Thursday, June 25, 2009

Camping at Eklutna

Last weekend we celebrated Father's Day by going camping, which is one of our favorite things to do during Alaskan summers. We went to Eklutna, which is really only one valley over, but a world away (no phones, no computers, no worries...). Eldest didn't join us -- alas, she's got her own life to live...

Here are some pix:

The family portrait with the Eklutna lake (actually a reservoir) in the background.

For kids, going to Eklutna is all about the MUD!!!! Our own kids seems to have gotten too old to get really INTO the MUD, so I photographed a bunch of other kids who were obviously relishing the fine glacial flour -- this is what ours used to look like whenever we went up there (they had a set of old clothes that were simply labelled "Eklutna").

Our own kids: portraits of Liesl and Wolfman.

Our friends, J & J, who joined us on Saturday.

Last, but not least, yours truly in a rather silly state, after just having re-discovered German Weizenbier!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BRRR!!! Midsummer Cold Front

We just had the longest day of the year, and this morning it was 34 degrees Fahrenheit (that's barely above freezing -- around 1 degree Celsius for you Europeans) at the river below our house (we woke up to a balmy 38 here!) Needless to say, I put on an extra sweater --staying in bed was not a choice this morning, but that's what I really wanted to do!
The mountains across our valley were covered tonight with a fresh dusting of powdered sugar /nay, snow.
Note: the mountain is Eagle River Overlook, the same mountain as on the Borealkraut header above, photographed from our front porch (poor us, having to look at that every day!) -- the rainbow picture was taken another year, later in the summer.
Cheechako (or newcomer) Alaskans call this kind of snow "termination dust", because it typically occurs around September "terminating" summer -- but let's not call it that! This is merely a cold front in mid-summer, and there is still plenty of summer left!!!
It was really quite beautiful today, and it did warm up to somewhere in the upper 50's -- yeah, I know that some of you may not exactly consider this summer! One of the Out-of-State visitors on my guided hike today asked if we even knew what an 80 degree summer day feels like. I said, yes, that's what I call too hot!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Best and Worse Part of the Day

We have this ritual in our family: every night we gather at bedtime and each of us shares our "best and worst" part of our day. We do this even when one of us is traveling -- whoever is gone will try to call around bedtime to participate, if possible.

The rules are simple: we start with the kids, and everybody shares something from their day in each category. You gotta have one of each: finding a "best" part helps put some perspective on even the lousiest of days. Similarly, we sometimes laugh how good a day was if the worst we could come up with was "xyz"! But the "worst" is not meant to be a complaint or "dumping" feast -- no, merely sharing the facts with the rest of the family, perhaps the telling helping to process and put the event in perspective...

Lately we've added a third category, the "sensory experience" of the day, and that has quickly become a fun addition that we all look forward to! The "sensory" may be good, bad, (&ugly), and can involve sight, sound, smell, taste, or even just plain weirdness. For example, the first ever was when papa reported seeing a transport of stacked port-a-potties (latrines) on his commute home from work! Sometimes the sensory experience ends up being the taste of a new food, hearing or seeing a wild animal, or, invariably, the occasional description involving a public restroom or the school cafeteria...

Above all, this little ritual helps our family gather one last time before we go to bed -- even though we're together for most of our evening meals, and we tell each other about the events of the day -- it really helps to have a dedicated time for each & everyone to share, and then be able to put it all "to rest" before going to sleep.

HOW and WHY? When the kids were younger, we always cuddled and read aloud at bedtime (and we actually still do!). But as kids get older they often outgrow cuddling, yet still need that closeness to their families.
We started this on a family vacation in the Utah, and even had a "Talking Stick" (a Native American tradition -- click here for instructions on how to make one). Only the family member holding the stick gets to speak -- no interruptions are allowed! Now we don't need the talking stick anymore, but whenever we find that the speaker is getting interrupted too much, we grab the back-scratcher I keep next to my bed, and whoever yields it, he or she hold the floor!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Family vacation pictures

Bicycling & beach-combing on our recent vacation to Homer on the picturesque Katchemak Bay...

Youngest seems to be the only one willing to have a picture taken these days -- Teen boy won't let mom near him with the camera!

Liesl at the Pratt Museum donning an industrial survival suit (your only hope if capsized in the cold Alaska ocean!). Next, she's checking out a display explaining how the tilt of the earth makes Alaska's summer days so long -- right now we have over 19 hours of daylight!

Sunset at Anchor Point (about 20 miles North of Homer), with the active volcano, Mount Redoubt, in the background.

I leave you with one last picture (taken at least 5 years ago when the kids were still significantly shorter than their mother!) to appreciate that it's not always nice weather beach-combing in Alaska.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In love with Homer

I'm in love with Homer, and no, I'm don't mean the goofy Simpsons TV character, but rather, the town of Homer Alaska.

We spend 3 days there over Memorial Day weekend, and not for the first time, I started wondering what it would be like to live year-round in this lovely small town at the end of the road (on the Kenai peninsula South of Anchorage) overlooking Kachemak Bay.

Here are some pictures I took around town -- I love the setting, the colorful buildings, the art, but most of all the fact that this town cares about the environment and is so refreshingly liberal (unlike most of the rest of Alaska)!
The first images are of a restaurant by the name of "Cafe Cups". I hear it has excellent food, but we did not eat there -- maybe next time...

We bicycled around town a lot, and being avid readers, the family stopped by the Homer Bookstore. I just love the wooden sculpture of the "Reader" on the bookstore's front porch.

The Salty Dog Saloon is sort of a landmark on the Homer "Spit" (a tongue of land that sticks out into the bay -- you can see it on the postcard picture at the top of this post). The spit is where the tourists hang out, and we went there for halibut fish and chips.

Here a few pictures to capture some of the funkiness of the town. I don't know if it's the truck or its contents that's for sale (coal gathered on the local beach), or how regular rune readings differ from mini rune readings -- but I do know that this town has character!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Small-town Alaska: Hope

This is my very first entry participating in the Small Town Sunday blog challenge (see Wendy's Small Town post for details).

My pictures are of a very small Alaskan town (in fact, it's population is a mere 137 souls), and it has the wonderful name of Hope, Alaska.

The town of Hope was founded in 1896 when gold was discovered at Resurrection Creek. It is located on the Kenai peninsula side of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, more or less right across from Girdwood (home of the Alyeska Ski Resort). The 1964 earthquake destroyed much of the area.

Here's Main Street: Cafe and Social Hall.

We camped at Hope over Memorial Day weekend: the National Forest campground is located on a bluff, which overlooks the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet. This inlet has amazing tides (daily difference of some 30 feet) -- take a closer look at high tide vs. low tide by double-clicking on the photos.

Kids had fun skateboarding at the campground (yes, their mean parents insist on helmets). We took a nice hike on the Gull Rock Trail, where Youngest climbed a downed spruce (this area was heavily hit by the spruce bark beetle outbreak in the late 1990's).

After 2 nights at Hope, we headed South to Homer -- pictures to follow soon.

Raised bed garden pictures

Finally, got the camera downloaded, and here's some pictures of our new vegetable beds.

We started building them mid-May: here's youngest daughter, dramatically watering her very own vegetable box: hers is the one with the bamboo tipi for the peas to climb. Notice the plastic behind the second box -- we still had fairly cold nights in May, and I tucked them in every night until right before Memorial Day.
As you can see, we naively starting the project with store-bought soil -- but we quickly realized how expensive that would get, and found other sources of topsoil and manure (see post Gardening with animal excrements).

Now forward 3 weeks, and you can see how much the veggies have grown. I've already harvested the outer leaves of the Bok Choi!

Next, here are my potatoes, enjoying a lovely to-dressing of horse manure.

And lastly, take a look at our attempt to keep the moose out of the brassica family (cabbages, kale, etc) -- Moose are very fond of raiding cabbage patches (typically the night before the harvest), so we're hoping this set-up (frame with removable mesh on top) will at least keep honest moose out of mischief -- although I fear that a determined moose will be able to "dine" if they tried hard enough. I hear moose are deterred by soap, so I might attach some bars of soap to the front of the box.
Wish us luck!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Is there such a thing as gift-receiving etiquette? Or more specifically, a gift-rejecting etiquette?

Eldest, my daughter, was recently presented with a gift that she felt she could not accept. The gift was one that she really liked -- making this even more of moral dilemma than it would have been with something less desirable.
How in the world does one deal with that: accepting it would have been wrong, she felt, but rejecting it would definitely hurt the feelings of the gift-giver!

Without going into any details -- it basically involved a very expensive gift from a young man she barely knows, whom she feels she does not want to be "indebted" to -- what is the best way of dealing with such a situation?!?

I think my daughter handled the situation the best she could -- she returned the gift, but tried to stay kind, and, as she put it, avoiding any "high drama". But she also took off packing, so to speak -- there's no pretending nothing happened.
Ultimately, in a case like this, it causes the relationship to fundamentally change: it can never be same -- this is a situation where there is no going back to how it was before!

The guy made a mistake, one could say, or even go as far as berating him: "What an inappropriate gift! Did you think you could buy this young woman's affections?".

Photo credit: Marie Claire

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tales of Gardening with animal excrements

Been doing lots of gardening (instead of blogging), and loving it.
Every day after work I'm digging in my garden, which means I get my hands dirty with soil and all kinds of organic matter, which entails a fair amount of manure -- a fancy word for animal shit.

Wikipedia defines Manure as organic fertilizer: "Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients, such as nitrogen that is trapped by bacteria in the soil. Higher organisms then feed on the fungi and bacteria in a chain of life that comprises the soil food web."

I love teaching about the soil food web for my job, and now I'm really getting into practicing manipulating it in my garden!

We now have 5 brand-new vegetable beds on top of the glacial till that passes for our backyard. And best of all, I've managed to fill them all with something other than rocks (I will post some pix soon, I promise)!
Yes, for the first 2 beds I did spend big bucks at the greenhouse for several bags of soil, but that got expensive -- so I started looking at alternatives. I starting digging some soil from the surrounding forest, and from a former flower bed that is now covered by our expanded deck. I also keep harvesting castings (poop) from my worm bins. But most significantly, Eldest and I and hauled a pick-up load of horse manure that was free at a local stable, plus she arranged another load of topsoil/compost from a friend in the Valley.

I'm really "into" organic gardening, and therefore I garden with animal excrements. My favorite sources: worms, chicken and horses.

The worms are doing a wonderful job turning my kitchen waste into compost. It's been easy as pie: every couple of days the kids take the kitchen scraps (vegetables, etc) to the garage, where we always have a couple of big Rubbermaid boxes that serve as worm boxes -- all they need is some bedding (newspaper), moisture (not too much) and air (holes drilled into the box). All the work is done by the thousands of red wigglers, and it doesn't even smell bad at all!
When I need compost, I just "harvest".

The horse manure we got is also great. It's from this past winter, but seems to have aged enough not to have any pungent aroma. The stuff we picked up for free was basically horse turds with lots of straw and wood chips. I mixed a lot of it into my new garden beds, and also started using it for a top dressing on the potatoes -- I'll see how that works! I doubt it's any richer than grass clippings (which makes a great mulch, as long as it's not full of weed seeds!), so hopefully I won't be "burning" my veggies... I do break up the horse turds along the way (I actually enjoy that -- yes, it's a little weird), and so far the veggies are growing wonderfully.
Wish me luck!