Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I spoke too soon...

Turns out we were going to have snow before Halloween after all...

This is what we woke up to this morning:
A light dusting of snow, and it won't survive the morning, but snow nonetheless. Huh. Yesterday, I never would have guessed.

The temperatures this week, while the weather will be pretty and sunny if the forecast is anywhere near right, will start to get markedly colder. I'm looking at Accuweather right now, and the "real feel" of the temperatures will vary quite a bit from what the numbers actually are. During both the day and night, it will feel 10 - 14 degrees colder than it actually is. As in, our overnight lows will feel like between 4 and 18 degrees for the rest of the week. Thank goodness during that part I'll be fast asleep and won't actually have to experience single digits until that becomes part of the daytime.

He's baaaaaaaaack!

I'm happy to report that James is back from Texas safe and sound, and that he had a fine time visiting his Irish musician friends. Thank you to everyone who made the trip possible and memorable for him. Mwah! He didn't take many photos but he did hand off the camera to a friend in the audience during the Tune Tussle, and got this video of his group's performance:

Since the video is taken from the audience with a pocket camera, it's hard to understand what's being said on stage, but it's still good entertainment. James is the fiddler (well duh) third from the left. His time to shine comes around 3:45 on the video. There is also some bonus music at the end from a couple of the instructors, and I'll have to check with James to find out what their names are. We're trying to find someone with a video of James' solo performance on closing night of the Retreat...

Jim and I took Little Sweetie back to the storage unit on Sunday, trying to beat the snow before it made those itty bitty tires have to work too hard to make the drive into Soldotna. But there has been no snow. Um, it's Alaska, helloooooooooo, and we were forecasted to get snow for two days now and there hasn't been any. Maybe there was some someplace else but Nikiski didn't get any. [insert drama voice here] Oh darn, I'll just have to put up with the sunny few days coming up and do without snow for a while yet.

We saw our first Stellar's jay on the bird feeders this morning. Very pretty black and blue bird shaped like a cardinal. They aren't especially common in this area and we're hoping he comes back so we can try to take his picture.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Full Weekend

As often happens around here, nothing exciting occurs and then all of a sudden, we get really busy. Lemme 'splain:

James left for Texas on Thursday, to go to the O'Flaherty Irish Music Retreat in Midlothian. We had to get up in the very early hours to get to Anchorage in time for his flight, so the sun was barely up by the time we got to The Big City. We dropped off our trailer to get the brakes fixed on it, and planned to do some shopping while we were in a high concentration of shopping opportunities. But this is where Moya the Destroya altered the plans somewhat... She was on a mission to destroy every single piece of paper AND the snow scraper that was in Jim's truck, so that meant taking turns going into stores so that one of us could stay in the truck with her. Since we were tired already, and shopping was not as easy as it might otherwise have been, we did the minimum and headed back home. I did get some of my favorite oatmeal at the WalMart and we got a slipcover for the couch, so that was good.

James got off the ground and made it to Seattle by the time we got back to Sterling, where we stopped off to see the Met. We decided to bring it on home. It's not exactly the same as it was when we loaded it onto the moving truck, but I don't have photos to prove it, and it's close enough. The body work is lovely. It felt good to drive it again, although I didn't make any friends on the one-lane-each-way highway when all I could manage (squeezing everything I could out of the poor little car) was 50 mph. But it's home now. We've got to get it back to the storage unit in Soldotna before the snow starts in, that's for sure. I don't want to leave it in our canvas garage when the temperature gets that low. I'd like to keep it here but it would be better off in storage where it will be dry and won't get below freezing. You should see it, though. So shiny and smooth.

Our wood stove was installed on Friday. It's very pretty. Jim and I (mostly Jim) put down the tile that goes underneath it on Wednesday night, and boy does it look nice. There's still grouting to do but we can do that at our leisure when the dust settles from everything else that's gone on these few days. The installers weren't able to put the stove in quite the way we'd hoped, so we're going to have to add a heat shield to the wall behind it. We picked out some really pretty tile to put there but that won't get done immediately, I don't think. We just won't run the stove until we get that put in. I'd love to show you pictures, but James has my camera at the Retreat and Jim hasn't taken any pics with his camera yet. Maybe he'll do that later on.

I hope James is getting some good pictures at the Retreat. I'm living vicariously through him, having his big adventure this weekend and seeing our old friends again. We're hearing from James in the morning and evenings, and he seems to be having a lot of fun. Being on Alaska time, he can stay up quite late and be comfortable doing that, but getting up in the morning is obviously easier for the Texans than for him. One of his Facebook status updates was that he had lamb with mint sauce, bread pudding with caramel sauce, and apple cobbler all at one meal. [sigh] Jim took me out to The Treehouse restaurant last night after we bought the tile for the heat shield, and ate halibut and pizza. That was a fun treat! But anyway, James sounds good and we're so glad he got to go on this adventure and see his friends from the Irish community.

Okay, what else has been going on? Seems like there was something else I was going to tell you... Oh yeah, we're due for snow on Tuesday and more on Thursday. Jim's been ready for this first snow since he bought his snowmachines back in July. Me, I can wait. Really. No hurry on my account. But even the locals are starting to "bundle up" (which for them means a hat and mid-weight jacket) as the temperatures are staying colder longer into the day now. We're still getting highs comfortably in the mid 40s (although yesterday was a balmy 50) but it's not lasting as much of the day as it had been. I still see some locals in shorts and flipflops, but they're getting to be fewer and fewer. I'm going to need to spend more time knitting and less time cleaning house if I'm going to have everyone's head warmly covered before Tuesday, right? [Those of you who know me pretty well can stop laughing now about me reducing my housecleaning time. Seriously, stop that.]

Jim is stacking firewood at this moment with the guy he bought it from. Belle is outside with them, pointedly ignoring the firewood guy's husky, who is in the cab of his truck wanting to get out and play. Moya is desperate to get out, too, and Tate is just chillin'. It's sunny and bright out, 41 degrees on this fine Saturday morning, and I would love to get more rose hips in if I can get myself out the door to go find some to pick. I've got a new recipe for rose hip cookies that James really likes and I'd like to freeze some hips for those this winter. We'll see how the day progresses.

And, if I don't get off the computer and go start my day, I won't see any progress at all!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just a little update

Hello there, everyone!

Nothing earth-shattering has happened lately, but enough little things have accumulated that I thought I'd go ahead and update the ol' blog.

Hm, let's see, well, we went to the first craft show of the holiday season last Saturday. A woman I know from the Homemakers' Club had her art in the show, so we went and looked around. There were some really nice things, and I picked up a Christmas present for someone.

Speaking of Christmas, our first string of Christmas lights is up in the kitchen window. We're switching to LEDs for the window and outdoor lights because we can string a lot more together (our outlets are a bit far apart) and because they're cheap to light. Which we think will be a good thing given that we'll be having them lit for months during the long winter.

Speaking of winter, it was 31 degrees when we left for church on Sunday morning. It's strange how sometimes the cold doesn't feel cold. I mean, yeah, sometimes it feels quite chilly, don't get me wrong, but Jim was scraping ice off the car and we could see our breath, but I was still debating whether or not I'd be okay in my long-sleeved shirt or if I should bring a jacket, because it just didn't feel like 31 degrees. I decided to bring the jacket. I wonder what it will be like next week when we're forecasted to get our first snow...

Speaking of snow, Jim ordered a wood burning stove that will need to be installed before the snow starts to fly. We picked out tile to go underneath it and are trying to get someone out here to install that before the stove arrives. We've got wood on the way and should get that this weekend.

Speaking of this weekend, James will be back in Texas for the O'Flaherty Irish Music Retreat in Midlothian, thanks to the generosity of Toar and Candace who sponsored his attendance. This will be James' initiation into traveling alone, but Big Jim will be picking him up at the airport in Dallas when he touches down.

Speaking of Dallas, we may be needing to order new parts from Kip Motor for Little Sweetie unless the body shop here in Sterling can pull off a miracle. We were supposed to pick up the car tonight, but when we got to the body shop, the repairs weren't complete and the car wouldn't start. The body shop owner will call us tomorrow and let us know what we might be able to expect from here on out, but we're not planning on having the car back this year, period. If another new headliner has to be manufactured and shipped in, there's a month already.

Speaking of another month, we're looking forward to having Big Jim and Mary visit us over Thanksgiving weekend. If the weather is pretty, we want to drive to Homer, plus there will be a major craft show, and a parade, and fireworks. Since we can't have fireworks for Independence Day (it's too bright out at night to see them), we have them to kick off the Christmas season.

And speaking of Christmas (again), if I don't sign off and get back to knitting, I'm not going to have my Christmas gifts done in time, so I'll say good night for now. Good night!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My first birthday in Alaska

Hello there, everyone! I'm writing to you now from this side of 45. Yep, my birthday was last weekend and it was a very nice one, indeed. Thank you to everyone who sent me cards and emails on my special day, and to those who sent them before and after, too!

We got up way before the crack of dawn on my birthday and went into town with James while he took his SATs (long story). Jim, Moya and I ran errands while James was at the college, and a merry adventure was had trying to keep Moya in the back seat of the car. She has a lot of determination, and nothing but time in which to turn her will into reality. It's funny *now* but it sure was frustrating then! Jim took me to the Funky Monkey coffee house for probably the best quiche I've ever had, and we did some shopping in town for food and truck parts and whatnot. When James was done with his test, we came on home.

Shortly before dinner, the guys gave me my birthday presents. James got me Season 3 of Heroes, which we've been spending our evenings since then staying up waaaaay too late watching (not that I'm complaining! Hiro is my favorite), and Jim got me a four-feature set of Wallace and Gromit.

Jim also gave me these:

How awesome! I'd asked for a pair of bunny slippers, but Jim wanted to do something more, something more Alaskan, if you please. So he went to the furrier in Soldotna and found me this pair of slippers. They're a lovely emerald green suede (doesn't really show up too well in this pic) and everybody probably knows how I love green. The brown fur on the top of the foot is otter, the top of the cuff is beaver, and the paler band around the bottom of the cuff is lynx. The lining is sheepskin. They're like wearing a cloud, and so snuggly warm without getting too hot.

Speaking of hot, it was 61 degrees here today! We had to open windows to cool down the house, and we left the balcony door open so the dogs could come and go as they pleased. The sun was so bright it made me squint. James and I finished picking rose hips and found some more highbush cranberries while we were out. I made some candied rose hips from today's pickings, as well as getting four pounds of meatballs ready for the freezer, and my first batch of homemade yogurt done.

Hm, I guess that's most of the news for now. James is studying for a test in his web design class, and Jim is banging his head against his work project. I'm about to start knitting a hat for Jim - going to learn how to double-knit, yikes! - unless I decide to watch another episode of Heroes.

Yeah, maybe just ONE more episode. ;^)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"If it moves, feed it."

We all have to think about food. Especially if you happen to be the person in your family who does most of the cooking, because then you're thinking about food even when you're not hungry. Being in Alaska, though, I've noticed there is a whole new dimension to food that we didn't encounter when we lived in Texas, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Food is VERY IMPORTANT here.

Upon arrival at our new home, it wasn't long before our neighbor was coming over bringing gifts of food - squaw candy, home-canned salmon, salmon dip, halibut dip... Most of which was brought to us with his unassuming way of suggesting he had more than he needed and felt like sharing. Once he brought over a package of fresh-caught halibut and gave that to us, because his vacuum sealer didn't put the proper seal on the bag, so we might as well have it. Everyone with a vacuum sealer knows that all you have to do to correct that is to simply reseal it, so this was his way of giving us a gift of (very expensive) food without making it seem so much like a gift.

Because we got here in the midst of dipnetting season, one of the first things we'd be asked when meeting someone new was if we'd been fishing yet. Once a person has lived in Alaska continuously for one year (meaning you've stayed through a winter), they earn the privilege of using nets to catch a very large number of fish per person to help insure there is food for the upcoming year to feed even the poorest of families. That's called subsistence fishing. And even though everyone up here was frantically fishing, cleaning, freezing and canning as much as they could for their own winter eating, it was common for people to share their fresh catch. It's as if the neighbors are, in their own way, making sure the noobs don't starve to death.

Ladies I meet here are actively teaching, or participating in, classes on canning, preserving, and freezing the foods they grow, harvest from the wild, or catch or hunt. The Cooperative Extension's list of fifteen upcoming Neighbor-To-Neighbor classes include 14 classes related to providing food in some form (and in case you're wondering, the fifteenth class is one on using cloth diapers). Topics of interest for more upcoming classes list sixteen class ideas, with twelve of those involving food - growing it, harvesting it, preserving it.

Christmas gift discussions amongst the ladies involve starry-eyed descriptions of fresh quick breads, jellies, and jars of fancy-recipe home-canned salmon. Even as presents, many people here want food.

Winter is a harsh mistress here in Alaska, and while I'm certainly happy not to live in the Interior or up in the REALLY far North, I'm not deluding myself that winter will be hard here and the amount of canning and freezing we've been able to do will help us through the winter when fresh food prices will be unreasonable. I sincerely appreciate the casual mention within my hearing (and certainly said for my benefit, but without being pointed) that the ripening of such-and-such berry has started, or that so-and-so berry is almost past picking, and how good a cup of favorite herbal tea is when it's cold outside.

This isn't like a horde of Jewish grandmas shouting "Eat! Eat!" Rather, there is a gentle feeling of being guided and looked out for, as most of the sourdoughs around us were at one time cheechakos like we are, and they remember what it was like to learn the ropes, too.

I once read a very interesting article about having 'enough'... I wish I could find it so that I could make sure I credit it properly, but I can't. In the article, a younger man and his rabbi are talking together. The younger man reads Genesis 28:20 wherein Jacob makes promises to do certain things if God will provide him with a safe journey, food to eat and clothes to wear. The younger man is puzzled by the seemingly unnecessary addition of the words "to eat" and "to wear" - because what is food for if not to eat, and what is clothing for if not to wear? The older rabbi sadly explains that he knows *exactly* what those extra words mean. As a survivor of a concentration camp, he remembered that there were often times when he might have food, but not enough clothing to keep off the cold, and would rather trade the food for clothing so that he wouldn't freeze. Or he might have plenty of clothing, but not any food, and would trade his clothing away in exchange for something to eat. He might have clothing but not 'clothing to wear,' and food but not 'food to eat.'

Having 'food to eat' meant having enough other comforts that he did not need to trade the food away. It meant that he not only had the food, but that he had enough to be able to eat it without guilt.

Under the watchful eye of neighbors who offer us fish from their bounty, teach us what wild foods are there for the taking, and help us learn to use what we might have otherwise thrown away because we didn't know it had value, we expect that this winter we will have food to eat.

Please allow me to paraphrase in part Matthew 26:34 - 40:
"Then the King will say... Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink... Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry and fed You? Or thirsty and gave You drink?... And the King shall answer them, Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to Me."

And we thank you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

My poor rose bush....

Jim looked out the window this morning and saw Mrs. Moose browsing the leaves on my wild rose bush. He took this picture out his office window.
Speaking of moose in the yard: Husky + moose poop + rolling = awful stinky unpleasant doggie bath time. Just so you know.