Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Germany!

Today is my last day in Germany. Appropriately, it is raining -- but I did have some beautiful warm fall weather during my 2.5 week stay. I'll be sad to leave, especially since I don't get to see my parents and siblings very often, but I'm also happy to be heading back to Alaska. I miss my husband and kids, and even the cold (they have 5" of snow already).

I'm going to miss speaking German.
I'll miss the food, especially breads and cakes (but I'll be eating healthier at home).
I won't miss the crowds of people.
I'll miss the cultural opportunities, especially classical music.
I won't miss German toilets.
I'll miss hearing the large variety of dialects and languages spoken.
I won't miss how little space there is here: streets, parking spots, kitchens, etc.
I'll miss how environmentally conscious the typical German is; at least compared to the average Americans.
I'll miss the fact that one can get most anywhere by public transport or bicycle.
I'll miss the food (I already said that), and the wine and beer!

Most of all, I will miss my German family!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Where the witches dance

Every morning here in Germany I head into the forest behind my parents' home and take a brisk walk. I love being alone in the woods, inhaling the scent of decaying fall foliage, (as opposed to the car exhausts on the streets and Autobahn) . As I walk/jog along, I pass several old bomb craters from WW2 and remains of old bunkers, a reminder of the many battles fought along the German-French border.

There are lots of different paths in these woods, but they all lead to a clearing called the "Hexentanzplatz" (where the witches dance), which also features an old stone monument from the time of the Romans. I' m amazed at all the history I'm surrounded by -- every piece of ground here has been inhabited, and probably fought over, for thousands of years.
An American who lives here told me this story: A German was telling her about a building that was very old, bragging "This is older than your country!". She jokingly retorted something along the line of "What if I don't care?". The German responded with "See, that right there is the problem with you Americans!"

Well, I am in awe of all the history that surrounds me here in Germany -- but I can also see how history/tradition/religion/culture can be used as an excuse for not changing, for hanging on to old prejudices. When I recently spoke with a cousin who is rather unconventional, she quibbed "During the Middle Ages they would have burned me as a witch!" I thought that was a strange thing to say, not something that I give much thought to in my daily life. On a tour of a nearby town the next day she pointed out a basket suspended above the river that was used to dunk witches or other dissenters until they drowned (if they survived it was considered proof of sorcery, and if they didn't, o well!).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taking care of friendships

There is a German expression: "Freudschaften pflegen" which translates loosely to taking care of friendships. But the word pflegen (=caring) implies a level of care that is more along the line of nursing or even healing. And indeed, Germans do treat friendships very differently from mere acquaintances ("Bekanntschaft" in German).
Blogger Amiexpat wrote recently about making friends in Germany, and I found the discussion very interesting. Americans are quick to make friends while Germans take it very slow and steady -- it often takes years before they decide to use first names and use "Du" instead of the formal "Sie". It is also true in both countries that as we get older we have a more difficult time making friends -- for some people in both the US and Germany, the only close friendships are those made in school/university years. I think that is sad: especially given how much more mobile society is becoming, many become lonelier as friends move away or pass on.

I have not always been good in the "Freundschaft pflegen" department: not only have I moved a lot, but have not been the best at correspondence or picking up the phone. Facebook has helped me (and many others) reconnect with old friends who we've lost touch with -- but Facebook per se is no substitute for friendships, but only a first step in re-connecting.
Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a day with an old highschool friend from the Philippines. We had found each other on Facebook after some 30-odd years, and since she lives in Belgium now, we we able to meet up during my Germany visit. It was GREAT-- we found that we had a great deal in common (besides our gray hair we both refuse to dye). Sometimes old friends grow apart over time (becoming fundamentalist Christians, greedy businessmen/women, or even Tea Party Republicans) -- but luckily my friend is none of those!
And now I've got some serious Belgian chocolate to haul back in my suitcase. Thanks Meg!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dirndls: old, new and recycled

Yesterday my "Tante" and I went into downtown Munich to go Dirndl-shopping.

What's a dirndl, you may ask. Originally, the word "Dirn" referred to a young girl, but eventually "Dirndl" became the name of the traditional dress worn by girls in the Alps, Southern Germany and Austria. The dress traditionally consists of a blouse, bodice, skirt and apron. How the apron is tied has important symbolism: tied on the front on the wearer's right means she is "taken" (married or engaged), whereas tied on the left means she's available. Somewhere I heard that when tied on the back, the wearer is widowed -- so make sure you don't get this important fashion detail wrong!

My eldest daughter went to Oktoberfest with my sister's family last year when she visited Munich. This October, I dug out my old dirnlds for our Alaskan Oktoberfest (see photos here), and Eldest had so much fun wearing my old dirndl that she asked me to bring her back a dirndl from this Germany trip. But not one that modestly buttons way up to the collar -- no, siree! Rather, Eldest wants a traditional dirndl that displays the goods, where tying the apron strings on the left will bring the desired results!

A genuine dirndl can be pricey. My sister had found a lovely dirndl at a second-hand store called "Resales", and that's where my Tante and I went on my last day in Munich. And we did find a lovely silk dirndl for Eldest (new, but reduced to 79 Euros).

Then we started looking for a dirndl for me! First I tried on some dresses that made me look like a good matronly German Hausfrau! But then we did find a used dirnld for 19 Euros that made even me look sexy -- all I need now is a proper bra to let this dirndl shine in its full glory -- I'm sure the bra will cost more than the dirndl!

Lastly I need to tell you a German wartime story: My grandmother, who fled from the Russians invading Berlin with 5 small children, did manage to bring along her sewing machine. After the war, she took apart a Nazi flag (red background, white circle and black swastika), and sewed dirndl for her 3 girls from the material!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Munich with my favorite aunt

The last couple of days I spent in the Bavarian capital, München: my sister lives here with her family. After a whirlwind get-together with her family, they've flown the coop, and now it's just my "Tante" and I. As is so often the case with my extended German family, it's been well over a decade since I've seen her, as she lives way up North in Hamburg. It was great to spend quality time with her -- the kind you get only during long walks or car rides, or in the evening after everybody else has gone to bed!

My Tante and I are having a wonderful time. She's my mother's youngest sister: energetic, eccentric, funny but also very insightful. She and I drove to the Altmühltal where one of my many cousins lives on a farm. I promise I'll post pictures and write about that visit at a later point -- a sweet great-niece (nearly 3 years old), pigs, horses, mother-in-law stories -- it was a great visit!
Today we returned to Munich (and only got lost once on the Autobahn), and then got together for "Kaffeetrinken" with a blogging pal of mine, Honeypiehorse of Our Feet are the Same. This is only the 2nd time I've met a blogging acquaintance, and once again, it was really fun!

Honeypiehorse (HPH for short) is a literal translation of "Honigkuchenpferd" -- something that only a German would understand! HPH is American (Californian) and lives in Munich with her German (Bavarian) husband and 2.7 children. I found her blog when I started blogging a few years ago, and it is definitely one of my favorites! She's an amazing woman: I admire anybody who can learn not only our crazy language (which she speaks "ausgezeichnet"), but our culture as well. I'm so glad we met, and that my Tante from Hamburg was willing to venture driving Munich's "Mittlere Ring" during rush hour. DANKESCHÖN.

Frühsport with Yodeling

Every morning my father and I took a brisk walk in the forested hill behind my parent's house.
Our last morning together before his trip there was a dense fog in the whole valley, and we kept climbing higher and higher through the beech-oak forest to get above the fog. The sun was shining by the time we got to the top, the Schwarzenburger Turm. We climbed the tower and had a wonderful view of the surroundings -- you'll have to wait until I get back home and download the pictures to see!
On our way back down the stairs we passed an elderly gentleman and said "Guten Morgen!". We had nearly gotten to the entrance when we heard him yodeling at the top -- an amazing sound with all the echos of the tower's stairwell.
And the Saarland is not anywhere near the Alps -- but the tower worked perfectly!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Humor from Cologne

My father is "Kölsch" -- which means from the city of Köln am Rhein (Cologne/Rhine). He is a very serious German and speaks standard or "High" German, but once you get a few glasses of wine into him, his more light-hearted side and the Kölsch dialect from his childhood start to emerge.

I too was born in Köln, but moved away as a wee little lassie. Perhaps I'm so serious (straight-laced) because I did not spend enough time in Köln or the Rhineland...?

Next to my father's computer, there are some "Ground Rules for Life" consisting of expressions in the Kölsch dialect, in red following the "Hochdeutsch" or High German, then my English translation below. Part of what makes this funny is the contract between the high-fallooting (sp?) High German and the simple Kölsch expressions.

Artikel 1: Sieh den Tatsachen ins Auge. Et es wie et es!
Look facts in the eye. Kölsch literally: It is what it is! /Things are what they are!

Artikel 2: Habe keine Angst vor der Zukunft. Et kütt wie es kütt!
Don't be afraid of the future. Kölsch literally: It comes as it comes!

Artikel 3: Lerne aus der Vergangenheit. Et hätt noch immer jot jejange!
Learn from the past. Kölsch literally: It went well -- barely!

Artikel 4: Jemmere den Dingen nicht nach. Wat fott es, es fott!
Don't mourn for things that are gone. What is gone, is gone!

Artikel 5: Sei offen fuer Neuerungen. Et bliev nix wie es wor!
Be open to new things. Nothing stays as it was!

Artikel 6: Sei kritisch, wenn Neuerungen überhand nehmen.
Kenne mer nit, bruche mer nit, fott domet!
Be critical of new things. Don't know it, we don't need it, get rid of it!

Artikel 7: Füge Dich in dein Schicksal. Wat wellste maache!
Accept your fate. Whatcha gonna do!

Artikel 8: Achte auf deine Gesundheit. Maach et jot, ävver nit ze of!
Take care of your health. Do the right thing, but not too often!

Artikel 9: Stelle immer zuerst die Universalfrage. Wat sull dä Quatsch!
First ask the universal question. What is this nonsense!

Artikel 10: Komm dem Gebot der Gastfreundschaft nach. Drinkste ene met!
Follow the rule of hospitality. Have a drink with us!

Artikel 11: Beware dir eine gesunde Einstellung zum Humor. Do laachs de dich kapott!
Keep a good sense of humor. Laugh till you break!

Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland

I made it to old Germanz (the y & z are reversed on the German keyboard -- causing me to constantly mistype)! Still it's easier and cheaper than using my iphone without wireless!

My brother picked me up in Frankfurt and I was going to stay 2 nights, but an impending strike by railroad workers made me decide to hop on the train the next morning and get to parents' house while the transportation system was still running uninterrupted. I arrived in Saarbrücken just fine, albeit still jet-lagged -- although there is no direct connection between the 2 towns and I had to transfer several times, everything went smoothly with German efficiency and punctuality.

It's good to be "zuhause" or home, but of course "home" now is in Alaska with mz husband and children. We talked this morning on the phone (their bedtime), and they just got their first snow (brrr!). Here we have beautiful fall weather with frost and fog in the morning, then sunny during the day. My father and I just took a nice walk through the beech forest on the hill behind their house. My mom and I got to sewing/quilting right away and I'm thoroughly enjoying all the pastries, bread, cheeses and Wurst -- seems like it is always mealtime, "Brotzeit" or "Kaffeetrinken".

I'm starting to work on a list of "Best and Worst" of being back in Germany, and I already know that toilets feature on the latter. I'm loving the beauty of the countryside: the quaint houses and gardens (often build into the hillside making use of every last square meter) and the churchtower in the middle of town, often with an old castle overlooking the village. I have a feeling that I'll be looking like a tourist everywhere with my camera -- it's an interesting experience documenting one's childhood turf as an adult!

Tschüss! Bis bald...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oktober and Germany

Oktober and Germany go together like beer and brats!

I'm very excited to be flying to the "Old Country" at the end of this week to visit my family. Alas, I'm leaving behind my own husband and kids.

Here are some pictures from last weekend's Oktoberfest: My girls and I dressed up in our dirndls, the traditional German/Bavarian dress.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My baby is a TEEN!!!

Youngest turned 13 today, and is thus officially a TEEN.
Seems like yesterday when she was a red-cheeked toddler calling "Mommy", and now she calls me "Mom".

My sweet daughter: You're such a gift, such a wonderful loving person. Keep up your positive outlook on life!

I love you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Technology catches up with an old lady...

If it weren't for our kids, I'd probably be completely stuck in the last century, like using paper and pen to communicate!
We now took the BIG plunge and became an i-phone family. Youngest is turning 13 this week, and is ready for her very own cell phone -- and this forced the issue we had been debating for a while: "to switch or not to switch?"
Well, we did switch! Now the whole damn family has i-phones, and we can not only call or text, but also check emails, surf the web, facebook, listen to i-tunes, navigate using GPS location/street maps, take and share photos...

Our oldest daughter spent the last 6 months hiking the PCT, and I've been amazed at what all she can do per i-phone, even posting entries on her blog! Hubby pointed out to me that i-phones are the equivalent of a digital Swiss Army knife: one tool does everything. Nifty!

Now, I need to learn how to use it!!! Luckily, I got kids...
PS (very embarrassing): I only learned to retrieve text messages on my old cell phone yesterday -- I've got a long way to go....

Friday, October 8, 2010

Is Yoga Un-christian? and who cares...

A Baptist minister has been making news lately with his assertion that the practice of yoga is un-christian. Reverend Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warns Christians of failing to see the "contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga."
How narrow-minded! As if anything that does not come down directly from the bible is automatically circumspect. I'm often aghast at the intolerance of many Americans toward non-Western culture (just look at how they treat muslims!) And this is especially strong among evangelical Christians who look at everything through just one filter, namely the bible. Rather than seeing humanity and communality between cultures, they see only "Either you're with us, or against us". How is that going to make for a better world? How arrogant to think that your world view is the only correct one!

In an article at the Huffington Post, "Calm Down Christians, Yoga is Not a Thread", author and interfaith minister Philip Goldberg traces over 100 years of history of how yoga has been perceived in America: Mohler is not the first American to warn of dire consequences! Still, the vast majority of yoga practitioners aren't doing it for any particularly religious reasons (nor are they about to be converted to Hinduisn) -- rather, it's a form of exercise with a spiritual component.

I go to yoga, and I don't go to church.
Those are not connected!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'm not much of a fair-weather blogger

Dear reader -- you may have noticed that I don't post much during the summer.
Well, now it's officially Autumn, and foul weather has arrived in South-central Alaska. We've had wind and rain the last couple of days (and snow last weekend!), and the frost has put an end to our gardening efforts.

Therefore, chances are I'll have more time to blog again now. In fact, I started blogging two years ago around this time of year. It's been fun -- I'm not at all a regular or dedicated blogger -- I only blog "when the mood strikes". After all, it's only a hobby, and one should never become a slave to a hobby!

So what am I up to these days? Well, my olderst daughter is about to return from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), roughly 2660 miles. It will probably be a difficult re-entry into "real" life, after having spent 6 months away from "regular" civilization -- probably on par to returning from a stint in a war zone or in prison, where one has gotten used to a life very different from "normal". Now she has the challenge of re-entering the job market, which has not improved a whole lot since she left...

At my own work, school class fieldtrips are slowing way down, and the Nature Center has started "winter hours". For me, that means I'll have time to bake and start quilting again -- I've agreed to make a 15th Nature Center anniversary quilt for next spring, so I better get started on that. Also, I'll be taking a trip to visit my folks in Germany later in October.

For now, I'm busy with "fall" cleaning around here (sort of the equivalent of spring cleaning): mosquito screens are taken down; the garage has been cleaned out enough to make room for the family wagon. The camper is winterized and stored, and firewood stacked for the winter. Soon, we need to change the summer tires to studded winter tires so we can drive on the ice and snow that is sure to come soon.

But not too soon!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PCT Finished!!!!

I just got a call, the gals finished the PCT tonight.
My daughter writes on facebook:
DONE! I'mdoneI'mdoneI'mDONE! Left Mexico 5.25 months and 2663.5 miles ago, hot Canada this morning. I'm thinking of getting myself a Segway so I don't have to walk anymore... Going to work on getting life a liitle put together (read: watching chick flicks, taking naps and showers) in Seattle for a few days, then home!
We're all looking forward to seeing her soon!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PCT Update: Cascades

The gals (my oldest daughter and her 2 friends) are getting close to the finish! Thanks to Satellite technology, I know that right now they are camping (wet, cold and shivering?) somewhere N of Skykomish, just S of Mount Baker. They've been hiking for nearly half a year now, for two and a half thousand miles -- I can hardly fathom it!

Even if they can't see it yet, I bet they can just about smell their goal (Canada) from there.

Why so much sugar?!?

I'm not anti-sugar, but really, why is it that American food is so super sweetened?!?

Today I bought a smoothie at the grocery store (having just finished a workout and needing something to hold me over for teaching). I usually make my own smoothies, but this morning I got out of the door and sort-of forgot to eat a substantial breakfast -- and I don't go too far on just a cup of coffee w/ biscotti.

Anyway, I bought this smoothie, a.k.a. "dairy beverage", and it was TERRIBLY sweet. Turns out to not only to contain HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) but a long list of other ingredients like sucralose and other artificial ingredients I was not familiar with, and I could not get it down. Not wanting to waste food, I later tried to "thin" it down with some OJ and plain (unsweetened) yoghurt -- what a waste -- I still could not drink the stuff. YUCK! I finally tossed it.

Been another busy day today, and for dinner Liesl made us a quick pizza using a commercial pizza sauce (the one that comes in the Bobboli pizza crust package) -- yikes, again, way too sweet!

I keep on cutting sugar out of American recipes -- last week I made zuccini muffins in an attempt to make a dent in our zuccini stash -- I ended up cutting the recipe's sugar by half! The kids never complained: it was still plenty sweet...

So if you're wondering why I don't blog much anymore -- I'm too busy gardening, working and cooking from scratch...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

PCT Update: Washington at last!

The gals have crossed the mighty Columbia River and thus stepped over the Oregon-Washington stateline. They're down to their last state on the 2600+mile through-hike.

Washington is not exactly a small state by any stretch, BUT they'll be in CANADA within the month! Hard to believe that they started at the US-Mexico border this spring!?!?

For you Germans out there, what she's got left is the equivalent of hiking from the Southern border of Germany to Denmark!

Falleri, Fallera...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where did August go?

It's the 1st of September, and fall is definitely in the air !!!
Leaves are starting to turn color, and we're hearing Sandhill cranes -- way up high in V-formation, heading South!
This past month has just flown by: first 2 weeks of August we spend visiting hubby's folks in South Dakota, with a short stop in Colorado. Upon our return to RAINY Alaska (records have been set -- longest consecutive period of rain) -- we dove back into school/work and music. The kids participated in a 2-week marathon Chamber Music Festival, which culminated in 4 concerts last week, which were wonderful!
But, we're exhausted!

Someday, hopefully before the snow falls, I plan to post pictures -- I took alot, but now I've got to find the time to "wade" thru them...

Over Labor Day we're hoping to go camping nearby (weather permitting), with Wolfman recovering from the removal of 3 wisdom teeth -- that takes place tomorrow!


Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Clouds will continue... until Morale improves!

It's been a very cloudy, cool and rainy July.
Even the hardiest Alaskans are complaining -- the lack of sunshine is getting everybody down.

I'd have to check with the resident climatologist (he's asleep right now), but I doubt this summer has set any records for nastiness -- it's just a cooler summer than we'd like.
But just think of the advantages a summer like this offers:

1) No sunburn, no cancer

2) Less people on the trails

3) Best lighting for photographing flowers and landscapes

Time to stop complaining, and get outside!
The word "outside" has 2 meanings in these parts -- when written lower-case, we mean "outdoors", when written upper-case, it means "out of state", a.k.a. taking an airplane to the lower 48 (which is what we're just about to do!)

Like the saying goes: "The warmest winter I've known was a summer spent in Alaska!"

Monday, July 26, 2010

PCT update: Northern California

The PCT hikers are now in Chester, Northern California. The longest state is soon through-hiked (that's PCT-talk), and there's only 2 more to go: OR and WA... The goal is to get to Canada before snowfall (but then again, their team name is "Djibouti or Bust")...

I'm happy to report that my daughter's foot is all better. I've been receiving packages of stuff she no longer needs now that they're past the high Sierra, The other day I received an ice axe in the mail, just wrapped in newspaper and packaging tape -- truly the strangest item I ever received in the US mail!

Meanwhile, our family is packing for our own adventure: vacation in South Dakota, where hubby's family lives. No ice axes needed for the Black Hills, however!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kitchen chores -- as done by house elves

In our household, kitchen chores get done by house elves, even though our last name is not Malfoy! For those few of you who may not know what house elves are: they're servants (more like slaves) in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Dobby (pictured), is a house elf. Beloved by many a Harry Potter fan, with his big eyes, big ears, and heart of gold, he saves Harry Potter's life numerous times, ultimately dying for him in the last book (sob!)

But back to kitchen chores, like parents all over the world, we've struggled to find a good arrangement for our young brood to help with the daily kitchen chores. Somebody's got to do the dishes, and besides, it builds character! The obvious one was for the kids to take turns: today it's your turn, tomorrow your sister, etc... And they, in turn, started referring to their assigned day as "house elf" day, reflecting the fact that in their own minds, having been assigned to wash dishes was just shy of slavery!

But there was always squabbling, and they begged us to revise the system. For one thing, each child seemed to feel very "put out" when the other did not have to do any chores on that particular day (nothing is worse than having to do chores while your sibling is watching!). SO, they kept on wanting to change the system, and after a while we reluctantly agreed, ok, why don't you come up with your own system!

Here is what they came up with -- yes, it's complicated, but they seem satisfied, and it works!
1st day (Monday): The "Clean" house elf empties the dishwasher and sets the table -- in other words, takes care of the clean dishes and helps with dinner prep. The "Dirty" house elf clears the table, helps put food away, and loads the dishwasher (not their favorite job!!!).
Next day: reverse

Simple enough, but how about the trash? To a parent that sounds like a clear-cut job for the "dirty" house elf -- but even that got more finely sub-divided: there's the actual carrying of the trash to the garage ("dirty" job"), putting in the new liner, and doing the recycling ("clean").

I admit that we parents did some eye-rolling at all the negotiating that takes place, but I now realize a couple of important things:
#1 they're doing it, with less reluctance than when we assigned their tasks point-blank.
#2 they like each other's company -- and they're often found negotiating finer points among themselves, like "If you can put that pan away and refill the ice cube tray, then I'll scrub the pancake mess off the counter, and then we can make cookies together after dinner..."
#3 there's power in self-determination- even among mere house elves!

Friday, July 16, 2010

PCT update: Putting up feet in Tahoe

The gals are resting at Lake Tahoe, having hiked over 1000 miles -- mindboggling, isn't it? My daughter hurt her foot and is needing to let it rest and heal for a spell. She writes:
Crunched foot joint has taken me off the trail for a few miles and a few days. I want to be sad that I won't be "true to the through" but I'd rather sacrifice these 50 miles and my hike's purity than my chances of finishing the next 1600 miles of the hike. I simply redefine 'success' for this endeavor from "Hiking the PCT" to "Hiking a vast majority of the PCT without doing anything too stupid."
I'm glad that she chose rest -- and I wish I could be in Tahoe to spend some time with her! Instead, my good friend Patti gets to spoil her instead of me...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No TV?!? Dude, you're weird!

We're having a great summer here. Cool, but not too rainy. Kids are keeping busy, outdoors and indoors, and they're getting along great (for the most part). And they're not watching any TV.

Just picked up Youngest from Music Camp yesterday.
She related this comment from a fellow camper, upon hearing there's no TV in her life:
"No TV, really? Do you have X-Box? Wii?"
"Dude, you're weird!"

Photo credit: http://www.rebelart.net

The Prof, a.k.a. husband, just got back from a conference, and he too had a conversation with a fellow "camper" about our TV-free household:
"I bet you don't have any kids."
"Actually, I do. Teens."
"What do they think of not having any TV!?!"
"They're jiggy with it."

And indeed, our kids are truly fine without a TV, never having had one around -- and they wouldn't want it any other way. They to get to watch movies on DVD (we even have BluRay, so we're not entirely last-century), but they don't feel like they're missing out on anything by not having cable or network TV.
HONEST. It is possible to raise kids without TV!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sunshine at last... and feeling safe in bear country...

Today the weather has been GORGEOUS -- one of those days that makes up for about a month-worth of Alaskan winter snow/ice/rain. Only yesterday was I blogging on my food/gardening blog, Borealkitchen, about how it's hardly worth growing tomatoes here in Alaska -- but today the sun seems to be saying "Hey Alaska, I can shine!!!"

At the Nature Center I now get many groups of summer camp kids -- it's so much fun taking them on walks and teaching them about geology, plants, animals, etc. But mostly, just to watch them discover things along the hike: a butterfly or caterpillar, some red berries (are they safe to eat?), a hole in the ground (who lives there?)...
Some of these kids are rather urban, and are scared we might encounter a bear and moose. Today I had this one little 5-year old who held tight to my hand during the walk, and kept on asking me about bears. "If the bears here are wild, will they attack us?" -- No, they just want to be left alone, and we'll make lots of noise and they won't get near us. "So your bears here are nice?" -- Well, yes, I suppose! They seem to know to stay away from people...
After re-assuring her some more and confirming that I carry bear spray and a radio, she said "So your job is to protect us and keep us safe."

Never thought of it in those terms, but yes, my job is to take kids out into nature, give them a chance to explore, and also, to help them gain a sense of SAFETY about being in the outdoors.

Photocredit: http://dadomatic.com

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to tell people I blog

I've been blogging for a while now, and enjoy it!
I started with the idea of keeping far-away friends and family posted on what's going on in my life (and in my head), but blogging has become something I'm doing because I enjoy writing, for myself, for the sake of writing: getting words on cyber-paper JUST BECAUSE. I write 2 blogs actually, and it's more likely the recipe/food blog that I might mention. But when I tell a friend or co-worker "the recipe is on my blog", I often get a funny look or stunned silence -- why that reaction to blogging?

I read a recent post on this subject by Ian (a Canadian living in Hamburg, Germany) who's blog is called Letters Home to You. I enjoy reading it, and he recently posted "How to tell people you're a blogger".
I know it’s not as if I’ve grown a second head or have one of those dumb-looking disks dangling from my earlobes, but still I hesitated before telling them. ...None of it needs any justification, rationalisation or explanation. It is what it is. So yeah, I’ve been blogging, but I’m still OK.
I do so agree with him. Blogging needs no justification. It's a personal choice, a hobby.
Some people scrapbook, others write letters to the editor of the local newspaper. Some people like to forward emails to everybody whenever they come across a funny picture or a worthwhile cause. Others post frequently on twitter or facebook, or post snapshots on picasa or blipfoto. Some people blog...

What I enjoy is having found an outlet for writing, for ideas, for discussing what matters to me, such as the environment, or good food! A lot is about my family, and perhaps that interests nobody but my family -- fair enough! Nobody has to read my blog -- hey, it's o.k. by me.
I blog because I enjoy it. PURE AND SIMPLE.

photocredit: http://www.gigglepoetry.com/poem_illustrations/405.jpg
accompanying the poem'The Two-headed Monster" by Darren Sardelli

Saturday, June 26, 2010

PCT update: Snowy Sierra

The team is now 3 twenty-something girls, and they call themselves "Djibouti Booty". Trailnames and hiking groups are changing frequently, but they've seemed to have settled into a nice little female core group, and currently they are known as Thump-thump, Microbust and Sweet 16.

Now the stretches of the PCT hike between points of civilization are getting longer & snowier: I just heard from my daughter while resupplying in Independence/ Lone Pine, CA. They had just climbed Mount Whitney, 14,500 ft. WOW!

From what I gather, they are getting incredibly strong, sun-burned, and are constantly thinking about food -- it's difficult to carry enough calories for the 7-10 days stretches of that kind of exertion...

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's my "Take the cubs to Work" SUMMER

You've heard of "Take your Child to Work Day", haven't you?

This summer I'm incredibly lucky -- Wolfman and Liesl have been coming to work with me once or twice every week, ever since school let out.

Sometimes they go on a hike first, but afterwards they help at the front desk: taking parking fees and making change, helping the other staff & me with whatever is needed, and of course, answering the 2 most ubiquitous nature-related questions:

Where are the bathrooms?
Are there any bears?
(Last year a resident volunteer wrote a whole song about this!)

The only scary part of this is (no, it's not them hiking the trails alone in bear country), but the fact that the 16-year old is doing the DRIVING!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

PCT Update: High Sierras - watch out, here she comes!

My daughter and her friends (the 3 musketeers), a.k.a. " Djibouti or Bust" have crossed the last section of the Mojave Desert after their rest in Agua Dulce. They've resupplied in Tehachapi, and are currently ascending Walker Pass... soon to arrive at Kennedy Meadows (Mile 703).

This is where they start getting into more serious High Sierra hiking! There's concern over how much snow they'll encounter. Plus, my daughter is always on the lookout for handsome and rugged men with beards -- like this one!

What an adventure, and less than 2000 miles to go...

Photo credit: http://www.ventureforth.co.za

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What constitutes a HOT day in Alaska?

First of all, let me assure those of you from outside Alaska that we don't live in Igloos -- in fact, we live in the proverbial Banana Belt of our fair state. It does actually get hot here -- well, sort of!
How hot?

1.) We do occasionally wear shorts (some do as soon as the snow starts melting).
2.) Our kids do occasionally run through the sprinkler -- a rarity, admitted, but it did happen today!
3.) When it gets really hot, we even drag out a fan to cool down the bedroom at night -- as you may guess, nobody has air conditioning here.

Today was HOT -- I started gardening as soon as I got up (to avoid the hot part of the day, but mostly, because I did have to go to work later). As I was working in my sadly neglected flower bed, I kept finding the remains of some old candles that had fallen down from the deck at Christmas and had been covered in snow until early May. I piled them up on the stairs, and this afternoon when I got home, there was a wax puddle. Now that's HOT for Alaska!

Our high today was a whopping 77 degrees, which might be as hot as it gets for the whole summer. And that's just fine by me!

Photocredit: http://blog.kidsurplus.com

Monday, May 31, 2010

PCT Update: pictures & baking up a storm

The PCT crew (they're now hiking in a group of 4) are spending some "Zero Days" over the Memorial Day weekend, resting in Agua Dulce, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, not far from Edwards Airforce Base. Sounds like people who live along the PCT are incredibly friendly and helpful -- it's just amazing!

My daughter, Eldest (for lack of a better name -- as her trailname keeps changing) has just updated Mile 454 on her blog, Kitchensister, and if you want to see some great pictures and video clips from the trail, click directly on the upper row of her pictures, or on "View my Gallery" -- this takes you to her Picasa album.
Phone reception is not great, but we did talk recently (there was some confusion and hurt feelings over a request for replacement of gear, resulting in me spending last Friday afternoon on an expensive shopping trip to REI that was not needed after all, but all is forgiven now!)

So now Liesl (Youngest) and I have turned our kitchen into a production center for Backpacking Breakfast bars: see my other blog, Borealkitchen, for details and recipes. The two of us are having soooo much fun developing recipes, catchy names, and packaging for these bars -- our menfolk are rolling their eyes, but seem to be plenty willing to give opinions and taste-test...

Move over, commercial bars, we got our own brand-names:

A-Bar: Awesome Alaska Bar
baked bar containing oats, cranberries, pecans, pumpkin seeds, flax & sesame seeds.

T-Bar: Truly Tropical Bar
contains Oats, Mango, Apricots, cashews, almonds, almond butter, honey, crystallized ginger.

O-Bar: Ominous* Oat-Carob Bar
contains Oats, carob, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almond butter, honey
*this name is due partially to the ominous brown color, and the fact that carob is NOT popular in this household

That's as far as we've gotten so far, but we've got lots more ideas:

B-Bar: Bravo Blueberry Bar

P-Bar: Perfect Pumpkin Bar

M-Bar: Mom's Apple Pie Bar

any suggestions?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

When I'm old...

Youngest (a young woman now!) is very aware of time and passages right now -- today is her last day of childhood, or at least, of elementary school. She graduates from 6th grade today and is then officially in Junior High!
She told me the other day: "When I'm old, like 50, I want to be like you. And also like my teacher, Mrs.A -- she's training for a 50 K now. For both of you, exercise and health are important, and you don't feel old. That's how I want to be!'"

What a compliment!
I turn 50 this year (disclaimer: I am not training for a 50K), but I do keep active, and I certainly don't feel OLD.

Digression: My grandmother, when she turned 50, stopped wearing a bathing suit in public! She would have considered it "indecent exposure"!

Photo credit: http://wolfeyebrows.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/lady-in-her-swim-suit.jpg

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Semantics: Naturist vs. Naturalist

My job title is Naturalist, which is defined as an expert in Natural History.
Not to be confused with Naturist, which is somebody who likes to go nude, i.e. wear no clothes.

Today's Anchorage Daily News has an article about Nude hiking in Alaska -- not exactly a trend I see catching on big-time, given our state's abundant crop in mosquitoes...!

But I better be extra clear, pronunciation-wise, when I describe myself as a naturalist. And specify that I do wear clothes, which naturists refer to as "textiled".

Picture Credit: http://www.dw-world.de
accompanying article that reports nude hiking has been banned in the Swiss Canton of Appenzell.

Monday, May 17, 2010

PCT Update: San Bernadino Nat'l Forest

As best as I can tell, the PCT gals are currently hiking through the San Bernadino Nat'l Forest (photocredit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons). They are now somewhere North of Lake Arrowhead, roughly between the town of San Bernadino and the Mojave Desert town of Victorville (Route 66 went through there). They might have stopped at the Hot Springs at Deep Creek, and will soon be hiking along the San Andreas Rift Zone, after crossing Interstate 15 at Cajon Pass near Silverville Lake. Within a day or 2, I expect them to call while re-supplying in Wrightwood -- meanwhile, I just wish they would remember to "push the button" on the SPOT every night!!!

Digression: The SPOT is a Satellite GPS Personal Tracking device, and lets loved one such as WORRIED MOMS, check on the progress of somebody hiking in a remote wilderness. The Prof (my husband) is starting to grumble when I keep on checking the computer late at night and first thing in the morning, and worriedly report that the SPOT hasn't been activated in over 24 hours. "Just think, in the old days, you wouldn't have heard from them for 5 days at a time, and been just fine with a weekly phone call!" EOD

After Wrightwood (near Big Pines and the Mountain High Ski Resort), the PCT passes through the San Gabriel Mountains and descends to Highway 14 at Agua Dulce. The next stretch takes them through the longest dry stretch (western arm of the Mojave Desert) before climbing the Tehapachi Mountains.

Right now I'm working on a care package to mail to Agua Dulce -- perhaps I should include some dehydrated water (ha, ha, ha!) for the long dry stretch!

Friday, May 14, 2010

End of schoolyear BUSY-ness

It's just been crazy around here: something going on most every single night!

We're still managing to eat dinners together, but then have to rush off:
Volleyball practice & icecream treat after -this Saturday is Pixie's last game!
String Instruments getting hauled around - lessons, recital (both kids, played beautifully last night), and Wolf's orchestra also played "Pomp and Circumstance" at High School graduation the night before.
Babysitting - Youngest is in high demand.
Phonecall - Eldest called from PCT, made it to Big Bear City, and we all talked to her for a long time. She's 1/10th of the way.
Birthdays - 3 celebrations this week.

All is well, just super BUSY!
Next week school ends, and we go CAMPING!!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Why would she work here?"

A mosquito landed on me recently while teaching outdoors. Kids can get very distracted by such things and it can be a challenge to get them refocused (forget teaching if they spot a squirrel!).
They often interrupt me with: "em, Naturelady, there's a mosquito on your forehead."
So I shoo away the mosquito, saying something like "it's just a mosquito, don't worry about it".
Soon another mosquito lands on me, and I hear the following exchange:

girl 1: Another mosquito landed on her.
girl 2: Mosquitoes don't bother her.
girl 3: Yeah, why else would she work here?
girl 1: what do you mean?
girl 3: It's a Nature Center, stupid! Mosquitoes are part of nature!

So there you have it.
If it only were that simple-- how about all the pollen that are bothering my allergies right now?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

It's a gorgeous Mother's Day here in Alaska, and we're celebrating Wolf's Birthday too, who made his appearance on another gorgeous Mother's Day 17 years ago!

The PCT gals send a pictorial Mother's Day greeting by writing I Love U in the snow along the trail.

To view, follow this link to their Picasa page, MothersDay Greeting from PCT

Misadventures on the PC Trail

The PCT gals are detouring around the snow-bound section over Fuller Ridge as recommended, and have picked up the Pacific Crest Trail at Black Mountain Road.

Their progress can be followed on SPOT -- see sidebar on this blog.
They also posted pictures from their first section the hike from Campo to Idyllwild.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly happened this morning, but I received a message from my distraught daughter after she realized she was somehow separated from her camera and Leatherman (see picture). Sounds like it was lost, or perhaps, stolen by a fellow hiker....

She's retracing her steps, and I'm trying to help out by making a bunch of phone calls (to motel in Idyllwild, and the trail angel who gave them a ride this morning). No news so far...

Besides meeting some wonderful people on the PCT, she's also finding out about the less savory side of humanity -- I guess she's learning not to trust every handsome guy she meets on the trail!

I wish her luck. The camera and leatherman might be goners, but I sure hope the rest of the day (and the trip) will turn out better!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

PCT update: too much snow!

From what I am starting to gather, the PCT North of Idyllwild is way too snowy, and the gals are going to hitchhike and get around it.
Yesterday I talked to my daughter while they were re-supplying in Idyllwild, and they did not mention anything about that. Today when I checked their location on SPOT expecting them somewhere N of Idyllwild, I was surprised to seem them backtracking back South -- WHAT WAS GOING ON?
Being a good worrier like only moms can be, I left messages for the girls along the lines of "what's going on, why are you backtracking?"
Finally I had the good sense to check the PCTA website, and found this announcement under trail updates:
On 05/04/10 PCTA received trail condition report from thru hikers; it took 9 hrs to travel about 12 miles. Fuller Ridge is still dangerous and under ice/snow with lots of exposure. They had a good topographic map and compass and had to do quite a bit of route finding and still ended up off track a few times but made it to Black Mt. Rd. late last night. PCTA is currently recommending: Hikers hitch from Idyllwild, CA on Hwy 243 North, to Black Mt. Rd. (8miles) Then, hike the 8 miles from the Black Mt. Rd./243 Junction, up to Fuller Ridge Trailhead in order to miss the dangerous section that the two hikers mentioned. (16 mile total detour ) (Black Mt. Rd. is currently closed and gated at hwy 243, but open to foot traffic). Fobes Saddle to Saddle Jct. is still under snow. Dangerous conditions exist around Apache Peak. We recommend that hikers that are not comfortable with snow travel or equipped with light mountaineering gear get off at Fobes Saddle and hitch to Black Mt. Rd. in order to bypass the dangerous conditions which exist in the San Jacinto Mts. (If traveling through the San Jacinto Mts., light mountaineering gear, a good map, compass, or G.P.S. is recommended.) For more information contact PCTA’s Idyllwild office at 951-257-4100
Now I understand -- they probably hitch-hiking to get around that stretch, perhaps even by way of Palm Springs with a visit to a spa...?!?
Still hoping to hear from them soon, as hitch-hiking makes me more nervous than them hiking thru bear country...

Update on an update -- looks like they hitchhiked do Hwy 74 and are now camping along the PCT on the same stretch they just did a couple of days ago. Maybe they're figuring on doing that stretch twice, then hitch-hike around Fuller Ridge and pick up the PCT again at Black Mtn Rd.

Enough worrying -- they're probably hoping to meet up with some cute guys that were a day behind them...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Joys of teaching... with jello

I just finished 2 days of 4th grade Geology camp, and now I can teach about glaciers in my sleep!
One of the really fun things I get to do is to demonstrate glacial action with the use of gummi bears and blue jello.

We are surrounded by glacial features in this glacier-carved valley, but few kids really understand geology because of the large time scale involved.

Around here there are many glacial erratic boulders, and there is one right near these kids' school that often gets painted by rival schools. Last week the rock was yellow, but this week it's blue!
When I ask the students if they have ever seen a glacial erratic boulder, they say "no", unaware how the yellow/blue rock got to where it is now -- what fun it is to tell them about how that rock got there -- this is the kind of thing that makes geology relevant to them. I love to be able to teach "hands-on" science, and the biggest praise I get is when a kid tell me after the lesson "I really get it now!"

For teachers out there -- here's what I do:
1) Before class, I built a mountain-valley landscape on a large tray, using crushed soda cans and the like for the mountains, then covering the whole thing with aluminum foil, and then some clear plastic wrap.
2) In the first part of the lesson I do a demonstration using gravel, carving a U-shaped valley with snow and ice, demonstrating moraines.
3) Then I get out my Aluminum-clad landscape and sprinkle a few gummi worms, telling the kids that they are rocks and boulders.
4) Next, we have us an ice age! I start piling on the blue jello spoonful after spoonful high in the "mountains", while talking about the process of firnification (how snow turns into glacial ice).
5) They watch the jello getting heavier and heavier in the mountains, until gravity starts pushing it downhill -- and the gummi "boulders" start getting pushed down the valley.

Then I have them write a little story of how their school rock got to its present location.
I remind them that the word erratic means "out-of-place", and the rock obviously does not "belong" there, in other word, did not start out there. So while the kids are all quietly writing their stories, I serve up dessert: a bowl-ful of glacier-jello with a few erratics embedded in them...

Friday, April 30, 2010

PCT update and vocab

The PCT gals has made it to Warner Springs (Milepoint 110.6), which is West of the Anza Borrego Desert, East of Hellhole Canyon and Lake Henshaw, in the Cleveland National Forest.
After re-supplying, they will continue North, crossing Highway 74 at 4,900 ft and then climbing the backbone of the San Jacinto Mountains.
The next town will be Idyllwild (PCT Milepoint 178.6), which they will reach next week, approximately May 4th.

As I'm following their progress on daughter's blog, I'm starting to learn the PCT lingo:

PCT = Pacific Crest Trail. Nobody cool ever spells this out!
Thru-hiking= Hiking the entire trail from end to end (CA-Mexico border to Canada, 2650 miles)
Resupply points= towns or post offices where hikers replenish food (from stores or packages shipped to General Delivery)
Bounce-box = Box mailed ahead to next re-supply point, such as chargers for camera, shampoo, etc.
Zero Day = A day spend not hiking: rest day
Slack-packing = not carrying your full load, such as when somebody gives your gear a lift to the next campsite, which must feel heavenly!
Ultra-light = Equipment pared down to lightest weight possible
Trail name = Nickname used while hiking the PCT
Trail magic = when people do nice things for hikers, which apparently happens alot!

And a little fun fact from the PCT website:
It was recently pointed out that fewer people have thru-hiked the PCT than have climbed Mt. Everest! Could it be that a thru-hike is tougher than climbing the tallest mountain on Earth?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dreaming of the desert flowers...

Spring is in the air, even in Alaska (nevermind that it snowed again just last week) -- and my tulips and rhubarb are up! Vicariously I'm enjoying the desert bloom, since my adventurous daughter on the PCT is currently hiking through the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and the wildflowers are supposed to still be beautiful, especially after a rainy winter in Southern California.

These photos are obviously not mine (credit goes to the official Anza Borrego website, www.parks.ca.gov).
Many many moons ago, hubby and I did camp and hike there one spring, back when our now nearly-16-year old was still in diapers -- and yes, he did end up with some cactus thorns in his tender behind at one point....

It truly is an amazing thing to see a desert in bloom!

The bears are out!

Started seeing bear prints in the snow last week. I'm definitely carrying bear spray on the job now, but I got the best protection possible: 20+ loud school children behind me... Fat chance of actually seeing one!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

...and my daughter is a Valkyrie

My older daughter, the one who's hiking the PCT (see post here) is searching for a trailname -- apparently everybody has one (or gets one), and she's considering "Valkyrie". She's also becoming known for having signed the mile 0 register as, "Looking forward to snacking, napping, and bearded men".

This past weekend was the big "PCT kick-off" at mile 20.8 in Morena, CA.
She and her hiking partner (trailname still t.b.d.), are meeting lots of interesting people! She's blogging from the trail at Kitchensister.blogspot.com

You, dear reader, might be curious about what a valkyrie is or does:
they are female figures from Norse mythology who decide who will die in battle.
All I can say is: Watch out, bearded men!

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm a Viking!

Conversation overheard behind me as I'm leading 6th graders on a fieldtrip at work yesterday:

Kid#1: She has an accent. I wonder where she's from?
Kid#2: Who? The guide?
Kid#1: Yes, of course. She talks like someone from another country.
Kid#2: You're right. I think she's like ... from Europe, maybe?
Kid#1: I know. She's from one of those countries way up there, in the North.
Kid#2: You mean, like a Viking?
Kid#1: Exactly. She's a Viking.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My daughter is tougher than your daughter!

My daughter, Eldest, is embarking tomorrow on an amazing feat: backpacking 2,650 miles (4,260 km) on the Pacific Crest Trail. It starts at Campo, CA at the border to Mexico, and ends in Manning Park, BC, Canada.

Time for me to get to blogging again (which I have been neglecting lately due to general busy-ness and a few too many good detective novels). But now I get to worry (mother's perogative) & follow my daughter's progress on this daunting task.

What posesses this child of mine, I can't say. Obviously I like nature, hiking, the outdoors, but carrying a big pack and walking 2650 miles!?! That just seems cruel on them poor feet -- but I'm supportive and admit to being very impressed nonetheless.

It's been my daughter's dream for many years, and together with her college roommate she's plotted and planned this for a few years.

Campo: April 20 is Day 0, Mile 0

Campo, CA is a small town east of San Diego (popn 3251, elev 2620 ft)
For the first 110 miles, the PCT passes through Lake Morena County Park and beneath Interstate 8, then climbs through chaparral, scrub oaks, and pines to the rim of the Laguna Mountains. They'll stop at mile 43 in Mt.Laguna, popn 80, elev 6000ft, to resupply.
The trail dips into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park at Scissors Crossing, then winds up, down, and around the San Felipe Hills and lesser mountains of the Cleveland National Forest.
(info from Wikipedia and Forest Service brochure)

Warner Springs, approx.April 30, Mile 110.6

Warner Springs, CA is a small outpost with a very limited store, which is also where my first package will reach them. From Warner Springs, the PCT continues through the Cleveland National Forest before crossing Highway 74 at 4,900’ and climbing the backbone of the San Jacinto Mountains.

For some peace of mind for the poor parents & loved ones, they'll be carrying a SPOT (Satellite Personal Orbital Tracker), which is basically a GPS tracking device. Each day, they plan to press the "I'm ok" button, and then we can follow their progress by going to

I shall try to keep you posted.
You can also follow her blog, Kitchensister, where she'll be posting her adventures along the PCT.