Sunday, October 19, 2014

View of Augustine

This is the time of year my blogging slows down as I am focusing more on activities around home and school--not always the blog-worthy items or photogenic opportunities. I went through some of my past 7 years' of photos around Homer and thought I would share them as a photo-a-day. Here is one I took of Augustine a few years ago. Some of the photos I post might have shown up on my blog at one point or another; some are probably worth posting again!

View across Cook Inlet from the top of Baycrest Hill in Homer of Mt. Augustine (lone peak) and the Alaska Range

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beautiful Sunrise

The a few mornings ago we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise over the Kenai Mountain Range

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Visiting Nikolaevsk

Our kids attended a basketball camp at Nikolaevsk School this past week and weekend so we spent 3 days in a row driving from our place out there. The first day while it was raining in Homer the roads at the top of Baycrest were snowy, and out towards Anchor Point roads were icy and covered with snow. Many cars were in the ditch, being an early snow and virtually no one had their studded tires on yet. I ended up in the ditch as well, despite my 4WD, but got to meet the new pastor of a church in Anchor Point as he and his wife let me hang out in their vehicle while waiting for the tow truck.

Friday the weather had warmed up so the roads were clear of ice and snow, but it was pouring rain, dark and a bit foggy when we headed out to drop Denver off for the camp. By then we had our studs on as I'd made a dash to Tire Town for my changeover (more essential as the tires were at the end of their life and almost bald). 

Saturday it was a daytime run up to Niko, but it was still an hour drive from our place up to the village. The rain had stopped after pouring all night and amazingly there was still snow alongside the roads. Douglas and I decided to explore the town a little as we normally never have the time to do so or else the weather is horrible when we are there. Here is my picture journal of the main drag into Niko--past the school, Russian Orthodox Church, cemetery and water towers.

Nikolaevsk School, educating K-12 with a mix of Old Believers and others attending it
I have to laugh when I see playgrounds in Alaska: they all have sledding hills built into them.

I've never seen quite such a run-down post office before. It doubles as a local store.

This is the Russian Orthodox Church in Nikolaevsk.

A cemetery just up the road from the Orthodox Church

The water towers that supply water for the village, with the 4-wheeling (snowmachine in the winter) trail heading up the hill to the right

The main road through Niko is paved. We shook our heads that the school has an electronic readerboard (way out here!). When we walked by the Russian Orthodox Church I was surprised. I thought the Russians here were Old Believers like in Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo. We didn't see an Old Believer church but I am guessing there was one in another part of town.

We saw a sign painted on a rock, pointing down a road in the village to "RV, gifts" which we didn't check out but I want to sometime. An RV park in Niko?! Not something I would expect. There is also one restaurant in town with ethnic Russian food, open sporadically I hear but very good.

Further up the road, past the cemetery, we past not one but two small sawmills, which also surprised me as there are not a lot of large trees around to cut up.

When we reached the water towers (which explained the fire hydrants) I spied a trail heading off to the right. We'd heard there is a good 4-wheeling trail that can be taken to Homer and the Caribou Hills, and that was in the back of my mind when we went for a walk. I was hoping we would find it--and that was indeed it. There was signage for snowmachining in the winter as well. I think we'll be back! As we climbed that hill we got a good view of the village, and beyond that Cook Inlet. The mountains of the Alaska Range were obscured by clouds but I've been out there on clear days and know how beautiful it can be.

So it ended up being a nice few hours checking out Niko, and the kids had a good time at the basketball camp run by a college recruiter from the Lower 48. It is a long drive out there, though, so not someplace I'm going to be heading out to often!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Final Harvest

Early October garden harvest

We have had a couple weeks of sunshine recently after a 6-week stretch of rain, rain, rain in August and September. Clear nights have meant cold nights and frost, leading to the impending harvest that must happen soon! Every year the state cross-country running meet happens the first weekend of October, which is the perfect time to harvest. So each year I've had to decide:  harvest the week before state or chance frozen ground the week after? This year I decided to spread my chances, partly because I've been very busy and finding time to harvest the whole garden is next to impossible. With both the kids in sports and not getting home till late each night, plus a heavy load of homework and their being gone every weekend, there was no chance of their help.

So a few days before heading to the state XC meet last week I dug 4 rows of potatoes. They were short rows; each 2 rows filled up a 5-gallon bucket. Every year I waffle between washing the potatoes and then drying them and putting them away, or just pulling them out of the ground and storing them dirty. There are pros can cons both ways. This year time was my deciding factor; it was all I could do to dig them, so the buckets went into the bathroom in my cabin (not quite a root cellar temperature, but pretty chilly) with a towel to cover and protect them from sunlight. I pulled up the remaining 15 or so onions; we've been harvesting onions from the garden since July so we've gotten 3 months of onions out of it. I just love being able to run to the garden to get an onion and not deal with the mess and mold of onions going bad in my cupboard! The final beets were pulled and cooked up for the kids' pre-race meal (a tradition we began this season; I need to plant more beets next year as I had to supplement ours with other folks' to keep my kids in beets).

Pulling up the broccoli and zucchini plants which had been frosted in the garden took only a moment.  In the greenhouse the zucchinis, green beans, lettuce, parsley and final head of cabbage were still looking good so I left them, pulling out the tomato plants. All the green tomatoes are on a tray in my kitchen and are ripening a few a day.

After an exciting and eventful weekend, with the Homer girls winning the state championship and the boys taking third, I was back home to a garden and greenhouse that had been heavily frosted. Outdoors the carrots had finally drooped a little and the potato plants were skeletons. The hardy kale continues on indifferent to the temperatures. I heard someone threw a tarp over their kale in Homer last winter and had fresh kale all winter long. That is my goal (as you can see in the picture--the tarp is on a section of the row)! I love massaged kale (olive oil, lemon juice, pepper, salt and cayenne pepper massaged into the kale till it is half the size; sprinkle with toasted pecans and craisens) and was craving it in the 4 days I was away from home over the weekend. Only problem will be shoveling a path through the snow to get through the moose fence into the garden area!

I dug the final 2 rows of potatoes and had to crack the frosted, frozen ground off them. Most of the carrots came sliding right out of the ground--except in a few places where the ground was frozen hard and deeper and it took some work with the shovel to detach the carrots from their home. Time was of essence once again and so the carrots stayed in the wagon in the lean-to for a few days covered with a towel until I could snap off the tops. Lazy year means they are not washed either, so we'll have to do that when we have more time. We ended up with 3 full 5-gallon buckets of potatoes, which will get us through till April or so probably, and 1 full 5-gallon bucket of carrots, which will probably last a couple months along with the 40 pounds we bought from the McNeil Canyon School carrot fundraiser.

The greenhouse was also pretty much toast, with only the parsley and lettuce (surprisingly!) still looking perky. That too took only moments to clean out, and the plants all went into the compost bin with some water dumped on them to help along the decaying process.

The morning of our first frost last week, with the yard ringed in fluffy fireweed
So the kale is staying in all winter and I'm excited about that. I'll keep picking parsley till it is frosted beyond use; have to remember to water it every now and again as it is all that's left in the greenhouse after I picked the lettuce plants clean last night by headlamp. It's that time of year when things are getting darker and I might be able to hunker down and get some things processed at night.

Once again--a successful garden season!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tyvek Camper--Strange Things in Homer

Every so often I see things that, even 7 years after moving here, I think, "That is so Homer!" or "That is so Alaska!" 

Driving through Barb's Video parking lot the other week, even the kids said, "You should blog about that, mom!" when they saw the Tyvekked camper. So here it is--just a picture of one of those weird things you might not see just anywhere!

Had to chuckle at this

Jakolof Revisted and Biking to Seldovia

A friend from Anchorage was coming down to visit for Labor Day weekend so I thought it would be fun to stay at the Wharf Cottage across the bay in Jakolof, and maybe pick some berries, and do some tidepooling. I had the bright idea of taking the bikes and biking to Seldovia from Jakolof. I wanted to load my friend up with memories and adventures, and I think that is just what happened. Here's how it worked out.

The Wharf Cottage just off the dock at Jakolof Bay
The weather dawned gorgeous--sunny and about as calm as it ever gets so we were stoked. With Mako's Water Taxi we got to ride a landing craft since they were dropping a lot of folks on beaches. It had plenty of room for our bikes, which I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was no extra charge for.

The Wharf Cottage was just about the same as it was last year Labor Day weekend when I was there last (this made 3 years in a row I stayed there Labor Day weekend!), though it had a new carpet and electric heater, and the stovepipe had been taken out (to go back in, I later learned).

We ate a quick lunch of sandwiches, got geared up and hopped on our bikes to ride to Seldovia, which for some reason I thought was 8 miles and which a friend had told me was curvy but pretty flat. Ha! We found out quite soon that the road was not flat, though the curvy part was right. We were off our bikes walking them up hills regularly, partly because my friend hadn't ridden a bike in years and was out of biking shape and partly because some of the hills were quite long.

The road from Jakolof to Seldovia is a typical gravel road in good shape
What surprised me most about the road was how many cars were parked along it. The road roughly follows the water and there are many cottages and homes all along the water and then off the water, higher up to catch a view. So many of the cars were for the folks who have homes here. It was interesting thinking that some of these people live here year-round. When I think of "across the bay" I think of no roads, but folks were quite mobile over there:  we were passed by cars, trucks, 4-wheelers and other cyclists during our 3 hours of biking.

One view from the road of a spit near Jakolof Bay, looking towards Homer
What also surprised me was how many for sale signs there were. There is that show about Alaska real estate, which we happened to see on TV once, and all of the properties featured were across the bay somewhere, some which we passed. There are some really nice houses over there, and then there are some really rough homes/cabins as well.

Turns out the road to Seldovia is actually 11 miles from Jakolof, and we did it in 1 1/2 hours. Coming into town the sound of chainsaws was the most distinctive feature as the chainsaw carving contest was going on, along with the many tourists meandering along the streets.

Annual chain saw carving contest in Seldovia
We wandered about the town absorbing all the sights. In the SVT Visitors Center I chatted with a recent high school graduate from Susan B. English School in Seldovia about her plans to continue to live locally and find work in the village, and her hopes to work with youth who have drug or alcohol problems or are suicidal. I also ran into some folks I know from Kenai and we caught up on how the kids are doing in their cross-country races (theirs were in Kodiak for a race and would be coming through Seldovia on the ferry the next day).

Here are some of the sights in Seldovia:

A relic from a past chain saw carving contest: a fish with saddle!

The local grocery store with a restaurant across the street

The Seldovia Harbor where the Alaska State Ferry comes in as it heads to Kodiak, and also the Seldovia Fast Ferry runs daily in the summer

The historic boardwalk is quaint and old
It would have taken a really high tide to beach this boat on the hillside by this house!

I appreciated seeing Winslow, Arizona on this sign as I once lived there
Seldovia is an Alaskan Native village, as are the neighboring Nanwalek and Port Graham (which my husband had applied at when we moved to Alaska), so there is a lot of Native land around Seldovia.  They advertise blueberry picking as being only 1 1/2 miles from town, and one needs to purchase a permit to pick them. Black bear permits are only $150 while brown bear permits are $2000, according to a flyer at the visitor's center.

Eventually we'd seen all we wanted so we got on our bikes and headed back up the road. A mile out of town we contemplated biking down the road to the local campground that is tucked in by a beach, but opted not to add miles to our ride. The trek back was uneventful besides seeing blueberries hanging on the bushes along the road. We did get some blueberry picking in, getting 3 gallons in 3 hours. 

Next morning our posteriors were sore from biking and our muscles tired, so we opted to go for a walk on the beach. I've tidepooled plenty of times, but there were some unique features this time.  


The jellyfish were prolific, but at first all we noticed were the big ones. In this video, you'll notice the big orange one pulsing around, but then look at the shadows in the water. Those little shadows are tiny jellyfish--thousands or millions of them, about the size of dimes or nickels, all pulsing about in the water. It was stunning. And they were not confined to one small area, but all along the beach where we were walking.  Then I saw a dead jellyfish with a hermit crab eating it. Fascinating! But it was also sad because I've heard that the increase of jellyfish is a sign of the increasing water temperatures and a side effect of global warming, and that they will affect the ecosystem in negative ways. When I told my son about the jellies he said the same thing.

It never occurred to me what might eat a dead jellyfish, but a hermit crab wasn't what I pictured!
It was peaceful and beautiful out there, with the oyster farm buoys shining across the bay and smoke puffing out of a boat, sea otters surfacing occasionally and then diving, and a lone kayak skimming across the glassy water. It was sunny, calm and warm; an amazing treat as far as weather goes and that I felt deeply blessed to have.

Peaceful beach in the morning
Soon enough it was time to head back to the cabin to pack and clean up. We headed down to the dock early to sun ourselves, and a stream of folks I knew came by, including one gal who'd already biked the 4 miles up the road towards Red Mountain, ditched her bike and clambered through the canyon which is where the road once was, and hiked up and then climbed Red Mountain and now was already back at the dock ready to meet friends and head out on another adventure. The owners of the Wharf Cottage came by, bringing some friends over for a few days. I hadn't met the husband before, and he said, "Oh, you're the blog writer." I didn't know who he was at first when he said that, and I was trying to figure out how a random person on the dock in Jakolof would know I'm a blog writer. He then explained who he was and that he'd come across my blog, so it made more sense and wasn't quite so random.

The water taxi cruised in right on time at 1:00. We loaded up and headed out for a quick 30 minute ride back to Homer. It is always a little sad leaving as it is so beautiful over there and not knowing how long till I'll be back. I don't think I would want to live over there year-round, but it has its charm that I get a taste of once a year.

Good-bye, Jakolof! Till next time!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Grace Ridge Revisited 2014

I hiked the Grace Ridge trail 4 years ago with a friend and blogged about it, but thought I'd post some beautiful pictures from our Labor Day trip over there. I had told the kids we would go over there as a family sometime this summer, but either someone was gone or working, or it was rainy, so we didn't make it over. A sunny forecast for Labor Day clinched it: we were going to do it!! Enjoy the scenery.

The tip of Grace Ridge is bathed in early-morning sunshine at 7 a.m. Within a half hour, though there was not another cloud in the sky, a cloud had formed, enveloping the peak of the ridge (and nothing else!)

The water taxi leaving after dropping us at Grace Ridge South trailhead

It is a mini-temperate rain forest at the head of Tutka Bay at one end of the Grace Ridge Trail

Uprooted trees rearranged where the trail wound. The trailwork of cutting downed trees seemed to be quite recent as the cuttings were fragrant pine

A view looking out past Kachemak Bay to Cook Inlet from about halfway up Grace Ridge

The trail heading up...

These crowberries up near the top were sweet and juicy.  Further down the other side they were bitter and seedy

Dramatic view of the ridge as we climb up it, looking down with the head of Tutka Bay in upper right corner

Just beautiful, with some interesting landforms. I had to wonder how the ridges were formed on this ridge!

And then a cloud appeared out of nowhere and socked us in. We could see sunshine on the bays to each side of us, Tutka and Sadie, but up and ahead of us was nothing but cloud, which was a bit disconcerting.

View towards Sadie Cove

Look--more crowberries! A carpet of them!

And the trail heading down, towards our Kayak Beach rendezevous

Looking towards Cook Inlet and Mt. Illiamna, with a cairn marking the trail

The Trail signs are helpful for the folks who are up snowboarding, downhill skiing and telemarking the bowl on Grace Ridge in the winter, so they can find their way back down

Looking back, up toward the Ridge we were about to climb. This is the bowl area that winter recreation enthusiasts enjoy, sometimes into the summer


The video is of Kayak Beach where we were picked up. Mako's sent a landing craft to get us (and 4 others who also hiked the trail that day) as it is easier to load onto than the catamarran when the waves are large like these were. We were a couple hours early so we just laid on the beach and sunned ourselves (no tropical beach, here! I might have had a little bit of my face exposed to the sun, but I had all my layers on!).

The last time I did this hike I noticed steep dropoffs and was more tired (I was also carrying a partially loaded full backpack as I was training for a backpacking trip), but we all agreed this was a pleasant, fairly easy 8-9 mile hike. However, two different people have told me in the past few weeks that they did this hike and it practically did them in, so I think that says more about our conditioning level than the trail!

Overall it was a nice hike, though we all turned into icicles when we stopped for lunch. As long as we were moving we stayed warm, but when we sat down to eat my fingers got so numb I could hardly pick the berries I was sitting by (on!). Getting down 500-800 feet off the top the wind was noticeably warmer and we were able to start shedding layers.

It is a pricey hike at $80 per person for the water taxi, but as a special occasion, it is worth it!