Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Today, I learned how little I know.

Our neighbor, Linda, and her friend Koleen were teaching a class this morning on how to can fresh salmon, and Linda invited me along. I'm interested in plugging myself into the social groups in the area, and I decided to go. Let me say that these women, even the ones there who were half my age, know more about living off the land than I expect I will ever know. Toto, we are SO not in Kansas anymore.

There were seven students in the class today, counting myself but not counting Linda and Koleen. So nine women total. Once they found out I've lived here for a whopping three weeks (as of today!), one of them good-naturedly called me a cheechako. It's a combination of a couple words that basically means "just now arrived." It's as opposite from a sourdough as you can possibly get. One of the other women just as good-naturedly offered to bring me some sourdough starter to rub on myself so I wouldn't seem so new. I don't need to tell you there were some giggles at my expense, but I didn't mind. :^)

Linda and Koleen gave a talk on the differences between the pressure canners they each use, about the different jars, and where the good places were to buy them. Then it was down to the business at hand - preserving some of the fresh red salmon.

Now, just to make sure you understand the situation - I do not like fish. Me no likey. Nope. I do not want to see it, catch it, smell it, handle it, or eat it. But I'm learning to do all those things, with the exception of the actual catching part. Which makes the following video all the more remarkable and explains why my family watched it gape-jawed when I got home:

Yes, that's me, filleting a salmon. And not passing out.

Once the fish were all filleted, we packed them into the prepared jars and canned 21 jars of fish.

Here are the teachers: Linda on the left, and Koleen in the middle.

We were shown how to use Linda's rocker canner as well as Koleen's pressure gauge canner. Seems like canning your fish outdoors is definitely the right way, because it keeps the fishy smell outside where it belongs.

It was while we were waiting for the canning to run its course, though, that I realized how much there is to learn about living here and living the whole Alaskan mindset. The other ladies began discussing the previous classes they'd had, and the classes coming up. They began to share the tales they had of their own canning experiences, their own herb- and berry-gathering stories, and what they liked to do with their canned, dried, and frozen fruits of their labors. They reminded each other which herbs were ready for picking, which berries might not have a good harvest because of the dry summer, and where to get good crocks for making sauerkraut. They also discussed what to make their soap out of (seems like moose suet is good) and what to put on swellings or to put in your tea if you're not feeling well. Brief discussion on the depletion of the kelp beds nearby delaying a class on making kelp pickles, and whether or not there would be time to teach how to make sauerkraut during the same class as the jelly making lesson. An upcoming tea making class would involve all the students bringing the herbs they dried earlier in the summer so that there would be an assortment of tea.

After a while, I'm sure my eyes glazed over as the information overload started to feel like a foreign language bombarding the backs of my eyeballs. I'm going to have to read a few more books on living off the land if I'm going to speak even remotely knowledgeably about anything. Jim's Wild Ride is turning into Deanna's Wild Adventure, too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jane's visit

Our next-door neighbor from our Texas house is a flight attendant. Happily for us, she flies the Dallas-to-Anchorage route in the summer, and she had a long layover last night. So she came out here to spend the night with us. Cool, huh?

We picked her up from the gigantic maze of the Kenai Airport (okay, so we just pulled up in front of the grocery store-sized terminal building) and brought her home with us. We got to the house around 9:00 in the evening, and it was such a pretty evening, with the lake so smooth, that she and Jim took the kayaks out on the lake. This time, Jim took the camera out with him.

I have never been out on the lake (yet) and did not recognize this picture as being of my own house from out on the water.

A bit blurry, but I still like this picture because it shows how glassy the water was last night.

Jane leads the way on the paddle around the lake.

We kept poor Jane up late last night - it was 2:00 in the morning, Dallas time, before she got to bed! - but she was still in the mood for a hike or a jog today. Unfortunately, it had rained most of the night and into the morning, and we weren't sure if the trail at Captain Cook State Recreation Area would be too muddy or not. We thought we'd try it anyway.

On the way there, we saw a moose munching the grass along the Kenai Spur Highway just before the turnoff to Halbouty Road. We'd about finished taking pictures of him when another young bull stepped out from behind the rock. (Remember, you can click on these pictures to see them bigger.)

Once we got to the Park, we went down onto the beach and walked a bit. Here's Jane, looking so pretty on the driftwood with the shoreline behind her. We looked at lots of pretty rocks, and trust me, you don't have to be a rock hound to find something to like in the assortment of rocks on the shoreline here. Then we headed back up the road a few yards to the trailhead and hiked the fairly short trail from end to end. It's a shame that today was cloudy and rainy, because this is usually such a good place to see the mountains across the inlet.

While we missed out on seeing the mountains behind all the clouds, we did see a couple ptarmigan. I spooked this mama and she flew up into the tree, leaving a youngster below in the underbrush. Yes, there's a ptarmigan in there, right in the middle of the photo. Remember you can click to enlarge the pics.

This sign as we were leaving the trail explains why the campsites are currently day-use only... Two young brown bears have been sighted daily for the past couple months in the park.

A nice bonus as we were headed back to the car was yet another young bull moose. He was standing near the "End of the Road" sign when we first saw him, munching away at the grass and fireweed, but got tired of being watched and ambled across the road and into the woods nearer the ATV parking lot.

After leaving the trail, we headed into Kenai to the Visitor's Center to pick up some maps to keep in the guest room for future visitors to our house (hint hint). Just around the block from the Visitor's Center are some of the first buildings to be built in the Kenai area. One of them is the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, and another is the house that now is Veronica's Cafe. We went to both.

Jane stands outside the Holy Assumption chapel. It was open to visitors today (although tonight services were being held, and tomorrow a funeral), so we went inside.

It's really very pretty in a gaudy sort of way.

I like this guy. This is Archpriest Macary Targonsky, retired, who gave us a bit of a rapid-fire talk on the artifacts and icons in the church, as well as some history of the church building itself. He also told us he's a married priest and explained some of the differences between being that and a monastic priest. He had his 55th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

After looking around the church, we went across the street to Veronica's (built in 1918 as one of the original Kenai homes) where Jane treated us to beverages and we split a big ol' slice of carrot cake. The St. Nicholas Chapel was next door (diagonally from the Russian Orthodox church), so we also went there to look in the windows.

Next door to Veronica's, and directly across the street from the Russian Orthodox church, was this private home. I love the flowers in their yard. Definitely click to enlarge this pic.

After our carrot cake, we stopped in at the Fireweed Herb Garden gift shop to look around a bit. There isn't as much herbaciousness as one might think in a place with that name, but it's a cute shop nonetheless. Then back home where Jim grilled fresh halibut, salmon, and reindeer hot dogs.

All too soon, we had to take Jane back to the airport. We hope next time she can stay longer, and bring Scott with her. Scott, I know you're reading this, heehee, so see about making plans to come up and stay with us a few days. We'd love to have you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Before and After

There is a really awesome song by Sons of Maxwell called "United Breaks Guitars." It's about a musician's struggle to get United Airlines to pay damages incurred when they broke the neck of a very expensive Taylor guitar. It's been going through my head all day. Here's why:

Anyone who's known me very long at all knows that I have a cute little car, a 1958 Nash Metropolitan that is very special to me. I've named him Little Sweetie and he was a 20th anniversary present. It took us four years to get him to the pristine condition you see below - which is also the photo my insurance company has on file. Thank goodness.

My regular readers might recall an earlier post about Little Sweetie being packed up for shipping. In that unedited post, I expressed concern over the packing arrangements. The driver assured me he's "done this a hundred times" and I shouldn't worry about it.

It seemed a bit squeezy to me, but the addition of the blanket between the metal deck and the roof of my car were meant to reassure me.

Fast-forward to July 24. The long-awaited day finally arrives and I can get my car back. Oh yeah, and our other stuff. But the happy reunion was as marred as my car... Jim took this pic with the car in place in the trailer, showing the crease the decking made all the way across the roof. The shippers who offloaded our goods - and I feel it is important to note here that they were NOT the same guys who loaded everything up - were also taking pictures and calling their boss. They took a picture with a tape measure to show how close the other guys had installed that deck above the roof. Three and a half inches above the roof. And I'll also note that they were measuring from the top of the roof as it is *now* which means it was closer to the roof before it was caved in.

There are huge pieces of missing paint, and you can see how deep the crease is. In a car with little headroom for the average person to begin with, you can imagine what this feels like when you're behind the wheel now.

And this... This huge scrape on the driver's side fender is all the way to bare metal. Past the NEW PAINT JOB, past the original paint, past the primer, down to bare metal. It's more than a foot long and about four inches tall. And that black dot near the end of the fender panel under the scrape? That's a puncture. What in the Sam hill punctures a metal car all the way through?

And then there's the body damage on both sides of the front, under the bumper.

The white line you see across the truck top is a scrape.

I had a complete meltdown. On my knees, in the parking lot, sobbing.

I'll have to get some estimates to have it fixed and I hope to start on that on Tuesday.

Now, I hope you notice I haven't mentioned the name of the carrier responsible for this damage, and I also haven't mentioned the name of the umbrella shipping business who contracted out the services of the person responsible for it. I'm going to wait on that to see how they handle the situation and if they make right the damages they caused. Since the car isn't the only thing they damaged - just the most dramatic thing - we're still taking photos of other broken and ruined items as we unpack.

If they don't make this right, maybe somebody can write me a song to go on YouTube. Now go listen to "United Breaks Guitars." You know you want to.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nearly two weeks here

What's been happening this week, hm, what, what, what....
[thoughtful tapping of chin]

Well, we got our satellite dish hooked up, so now we can watch tv if we should feel the need. Although, to be honest, after a few days, you get over wanting it. At first I wondered how my favorite contestants on reality tv shows were doing, but by now I figure they're getting along fine without me cheering for them. The night we got it hooked back up, we made sure it worked by channel surfing a bit and then watching a short DVD. Other than that, we've found other things to do than watch the boob tube. Later I'm sure we'll get back to it, but not just yet.

In order to get the new satellite dish installed, we had to cut down a couple trees along the shoreline slope, so James got to cut up some wood from those. The view looks a bit different now off to the right as you look towards the lake.

Our next-door neighbor, Brad, brought us some of his catch, and we've had fresh fish for the last several days. First, he gave us a red salmon filet so nice James made sushi from part of it, and the next day the remainder of it went on the grill. Then he brought us a big bag of halibut filets (we ate half last night, and half is for tonight) and a sampler platter of what he was cooking himself - blackened halibut, blackened salmon, halibut spread on homemade bread, and salmon grilled on a cedar plank. And just now, he brought us some salmon jerky. Tate is beside herself in the throes of desire for that salmon jerky. But she is not getting any. Absolutely not.

James found an awesome recipe online for 5-minute-a-day bread, and we made the dough for a week's supply and have baked two loaves so far. Without my ginormous Tupperware bowls to let the dough rise in, I improvised with 13-cup Gladware bowls, and the dough overflowed both of those and I had to keep putting excess dough blob into a third bowl. Finally we got it under control, and it really did turn out to be quick and easy on a daily basis. We've made a plain version, and a cheddar and dill version. Next, either parmesan bread or caramel sticky buns. Any votes for which one?

Saturday, we went into Kenai for the Kenai Community Market. Part mini craft fair, part mini farmer's market. We got some giant zucchini and a cucumber, some wild strawberry plants, and a columbine, which I love. (Thanks, Jim.) We ate lunch there, too - reindeer sausage dogs too big for me to finish, chips and drinks. Our Texas license plates were conversation starters again at the Market, since people know if you're there with an out-of-state plate, you came up the AlCan. People like to swap travel stories and to say they are from where you are, or know someone who's from where you were, and tell you how long ago it was that they came to Alaska and never went home. We also bought a deep freeze and had it delivered this morning.

Today we all went down to the DMV and got ourselves shiny new Alaska driver's licenses. So many people come to the DMV and then complain long and loud to whoever will listen about the wait. Well, where the heck do they think they've come to? It's the bleedin' DMV for pete's sake, so settle in for the long haul, and try to remember to bring a book. Okay, with that off my chest, haha, in ONLY three hours' time, we have three new licenses (made while we wait, so no temporary licenses to deal with), and new tags and registration for the truck and trailer. The registration for the CR-V and the Met are with the freight, accidentally packed up with Jim's office stuff, so we'll have to go back for those tags later. So, the truck will no longer have the conversation-starting plates, but the CR-V will for a while longer.

Speaking of the DMV and freight, while we were at the DMV, the freight company called to set up a time for delivery of our goods. We weren't expecting them until later this week, so that was a shock. We've got to get on the ball about finding a storage unit until we can get a garage built. Honestly, though, there isn't so much of our stuff that we miss. I miss some of my kitchen stuff (like the aforementioned Tupperware bowls) and the couch, but I've now been weeks without what's on that truck, and I can barely remember what made it on and what we got rid of. And even having the couch back is a bit bittersweet, because it will mean dismantling our "shipping carton chic" couch:
It's been raining here for the past two days, not a hard rain, but a fairly steady heavy mist or gentle rain. We've needed the soaking, and we're getting it. The rain let up and neighbor Zoe came over to invite James to ride the 4-wheeler, and to let her dog Murdoch meet Tate. Tate has mixed emotions about the exuberant puppy who's already 20 pounds heavier than she is.
I guess that's about it for now. I've got to shuffle some things around in the kitchen cabinets and in the walk-out basement so that we have room for the freight when it comes. And then there's that other fresh halibut fillet to go on the grill....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Company, kayaks, and cuteness

We were happy to see our first company from Outside on Monday - Richard and Lois. They were kind enough to bring some of our belongings with them on their vacation here, which was just a few days after our arrival. Here they are, on the balcony:

Then, on Tuesday, Jim gave in to his "must buy Alaska toys" urges and picked up two kayaks. Wednesday evening (yes, this was in the evening) Jim and James took them on their maiden voyages on our lake. Jim's in the yellow one, James is in the blue one.

They paddled down to the other side of the lake and saw where someone has a float plane docked, and talked to that person's neighbor for a while. Speaking of neighbors, James and I got to meet our two-houses-down neighbors, Rod and Wanda and their granddaughter Zoe. Jim had already met them. We all got to meet our next-door neighbor Brad, who is home from his shift on the slope. They're really nice, and Tate is pretty enamored of Brad, who fed her a huge handful of dog biscuits.

Also on Wednesday, James was washing the cars while I was pulling weeds in the flower bed, and these pretty bees kept buzzing the flowers. James got this shot of one just going into a blossom:

I can't say I'm too pleased with the field guide of Alaskan birds I bought a few days ago. I spent two whole days trying to identify the birds that roam our backyard, with no success:

Turns out they're spotted sandpipers, they just don't look anything like the photo in the book. [shrugs]

And this - THIS - is why I will always keep a camera in the car with me if I'm going anywhere further than the mailbox. James and I had gone on errands in Kenai and Soldotna, and were just leaving the Trustworthy Hardware store [insert angelic choir here]. Passing us coming into the parking lot was a pickup truck with this treasure in the back:

I LOVE this dog. If the owner showed up on my porch in the morning and asked me if I'd take him, I'd say yes without even thinking about it. He was riding along like he owned the world, so cool in his shades.
You never know what sort of thing you're going to see around here!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Settling in to our new routine

Hello again!

Just a few pictures I thought you might like to see today...

This is the bustling downtown area of Nikiski. The post office and video shop share the building on the left. On the right is M&M Market grocery store where you can actually buy Nikiski souvenirs, The Tree House restaurant, and a ceramics store. Speaking of the post office and Nikiski, some of you may have noticed that our mailing address lists Kenai as our town. That's because Nikiski is so small we only have a postal substation, and our mail actually routes through Kenai.

The Big Mac's bigger cousin, made with two quarter-pound patties instead of the Big Mac's 1.6 ounce patties. You can only get a McKinley Mac in Alaska. Yet another reason to come visit us!

Yesterday was SO pretty out, James took a book and went outside to read. That seemed like a really good idea, so while James tried out the new indestructo rocking chair, Jim pulled a bar chair outside and took his computer out so he could work - and taunt his coworkers by video chatting with the lake in the background. Tate also went outside and surprisingly settled down in the coolest place she could find, under the benches in the shade. I took a book and cushion outside, too, and nestled into the V formed by the house's logs where the prow is.

Tate says "Thanks, Aunt Amy!" for the polar bear toy!
For those keeping track of Tate's adjustment to Alaskan living, she's still doing pretty well. Nature seems worthy of being pottied on now, which is a big relief (no pun intended). She is also trying to add the stairs to the top floor of the house to her roaming area. We're putting an absolute stop to that, though, because they're slat stairs, and as often as she falls, we don't want her getting hurt on those.

We got a little rain this morning, and we are expecting to see our first Texas company later today. Friends of Big Jim's are coming through on vacation and are going to see Cook Inlet - which, if you recall, is only 15 minutes from my house, so come on up and see the Inlet for yourselves!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

And you thought the blog was over, didn't you?

I've decided to keep up the blog about our new lives here in Alaska, partly because it's so different here and partly because some of the adjustments are a little funny. So, to start it off, here are some random observations from our first few days here in the Great Land:

Ravens are REALLY LOUD.

Wild animals scurry across the road in front of cars with alarming regularity. Sometimes they don't make it all the way across. The moose that walked out in front of Jim yesterday, though, was polite enough to wait for a gap in traffic before taking her time to cross the Spur Highway.

Traffic repair crews here are lightning fast. Under-repair sections of the highway between Anchorage and Soldotna on our way into town last week are completed and baby-bottom smooth. Take note, Texas road crews!


Our walk-out basement gets pretty chilly at times, but it's perfect upstairs.

Our original plan was to keep Tate and her geriatric hips in the walk-out basement so that she wouldn't try going up and down the stairs, but she got really depressed. So Jim let her come upstairs AND into bedrooms - a former absolute no-no - and now she's happy as a clam. She's started running up and down the stairs at breakneck speed and jumping down from the last three. But she's delighted, and that goes a long way. She doesn't like Nature, though, and does not want to potty in it. That is a problem.

Does anybody know where my cookbooks are? Did I bring them with us, or are they with the freight company? I can't find my blueberry muffin recipe from The Happy Berry in South Carolina.

Ravens sound like REALLY LOUD nightmares.

There is a bee colony that's built a nest in our back yard shed.

Hm, I guess that's about it. Yesterday we went into Anchorage and replaced some office chairs we left behind in Texas, and bought a new treadmill (yahooooooo!), a porch rocker made from recycled milk bottles in a sort of Trex-like material and ordered a porch swing to match it, found some Irish music sessions to try to get to sometime, and Jim priced snow machines and kayaks. We forgot to get the field guides to Alaskan plants and animals, so James and I will probably go out this afternoon and get those.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 9 - Nikiski, Alaska!

Ending the trip with a grand total of 4,513.5 miles!

As you know, we spent the night in Glennallen at the Caribou Hotel. Definitely my favorite stay of the trip. This really cool moose is outside the hotel.

Tate has her first game meat - a leftover piece of reindeer sausage from my breakfast. She's feeling pretty Alaskan now!
The hotel was comfortable and attached to a nice restaurant and gift shop. The lady in the gift shop told us that the smoke from wildfires was causing a lot of people with respiratory problems to leave the state. And parts of our trip were pretty smoky. There are a lot of fires going on in Alaska right now, I'm sorry to say. We also learned that Anchorage hit a new official high temperature - 80 degrees!!!! HAHAHA! Oh, Alaska, you have no idea what "heat" really is. And so we left Glennallen and headed for home at last.

This is Gunsight Mountain in the Chugach Mountain Range. See all the smoke around it? Off and on throughout the day, the mountains would be obscured by the smoke.

Matanuska Glacier, in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Not the best picture, but hey. The Mat-Su was smoky for a good bit of our trip through it. Which is a shame, because I could tell it would have been a pretty area on a clearer day.

We decided against stopping in Anchorage to drop off either of the vehicles. We're going to do that on Saturday instead. So, we drove right on through to our own stomping grounds. It was disconcerting to not be able to see out across Turnagain Arm like we normally can. We did see eagles on the shore, though.

We stopped in Kenai so the guys could wash the cars while I went into the Safeway for groceries. I've got to get over the sticker shock on some of the fresh foods, I realize that, but I'm not going to pay $8 for a watermelon. I know they go on sale and I'll wait. Next year I'm planning to have a garden and grow a few things myself, if I can keep the wild animals from eating them. I doubt Tate will be much help in scaring them off!

Once we got the trailer and both vehicles unloaded into the house, we had to think about unpacking all the stuff. Our freighted belongings are in Montana, we found out today, and we went over the weight estimate by almost 25%. Egads. Cha-ching. And I'm not sure where we're going to put stuff when it does arrive. It was kind of funny, though, trying to make a list of things we need to replace when the last couple days in Texas were such a blur we can't remember what we actually packed and what we gave away! I guess we'll find out soon enough, huh?

Anyway, we're here now. We're home. And we're waiting for you to come visit us! The guest room is waiting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day 8 in more detail

One of the things this trip has taught us is that things have different meanings depending on who you're talking to. Remember last night's kitchenette? This is the kitchenette in the hotel in Whitehorse - a single-unit combination of a two-burner stove, sink, and fridge. Cool.

The hotel in Whitehorse was probably the funniest one we stayed in. They didn't mean for it to be, it just worked out that way. The floor was so creaky we tried to stay still as much as we could so we wouldn't disturb the tenants below us, and the bed James used was like a teeter totter. The stairs leading up were slat stairs, and they bothered Tate, so she wouldn't climb them and had to be carried up. And she's heavy. But probably the funniest thing was that this morning, Jim got up to let Tate out to potty. He got dressed, opened the door in his grogginess, and simply let Tate out. Shouts of distress brought Jim to full consciousness and he grabbed her harness and caught up with her down the balcony. Fortunately, she stayed upstairs and hadn't gone far, and was trying to go into other rooms for little visits.

Also in Whitehorse is the World's Largest Weather Vane. It was down for some sort of improvements to the airport the day we were there, so you'll have to click on the link to see it put together. It's a real WW2 plane on a swivel that points its nose into the wind.

The wildlife adventure didn't stop yesterday. We saw a small group of six wild horses (seriously!) by the roadside, more moose, and six elk in the picture below. We also saw our first eagle of the trip, loons, tons of prairie dogs and hares. Our two-day wildlife total is now up to 83, not counting any of the animals smaller than Tate.

You know what that line is in the forest? That's the border between the US and Canada. No kidding. Sort of like in the cartoons. The US is on the left, and Canada on the right.

While all three of us have had a surprisingly pleasant trip through the Alcan, the last couple hundred miles or so lived up to the hype. Extensive construction barred the way and slowed traffic to a crawl, when we could go at all. Pilot cars would drive one queue of cars through the construction zone, then make a U-turn and lead the waiting cars back down it in the other direction, so that we would know how fast we could go and when to change lanes. It was tedious, dusty, and frustrating. It was also dangerous to the vehicles. This is Jim's second windshield damage of the trip, thanks to a passing semi who threw a rock right into the windshield in front of Jim. We're thankful it didn't go on through the glass.

This is our first glimpse of how close we were to the border and getting out of Canada. With the exception of the Rockies, I'm not in any hurry to come back into Canada, eh.

Pretty view from one of the construction areas. I already forgot the name of this lake.


Y'know, after all the hurry we went through to get Tate back into the US before her vet papers expired, I couldn't get the border agent to even look at them. As before, he wanted to know what was marked "fragile" in the back of the car (the antique violins), gently scolded us for forgetting to sign our passports, and waved us on through. Hm. Another non-event after all the hype.

So, here we are, back in the States. Aaaaaah. We left the Alcan in Tok, Alaska (rhymes with 'oak') where we had dinner and Jim found out that the smoke in the air was coming from a wildfire in Fairbanks, 230 miles away. The air smells like burnt chocolate chip cookies, in a bad way. Now we're in the Caribou Hotel ("We Caribout You") in Glennallen, Alaska. We'll be stopping in Anchorage for a while to get an estimate on a new windshield and maybe trade my CR-V for a rental car so the dealership can check it over after the long trip. We should be in our own house by bedtime, though. Yahoo!