Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Prints Lead to Thief

The moose have been in the yard every day lately: mom and Junior with his cuuute little wrack of antlers, and then yesterday, Junior’s yearling sister who I haven’t seen all summer. I think it was her. I have yet to get the forensics back, but her behavior pointed towards her as the culprit. Of course, on this occasion my camera memory card was full!!!

I had noticed yesterday that suddenly my full, beautiful flowering kale, which I had left in my front planter box, was gone. I have a waist-high planter box 3 feet wide and 6 feet long about 4 feet away from the front porch, next to where guests park. This year, I left the plants in it at freezeup, to see if they made interesting shapes for the snow to settle on. The big, broad head of the ruffly flowering kale was splendid at two feet tall and nearly a foot across. Then when I got home from errands yesterday, I thought, hey, wait a minute…something’s different…And sure enough, in that bed, all 3 kale plants were chewed off with stems about six inches tall left in place. That was bold for the moose to come that close to the house! And sure enough, Little Girl found their hoof prints in the snow on the parking side of the planter, neat little teardrop shapes about the size of my palm, stamped into the snow.

Little Girl wanted to sit outside and watch the moose eat from the apple tree yesterday afternoon, so I let her. After a while, I slipped out the front door onto the porch with my camera, too, to watch them with her. It was mom and Junior in the apple tree. They swiveled their ears towards me but went back to eating when I sat down on the porch. Then the more petite female came from the side of the house. She slowly walked straight towards me. She got halfway across the parking area to within about 10 yards of me. She halted and sniffed and eyed the planter a few yards in front of her. She looked curiously at me and sniffed. I’d been baking cookies. I know they love the sweetness of berries and apples and wonder if the scent that had come outside with me appealed to her.

She slowly walked straight towards me. I quit fiddling with how to delete pictures off my camera to make room to take video of her so close up, and started to plan my retreat if she kept coming. She stopped eight or ten feet in front of me, sniffed, and eyed the flower planter right by her. She could have been on me suddenly, so I weighed whether to stand up and look big, but thought that might startle her into charging or kicking. I wanted her to come closer out of curiosity, but that wouldn’t be good to encourage my mooses to think of people as the source of something yummy, because that could get dangerous for me or guests in the future. I sat still on the top step of the porch, then started staring right at her, dominantly and aggressively. She jerked her head back, her ears twitched back, she snorted a bit, and she turned to the side and walked off. Huh. She decided the choke cherry tree looked pretty good, so moseyed over there to browse. Of all the times not to have room on that memory card!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pre-Halloween Treat

Really, more people should come to Alaska during the winter. It’s sooo pretty, with thick, puffy snow on every branch of the spruce trees and the grand, white mountains outside my big, picture windows. This will be the first year in several that we have snow for trick or treating. It makes gorgeous, ghouly shadows outside.

It surprised me two nights ago to go from my bedroom to the kitchen in the middle of the night and see whiteness outside the windows—moon glow on the snow. Each year, I forget that snow means that on nights that we can see stars or the moon, that it won’t be “dark” outside. The moonlight on snow makes it light enough to go outside and play or do basic outdoor tasks. It’s pretty much just the months of September and October when it’s pitch-black outside: sunlight hours are reduced, and the brown of the ground doesn’t reflect any light before snow cover. Everyone is always so afraid to come to Alaska ‘in the dark” but the moonglow off the snow makes a lovely and very different light by which to be about all the things we do in the evening and night. Snowmachining (snowmobiling, to most of you, or snowgo, for native Alaskans) at night is ethereal and thrilling. We just need about a foot more of snow to get out on the iron dog!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Men In Trees in Vail-DEEZ

Are any of you into the TV show Men in Trees on ABC? I really enjoy it. It’s near the top of my list of favorites, of which there are many. I love watching lots of TV in the winter. I’m a sucker for romantic plots. It’s even kind of cute, how they try to make it seem like Alaska, even though it’s a pretty lukewarm version of Northern Exposure. You’d think they could get one of the basics right, though: calling real Alaska towns by their correct pronunciation. Nothing says “filmed in Vancouver” like talking about the ride down from Val-dezz. C’mon! It’s not like the town which is the terminus of the Pipeline was founded by Cortes. We don’t say it like it’s a Spanish mission; we say it like we have no idea that it’s said any different than Vail-deez anywhere else in the world. And we’d thank you very much for doing the same.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Taking Care of Business in Palmer

Today was Rotary lunch day—every Thursday at noon, Palmer Rotary Club meets. I was able to go today. After the lunch, I had a few errands to run: I went to the bank, where Sue from Rotary is the manager. I went to the copy shop, owned by Rotarians Stacie and Mark. Then I ran by my dentist’s office, Rotarian Dr. Tony, to pick up my mouth guard. Yesterday, Debbie from Rotary was at a board retreat for the Alaska State Fair, which took place at my B&B. At this visioning session, they brainstormed. Rotarian Sara, who works for the City of Palmer, would be so happy: her idea of a drive-through giant cabbage was brought up. I’m kind of into how business happens in our little town. We all see each other fairly often, doing volunteer work for a service organization or on a board or pitching in on a community event. Not only is that fun, but that’s how things get done in business in Palmer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Going Up!

Downtown Palmer has been under construction for the last year. Several building owners have been spiffing up, improving facades, putting up new awnings. It meant that this past summer, downtown felt a little “empty” since several shop tenants had to move out during extensive overhauls. This next summer though, there won’t be a more glorious place than downtown Palmer, Alaska. We might get a new restaurant. There’s a fancy new women’s clothing boutique. The bookstore is expanding, and the Palmer Arts Council has established a tiny little office. And guess what? Palmer is getting an elevator! About time, huh? The new “mall,” a strip mall that has been converted to a larger, two-story structure. I bet on the first day it’s open this spring, there will be a line to try out the new elevator. For me, that’ll have to do until I get the chance to take a plane ride up to Barrow to ride in the world’s northern-most elevator in their public service building.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Late Night Snack

I let Little Girl out for a last potty at 10:30 p.m. and she was gone forever. I went outside and heard rustling from the pasture grasses and figured she was sniffing rabbit scents. I was going to give her another ten minutes or so. I went back out the front door again. She was on the porch and went down from it, onto the lawn not wanting to come in. Then I saw the large, dark shape on the white snow of the front lawn (last night was our first snow fall of a couple inches). Little Girl slinked towards it on the lawn but kept her distance. As my eyes adjusted, I could see it was Mom Moose, making her way to the chokecherry tree just off the Forget Me Not Room bathroom. Moose just plod along slowly and don’t deviate often from their intentions. Little Girl went over to within about 10 feet of her. Little Girl sat down in the snow and just watched. I did, too, from the porch. It was so still and silent. The air smelled good, fresh, and a little wet, from the snow. I could hear not only the leaves being ripped off, but also lip-smacking sounds, and the pits of the cherries being ground between her teeth. I stood and waited. Yes, there it was. There’s a certain blip-blip-blip when she puts her mouth around a branch midway up, then zips down it, stripping off all the leaves and cherries. She pulled hard on one branch and it ripped its bigger branch closer to the trunk. It was a sharp sudden crack. That startled Little Girl who got all up in the moose’s face, barking her fool head off. She chided that moose and decided it was time for that moose to go. Mom Moose disagreed and kept eating. I was a little worried about Little Girl waking up the guest downstairs. Little Girl will have good dreams tonight, letting out little muffled woofs and paddling her feet as she sleeps on her dog bed.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Go Moose!

The Palmer High School Moose are headed to the state football finals! Congratulations to the team and Coach Christiansen. The Palmer High coach got his 100th win, joining the other 3 coaches in Alaska who have accomplished this record. Why so few? Remember, the great number of people up here is a relatively new phenomenon, the vast majority of us having lived here 30 years or less.

With the state volleyball tournament being held in the Valley in November, I recently sent out brochures for our B&B Association to invite teams and families to stay at our B&Bs. Another member who has kids in sports put together the list of Athletic Directors and high schools for me. I sat down to do that mailing, and it’s only 13 schools! Not counting our three Valley high school teams or the Anchorage schools (since they are only a half-hour travel time from us), that’s how many schools in the state are large enough to have a football team that can afford to travel up to 1000 miles to “away” games across the state…I take that back—I should also add in Barrow, where they proudly built a football field at land’s end, next to the sea ice. Their high school football team is now two years into the program, but it just isn’t feasible for them to fly out routinely to play in the regular conference of teams on the road system (plus Juenau who can ferry or fly in).

It’s a good time to be a blue Moose! Go Palmer, beat Juneau!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Senior Senator from Alaska

Last night our local Rotary clubs held a fundraiser for a project to build a school in Figi. Because of the catering I do, I was asked to be one of the six folks bringing food. I got so lucky—Costco had not only pineapples, mangos and grapes but also papayas. You really don’t want to know how much 7 fresh pineapples, 30 mangos, 10 pounds of grapes, and 4 papayas will set you back in Alaska on the day of the first snowfall. The only thing I couldn’t find in the stores was breadfruit, but I wouldn’t know what that looked like anyway. Those fruits, dressed in coconut milk and fresh lemon juice, made a beautiful fruit salad.

There were fresh flower leis flown in from Hawaii and you could buy one for $20. I think they might have been wild ginger blossoms. Again, don’t ask me—I know nothing about the tropics by design. Why people would want to go somewhere to sweat on purpose is beyond me.

There were almost 100 people at the fundraiser, a great turnout for a blustery cold night. I had joked with someone about wearing a coconut shell bra and assumed everyone would come in Alaska Formalwear: slacks and sweaters. Nearly everyone was wearing a Hawaiian print shirt or dress over the top of warmer slacks and sweaters! Those of us who stood out like sore thumbs for not having appropriate island attire were myself and Senator Ted Stevens. He had a good excuse—he was just popping in, after two speeches at other locations before this shindig.

It’s been probably two years since I’ve seen Sen. Stevens in person. He’s 83 years old now, I think? He’s really showing his age. He’s always been so small in stature, and perhaps it had been a long day, but he had serious old-guy-shuffle going on. He showed quite a bit of interest in the silent auction tables which held Figian- and Tongoan-made items. I didn’t see if it was the Cannibal Flesh Eating Teak Carved Fork or something else that he bid on.

Lately when I’ve seen the Senator on the news, it’s usually been a sound byte where he’s giving someone hell about something during a Congressional hearing. He can be fierce and highly persuasive, not the tired older man I saw tonight. Maybe that takes it out of you more than you’d think. Maybe it’s the prospect that his days in the Senate could be numbered. In the wake of political corruption scandals here in Alaska, the public sentiment has turned. Both Senator Stevens and Representative Don Young face uphill battles to re-election, for the first time in their decades of elected service.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One Dairy for sale, new Dairy opens

Dairy Queen, that is, opened today in Palmer! It is only the third one in the state. I had marked the opening day on my calendar and got in the drive-through line that stretched into the grocery store’s parking lot. It took 14 minutes to get a small hot fudge sundae, but really that wasn’t much longer than it used to take to get a Whopper when the building was formerly a Burger King. I overheard the car in front of me make a comment to Mr. Order Taker that it sure was busy. “Yep, over 900 served so far today!” the young man said cheerfully. I could hear crickets chirping each time I pulled up to the Burger King drive-through, and service was glacially slow. “Sorry, our shake machine is down today,” they’d say when I asked for a vanilla shake. It was at least three months that “today the shake machine was down.”

Anyway, this hot fudge sundae was well worth the wait. Five long years since I exiled myself to Alaska from the Land of Dairy Queen HQ and a Few Lakes Too. So creamy. It brought back so many memories. I guess now they’re called Grill & Chills instead of Braziers. Growing up in Iowa, we mostly had Tastee Freezes or drive-in ice cream shacks. One of the upgrades to living in Minneapolis when I moved there after college was a Dairy Queen in every neighborhood. When I was new in Minneapolis, I rented in the bad part of town. Our DQ was a red and white box a little bigger than a garden shed that shut down for winter and put a sheet of painted plywood over the ordering window. After I was making some money and could buy a house, I bought into the American Dream: a two story home with a nice yard, six blocks from the Mississippi River and its parks, and also a walk-in Dairy Queen that stayed open all year. Ah, that was living.

Idling along in line for the drive-through, today I noticed the plastic milk crates that had been hastily chucked out the back door by the order station. I didn’t have my glasses on—what did the printing on that crate say? It said Umpqua Dairy. What the heck is an Umpqua? I’m thinking it must be a Washington State brand. Well, that’s probably how it’s gotta be…Our hometown dairy, Matanuska Maid, just decided to shut down this past year…It first opened in 1936 when the Colonists were new to Alaska, and it has served Alaska for 71 years. There are five remaining dairy farmers in Alaska (four right here in our Valley) who provide milk to Mat Maid, and it’s likely they will be forced to close, unless something new comes along. In the meantime, I guess Dairy Queen will churn out sundae after sundae with Washington milk. One beloved Valley institution closes, and a new dairy treat comes to town.