Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back to school, back to work...

Let me start by saying it was a perfect Christmas vacation. I can't think of anything I would change if I could, except possibly making it last longer.

Last Saturday, we packed up the dogs and took all three to the kennel in Sterling. You should have seen how crowded it was in Jim's truck, with James and three big dogs in the back seat. Tate had on her "giddy idiot" face and was just glad to be going somewhere like a "real" dog. Moya hogged most of the room and Belle stood where she could fit. In the bed of the truck were James' suitcases and two boxes of fur slippers and hats to be delivered to Alaska Fur Exchange when we got to Anchorage. 

The roads were nice and clear on the way to The Big City. The weather was sunny and bright, and the drive in was uneventful. We considered stopping at the barbecue place at Turnagain Arm just south of Anchorage, but they weren't quite ready to open when we got there. We'll stop in another day. How could people with a sense of humor like ours *not* support a place with a name like this?

 Our first stop in town was at Alaska Fur Exchange to drop off the completed items and pick up more materials for myself and for Lee. If we thought the truck was full on the way up, well, it was sure full now. I've got job security for a while longer!

Next we drove to Wasilla to look at some saunas. Jim and I had been talking about getting one for a few months, and he found a place in Wasilla that was selling some affordable ones that would fit indoors and were easy to assemble. We picked out one, and hope it will be delivered sometime this week.

With time to kill before heading to the airport with James, we decided to explore one of the big malls. Finally, a mall like the ones in Texas! The "mall" in Soldotna has a GNC and a Payless Shoes as the anchor stores, so that should tell you something about the shopping we have out here on the Peninsula. While at the mall in Anchorage, we found a store that sells nice hats for men, and of course James went in to have a look. James looks good in most things he puts on his head, but oh how cute is he in a bowler!

After the mall we ate dinner at Outback Steakhouse and then took James to the airport. I managed not to cry until James checked his baggage. Hey, I can only suck it up for so long! Here's James at the airport with a Kodiak bear mount. I think the bear would like to try on the new bowler.

 Even making a crazy face, he is so cute!

Jim and I drove home that night, got home around 1:30 a.m. and tried to get some sleep before we needed to go to Sterling on Sunday to pick up the dogs. It was -18 degrees when we got up. Did you know that the foam seats in the car will get really hard when it's that cold? Yep, they do.

The kennel owners keep Tate indoors because she's so old, but the other two dogs stay in an outdoor run with a heated doghouse at one end. They share one run to help keep each other warm. We asked how cold it got in Sterling overnight (it's colder inland) and they weren't sure, but it was -22 when they got up. That may not have been the coldest night Belle's stayed outside in, but it was certainly the coldest Moya's been out for. All the dogs were so happy to be back in the warm car and they slept most of the rest of the day.

James made it safely back to campus by midday on Sunday. We hope he has a wonderful semester, learns a lot, and makes even more fun, goofy friends. He'll be back for Easter break in April.

The moose situation in the yard has gotten annoying. They're out there most days, making a mess even three dogs can't rival. There are lots of them lining the roads, making a hazard for drivers. We came upon the aftermath of a moose strike on the way to Sterling. Evidently a snowplow hit it and killed it. Moose are really big and can total a car, so we're thankful the plow was a substantial vehicle. Speaking of moose strikes, when you hit a moose with your car, you have to call and report it. You could face a fine for hitting the moose (which I don't think is fair considering the moose run in front of cars and it's not like you're aiming for one). The moose, if it died, is butchered and the meat is distributed to the needy. If you hit a bear with your car and it dies, the skeleton goes to  museums and teaching institutes, and the hide is auctioned at the Fur Rendezvous. But I digress.

Now that the lovely vacation is over, I'll go back to nearly full-time work. James stretched a lot of furs for me and did a lot of prep work, too, so I'm good to go for a while. I'll also be working on a line of children's slippers starting this week. Jim's still chugging along at his work too, taking care of the chickens and keeping the fire going on the wood stove. So, I guess that's all the news I have for now. Stay warm!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Moya Pulls the Kicksled

Teaching a dog to pull a sled is not an easy thing.

Sled dogs start training while they're still puppies, dragging pieces of snow machine track, and then training trikes, and all sorts of steps in the process until they become contributing members of a dog team.

We, however, have no earthly idea what we're doing. And a dog that couldn't care less if she puts you in a tree, as long as she gets to run. So it's a wonder, yet again, that everyone survived and had a blast while working on more of Moya's training. She did well pulling the plastic toy sled several days ago, and today she got to pull the nice kicksled. She still gets easily distracted and therefore needs to wear not only her pulling harness but also her EasyWalk harness, with someone running alongside her to keep her focused and on the road.

You might have already seen my earlier post about the moose in the yard. Well, it's still out there, just this time it's across the street in our neighbor's yard. Here, the whole gang is in the photo, with James guiding the kicksled and Jim running with Moya. Rosie the neighbor's corgi is joining in the fun and the moose has decided he'd better leave the area. Intrepid Rosie was ready to take on the moose alone, and Moya would have been happy to help her, but the moose couldn't be bothered to "play" with the dogs, thank goodness. You'll probably want to enlarge this photo by clicking on it. 

Jim's steering the kicksled while James runs Moya up our street.

And coming back down the street. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Crazy Dog Face of Joy. She's not tired one bit. Delighted, but not tired. As our vet describes her: "Built for speed, that one."

Moya says "This is EASY. Why does there need to be eight of us to pull a sled?"

So pretty. She has frozen whiskers but they didn't show up in the picture. In case you're wondering, it was 14 degrees at the time.

 Jim takes a turn keeping Moya in the road while James has a ride. Being pulled on a sled by your own dog... awesome.

I'm taking a turn on the sled seat while James steers Moya. This is what it looks like from the passenger's viewpoint. Gosh, it was fun!

Time to call it a day and go inside to warm up.

Good dog, Moya Moo. Good dog.


We know there have been moose in the yard again this winter - it IS Alaska, after all - but we hadn't often seen the actual critters, mostly just the hoof prints and other... signs... that they'd been hanging around. Moya found these two moose over the past couple days, though, so we were able to get some good pictures of them.

This youngster was coming up the embankment from the lake and munching his way towards the patio. It's a wonder any of our rose bushes survive from year to year. He had a lovely mane, so thick and full.

He's about 12 feet away from James at this point, and James was standing at the back door when he took this picture. The barbecue grill is between them, but that's still really close to be to a moose.

Poor James spent a sleepless night listening to him stamp around outside his bedroom window. There are no rose bushes on that side of the house so who knows what Little Bullwinkle was eating over there, but he found something to keep his interest until about 3:00 in the morning.

And then there was this older moosie today, in the strip of woods between our house and the next lot. 

In other news, James will be home for another week before heading back to college. He's been a tremendous help to me in doing a lot of prep work for my sewing. I've got more work than I can keep up with, so having him take some of the first steps of the process off my to-do list has been important. 

The dogs are all doing well, including Tate the Infinitely Prolonged. Tate went to the vet yesterday for her shots so she can go to the kennel with Belle and Moya while Jim and I make a long day of shopping in The Big City in the next few days. Tate is now 13 years and 10 months old. That's way old for any dog, much less a boxer mix. 

I guess that's all I have to report for now. See you later!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year! 2010 is already a memory and 2011 stretches before us like a blank roll of poster paper, ready to be filled in with new memories and second chances.

I'm not a "resolutions" sort of person. I never really have been. So I'm just going to add exercise to my daily to-do list and hope for the best. My health could use an overhaul and I'll start with exercise and fewer starchy foods and go from there.

Besides fitting into smaller jeans, one thing that's been on my mind a lot lately is gratitude. Such a small thing, isn't it, saying "Thank you" to someone who's been good to you? And yet it doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. I'm not being preachy here, at least no less preachy to you than to myself. My life overflows with an abundance of blessings that would take me the whole day to thank God for, only to need to start over with a new hymn of thanksgiving the next morning. I breathe clean air, I drink clean water, I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, indoor plumbing, I don't have to bang my dirty clothes on a rock in the river to get them clean and where I live has access to it by road year 'round. Being thankful for all the extras would take another whole day (my family! friends! online shopping! lots of dogs! airlines! a job!) and then I'd still need to thank each individual who's made those things happen. Being properly grateful could take the rest of my life.

On the other side of the coin, though, is ingratitude. I clearly remember, as a teenager, hearing II Timothy 3:2 and being struck by the fact that unthankfulness is a sign of the end times. Listed amongst other, seemingly more terrible, sins is basically an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

There's one person I know who was injured during a fall, and I sent the person some chocolate as a little pick-me-up. A couple weeks passed with no word from the person, and I assumed the package was lost or delayed in the mail. Eventually I talked to the person on the phone and asked if the chocolate had arrived, and the reply was "Yes, but it was melted." Spoken in a tone that suggested I deliberately put the  chocolate in the oven and melted it myself, and if you're wondering, no, there was no thank you for the treat (which was fine after a few minutes in the freezer) or for having thought of them, just a this-wasn't-good-enough dismissal. This person has made it a pattern to respond this way to gifts, and I've resolved in the past not to bother trying it again, and yet, after a year or so, I relent - because I like giving things and I love this person. This time, though, I mean to stick to it. Not to be vengeful or rude, but because my feelings get hurt at being all but told outright that my gifts are inadequate, and because I've begun to see it as being a bad steward of my resources to continue. 

And this brings me back around to think about the abundant blessings God has brought into my life. If I can't be grateful to Him, what makes me think He won't decide to transfer those blessings to someone else who will appreciate it more? After all He's done for me, a word of thanks is literally the least I can do.

So, who's with me? Let's try to make 2011 filled with a conscious awareness of how good we have it, no matter what our circumstances are, and say thank you to someone who's made your life easier, richer, or happier each day.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and reading this post, and for being my friend. I may not see you in person but seeing your faces in my Followers makes me smile. Thank you for that.

James is home! Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! James is home between semesters, and I do so love having him around.  

Christmas is a very special time of year for me, and I love it all. The lights, the music (well, okay, some of the music), the tv specials, the excuse to bake cookies, and to decorate the house as early in the year as I can feasibly talk my family into allowing. With James not arriving home until December 22, I had the perfect excuse to put up the trees a few days BEFORE Thanksgiving so we could do it as a family, rather than a hurried slap-together on Christmas Eve. 

Most of you already know I started my business, Smiling Otter Studio, earlier this fall, and that the business takes up a good portion of the main floor of the house, so the trees are upstairs in the loft this year. Here's the family tree. Minimally decorated this time around, there are pine cones, beaded icicles, white brass snowflakes and turned wood birdhouses made by our neighbor Brad. Grandma's quilt hangs over the railing behind it.

This is James' birthday tree. I always love his birthday trees. He's so creative and fun with his themes. This year, there are Beanie-baby-sized stuffed animals with an Alaskan theme all over the tree - from the otter angel on top to the beaver gnawing the trunk of the tree and the eagle carrying off a fish. Too bad they don't show up better in this pic because it was so adorable.

Around the house, I got to use a lot more of my vintage items, some from my collection and some from my brother's. In the kitchen, a thrift store fiber optic tree in Dan's metal bucket, and M&Ms in his chick feeder look great. The bread box houses Jim's chickens' breakfast items, and the tin on top of it holds egg shells waiting to be made into calcium supplement to be fed back to the chickens.

And yes, those are bottle caps decorating the tree.

Another $1 thrift store bargain is the top of what was once a large artificial tree, but now is a mini tree in my brother's Karo Syrup bucket, decorated with vintage ornaments from Jim's grandparents. Copper cookie cutters given to me by my best friend hang in the kitchen window behind it.

I love decorating the Hoosier cabinet. The teddy bear and horse toys on top were Jim's childhood toys. I was trying to get a Christmas morning vibe going on here...

... Coffee and syrup and fresh eggs for Christmas breakfast, crayons with Scotch tape and tiny scissors for last-minute wrapping, and the preciously tiny egg beater and pastry crimper suggest there might be pie after dinner. The birthday balloons are in honor of James' birthday.

Speaking of James, here he is modeling his cross fox hat that I made him for Christmas. Flaps up:

 Flaps down:

We've had snow off and on this month and the temperatures here at the house have been down into the teens below. A bit too cold to want to go out and play in, but not so cold that it keeps us from doing anything we want to do. The guys successfully got Moya to pull them in a sled, and have had the snow machines out for a ride on the lake. The snow is too deep for the kicksleds unless we play with them on little-used roads in the neighborhood, so going for a sled ride on the lake is probably out of the question unless we get some more winds to blow some of the snow off. It's been a good Christmas break so far, and I expect the rest of the break will be just as lovely.

Sending you all echoes of Christmas contentment and best wishes for a fabulous New Year!