Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Morgen, Kinder, wird's was geben,
Morgen werden wir uns freu'n!
Welch ein Jubel, welch ein Leben
Wird in unsrem Hause sein!
Einmal werden wir noch wach,
Heisa, dann ist Weinachtstag!

Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen
Von der großen Lichterzahl!
Schöner als bei frohen Tänzen
Ein geputzter Kronensaal!
Wißt ihr noch, wie voriges Jahr
Es am heil'gen Abend war?

Wißt ihr noch die Spiele, Bücher
Und das schöne Schaukelpferd,
Schöne Kleider, woll'ne Tücher,
Puppenstube, Puppenherd?
Morgen strahlt der Kerzen Schein,
Morgen werden wir uns freu'n.

Photo credit:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

It's all uphill from now: we'll be gaining sunlight from now on!
Only a few minutes at each end of the day, but by mid-January we'll start seeing the sun again at our house, which is currently being blocked by the mountains surrounding our valley, such as in the picture below, with just a tad of evening light hitting the top of Polar Bear Peak.

We had the shortest day of the year today, and it was properly celebrated at our house by SLEEPING IN!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sankt Nikolaus

I do love this time of year!

Yesterday was Sankt Nikolaus, and being German, that means I sneak out of bed late at night and stuff everybody's boots with lots of chocolates, nuts, oranges and other gifts. This is one of my favorite parts of this time of year, with baking, crafting, and Christmas music, but mostly I love just "hanging" with my family & dear friends.

Here in Alaska we use some pretty serious boots this time of year, which is handy for getting lots of Sankt Nikolaus loot: our kids are savvy and take the felt boot liners out on Nikolaus-Eve, to maximize the haul!

Sankt Nikolaus is when I really start getting into the spirit of the Advent season -- yesterday we got our Christmas tree, put some Christmas CDs on the stereo and started hauling the decorations out from the basement. It's wonderful to watch the kids re-discovering and reminiscing as they unpack nutcrackers and ornaments they made in Kindergarten!

Yesterday, as we all sat around the tree, sharing memories, the kids asked their dad about his memories, and were surprised to hear how different his childhood experiences were from their own. His own dad died of cancer when he was 4, right around the the holidays, and sadness was forever intricately associated with Christmas-time -- I'm sure his mother had a difficult time for many years after, especially around the holidays...

Not everybody loves the holidays -- in fact, some detest it. Children of divorce often find this time of year very stressful -- everything from making a craft and school and having to decide which parent should get it (how cruel is that!-- teachers, please let them make 2!!!), to having the holiday itself split up, feeling torn apart between two parents.
For years I watched my Eldest, a child of divorce, stress over Christmas, and there was little I could do for her other than to try to provide as calm an environment as possible at home. My wish for her is PEACE & JOY, but especially inner PEACE. That is also my wish to all children of families affected by tragedies such as divorce, illness or death. Hang in there, and don't feel there's something "wrong" with you for not being full of holiday cheer!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I don't know what's wrong with me, but instead of the usual winter slump (a.k.a. mild depression) that usually hits me by the time this dark time of the year, I continue to be basically HAPPY -- you know, cheerful, ready to sing "The hills are alive..."
What gives? Instead of getting grumpier as I get older, I get happier. I'm just plain old THANKFUL for the good life our family has. Soppy, I know...

It's been a very nice relaxed Thanksgiving for the Borealkraut family.
On Turkey Day, Eldest came for the feast together with her 2 roommates, and we really enjoyed visiting with them, including playing a rousing game of "Apples to Apples" and telling various embarrassing stories of when the kids were small. Eldest wrote me a sweet Thank you email the next day, where she shared that she and her roommates thought our family was very "loving". Shucks -- I'm just a sucker for stuff like that -- I'd have been ready to hand over my car keys if she'd asked for them right then...

We did not end up going on our annual ski-into-the-cabin trip the next day: the Prof and I both were suffering from back pain, and decided that we just were not up to pulling sleds and sleeping on hard bunkbeds (yes, we were definitely being whimps, but we're allowed at our ripe old age!). So instead we just laid low and enjoyed hanging out with the kids, reading, watching movies, and nibbling on turkey left-overs.

But other good things happened as a result of us not going to the cabin. We got to meet Wolf's new girlfriend, A, and her family: first we had a chance to meet them all at the sledding hill in a downtown park, and then tonight A and her sister came over for dinner. They live in the Valley (another valley than our little valley: so it's at least a 30 mile drive), so the families meeting was a big step -- yes, a little awkward at first, but I think it went well, and we're really pleased how nice A and her family are! It's like in the movie The Sound of Music, when Maria tells of how Mother Superior always said "When the good Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." Not that I'm particularly religious, but I have to admit, I'm really happy for the Wolfman that it worked out that way -- Howl!

Photo credit:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dirty Laundry

Now that I got your attention!...

This post is literally about laundry, and its environmental impacts, rather than the airing of anybody's dirty laundry (I'm just not the gossiping type...)

This is the first part of my GREEN series in which I intend/attempt to write about how I can help to do my part in helping the environment -- you know, less wasting of energy, sustainable living, etc.

I'm starting out with the ordinary subject of LAUNDRY:
Everybody does laundry -- clothes get dirty, and then we wash them. In an effort to do my part in keeping this planet from Global Warming at an alarming rate, I try not to use an extra-ordinary amount of energy in keeping my family in tidy whities! My part may be tiny, but it's still significant -- if nothing else by the influence I have on the next generation: my own 3 kids!

Surely everybody has heard of the 3 R's: "Reduce, Reuse, recycle". More recently a new word has been added to this trilogy: rethink. That one's my favorite -- just stopping to think about the impact of the myriad daily decisions we make each day, and how they affect the environment!
Back to laundry, some Americans are starting to RETHINK their relationships with their laundry detergents, washers, and clothesdryers.

First of all, we can easily REDUCE (REUSE) the amount of laundry generated by wearing our clothes longer before laundering them. This may be a tough sell, especially to teens and pre-teens who go through clothes like there's no tomorrow, but really, they do care about the environment, so try that tactic (are you paying attention, Youngest?)

RETHINK our tools
Detergents: switching to environmentally more friendly detergents by avoiding phosphates and chlorine. For a review of detergents, their cost and environmental impact, go to consumersearch.
Also, simply using less. When it comes to everything from shampoos to laundry detergents, we don't need to use so much of it! Many products are more concentrated today, so we need less, and thus generate less empty plastic bottles...

Washing machine: about 5 years ago, we replaced our inefficient older Whirlpool with a water-saving washer made in New Zealand: and one of the first things I noticed is how much more efficient the spin cycle was -- and when laundry is less soggy, it takes less energy to dry them!
Also, avoid running small loads -- it's definitely inefficient.

Dryer: Best of all is to avoid using it in the first place. Hanging laundry up to dry the "old-fashioned" way is surely the most environmentally friendly.
Back when I was a young new bride and husband #1 and I bought our first house, we went appliance-shopping, and I had to convince him we only needed a washer, no dryer. Maybe, I said, when we have messy kids, and live in a cold place like Alaska...
Now I do have kids, live in AK and do own a dryer. It's old and runs on electricity instead of the more efficient natural gas (but it does have a dryness sensor, which does make a lot of sense!). But I don't use my dryer all that much.

Most Americans feel like they can't go without a dryer, time-wise and space-wise.
I would argue it does not take all that much space and time, and I'll go over what I find helps me to minimize the use of the dryer. Even in the winter (especially when it's super cold and we heat our houses, and the indoor air is very dry) you don't need to stick all your clothes into the dryer -- just to vent that heat to the outside!

Unlike my German relatives who choose not to own dryers at all, out of principle, I do actually like having a tumbler, because I DO NOT LIKE TO IRON. My mom spends hours ironing, and that would drive me batty!
So I use my dryer to get the wrinkles out, but don't actually use it to dry the whole load.
Here's what I do (and I NEVER iron, except as a hobby, such as when I'm sewing a quilt!).

I take laundry out of washer and start sorting:
1.) Socks, bras and other small items go on the space station right above the washer -- mine looks something like the item from pictured on the right.
2.) Anything made of synthetics is easy to hang up and dry wrinkle-free -- I just give it a good shake and hang it up -- it will dry quickly, and I don't have to deal with that static you get when they're come out of the dryer and cling to everything.
3.) Big things (like sheets) get hung outside over the railing in the warm season, or hung over chairs and couches if no visitors are expected.
4.) Drying rack is great for towels and other uncomplicated laundry such as T-shirts, etc.
I like to set it up right in the laundry room next to the baseboard heat, or this time of year, in front of the woodstove. In the summer, it often sits on the deck, where it is quick and easy to move indoors if it looks like rain!
5.) Hangers are my friends! I have a closet rod above the dryer, and all the shirts go from there directly into the closet -- no folding of shirts, no sirree.
6.) Pants go on those skirt-hangers that have a clip on each end. I hang mine on the shower curtain rod -- where there's enough room for those long dangly legs. By the next time we need the shower, they'll be dry and ready to hang in the closet.
6.) Anything that's made mostly of cotton has a tendency to dry with lots of wrinkles in it, so here is where I use the electric tumbler for "antrocknen" or slightly-drying: I toss them into the dryer for a few minutes (3-5 at most, & no need for those dryer sheets), then take them out damp and hang them up on hangers. VOILA -no need to iron.

This works pretty well for me. If I'm really, really, REALLY busy, then I might end up using the dryer and pulling fewer items out of the tumbler for air-drying on hangers, but I always pull out at least a few of the heavier items -- think of how much energy is used just to dry towels and jeans -- just by pulling those out I've saved that energy.

PS: it helps, of course, to distribute laundering throughout the week -- that way I can fold away the dry load when I start the next...

Photo credit here

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

sub-zero weather

It's COLD!!!
Probably won't get above zero degrees Fahrenheit today, and down by the river it's -20F.
Home sick, got another puker on the couch (Youngest)! So I'm too lazy to search hubby's computer for good pictures of how COLD and BEAUTIFUL our valley is right now -- but do go visit The Schneiders -An Alaskan Yurt Family blog for some great photos of this valley, including a time lapse series of the sun barely flitting along the mountains (be patient & let it load first, then click on the arrow below last picture).

Youngest and I are crawling back into bed!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It was my birthday yesterday, and I'm feeling great (despite the fact that the stomach flu is making the rounds in our household -- so far only through the male population!).
True, I'm another year older, but strangely, that does not bother me at all. I don't feel old, even though now I am as close as I can get to the big 5-0 without actually being there yet!
Here's a photo of moi, taken by hubby when we went blueberry-picking this fall. I usually don't like to have my picture taken, as I'm not photogenic at all. But on that particular beautiful fall day, I didn't mind him clicking away...

I'm a really lucky person: I've got a loving family, good health, and live in a really nice place!
I know that it's more luck than earned -- luck to have met and married a wonderful man (I suppose I can take some credit for having at least been at least a decent enough person) , genetic luck in that I have not inherited lousy DNA, and luck that the winds blew our little family to Alaska (the last great frontier!)

What makes me ponder this right now is that I recently received a real good rating when I applied for life insurance -- I got a clean bill of health! Apparently my health history and blood results indicate that I'm at a low risk to keel over from a heart attack anytime soon.
I can thank my parents for good genes -- on my father's side everybody seems to live well into their 80's without any heart problems, cancer, diabetes or Alzheimers. Watch out kids, you may not see any of that life insurance money for at least 30 years!

I'm truly lucky to be healthy. Besides inheriting healthy genes, I suppose I can take a little credit for a reasonably healthy lifestyle. What does that involve? What helps is not smoking or drinking (I do enjoy a glass of wine or beer a couple of times a week, however), sleeping well and not having a stressful life or job, eating reasonably healthy foods, and staying active.

I'm no sports nut, and certainly don't run marathons. But I do manage to be active everyday -- it may not seem much, but at a minimum, I guess I easily get those minimum recommended 20-30 minutes of light aerobic exercise every day. Most days that's just simply walking (lots), but it might also be gardening, snow shoveling or yoga.

Food is something everybody seems to be focused on these days, or even posessed by. Yes, I try to eat reasonably healthy, but I'm no health nut, either. In fact, I have a pretty healthy appetite: I eat a lot, and I have never really gone on a "diet". I'm not skinny, but not overweight either. But I do watch what I eat in the sense that I'm aware of what I eat -- what I aim for is to eat whole foods. By "whole" I don't just mean "wholesome", but also "real", as in not highly processed. As much as possible, that means fresh produce, whole grains, healthy proteins. But I also enjoy food, and if one day I feel like a Reese's Peanutbutter cup, by all means, if I crave one, then I have one. Preferrably just one, savor it, and then not have the need to eat another for a long time.
Depriving oneself of certain "forbidden"foods (such as chocolate or icecream) is just a bad mind game, in my book, and can lead to breakdown and overeating. I find myself doing much better around tempting desserts now that I've made "peace" by allowing myself simply to eat "anything". I am now often just as happy to have a carrot for snack, instead of a cookie, without feeling deprived. Perhaps this comes with age, because my younger self would have gone for the cookie!

Last, but not least, another factor in being healthy and happy, to me, is having a creative outlet. This is often not considered when people list necessary ingredients for health. But exercising the mind is as crucial as exercising the body. Without that, my life becomes rote, routine, listless. I need to have a creative outlet in my daily life, be it knitting or sewing, discussing politics, listening to music, cooking a good meal for friends and family, reading and/or writing. These are all things I can and will continue to do for many years to come.

I leave you with a story I read once about a very old lady who loved to quilt, and continued to quilt even when her eyesight had long gone dim. How did she do it? Whenever her grandchildren came to visit, she had them thread all her needles for her, and stick them into the curtains. Thus she always had a ready supply to keep on quilting...

I'm at the point now that I need reading glasses for fine print and threading needles, and pretty soon you'll be seeing me with a pair of granny glasses dangling around my neck from a beaded chain. But hopefully I'll have a smile rather than a frown on my wrinkled face!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Berlin Wall tumbling down...

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall tumbling down. What a momentous event!
Most everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard big-momentous news --such as when the twin towers came down on 9/11/2001, or when the Challenger blew up, or the Kennedy assassination (well I was barely out of diapers on that one...)

And I hate to admit that I barely remember the Berlin Wall tumbling down -- my own life at the time was tumbling down around me: my then-husband had left me and my 2-yr old daughter...
But life has a way of going forward, my life turned around, and my then 2-yr old daughter (Eldest) has just now returned from a month in Germany, full of stories "Berlin was my absolute favorite city -- it's the best party town, ever!"

Full circle. I've been to Berlin only once as a young adult, when I was around her age, and remember vividly the divided city: East Germany with it's graying buildings that still had bullet holes from WW2, the East German police with their guns and dogs when our train pulled into their stations, then crossing the border, giving way to colorful, lively, and yes "Party-town" West Berlin!

I heard on the radio this morning that for a few euros you can buy fake passports with East German transit stamps in them -- I still have one that's for real! Never would have guessed back then that someday it would be a souvenir of a bygone era...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letter to a 5-year old friend

Dear Little One,

You and your family have been a part of our lives since long before you were born-- you're practically extended family to us, and feel sort-of like an auntie ( your Crazy German Aunt?).

You're VERY special to us, and we love you!

I'm writing to you because we have an issue with dinners when you come over to our house. Unfortunately, your behavior has become so much of a problem that it makes dinnertime unpleasant -- for me, the cook, for your parents and everybody else at the table. I hope we can find a way to turn that around.
First of all, let me assure you that to me, personally, it's not a big deal if you don't eat what I cooked. I'd love for you to try what I cooked, but if you end up not liking it, then that's that. No problem.
But I do have a problem when you fuss. When you whine "I don't like it!" or even say "Yuck" before we start eating -- well, that hurts my feeling. I think you can understand why: if you made your mommy a present, and she said "I don't like it" before she even opened it, that would really hurt your feelings, wouldn't it?

Your parents usually ask you to try new foods. You may not feel so adventurous, especially if it looks unfamiliar (crazy German food)? Your parents are just doing what all good parents do -- they ask their kids to give something new a chance. Because they know if you never tried anything new in your life, you'd still be living on breastmilk and baby food, and I bet you've come across many yummy foods since you ate strained peas as a baby!

So what I'm asking of you, please don't make such a big fuss when you eat dinner at our house. Here's a deal: First, give it a try. I'll serve you a small serving (one bite). If you don't like it, say so politely ("No more, thank you"). That's all. No big deal!
Hopefully there will be something at the dinner table that you do like. But if there is not, that's still not a reason to fuss.
You can ask nicely if there might be something else for you to eat, but there may not be (that will really be up to your parents -- they may choose to tell you there are no other choices). You won't starve, but you won't get dessert either.
At this point, you may start feeling very sorry for yourself. What always seems to happen with kids at this point is that they start a big fuss, trying to get their way. We've all done it at some point in our lives, and guess what, we found out the hard way that it's really not worth it!

Here's what I need you to understand: fussing will not get your way at my dinner table like you did the other night. From now on, I'm going to ask you (or any other kid fussing), to leave the table. It's really very simple. You're welcome back when you're calmed down and can be polite.

Oh, by the way, here's a hint: if you tell the cook when you do like a dish, that will not only make him/her smile, it will even make them cook your favorite foods more often!
PS: unless they're still on breastmilk , of course:)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Taxing sugar???

Americans eat (and drink -- in the form of sodas) way too much sugar: refined & high fructose corn syrup is showing up more and more in processed foods from breakfast cereals to salad dressings. In small quantities, these may be harmless, but the trend in our increasing unhealthiness among Western nations is alarming.

Obviously, just as it's not healthy for us to eat loads of fats, we should not consume all this sugar that's hiding in much of our food, and it contributes heavily (pun intended) to childhood obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. I wrote about this on a previous reflection post, entitled Diet is a Four-letter Word.

Recently, I got to thinking about something I heard on the radio one morning while barely awake when the alarm came on: a proposed tax on sugar in drinks, a penny per ounce on sugary drinks. Is that a good idea???


It would make us more aware of how much sugar we're consuming.

Some people would indeed change their habits.

The pinch in the pocketbook is not a hardship to the extend that sugary sodas are not nutrition we need: they're not "food" we need to sustain us (in other words, real food is not being taxed).

The money collected in taxes could be used for a good cause (education about dangers of childhood obesity, for example).

Diet drinks are not necessarily any healthier. Maybe they should be taxed too?!? For more info, here's more about the link between diet sodas, weight gain and diabetes.

Taxation for behavior modification is controversial -- would it really change behavior, or would people just start getting used to it after the initial "shock", and keep up the unhealthy habits..?

Would "natural fruit juice" start replacing refined sugar in most drinks, allowing manufacturers to charge a higher price, yet without significantly affecting the desired outcome, i.e. people still end up just as overweight on fructose as they do on sucrose...

Would the government end up being a "sugar police"? Is sugar the last legal drug...?

Hey, we're evolutionarily programmed to like sugar: we all know our early human ancestors had a better chance of surviving (and escaping the sabertooth tiger) if they found foods high in calories. But that's not the situation we're in, now is it?

I admit that I love dessert as much as the next person -- but I believe it should remain a special treat, rather than an abused substance!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time passing...

Where has the time gone? These last few weeks have just flown by, and I did not even properly acknowledge my husband's birthday. We started celebrating a few days early with our annual Oktoberfest. This yearly occasion calls for a keg of his favorite micro-brew, Moose's Tooth Fairweather IPA. Maybe that explains why I haven't blogged lately -- but we did finally finish that keg, and we even went out to eat on a real honest-to-goodness date (both of the school-agers were invited to parties, and we looked at each other and said something like "remember when we used to go on dates?...and needed a babysitter...") Alas, why is it that when you don't need babysitters anymore, you start to forget to go on dates...

October has nearly flown by. Halloween is around the corner, and I'm busy at work getting ready for the annual children's Halloween Party we host at the Nature Center, complete with a witch in the Hollow tree... I leave you with this picture of my kids (plus a few borrowed ones) taken a few years ago outside the yurt that I'm currently busily decorating for this year's event.
The tall one is Wolfman, and the skeleton is Liesl -- by now she's as tall as the masked man in black, who in turn is 6 feet tall! Time's a-flying by...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Birthday Pixie

Today my little, nay, long and lanky girl turns 12.
Happy Birthday, Liesl!
I remember well the day you were born: those alert big blue eyes taking in the world. You've always had an intensity about you -- even as a toddler you insisted on "self", doing by yourself anything your 3.5 year older brother did. With determination and grit you did it, too!

Now you're a young lady -- graceful, funny, still intense, and amazingly generous & wise.
Someday soon you'll be breaking boys hearts, but right now, you're perfectly happy hanging out with your family, friends, and pets (I know you'd have a whole zoo if we let you!).

You have a great sense of "self" -- don't ever let peer pressure take that from you. Stay true to yourself -- you're unique and wonderful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Let there be light (in a box)

Today the view beyond this computer screen looks something like this:

in other words, it's foggy and misting.
Our days are getting shorter and shorter, and before we know it, we'll be going and returning from school/work in the DARK.
Time to get out the Light box, which is an artificial lamp that many Alaskans sit in front of every morning to get our fix of the right kind of rays so that we make it through the winter without going mad or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

photo credits:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama

Woke up this morning with the news that President Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. This announcement came as a big surprise, and already there are negative comments floating around. Altogether, it seems that our president's efforts on behalf of world peace are appreciated more around the world than they are in his home country. The Nobel Peace website states that he was selected "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".
I don't envy the President's job -- it's got to be one of the toughest jobs in the world right now -- what a mess he has inherited! I, for one, congratulate him on being selected for this honor. It speaks of the high hopes much of the world has on his ability to affect positive change!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yikes, I was on the evening news!

I have to admit that I'm fairly camera-shy, but I did end up on the local evening news recently. The occasion was a story about the proposed expansion plans of the Nature Center where I teach.

Sooo -- if you're curious about what I look and sound like, and how taking a group of Middle Schoolers on a nature hike is a lot like herding cattle, go to KTUU and type "Eagle River Nature Center" into the search field on the upper right-hand corner (I hate to admit that I have no friggin' idea how to load a video onto this blog post).

And when you see all those bulges and are wondering if I've gained weight since you last saw me -- it's my uniform: I carry a first aid kit, radio and bear spray!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Where is a good place to see wild animals?

Today I tackle the question "Where is a good place to see wild animals?"
It was yesterday's question on, a website whose sole purpose is to provide something for us bloggers to blog about -- never heard of it until I saw Solipsist's post, where he mentions me (blush!) when apparently dumbfounded with an answer to the wild animal question...

Everybody assumes that when you're in Alaska, you see wildlife all the time. In fact, many tourists are either too terrified to walk more than a few steps from their cars, fearing being ripped apart by a huge grizzly, or else they arrive, such as at my place of employment, with camera around neck, expecting or even demanding to see a big wildlife (moose or bear), figuring a sighting is guaranteed.

I received an email this summer from a German tourist who claimed that a bull moose crosses our parking lot every evening at 18:00 -- he wanted to know if that moose is still around during his upcoming visit. Earlier this summer, an RV-touring Swiss showed me a postcard (see picture on left) and said "I vant to fotograf a bear katchink lachs today." I had to tell her that these bears were photographed at the McNeill River Preserve, which is an expensive trip off the road system -- not in her (or our family's) budget.

I sometimes meet disappointed visitors such as one loud New Yorker who walked the whopping 1/2 mile to the Nature Center's viewing deck (it was the middle of a hot summer day) and demanded "I've been here 2 weeks and haven't seen any wildlife yet! -- where the hell can I see moose and bear?" When I suggested the zoo, he scoffed "I can go to the zoo back home!". I held my tongue, but was tempted to tell him "sorry, but our mechanical moose is currently out of order." Instead I patiently explained how dawn and dusk are better times for wildlife viewing...

The truth is that wildlife is shy, and that is a good thing! Even us locals don't see wildlife all that often, although I'm lucky to be able to say that I come across them at work occasionally. But it's not like I see them every day!

I can count on one hand the number of times that I've seen moose out of my kitchen windows, and I've lived here 10 years. I've seen black bears in my yard too, but again that's rare, and it usually means that somebody in the neighborhood left out garbage or grilled some awfully good-smelling salmon!

What is amazing is that we have moose and bear here in the first place! I leave you with a picture of a bull moose that I took this summer at our mailbox -- sure wish he'd show up with that German punctuality every day!

If you'd like to see a post with pictures I took of a moose re-arranging our lawn furniture, click here for a post I wrote last fall.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Keep out of the reach of children

Today I bought a new nailbrush, and as I was extricating my new purchase from its wasteful packaging material, I was struck by the warning Keep out of the reach of children.
Now let me get this straight: this item is dangerous to children? How, pray tell? Is it that a child could use it incorrectly, and hurt themselves in the process?

By all means, I will heed this warning and keep my children away from this dangerous item -- I would much rather have my children run around with dirt (and all those nasty bacteria) under their fingernail -- that is infinitely preferable, isn't?

Photo credit:

Eldest in Munich

She made it to Munich, and even to the "tail" end of Oktoberfest!

Here's my sister (in the dirndl) and my daughter -- you can see the family resemblance. How I wish I could be there too...

This week I'm cooking German food in their honor (see Borealkitchen, my other blog).

As we were sitting around a good German meal last night, the kids were comparing notes on their visit last summer to Munich and their Tante Elke, my younger sister.

Youngest: "She's like a darker-haired version of mom, and really funny."
Me: "How's that?"

Wolfman: "She's a trickster-version of you, mom! I love how she made fun of you. Like teasing your American pronunciation of 'genau'."

Eldest is blogging about her experiences in Germany on her blog Kitchensister.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Expat meme

Frankly, I don't really like memes, but here's one I find myself wanting to take. It's from the blog Letters home to you, who does not care for memes either -- that why I could call it a non-memer's meme:)

Ian (who is Canadian living in Germany) answers are in black bold. Mine are in red (German living in US). I'm surprised how similar some of the answers are!

How long have you lived away from your home country? Going on 20 years. 30 years and counting...

Do you still feel like you’re just visiting? All the time. I’m serious. Ditto.

What do you notice the most has changed about your home country when you go back for a visit? More American influence in media, language and culture in general. Ditto.

If you were to move again, would it be back to your home country? Without a doubt. Actually no, but I'd love to spend more time visiting, perhaps even a year-long sabbatical, but I'm not sure I'd want to live there permanently.

Do you ever get homesick? Only in the run-up to a holiday back home. You can tell right here because I start to write memory-laden posts about the old days. Ditto.

If you read the news, do you read it in your native language or that of your host country? English mostly, but German and French as well. I rarely get ahold of German reading material.

What do you like the most about living in your host country? The amount of free time I have. It’s something I value very highly. That and no Sunday shopping. One day a week where consumerism has to hit the brakes. I like the wide open spaces -- there's still wilderness left here.

What grates you the most? Whiners who bitch and moan about Germany but refuse to leave, offering up a dozen excuses for not doing so. Get the hell out if you don’t like it. What are you waiting for? Someone to decide for you? What grates on me is selfishness of Americans: the "why should I care about the world's dwindling resources -- there's plenty enough for me..."

Did you speak the language of your host country before you arrived? Not a bit.Yes.

How long did it take before you felt comfortable speaking the language? I’m still not completely comfortable unless I’ve had a couple glasses of beer. I'm very comfortable in English and am understood just fine, but beer still helps to get over being conscious of being different.

If people switch to your language when you speak to them in their language, how do you react? I like it! It means they’re reaching out for a connection, which is good, so I usually say something back in English to see how far it will go. I like it when somebody speaks German to me, but if pronunciation is poor and I can't understand it, then that's awkward.

What has been the biggest change you’ve had to make in leaving your home country? In Hamburg, I can’t go hiking in the mountains. There’s no skiing or mountain biking worth getting excited about for a thousand km, and I can’t just drop by a tennis court anytime and start playing. Food, culture, Gemuetlichkeit.

If there were a button to improve anything about your expatriate life, what would it say on the button? For free flights home, press here. Ditto, squared!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Eldest is off to Germany

My dearest Eldest daughter!
You're off to Germany for a big adventure -- I can hardly believe that you're all grown up now, all finished with college, such a capable young lady full of promise!
You'll be getting to visit my quirky family of origin, and maybe now you'll understand your German mom a little bit better. You'll be experiencing so much -- have a beer for me at Oktoberfest: I moved away from Germany before I was old enough to go!

So here is a little bit of "advice" from Mutter to Tochter:

Sorry, can't help it, so I might just as well say it & be done with it: be careful!

Enjoy yourself: you'll have lots of fun with your positive attitude.

Expect different cultural attitudes: Germans are not just Americans in Dirndls and Lederhosen! If you approach them with an open mind, you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do find communalities.

The language thing will be overwhelming at first: your head will spin -- but before you know it you'll be an old hand ordering your Wurst und Bier vom Fass!

Germans can be gruff: don't let that get to you. They're not all bad, and you'll find that the bark is worse than the bite!

Germany is full of contrasts: I can't wait to hear your impressions. Regional differences are more noticeable-- there's a much stronger sense of place.

You'll have such a wonderful adventure -- wish I could come with you! I'd grab a Rucksack and hop on a train with you -- but having your mom along would cramp your style when you meet a good-looking guy! Just do me a favor, don't come back with someone named Horst!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Value of Education?!?

I couldn't believe how many kids were kept at home here in backwards Alaska on Tuesday. I guess their parents did not want their children to be exposed to President Obama's speech about this terrible socialist idea (namely the value of education,?!?!)
My son's High School history teacher didn't show it because it supposedly "did not have any relevance" -- what the @&F*%?
I had a school class on a fieldtrip at the Nature Center and the teacher said many stayed home because of the speech -- who knows, might we have piped the speech to them in the woods?

My daughter's 6th grade teacher taped the speech and showed it a day later -- good for him! Parents had the option of sending a note if they wanted to have their child to go to another classroom during the speech. I bet they would not have had to do that last week when our Republican governor spoke last week at a local school about the same topic...

SO, let me get this straight -- people kept their kids home to prevent them hearing Obama telling them to stay in school and work hard. I kringe at the message these parents are giving their kids: are they saying don't stay in school like Obama tells you to -- emulate Sarah (the Quitter) Palin instead...

Actually, come to think of it, there's one of those celebrity READ posters at my kid's elementary school with Palin in a dogsled holding a book, and the message is "READ A BOOK" -- how subversive!!! I better start writing nasty letters. After all, there's not many letters difference between Palin and Stalin! And if kids don't value their education, they may not be able to tell the difference...

Yikes, do they have any room in Canada...?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Harvest time

There aren't many things that are as satisfying as harvesting your own food.
The blueberries are ripe now at the higher elevations, the rosehips are ready in our neck of the woods, and we've been eating lots of good stuff from our own garden now: zuccinis, carrots, kale, and even tomatoes!

It's the root crops that I find most intriguing to grow -- perhaps it's because we don't see the results of our labors, being hidden underground.

The carrots are truly sweet here in Alaska, benefitting from long daylight hours -- I could easily grow more next year. Beets are growing very nicely too, ready for Borscht soon. But the potato crop is my favorite. The plants may not look like much when they're growing in the garden, starting to turn a little pale-yellowish as the days get shorter -- but then comes the reward of the harvest!
I think of the Irish crofter, digging in the dirt, and each potato turned up is like a nugget of gold: it's the food that will sustain. I've read that as far as a poverty-crops go, potatoes (together with a few other crops like cabbages) are apparently fairly sound nutritionally.

Youngest and I have only dug up less than quarter of our potatoes and carrots so far, and they are wonderful. Sure, they're readily available at the grocery store and farmer's market.
But there's nothing better than that joy of watching my child serve carrots from her own garden plot at dinnertime: "I grew these!", and everyone agreeing that they've never tasted any better!

photo credit:

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Warning, this is a bit of a curmudgeon-ly post: you've been warned!

Here I go:

At social gatherings (a.k.a. parties), I do not care to stand around listening to a bunch of guys "male posturing". Because to me, men bragging about their cars, fishing trips, business successes or anything else is just posturing -- they may as well be comparing the sizes of their dicks!
They just go on and on about themselves! No matter where the conversation leads --politics, science, the weather even-- this type of male (type A personality?) just likes to bring the conversation right back to himself and what a hotshot he is!

Myself, I rather go over and see what the ladies are talking about. I don't care about shopping, fashion or make-up, but more often than not, sooner or later they do get around to talking about some stuff is that close to my heart: children, education, family, health... But no matter what the topic, women tend to be more consensus-building, self-disclosing, yes, they're more likely to listen. Most importantly, they don't blatantly think of themselves as the center of the universe!

The question begs: is it all just basic Darwinian evolution at work? Men competing for power and access to females, while women are nurturing their young? Or did I spend too much time in graduate school taking courses in evolutionary biology?

Maybe I'm a bit biased -- just a teensy bit...

Phew, got that off my chest!

Photo credits

Friday, August 28, 2009

Healthcare debate

When I first came to this country, people would asked me if I came from the "socialist or communist" Germany -- and why the heck was it called "democratic" when it isn't? Don't they get free healthcare, and have no choices and freedoms?
Well, I hardly knew where to start answering! In broken English I'd try to explain that
(a) I came from West Germany, which was democratic (official name was Federal Republic of Germany) while East Germany (even if the name was German Democratic Republic) was communist, but that (b) West Germany did also have "socialized" healthcare, but it was not free - it was paid for by taxes (doesn't anybody understand that nothing is ever truly free?), and that you still had choices & freedom, and, most difficult of all (c) that socialism does not equal communism!

Today, I just came across a blog new to me, Solipsist, by a writing teacher. I really enjoyed his discussion on healthcare, and he offers an excellent explanation as to why Americans are so scared by the word "socialized" in front of Medicine.
and here I quote the Solipsist:
...maybe people get turned off by the phrase "socialized," which makes them think of socialism. Now, here again, the main problem is that the word "socialism" has gotten a bad rap. Political scientist Robert Axelrod in a book about cooperation, effectively defined socialism (or at least a socialist state of mind) as "niceness." So what's the problem with "niceness"? Well, nothing, but many people equate "socialism" with "communism"--which are not the same thing--and "communism" with Russia and in particular with "Stalinism." The thing people don't realize is that calling Josef Stalin a socialist is like calling calling Tony "Scarface" Montana a pharmacist...
Anyway, even if my family is among the lucky ones to have decent health insurance through an employer, I do feel that the AMERICAN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, and it needs FIXING!
How is it broken? Let me count the ways... the US spends much more on healthcare per patient without delivering better health; the unfairness of denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, the huge number of un-insured and under-insured, and on and on...

Let me just give you one tiny lousy example of BROKEN: a gainfully employed (but under-insured) friend of ours ended up making the risky choice of NOT going to the emergency room with a dangerous bowl obstruction, risking rupture (and thus possibly death), because he simply could not afford it -- he's still paying off the bills from his last one several years ago that precipitated a HUGE chain of medical problems. Note also that an indigent or homeless person in the same situation would have been treated for free. THERE IS SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG WITH THAT!

Don't get me wrong: I don't think that it's "unfair" when the homeless get treated in the Emergency Room-- it's the compassionate thing to do: we don't let people die in the streets! I digress here, but there is a whole big problem with homelessness in this country, and much of it has to do with how poorly we deal with mental illness, and again, healthcare reform could help...

I think that access to affordable healthcare should be a basic right just like access to education -- maybe it would help if called our public school system "socialized education". Most countries have just that, including ours, as it is obviously in a society's best interest to educate its citizens. Imagine a world where not everybody could afford to send their kids to school -- what kind of a heartless society would that make us?

Here's an account of a British(-American) Mommy blogger entitled "Hey America, socialised medicine is not that bad!", very enlightening!
I also recommend any of Honeypiehorse's social commentaries: very insightful.


Both kids kept up their string lessons over the summer, and got to show off their musical prowess at a recital this week.
Wolfman played "Nina" by Pergolesi, and he played it beautifully -- really "polished" that piece! Too bad Pergolesi died so young (age 26) as he wrote excellent lyrical music -- read here for more about Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736).

Liesl played a fiddle tune named "Leatherbuttons", accompanied by big Bro on the cello. She did very well (seems to have gotten over her stage fright earlier in her musical career), and it was so sweet to hear the siblings perform together!

Here are a few more pictures of the recital:
the wonderful accompanist Ruth,

there's always a beginner playing variations on "Twinkles",

many more cellists such as this one playing Bach,

and this last violinist who gets my vote for the most unique shoes!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to School...

Hey ho, hey, ho
it's back to school they go...

Yes, it's that time of year -- the youngstas are headed back to school bright and early tomorrow morning. Parents everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief!

Actually, this summer our kids (the 2 remaining who are of school age, entering 10th and 6th grade) have been a breeze. They're old enough to take care of themselves while mom & dad are off to work, and never set the house on fire even once. They take care of their chores (usually), don't fight too much, and even practice their instruments without being nagged about it -- when did they grow up to be so responsible?

Luckily they're not 9-5 latchkey kids -- our schedules are flexible enough that usually one or the other of us got to be home at least some of the time. But it has been great to be able to trust them, not worry about them, and not have to spend a huge chunk of change on daycare or camps. They both are much happier just "hanging out" en famille -- organized camps are not their "cup of tea". Some people thrive on being busy, but our lot (the kids and the 'rents) love having a laid-back summer -- there's plenty "busyness" the rest of the year...
We did not go on any trips Outside (a.k.a. the lower 48 States) this summer, but have done a fair bit of fun stuff around here, including a few great camping trips. Bicycling, hiking, s'mores around the campfire, reading, picking berries -- that's what summer is about! One of the highlights of my summer was them coming to work with me occasionally -- volunteering to help out at the Nature Center.

When they were younger, I was lucky to be able to stay home with them. My job grew in hours and responsibilities as they grew older -- I started first as a volunteer, then very part-time during the peak spring/summer fieldtrip season with summers off. Now I work 3/4-time year-round, and still get to be home when they return from school -- couldn't ask for a more ideal job!

But I do think that in the American school system summer vacation is too long -- 3 months! True, some children (with rich parents) go on amazing trips and specialty camps. But most don't, and they lose out academically too. Students forget a lot over the summer if they're not engaged and challenged (Nintendo & the tube are unfortunately the entertainment of choice, rather than playing outside) -- i just can't imagine how long it takes teachers to catch them up on math, let alone study habits and routines. If I were gone from my job for 3 whole months, my brain would do a major core dump, and I'd have forgotten procedural details and quite a few phone numbers...

I like vacations -- don't get me wrong. Kids need them, and adults too! I think US workers don't get nearly enough vacation from their jobs to take a good break and RELAX, for their health and sanity's sake-- instead many are juggling to find daycare or summer camps for their children who are out for 3 whole months when they themselves have only a few weeks' leave! I see many of those summer camps coming through the Nature Center on fieldtrips, and they vary greatly -- some of the counselors are great, and some so young and inexperienced that they have little clue on how to deal with their charges... I've met some wonderful dedicated people, but I imagine that many a young college student who's doing this for a summer job ends up getting turned away from this field after negative experiences -- I know it sounds cynical! My sincere wish is that our society learn to place a higher value of those working with children: they're our future, and we ought to pay and respect all teachers much MORE!

So here's a "hip, hip, hoorah" to hard-working and dedicated teachers everywhere!