Saturday, December 27, 2008
It is surprising how much college resembles pre-school: crying for mommy, crossing the street without looking for cars, the necessity of snack time, not caring how stupid we look all bundled up with big mittens, playing in the snow, going over to your friend's house and puking, taking naps, and the excitement over a grilled cheese sandwich. And, don't forget, the truly awful handmade gifts (like noodle necklaces)!
This is a random picture I just found on the web (searching for "noodle necklaces", of course), and it does remind me alot of my blond little pre-schooler eons ago. That same intent concentration on the job at hand -- now she applies it to her Engineering degree.
For the record, I LOVED every noodle necklace and Christmas ornament, drawings then and now, the early pottery (where it's your guess as to whether it's a candlestick or a holder for a single pencil), and of course the wonderful pottery she now makes!
Here is my noodle artist all grown up.
In High School, she got a notion to sport dreadlocks -- and we let her. Some of the other moms asked "How could you?!?" Our rule for teens is they're allowed to rebel within reason, such as experiment with fashions that are not permanent (such as tattoos) -- but hair grows! So here are the "before" and "after" dreadlock fotos.
For the record, the dreadlocks only lasted for half a year -- she was on the swim team that semester, and dreads proved a bit cumbersome. I missed those dreads, though... They fit her earthy personality very well (Even though I never had dreadlocks myself, I can see that some of my Granola mama ways have definitely rubbed off on her).
Her nickname from that time was "Medusa".
There are a few creatures stirring in the night at our house in the wee hours of this morning: humans who cannot sleep, and our new pet, Licky! On Christmas morning Liesl finally got her wish fulfilled -- she had wanted a pet for a long time! We got her a Leopard Gecko, an easy to care for reptile that's also a lot of fun. He/she (juvenile - gender yet undetermined) eats insects, and you should see him hunt the live crickets: he stalks them and then pounces!
Liesl has been very busy with her new pet: besides reading and learning all about her new pet "Mom, did you know that geckos lick their eyeballs?", she has been rearranging the interior of the tank numerous times with logs, rocks and hiding spots. She's worriedly anticipating his first shedding, and is concerned about feeding him a healthy diet "Too many waxworms are not healthy because they're too high in fat -- it's like us eating too much bacon."
Well, rest assure, this little lizard will be well cared for!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Christmas Eve with all 3 kids. Eldest is reading the Nativity Story aloud. Looks like they already set out a treat for Santa Claus: the American tradition is to set out a plate of cookies with a glass of milk, but by the time Santa Claus makes it to Alaska, we figure he's tired of sweets and would prefers a refreshing beer (he's partial to India Pale Ale).
Our good friends from Mountainpulse always come over to join in some Christmas Cheer!
FOOD: Christmas baking at our house is heavily influenced by our respective cultural backgrounds: German and Scandinavian. But Christmas dinners are less so: no pickled herring or lutefisk at our house! Instead we've developed our own traditions based on what we like, and it so happens that we like it spicy!
On Christmas Eve (and New Year's Eve too), our family always eats Cajun Gumbo and Alaskan King Crab. It's delicious! On Christmas Day we always eat smoked turkey. We all LOVE turkey, and I think the left-overs are the best: turkey soup with dumplings, and, of course, making the next batch of spicy gumbo a couple of days after Christmas (or Thanksgiving, or Easter)...
Here Eldest is cooking the roux for a giant batch of gumbo. Of all her many talents I have to say she's a wonderful cook, quickly surpassing her parents' skills.
Here's wishing ya'll a merry Christmas, good eats and good cheer!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Below are pictures from the day she first got her violin. There she is learning how to hold her instrument and bow -- so many things to concentrate on! I am just amazed at how quickly these young people are learning: it is such a JOY to watch them master new skills!
BRAVO, girl, you've come a long way!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Winter Solsctice celebrates the shortest day of the year, and we had a big celebration at the Nature Center. It was a busy day getting ready, and teaching people how to make lanterns. When it got dark, I was asked to lead the lantern parade down the trail to a great bonfire, where we sang songs, and roasted marshmallows and hot dogs. I did not get any official count, but we probably had around 150 people, which is a lot for our little Nature Center.
After 2 am tonight, our days will be getting longer again, YEAH!!!
The picture above was not taken today, but rather one month ago: one of the last times I saw the sun from our house shining through that notch -- since Thanksgiving the sun has been hiding behind those mountains. Around January 15th it will start shining through that notch again -- can't wait!!!
So for many thousands of years, people of the Northern latitudes have celebrated the return of the sun with special ceremonies: the Christmas tree tradition is one of them. Ours is looking festive, with all the lights and ornaments, and, in a rather unique touch dating from the Prof's college days: the Pink Panther with angel wings sits on top!
Here's a very German Christmas item that I brought into the family: the Rauchermaennchen (Smoking Man). He's basically an incence burner, and I inherited him from my maternal grandfather -- can you see the smoke coming out of his mouth?
The other incence burner, the Skihuette (Ski hut), I bought for my husband when we moved here: the smoke comes out of the chimney. When we burn "Tannenduft", it smells like Weihnachten in the Old Country to me!
Isn't it interesting how smells can elicit some of the oldest memories -- the smell of Frankencense incense (Weihrauch) will instantly take me back to being a child in church at High Mass on Christmas Eve.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I had the smoothest red ballpoint pen in my hand, and, oooh -- it did such a fine job when I found a glaring mistake and got to cross out incorrect answers -- I found myself marking them up with glee! Yup, the dirty little secret is out: there's a part of me that does enjoy the occasional session with the RED PEN.
But then, ugh, there were bills to be paid, and the checkbook to be balanced, and that was not nearly as much fun -- perhaps I should have used a different color...
Sunday, December 14, 2008
It's only one more week until Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. We definitely celebrate that here in Alaska -- our days are so short now that people are much more atuned to day-length (or shortness, as it may be).
At home, we've got out advent wreath on the dining room table, with three candles lit tonight: only one more Sunday before Christmas. On Saturday morning, December 13th, we celebrated Santa Lucia, a tradition from Scandinavia where the oldest daughter dresses up as Santa Lucia with a wreath of candles on her head, bringing trays of baked goods. Liesl has inherited this important job when Eldest left for college, and she stayed up late with her brother the night before baking German Lebkuchen (literally "Cakes of Life"), which are basically gingerbread. They were yummy, and nevermind the mess they left in the kitchen!
Next weekend the Nature Center holds it's big SOLSTICE event, and I'll be busy getting ready this week. First, I make a ton of ice lanterns for around the building and paths (instructions follow). Then I guide craft programs making lanterns for the lantern walk: we have a procession to a big bonfire where we all sing songs, roast hot-dogs and celebrate the return of the sun.
The Lantern Walk idea was imported from Germany by our founders, who witnessed Sankt Martin's Day parades when they lived in Heidelberg.
All over the world people celebrate the season of darkness by making light, such as Hannukah or lantern festivals in China. Here's a picture from the Philippines of one the ornate Christmas lanterns I remember from living there.
Here's how I'll be spending my week making ice lanterns:
#1: The yoghurt container Method:
Fill a bunch of 32 oz containers with water and place outside. It helps if it's NICE and COLD. Right now it's hovering in the low single-digits (so for you Europeans, it's minus 15 C). Let freeze for 5 hours or so (if it's seriously below 0F you may get away with 4 hrs; at 10F will need at least 6 hrs; if it's hovering in the upper 20's, you probably need all day or night 8-10hrs). Test a couple before bringing them all inside -- if they break handling (sides are too fragile), then give them more time in the great outdoors!
I do this next step at the sink: Run some warm water to loosen ice -- then invert (TOP will become bottom of lantern) as the bottom is the weakest spot. Using a sharp kitchen knife, punch thru ice at the weak spot, then keep on widening/carving the circle until it's large enough to put a candle inside. Empty the ice-cold water, and rinse with some warm/hot water to get rid of any sharp ice protrusions.
#2 Balloon Method:
Fill birthday-party balloons with water. Stick them in a snowbank with the knot down, or else place on individual plates or bowl -- but don't let them touch. When frozen, bring a couple inside to test. Again, the weakest point is the bottom. Cut and peel off the plastic balloon, and using a sharp knife, make a hole at the bottom to drain the water.
My husband invented a great way for the next step: Heat a heavy duty pan on the stove and "melt" off the jagged edge until you have the desired sized opening.
Also, you can use pan for flattening the other end: the ice is really thick there, and you may want it flat to be able to place lantern on a level surface. Otherwise, just stick the wobbly lanterns in the snow!
HINT: If you're making a great # at a time, wear Refrigiwear gloves!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
What a contrast to years ago when I was a single mom working and juggling to raise a child alone... Years later I re-married, had 2 more children and was very lucky to be able to be a stay-at-home mom when they were small. As they got older, I gradually transitioned into the job I have now. LUCKY indeed -- the prof's steady job makes this possible: without his job's security and health insurance I couldn't afford to live from my job.
When I die, nobody will be eulogizing about how clean I kept the house. I don't pass muster as a German "Hausfrau" -- not by a long shot! But then again, I'm not vying for an epitaph that proclaims how "she kept her kitchen floor so clean that you could eat from it!" Rather, I'd like to be remembered for the kind of person I was -- the love I have for my family, foremost, but also hopefully the work I do teaching others about the natural world.
Many years ago I attended a memorial service for a woman who had died of cancer. One of the items displayed were some beautiful Norwegian sweaters she had knit for her children. I was very moved by that -- her work's life had revolved around her family, and the handwork reflected that beautifully. When I die, maybe one of my many quilts would be chosen (hopefully without an accompanying photo showing my VERY MESSY sewing corner). I like the one of the Northern Lights above (I designed it myself) and perhaps it reflects what kind of a person I am...
Oooh, this sounds too morbid! I'm not at all figuring on passing anytime soon, but plan to be around for a very long time -- I was just doing some reflecting on my life's work, as a mother, homemaker, and teacher... So don't go writing those epitaphs yet!
This week I'm attending the "Get Outdoors, Anchorage" conference, and we had a wonderful keynote speaker this morning, Martha Farrell Erickson, PhD, who spoke about "The broken bond between children and nature: why it matters, what we can do". Her message was very powerful -- she is passionate about the role of nature in childrens' development, and the need for more academic research in this field. But she also shared how she's been diagnosed with cancer, and how she needs nature for healing and continues to help her three young grandchildren discover the wonders of the natural world. She ended her talk with this touching poem by Mary Oliver:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
von Adrian-Moritz, 5 Jahre
Adrian geh vom Schluesselloch,
der Weihnachtsmann der sieht das doch!
Geht davon wenn man ihn stoert,
Adrian hast du nicht gehoert?
Aber Adrian der tat es doch,
schaute durch das Schuesselloch,
Weihnachtsmann veraergert sehr,
ging davon und kam nicht mehr.
Wolf learned this poem in class today. I love this poem-- already the title, with its forever LONG noun which translates to "the guy who is peeking through the keyhole"!
Wolf is loving his German class, and does pretty well. He's got a real advantage , esp. pronunciation-wise, since he's heard a bit of German here & there...
But, I'm GUILTY, I did not teach my children my mother tongue. alas!
WHY, you may ask, didn't I?
Well, it's complicated. I grew up in a German family, but lived in Chile and the Philippines for all but 5 years of my non-infant childhood. My parents managed to keep the German language alive: it was always spoken at home, while we spoke Spanish or English on the playground. When I was 17, I came to this country to study at university -- and never left...
Along comes American husband #1 who was attracted to my cute accent at first, but by the time we had our child, Eldest, he did not want me to speak a foreign language (nor have an accent)! What's a young mom to do? -- it was easier just to stick to English, and sing the occasional lullaby in German... By the time the marriage had broken apart, English was entrenched, and Eldest was in full-time daycare, while I was just trying to keep my head above water...
Along comes husband #2 (I can stop counting now!), an American of Swedish descent, who had no problem with my accent -- in fact, he says he can't even hear it anymore. We were both graduate students, plenty busy, and when the wolf pup arrived, we just kept on speaking English -- after all, Eldest would have been left out... True, that would have been a good time to start the Swede and Eldest on learning German, but we were WAY too busy working on our doctorate degrees...
Life did slow down when we moved to Alaska, where the pixie was born. The Prof had finished his PhD, and I had long ago given up on mine (another long story), so life was simple: diapers, baking bread, quilting, discovering Alaska... learning German as a family would have been nice, but we were way too entrenched in the "Englische" World by then, plus did not have any Teutons to "quatschen" with (The one Swiss German I met does not count -- I could barely understand her!)
So I leave you with one more poem, this one written by a local teacher, for teaching the irregular German verb for "to be":
Ich bin hier,
Du bist da,
Er ist in Amerika.
Wir sind gross,
Ihr seid klein,
Sie sind an dem schoenen Rhein.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
December 6th is Saint Nicholas Day, which we celebrate at our house -- our household's Advent and Christmas tradition are a mish-mash of German, Swedish and American cultures, plus a few unique ones we've developed ourselves.
I'm often asked at the elementary school to share about German traditions, and once (Kindergarten, perhaps) one my daughter's classmates exclaimed how unfair it was for Liesl to get St. Nicholas presents when the rest did not!!!
My children set out their boots in the evening, and overnight St. Nicholas comes and fills them with goodies. When I was young, we sometimes had a visit from the Saint himself at the school or church, and he was accompanied by his servant Knecht Ruprecht. When I was six or seven, Knecht Ruprecht took one of my classmates, a real troublemaker, and stuck him in the sack (after it had been emptied of gifts, of course). St. Nicholas heaved the sack full of boy over his shoulder and carried him away --the boy returned a little later, a bit more subdued... That's the German version of "you better be good!"
So where did the tradition come from? It's basically the same origin as Christmas stockings in America. Here's a little history lesson: the real Nicholas was born about 250 years after Christ's Birth in modern-day Turkey, and became the Bishop of Myra. He came from a wealthy family, and had much compassion for the poor (he also is known as the Patron Saint of children, and sailors, but that's another story). The legend goes that there was a man who had fallen into poverty & was getting ready to sell his three daughters into prostitution or slavery -- Nicholas came by his house three nights in a row and threw enough gold coins thru the window to prevent that terrible fate for the girls -- some of the gold landed in the shoes, and thus was born the traditions of putting out the shoes.
(Note: as I googled about this topic, I came across a new movie (2008) at www.nicholasofmyra-movie.com/
Back to my childhood memories of Sankt Nikolas Tag, as we call it.
Just like I'm carrying this German tradition to Alaska, my parents carried it to South America, where we lived in Chile for six years. I was in grade school, oldest of 3 children, and we dutifully put our boots in front of the door before going to bed. I have to add that summer/winter are reversed seasons from Germany, and it was summer on Dec 6th, and quite warm (I never did get the point back then as to why he wore such a warm coat!). Sooo, there I was lying in bed on a balmy summer evening, and could not get to sleep with all the excitement of what St. Nick might be bringing, and decided to sneak out of bed to "check" the boots. To my delight they were filled with sweets, but to my horror, a LONG line of ants led to the boots!
Oh, what a dilemma -- do I tell my mom, and have her rescue what could be rescued of the chocolates, Lebkuchen and other goodies, or do I creep back to bed undetected and let "nature" take its course?!?... I chose to find my mother, even though that would certainly expose me as having "broken" the rule of waiting until the next morning. She was glad I told her, and I knew that night what I had suspected before then: namely that my parents were responsible for the goodies rather than a resurrected bishop...
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Back at home in "civilization", I've discovered that I sit with my laptop in my lap, catch up on blogs, and knit at the same time!
There is something so soothing -- it calms me down, keeps my fingers busy while the mind can wonder or process: it may be a scary movie (I can look at a sweater I knit years ago and tell you what books or movies I read/saw that year). I love being able to give a hand-knit item as a gift, and admit to secretly enjoying being admired for my skills. Knitting also connects me to generations of women before me who provided for their families by the labor of their hands.
I'm not the kind of girl that likes to go to the mall for clothes-shopping; perfumes and make-up do not interest me, but woe if I get let loose in a good yarn-store (above is the Tangled Skein, our local source where I just happened to have stopped by today) -- I start drooling when I'm standing in front of rows and rows of wool. Ooooh, the variegated wool-silk blends by Noro alone are so tempting! I generally prefer natural colors and genuine wool sheared from sheep, but do occasionally get carried away by something more (I hate to admit it) synthetic -- but knitting is probably where only a small portion of our earth's oil reserves go...
Below a few pictures taken at the Rapids Yurt (just a few miles from the Nature Center where I work) during Spring Break in March a few years back. There I'm basking in the spring sun on the yurt's deck, overlooking some gorgeous mountains in the Chugach Range, and, of course, knitting! That year I was really into socks -- this colorful pair was my first (and only) attempt at japanese toesox. And I hate to have to guess as to how many miniature socks and stockings I've knit for dolls or Christmas tree decorations: doesn't this woman have anything better to do, like clean the house? In my own defense I have to add that I do a lot of my knitting while travelling, camping, or waiting at the bus-stop or dentist's office... Not that my house is ever clean...
Looking at these pictures is also a good reminder to me that in less than 4 months I might be knitting in the sun again. I sure miss sunshine right now -- perhaps that's why I'm so attracted to colorful wool right now -- a girl has gotta have something to get her through the winter!
Monday, December 1, 2008
According to Wikipedia, a meme describes any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere in a manner similar to the contagious behavior of a virus. Scary thought!
Here are the official rules for this particular meme:
- List the last 10 commenters on your blog. Then answer the prescribed questions (below).
- Each commenter on this list is now "tagged", which means you "get to" do the Meme on your blog.
1. Denise of Mom in Madison
2. Honeypiehorse from Our Feet are the Same
3. RunningL8 from MountainPulse
4. Ian (in Germany) from Letters Home to You
5A. Naturelady (myself) --does that count?
5B. Timekpr of View from the Top
6. Deidre from Ester Republic
7. Pam (personal friend) who does not have a blog
8. Charlotte from Charlotte's Web
9 & 10. empty, alas!
Now for the questions:
1. What’s your favourite post from number 3’s blog?
RunningL8 (MountainPulse) is a personal friend, and also the one who got me into blogging in the first place. Picking a favorite post is very difficult! She writes many good post: in some she's funny, in some reflective, in some she's got an edge to her writing-- but they're always interesting. If I have to pick a favorite, I'd say This morning's "Flowers for Algernon" Moment, where she writes about dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder.
2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that moved you?
My list is too short, but I can say instead that I love photos from all the blogs. I will simply list a favorite from each blog to make up for not actually having a #10:
1. Denise (Mom in Madison) has wonderful photos of her 2 boys as they go about their daily lives, which includes a serious commitment to homeschooling. As one of many examples, I love how she captured the boys having fun on Bad Hair Day.
2. Honeypiehorse (Our Feet are the Same) concentrates on writing, and doesn't post many pictures. One of my favorites posts is Oktoberfest complete with pictures illustrating 4 of the 5 phases of experiencing Oktoberfest in Munich.
3. RunningL8 has soooooo many great pictures, it's truly impossible to choose just one! REALLY -- just go check out My New Lens to get a tiny sample.
4. Ian's (Letters Home to You) travelogues are wonderful -- check out Going Underground from his most recent trip to Turkey: I love the smoky landscape & the 3 old men sitting in the outdoor cafe.
5A. Naturelady (that's me!) -- I better pass on this one.
5B. Timekpr (View from the Top) is the teenage daughter of RunningL8 who has just started her own blog, but it is by invitation only, being so young -- so you can't see any of her pictures, but believe me when I tell you she's a talented young lady, sure to follow in her mom's creative footsteps.
6. Deidre from Ester Republic hasn't posted many pictures on account of not having a camera until recently, I believe. But check out her newest post entitled One drag queen and a whole lotta cross-dressers, it's hilarious.
7. Pam doesn't have a blog -- but she does take pictures -- when I used to live in Colorado, Pam was the one you could count on having documented important milestones when the rest of us forgot to bring a camera.
8. Charlotte from Charlotte's Web is mostly a writer, but she does have some great photos too. When I "found" Charlotte, she had just declared that she was Going Grey with Obama, which has one her wonderful self-portraits -- I recognized a kindred spirit and knew right away that I was going to love her blog!
3. Does number 6 reply to comments on his blog?
Deidre writes "the national rag of the people's independent republic of ester", a small ex-gold-mining town outside of Fairbanks, AK. She is a fun writer (check out Driving without a licence), but unfortunately not very many people leave comments. But she does reply, and although I do not know how she found me, I was very pleased when she had praise my Eldest's letter to the Anchorage Daily News about convicted Senator Ted Stevens.
4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from?
Honeypiehorse (Our Feet are the Same) is a relatively new blogger like myself, and is sort of the reverse of what I am: she's an American from Los Angeles married to a German living in Bavaria with her husband and 2 daughters. I stumbled across her wonderful blog when Charlotte did her own Commenter's Meme. Honeypie writes well with a great sense of humor (her family's latest exploits around St.Nickolaus had me laughing so hard!) . The name of her blog, "Our Feet are the Same" is a play on words: if you say it fast enough, it sounds like the German "Auf Wiedersehen", which, I admit, I did not notice until my hubby pointed it out to me! When Honeypie tagged me, she said: I think Naturelady has carved out her own space due to her unique profile – she’s a German mom married to an American living in Alaska. For me the name of her blog Borealkraut says it all. Thanks for tagging me-- this meme is a lot of work, but it is a worthwhile exercise too!
5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7, what would it be?
Pam is a personal friend, and even though she's not a blogger, she did go thru the step of making a profile in order to comment -- that was before I knew to change the settings to let anonymous readers comment -- which now anybody can! In a separate email Pam wrote " You put so much time and energy in to that and i am definitely impressed...I don't even know how to attempt a web page like that." I therefore give Pam the following advice: It's really not that that difficult -- the only problem is that it can become rather addicting, and then ends up being a big time sink (I might be imagining it, but surely Hubby is snickering somewhere behind me).
6. Have you ever tried something from number 9’s blog?
There is no # 9, sorry.
7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you?
I've been running across Denise (Mom in Madison) long before I ever read her blog, or she found mine. She comments regularly on other people's blogs, and I've been reading her thoughtful comments on Mountainpulse for a long time -- Denise is one's loyal and supportive cyber-friend. Here's a post that inspired me: Denise writes down all the questions her boys asked during a backyard campfire -- it inspired me how just listening (and really paying attention) can help you understand what goes on in a child's mind.
8. How often do you comment on number 4’s blog?
Ian (in Germany) from Letters Home to You has recently been nominated for the Canada's Best Blogger's Award -- and I promptly voted for him, even though he's the ONLY Canadian Blogger I know -- but then again, most Americans think Alaska is part of Canada...
9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly?
Well YES! Who doesn't?? (I plagiarize from Honeypiehorse here!) Charlotte (Charlotte's Web) is a wonderful writer. Check out her posts about Living in Germany, like the one where she reflects: it occured to me, not for the first time, that all German Fests exist so that people can drink booze and eat sausages... or the one where she describes going to IKEA on a rainy day, or how Germans love their Verein (club)...
10. How did number 5’s blog change your life?
Borealkraut is my own blog! Well, just taking that plunge and starting a blog was life-changing: it's made me WRITE again, taking a better look at what's going on in my own life and all around me. At first I was hesitant -- who'd want to read that? But I'm finding that the process of writing is helping me find my voice, helping me sort out what's important in my life. It doesn't really matter how many people read it -- writing can be just about the process.