


Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – undergrad minority summer fellowship

American Elasmobranch Society 2019 Young Professional Recruitment Fellowship Diversity Scholarship award winners

(Sharks!! – Also, their website is not well updated but the general information about applying for the award is still on the site)

Additionally see the many links as part of this article at Water Encyclopedia

Just write!

Really good piece in by by Marissa Lingen in Uncanny Magazine about who gets to write Hard Sci-Fi and really what does “hard sci-fi” mean anyway?

“So how else do we do this? How do we do this better? How do I stop having conversations with smart, talented writers who tell me that they don’t know enough science to write hard science fiction, theirs is just about this family on Mars that finds a funny rock? Theirs is just about zoology? Theirs is just about this stuff they’re really interested about with grass botany? On some level, as long as they write the story, it doesn’t matter if they don’t want to arm-wrestle for the label. Write the story, play with the science, find the joy. Love your parrots, your fungus, your funny aliens yearning to breathe methane.”

Alaska Trip Part 3 – Day trippin’ for Glaciers!

Back when we planned this trip, the main goals had been to go somewhere neither of us had ever been, test my ability to fly and travel, and to see whales. Because one of the things Juneau is known for is the Mendenhall Glacier, we had also talked about taking one of the tours out to see it and it’s visitor center. Then Scott stumbled across a company called Adventure Bound Alaska  and their daylong trip through the fjords to see glaciers, waterfalls, and icebergs. It sounded amazing and like one of those things you kinda need to do once in a lifetime, so we signed up.



We were booked on the 56′ foot boot The Adventure Bound with Captain Steve. The trip was only about 3/4 full with 32 passengers so we had a little room to stretch out. They’d told us we could get sandwiches and the like on board or bring our own. Having hit up the local organic grocery, we brought our own which worked out very well.


The outbound trip was about 45 miles south from Juneau through the Gastineau Channel to Stephens Passage, along Admiralty Island.  

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Along the way we came across a Humpback Cow and Calf feeding near the shore and got to watch them for a little bit (I didn’t manage any photos of them) before heading on to Holkham Bay, which opens on to Tracy Arm on one side and Endicott Arm on the other.


At the mouth of Holkham Bay Captain Steve did a quick visual survey of the entrance to Tracy Arm and determined that there was too much ice clogging the passage to safely pass through to Sawyer glacier and that he would take us up Endicott Arm to see Dawes glacier instead.

On the way to Dawes we got to icebergs! How have I lived my life without actually seeing icebergs in person? They are so freaking cool, yes, literally, but in all the other ways as well.


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One of the firsts ones we saw rose maybe three feet up from the waters surface, and at least six feet wide just under the water line. Given that the rule of thumb is that when you see an iceberg on the surface of the water, you’re only seeing the top 10% of its mass, they had to be 30+ feet deep below the surface. And the color! It was that almost unreal shade glowing white/blue that means the ice is so densely packed there aren’t a lot of air bubbles within. I’d seen pictures, but seeing it in person is sort of mind boggling. And they were peaceful. Not doing anything, just hanging out, bumping along the fjord. Just ice. All compacted in one, potentially dangerous for boats, but useful for mammals, form. And gorgeous. I’m pretty sure I was grinning from the first iceberg and didn’t stop until sometime on the way back to Juneau.


A little further on brought us to the base of Dawes glacier.

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Watching Dawes come closer, revealing and distilling itself out of the mix of light and shadow, rock walls and milk glass green water, was mesmerizing. It was hard to comprehend what I was seeing. It was a little surreal. I have seen photos of glaciers and they looked exactly like the one I was staring at, but this one was real. It was freezing cold, because duh, glacier and hard packed ice, and not empty exactly, but so differently embodied that it felt barren in a way that places with an abundance of green don’t. There was a whole lot of “holy shit wow” running in my head as we approached, kind of this hum of amazement at being there, seeing this raw and enormous part of our world and an oddly mellow part of my head that needed to be reminded that I was actually there, not watching it all on a screen somewhere cold.


One of the things I hadn’t understood about fjords is that to qualify as a fjord the waterway must terminate in a glacier. If they don’t, they are just boring waterways. It took me a bit to process the fact that to be the termination point, Dawes had to be not just a mass of ice surfing on the water, but in fact go all the way down through the water to the rock bottom of the carved out passage that made up the fjord. What we were seeing was the end portion of the glacier that was damming up Endicott Arm with ice and rock.

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In front of us was ice and water and around us was rock and much of that rock showed the signs of the glacier’s passage as it grew and receded over time. It looks almost as if someone or something had dragged claws along the walls, gouging out tracks and lines as they went. Being there, seeing rock and ice formations that seemed almost unreal, I could understand why my ancestors once believed the Jötnar, the Ice Giants, were real, and why we called on the gods to tame them, to protect us from their nearly unfathomable power. With out the gas powered metal beast I had come in, I would have been much more afraid of what I was seeing and hearing. Run into that at night or in a storm, and he’ll yes I’d be terrified and calling on all the gods for help.

EndicottArmVideo Traveling up Endicott Arm toward Dawes Glacier, video by K. Pennington

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IMG_2043  Dawes Glacier Video by S. Pennington

Far above where we were, near to and within the Juneau ice fields where Dawes and most of the other local glaciers originate, the weight of new ice presses down and forces the glaciers towards the warmer zones. It’s down here that the Dawes and its relatives shed bits of themselves through Calving . And while, yes, Dawes, like most of the worlds glaciers is receding because of the assortment of environmental changes we humans have wrought, calving is also part of the natural life cycle of a glacier to expand, recede, expand, and recede over the eons.

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Calving is a pretty amazing thing to see and hear. Scott got video of one of the larger events we saw while I snapped away with my deli and telephoto lens. Between the two of us we got some very cool images.

CalvingGlacier video by S. Pennington

Watching for calvings is a big waiting game. You listen for this sound that’s sort of like a growl and sort of like a crack or shot and hunt the face of the glacier for pieces shifting. Sometimes that sound didn’t tie to anything we could see from our vantage point. I’m fairly certain that we heard some calving that was actually happening inside of gullies or breaks in the facade that we couldn’t see into. Enough of the calving happened on the putter surface that we got to watch many blocks break off and drop into the water forming icebergs. After one of the bigger events we e able to watch the wave formed by the mass of ice falling, move out and away from the glacier towards us. It wasn’t enough to do more than rock our boat a little, but in watching that I could begin to understand what havoc large pieces of land falling into the sea could cause. We also saw the fallen blocks vanish into the water and after a moment or two, rise up as newly born icebergs that bobbed and sorted themselves out.



There were so many different shapes and forms within the face of the glacier, it was hard not to take pictures, not to come back time and again to the glow of blue slanted blocked along one ridge the arch that looked carved by tools, the doorway that promised a trip somewhere else, fingers and columns and a giant blue spot like the glaciers on spot of Jupiter.

DGUpright2  DGLittleFingers1  DGLittleFingers4 DGCurves2  DGDoorway1  DGBlueSpot1   DGBlueIcesloped2  BlueIceCP3  DGBlackSeamandMt DGArchway2  DGLsidecave  DGLittleFingers5

I also found myself fascinated by the edges where rock and ice met. On one side of the canyon the rock was light tan, on the other it was dark charcoal gray, each overlapped / challenged and touched by vertical creeping seams of white and pale gray.

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Eventually we made our way back down Endicott Arm and then turned into Fords Terror, which is a branch of waterway that is guarded by a section of rock and shore that is treacherous to pass through at low tide, but seems easy at high tide with a good captain. Past the entrance were treated to an array of incredibly beautiful waterfalls, one that ran from the top of the cliff face, down to a break in one, really smooth, thought rowdy cascade and then rumbling over rocks in a wide swath down the rest of the way to the water. Another between two steep juts of cliff, a blink and you miss it opening that opened to this spectacular tumble of rocks sloping out and down from a point at the back where water fell across the rocks like an enormous reclining water nymph. The fact that captain steve brought the boat nearly to the edge of the waterfall and then backed out of the narrow space was its own form of amazing.

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At one point several of the passengers spotted a brown bear on shore, I missed it, but it was still an exciting moment for everyone. We also saw a bunch more waterfalls, including this amazing and massive sort of double fall.

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As we worked our way back toward Juneau, along Stephens Passage, Captain Steve took us past a collection of narrow islands populated with bald eagles and sea lions.

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Back in the Gastineau Channel we passed a humpback cow who’s tail had become ensnared in the lines for a crab pot, and her calf. There was a coast guard ship following them, waiting for word from noaa as to what everyone wanted to do about getting her free.


The ride home was long but well worth it for everything we’d seen. After ten hours on the water, Scott and I were both very happy to be back on land and very very happy with our adventurers.





Alaska Trip Part 2 – Friday June 3rd, rest and a little bit of sight seeing

Not knowing how my body would react to the Day of Travel, Scott and I planned for a very mellow first few days in Juneau. On Friday we did breakfast at the hotel, then walked down to the cruise ship docks to catch the Mount Roberts Tram. There were only two ships in port in the morning and they were only just starting to off load passengers for day tripping, so it was pretty mellow.

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Cruise ships at their docks and one seen from above.

The hardest part for me actually was the fact that all the boats and their attendant vans and buses meant that there was a lot of vehicle exhaust which I am allergic to. With my mask on it wasn’t too bad, but Scott got several lungs full of the stuff plus a burst of fake scents when we passed one of the perfume heavy gift shops.


The Mount Roberts tram takes visitors up the side of Mt. Roberts and over the trees of the temperate rain forest. It took me a moment to digest the idea of this chilly damp city having a rain forest, but that combination is part of why they do. Mt. Roberts is part of the Tongass National Forest and is rich in plant and animal life including Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock trees, many of whom were dripping with pale green lichen, and an array of sub-alpine meadow flowers, grasses and ferns. We didn’t see any of the animal life, but we did hear a whole lot of birds.

thumb_IMG_4885_1024Mount Roberts as seen from the base / Tram statio  thumb_IMG_4883_1024   thumb_IMG_4887_1024

the Gastineau Channel as seen from Mount Roberts / Trees and lichen

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 Snow Crooked Pine trees  / Narcissus Anemone

The two trams that carry visitors up the mountain are decorated in traditional Tlingit designs for Raven and Eagle. The images represent the two moieties of the Tlingit and Haida people. “Tlingit people and Haida people are born into their identity through a matrilineal clan system: One’s identity is established through the mother’s clan. All Haida and Tlingit clans are organized into two major moieties: Eagle and Raven. In Tlingit, Yeil is Raven and Ch’aak is Eagle (Wolf is sometimes used interchangeably with Eagle). Each clan is made up of clan houses.” – http://www.ccthita.org/about/history/


At the top of the run we were let out at the visitors center, which has a restaurant that we didn’t try, and two gift shops with lots of artwork and crafts from local artists, which we did indulge in. There was also this really gorgeous beaded hanging / art piece suspended from the ceiling over one of the main stairwells. Within the beads is an image of a forest (at the bottom edge) and a river with salmon leaping up stream. The work, created in 1998 by Bill Hudson and Clarissa Rizal called “Salmon Return”, was a commission from the Mount Robert’s Tram for the stairwell of their visitor center. “It portrays the yearly return of the Salmon People, shown swimming up a cascading waterfall made of approximately 180,000 glass and crystal beads. The sculpture is approximately 21 feet long, and about 5 feet wide at the bottom.” – Bill Hudson Productions

thumb_IMG_4852_1024“Salmon Return”  by Bill Hudson and Clarissa Rizal

There is also a movie theater that shows the documentary “Seeing Daylight” (Turns out you can purchase a copy of the DVD here )which is about the local Tlingit people, their history, myths, and customs. Its a lovely piece and hit me right in the thinky thoughts so now I have ideas churning in my brain about the similarities in how native cultures personify and interact with the land and Powers, and how there must have been a Norse and Celtic tradition in a similar vein. The artist and anthropologist in me has a whole lot of research to do.

The center also houses a rescued Bald Eagle named Lady Baltimore. She was found shot through the beak and right wrist and either as a result of that, or of the fall after, her left retina tore so she has no depth perception which means she is unable to safely fly or hunt in the wild. She is cared for on the mountain by the Juneau Raptor Center .

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After visiting with Lady Baltimore we walked a little ways up one of the trails to get a sense of the foliage and view from the top – both of which are glorious, and then took the tram back down the mountain.

We grabbed lunch at the docks in another of the local spots then trudge home, wiped out, to take a long lie down.

After our nap, we walked over to the less touristy end of the docks to purchase tickets on a day long fjord and ice burg cruise for Saturday, then walked the couple of blocks up to the Sealaska Heritage Center.

Sealaska Heritage was founded in 1980 by Sealaska after being conceived by clan leaders, traditional scholars and elders at the first Sealaska Elders Conference. During that meeting, the Elders likened Native culture to a blanket. They told the new leaders that their hands were growing weary of holding onto the metaphorical blanket, this “container of wisdom.” They said they were transferring this responsibility to Sealaska, the regional Native corporation serving Southeast Alaska. In response, Sealaska founded Sealaska Heritage to operate cultural and educational programs. The late George Davis (Kichnáalx—Lk’aanaaw) of Angoon spoke these memorable words:

“We don’t want what you did here to only echo in the air, how our grandfathers used to do things… Yes. You have unwrapped it for us. That is why we will open again this container of wisdom left in our care.”

Sealaska Heritage is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artist Committee. – http://www.sealaskaheritage.org/about

(I didn’t manage to take a photo of the lovely facade of the building, but there is this nice one from the Sealaska Heritage website)

Along with several other shops and galleries, the Center participates in Juneau’s First Friday’s open house. The Center was showing an exhibit of Tlingit art, featuring local artists and a native children’s dance group. We were too early for the kids, but got to see the exhibit and happily fell into the centers gift shop. We also poked our heads into several of the other galleries and shops. One of the more intriguing ones was a shop called Trickster Company which features work by local artists, most of whom are exploring the blend between traditional styles and contemporary ideas and techniques. They have a lot of very cool work. One of my favorites was this one of Light sabers by Rico Worl!

And then it was back to the hotel to fall the frak over.

Sadly the assorted exposures, plus a ton of walking and not enough water caught up with me in the shape of a late night pain flare. No fun, but I survived, which is really what counts.

Next Up: Glaciers!!


Alaska trip 2016 – Part One Getting there!

I get to go see whales because my husband loves me lots!

How do I know my husband loves me so much? When the opportunity to finally take a real live, honest to Cernnunos, vacation for the first time in ten years came up, did he suggest Italy or France for a week of museum hopping for his Art History loving soul? Nope. He offered to take me to Alaska to see whales! Yup, true love J

After much planning, fretting, packing, repacking, more fretting and a plotting the sweetie and I set out for Juneau on Thursday June 2nd.

Day One, All the Traveling

Neither of us slept well the night before, but a little breakfast and coffee and we were good to go. Of course getting to Juneau from Oakland is a little on the complicated side. First of all, you can’t drive into the city, it’s walled in by water, tree-covered mountains, and a glacier. And yet, it’s the state capital, because why not? Secondly, it seems you can’t get to Juneau (from Oakland at least) without stopping in Seattle. The short description of our Day of Travel can be summed up thusly: “Two planes, three airports, a train, and a cab ride, we go thud now”. The longer version includes the fact that airplanes these days are sardine cans packed to the brim and not meant for people with shoulders or hips and that with two of us flying together one was always stuck in the middle. On the first leg it was Scott, while I got the window seat. On leg two, the slightly longer run, I took the middle and we lucked out with a nice lady who lived in Juneau and worked as a tour guide. So we got lots of tips and facts about the city and things to do.


A fleet of Alaska Airline planes lined up and ready to go at Seattle Tacoma International Airport.



Amazing view coming into Juneau Airport.

On the plus side, the Juneau airport is tiny and has really cool art work flying over head as you cross into the baggage claim area. With a little digging I discovered that the piece was commissioned as part of the city’s 1% for Art program and was created by Janice Criswell and Steve Henrikson. thumb_IMG_4818_1024

“Their hanging sculpture, “Wetland Wings,” is located in the two story vestibule of the east wing, near baggage claim. Flocks of migrating birds constructed of metal and glass in the Tlingit “form line” art style greet arriving visitors en route to the baggage area. The sculpture celebrates the birds of the Mendenhall wetlands, the 4,000-acre refuge that surrounds the Airport. The birds represented in the sculpture are Arctic Terns, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Mallard Ducks, and Snow Geese.” – http://www.juneau.org/airport/1_percent_for_art.php

This was only the second time I’ve been on a plane in the ten years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity . For a very long time I thought air travel was permanently out of reach, actually I thought most travel was out of the question. Thankfully many things in my life have shifted. While I am not “cured”, I am healthier and much better able to handle the chemical exposures that are part and parcel of industrial life. Being on an airplane, wedged in with 100+ other people is a little on the scary side for me, but now I also know that it is something I can do without taking much in the way of a health “hit”. It’s exhausting and requires a lot of pre-planning, but it IS doable.

thumb_IMG_4799_1024First Leg: OAK to SEA

thumb_IMG_4803_1024Second Leg: SEA to JUN

thumb_IMG_4824_1024Look Ma, I made it to Juneau!

Since we had planned a week-long stay in Juneau sans car or side trips to other towns, we opted to stay at the Hotel Baranof. The Baranof is a Grand Old Lady of a hotel (http://www.westmarkhotels.com/blog/about-alaska/westmark-baranof-hotel-celebrates-75-years-in-alaskas-capital/ ). Built in 1939, she was an elegant retreat for executives and the hotel’s original owner, Walter Wooten Council and his family. These days she’s a little long in the tooth and showing her age, or perhaps a lack of attention by her current owners the Westmark Corporation, but her heart and bone structure shine through. We have a nice size room with a microwave and mini fridge and a very comfy king size bed. Even better, her location at the top end of Downtown puts us within walking distance of a ton of places to eat and things to do and makes for a great base of operations. We even found the local organic grocery story a few blocks away to stock up on supplies.

Our room looks out onto the hotel parking lot, which okay, is not the prettiest of sights, but looking just beyond that there is a row of homes and right behind those there is a wall of mountain. And I do mean wall. If you aren’t looking out over downtown toward the Gastineau Channel, then you are looking at the near vertical slopes of trees and rock with the occasional thin stream of water making its way down the side, all of which was carved out over the ages by the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s an impressive site.


thumb_IMG_4896_1024Looking up at the wall of rock from Edge drive (not our hotel, because that shot just didnt do the view justice).

Gastineau Channel is a huge part of why Juneau has their tourist trade, it divides Juneau into Douglas Island on one side and Juneau proper on the other. The first 9+ miles of the channel are deep enough for today’s massive, multi-story, 2000+ person, cruise ships. The ships come in starting late May and run into September, stay for a day of sight seeing and shopping, and then are off again. When we arrived there was only one ship left at the docks, a mid-sized beast that backed its way out of its slot, turned around, and slowly cruised back out to sea. Apparently that was the last of four ships that had been in for the day. We learned later that the summer season “started” on May 22nd with the arrival of six of the massive things. Sadly, the cruise lines have also taken over many of the shops and several of the eateries along the docks. The visitors think they are getting Real Native trinkets, but most of it is made elsewhere and shipped in, with the money going to the corporations instead of the town. There are lots of signs saying “locally owned” and where applicable “locally made”, so we’re keeping our eyes out for those places.

We ended our first day, which felt more like three days of marathons, with dinner at Hanger on the Wharf, a local hangout that also gets the tourists coming off the cruise ships. Mmmm fresh grilled halibut. Very tasty.

thumb_IMG_4825_1024Our view from dinner after a very full day.

Tomorrow: Resting and a little bit of sight seeing!

The Trip and Concert of Awesome

Pre-show Time at the Orpheum in LA

April 1st to 3rd in LA for a concert!!!!

Because it’s a new year and so many things have changed for the better, when Adam Lambert announced his tour dates and the only CA shows were in LA, I said fuck it and set out to go with friends. And I am so glad I did. While he was amazing to watch live, the trip itself was an eye opening and life affirming experience.

Friday April 1, 2016 – travel day

We had planned to be a trio for the trip. Sadly C was on day three of a migraine by travel day, so she had to opt out so J and I were on our own. Since J had a lot of experience with allergies and chronic illness, she was my tour guide for traveling with said issues. I am so grateful to her for all her help.

We flew out of OAK (Oakland) for BUR (Burbank) on a 1 pm flight with Southwest. I got to the airport early, opting for calm and easy over last minute running around. Did the curbside check in, which I have always loved. Working with less stressed people is way more fun than waiting in line. And then apparently I got lucky because I had been given TSA pre check, which got me through the security stuff super fast – and had me thinking that the silly was not so bad. I learned better on the way home.

J and I met up at the gate, got coffee and lunch for the plane and then hung out for the hour plus before the boarding. I did miss a memo and forgot to talk to the gate staff about getting a pre-boarding pass, but at the last minute we got it sorted out. So J (as my helper) and I got on the plane first and grabbed one of the bulkhead rows. Oh my lords preboard is the best thing. Calm, easy and with the fractured foot it was nice to not have to worry about going slow and careful.

J had asked me a few days earlier if I was afraid of flying or worried about any of it. I said no at the time and once I was on the plane and we were taking off, I remembered how much I actually love flying. I took tons of pictures! Because of course I did.  of the gate, and the folks working the ground and then take off, even video of that part, and then lots and lots of images flying over California. The artist in me started getting ideas with everything I was seeing. I have IDEAS. So many ideas. For the assorted stories I’ working on, for sculptures, for JNL for her Earth Science’s classes. So many ideas!

We landed safe and sound in Burbank, which might be the cutest airport ever. seriously, adorable and so freaking easy to deal with. I don’t ever want to have to deal with LAX again.

We picked up the rental car and worked our way to our hotel, thank you Google for the assist.

Because J and C are pros at traveling with allergies they had the hotel set up for safety – the key words are “Allergen Friendly Room” and “Feather Free Room” and then keep the Do Not Disturb sign on the door so they don’t come in and mess things up. While the hotel lobby was soaked in scented candle smell, the room itself was lovely. I had our new portable air purifier with me, so I added that as well and had a chemical free room both nights.

The only downside was the hotel didn’t have any room service, but there was a burger and pizza place that delivered so that worked out. The included “breakfast” was nasty, so I made other plans after testing it on Saturday.

J and I spent the rest of Friday relaxing in the room. And while my brain got twitchy and wanted to DO THINGS! It was a really good idea to be still and calm for my first day of travel. Pretty sure the foot liked it too.

Saturday, April 2, 2016 – visiting friends and show day!

Saturday morning J and I discovered the downside of the hotel’s “breakfast” and then hung out in the hotel room before we each went off to lunch with friends.

After thirteen+ freaking years, R (who I went to college with) and I FINALLY got to see each other in person again. I also got to meet her beautiful twins. We had a very fun lunch getting caught up on life and then the kids and I agreed that naps were called for R dropped me back at the hotel where I promptly put my foot up and did more of that resting thing.

It seriously needs to be less than 13 years for us to see each other again!

After a little more hanging out and resting and it was finally time to get my glitter on! 😀 And yes, I brought and wore glitter. Because duh! I was nice and stepped into the shower to apply the glitter. There might still be some trace of it, but at least it was confined to a small, easily washable space.

All dressed up, we drove over to downtown LA to meet up with two fellow Adam fans at the Orpheum and then next door for dinner, which was a 45 minute wait because ALL the Glamberts had the same idea. But it since we had an easy hour before the show was due to start, it all worked out. There was a rush just as we were being seated, of folks getting in line to go into the theater which just seemed odd to us since the whole show was reserved seats, not a crush to get in and grab that perfect spot at the front. But to each their own. I had an awesome burger and pleasant company.

The Orpheum is one of those Grand Dame theaters of the good old days, like the Foz and the Paramount in Oakland, with gorgeous decorated plaster work and beautiful carvings. She’s a 2K seat house with amazing sight lines. Our seats were almost at the back of the Orchestra and on far right aisle and they were still fantastic. As the one with the aisle seat, I probably had the least obstructed view, which didn’t hurt. And while Lambert and his crew looked kind of squished because of the distance, it was still close enough to feel like we were a part of the whole party. Since the show was designed to feel like a dance party, that all worked quite well.

Alex Newell, of Project Glee and Glee fame, was the opening act. I liked Alex on both shows, so I was happy to see him in this spot. His half hour was a mix of cheerleading to get the crowd pumped for Lambert (not hard to do, but fun none the less) and singing his own material. While his voice is amazing, his music’s not my first choice. Still it was fun.

After Alex there was about a half an hour wait while the crew stripped Alex’s gear from the stage and confirmed the set up for Adams. While J and her friends wandered and said hi to folks they knew I watched the crowd.

My people-watching led to crew-watching, because of course it did. Also, our seats being so far in the back where almost touching distance from the Boards at center back, so I had a good view of the light and video, and maybe sound board operators. That proved delightful when they all started head banging to one of the pre-show songs lol. I missed video-ing that, but I did get a general pic of the guys. Because I’m that kind of geek.

Then finally! Finally the last of the VIP/Meet and Greet folks trickled in and it was show time!

The show was fucking amazing. Seriously. Everything everyone had told me about Lambert in concert, and what I had seen at the Queen show in 2014, was in full view with this solo show. He’s a powerful presence on stage with a monster voice that goes on for days. Hearing him live is a million times better than any recording. He’s good in the studio, but on stage he is out of this world good. Combine that with a wicked cool light and video show, lovely backup singers / dancers, and some very good musicians and you have an amazing 90+ minutes of dancing, singing along, clapping, grinning and joy.

From the very begging, at pre-set we have an amazing visual in the staging with four floor-to-ceiling narrow video screens showing a circular constellation map like image in deep dark blue with white for the stars and icons. The screens are then used throughout the show with coordinated videos for each song. Crazy cool lighting and lasers added to the whole thing and it was just freaking GORGEOUS. I am a little in love with the designers. It all worked to frame and support what he was singing and doing so very well. And apparently he had a big part in the design process and then hired great people to bring the ideas to life.

I really liked his backing band. I’m kind of in-crush with Darwin, the bassist. There was just something about him that radiated joy and contentment. I dunno. 🙂 And I like the new guitar player (long story that gets weirder depending on which part of fandom you talk to), who is also named Adam. The guy is so damn grounded and centered. I got the feeling he could stand in just about any storm and play his fingers off without getting blown over… which might actually be an ideal job description for being a guitar or bassist for Lambert. And he looks good in silhouette / overhead lighting poses 🙂 The keyboardist/Musical Direct, Peter was cool. I didn’t get as clear a sense of him, other than I like what I heard and what he’s helped put together with Lambert. The drummer was sort of blank for me, he’s sweet from what I’ve seen and competent which is good, but if anyone is looking for genius, I didn’t get the sense that he’s there yet. (Another fan clarified for me that the drummer is in fact young both in age and experience) I like the dynamic of the two back up singers/dancers: Holly and Terrence helped keep the stage interesting without being crowded.

As for the show proper, its really well constructed. It pulls heavily from the current album but also has a really satisfying mix from the other two and a couple of fun covers.

Its clearly divided into three distinct parts with very different tones and flavors. The first was hard driving, with almost no spoken interaction with the audience, just one hard-hitting song after another. The tone was hard-edged and futuristic from the costumes to the lighting and the videos at the back of the stage. There was controlled anger and frustration and a drive for more of something “he” /“we” cant quite name. A lot of this I know from interviews Lambert’s given about the meaning of the songs on the current album, many of which look at the 30-something / millennial hunt for meaning and purpose, but the undercurrent of all of that was also very present in the mood and feeling of his performance.

We got treated to an appearance by Laleh, the artist who co-wrote and is featured on the single he released two weeks before this show called “Welcome to the Show”.

Adam Lambert and Laleh

Part two dials all of that outward thrust down to quiet contemplation. It’s him and not much else, even his clothing choice is vastly quieter (though I have to shake my head at the suit choice, the fucking thing is cut wrong or something, and looked wrinkled for gods sake! which is odd for him because normally he’s damn good at his clothing choices.) Near the end of this section we got some talking. This is his spot for getting on his “soap box” (the next night his crew brought out an actual soap box for him to stand on which got him all sappy and pleased by the gesture). Lambert is a big believer in the notion that Love Conquers All. It was almost the theme of his first solo tour (during which he basically ran a love spell to help people learn to love them selves over the 6+ months of the tour). This time it manifested in the declaration that we all share an organ inside our chests that is about love. No matter what things identify us as different, we are all the same inside and the heart just wants love. The boy is a hopeless romantic and adorable. He rounded all of that out with his biggest hit, “Whatda want from me?” And this is where I almost lost it. Of all the songs, this one had me in tears. I don’t know if it was because it was his first real hit and so associated with him from the beginning, and that beginning was a time when I didn’t know if I would ever see a concert, or the way he was performing it, or what, but it just hit me like a ton of bricks and I was singing and crying and laughing at the same time.

Part three was the official Dance Party. Everything here was bright and up beat and happy. The third outfit was way more causal than the others and lighter in tone as well. (and fit well lol) It was all loads of fun and exhilarating. Then we got the band intros and encore – which included Another One Bites the Dust mixed with his song Trespassing led off by his kick ass bassist.

And then we were done, exhausted, sort of wanting more, but needing an intermission lol and high as fucking kites. It was stunning and everything I had hoped for and then some.

After the show we all hung out for a while to meet up with folks – and that phrase alone might be the most defining of this whole thing. After two+ hours of being surrounded by people, of dancing (on a fractured foot mind you!) of singing and shouting, I had the spoons to “hang out” for a while! Lol I’m glad I did because it meant I got to meet up with T, an Oakland Glambert who I was introduced to on FB through a mutual friend because we were both in LA for the show. She looked amazing in her bright Oshun yellow and black outfit!

Then we limped home to the hotel and fell over. Make up off, pj’s on and a bag of ice on my ankle to end the night. And it was good!

I had a conversation a few days after the show with a fellow fan who;d seen the show a month before me and we’d been talking off an on about how different it felt to her and many of the early adopters.

What I see in this album and this show/tour is an Adam who is maturing. We’ve heard that alot about the album how its a more cohesive and mature sound for him. I think the same thing is going on with the shows. He’s growing up literally and creatively.

I see in him and in the show the evolution of an artist, a performer who admits to having a million and one ideas who is learning through experience when to throw things at the wall and when to hold back. He’s trying things and testing himself and seeing what he likes, what sells, what’s fun to do night after night, what works on large and small levels. This to me is a very good thing. And rather than mourn those things that he’s chosen to not continue working with right now, I cherish having been able to see his early experiments. He let us in, he offered us his ideas and heart and shared some of his process. He continues to share his journey with us and I am deeply grateful for that gift.

All art is an evolutionary process. It flows, shifts, doubles back and leaps its banks. This is the creative process. What we have been watching for seven years is Adam’s creative process and it’s a beautiful thing. Just imagine where he might be dancing and creating in seven more years? What wonders will he share with us between now and then?

As for the show, there is a distinct difference in feeling in the three sets. We are used to his contemplative side and bringing the show to a quiet mid part and we are familiar with his drive for a Dance PARTAY! But that first part, with its hard, edgy feel is very different for him and us. He seems to be pushing the energy, or allowing it to push him, so he can drive the performance in dark ways during that set. It IS disconnecting in a way. I don’t know if he gets that and is ok with it or what. But I do think there’s a choice there. At least it’s something he opted to try. And it being at the top of the show and so freaking relentless, it all works in his favor mostly because you don’t have enough time to breathe and realize you could leave if you really didn’t like it. And then, just before its too much, he pulls back to something softer and more introspective, and I find that intriguing.

The whole experience reminds me a little of what kids and parents go through during the transition from 5th /6th grade to high school – those years are Messy! They’re complicated and confusing, and can be painful.

I’m such a process junkie 🙂 I actually like all this shifting and changing because that part is so interesting to me. What we get to see of the making of a career, an album, a show and a person!

April 3rd, the return

The return trip was, if anything, even easier than the outbound trip except in one area. On the way to LA I had gotten TSA pre-approved and gotten spoiled. It was simple compared to the way home lol. Ah well, at least now I’ve been through it both ways and know what to expect.

Possibly the coolest thing about the flight home was seeing the landscape change. On the way down, I didn’t change the shit as clearly from green to dry brown and tan. The dry is noticeable once you are over southern California but coming home! Oh wow! Flying into all the beautiful winter rain soaked green was amazing.

And then we were on the ground, getting out luggage and meeting up with our spices. Exhausted but happy.

I am SO freaking glad I went. I’m amazed that it all worked out as well as it did. I wanna do it again and again and see more places and shows and people. Landing back in Oakland I started crying because that moment, more than all the others – the cumulative of all the others – clarified for me that my world has changed. I can do this. I can step out of my comfort zone, out of the known levels of safety of home/friends/local and stretch my wings. I can fly now. Maybe I always could, but now I know I can.

A different kind of athlete

Over the years I have wished that I could to be a professional athlete, I’ve tried to imagine myself as a runner, a ballerina, a rock-climber, a swimmer, a baseball player – that type of person who is dedicated to employing all the skills and strength of their body in in passionate competition. There’s something amazing in how people can channel energy through their muscles and have it burst forth in accomplishment. I’m not even talking about winning things, just the amazing beauty and power that their efforts and training can manifest.

Sadly, actually being such an person has always seemed beyond me. Alot of that was due to me being fat, but I also picked up a shit-tonne of discouragement of women in sports from as early as elementary school (with the exception of dancing, but it wasn’t ever considered “athletic” though it really is). After alot of soul searching and involvement in the Body Positive and Fat Positive movements I have come to understand on an intellectual level at least, that I be fat or thin, or whatever and run or swim or even dance. Its my heart that still doesn’t see *me* as an athlete.

After a conversation today that mirrored back to me just how much I’ve been doing, not just dealing with the stuff coming at me, but actively *working* to heal and cope with illness, it hit me that this work is me being an athlete. This healing process that I am involved in and all my efforts at not allowing chronic illness and chronic pain to run my life, is its own race and dance and work out. It takes amazing strength to do this and not give up when I have no fucking idea where the finish line is.

So many times people with chronic illness and chronic pain are told, directly or indirectly, that we are lazy, lacking in will power, that we just need to try a little harder, eat a little less, or exercise more. That’s bullshit. Living with chronic illness and chronic pain takes more work than I ever imagined. Every day is filled with physical, emotional and mental challenges. Just getting out of bed can be the hardest thing when you live with the “lying liar who lies” that is depression. Fighting back against its insidious words and the shadows it tosses around *inside* your head, is a tremendous effort. it can take every spoon (unit of energy – see the Spoon Theory for more info) you have and leave you breathless and exhausted at 9 am. Living day in and day out with pain, even low level say a 3 or 4 out of 10, is draining. You don’t think it will be until day five or ten and you cant remember the last time it wasn’t there buzzing in the background requiring that you work upstream against its drag and pull. And that’s on a good day. On days when the pain spikes beyond a 4 it can become all encompassing. If the meds work, you will get some relief for a time. if they don’t, you are on your own. Imagine having a broken leg for a year, three years. Imagine not knowing if it will ever heal enough to stop hurting? to allow you to walk without pain, sit without discomfort. Now try to make lunch for the kids or go into the office for a meeting.

Chronic illnesses like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Lyme, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Fibromyalgia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Diabetes, and oh-so-many-more come with their own intrinsic symptoms in combination with depression and pain. When you have a chronic illness you get it all for the price of one or, often three or four, diagnoses. We work out every day, we train and compete and negotiate contracts (with doctors and family and employers) every single day. There are no days off with chronic illness. There are no vacations. There are no slick workout videos showing how much we sweat while we move through a “normal” day. There are no glowing write ups describing our workouts and our training regime. There is no finish line and there are no medals to hang on our walls telling the world, but more importantly telling ourselves, that we did good. And we did do good. We made it out of bed, we got the kids off to school, completed that report for work, got that paper written for school, made through another doctor’s appointment; we made it through another day.

What does an athlete do? They focus all their efforts on their craft. A rock climber climbs, a swimmer swims, a dancer dances, a baseball play plays baseball. For almost nine years I have focused all my efforts on my health, on learning the craft and tools of living with chronic illness. I’ve trained myself to breathe through the pain, to plan my trips out into the world so as to minimize my exposure to toxins that will kick my ass, mediate my stress to limit what triggers pain flare ups, and to understand what medications, synthetic or otherwise, will benefit my life and which will wont. I’ve learned the language of my illness and how to discuss it with doctors, family and friends. I’ve cried when it got tough, been hospitalized when it got really bad, and I’ve kept going. This is not what I dreampt of when I imagined being any kind of athlete, but it is what I have learned to do and the fact that I am still here, still training and working out, means I finally understand that I *am* an athlete.

ways to weild your spoons

Spoon theory is well known to my family, it explains and quantifies so much of what life is like living with chronic illness. If you haven’t read  Christine Miserandino’s  post explaining the theory, I highly recommend it, especially if you or someone you love is dealing with this stuff.

A number of years back I started playing with the idea of trying to figure out how many spoons I actually had in a day and how many spoons various tasks cost. It was an interesting experiment but not one that ever went very far. Now someone has taken that idea and run full tilt with it. The folks at Molly’s Fund created a spoons chart to help people plan their day and their spoons use: