14 September 2008 Summer in a sphere

All summer I've been wondering why I bother as I moved spindly tomato plants in pots around the living room. Some of them began the summer on the deck, but it soon became obvious that they needed some warmth if they were going to do anything. With a remodel project also happening in the living room, they often seemed more trouble than they were worth for anticipated weak returns.

I'm not sure how it started -- before I knew it I had 8 potted tomato plants vying for space in the living room with the house plants and the basil I grow there every summer. On the one warm day we had in July, I took them all outside in the hopes that a passing bee would fertilize them and produce some fruit. Then when the cool temperatures returned, in they came and I shook them often in hopes they'd self-fertilize. By the first of August, half hadn't set any fruit and they moved to the compost pile. By the end of August, I began to wonder if any of the fruit was going to ripen with all the clouds.

This week my limited patience paid off and I think the living room will be full of potted tomatoes again next year. These three kinds of cherry tomatoes - in red, orange, and yellow - are the best I've tasted in years. Even the vine-ripened tomatoes that I've been buying from a local greenhouse all summer can't compare.

These tasty little spheres are one of the few hints that it's been summer in Alaska.

31 August 2008 Sealife Wash

In lieu of a long boat ride in pouring rain, we went to the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward to see Stellar sea lions, harbor seals, seabirds, fish, and other creatures of the sea. Our timing was good and we saw trainers work with the sea lions, seals, and seabirds. After these sessions, I sat in front of the tanks and was able to tune out the noise of children and adults around me. I don't know if it was the acoustics or the dimly lit sitting area, but I felt like I was underwater, where all sounds are muffled and motion is fluid and smooth. The slow movement of the fish and repetitive paths of the mammals was calming.

That's sort of the feeling and mood I try to get when I'm sitting in Quaker Meeting. One week after our visit to Seward, I was trying to tune out sounds of traffic and restless children today and turn my thoughts to a conversation started online by some Friends. The topic is religious differences, within Quakerism and with other religions. Some want the children in our Meeting to learn just about Quakers while others talked about the value of understanding other people to reduce conflict in the world. I'm in the latter camp.

As the national elections heat up, rhetoric is turned up a notch with the goal of drawing distinctions and separating one candidate from the other. The focus is on difference, and not what makes the candidates similar. If we could understand how similar we all are, our differences wouldn't have to lead to name-calling, bickering, conflict, and war.
If the campaign season has you down, and you're not a Quaker, I recommend 15 minutes in front of a tank of slow-moving fish to quiet your mind and restore equilibrium to your view of your fellow Americans.

29 August 2008 State Fair

As the national media started pouring into Alaska, we piled into our little Subaru with my parents and made our annual pilgrimage to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, Alaska, only a few miles east of Wasilla. Dad and Kay had come to Alaska at the end of summer just to see the fair. We were a bit nervous that it would live up to their expectations, based on our tall tales in years past of huge vegetables, endless bunnies, and all-things Alaskan.

The veggies did not disappoint. The largest we saw was a 907# pumpkin! We also watched part of the Great Alaska Weigh-off, always entertaining with cruciferous limericks and tales of triumph over slugs and moose. My favorite, however, were the vegetable people.

The livestock barn did have two disappointments. Only a quarter or so of the bunnies we normally see were on hand. We were either too early or too late in the week to see all breeds. Another highlight for me each year is the days-old litter of baby piglets.* The pregnant sow was alone in her pen, lying heavily on one side, still waiting to deliver her babies.

Small-town values were on display at the fair, despite the buzz of the day's news. Nothing can stop the parade of 4-H exhibits, quilt shows, carnival rides, and canine stunt dogs that defines the Alaska state fair. A few days later, I went to the Anchorage Daily News website to learn more about that day's big bombshell. I was heartened to see that the top item was not an unplanned pregnancy, but the birth of the piglets at the state fair. The world may be focused on Alaska, but Alaskans are focusing on what it means to live in a state that feels like a small town.

* some of you may remember I've featured that photos of the piglets the last two years. if you want to see them again, go to Aug 07 or Sep 06.