Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A busy few days...

Seems like it never rains but what it pours, and this past week has been no different. Not so much with actual rain (although we did get our share of that) but with being so busy all of a sudden.

We decided against going to the real actual state fair on the other side of Anchorage, because it would be a four-hour trip each way, and no dogs allowed, and we knew we couldn't leave the dogs at home without potty breaks for so long. So, we decided to go to "The Biggest Little Fair in The Kenai Peninsula" in Ninilchik instead.

Ninilchik (population just under 700) is a tiny Russian fishing village. The fair and the Russian Orthodox church on the bluff are pretty much Ninilchik's only claims to fame. [Jim is waiting to see how much of a hard time I give the fair, so I'm going to be diplomatic. I am.]

Here is the entrance to the fair. And that's about a quarter of the fairgrounds in the picture. It was a bit of a shock to see such a teeny fair attract people from all over the Peninsula. There were two exhibit buildings, one for the 4H and quilt exhibits, and one for the vendors selling crafts and whatnot. Another small barn held the 4H animals, and there was another barn for the animals being auctioned. A few tents outside were for vendors, too, and there was a corral where the rodeo and horsemanship shows would be held later in the day, but we didn't stay for those. There were also a couple small stages for music.

Here's Jim and James in the main entrance corridor.

And this is the Midway. Yep. All of it. There was a mechanical salmon ride on the other side of the fairgrounds, but this is where most of the fun 'n' games took place. That's a mechanical bull just out of frame on the right.

It was a bit odd to finish seeing the entire fair, with the exception of the rodeo and horse show, in just over an hour and a half. But, with time on our hands and being already halfway to Homer, we decided we'd go there for something to eat and to see the scenery. It got drizzly and cloudy though, so we didn't stay long in Homer and didn't bother taking any pictures.

We did stop on the way back through Ninilchik, though, to go up on the bluff to see the Russian Orthodox church that overlooks the Inlet. These churches are so pretty, and so old. I forgot when this one was built, but it's over 100 years old.

The cemetery beside the church is for veterans.

This is the view over the bluff from the church grounds. Oh, had the sky only been clearer, what a view this would have been...

Y'know, I take it back - we DID take some pictures in Homer, and I think they'll be especially interesting to my soul sister, Amy G:

The Yurt Village was not just a place that sells yurts, but there was also a collection of touristy shops inside them.
So, that was Saturday.

On Sunday, we went to a new friend's house for a cookout. It poured down rain, and 23 people were trying to fit inside his single-wide. That didn't work very well, so a couple people stayed outside pretty much the whole time manning the steaks on the grill, and nearly all of the kids stayed outside playing.

We have discovered Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and have the songs stuck in our heads. ("The world is a mess and I just want to... rule it.") Jim has watched and/or listened to it four or five times. I'm only admitting to twice. Okay, two and a half times. *

Monday, classes started for James. He's taking Beginning Japanese Cooking and Intro to Business Management at Kenai Peninsula College, which is a division of University of Anchorage. He's also doing a distance class on website design at Collin College back in Texas.

Tuesday, I went to a class on making jam with the same ladies who taught the salmon canning class. Only one person attending had never made jam (and it wasn't me), so there wasn't a lot of learning to do, mostly just seeing how someone else does things.

Today, Wednesday, I visited the Redoubt Homemaker's Club meeting. Many of the ladies who come to the classes are members of RHC, and they've all been very nice to me, so I tagged along. The main focus of the meeting today was planning out the activities and fundraisers for the rest of the year, but it was still nice to get to visit and get to know the other ladies better. I'm not sure if I'll join, but I'm leaning towards joining for a little while at least. I may not be up to THAT much volunteering.

Okay, so, we have a couple days of "leisure" and then on Saturday we're planning to go to Industry Day over near the Kenai airport and see what-all's going on there. Evidently it's a community appreciation event that the petroleum companies and the local government throw with a lot of free food and stuff. Never pass up free food. ;^)

* Captain Hammer makes some sexual comments so don't watch it with your small children. Thanks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moya's Day Out

Ah, today was one of those days when just being outside makes you glad to be alive. Except for having to go to the warehouse store for more dog food, but you do what you gotta do, right?

James and I took Moya with us on our errands, which has become the norm for any outing that involves the two of us. On a day so pretty, and so clear, it was too hard not to divert ourselves a bit and enjoy the scenery.

Here's James and Moya at the scenic overlook off Bridge Access Road. A long panoramic view of the mountains across the Inlet, including Mt. Redoubt which you can barely see next to Moya's right ear, is beyond the plain where the caribou herd is sometimes seen. (Not seen by us yet, but we're hoping to see it someday.) Just peeking into the lower right corner of this picture is a big metal telescope that you can look at the volcano through.

Here's some of the mountains beyond the plain. You might want to enlarge this one so you can see it better.

Driving towards Nikiski from Kenai, this mountain seems to block the road.

After lunch, we decided to take a quick trip down to Captain Cook State Park and let Moya have her first walk on the beach. But first, we noticed McDonald's had a 50 cent special on ice cream cones in honor of Alaska's 50th statehood anniversary. How can you resist such a deal on a warm summer day?

Moya shared James' cone with him. She seems to like her first taste of ice cream!

Here they are, on the path to the beach at the state park. Moya is uncharacteristically standing still at the moment!

This is what we came to see - the mountain range across the inlet. (Enlarge this one and get a better look!) I'd have preferred it if the tide were in so that Moya could have played in the water a bit, but this way she had a lot of rocky beach to explore instead. Just stay off those mud flats!

James evidently doesn't walk fast enough!

"Look! I can take a rest in this tire track!"

Climbing rocks is fun!

Isn't this an awesome rock? The middle is smooth but the edges are like ribbons... like a slice of the sun with part of its rays still intact. Or a piece of pie. Use whichever imagery suits your fancy. ;^)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My first earthquake!

Okay, so it was a little bitty one, but at 10:19 this morning, there was an earthquake in Cook Inlet! It felt like someone was downstairs shaking the foundation of the kitchen, and the plant on top of the fridge was wobbling. The guys in the front rooms didn't feel a thing, which disappoints me a little bit, because (since this was a very tiny, non-damaging quake) it was kinda cool.

Totally random stuff

It's been a few days since I showed you any pictures that didn't have one of our dogs in them, so I thought I'd share a few things with you that you might not see in your daily lives. I never leave the house without my camera, because Alaska is full of "random" and I want to capture it when I see it.

First, let me show you the Kenai Elks Lodge. This is clearly the most in-your-face Elks Lodge I've ever seen. If the elk-in-the-woods mural on the entire front of the building didn't clue you in, the giant elk statue will.

Yep, fish hook removal is worth advertising, especially when you're a clinic just miles from world-famous salmon fishing that attracts shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen every summer.

No door? No problem. If you (or a buddy) has a welder, some sheet metal, and some stickers, it's every bit as good as what the manufacturer had there before.

We first saw The Burger Bus when Jane was visiting us. James and I decided to go in and have lunch a few days ago. The food was so-so, but the price was right, and it was fun to eat something that was actually made to order in a converted Superior Coach.

The Kenai Home Depot happily acknowledges that this is a tourist destination, and offers help in several different languages. Hm, let's take a look... Three employees speak ASL, two speak Spanish, one speaks Portuguese, one speaks French, one speaks German, and - notice the woman in the middle? She speaks Yupik Eskimo.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What the Belle?

[Today's post courtesy of Jim (of the Wild Ride Variety)]

Today James, Belle and I did some shopping at the local hardware stores for supplies for our home improvement projects. There is no shortage of improvements, as we need to make every square foot count, and we've just added eight roughly oval feet to our house.

Our last stop for the day was Home Depot. James was getting wire shelves cut for the utility room, so I went to look for some lumber. I was concentrating on the different options when a voice called out, "Belle!" This was startling. A man with a young girl in a shopping cart was looking very happy and calling to MY dog, by name. He is the man who took Belle to the shelter weeks ago. He was very happy to see Belle had a home, happy to see her again. The young girl was thrilled to see Belle and was reaching out to her from the cart. Belle was also happy to see them. Obviously there was a lot of history and affection here.

When Belle was very young her owner (not this man) took after her with a hatchet. This guy rescued her and had a vet fix her back up. I don't have any details on just how bad the damage was. Belle is 10 years old, not eight, which is what the shelter told us. She retired recently from being a sled dog because she would overheat. She has never been an indoor dog, which makes us marvel at how well she does in the house.

Belle has escaped death at least twice. Once at the hands of an abusive first owner, and again while waiting at the shelter. We consider ourselves lucky to have her.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Just talkin'

Hi everybody!

It's sort of like what my dad used to say when he'd write me a letter without anything much in it: "I don't have anything to say, but thought I'd better say it before the mailman comes." So this is me, just saying. :^)

It's raining tonight, and the new puppy is overjoyed with it. Which is adorable, don't get me wrong, but trying to get a hyper puppy to go potty in the rain is not much fun. Could be worse though; at least she didn't come back inside and potty. Oh, I spoke too soon.

James was in a fender bender a couple weeks ago, and the guy who backed into him is a plumber/handyman, so Jim is working out a deal with him to put an exhaust fan in the master bathroom instead of paying cash for the repair. The other guy (whose name is also Jim, so I'll just call him "The Other Guy" to keep it from being confusing) came over to see the bathroom tonight and brought his grown daughter with him. The Other Guy and Crystal both like to talk, so we had a long visit and Crystal may come back over tomorrow with her infant son and visit with me some more.

For those who think bears aren't the problem we make them out to be sometimes, Crystal showed me the dent in the roof of her car where a bear laid on it. And there are big bear poops on our land. I haven't seen a bear yet since we got here last month, and I don't want to. The Other Guy only lives about three miles from here, and he says he never lets his kids out to play without at least two dogs running free with them. Read about the two Captain Cook State Park bears here. There are precautions to take, though, and if you're careful, you'll be okay.

At the same time as Jim and I were having our visit, James was plugging himself into the community music scene by accepting an invitation to sit in on a music session at the Senior Center in Soldotna. Not being big on non-Irish music, he didn't know a lot of the songs they played, but he did get to meet other musicians familiar with The Fiddler's Fakebook and the Portland Collections, so there's potential for him to get together with those guys in the future.

Dinner tonight was leftover pot roast made into chili, with a loaf of fresh bread, butter, honey and fireweed jelly. Yummeh. I've also got watermelon rind pickles in the pantry now, too. With the price of watermelons up here, I'm not about to let any of it go to waste!

Well, I suppose I've said enough for tonight and am going to head off to bed in a bit. See you again soon!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Our One-Month Retrospective

Yesterday marked our one-month "anniversary" as residents in Alaska. Needless to say, our lives are vastly different than they were before we got here. Thinking about this, I asked the guys to give me a list of the things that are different for them personally, what they like, and what they might miss about being in Texas. Here are their lists, word for word:

From Jim:
What do I miss: I miss my friends, though I'd usually not see them much during the off-season for scouts. I miss having a garage. That doesn't sound deep, but it was nice having all of that space.

What is different: A lot is different, but a lot is the same. Now, with two new dogs, more is different. We watch a lot less TV, which is good. We're out doors a lot more together, which is good. We don't eat in front of the TV, which is good. There are challenges which we have to plan to meet together, which is good. Everything smells good. I know I embarrass you, but the good smell is very intense, and it is very pleasurable. The birch and spruce trees smell really good. The colors are very intense when the sky is clear. The water is BLUE. The fireweed is bright purple. The cranberries are a red that almost pokes out your eyes. Cook Inlet is sorta gray from the silt. Everything has the saturation turned up a little bit. I feel more alive. The gray days are very, very gray by comparison. The storms aren't (yet) as intense as in Texas. We'll see what the winter brings.

What is the same: We are. Mostly. In the important ways we are.

We did it. It took longer than we thought, but we did it. And I really like it.


Less poetically and a bit more pithy, here is James' list:
Outdoors is less of a pain, even though there's more that can eat you.
Holy cow, the dogs.
People are nicer. It's weird, and I'm not sure what I think of it.
Less space - you can hear everything.
Going in to town is a bit of a production. - unless it's the M&M.
There's a lot more to be done to the house itself.
There's no furniture. :) [There's furniture here now, so not sure what he means by that]
Prices are higher.
Hardware stores are cooler.
There's so many better views - let's face it, north Texas doesn't have any scenery.
There's a sense of community totally unlike The Colony. Everybody helps everybody here.


And here's my list:
Our lives are, on the whole, better here than they were in Texas. How? Jim's insomnia has pretty much cleared up, which is a miracle. He seems happier and less content to hole up inside the house. James is easier to get outside, too, although I admit I'm still happy enough to stay indoors. However, right now the balcony overlooking the lake is calling to me to bring out a paperback and a cold drink and tell all my chores to do themselves. James has become quite the handyman, having learned to put up shelves and run electrical wire and all sorts of stuff like that. He's also learning how to handle the aftermath of a fender bender, after being in his first one a couple weeks ago in the Home Depot parking lot. Jim's obsession with outdoor "toys" like the kayaks and the snowmachine are tempered only by his obsession with Belle. Belle and Moya are good additions to the family, and once we get the whole issue of potty training two dogs at once solved, and the dogs all figure out whose toys are whose, we can hopefully congratulate ourselves on good choices at the animal shelter.

Jim is right in that the saturation seems to be turned up a bit here. Everything is just a bit "more".... More purple and blue on the roadsides, more blue in the lake, more mountains, more dogs, more wildlife, more quirky people. An eagle flew right over our house, and watching the float plane take off from the lake is a fun treat. And James is right about more of a sense of community. A medical fundraiser for a 14-year-old with a rare blood disorder packed one of the area's larger churches and overflowed their parking lot with cars. I'm not sure how much money was raised, but the donations were incredible and the generosity of people bidding on the items was amazing. The women in the Homemaker's Club have been very friendly and open to me on the couple of occasions I've seen them so far (I'm going to my first regular meeting on Wednesday), and our neighbors patiently answer all our cheechako questions and offer us the loan of equipment we don't have yet and advice on how to lay up food for the coming winter. Speaking of which, my new life up here has involved hours of pouring over plant identification books and websites so that I have at least a little of the knowledge the other women have about what's edible around here. I've got fireweed jelly in the pantry now. I'd never made jelly from flowers before, but it's really tasty, sort of reminiscent of grape jelly, but lighter flavored and a pretty pinky lavender color. The guys, Belle, and Moya are right now out picking me more fireweed blossoms and checking to see if the highbush cranberries on our other property are getting ready for picking. On our two properties, we have wild strawberries, raspberries, watermelon berries (also known as scoot berries - don't eat too many!), highbush cranberries, and I'm still learning how many other plants have medicinal or food purposes. We had no idea just a month ago that fireweed shoots are a substitute for asparagus in the spring, and that parts of devil's club are edible, too. My new friend Patty introduced us to birch tree syrup and spruce tip jelly, which she makes herself and sells at the Saturday Market in Soldotna. I've learned how to can fish for the winter months and how to filet one, should the need ever arise for me to do it again (and I'm hoping it won't). I'm baking bread much more often now, too.

As far as what I miss, well, I miss mostly things that relate to my former cake business. I don't have a reputation up here for doing cake, so of course no one's asking for any. I miss my ovens and my cooktop, and a pantry, and my Metropolitan. I'm thinking I won't renew my subscription to my cake decorating magazine, because it makes me melancholy that I'm not part of that world anymore. I miss easy access to shopping and will probably be weeping grateful tears when the WalMart opens up in Kenai in the spring.

So, what's the bottom line?

This is better. This is where we were meant to be. It was hard to get to the point of being able to come up here, and hard to get out of our Texas house, and hard to get through the trip, and hard to get our belongings up here (still missing some items). But I'm at peace with being here. Jim and James are, too. It's different, but I'm learning that "different" doesn't always have to mean "bad." Sometimes "different" means "good."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Our three-dog night

I've been saying long and loud, to anyone who'll listen, that after Tate eventually crosses the rainbow bridge, I do not want another dog. No way. No. Way. Guess who the joke's on now...

Alaskans have a different viewpoint of their dogs than Texans do, and for the simple reason that the dogs are a very effective alert system for not just unwanted people, but wildlife as well. People will take their dogs pretty much anywhere with them up here, and for good reason. Some people won't go hiking without their dogs unless they're going in a group. Poor Tate is only an early-warning system in the event that dinner will be late getting to the table, so no one is counting on her being very protective. After some thought, I began to come around to the prevalent way of thinking here that having a large dog around would be a pretty good idea. But what kind? Duke down the street is a retriever, Murdoch two doors down is a lab, as is Rambo across the street. But, in the event that we weren't able to find another samoyed (and we can't) we decided that a husky mix would be a good choice. We tend to like having dogs of questionable heritage and didn't necessarily want a purebred dog.

The Kenai Animal Shelter got in three husky mix puppies, and James and I went to take a look. They also had a four-year-old husky, and an eight-year-old husky. Jim told me absolutely no old dogs, because he didn't want to inherit someone else's behavior problems, plus he'd just get attached to the oldster in time for it to die of old age, so only look at the pups.

The husky mix puppies were brought in to the shelter by a musher who, after a divorce, had to give up his team. There were two boys and one girl, but one of the boys had been adopted before we got there. We were interested in the girl, anyway. My, what a sweetie she is. She crawled up in my lap, but once she discovered James, she was pretty smitten. Before long she'd discovered the toybox and had a pile of toys mounded up at James' feet. Jim wanted to meet the puppy before we brought her home, so we went to run errands and were going to meet back at the shelter later in the afternoon.

I'd seen the other dogs when we first visited the shelter, including the eight-year-old. She seemed so sweet, and I didn't pay much attention to her because I'd been told I absolutely could not have another old dog. And I was okay with that, but still, I couldn't quite get her out of my mind and asked Jim to at least consider her. So, when we went back to the shelter, they brought out the puppy AND the oldster for us to see (after first making sure the oldster was okay with other dogs).

Well, she went right up to Jim and rubbed against his legs and begged for his attention. While blatantly ignoring everyone else in the room, I might add. I kept reminding Jim I was okay with taking just the puppy, but he kept saying we'd give them both a try and see how Tate reacted to them both. And the shelter lady dropped the bombshell, cementing Jim's resolve to take home the oldster who'd chosen him:

She'd been in the shelter more than two weeks, the shelter was full, and some hard decisions were going to have to be made in the next couple days. The oldster's time was fast approaching. She just wasn't being looked at much because of her age and some room needed to be made for dogs who were more adoptable.

So, long story short (or at least, shorter than it could have been):

This is James' four-month-old huskiwhip (husky / whippet mix) puppy, Moya.

And this is Jim, with Belle, HIS eight-year-old husky, going to Home Depot to pick out a new kennel to build outside. HIS dog (and the other two) should have a kennel to play in, and the sooner the better. Yes, Belle is definitely Jim's special dog.

Belle, after a much, MUCH needed bath and shed combing, out on the balcony with Jim:

Chain O' Sniffs:

Tate is completely okay with the new dogs. She cold-shoulders Belle to the point of being rude, but she thinks Moya is the most interesting person she's met in her whole life. Belle is the only one with any issues, really... She's marking territory everywhere, and she doesn't like Tate to approach her crate if she's in it, but that's it. (As if the Miracle Marking Bladder she has can be described as "that's it"). Moya has some separation anxiety, but she's just been separated from her siblings and is in a new place and is very young, so no one blames her. Plus she usually stops crying in just a few minutes.

The current living arrangements:

Moya has Tate's polar bear from Aunt Amy, and Tate wasn't too sure if she should have it, until she discovered that Moya has a small blue and white cow, and Tate chewed that to make them even.

Jim trying to watch tv with a lap full of pre-bath husky:

We'd hoped having a puppy for Tate would give her a reason to want to play more and be a bit more active than just sleeping 23 hours a day. When all three dogs went on a walk with all three humans to the mailbox today, Tate kept right up, no complaining about being tired and wanting to go home. And when the huskies wanted to run back home, guess who ran, too? Tate! She may not be able to keep up the pace when the new wears off, but for now, she's pretty happy. She even seems to prefer Belle's crate to her own, so a trade might be in the future for those two. Who knows?

So if you come to visit us now, there will be a couple more smiling faces to greet you and beg you to go out and play.