Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nice legs!


I'll spare you the photos of the hanging sides of meat, but here are the pretty forelegs of a yearling moose that we butchered last weekend. My church, Valley Harvest ( http://www.valleyharvest.org ) is one of the non-profits on the list to be called by Alaska State Troopers when a moose is hit on the road. There are approximately 250 moose killed on the roads each year in our area. Convicts go get the ones off the railroad tracks and salvage the meat for the prisons, but non-profit groups who give the meat to charity are used to move dead moose off the highways.

Usually, the call comes to one of our church guys late at night, typically between 10 pm-midnight on winter nights, when most moose-car collisions occur. Whoever gets the call will gather a couple more strong guys, hopefully someone who has a winch on their truck, too. Sometimes if a tow truck is called for the vehicle in the accident, the tow truck driver will help winch up the moose into the bed of a pickup once the vehicle is out of the way. Usually the kind of moose struck and killed is a cow. These females can weigh between 800-1400 pounds.

Either the guys or their wives call me to say we got a moose and to make sure it's ok to bring it over. The reason the moose come to my place is that I heat my large garage to about 38 degrees so the cars will melt, it keeps things like soda from freezing, and it's a perfect walk-in cooler for aging moose meat, too! The guys back up the truck into the garage. The use a Sawz-All to cut off the legs at the knees. If the animal is whole (and not too messed up from the accident), they generally take off the head. Then, making a hole between the tendon and joint above the knee, the guys a leg on each side of a meat hanger held down low by the animal. We have a cross-stud nailed between two trusses. With a come-along on a cable, winching the animal up, they raise it so all of it is elevated off the tarp or the bed of the truck. Once they have it hanging, they can pull the pick up out of the gargae and we can put down the garage door and heat the garage to 50 degrees or so, which makes it a lot easier on their hands as they work, to not be so cold.

We spread a tarp below the animal and the guys start to skin the moose while it hangs. That doesn't take long, as long as the animal hadn't frozen yet before the guys could get to it. Usually it steams while they take the hide off because the body holds a lot of heat for hours. If stranded in extreme cold while hunting, and you have a moose kill, it's possible to gut it and crawl inside the body cavity to use the moose's warmth to keep you from freezing.

Last year we were getting a big cow moose every Saturday night for quite a number of weeks. I hoped to save one of the skins that was in good shape. I happened to have a large box of Kosher salt. One fellow helped me lay out one nice skin because it was huge and heavy. With the hair side down, we shook salt over the whole thing then rolled it up. A couple of the guys hefted it to the side of my garage, where hopefully it would lay frozen until spring when I could figure out how to tan it and work it. Unfortunately, my husky and the visiting Iditarod team who came in March when a musher stayed here, really wanted at it. Dogs pulled at it and wanted to chew on it, so unfortunately I had to get rid of it. And, later I learned that no one really wants a moose hide for a blanket or rug because they're hollow hairs like caribou. They are more brittle and break off at greater rates than a more supple beaver or bear pelt, so they can be messy and "shed."

Usually the guys will leave a moose to hang in my garage for a week til the next weekend, so it can bleed out on a tarp and age the meat a bit. At that point, they'll come get it, take it to our church kitchen, and call in the troops to butcher all day. With a dozen people, you can butcher and package a cow moose in about 4-5 hours. I was surprised the first time I saw it hanging that it seemed so much like a side of beef to me. I wondered if it would be hard to see a noble and kind-eyed moose getting cut up in my garage, but it wasn't, and I love it about Alaska that meat isn't wasted--that the cycle of life here includes making good use of thousands of pounds of meat by giving it to people who need it.

It's amazing to me to watch the ones who know how to butcher and see how they know where to cut to separate the parts and take off good cuts of meat intact. I've mostly been put on rib-trimming duty, and even though that's tedious, it's neat to work with these huge brontosaurus-sized Fred Flintstone ribs that are over two feet long.

If I don't want the guys to take away the sawed off legs with the hide, I can keep them. I just think it's neat to be that up close and personal to a moose leg/hoof/fur. It's fascinating to see the ingenuity in how they are formed, such powerful hooves and sinuous, muscular forelegs. It's fun, too, if I have tall piles of snow berms pushed up by the snow plow to stick 4 legs into the snow, like a moose got rolled into the snow pile with its feet sticking out. That's always good for a second glance from guests. And, of course, they're fascinating to Little Girl, who loves to sniff at them.

One time last year, a pregnant cow was hit on one of the recoveries our church guys did. Unfortunately both she and her fetus died. As the guys gutted her on the road so she'd be lighter to pick up and move, one of the wives along for the ride spent some time looking at the calf in the womb. She said it was very nearly to term and was a perfect baby moose, all curled up tight in its placenta, with long eye lashes and fur that was already colored in the best tones to camouflage it. My cousin-in-law, Turia, loves studying nature and the biology of animals, so she and I enjoy talking about the close encounters I get with mooses, both alive on the lawn and about to become dinner, in the garage.

We generally butcher to the same cuts as beef: roasts, stew chunks, ribs, backstrap, tenderloin, and ground burger that we make some of into sausage, all wrapped up in butcher paper. As anyone who comes to our church mentions that they're in hard times and don't have grocery money, we give them frozen packages of moose. We use it, too, for our church dinners. The ground meat is easily substituted for beef in spaghetti sauce, for tacos, and in casseroles.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rockin' the house

11:00 PM AKST Monday January 14th, 2008 3.86 ML in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska
My guest, Tracy, who is here for a month for work, gets a kick out of coming back to the B&B each night and looking up how many earthquakes happen in Alaska every day at http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/Seis/recenteqs_sub/index.html . The posting for this one, above, is one that gave a good shake, and she asked me if I felt it, too. The way this one hit, when everyone was in bed, was that it felt like the house jumped up about two inches and came back down. Depending on where the shock is centered, how deep and how big, going in which direction, each earthquake can feel different. Some feel like you're wobbling on Jell-O, some feel like something shoved the house and then it springs back. Some make the floor ripple all the way across as they roll, and some feel like you're in a bouncy truck on a bad road.

One good thing for my B&B is that the house is located on a small couple-acres plateau along the ridge of a terminal morraine. As the glaciers receeded from tidewater (3 miles away and 600 feet below me) to the mountains of Hatcher Pass (8 miles away and 3600 feet above me), they left behind half-moons of gravel and rock that stretch a half-mile-to-mile-wide and as much as 10 miles long. Most of the farm fields around me are located on the flat tops of a ridge, and it drops off on one side and rises higher on the other side. That drop off affords me the gorgeous, sweeping views I have of the Chugach mountain range and Knik Glacier to the south and east. The good part, though, in terms of earthquakes is that I'm sitting on hundreds of feet of gravel. That's advantageous in a quake because they shift and slip around and generally retain a calm top surface despite the action taking place deep beneath the soils. The chances of the B&B being split in two while two plates fight it out under the surface is very, very low.

Coincidentally, the speaker at this past week's Lion's Club luncheon was a NOAA scientist from the Tsunami Warning Center. His Powerpoint presentation talked a lot about the increased frequency of shocks and quakes in our area. Maybe we are warming up for a big one--we're overdue!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A good reason for non-digital cameras

A huge bald eagle just flew past my kitchen window. I saw a large flying blob coming through the trees and had the instinct to run for my camera, but then remembered: the batteries are dead.

When I came back from church, the sun on the snowy trees was gorgeous, so got my camera from the house and came back outside. Every tree and every grass and wild rose is articulated, stems and branhes, in glowing white, kind of like how a spiderweb with dew looks in morning sun. It's -1 degree today (chilly!) and I haven't charged my camera in a while, so it died after about 6 shots.

It's recharging now. Lot of good that does me now. That would have been an awesome shot if I could have gotten him quick enough--a big fat male eagle, moving right along on his way to somewhere with huge, powerful wing strokes, and his path took him between the spruces and over the apple tree that is not even 20 feet from the house. Some days I think I should pick up some of those disposable low-tech, ratchety-winding cheap cameras at Wal-Mart so I have SOMETHING when my fancy digital photo equipment isn't cooperating!

Alaska B&B Hostesses of Iron

Guests sometimes say, oh, you were so brave to move to Alaska by yourself. I don't see why. I drove a car with air conditioning and heating on paved roads and slept in a bed each night. It wasn't too rough. Then I moved into a house made of 2x4s and dry wall...No canvas tents of gold rush days. My toilets have pipes that run out of the house to a septic tank...No honey bucket to dump...

The part that's tough is to live up to is the role of being a B&B hostess in Alaska. These women up here are made of a stronger metal. This is something I discovered the first time I met some of the other B&B owners in this area. They are my heroes, and it's astounding, some of the things they've been through, these women. When I first met them, I wasn't used to everyone being so kind and being willing to share so much about their businesses, how to do it, what to expect, how to manage the operations.

There is Janet. She's got to be over 80. I hope that isn't rude to ballpark how many decades she has under her belt, but who am I kidding? She'll never read this. She's far too busy to sit down at a computer or the Internet. She's got three businesses that I know of, and is involved in everything. When I saw her yesterday, she was pressing the flesh, because she's running for the electric cooperative board, not that she needs more to do. She has volunteered for everything that needs done in Palmer since before I was born. Janet isn't afraid to share her opinion on things, and she has a long list of practical experience about why her way is very likely the best way.

And Helen. Helen is 4'6" and all energy. She's well into her 70s and is always on the go. She drives a land yacht of an old lady car and is barely home between pushing for a hospice house, reading to elementary school kids, and "going to play cards with the old people" at the Pioneer Home. She runs a B&B in the home that her husband accidentally built on someone else's land, when surveyors were hard to come by. He thought he knew where their corners were on their acres. Helen knows about hard knocks, isn't shy about speaking up for the underdog, and watches out for me like I was her own.

Donna doesn't do as much with her B&B any more, but she was instrumental in our B&B association when I moved here. She kept a lot of pieces going in the organization and I learned a lot about marketing a B&B from her. As I got more involved in the association a couple of years later, one time we had a board meeting or something at her house. As we sat around the table, another gal mentioned an injury she experienced lately. She lives 40 miles outside Palmer. She had accidentally touched her curling iron to her cornea, and the pain was immense. She had to put breakfast out for guests, bundle up her toddler, and drive herself into Palmer to the hospital for help. "Oh, that's nothing," Donna said.

And Donna proceeded to tell this story: Years ago, she lived in a cabin out quite a ways. She got up early to light the wood cooking stove in the kitchen, in the dark. The trap door to the root cellar was open and she didn't know that and fell right down into it. No one else was home since it was during hunting season. She blacked out then woke up on the dirt floor of the root cellar, in a lot of pain. When she had fallen, she reached and grabbed to stop her fall, and had broken the rungs of the ladder on her way down. This is likely why she had severe injuries, I think she said a dislocated shoulder and broken ribs. With no ladder, she had to pull herself out of that root cellar and walk to where they kept their vehicle near the road, then drive herself into town, all in that excruciating pain.

So I thought for sure that had to beat all. But then I heard what this other woman in our association did. I nearly passed out, listening about it. Her family doesn't have health insurance so she does what she can to take care of their needs. She has animals and is not shy about the practicalities of birthing, or cleaning meat from hunting or fishing. A good friend of hers is also a vet. This B&B lady knew that vets sometimes use Super Glue to close up some animal wounds. So, one time after needing some stitches in her eyelid, she didn't want to go back to the hospital to have them out. She took out the stitches herself and closed the remaining wound with glue. Worked fine.

Here's the part where I get oogy. Then, one time she had some intense, sharp intestinal pain. For a reason that made sense at the time, she had it treated surgically in Mexico. She came home to Alaska to recuperate, all stitched up, with a drainage tube coming out of her belly. A couple weeks later, she seemed healed up. She wanted the tube out, but didn't want to pay to have a doctor take it out. She decided to take care of it herself. The bath tub seemed like a good place to do that, in case there was any blood--wouldn't want that on the carpet! She didn't tell anyone else she what she was doing because they might have yelled at her. She got in the tub and began removing that tube, pulling on it. She said she could feel it, moving between or around her organs inside. She had pulled most of it out, but then it was stuck. Turns out it had been secured in place. She needed to use scissors to loose it, inside of her. She said it came out with a "plop" because of blood and other junk that had clotted or gathered around that end. She said she lost a bit of blood in this activity and had to just lay there in the bathtub to regain her strength a bit. She's doing great now! And I bet you $5 she'd do it all over again, if facing the same thing.

Besides the self-surgeries and the ones who dragged themselves to the emergency rooms, then the ones who are always there for anything anyone in town needs a volunteer for, these women are the stuff legends are made of. They're the ones who have had it rough and who have been through just about everything between them. This is what you buy into when you stay at a B&B in our area. It's all a very tall order for me to live up to, since I'm the junior B&B owner, only having been here or 5 years. And you wouldn't be able to tell that any of these women have had to deal with anything worse than to decide between beef or chicken for dinner. They are the most gracious, kind, and self-effacing women you'll ever meet. Though most B&B guests get to know the hosts a little bit, it's too bad to me that more don't get to know all the amazing things these women have been through.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Countdown to Iditarod

The Iditarod Trail Committee just announced the ReStart of this year's Iditarod would begin in Willow again. There may not be enough snow in the Wasilla area to start the race in Wasilla. Willow always has lots of snow, and great weather for the Iditarod. I prefer the ReStarts in Willow. It's so beautiful there on Willow Lake. I just got a camera that shoots video, so this year I want to get some of the ReStart on video, how picturesque and heart-stoppingly beautiful it is there, so I can put that on my website.

I'm looking forward to hosting a musher again this year. Last year Iditarod musher Kevin Morlock and his family and handler stayed here. They drove up from Michigan in their pickup, pulling a horse trailer that had been outfitted for their dozens of dogs. Guests loved that--to get to ask them questions, see them feed the dogs and head out on training runs. We had quite a few dogs here while Kevin was out on the trail because he had to drop several of his dogs a few days into the race. Several females went into heat all at once and the whole gangline was going bananas trying to get at them. Bummer! His wife Joan and daughter Aliya, and their handler Danielle were all so wonderful to get to know.

Signing Up for My Free Money

Well, it's that time of year again: Time to go to the State of Alaska website, log in, confirm my identity, answer a few questions aimed at proving I'm a rightful citizen of the Last Frontier. I'll let them know I'd like my free money direct deposited in the same account as last year, and hit Ok at the end.

The application period is open now for the Permanent Fund Dividend, a percentage of the profits from the state taxes on oil, paid to each resident, man, woman and child. The payout happens with much fanfare each October (or, "Dividend Days," as the TV commercials for new cars, big screen TVs, and airline tickets identify that month). Ah, Dividend Days and the PFD payouts are as fleeting as the fall leaves. Most people spend theirs within a few days, though a few put them into college savings funds since after 18 years or so, an Alaskan child can have a nice chunk of change to start college.

This past year, the payout amount was $1300 or so per person. What with oil hitting $100/barrel, you might think the checks would be for a lot more this next year, but it's a little more complicated than that. The profit is calculated on a schedule and formula that lags several years behind what the price of oil actually was in a certain year. And then you've got all those durned new people moving into the state. I think I heard they're expecting well over 700,000 applications this year. Unbelievable! They should have shut the door to the state right after I arrived five years ago! Hmph! Well, ok, maybe that is something that nearly everyone here says, regardless of if they arrived in 1995 or 1955.

Despite all the immigrants from the south (what you might call the contiguous U.S. and what old-timers here refer to as down in the United States), the next bunch of years could be banner years for the PFD.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Winter in the Woods

It's snowing lightly, and I just got back from a walk through the birch and spruce woods behind the B&B. It's a still, grey day, very calm. Everything has a powdered-sugar cast of flakes on it.

Little Girl had been on my case to go for this walk. I've been chained to my computer for several hours this morning, and my head was starting to ache. It was the perfect half-hour stroll. The snow on the ground is a perfect consistency for walking. It crunches and smooshes a bit, the six inches or so that were on the trails in the woods. We could see the outlines under the fresh snow of where moose, our neighbor Lenny and her dog, bunnies and birds had gone before us.

Little Girl gets just silly on the trails--it's her favorite place to play. She races out in front of me at top sled dog speed for about 200 yards, then races back straight at me in a game of husky "chicken." I love to see her run. I love her stride, probably eight feet, that she gets from front paw print to front paw print one leap ahead. It's cool to watch her engineering, how huskies double up, then spring, then dig in with their powerful front-end-drive to zoom forward again.

She pointed out about six moose beds that I wouldn't have seen. She runs along sniffing, then turns and races into what is clearly a moose bed after you recognize it, to inhale deeply of those enticing stinky moose scents. Lucky for me, she saves rolling for times of retribution. Next she bolts off through the underbrush following a scent trail or just purely for the joy of running.

Fallen or leaning trees make for interesting shapes and constructions in the woods. I need to really get out there this spring and clear a lot of dead trees off the paths. It's a pain to have to sit on the branchy spruces or large birches and fend your way through and over it. I haven't ever run a chain saw by myself, but I there's a first time for everything. I did take down three birches that were obcuring my view this past spring. I used my two-foot hand saw. Each tree was about eight inches in diameter--not that huge of a task, but I was very proud to say that I had sawed down a tree by myself. Now I must surely be a real Alaskan!

Today, in the dull, flat light, things stood out in ways I rarely see. There was a moss or lichen on the north side of some spruce which looked like freshly zested lemon rind stuck on in a patch. Upon closer examination, I could see it was just bright greenish, but in that light it nearly glowed. We saw spots where bunnies had dug. I saw one white ptarmigan, off a ways, sitting quietly and undetected by the dog. The plants look neat in their winter hulls. Devils Club loses its folliage down to a stub about two feet tall, all spines. A glen of those make their own interesting little mini-forest. Many wild rose branches still hold a hip, orangy-red, the reason first humans could exist this far north. If not for wild rose hips and seal meat, both of which are very high in Vitamin C, humans couldn't live in the arctic without supplements or brought-in foods like citrus.

Also in this light, back in the house now, I see that my red currant bush outside the kitchen window recently got "whacked." It's a large, mature bush that routinely gets munched back to about three feet high, each branch cut off squarely even by a good set of moose choppers. It's nice to have the time in the quieter winters to just see what's around me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanos, Oh My!

Living here, near the Ring of Fire, I've gotten the chance to learn about all kinds of things that are new to me, since I grew up in the midwest. Tornadoes: ok; thunderstorms: thrilling. But, what do you mean the earth might split open and swallow cars and buildings? Or that the sea might come rolling in, close to where I live?

I got this quiz forwarded to me from a friend, http://www.nwcn.com/sharedcontent/features/flash/quake/during.html. Try it and see how you do! Guess what...I failed it! I only got 4 out of 10 right...Looks like I need to be more on top of earthquake preparedness. Another friend I know monitors earthquakes and he's always talking about "getting the lat/lon" and mapping the quakes.

I learned something on a catering job a year or two ago. I was catering a lunch for faculty orientation at the college nearby. An operations guy explained that if everyone heard this certain alarm, it meant to shut down computers immediately. That alarm is sounded when a volcano goes off and the wind is carrying ash this way. There are several active volcanos just across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. Volcanic ash is very abrasive and can severely damage a hard drive if it is sucked in by a computer's fan. Likewise, it can be damaging to run a car's engine and have that ash go into the engine. I've also been told not to run the windshield wipers if there is ash on my car, because volcanic ash is very similar to tiny glass particles which will scrape and gouge a windshield.

It's a very interesting to make a visit to the NOAA Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer. It monitors all the warnings and watches for the Pacific from Alaska, over to Russia, including Japan and Southeast Asia, then to Hawaii, and up the U.S. West Coast. It's neat to go in to their small office and see the seizmographs bouncing around on the paper, showing disturbances and earthquakes all through this Ring of Fire area. They also give very good tours on Fridays. There's usually an earthquake going on somewhere. We had two good shakers within one week on Christmas Day and a couple of days later, both which were 5's or higher.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Alaska Barbies

Some of the references may be inside jokes that only Alaskans get, but I think you'll still find these humorous, too.

Anchorage Barbie:
This fit Barbie has a graduate degree in science, resources management,
and/or is an environmental lawyer. Comes with brand new Subaru with roof
rack holding skate skis and a kayak. Accessories include running tights,
cross-trainer shoes, a husky named Kobuk, and a cell phone. Boyfriend Ken
comes in seasonally employed climbing guide, fishing guide, or Girdwood
bartender models.
Sold at New Sagaya.

Wasilla Barbie:
This Barbie comes with big hair, country music CDs, a .44 Magnum and a
bible. Weekender Kit includes snow machine, 4-wheeler, and fishing boat.
Brand new duplex dream house and lake cabin are also available (sold
separately). Ken comes with a Ford F-350 Diesel pick-u truck with gun rack
and trailer, his own snow machine, 4-wheeler, boat, and .44 Magnum. Ken is
available every other two weeks when he is not working on the Slope.
Alternative Military Ken available by special order.
Sold at Wasilla Wal-Mart.

Fairbanks Barbie:
This graduate school Barbie kit includes a tiny cabin with detached
outhouse. This Barbie has hairy legs, hat hair, and a fleece jacket
covered with dog fur. Accessories include extra long johns, shower bag,
head lamp, case of Ramen noodles, and bug dope. Also available is a
beater, 1979 model Subaru, complete with plug-in, ice scraper, shovel, and
set of studded tires. Ken is either at the Marlin, the Howling Dog, the
Loon, out hunting, doing field work, or is long gone.
Sold at Big Rays.


Ketchikan Barbie:
K-town Barbie lives in an old leaky sailboat that is moored down in Thomas
Basin -- in a slip that is conveniently located just off the ramp directly
below the Potlatch Bar. For basic transport, she runs a beat up old 18'
skiff that has a rundown Johnson 30 hp outboard that leaks oil. She can
out fish most any old Norwegian bachelor fisherman; can cut down old
growth cedars faster than most any drunken old Swede logger; and can shoot
and skin black tail deer that foolishly wander down to beach at sunset
faster than any alcohol fueled Finn bushwhacker. Her Ken can be found
anytime, day or night, on the deck of the Alaskan Bar pontificating --
often with wild, exaggerated arm waiving and finger pointing -- as to
exactly where the Bridge to Nowhere is going to land over on Pennock Island

Sitka Barbie:
Sitka Barbie has most of the same endearments as K-town Barbie except she
recently shot her Ken in what is colloquially known as a Sitka divorce.
She took the life insurance money and purchased a brand new 26' Hewescraft
"Alaskan" with enclosed heated cabin and a 200 hp Honda outboard.
Sold only at a kiosk on the cruise ship dock during June, July & August.

Barrow Barbie:
This Barbie comes with blonde hair with dark roots, kuspuk and parka.
Accessories include a 650cc Skidoo snow machine, tiny ulu and baleen
carving kit. Ken alternates between being a whaling captain and working
for the North Slope Borough.
Available at the northern most KFC store.

Juneau Barbie:
This Barbie comes with membership cards for the Alaska Democratic Party,
AFSME/AFL-CIO and Alaska Conservation Voters, little red X-tra Tuff boots
and an un-used fishing outfit. She lives in tiny apartment above an
obscure bar and works as a secretary in the State Office Building. Drives
rusty Subaru Forester, but has peeled the "Forester" lettering off because
she feels that logging is evil. Ken claims to be a fisherman, but actually
he is also a secretary in the State Office Building.
Available in gift shop at the Baranof.

Bethel Barbie:
This Barbie has a teensy little substance abuse problem, but she has
admitted that she has a problem and is working on it. Comes with just two
outfits, both from Value Village in Anchorage. She likes to shop, but
since this entails buying a ticket to Anchorage, it's not much of an
option any more. Comes with a house consisting of a cardboard refrigerator
box and 2 sleeping bags. Ken lives in the box next door.
Available on special order from Costco in Anchorage


Ft. Yukon Barbie:
This Barbie comes with a Honda Big Red, a 24 foot boat with ancient
outboard that would better be kept in the Evinrude Museum, hip boots,
little marten trapper hat and snogo suit. She lives in a nice little log
house and goes to all the basketball games. A lot of her groceries are
flown in too, but she is outfitted with a selection of knives and knows
how to cut fish, skin a lynx AND pack moose. Ken is not in town much. He
claims to be on the trapline or at fish camp, but someone saw him in
Fairbanks.

Valdez Barbie:
This Barbie was not born here, comes with an Alyeska modular or a brand
new cookie cutter house by Stan Peterson. This Barbie is best
accessorized with an Alyeska husband. She drives a brand new Chevy
Suburban, or other large 4x4 vehicle, needs it to get her over Thompson
Pass when it has snowed 5' overnight. Has 2.5 children and runs all over
town shuttling them from event to event. She typically does not mind the
snow or rain, but is always complaining about the weather regardless.
Valdez Barbie also spends her weekends shopping in Anchorage although she
could get the same thing at the Prospector or so the ad says.

Kenai Barbie
Kenai Barbie is just a weekend Anchorage Barbie that fishes.

Homer Barbie
Homer Barbie spends summers on the Spit and winters going from protest to
protest, also hears voices in her head.

Copper Center Barbie:
Lives off the grid, hauls water in a huge tank on the back of her vintage
Ford pickup truck. Most often accessorized with Barbie's friend Midge, no
need for a Ken doll, but enjoys having Allan, Skipper, Scooter, Francie
and Ricky around to play cards on those long dark winter nights. This
Barbie owns a 4-wheeler, solar panels and sometimes grows pot in her shed
out back. She enjoys mushing dogs, and actually prefers them to people.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Does Anybody Here Work?

I had a coffee date with Bonnie today, on Friday afternoon. She's the director of the Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau, where I'm the president of the board this year. We went to the beloved Palmer watering hole, Vagabond Blues. There were probably 20 people who came in for coffees to go or to have a bite to eat and sit for a while. Of those, I knew more than a dozen of those folks. My pastor and one of my fellow church-goers sat and caught up. City Council member Mike stopped in, sat down with a steaming cup, and read the paper for a while. The gal from the group trying to make a larger, better museum in Palmer came in for a meeting at Vagabond Blues. A couple department heads for the Borough came in for a refreshment.

I don't get to hang out at Vagabond Blues very often, but each time I'm there, I'm left feeling like, does anyone actually work in this town? I guess I mostly get there in the winter, when I have down-time, too. I love how social and personal Palmer feels, how it is so much on a first-name basis. And how being connected to each other an in each other's lives is vital and part of how we spend our days.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Planting Season

Now that the holidays are over, it's time to hit the seed catalogs. Our days are getting a little longer, which makes me feel more ready to think about spring and all the flowers I need each year for the B&B's gardens and baskets. While I am still technically open in the late winter months and enjoy a lot of guests coming for the Iditarod at the end of February/early March, my mind starts to shift over to the upcoming summer season. It starts to feel exciting, the dawn of a new visitor season. It's fun to sit down with the seed catalogs and plan out hanging basket schemes and colorful annuals to accent the perennials in the garden beds and rock gardens.

This year I think I'm in the mood for colors that zing. A lot of our native Alaska flowers and those that do well here are cool blues and violets--delphiniums, blue bells, blue poppies, iris, lupine, lobelia...My rugosa roses are mainly pale pinks and rubine/fuscia tones. Last year I could not find any sunflower plants for sale. I take that back--I found a few and paid $5 per plant for 10 one-foot-tall sunflowers which I put on the backside of a fence, to come up behind the roses. They had a complete failure to thrive and stayed one foot tall. I took those darned things right back to Wal-Mart, I was so mad. This year I'll grow them myself.

Let me tell you, I make the rounds each spring to every local grower, greenhouse, landscape company, and then also our new big box stores, Lowes and Home Depot, and also Wal-Mart. Sad to say, I've had about equal success, or lack thereof at each place. I think my success rate for getting perennials through a winter and coming up the next spring is about 60%. And they are expensive here! Ouch!

Three years ago, I started my own seedlings and used those. I guess I've been gone the past two springs for several weeks so didn't undertake that task. I'm looking forward to doing it again this year, starting all the flats, feeding them, turning them in the big windows, and growing them through May when it'll be time to make up the 30 or so baskets that go around the house and on the decks, and then once we get into June and past the last freeze, it'll be time to add more perennials to the beds.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

News about the News

In the news last week about Channel 2 (NBC affiliate) in Anchorage: Zaser and Longston bought KTUU and a sister station in Fairbanks for a reported $4.6 million in 1981 from a company run by Bramstedt's father. The company led Channel 2's move into broadcasting of programs on the same day they were shown in the Lower 48. Previously, most programming was shown in Anchorage a week or two after being aired in the rest of the country.

...It was not so long ago that we moved into the modern age in Alaska! I thought of this news item when guests this weekend made a remark. They were 4 couples up here for a friend's wedding, and they were all from Texas. Because of the time zone difference, they were always up and wide awake at 3-3:30-4 a.m. On New Year's Day, when I got up to make their breakfast, the guys were all in front of the TV in the great room, cheering on Texas Tech in one of the bowl games which was being broadcast that early. This was new for them, they said, watching football before breakfast, before sunrise.