christmas 10

We spent a quiet Christmas in Talkeetna. Many of our friends were out of town, which meant we were able to stay at a house with running water (including hot!), electricity, and a thermostat. The comforts were much appreciated for the long cold weekend. We did miss our cozy cabin, but we were a short walk away and brought a few of its comforts over. We dined with friends on Christmas Eve and night.

With the cold and short daylight hours, our outdoor activities were subdued, too. Paul and I snowshoed on Saturday and decided that the route was solid enough from previous snowshoers, cold temperatures, and recent wind for the bhikkhu to join us on Sunday. The three of us toured the dismal swamp and numbered lakes 1 through 3. We met up with a friend and his dog for the latter half of the loop. I had hoped to photograph George's frosty beard, but my camera battery died in the cold.

I hope that your Christmas was filled with friends, comforts, and time outside with those you love in a place you love.

merry merry to you!

you can click on our Christmas card to see it larger.

thanksgiving 10 family history

Many of us in Alaska have left family far behind in the lower 48. Some people come here to forget their family and start over. Even for those of us with happy childhoods and loving parents, at times living in Alaska makes it seem like we're the beginning of the line, defining a new path in the north.

When I visit my mom in upstate New York, however, I am immersed in family, heritage, and a history rooted in place. My mom and stepfather live in two old farmhouses in upstate New York. One they bought just as I finished college, and they moved from the Finger Lakes area, where I spent most of my youth, to the northern edge of the Adirondack park. I haven't seen that house in years because early in this decade, my mom and her siblings inherited the family homestead in Verona with a house built circa 1815. My mom eventually became the sole owner of what we have always called "the Farm."

My mom's Uncle Ed acquired the Farm in the 1950s and slowly worked on it for decades. He added electricity and plumbing and a 'modern' kitchen in the 1970s. He had hoped to live there with his mother, my great-grandmother, but she died before they could move there. Finally in the early 1980s Ed and his sister Hazel moved in. Aunt Hazel was an outgoing, stylish woman who played a mean game of cards called Spite and Malice (which as a child I thought was Spike and Alice). Unfortunately her brother wouldn't let her paint or hang pictures, and the only room in the house that didn't look like a furniture store was her bedroom.

Visiting the Farm as a kid was always a treat because it had barns with sleighs, spinning wheels in the high attic, and another attic packed with stuff. A kid could hope there was some sort of treasure there somewhere. Now visiting the Farm is a treat because my mom has turned a handsome old house into a home. My step-father Jack installed a wood stove in one of the fireplaces, making the house cozier than it ever was before. They have painted several rooms in bright warm colors. On this recent trip, my brother and I got to give opinions on which green to paint the living room.

Jack has also created trails throughout the woods and dug two ponds. Some of the land is still cultivated by farmers who rent the land from my parents. The harvested soybean and corn fields attract deer and wild turkeys, which in turn bring coyotes. After Thanksgiving dinner, we walked through the woods and circled the fields. Jack showed us where the bucks paw the ground to mark their territory.

My family has also marked this land as ours, with houses, barns, fields, and a family cemetery. These things are only slightly more permanent than the deers' marks, but much more noticeable to other humans. They say that a family has lived here and cared for this place.

19-21 nov 10 pennsylvania color

A week before Thanksgiving I flew back East. My first stop was the Philadelphia area to attend a workshop at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center. Clerking is a form of facilitation that is part of the Quaker decision making process. I've wanted to take this workshop for two years to not only become more effective at our Anchorage Quaker Meeting but also in my work, where I facilitate a lot of meetings. Wouldn't it be nice to feel centered, confident, and joyful in all of those meetings?

I left a gray/brown and white world in Anchorage. We already had more than a foot of snow on the ground at home. In Pennsylvania, fall hadn't quite ended. I felt like I'd stepped back in time. The Pendle Hill campus is about 23 acres and I circled it daily on the perimeter trail, basking in the glow of the remaining leaves on the gingko and maple trees.

The trees that brought me to a halt were the Japanese maples. I collected a dozen flaming leaves over the weekend and scattered them on the desk in my room. I even enclosed a few in a card home to Paul. There is nothing like this in the Alaska fall scene. After the workshop ended on Sunday, I walked to the Swarthmore Campus in the next village over. From the train* I had noticed a large woods next to campus and Pendle Hill provided trail maps. I walked along Crum Creek, dodging wet labrador retrievers and runners. I crossed under the railroad bridge and toured the holly collection of Scott Arboretum. Then I walked through the campus, which reminded me of my alma mater Cornell. When I noticed that the sun was getting low, I headed back into the woods for a last quiet evening at Pendle Hill.

*if I'd taken any train photos, I'd post an entry about how wonderful it was to use real public transportation (something else we don't have in Alaska). Amtrak took me north to Utica, NY, to spend Thanksgiving with family.

oct 10 best of white rim

It's only been two weeks since the bike ride on the White Rim Trail and already work, duties, winter, and the next trip are crowding in on the savoring of my time pedaling through the high desert and canyonlands. Before I forget everything, I thought I'd record some of my favorite bits.

Sleeping until a late sunrise every morning. Some mornings I didn't rise until I heard Brin call out "Hot Coffee"

The incredible scenery ... pictures will describe better than I can

The biking ... sometimes easy, sometimes technical, sometimes challenging, sometimes impossible. Staying true to the mountain biking motto,"If you aren't walking, you aren't mountain biking."

Somebody else cooked and washed the dishes!

The sense of accomplishment. A storm in September resulted in a landslide that wiped out the switchbacks out of the canyon at the very end of trail. Instead of changing or canceling our trip, we opted to be the first to try a hike-and-bike out of the canyon. Of course, that was fairly easy because the guides carried the bikes on the steepest climbs!

Sharing this wonderful experience with good friends.

You can see more photos and read more stories at

23 oct 10 white rim intro

After a night of wind gusts that ripped the tent stakes out of the ground and scattered fine red dust through my tent, the rain began at daybreak and I wondered what I had signed up for. After a record-setting rainy, cloudy summer in Alaska, had I really flown to Utah for a guided mountain bike trip in a fall monsoon? I knew we would have to leave the camp site that day and feared we'd pedal 20 miles in winds that would blow us off the White Rim into the Colorado River canyon below.

Soon the rain ended, though, and the guides Brin and Ben cooked a hot breakfast. After a mug of strong coffee and hot french toast, the day looked a little better. The hail storm that followed was brief, and the clouds started parting to blue sky. By noon we were back on the trail for our 2nd day on the White Rim in the Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park.

10 oct 10 riding into winter

I'm 'in training' for a backcountry bike trip to Utah next week, so I've been trying to put on the miles that I didn't get in over the summer due to a number of excuses (boat, rain, sprained thumb). For the most part, this fall has been beautiful and I've been lucky with the weather. But last week did pit my competing desires to 'be in better shape' versus to 'stay warm and dry' against each other.

Cold temperatures at night had made the lower elevation trails a little gooey, so last Sunday, I suggested to Paul that we ride higher where maybe the temperatures were a little more even. We did find that the surface of the Powerline Pass trail was indeed mostly frozen. We were surprised to find that the upper part of the valley was also covered in snow. We weren't entirely thrilled to be riding in snow in October, but it was fun to see the upper valley in snow and ice.

On Monday, I biked to work in sleet and cold. And on Tuesday, the thermometer was set at 25 when I pedaled down the driveway. It's beginning to feel like winter.

2 oct 10 harvest

In many ways, this was a disappointing summer for gardening. The sun and heat of late May transitioned to one of the rainiest, cloudiest summers on record. Our vegetable garden site has become shadier over the years as the birch trees around the perimeter of our backyard have grown. And I've been busy with other activities and not spending the time I should to feed the plants and the soil and to hunt the slugs. The latter loved this summer -- between the constant moisture and my lack of vigilance, they had a long party.

At one point in August I almost gave up on getting much out of the garden. I was even buying lettuce at the farmer's market because my leafy greens weren't large enough to harvest yet and I'd already thinned as much as I could for baby green salads.

But being a gardener is partly about being an optimist, and I stuck it out. I visited the Alaska Botanical Gardens and took inspiration for next year in their edible landscape plantings. I read The Conscious Gardener by Alaskan Ellen Van deVisse, and tried to pick more slugs while not thinking of them with vengeance. I also took note of what veggies had done well -- red cabbages for the fall and winter, a beautiful red sorrel that dresses up every salad, and abundant nasturtiums.

But the real surprise and joy are the apples. I received this tree at least five years ago in a tree adoption lottery used to be held in Anchorage every spring. The little tree produced a few apples the first couple of years, then maybe a dozen, and two dozen last year. This spring on the Veggie Roll I learned that I should remove some of the spring buds to get bigger apples. I finally got around to doing that in late June and was surprised at the number of buds. Surely they wouldn't all develop into fruit. But they did. The final tally -- 103 apples!

Most of these fit within the hole formed by touching my thumb to my middle finger. They're beautiful sitting in a red bamboo bowl on the counter. The slightly tart flavor will be perfect for applesauce, one of the tastes of fall from my upstate New York childhood. These little red-golden globes may be the shiny lining in the garden in this wet summer.

23-26 sep 10 Eklutna Camaraderie

Once again after a summer of disappointing weather, the Alaska Dirt Divas were treated to a sunny, golden weekend at the Serenity Falls Cabin. Our gamble two years ago to push the weekend later in September has become the tradition and we haven't been sorry yet. We added a night this year to include the Equinox and Full Moon in our long weekend.

Three nights gave us time to explore the canyon by foot one day and relax in the sun another. As always, more food than we could eat, though we tried. Morning workouts by Stacey were a justification for the gorging for some of us. Maggie's tai chi was a welcome stretch and relaxation for some of us who did Stacey's workout.

Rose showed me how to balance rocks. We stacked rocks into cairns on a dry stretch of river bottom one afternoon. She is able to stack off center yet keep the weight balanced through a center plumb line. I was just happy to achieve a little balance in the autumn sun with good friends.

Here are more photos from the weekend:

19 sep 10 end of summer

The last month has been a busy time of playing with family, harvesting the garden, and enjoying the best weather we've had in months. Here are some photos from the last few weeks. I hope to get through the backlog soon.

Paul, my dad, and I bicycled from Indian to Girdwood and most of the way back on one dry day during my parents' visit. My stepmom Kay drove the support wagon, babysat the pup, and met us in Girdwood for lunch.

We skipped two weekends in Prince William Sound because of forecast downpours and small craft advisories. Then came the weekend after Labor Day ....

Airing out the sails at anchor in Pirate Cove, with College Fjord as the backdrop.

Blossom anchored in Bettles Bay Lagoon. We found a ridge full of blueberries above the lagoon.

We enjoyed a couple of hikes "in the heather" above Port Wells.

26 aug 10 rainy days, mondays, bad haircuts

Zen lesson for the day: Don't let 'em get you down

and a fashion tip: if a bandana makes you feel better, wear it

20 aug 10 birds of all feathers

Summer has been making an appearance as this week ends. This morning the sun was out, the clouds were gone, and the birds were more active than I've seen in two months. The residents - nuthatches, chickadees, and junkies - were on the deck eating the birch seeds that recent strong winds dropped there. Robins were flying in groups between the birch and spruce trees, which is sadly a sign that they're getting ready to head south.

Mid-morning I was working at the desk in the loft when I heard a loud thump on a living room window. Last week a young robin died there and I was hoping that I could help another bird make it to the migration. On the deck a young female blackpoll warbler sat in a daze. I held her in my hands to keep her warm. I couldn't see any visible signs of injury. After a little while I placed her on the picnic table to see if she'd fly off. She didn't. So I made her a little nest of napkins and towels in a yogurt container and left her on the table. I looked out often, hopeful that she had flown off. Eventually I went back to work and hoped for the best.

Not too much later I saw two neighborhood dogs sniffing at the table. I ran downstairs and chased them off. The little warbler was still in the container. As I pulled back the napkin that was partially over the container, she flew off.

The predators were as active as the birds. A little later I noticed a flash of white outside. The neighbor's cat was stalking a young robin. I cranked open the window and both of them scattered.

Despite the drama of prey and predator, life and death, the reminder that we are in the season of birth and growth, the height of life, was refreshing after these weeks of rain.

11 aug 10 soggy zen

I feel like I haven't done anything but whine about the weather since we returned from a soggy week in Prince William Sound to the soggy summer in Anchorage on Saturday evening.* So I won't dwell on the dominant weather that we had in the Sound last week.

I'm trying to focus on how this is the first summer in a long time that I actually sit around reading. Earlier this summer I complained to a friend back East about the flurry of summer reading lists that pop up everywhere in June and how Alaskans were too busy making the most of every minute of sunshine to sit around reading. Winter is for reading. My remarks were possibly a bit insensitive because she was laid up with a broken ankle. I hoped that she was enjoying the opportunity to read and relax during the warm days. I wanted to know what she was reading for my own winter book list.

Then came our time in Prince William Sound - a week last month and a week this month. The weather was less than inspiring for exploring by either boat or foot most of the time, but perfect for snuggling in with a hot beverage and a good novel. This approach to a vacation, unusual for me, certainly leads to a relaxed state.

Paul commented on how the week had a Zen quality -- from the quiet mornings of reading (including a book on Zen) and doing Sudoku and crosswords to the chance to mindfully carry out chores and meal preparations. Even the landscape looked like an Asian painting with mists defining successive ridges and mountains.
Once again it seems that the trick is to bring that calm, relaxed state of the retreat back to the everyday world.

* And it's official - the National Weather Service says that we're setting records for cool, wet, and cloudy. And it has rained every day since this article was in the paper.

** I've added some more photos with captions to the gallery.

31 july 10 fungus among us

King Boletus, come meet us

What is it about large mushrooms that inspire song and poetry?

We went on a woodland stroll this evening in search of boletes. Paul found one in our neighborhood last night and started to get that crazy glint in his eye. Our one hour walk this evening turned into two. We have much to show for it, probably more than will fit into one batch of drying in the convection oven.

When the moon hits your eye like a big bolete pie
That's amore ...

Old King Boletus
Old Bichon happy in woods
Meet just once in life

july 2010 blossom

In September 1998 Paul and I sailed together for the first time; it was the first time Paul had ever sailed. We went to Maine to visit my brother Ron. Our plan had been to rent kayaks and paddle part of the Maine Island Trail. We had rented a shelter on Isle of Haute in Acadia National Park for a few nights. But because Ron hadn't kayaked before, no one would rent to us. Ron, who is a boat designer, was working for a boat builder at the time, and his boss offered to loan us an open wooden sail boat that he had built. We'd still be camping every night, and if the wind didn't blow, the boat was fitted with oars. His daughter had named the little blue boat Blossom.

Ron and Paul did row quite a bit but we also sailed. Somehow Ron anchored Blossom off-shore each night and got us and the camping gear to the islands without a dinghy. The weather was mostly good, we ate fresh mussels, hiked on Isle of Haute, and had a great time. Not only did Paul get the sailing bug that week, but we bought two folding kayaks and found out that the National Park Service wanted to send him to Alaska to work for Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. Our lives were changed forever in the span of a few days.

Our Jeanneau Tonic 23 is much more modern in design than that little wooden gaffrig sailboat, but those happy memories and maybe the blue bottom hull of our boat have caused us to call our sailboat Blossom almost from the time we bought her. We haven't told anyone, but that's the name we've been leaning toward. And we've finally toasted her with Paul's homemade mead (the last bottle from our wedding 16 years ago!) and made it official -- here's Blossom II.
Our Blossom with all the wet gear hanging out on the first sunny day

July was the first real sailing and gunkholing month on our Blossom. Over a long Fourth of July weekend, we anchored in Surprise Cove, hiked on a state park trail, and finally saw Blackstone Bay. We've kayaked in Prince William Sound many times and have never seen whales. We probably saw a dozen humpbacks in Cochrane and Blackstone Bays that weekend. We scooted back into Whittier for a night in the harbor when a small craft advisory was forecast for our last day. Sleeping at dock and maneuvering about the harbor the next day in sustained 14 mph winds with 40 mph gusts were excellent boat handling practice!

On the 17th we drove to Whittier with food, libations, books, and other supplies for a week's sojourn. We spent another night at Surprise Cove and then two rainy nights tucked back into Three Finger Cove. Two harbor seals had greeted us there. On the first night, I was awake in the middle of the night and heard an odd bubbling sound water off the bow. I jumped out, grabbed the binoculars, and peered out into the dark. I could just see some tremendous splashing near the shore. In the morning and all the next day, the seals were gone. I feared that orcas had attacked them. When we left the cove the next day, dozens of seals were hauled out on rocks near the cove entrance. I hope that our seals were just visiting with the family.

We left Three Finger Cove and spent the afternoon motoring up out of Cochrane Bay and down Culross Passage to within a couple of miles of where we had started that day. The sun came out for the first time in four days while we were anchored in Long Bay. We hung all the wet towels and rain gear on the boom, back stay, and life lines. Paul hoisted a sun shower from the main halyard and we bathed in the cockpit.

Clean and dry, we sailed out of Long Bay and then down Culross Passage to Picturesque Cove for a night. The next day we motored through the gap between Culross Island and Applegate Island and then up the east side of Culross. We had hoped for a little wind from the greater Sound for sailing that day, but the north breeze wasn't enough to be worth tacking back and forth up wind. We tried to visit Lake Bay that day but the commercial fishermen had it blocked off to catch pinks returning to the hatchery. So we returned to the north end of Culross Passage and anchored in Carrs Cove.

The wind and sun returned on Friday and we sailed out of Culross Passage and north into Port Wells. For an hour we just enjoyed the east wind on a broad reach toward the glaciers. Late in the afternoon we anchored in Ziegler Cove in the state marine park of that name. The swells in the cove rocked us to sleep after we explored the long gravel beach and boggy uplands separating the cove from Port Wells. On Saturday, those same east winds pushed us back to Whittier. With the whisker pole holding the jib out, we hit our fastest speed yet, under sail or motor, of 7 knots.

To see more photos of our Prince William Sound trips, click Play or the photo itself:

17 jul 10 becoming a crew

The 'somewhat weekly' has moved into summer schedule of 'somewhat monthly.' We are headed to Prince William Sound for more wilderness and sailing fun.

When we were deciding whether or not to buy the boat, the former owner gave a little speech about how sailing and boating had transformed his family: we used to be just a family, now we're a crew. We sometimes joke about that little speech -- you really could almost hear the music cued behind it. Yet the sailboat does seem to be bringing a new level of cooperation to our marriage.

So co-captains Paul and Corinne with first mate Gilligan (B's boat name) are off to keep honing our crew skills.

21 jun 10 sailing into solstice

Light wind sailing in Prince William Sound

With the end of June only a few days away, I start to feel like the summer is slipping away. I try to remind myself to live in the moment, but it's so difficult not to pace this season in Alaska by its number of weekends (14 with Memorial and Labor Day). This is the 5th weekend (and it's rainy and gray). If we're lucky, we get a few warm weekends in May and September to stretch the summer vibe. I also usually mark the summer's passage by the number of camping and kayaking trips. This summer, it's the number of sailing trips. And due to boat repairs, family reunions, work, and more boat repairs, we've only had the boat in the water one weekend so far this season.

Thinking about what we did that weekend (4 days over Solstice), I realize that we are making progress. Our goals for the sailboat this summer are threefold -- get to know it, fix the problems it has (sometimes these seem to be multiplying), and get more comfortable with boat handling. We're doing pretty well with all three despite the limited time on the boat.

The first two goals go hand-in-hand and are the most frustrating. Seems the more we get to know the boat, the more we find things that need to be repaired. The bilge is very clean now that we've discovered the windows leak, the water tank leaks (especially if the mystery O-ring is fitted into the hose), and two stanchion bases leak. Thankfully, Paul is very good at repairing just about anything and has a good supply of tools and hardware on board. (Though sometimes those things are on board to fix the problem we found the weekend before.) In addition to those leaks, in the last two weeks, we've had problems with the motor, the windlass (just the power option), and the trailer hitch. At this point, (knock on fiberglass), it doesn't seem like there's much left to be broken. Paul already re-wired and re-plumbed it.

In the third goal - the most fun - we both became much more comfortable motoring around the harbor, docking, and launching/taking out. We anchored for the first time for snacks and a shore walk in Shotgun Cove, about 7 miles out of Whittier. We used commercial and shrimp buoys at the mouth of the cove to practice handling and to get a better feel for how tight a radius the boat turns in all directions. We are relieved to find that dropping the rudder more than a foot actually gives us reverse to starboard (we don't know how the previous owners did it with the rudder raised to the trailering position even in the water).

I could whine more about broken things but it's probably wiser to remember how beautiful the weekend was, how peaceful it was sailing in Passage Canal, how quiet Shotgun Cove was on a Sunday evening, how nice the various people we met in the harbor were, and how much we like being on the boat.

our first anchorage -- Shotgun Cove

Click here to see more sailing photos

13 jun 10 dog days of summer

Another gratuitous photo of my pooch, just before I got brave and cut his hair myself. It's been almost two weeks (the difference between a good vs bad hair cut) and he's almost ready to let me post another photo.

31 may 10 and it's summer

You know it's summer in Alaska when ...

I'm never quite sure when to say that summer begins here. If you're Paul, you stick strictly to the idea that equinoxes and solstices bookend each season. I tend to think of those dates as the halfway marks. But when spring is really only a couple of weeks long, how can you call that a season? Or is Memorial Day the true kickoff, with a long weekend, holiday events, and the start of outdoor gardening?

I don't know when it truly starts, but this past weekend, I knew it was summer in Anchortown. I wore shorts all weekend and it was 60 degrees on Sunday morning at 7:00! I swapped out the flannel sheets with the 'cool-feel' summer sheets. All the leaves are full-fledged and green now and the elderberries are starting to bloom. And the surest sign -- the mosquitoes are so thick in the lower elevations of Bicentennial Park that I couldn't let the dog stop to do much of anything that wasn't vital.

Paul is reunioning back East with the Buttons so I devoted the weekend primarily to gardening. On Saturday, I rebuilt two raised beds for vegetables and planted all my seeds and seedlings (except the last few that I bought that morning at the farmer's market). On Sunday I pedaled around town on the Veggie Roll, a tour of vegetable gardens organized by Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage. We saw some creative and productive gardens where people are trying really hard to grow most of their produce right here in the big city. On Monday I turned to the flower beds. I weeded, watered, and mulched with leaves and wood shavings from Paul's 2009 winter project. I still need to weed and mulch the raspberry patch, but by Monday evening, I had accomplished all the big tasks on the garden to-do list.

Yes, it's summer in Alaska ... go-go-go while the sun shines.

B taking a little break on Sunday evening in Bicentennial Park

27 may 10 spring cleaning

clean, shiny sailboat (attached to the very dirty truck) ready to motor from our street to Whittier

little dog fresh (soggy?) from a bath

21 may10 bike to work

Habitat through Habitat

If every day was like this Friday, I'd bike to work everyday.

After a week of clouds and wind, the end of the week dawned clear and bright green. Paul and I pedaled away from the house around 8:00. Less than half an hour later we were at the Bacon Station, one of the energizer stations set up around town for this official Bike to Work Day. We chatted with Anne, the municipality's BtW coordinator, about the event. I met Dawn from Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage ; she is planning a garden tour on Memorial Day weekend and I told her I'm in.

Paul enjoyed the bacon

Two strips of bacon and a smoothie didn't fully fuel my commute, so I stopped at a coffee shop downtown and picked up some pastries for myself and my co-workers. I finally rolled into the office around 9:15.

This isn't a Friday that I normally work; I had decided to bike in for a little camaraderie with the rest of the bicycle commuters, especially those at my office. So after doing some low-key work, like filing and asking people about their commutes (I am the office BtW coordinator after all), I put my helmet back on and rolled over to the museum to meet Rose for lunch.

After locking up our bikes, we toured the grounds which have only recently been opened. We circled the new sculpture, Habitat. Like most city artwork, it has its fans and its dis-fans. I decided I liked it. The photos in the paper don't do it justice, nor does driving past in on 6th Avenue.

Rose wanted to climb on everything, including the don't climb sign.

We had a leisurely lunch at Muse, the new restaurant in the museum. The Marx Brothers did not disappoint with a roasted beet salad, Bristol Bay seafood chowder, and a porkloin empanada. We lingered over cappuccinos to fuel our commutes home.

Then Rose led me through the Fairview, Airport Heights, and Nunaka Valley neighborhoods and Russian Jack Park to Baxter Road on the east side of town. Near Tudor we parted. I pedaled up the hill on Campbell Airstrip Road to the Bivouac trailhead, then on the dirt trail through Bicentennial Park to my neighborhood. I finally rolled into the garage around 4:00.

Crossing over Campbell Creek, where snow is still clinging to the banks and the grasses are waiting to green up.