Surprise!!

Last week, Sadie and I decided we'd just swing on down to Seattle on the heel of receiving news that Grandma & Grandpa we're heading that way. If they were going to be on the west coast I figured it wouldn't be too hard to mosey on down so they could meet their first great-grandbaby! And to see Meg, Russ & Curren, and Amanda, Calais & Sonya. So much loving family for this new baby!

So we headed south. Sadie was a total champ on all flights, sleeping through just about all of them. Including the first, which was so rough the passengers applauded when we landed. Mom was more then a bit terrified, but only cried a little and didn't throw up! 

We were greeted in Seattle by Meg and Curren - how great to see them! Curren has started high school and we were lucky to be visiting to see his band play at the Bainbridge Harvest Fair. It was rainy and windy, but those guys were awesome!


Grandma & pa arrived the day after us, tired after a long trip, but elated to see us at the airport! They couldn't believe not only that we were there, but that Mom and Patty had known and not said anything! So much fun. We had a god time visiting, and Sadie was great at her first trip to an art museum!




Amanda and girls came over to the Island on Saturday. It was a short visit, but wonderful to see them all and introduce the newest Gibson. As Calais said, "baby Sadie is sooooooo cute!" We hit up the kids museum for a brief bit and I got a peak into the world of ushering these babies once they figure out how to locomote amidst a veritable sea of children and parents. Woah. 

Finally we were able to visit in Anchorage, at the airport gem Yogurtland, with Abby on the way south and Ian on our trip back home. 


And now here we are. And despite a fairly epically rough night, I'm feeling blessed and loved, and full of love for family and friends. And for this big world full of homes that can so quickly feel like a home away from home when surrounded by these family and friends. 




New England, Part 1

After a week in beautiful, sunny Sitka (it's like that all the time, right?), I made it back to New England for a two week trip visiting family & friends. It's a fabulous time to sit back, relax, and *finally* update this blog! I'll try to get some older photos up from the summer, but for now here are some shots from my first week in Maine. Tomorrow I'm heading to MA to visit mom, grandparents, and friends there.

On my way from Sitka, I had a six hour layover in Seattle. We arrived on time, and I scooted on the lite rail downtown to grab a bite to eat and check out the art museum. There's an exhibit of women artists right now, and while I love the premise of the exhibit the bulk of it was modern/post-modern/neo-post-modern (I made that up) art which is just not my style. I know, I know. That sounds terribly old, Protestant and stodgy, but what can I say. I'm a Monet girl at heart (did you know in fourth grade we had a day to dress up as someone famous, and I chose Claude Monet? true story).

I had a great time wandering around the galleries, and was thankful for the airport reprieve.

Upon landing the next morning in Boston, I quick quick was on a bus heading to Portsmouth, NH. Chris picked me up around 10am and we had a fabulous morning in the sunshine, drinking coffee and watching crews trying to re-float a tug boat that had sunk at the Memorial Bridge site in the P. River. Can't spell it....sorry. It was fun to stroll around the brick of downtown Portsmouth, awed at what stores and restaurants are  still open and trying to remember those long gone. How very many many many hours I spent through high school on those streets, and how very different they seem 15 years later.


Up in Rockland, Chris went to the market for lobster, steamers, and mussels. So.Freaking.Good. I felt oh-so-grown up, as this is very much a family dinner for us. I don't know if Chris felt the same, but I do know we both had to look up on the internet how long to cook a lobster. That's just a dad thing in my mind...it was so fun to be in my little brother's house, cooking a grown-up family dinner. Love.


Chris, a terribly gracious host, slept in the barn and gave me his room. Our great-nana's quilt is on his bed, our mom's paintings are on his walls and her mixing bowls on the shelves, our dad's crazy found-art adorn random corners all around the house.  Love love.


 The coast of Maine is beautiful. Growing up in southern Maine, I didn't get north much beyond Portland. I loved the inlets and bays, rocky shores, heart and soul of commercial fishing. Just like the first time I opened "National Fisherman" and saw Perkins Cove and Homer Alaska on the same page, I could see home here as in there.

Maine, however, has ticks. Gross. Not up by dad, but when Chris & I went for a run with Shaemus (hi, buddy!!) we came back and found the creepy crawlies all over. Lime disease is hot up here, and I want nothing to do with it. Chris discovered that Shaemus doesn't really mind being vacuumed!  It seems he might kind of like it...


I stole down to Portland for a night (the night Sandy struck!) to visit Katie and Aaron, some of my few friends from high school. Katie since fifth grade, when we'd figure floor, play real live Clue, WWF, collect water, jump in the bushes, attempt to ski, lip sync, ouiji board, eat at LaStellas, ride JJ Supreme, suffer through school, play in the Valley, dress up, dress down, and just hang out. 

Katie is living in Portland, along with Aaron and a number of other folks from school - many of whom I'd love to see and am sorry to have missed. Next time....this time around we had some dinner and enjoyed the storm.

I headed back to Rockland, where dad and Donna picked me up the following day. On the way home we stopped in Bangor at Hollywood Casinos! My very first casino. Thanks, Dad!

I lost $30.

I learned that I hate the feeling of losing money. But, since dad gave me the $50 to start with, it's kind of like I made $20 since I got to keep the change. Right? Donna and I had fun at the roulette table. 

Last night we took the pontoon boat out with friends Debbie and Arthur for the last boat ride of the season. It was a most beautiful night on the lake, with laughs, family and friends. A most fabulous trip to Maine. 

 Tomorrow I'm heading south to MA, looking forward to a visit with mom, grandma & grandpa, aunt Patty and family, and friends. It's been a wonderful first part to this trip home, and reminds me that I just must prioritize this trip more regularly.

Harambe(e) Gardens, July

P7150206 We’ve been blessed with sunny skies so far this summer, but not terribly warm temperatures to accompany the nice weather. Things are growing along, however, with various layers of protection and crossed fingers. As always it’s a grand experiment, and a venue for heaps of learning and note-taking. Feelings of over-planting here, and under-planting there, will bear themselves out over the season. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-July, but that’s how summer tends to shake out – full-on until one morning you wake up and it’s dark and November. And you start wondering when would be the best time to head to Mexico..

But here we are, mid-July and in full swing of garden-life. (in addition, of course, to the work-life and the adventuring-life) Yesterday I cut my first real flush of flowers.  I’ve been picking at them over the past few weeks, a small bouquet here and there for the house. But I held off for a bit to really see if I had any capacity to create a bouquet of flowers that did justice to their vibrancy and beauty.

P7150202 It’s no secret that I’m fairly enamored with this idea of cut flowers, but without much background to guide me. It may just be in the genes, as my dad decided one day to turn a field into a cut flower side-business while I was in college. I think I got the feel of it, although it took awhile with some serious back-and-forth. I made 9 bouquets, some printed tags, and off I went to deliver around to friends and family (and one to Wendell, since he was right down the road). The first delivery of Harambee Gardens! Woohoo!

P7160235 P7160239 P7160240 P7160241 In addition, I also ate my first strawberries from the garden this weekend. Still heaps of most-beautiful spinach (Tyee, the best variety I’ve grown so far), mustard greens, mizuna (mostly bolted by now), kale, and radishes. I think I see some wee-baby plums on one of the trees, and the mock orange and monarda rose shrubs that I got from Fritz Creek earlier this summer are beautiful in bloom.

P7100182 P7100184 P7100186 P7150199 The chickens are loving their new aviary/coop…they are much more skittish than they used to be, but that’s good since they are already such easy prey…no need to have them sticking their long necks through the chicken fencing to greet us when we walk up like they did at first.

P6250102P6250097 And anyways, I’ve found the key to their little chicken hearts – jewelweed.  They eat it voraciously out of my hand, so much so that it boarders on creepy. But I love our little chicken flock…I’ll get some pictures up here soon (the one above is from when we first put them in the coop, the “aviary” is above).  Many many thanks to Nola for chain-sawing their space into being!

Of Mountains and Halibut.

The summer has largely been gardens, growing, watering, weeding, harvesting and planting some more. During July we’ve made it out and about a couple of times so far to adventure beyond the innumerable house projects.

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Over fourth of July weekend, Ben, Kaya, Pemba and I headed over to spend a couple of nights exploring up on Portlock Plateau across the Bay. We moored the boat at the Saddle Trail and headed over, across the tram, and up the glacier-side to Emerald Lake. Whew ~ that trail has not had much love lately. It was definitely in worse shape than in August of 2008, the last time I was up there with Rachel and Jen. Despite a brief period of bad-attitude (while mired in mosquito/devil’s club-uphill-hell), it was a most-fabulous trip. Sleeping in a tent again was fabulous, cooking out and having the dogs in the mountains. I love it all. We found snow, beautiful alpine plants, steep cliffs, sapphire lakes, mountains mountains, glaciers, and the Gulf of Alaska! Oh, and Pemba found a porcupine. We held her down and removed the 30+ quills from her face, but it begged the question – what if that were Kaya? It’s on the list to consult with the vet about bringing some doggie-downers out with us for extended trips.

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These are long days for the dogs, who aren’t accustomed to 9 mile days running back, forth, up and down. Kaya slept like a champ, and definitely seemed to be in her perferred environment. Pemba had a lot more concern about the world, and spent a lot of time shivering. On the second night we let her into the tent…she was so beat from all of the running she didn’t even try to take over all of the prime sleeping spots like she normally does. P7030140 P7030142Looking east down the mountains to the head of Kachemak Bay, across the Portlock Valley and down the Martin River valley.P7030145 P7030148Looking west, down at Grewingk Lake, Halibut Cove, and the Spit off in the distance on the right. P7030151Ben, full of joy, pushing large rocks off of high cliffs....P7040168Last weekend, following our fabulous alpine-adventuring, we headed out into the Bay/Inlet with Jason and Annelisa to try our hand at halibut fishing. It was a glassy day out there, beautiful and chock-a-block full of boats! I actually just forget about the sport fleet – all of those folks who head out at the crack of dawn for a chance to bob around with a weighted, hooked line a couple of hundred feet down on the bottom of the sea floor. We spent nearly 8 hours, moving a bit from here to there, trying to “feel'” the fish way under.

P7090170 P7090171Pemba {hearts} fishing. P7090178 Charlie and Elias joined the efforts for the day, and caught 3 nice flatty fish. For our efforts we came home with 3 ‘buts and a cod. Some of which we froze, but also that night we had a good ‘ole fish fry and it was goooooood. It felt great to be out fishing, and to catch my first halibut ever! After scanning the heads of 150,000+ halibut, it was gratifying to pull one off of the bottom myself. I didn’t even check to see if it was tagged… P7090177Ben caught a halibut! P7090180And so did I! I contend that mine was bigger, but in all of the excitement I forgot to check. So….we’ll just go with mine was bigger.P7090181

Southern Exposure

Earlier this summer I took a quick 5 day trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  After twenty hours of transit, I arrived to a heat wave that had the residents complaining of the temperatures and humidity.  Last I checked, 65F = shorts weather, so I didn’t have much to prepare me for the 90+ days with high humidity.  Nor, and I would say even worse, for the –15 air conditioning at the hotel/conference center where I stayed.  I was in Charleston (to be correct, it was North Charleston (and a strip mall)(2 miles from the airport)(not that I’m complaining)) for the River Network’s annual River Rally.  This year was no less inspiring than 2009 in Baltimore, and I’m ever-grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple of days with hundreds of professionals who dedicate their lives to saving our rivers, our fish, and our wildness, for our children and our collective sanity. 

The conference was great, but so too was the exposure to the South.  In many ways it felt like traveling to another country.  I saw and felt very little of my cultural and daily life reflected around me while there.  I took one day and strolled downtown, taking pictures, trying to not pass out from the heat, and generally loving the different-ness of it all.

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I started the day at Waterfront Park, at a fountain full of gleeful children, surrounded by hot and resting parents.  There is something so special when the temperatures are extreme, in one way or another, and people come together to cool off or warm up.  City parks are fabulous for people-watching, and in the heat of summer, people-watching opportunities abound.

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Of course, you should be aware of the park rules while people-watching, or cooling off in the fountain.  Specifically not permitted is “running, boisterous, or rough play.”  Lest we become too boisterous in the fountain.

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If you’re feeling too boisterous, you might consider getting an Italian Ice.  From the Italian Ice girls, of course.  On nearly every street corner there was an Italian Ice cart, staffed by an attractive 20-something offering free samples.  This boy in the red shirt is partaking in an Italian Ice, and from the other side of the street I felt I was witnessing an integral part of downtown Charleston summer culture. 

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Charleston is really old.  My hometown is also really old, and it was so enjoyable to read plaques on houses, street corners, and in the parks that told some snapshot of a long-ago history relative to that place.  Executed and buried gentleman pirates in the nearby salt marshes was one of my favorites. 

The houses were HUGE.  I mean really really large and excessive.  An often quoted statistic from this area is that along these streets are the highest property values in the country.  I wanted so badly to see a resident from one of these places.  Just see them, maybe carrying in some groceries?  Or going out to the movies?  Who are these people?  What is it like to grow up in one of these places, to come home after a trying day, or after a romantic date or after just another-day-at-the-office to a 10+ bedroom home? 

Apparently you don’t need a normal bank.  You need “wealth management” services.  We’re not in Kansas anymore…P6050320

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As best I could see, peering in the gates and being as nosey as I dared, the gardens and yards were incredibly well manicured and lush.  The churches, which were plentiful throughout, offered an opportunity to stroll through some of the backyards into the cemeteries, which were similarly maintained.

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But then I found the Unitarian Universalists.  If I weren’t buried on a hilltop, on a mountain or by a free river, this is the kind of place I’d want to be buried.  Beautifully wild and cared for, with love around every corner.  Here may have been as close as I felt to home as anywhere on the trip. 
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Summer at Harambe Gardens

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted – Ben and I have been ever-busy with high tunnels, vegetable gardens, fish-composting (i.e. maggot farming), chicken-babies, plum trees, keeping dogs happy and away from chicken-babies, and the regular full-time jobs we otherwise have doing major house re-models (Ben) and outreaching to boaters and others to help protect Cook Inlet (me). Whew! So here I am, trapped at 30,000 feet on an Alaska Airlines flight to Charleston, SC. Being unable to attend to any of our various projects from this elevation, it’s a good time to update with some pictures of our progress!

chicken babies

First off, the chickens. I love them – is this any surprise? Well, to me it is a little since I’ve always felt a little squimish around adult chickens. Which is funny, since I’ve spent a decent amount of time handling wild birds and working on bird colonies…but there’s something about those chickens. Despite my slight misgivings about their adult-stage I really wanted eggs, and I really wanted chicks. And anyone who knows Ben knows he {hearts} eggs, so despite the work involved in building a coop, he was game. Mostly. And that’s all I needed to put an order in for 7 chickens with Wagon Wheel! YEAH! We both love them, and the dogs love them even more (their love is much more of a squeeky-toy/killer instinct kind)(we keep them very separated, except that once when Pemba almost got one..). We have 2 black stars (one of which will be named either Shaemus or Buddy – she reminds me of him in both coloration and narcoleptic tendancies, but those are true for most of the chicks), a red star (named magnolia by Ben), 2 golden-laced wynadottes, and 2 partridge rocks. No names for the rest of them yet, so if you have ideas send them our way! They eat out of our hands, peck around a ton, and are growing heaps of feathers. Did I mention I love them? I’ll post pictures soon (promise) of the coop-building process, including the fabulous chain-sawing done by Nola when she visited in March. THANK YOU, SARA SCOTT!!! (we miss you!)

Okay, on to the gardens. I also don’t have pictures right now of the fish composting project (aka maggot farming). They are worth sharing, and I’ll find them and post soon. You might notice the new bear fence around the composting area a few pictures down Thus far we haven’t caught a bear, just a dog or two….

brassica bed

So we’ve taken on building raised beds in the garden. It’s a HUGE improvement and makes me terribly happy. It took quite a bit of work, including re-tilling up the weird star-shape I made in the western beds last year. As lovely as a shaped garden area was (with 4 keyholes around a center), it really wasn’t cutting it. The grass was everywhere, the soil all sloped wicked badly, and covering things with row cover was a challenge. Back to rectangles! Yeah! This also makes our new and improved drip irrigation system much more feasible.

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Here’s the set-up for the drip irrigation. There are definitely kinks to work out, but Ben is doing a fantastic job sticking all of the various pieces together into something that may actually water our garden on a timer. I was not born to be a plumber, and I’m thankful for those who are. This much I’ve learned through watching Ben on this and other plumbing-related projects.

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For record-keeping purposes, we’ve named our garden beds. Thinking about family that we will miss this summer the beds are named (from top to bottom, then east to west): Felix, Jasper, Eliza, Calais, Kaleo, and Zee (we ran out of neices and nephews!). F, J, E, C, K, and Z for short. We’ll let you guys know how you all do this summer!

pea seeds

A couple of weeks ago we started planting seeds and some transplants from the house – it’s lovely to have some space back inside. The downstairs was a veritable jungle, with multiple shelves of baby plants all waiting for their big day out. Outside we have planted: 2 snap peas and a sugar pea variety, spinach (Tyee), Fordhook and rainbow chard, buttercrunch and romaine lettuce, nasturtiums, strawberries (Toklat, Sitka, and a kind from Anne that was developed in Palmer…can’t remember the name), purple, white, and cheddar cauliflower, brussels sprouts (Long Island Improved, I haven’t had much luck in past years but here I am trying again), red and white cabbage, broccoli, lacinato kale, mizuna and mustard, 2 types of carrots, onions, 4 different potatoes, 2 types of leeks (American Flag and Musselman), chioggia beets, mangels (an experiement for chicken food!), celery (Utah 52), parsely, dill, chamomile, cilantro, spearmint, a sea holly from Fritz Creek, livingston daisies, and some more ladybird poppies. I hope those seeds come up, I’m excited about them! And our small raspberry patch is looking good and wild as ever, though this year I’ve tried to contain it at least a little from it’s incredible spreading-tendancies. The rhubarbs are already flowering (Ben stopped that activity), and the wild roses, ferns, grasses, and weeds are all coming up right-on-schedule. Oh, and freaking horsetail is crazy this year! It’s way worse than I’ve seen in the past couple of years. It is what it is, though, and getting rid of it isn’t much of an option. So I just appreciate the silica-filled prehistoric stalks that pop up all over.

planting plums

My mom came over on a Sunday and spent the entire day with us, digging up hummocks (that job will NEVER be over, alas), raking in amendments, shaping beds, and helping to plant. We went out to Fritz Creek Gardens and picked up the 2 plum trees I bought! Yeah! Sapalta and Compass plums, and then are still looking good and smelling delicious. They’re the first trees I’ve ever planted, so let’s all cross our fingers! I also got a mock orange shrub (Philidelphus), a new lilac (the old one is lookin’ pretty rough, but Ben is sure it’s going to make it), a vining honeysuckle, a lovely rose bush, and some shade-y plants to put up by the house. The rose and the lilac still need to be planted out – a ‘mom task’ for while I’m gone this weekend!

plum trees

Okay, on to the high tunnel! Here we are in late-winter/early-spring. Plenty of snow piled up on the north side, but all in all it seemed to hold up pretty well.hightunnel_winter11

Spring forward to now – what feels like full-on summer. We have beds, irrigation, plants, a fully-decked bridge, a fan, music, and still some space to fill inside.P6020285

In March I was pretty sure that it just wasn’t going to happen on time. Ben warned me as I started seeds that I shouldn’t have too much optimism for planting out in the tunnel on any reasonable time-frame. And it’s true that I think in future years we’ll be able to plant out weeks earlier than we did this year, if not months for certain things. But as it is, it’s June 3 and we have pretty much all but 1.5 - 2 beds planted out. This is due to mucho time put in from Ben, and fabulously appreciated help digging beds out of the post-tunnel construction-rubble from Mikey, Blaine, and Chris.

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Planted so far: 16 tomatoes, 4 different varieties, artichokes, sweet peas, fennel bulbs, 3 different varieties of sunflowers, slicing and pickling cucumbers (a LOT), a couple of zuchinnis, one winter squash (the only delicata that germinated), zinnias, calendula, snapdragons, salvia, salpiglossis, basil, thyme, oregano, french tarragon, lavender, anise hyssop, 3 bee balm (the only ones that germinated), echinacea, a few nasturtiums and marigolds around the tomatoes, nigella (love-in-a-mist), canterbury bells, and ladybird poppies. ummm….and I think that’s it, for now. A rosemary still needs to go out, along with the rest of the house-lavenders. Like I said – almost 2 beds left….what should we plant?!

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We are lucky to have 3 temperature data loggers that are old ones from Sue’s research at work (check it out at Inletkeeper’s new fancy website!). Our quality control standards aren’t quite as strict as hers, and so the older and not-quite-so-exact ones work just fine for our little monitoring project. We have a logger in the tunnel (pictured above, with a home-made solar shield to keep it out of direct sunlight), one outside of the tunnel with a similar solar shield, and one 6” deep in the soil amongst the tomatoes in one of the tunnel beds. We looked at the data from late-March through early-May, and were surprised to see nighttime low temperatures lower in the tunnel than outside! Ben has some relative humidity/evaporative cooling theories, and although I’ve come across similar findings online I haven’t found any conclusive work that has explained this. Any thoughts? Let us know, and we’ll post more on the temperature monitoring when we have some more data.

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Here’s Ben, standing in the door of the tunnel with the irrigation system set up behind him. Right now we have 2 ‘zones’, which means we can time the beds to be watered at different intervals and for different amounts of time. We have the other two attachments coming so we can set up all 4 zones for more effective watering.

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And looking down the south side of the tunnel, you can make out the bulldozer in the grass, and our lovely shed (thanks to Jeff). Yeah for Harambe Gardens!! (and many thanks to the NRCS for funding these efforts!)


Making up for lost time – February

 

Even though it was nearly 3 months ago, my intentions to post pictures and some stories from our trip to the PNW are still true.  And given that I’m on day 4 of sitting around the house trying to feel better after contracting some kind of lung infection-y sort of thing, it’s a perfect time to fulfill good intentions on the blog-front.

Ben and I headed south for a 10 day trip in late-Feb to WA and OR to see friends and family.  It was wonderful to see not only these loved ones, but also some green things growing…the northwest is just vibrant – it’s amazing not only what grows there, but also the dedication by so many to maintain fun landscapes in their yards and parks.  A major theme of our travels with Amanda was poking about neighborhoods, trying to identify primarily trees and shrubs.  I learned that I have a lot to learn!  How fun!

I started off the trip with Meg, Curren, and Russ.  Meg, Curren, and I went to check out Curren’s school – a beautiful old farm, complete with the coolest cargo-net-play-area I had ever seen.  (I want one, but Ben said no)

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Don’t you want one, too?? P2190190

Ben came over to Bainbridge and he, Meg, Curren, and I headed up to Port Townsend for the day.  We ate yummy food at the co-op, I drooled over the groceries (I {heart} grocery shopping, and this place was resplendent), and then we went exploring at Fort Wordon State Park.  What a crazy place!  It’s this old turn of the century fort that is totally open for exploration.  No fences, no barriers, a handful of interpretive signs about the history of the place…there were these underground tunnels, linking one area to another, with absolutely no light at all.  Old steel doors still hung, small side rooms and an occasional staircase.  Curren had grabbed one flashlight (smart kid – he’d been there before), but the rest of us were dependent on him to make it through.  I definitely got the heeby-jeebies, as did Meg, giving Ben and Curren a good laugh and ample opportunity for practical joking in dark tight damp quarters.  Ahh….boys.

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I love a good sign, especially those warning of impending death.P2200212 

The next day Ben and I made our way to Kirkland to meet up with Amanda, Calais, and Darius.  We meandered through Pike’s, me again drooling at all of the food stuff.  This is a common theme when we’re out and about – I get very covetous of markets, co-ops, and other food buying type locations not found in our lovely home.

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On Tuesday morning we loaded up the car and hit the road.  Much to Calais’ dismay…unfortunately for Amanda, this 9 month old does not so much enjoy the car.  There’s a sweet time after the car starts moving and before she falls asleep the first time when there can be some joy.  Then comes the sleeping, and then comes the screaming.  We got to check out some lovely side-of-the-highway locales on our way to and from Portland, with snacking and strolling to keep us all happy and dry-eyed.  P2220223

Portland is home to Ben’s sister Jennifer and her family – Caleo and Tanya.  I haven’t spent much time in Portland, and would love to check it out more thoroughly some day.  Lots of bikes, lots of green, lots of microbreweries….(another thing I tend to covet when we’re away). P2230224

One of the days we were down there, it snowed approximately 2 inches.  And yes, it was a snow day.  Caleo was stoked – no school!  Ben, Amanda, Calais, Jennifer, Tanya, Caleo, and I headed for a walk in the snow down to Mulnomah Village.  Ummmm…..yes, this picture below is of Caleo throwing a snowball.  On the snow day.  Note the drying roads (and this was at maybe 11am).  Yep, things are done a little different down there… P2240240

Back in Seattle, Ben, Amanda, Calais, and I headed to the Big City to check out the flower and garden show, and then spent a half day walking up and around Capitol Hill.  I’m not much of a city girl, but I do love visiting.

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The kid on the front makes shoe-tying a tricky endeavor.  That’s what little brothers are for, right? P2250247

Okay, more signs.  Did I mention I like signs?  Here I love the pictures, and I LOVE that there is a compostable food bin!  There was a trash can as well, but we know all about those up here.   P2250248

Mama and baby. P2250250

On our last day, Ben and I took Calais to do some grocery shopping while Amanda did some quiet-no-baby napping.  I can’t believe I didn’t get a head-on shot of Ben with Baby.  I was horribly amused and swooning over the walk-with-Baby, and Ben was a trooper about it.  I think Calais had a good time, too, until the last 10 minutes or so.  She screamed for most of those, until she fell asleep right in the front yard when we were back at the house.  Good timing, kid. P2260252 

The trip back north was uneventful, aside from some in-flight turbulence that had me a bit nervous.  Well, it was more the warning of turbulence….it didn’t end up being that bad, but I still just sat tight and suffered through.  It was great to see everyone, great to get out of dodge for a little bit, and great to be back home. 

I’m hoping that I’m back to feeling mostly-normal tomorrow, but I’ll still try to update the blog with some high tunnel and spring-growing pictures soon!

Into the new year.

Notable end-of-2010 activities included:

Fantastically beautiful winter weather.  Okay, I know weather isn’t an activity.  But really it’s so worth noting at the top of the list – it’s been a fabulous winter so far, with great snow for skiing and blue skies.

winter in the canyon

la casa

602 Shellfish – our lovely home, with all of the snowy, wintery goodness.

first friday

My mom has been working at Picture Alaska, an art gallery here in Homer.  They were looking to fill this bit of wall space for the December First Friday, and so some photographs by yours truly were featured!  Nothing sold from the ‘show’, but it was pretty neat to see my pictures up on the wall of the gallery!

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In early-December Inletkeeper had our winter in-person board meeting up in Kenai.  It was a fairly long two days, but made most-fabulous by the generosity of our new board president, Ben Jackinsky.  Ben owns a used book store in Kenai, and he let us meander about for hours on Saturday night.  Sunday afternoon I was waiting for (my) Ben and Mikey to pick me up, and Ben let me hang out in the closed book store by myself.  With the light of the setting sun streaming in, I was pretty sure that I was in heaven.

Ben, Mikey, Kaya, Pemba, and I stayed in Moose Pass that Sunday night.  Trail River Lodge happened to be open, hospitable, with food and affordable mid-winter rates.  We enjoyed some beer, chicken wings, and football, and slept well in preparation for skiing the next day.  On Monday we headed north to Manitoba Mountain, a baby backcountry ski hill where we could either a. practice our turns (for Ben and I), b. rip it up and look damn fine doing it (for Mikey), or c. run about panting and terribly excited from start to finish (for Kaya and Pemba).

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learning to ski

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Shortly after we returned to Homer, I began volunteering again with Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I was matched with a most-fabulous 6 year old – Willow.  She is incredibly outgoing, smart, and wicked funny.  A few weeks ago we went ice skating – it was her first time.  And I’m still talking about it, weeks later.

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   A MAJOR discovery in the New Year has been five-minute-a-day bread.  I found this book at the library and brought it home without thinking too much about it.  Ben absorbed it with some serious interest – here’s the deal: you get a bucket (we have a 2.5 gallon white plastic bucket), put all of the bread ingredients in it together (enough for 4-8 loaves)(not 12 loaves. we learned that the hard way), mix ‘em up, and put it in the fridge.  Over the next two weeks you can just pull off a grapefruit-sized glob, shape it into a round loaf, and bake it at 450 for 40 minutes.  Ben took the reins for his first two loaves the other night….not too sure what happened here, but they still tasted good.

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We finished putting the side boards, the end walls, and the top on the high tunnel.  I’ll post more pictures on that at a later date, but needless to say – I’m Excited.  Between the tunnel being up and the seed catalogs pouring in, I can hardly wait for the incredible amount of work facing us this spring. 

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Oh, and I almost forgot Kaya’s “encounter” with the sea otter.  Yep, sea otter.  Low tide, Ben, Kaya, Pemba and I were running from Diamond Creek to Bishop’s Beach.  Kaya searched out two, yes – two, separate sea otters in tide pools at the low tide line.  The first encounter she left unscathed, but the second…blood.  After a couple of weeks of antibiotics, she’s a-okay.  Albeit with some gnarly badass scars.  But I’m happy that she still has her eyeball (although Ben really enjoyed re-enacting what it would have been like had the injury been more gruesome)(and it’s true that I reenacted why I believe under no uncertain terms that it was a tooth, and not a claw, that did the damage).

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That is one pathetic looking animal.

Happy 2011, everyone!  

My Most-Favorite-Holiday

If you didn’t already know, and you probably do, Thanksgiving is my most-favorite-holiday.  I love food, I love cooking.  I love friends, I love family, I love the lack of hype and stress around Thanksgiving.  It comes as an unassuming holiday, on a Thursday!  I don’t know the history behind the Thursday thing – it always confused me as a kid.  But who’s to argue?  I love Thursdays in general – you’re one day away from the weekend, I like the way the word sounds and is spelled, and back in the Seattle days it was an indulgent day.  One consisting of pizza, cheap beer, and television indulgences by some seriously broke young adults. 

Anyways, I digress.

Thanksgiving this year included my mom!  I haven’t had a Thanksgiving holiday with my family in years – mid-November is just not a time I find myself back east.  The last family-Tday I had was with Aunt Meg, Uncle Russ, and Curren in Portland with Russ’ family.  So having mom here was really special – joining Ben’s family and a family of friends for a veritable feast.

PB250024[1]Mom generously provided us with a turkey.  In a fabulous mis-calculation, she purchased a 25+ pound turkey – ample food for 17 people, with over a pound per person available!   Ben and Jeff were well up to the task of thawing it and ‘fast cooking’ it at 500 degrees.  A feat they claim may never have been done before.  (I love them both dearly. I’m not sure I’d suggest this method with such a large bird)

PB250029[1]There was a patch-job done with butter.  A valiant effort, indeed.

PB250032[1]Jeff, Ben, and Mikey – cooks extraordinaire

PB250035[1]Plenty of friends and family were missed, but we had a joyful time with lots of food and thanks.   Thanks to everyone who provided such good food and fantastic conversation~I look forward to it every year!

Oh! And it was Ben’s birthday, too!!

South to Wrangell

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Earlier this month I headed down to Wrangell, Alaska for the annual conference of the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators.  I love flying through Southeast Alaska, and I never get sick of taking pictures from the window of the plane.  I feel a little silly, but I can’t help it – the landscape from 30,000 is simply fantastic. PA250012 It takes a remarkably long time to get from Homer to Wrangell, a total distance of maybe 700 miles?  7:30 am flight from Homer to Anchorage, followed by a flight from Anchorage to Wrangell.  Flights that go south tend to make milk stops…1.5 hours to Juneau, 24 minutes to Petersburg (pictured below as we flew off to Wrangell), 10 minute to Wrangell (continuing on for another 30 minutes to Ketchikan, and finally to Seattle).  We arrived in Wrangell around 4:30pm.  PA250025

I gave a presentation on Alaska Clean Harbors, a program I’ve been developing for the state over the past year and a half.  Check out the website: www.alaskacleanharbors.org.  ACH is similarly structured to Clean Marina programs around the Lower 48 – marinas (i.e. harbors in AK) using various practices to minimize their impacts on the marine environment.  It’s work that I love doing, and the group of harbormasters, engineers, vendors, regulators, etc. who work in this industry has been fun to get to know.

PA260039Overall I had a super productive, super enjoyable, super informational and interesting trip.   It rained a bit, but then the clouds parted and we had some beautiful weather.  PA270086

There’s a beach just a mile out of “downtown” where there are over 40 petroglyphs carved into rocks by the original Tlingit who lived there.  I took a run about the island and checked them out – it was fun to hunt for them at the low tide!

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Looking down at Wrangell – a town of around 2,000 people.  Wrangell is one of the oldest European settlements in Alaska – Russians came to trade furs as early as 1811 (that’s early for up here!).  Fishing and timber have been the main industries in Wrangell, with timber being king from the mid-40s until the mid-90s when pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan shut down.  Below is a picture from a boat tour we took and an abandoned sawmill with a scrap metal barge.  So much abandoned infrastructure…it reminded me of the abandoned cannery in Port Graham.  Many of these places look like the workers just evaporated – like everyone just walked away and left things in suspense.

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Waste oil disposal at the harbormaster’s office.  These are the kinds of work-pictures I take on these trips.

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PA270147Above is the Wrangell Marine Services Center.  The travelift & boatyard, with a full suite of businesses that provide all kinds of services.

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I made it home on Thursday night, just in time to start my Master Gardeners course at the college.  Sleep deprived, brain whirling and excited, I settled back into Homer life after a beautiful trip south.  I’d love to go back someday and explore that entire region of Alaska – it’s like another state down there.  We need to get the boat down … someday maybe we’ll take her across the Gulf and beyond!

High tunnel: Part One

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Our high tunnel arrived this past week! This picture shows some of the pieces, set up on the porch of Jeff’s shed. Ben stopped by the Gear Shed on Wednesday, and there it was – all on pallets after a long journey from Iowa. He’s been working double-time getting the watering system in place for both the tunnel & the upper house. There is a new 4,000 gallon cistern that is, as of today’s rain, collecting run-off water from the sauna roof. During the past 2 weeks or so I’ve come home from a day of sitting in front of a computer to see Ben, in a ditch. Sun shining, blue skies, dogs playing merrily….I said more than once – I WANT TO BE A DITCH DIGGER! Screw this ‘computer workin’ stuff. I need to be OUTSIDE. Although this may be ultimately true, I have learned that ditch digging is Hard. From the cistern, Ben has dug (with a little of my help, and a little help from a ridiculously tiny excavator) a trench that rounds the driveway, heads down the current garden (with a stop-off for a water spigot there), and then down straight into the east end of the high tunnel. YEAH! It’s not entirely done yet – there’s a little bit left to dig, but probably 80% of the water line is in.

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So that was my Friday and part-of-Saturday. Susie, Ben’s mom, showed up Saturday mid-morning and we began the high tunnel assembly! It’s a long process that involves a lot of mud, shoveling, leveling, re-leveling, pounding, shoveling, etc etc. And did I mention mud? We are blessed with a foundation of clay here at 602 Shellfish. And while the topsoil is fantastically rich and dark and fertile, everything below it is….heavy. Clay. Muddy, slippery, heavy clay.

The tunnel, 30’ x 72’, is made of steel bents that are set into ground posts every 4’. On Saturday, Susie, Mike, Ben, and I set & leveled all of the ground posts, put together all of the bents, and then while Ben bulldozed some soil around I shoveled some more clay.

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The site – Saturday morning prior to starting assembly.

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19 bents, assembled, screwed together, and ready to go. After Ben finished cleaning out the tracks on the bulldozer we headed off to Starvin’ Marvin’s for dinner. Wicked classy joint – reminds me just a little of the York House of Pizza back home.

On Sunday morning, Ben went to pick up cedar for the ground boards and I headed out to do more digging in the clay. Steve, Susie, and Mikey joined in the fun and we started putting up the bents.

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IMG_4411 Our job site is not OSHA-approved. Thankfully the ground is VERY soft. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so muddy.

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IMG_4421 Back to the office job for me tomorrow, but we’ll continue working through the week and hopefully get ‘er all up by next weekend. And then…setting up beds!

Adventures in gardening

This spring, Ben and I performed a modest garden expansion – increasing our total growing space by about 100 square feet.  Clearing land is hard!  And there aren’t even any trees!  But fern hummocks are incredibly … one with the earth.  Even more so when they’re frozen in the middle.  With the old Montgomery Ward rototiller and a lot of hand work we cleared the western portion of the upper garden space.  While Ben was gone one day I turned it into a circular-plot, with four corners and keyhole paths. 

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Looking east:

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Earlier this year we had signed up for a high tunnel through a NRCS program (check out the website here).  So as we went into this growing season I had a lot of thoughts running through my head of potential CSA plans for the future (CSA = Community Supported Agriculture.  my favorite one, from college, can be checked out here).  Since then we’ve been approved for participation in the 3 year high tunnel program, ordered one, and sometime in the next month we’ll be setting up a 30’ x 72’ structure to the south east of our current garden.  Yeehaw!  I have some ideas floating around for growing culinary herbs & cut flowers next year – I’ll keep updating and at some point maybe have a separate site!  Any names for this new small farm?!

But back to this year and our garden.  The only major failure was the cauliflower.  The purples all bolted, but were really tasty eaten more like broccoli.  I started the artichokes too late and they are doing their first-year perennial thing now.  Which means no artichoke will form until next year, if they make it that long.  I’m going to mulch ‘em up good and see if any are able to overwinter.  I may bring a couple in and under the house to see if they survive that.  Next year artichokes will be started early (February) and will be put in the high tunnel.  Mmm….I love artichokes.

Other yummy things grown: swiss chard, beets, buttercrunch lettuce, mizuna, carrots, snap peas, chamomile, nasturtiums, cabbage, brussels sprouts (a near-failure), cabbage, broccoli, garlic (hm…should have been planted in the fall – also going to see if they overwinter), onions, leeks (a very wee harvest), potatoes (red, purple, yukon gold, and shepody), strawberries, mint, parsely, sage, thyme, dill, mustard greens, lavender, cilantro, and chives.  Inside we had 8 tomato plants, rosemary, and chili peppers! Oh – and heaps of basil.  Basil loves our house, it’s fantastic!

Some photos from the year:

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Three beds (including the snap peas and their trellis) and the compost

IMG_4065 The brassicas – cauliflowers, brussels sprouts, cabbages, and broccolis.  With a few marigolds in a terribly weak effort to stave off the root maggots!  (we used row cover for the first month or so of their lives)

IMG_4075 Potatoes, leeks, onions, garlics, brassicas.  Further up = raspberry canes, cistern, tools, chair.

IMG_4246 Livingston daisies … so pretty!IMG_4068ColumbinesIMG_4284Daisies & nasturtiums

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Onions and leeks, before and after.  The onion harvest was pretty substantial – I braided them all into bunches and they should last us at least 2 months I think.  The leek harvest was wee … you’re seein’ it all in that there picture.  They all went to potato leek soup – very yummy.

 IMG_4287 The beet harvest was similarly wee.  We had 2 varieties – chioggia and another kind.  They were sooo beautiful!  I pickled them, despite only making a total of 6 half-pint jars.  Again – super tasty!

IMG_4333 Mom came and helped harvest!IMG_4336 We dug 2 boxes of potatoes, harvested the rest of the buttercrunch lettuce for caeser salads, a couple of carrots to munch on, and a head of cabbage for mom to take home for soup.

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I’ve dried a bunch of chamomile and mint for tea this winter. 

IMG_4322And a beautiful bouquet that Katie & Blaine brought by on their last night in Homer.  They grew a smattering of lovely flowers, including this one bright sunflower!  We’ll miss them heaps down here, but I’m looking forward to a Fairbanks visit in the coming spring.

Good Ol' Fashioned Whale Move

Last week, up past my eyeballs in work, Ben calls me and asks if I want to join them to go move a whale.  "Excuse me?" I ask.  He explains with few details that there's a 27 foot dead gray whale near Charlie & Debbie's on the beach.  NMFS checked it out, suggested it get moved, indicated that someone else would have to do that since it apparently wasn't too high on their priority list.  So there ya have it, the boys geared up for an old fashioned whale move. 

I was late (SORRY!), but we left the harbor at high tide with Josiah, Brad, Ben and I on his boat, Charlie and Elias on their boat, and Brian and some other folks on theirs.  It was a veritable armada, with three skiffs heroically speeding down the spit on a mission.

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I couldn't quite figure out if there was a plan of sorts, and come to find out it was a true cowboy mission - Move the Whale was the long and the short of it. 

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I was impressed that Charlie had worked at low tide to affix lines and buoys to the whale, which was now back in the water but still grounded.  There was a small crew of onlookers, including Amanda, Calais, and Debbie.  And the newspaper!  The Whale Move would be recorded for posterity it seemed, and not just by me.

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Ben, Josiah, and Brad acted fast - moving in, grabbing a line, hooking up to it with a bridle off the stern, and heading out to sea.  Charlie and Bryan were still back there, working against the wind to try and get lined out and lined up in the same direction.

IMG_0036 Unfortunately, easier said than done.  Charlie & Elias got real up-close and personal with the whale as Charlie worked to untangle lines from their prop.

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Bryan was still going in the wrong direction, having a difficult time coming about.

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We kept on moving, and with the help of Charlie & Elias got the whale off the beach and floating free.  We towed her about a mile or so west, heading out of the Bay.  And then tide her to a rock.  Yep.  Tied to a rock.  I mentioned that stretch of beach was one of my favorite places to run...Ben suggested I stick to the low tide line. 

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Every now and then we'd get a whiff of the whale -- whoohee it was fairly strong.  I was thankful for Charlie's pre-mission work getting the lines on it.

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IMG_0052 IMG_0055 The final resting place.  Hopefully.  But if she comes loose and makes a move, I think it's safe to say there's a crew of now experienced whale movers available in town.  How many communities can rest easy with that knowledge?!

Explorations: Sheep Creek

It's a trip that Ben's talked about for a long time - heading up over the mountains from Bradley Lake and down into the Sheep Creek valley.  Hike up, packraft out.  Explore and adventure.  We couldn't find anyone who had been overland in that area, or anyone to give us good recon info on the Sheep Creek.  So in mid-July, Ben, Jeff, Ian and I set out to the head of the Bay to do some exploring for 5 days.

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The head of the Bay is remarkably shallow at low tide.  Ian was a good bow-lookout to help pole the boat around in a foot of water.  We ended up leaving the boat on the east end of Bear Cove ... a good couple of miles from the "start point" of our trip.

image It took about 2 hours to hike over to the road, across the mudflats and little bays.  The Bradley Road is a big, gravel, maintained road in the middle of nowhere.  In the late 1980s a dam was built at the outlet of a natural lake, high up in the mountains.  This road, which is 8.5 miles from the powerhouse at the Bay to the dam itself, is used by HEA workers to access the dam.  It's also a great way to get above treeline! 

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The plant manager happened to arrive up there shortly after we did and gave us a fantastic impromptu tour of the place.  It's fantastic infrastructure deep in the mountains; the power that is generated primarily goes up to the Railbelt.  Check out this site from GVEA for a little more info on the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Project.

We camped below the spillway that night, and the next day set out into the uncharted territory.  It was SUMMER!  No kidding.  Those of you who have been spoiled, or tortured, with hot weather and unrelenting sun might not appreciate this.  But it has not been above 60 degrees all that much here this summer.  And rain.  It's rained a lot.  We're all a little grumpy, and more than a little Vitamin D-deprived.  It took 2 more days of navigating to reach Sheep Creek.  We got up to 4,200 ft of elevation, and ended up about 1.5 miles below the glacier that feeds the Sheep at 550 ft.  We saw 5 black bears and expansive beautiful mountains, glaciers, rock and snow. 

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Once we had crested the highest elevation of our trip and started down, we stopped to have lunch and discuss our plan for descent.  We had made it above the Sheep Creek Valley ... now just to get down.

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Here's from our lunch spot.  The lake is the glacier lake that is the head of the Sheep Creek, which you can just see the start of.  The trick was to get down in an area where we wouldn't encounter un-traversable cliffs.  We were fantastically lucky (with the help of some maps!) and made it down with little problem. 

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Here's sunset at our campsite down on the river.  I didn't take too  many pictures after this.  Mostly because I was fairly terrified the better part of the following day...the river was a bit higher and faster and bigger than I was hoping for.  Ian took lots of shots during the trip, including the river portion.  He, Ben, and Jeff took good care of me - Ben was my personal hero and helped to portage my boat (which had a 50 pound backpack tied to it) many times across rocky bars to get around scary water/rocks.  I cried, we portaged, we ran some water, I cried some more  :)  We all portaged for several hours around a long steep narrow canyon that couldn't really be scouted or trusted to be run.  The boys would every now and then scurry over to the edge to peer over and admire the view.  While I do now feel regret for not having joined them, I know that there was no other choice for me at that time.  The trail was steep, and holding onto a tree with sweaty palms and a racing heart was about all I could manage! (aside from a little bit of crying)  I'm sure Karen doesn't read this blog, but if you do - I thought several times of our spring break trip on the AT in Maine - heading up the icy mountains and similar feelings of terror striking me.  I have been blessed with patient, kind, and wonderful people in my life in these trying times!

image Shortly after the canyon, the river mellowed out into Class II water with only some Class III bits, the Class IV was all behind us.  Like flipping a switch I decided I was NOT going to sell my raft, my dry suit, my paddle, etc. and that I did indeed love packrafting!!!  By the time we set up camp the river had slowed to Class I, we were wet and tired, and dinner was sounding very good. 

The next day was a slooooow paddle/slog back to the boat, which was still ~8 or 9 miles away.  It was a beautiful foggy/misty morning, clearing into a lovely afternoon.

After getting back to the boat, and stuffing our faces with ginger cookies that someone had stashed, I checked my messages and got one from my brother.  He had made his way down to Homer and stayed that entire next week.  We need to plan some explorations, or maybe a very tame cabin trip, for Labor Day weekend when he's hopefully back down here on his way to Maine.

Bright Lights, Big City

3.5 days in Denver, CO – just enough time to hang out with a bunch of USGS/EPA/state agency folks at the National Monitoring Conference, eat eat eat good food, go on a couple of runs, get a haircut at the Aveda Institute, check out Coors Field for the tail end of a Rockies game, and did I mention eat?

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I’m a little like a kid in a candy shop when I travel, especially to big cities…I couldn’t stop thinking about how the city of Denver has nearly as many people in it as the entire state of Alaska.  Denver International Airport was (is, actually…I’m still sitting here as I write this) huge and impressive.  There were kids from Greenpeace trying to stop and talk to people as they were coming and going.  Having my big backpack made me a target for them, and I still kick myself for not asking them how successful they are.  I am probably one of the more amiable folks they could talk to  - I work for a water quality nonprofit, fairly liberal, etc etc.  But there was no way in a million years I was going to talk about any of that then and there.  I had just traveled from Homer – hadn’t eaten in probably 12 hours, had slept for maybe 3 or 4 intermittently.  Isn’t that how people are in airports (well, at least before you pass security. then you would have a completely captive audience sitting and waiting for delayed planes to arrive.  I am currently a case in point on that front)?  Anyways, back to Denver….I had a room in the Downtown Sheraton, and even in my incredibly hungry tired and cranky state I was pretty excited about the fancy-pants hotel!  Sheraton is doing a “Clean and Green” campaign, where you can opt to not have your room cleaned daily during your stay.  In exchange, they give you $5 for each day that you opt out to spend in the hotel restaurants.  The rooms manager assured me that no housekeeping staff had lost their jobs over this, but I’m still convinced it is a labor issue far more than an “environmental” issue that’s being addressed with this program. 

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I love eating in the city.  Restaurants I ate at include: The British Bulldog (fantastic fish & chips, soccer bar that keeps score of the Premier League-see top picture), Mad Greens (or something like that, huuuuuge salad place – very cool, bottom picture), Illegal Pete’s (great burritos, great atmosphere), Osteria Maria (fancy schmancy Italian place, pretty good food), and the place the volunteer coordinators had dinner last night.  It was on the 16th Ave Mall, it was okay, it was expensive.  Thank you, EPA, for paying for my meals!

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The 16th Ave Mall is a “pedestrian mall”.  Um, yep. It’s kind of that, but really there are free shuttle buses that go both directions up and down the mall every 3 minutes or so.  Sooo…it’s kind of like a lovely street with a lot of shops, restaurants, interesting people, pedi-cabs, horse-drawn carriages, and shuttle buses on it!

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And Coors Field.  I almost didn’t go to the game – dinner went late, and I peeked into a bar to see that the score was 12-0 Rockies (playing Arizona), top of the 6th inning.  But then I could see the lights of the stadium, and knew I just had to go in.  I love baseball – I love the suspense, I love the atmosphere.  My only regret is that I was too full from dinner to get fried dough.  Sigh…..

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There’s also great sculptures throughout the downtown area.  This one, in Writer’s Square, is called “Self-made Man”. 

Next stop – Boston!

Springtime

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It must be spring!   Look at all of the cleaning that has been done -  Ben really did a nice job cleaning a little while ago, even sucking out the dead flies from the ceiling lights! (sorry, Dad, no windows were cleaned – I think we need you for that chore!)

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In addition to the cleaning, Ben launched his boat this month!  She’s yet without a name, but she’s beautiful and we were able to sneak over yesterday in lovely weather to Glacier Spit with Mike, Josiah, Bo, Lia, and the dogs.  Here are some pictures from the launch and yesterday’s trip:

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Backing her down the launch ramp.  Ben’s still in need of a real trailer, but this one managed to make it from the sawmill to the harbor without a hitch! (no pun intended…).  Jeff’s driving, Mikey’s on the tailgate, Ben has the line, and Steve & Susie (Ben’s parents) are looking on.

Champagne passed to the captain and poured over the bow (who knew a bottle of champagne would fit so nicely in the drink holder by the steering column?)

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Checking the engines,

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Engines Checked! Success!

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Bo and Lia, hanging out on the bow as we headed towards Glacier Spit yesterday afternoon…a beautiful day on a smoooooth boat ride over. 

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There was dog snuggling, hiking through snow to the lake (for all but Mikey who brought his sleeping bag and some book), and roasting dogs and making s’mores over a fire.  A lovely evening.

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And back on the home-front, it’s break up season!  Meaning, mostly, that our driveway is variably drive-able.  Here’s Mike’s Subaru, Ben’s Subaru, and my Subaru lined up at the base of the drive.  Ahhhh, Spring – I love it.

In Transit.

I’m always intending to update my blog – really, the intention is there!  But you know what they say about good intentions and a road to hell… Thankfully I trust that ya’ll can understand that when a girl spends as much time in front of a computer for work as I do, she tries to avoid too much computer-time when out of the office.  So now here I am, a captive audience in the Anchorage airport at 11:49pm, in transit to Outside.  (Outside = anywhere not in Alaska)(yeah, weird, huh?)  First stop is Denver, CO where I’ll be attending and participating in the 7th annual National Water Quality Monitoring Conference.  I love conferences, I really do.  It’s good for the soul and the brain to get outside of your world and be reminded that other people do your kind of work, too!  And they have new and different ideas!  It generally is an invigorating experience.  On Thursday afternoon I’ll fly from Denver to Boston – WOOHOOO!  I’m terribly excited about this, as I can’t wait to see: my mom, grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, dad, donna, deb, justine, katie, alexa?, aaron?, amanda?, sally?, tom?  oak trees, fenway and the red sox, maine, the pioneer valley, the atlantic ocean, buildings built before 1750, bueno y sano, breaking new grounds, I-95 – I know, it’s ridiculous.  What can I say but I suffer from a deep nostalgia surrounding most periods of my life, my growing-up is no exception, highways and all.. it’s a whirlwind trip that will no doubt leave me wanting more.  Like NYC – I cannot believe I’m heading to the east coast and I’m missing New York and the good beautiful people there.  Next time, next time.

Spring or Winter….hard sayin’, not knowin’

I know, it’s silly to talk about the weather.  Too cold, too warm, just right, etc etc.  I’m not going to bitch and moan, only recognize how gullible I was just a few weeks ago.  Snow all but melted away, green grass out my window – I put my skis away and geared up for a solid running season.  We began Friday Night Fives (5k at 5pm on Fridays, starting at Two Sisters), I happily ‘donated’ my registration fee to the Nordic Club in Anchorage and decided against driving back up there for the 40k Tour of Anchorage (which was today – hope ya’ll had fun up there!).  Well, it was entirely novice and (mostly) I knew it. This past week we’ve had blizzarding conditions – they cancelled school on Friday!  WOAH!  Snow.  Lots of snow.  So, I’ve brought my skis back out, put my running sneaker insoles back in my xtra tuffs, and admitted that I was wrong.  It’s only March.  It’s still winter. 

An early sign of spring, however, is that Chris (my super-rad-smokejumping-little-brother) began the move back into workin’ summer mode.  Which means not only do we get to visit with him for a few days before he heads to Fairbanks, the household dog count goes from 2 to 3.  Only a 1-dog increase, I know.  But it’s a lot more dog.  A Lot.  Sheamus is pretty funny, though, and we’re happy to have his big head and dopey beautiful blue eyes back in the house. 

IMG_2816 This is a TERRIBLE picture.  However, it’s the only picture I have of my brother and I, and so here it is.  Chris graciously joined me on a day-trip to Seward.  7+ hours of driving, mostly in blizzard conditions, I worked for several hours, we had lunch with Jen and hung out for an hour or so at the SeaLife Center (Thanks, Jen, for the comp tix!).  I toured the Seward harbor for work, Chris drank coffee, and then he played with a lovely harbor seal before we left.

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Chris successfully made it to Fairbanks and is settling into life again as an AK Smokejumper.  He does have a blog (it’s linked over on the right), but he’s worse at updating it than I am.  Maybe he’ll get bored up there and throw up some pictures – maybe even the ones I took of him cooking some *incredible* shrimp and grits for Ben, Blaine, Katie and I!  When did he become such a cook?!  I love it.

In Sunday news, I went for a morning ski with Kaya and Shaemus…it was beautiful, snowy, and quiet. 

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And then we stopped by the sawmill to see Ben, Jefe, Steve, Pemba, and China – and of course, the new boats!!!!

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Those boys do good work.  I am terribly impressed and excited and smitten with these boats….(Ben’s is in red/blue, Jeff’s in yellow/gray).  The day was rounded out with a little bit of dog-roughhousing at the sawmill and then the beach.  This evening I dusted the leaves of our plants. Can anyone tell me tricks to avoid big broad leaves gathering inches of dust on them?  It’s a fairly laborious task to wipe down each leaf, though they look so much better now – I can only imagine that breathing is also a whole lot easier. 

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snow mountains = ski!


This isn't going to be Mexico Part II. I apologize, and wonder if I'll ever get around to putting that up here. We'll see...we're already over 9 hours of daylight in Homer, and that sort of change is not terribly conducive to more computer-blog updating time than I already spend at work. However, it was pouring rain the other day, so you never know when I might feel housebound and inspired.

For now, however, I'm just avoiding working on grant proposals in Girdwood! It's 9:30pm and I'm sleepy tired. I drove up last night for a three day Level 1 avalanche course through the Alaska Avalanche School.

You might say, but Rachel, you aren't really much of a downhill skier, are you? And, well, it's true. I'm a complete novice. However, I am enamored with the idea of backcountry skiing, and spent the initial $$$ to buy a set of used randonee/alpine touring gear. That being said, I'm absolutely not going to be driving up to Girdwood to lay out the additional cash to practice skiing at Alyeska (though I had a ton of fun up here a few weeks ago with friends!). So the place to practice will be the place I love - in the mountains. Which happens to be an area where avalanches occur. It's true. Sadly it sounds as though three people were killed today - two in Turnagain Pass and one above Eagle River. Those who know me know I'm not too much of a wicked big risk taker. But even with that being said, some pictures of these avalanche releases don't look too out-of-my-range:
(from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Advisory website: www.cnfaic.org)

So here I am, in a three day (and I mean full day - 8am-7pm) class about how, why, and where avalanches happen. Just a few photos from today:

Head towards the light…. (a.k.a. Mexico, Part 1)

I was determined to leave Alaska during the holiday break this year, having not left the state on a ‘vacation’ for a couple of years.  The choices were either to head back to New England to see family and friends (always a good option, though maybe not the best one in the middle of December), or head to warmer climes.  Ben conceded that it is indeed freaking dark here in the winter.  Very dark.  As such, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to head south, head towards the sun, head towards the light.  So for just  over 2 weeks we soaked it up in Mexico, traveling from Mexico City to Oaxaca City, then down to the Pacific coast to play in the ocean for a bit. 

 mexco 001  There are very few pictures of me through this entire trip.  I am the one with the camera, and the one with a love of taking pictures.  Therefore, there are a fair number of pictures of Ben looking at things, or trying to do something while I snap away.  Here’s one from our bathroom, as we were both trying to pack at 10:00PM the night before leaving.

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I really wanted to go into Mexico City.  I began to regret that desire a little as we flew over the largest city in the world – the rosy smog blanketed everything as far as you could see, and it was thick.  But I had reserved us a room in the neighborhood of La Condesa, at the Red Tree House.  What a **great** place!!!  Aside from having a killer headache from the altitude, I really enjoyed our brief time in Mexico City.  We ambled about that evening (Wed, Dec 9th), getting lost and watching people walking their dogs, repairing furniture, going about their business.  In the morning we walked up a ways to the metro station and took the subway to the bus station to catch a bus south to Oaxaca City.

mexco 015   Taking pictures on the way out of Mexico City.  I really didn’t do it justice.  One of my favorite things about flying over the city was just how colorful it was.  A sprawling mass of city, but with a veritable rainbow of color everywhere you looked. 

The bus to Oaxaca took 6 hours.  We watched Transformers, the first one, in spanish.  It is really quite terrible, but much better than the second one.   Then there was some sappy movie with John Cusak that I couldn’t hear well enough to make out the plot from my haggard and rusty understanding of Spanish.  We were watching some spectacular battles from Prince Caspian as we pulled into the bus station, around 6PM, in Oaxaca City.

We found a really nice place to stay, Las Mariposas, a bit north and west of the Zocalo, or central plaza.  No matter that we were a ways off of the central plaza – there was another park just up from us with a carnival in town, and parades with full horn sections and amazingly loud firecrackers everywhere at all times.  No, seriously.  Always.  And everywhere.  I’m not exaggerating. (much)

Anyways, these folks know how to fiesta!  Lots of celebration, lots of Catholic masses, lots of small children dressed up.  Dec 12th was the festival for the Virgin Guadalupe – a major deal.  On the bus ride down we had seen streams of people walking and biking along the highway on pilgrimage to Mexico City for Guadalupe.

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On one day we took a local bus about 30 minutes out of town to a village where life largely revolves around weaving.  Most houses have looms in them, and there are fantastic rugs and a myriad of other woven products made and sold there.  We walked around town for awhile, noting how very quite it  seemed.  Wicked hot, we popped in somewhere for a drink and talked for quite some time with three (fairly drunk) boys who informed us that due to it being Guadalupe Day, most people were at home or somewhere preparing for the major fiesta to be held that night.  They were pretty adamant that Ben was a dead ringer for James Hetfield – right, of Metallica.  Sweet. 

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Maybe if he had the leather pants, and was a bit more in touch with his rockstar side…

mexco 071 mexco 074The amazing and elaborate nativity scene at our hotel…

Below are all pictures of the Zocalo – with the big cathedral and just heaps of people strolling about in the cool evening (Oaxaca is still high enough in the mountains that I would put on a long-sleeved shirt after the sun set).  Parades, fireworks, large paper-mache puppets were marched down the streets all the time.  It was really festive, really energetic. 

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