Wednesday, November 28, 2007

‘Tis the Season for the Company Christmas Party

Just a quick note tonight—this is the highest revenue week of my year, and I’m super busy. I’m catering 6 large corporate or group functions this week. Yesterday was a large day-long meeting of 50 hospital leaders. Tonight was a dinner for 35. Tomorrow is a Business After Hours for the Palmer and Wasilla Chamber in conjunction with our B&B Association, where one B&B dresses up really nice for Christmas to show what our B&Bs are like. For that one, 13 of our B&B Association members are bringing food. I’m donating a big pan of Swedish meatballs and one of Artichoke Dip and bagel chips for the 100 or so businesspeople who will stop by after work. Friday is an appreciation dinner for one of the large home builders here; Saturday is a day-long retreat at my B&B for a non-profit which looks out for children. Sunday is the piece de resistance: a huge holiday dinner with all the trimmings for 150 National Guard folks and families. That one I’m gonna need a helper on. I’m mid-way through roasting the refrigerator full of turkeys to feed the guardsmen, and tomorrow I’ll get 4 more done in the ovens. So far my feet are holding up well to all the time on them in the kitchens and serving. I’m just dead tired but so grateful for the bounty that is carrying me through the “slow” season.

And if I wasn’t busy enough today, of course, when it rains, it pours! An assistant in the Mat-Su Borough Assembly (like our local congress or governing body) called to book a retreat and catering for them, so I tapped out an e-mail quote and menus to her while turkeys were roasting. Then, a reservation agent called about taking 4 rooms for several nights during the Iditarod. What a day!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Pineapple Express with your Thanksgiving Ham?

We had a green Thanksgiving. It was so disappointing. A couple of nights ago, the winds picked up. A storm was blowing in off the Gulf of Alaska. The weather changed all evening from temperatures in the teens to being in the mid-40s at night. Weird! All of our glorious snow, tufted on the trees, packed in clean white strips up the driveway, and sparkling across the lawn, melted, dripping, and gone. Sometimes we get one of those around Christmas, but it seems like there have been more the past few years. Those warm winds are called a Pineapple Express because they’re carried in with the currents from around Hawaii.

I’m getting more calls now for reservations during the Iditarod, and people in the Lower 48 always ask how the weather is here. They’re shocked to hear that it’s 10 or 15 degrees warmer here than where they are in Pennsylvania or Michigan or Montana. Obviously, it’s not always that way, but we’ve been getting warmer and warmer here for sure.

In that vein, I’m getting excited about the Iditarod. I host a musher each year, and I’m curious to see who’ll take me up on my offer to stay here super cheap with their handlers and their dog teams (since I have plenty of space for dog teams to get staked out) before the start of the race. It’s a neat way for guests staying here to be able to interact with a musher over a couple of days and learn about how they feed the dogs, get ready for training runs, etc.

Friday, November 16, 2007


I talked with a good friend last night; she asked how I was doing. I said great! She said, you’re always in a good mood. I had just been thinking of that earlier in the day—that if I’m not delighted or joyful, it’s a sub-par day. What a wonderful blessing in life, to have that much happiness in my days. There’s so much about Alaska that makes it easy to look around at our surroundings and just smile or want to clap my hands. Way to create extraordinary scenery, God! Good job!

Yesterday was particularly nice because I took a fun little trip to Talkeetna. I had a short meeting at Talkeetna Air Taxi. We could have done it over the phone, but I’m happy for any excuse to road-trip to Talkeetna. It’s a 75 mile drive that is breath-taking even in bad weather. I’m at home now, and an eagle just flew by the living room windows. My point exactly!

So, yesterday, I was driving along at 9:30 a.m. The air was clear and cold. My car thermometer said 11 degrees. The trees were frosted with hoarfrost and the road was frosted a bit, too. It was pretty much me, a couple beat up pick up trucks headed into town to the store and back, and a few double-long semi trucks hauling loads to Fairbanks.

As soon as you get north of Wasilla about 10 miles, there are several places on high rises of the road where you can see Denali. It’s too bad that so many visitors come in the summer—the best views of Denali are more often in the winter. The air holds so much more moisture in the summer, obscuring the view more often. It never ceases to amaze me that I can see that 20,000+ foot mountain from two hundred miles away. That’s a really long distance (you can see it from Anchorage, too, nearly 300 miles away). Think about it in terms of standing in St. Louis and looking at the Chicago skyscrapers or in Washington D.C., looking at New York City’s tall buildings—that’s how big this mountain is, that you can see it from those distances. Pretty amazing, taking into account humidity, curvature of the earth, cloud ceilings, and all that.

But I digress yet again. It’s such a thrill to crest a hill while driving and see Denali--boom, right there in front of you. It takes up the majority of the space of the windshield at some of those vistas. It’s like that out my living room window, too, seeing Pioneer Peak, but “my” mountain is only 33 miles away from my living room and is only 6600 feet tall. As the soft morning sun hit Denali, it was soft shades of pink, like cotton candy and ballerina tulle skirts and soft blushes. It never fails to just seize my heart, how beautiful that is.

So, I’m rolling along. In my peripheral vision to the left I saw something—an animal. I clenched the steering wheel and thought about evading it. Before I could think about a potentially deadly moose-car encounter, I saw that it was a wolf? Dog? Dogs! It was a dog team that came hurtling out of the woods on a trail and came within several feet of the highway, but instead of coming onto the highway, deftly swung Haw (Left) onto the trail parallel to the road. It was smooth and natural and graceful. That was a thrill, to see the team work so beautifully in motion. Then I thought, I know them! It was Vern Halter, an Iditarod race veteran who lived a couple miles from there, out on a ride. I called to Little Girl in the back seat to look that way, to see the dog team. She loves watching other dogs, especially Siberians. She’s a huge flirt around other huskies. That was really fun to see them “on the job,” out for a run.

Closer to Talkeetna, I saw small strings of smoke here and there. Rolling down the window as I drove, it smelled good. It was birch wood being burned for heat in the area cabins. A lot of Alaskans still use wood for a primary heat source. There is so much wood all around us, “utilities” only exist in the core, populated areas for the most part, and a lot of people choose to live “off the grid,” too.

In my meeting, it was nice to catch up with my friend Sandra who has worked for Talkeetna Air Taxi since 1996. She’s such a neat woman. We were looking through TAT photos, and she showed me some of last summer’s company party. They had always talked about doing this, and they finally got around to it: they took the all-year and summer staffers up to Base Camp on Denali for a pizza party! I’m no expert on Base Camp, but this had to be one of the first times boxes and boxes of pizza were flown up there! She showed me the Beaver that ferried them up, eating with Base Camp personnel who came to join them, and then playing in the snow for the afternoon. Neat, huh? What did you do this year for your company’s summer picnic?

Perhaps you can see why it’s so easy to be in a good mood in Alaska on a day like this.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mama Ain’t Happy

I’m dogsitting a church friend’s sweet pit bull, Pete. He’s two! He’s still a pup with a lot of energy! Little Girl, my 9 year old Siberian, is glad for the company but at the same time mostly annoyed with him. When he prances up to her and paws at her nose, to induce playing, her thoughts on the matter have not been kind. He clearly does not understand Husky life. He just thinks he can go run in any door without waiting for her to go first, that it’s ok to drink from her water bowl, and that gasp—he should just play all day! You can see her thinking, WHAT are we gonna do with this dog? He has no manners regarding pack order and submitting to her as alpha female, no respect for what is clearly hers, and waaaay too much energy.

I let them out first thing this morning, in the dark. I put Pete on a 40 foot cable from the front porch because earlier in the week he discovered the neighbors have chickens! How fun for him! He’s one of those dogs where you can end all of his thoughts with “and that was so exciting!” Little Girl walked out slowly, then sat down in the driveway, looking toward the rose garden. Pete started barking his head off, whether he sensed anything or not. Then after his bark-off, I could hear rustling by the apple tree by the garden. I brought Pete inside, not to annoy the moose/s.

Little Girl moved in closer to the moose, sniffing areas 50 yards away or so, quietly. The mom moose was not in a docile mood this morning. I could hear branches being ripped off the apple tree. Sigh. Those apple trees have to work so hard to exist up here. From the front porch about 100 yards away, I could hear her munch and snort and “maw” softly which made me think the boy bull was around. That was kind of neat to be in the dark, concentrating on just their sounds, the plodding of their hoofs along with the crunchy sounds of frosty grass and downed leaves. We have about an inch of crusty snow still on the ground from last week’s bigger snow.

Mom moose thought Little Girl got a little close so charged her. They leapt back and forth from each other for a little while. Mom moose moseyed toward the house and apparently had her heart set on black currants for breakfast. Little Girl didn’t want mom moose that close to me, since the black currants are only 10 feet from the front porch. I felt pretty protected because the porch is raised and has a sturdy railing/fence, and I could slip in the front door very easily.

A lot of days, the mooses tolerate Little Girl being outside with them, barking at them or roo-roo’ing in their general direction, and they have a known repor (? Spelling?) with each other—how close is too close in each other’s personal space. Today, though, I think Mom moose was just not in a good mood. She threw a fit like I have never seen. She ran Little Girl off a couple times, then I think Little Girl sensed this wasn’t joking around and made herself scarce. Mom moose was still on a tear. She snorted and growled and huffed. She banged her head through the branches of the chokecherry tree to rattle them. She kicked and bucked and swung around fast. She ran across the yard, to nowhere, kicked and bucked some more, and completely turned circles, having a big tantrum. She ran straight back at me to the black currants, which was fine with me. Little Girl wasn’t around and I was safe. She ran up to her bush where she wanted to eat, yanked a bunch of branches off and chewed loudly, I swear smacking her lips on purpose. Then just seconds later, on no cue I could sense, wheeled off and ripped out of the yard, back into the brush. Well, ok! I guess she showed me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Can you Hear Me Now?

Kind of related to the past two days’ posts, recently ACS (Alaska Communications Systems), which is Anchorage’s phone company, announced a deal with ATT to string a cable along the ocean floor from the rest of civilization to Southcentral Alaska. What do you suppose that costs? That’s a long way. I think that would be a neat project to work on.

I’m curious to see if that will improve our phone call lag time—that thing where in a call Outside to family or friends, we end up talking over the top of each other, similar to an overseas call, because, well, we are overseas, I guess. Being posted to a military base up here is considered an overseas assignment.

But, regarding phones, it can be hard to keep up regular business communications, since our small, co-op Valley phone company has whoopses and outages not infrequently. With so much housing growth in our area and lax to non-existent Borough requirements for building (permits may soon be required for home building, what with all the resultant problems of letting anyone build anything), it’s no wonder that so many DIY homebuilders on caterpillars back into utility poles or dig through phone lines. Then there are things out of the phone companies’ control such as sun flares and problems with satellites. Apparently, we’re at a bad angle compared to folks at lower latitudes, depending on the day/time and where the satellites cross over or triangulate with each other. Just when I start to feel like I’m living a “normal” life, in a “regular” drywall and siding home, driving on paved roads, then I’ll try to get on the Internet and find out that it’ll be out for several hours due to atmospheric interferences and that I actually do live near the edge of the earth.

I also saw a program on PBS a couple nights ago about a bunch of scientists way outside of Fairbanks getting ready to send up rockets into active displays of Northern Lights, to gather more data about those bursts of energy. They want to see how the light and heat from those disturbances might contribute to issues with telecommunications and things like airplane navigation systems. Northern Lights season is upon us. I’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

To the Ends of the Earth

Another Today Show item for the blog…This is the week when Matt, Ann, and Al are at the “Ends of the Earth,” reporting on issues in the arctic, equator, and Antarctic. They talked about how Russia planted a flag on the sea floor in the far north seas recently, and how coastal mapping and underwater mapping are becoming a bigger thing. I know several folks locally who do that for work. There was a segment about the ice pack at the north pole receding and the possibility of a sea lane being passable over the top of Canada in the summers in as little as a few years. So much about Alaska is unknown yet, but I hadn’t thought about “new” territory opening up in the sense that it used to be ice, and now it’s on the verge of being travelable, navigable water which must be mapped and explored.

Matt Lauer is reporting this week from Greenland, which was “settled” by the Danish. I’m a big fan of Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen. They may have been the first white guys to dogsled along the top of North America from Greenland all the way to Alaska, in the early 1900’s, near the end of the great age of exploration. Today, the age of exploration is back on. The military is busy strategizing about how to defend this new area and to provide protection for shipping around the pole. Businesses and non-profits are working like crazy to get to know the vital statistics of this area of the planet, since it’s been largely ignored for most of the last century. A number of newer, smaller oil exploration companies have leases to look for old standby’s like crude but also natural gas, coal-bed methane, tar sands, and other fuel sources that have not previously been cost-effective to retrieve.

Those reporting on the arctic for the Today Show noted that the time of the arctic is nearly upon us. I wholeheartedly agree. With oil at $96 a barrel right now, large deposits of natural gas off the coast by Prudhoe Bay, and Southcentral Alaska being nearly out of natural gas in Cook Inlet, I am pretty sure that within 3 years Alaska will be in the middle of another “boom” period. We’re on the verge of building a new LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipeline down from the Prudhoe area. A couple more pieces of state legislation, and hopefully we can get that project going. The Anchorage Daily News had a graphic about population growth. It showed that the state’s population hadn’t been much more than 150,000 into the 1950’s. Now, at nearly 700,000, it looks like we’ll be over one million before 2020. We know that every week, eight new families are moving to our little Valley. Indeed, my area, the Mat-Su Valley stands to grow 78% from 1990-2020.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Three Channels, and Nothing to Watch

Living here in Palmer, near Anchorage, we have the privilege of receiving between 3-6 channels on free, broadcast TV. When we get severe winds, it can disrupt broadcasting. Also, sun flares can be problematic for television and phone connections because of our angle to satellites. Recently a couple stayed at my B&B. The man had been born in Anchorage but hadn’t been to Alaska since his family moved out when he was five years old. He was watching the Today show before breakfast, and they were reporting on something that had “just happened.” I reminded him that everything broadcast nationally is tape delayed, since we’re four hours behind East Coast time, so that press conference we were watching had happened several hours ago. That brought back to him that as a little boy, they had TV, and some of it was locally-produced programming. There were times, though, when there was no program on—just fuzz. At that point, the national network programs and news reels were put on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle and flown up for broadcasting each evening up here. If weather prevented the planes from going, from time to time there was nothing on TV.