Monday, March 30, 2009

Staying Busy in Homer

Before moving to Alaska, I was sure Homer had little to offer and was, literally, at the "ends of the earth". Having lived here nearly 2 years now, my view has changed. I still feel like we live at the "ends of the earth," since the road literally ends a few miles past our house, but I have discovered just how much Homer has to offer, and the longer I live here the more amazed I am at the number of opportunities and amount of talent found in this quaint little hamlet.

My daughter's favorite sport is now rock climbing, and Homer boasts 2 public climbing walls (though some private homes are decked out with climbing walls as well, if what I hear is true!). A vibrant community education program offers nearly private lessons with an experienced climber at only $1 per hour long session of climbing, which boggles my mind.

My daughter's second favorite sport is basketball, and though she is in 5th grade, she is on not one, but two different basketball teams! One is offered through the community education program, and the other through a local church. Between practices and games, we have 3-5 days a week accounted for!

My son just joined the Popeyes, the local wrestling team. He has practice 3 days a week, and if we wanted, he could be in a wrestling tournament somewhere in Alaska every single weekend of March and April. As it is, 3 of the next 5 weekends will see us heading up to the Anchorage area. Amazingly, this team for kids ages 5-18, boasts of 60-70 members. Even optional Friday evening practices get at least 25 boys and girls to turn out for open mat time. This past year 4 boys from Voznesenka, one of the Russian schools, went to the state meet, which might help explain that group's enthusiasm for wrestling, and in 2004, Tela O'Donnell, a girl born and raised in Homer, made the U.S. Olympic wrestling team, which contributes to the female interest in the sport here.

Hockey is popular here in Homer, and even the youngest teams (6 year olds!) travel away for weekend tournaments, missing school for the priviledge of competing. A women's league is active here as well.

Ice racing on Beluga Lake in Homer is a perennial favorite for both kids and adults, with built-from-scratch vehicles entertaining the crowds that show up to watch on Sunday afternoons. The ice freezes in November and stays into May, so there is a long season. The first time we went to see it, I was skeptical about whether I would enjoy it (I'm not a big car racing fan), but I was surprised that it was actually fun to watch. If I were a regular I know I would get to know the people and the cars and it would be even more entertaining.

I was amazed when I first found out that there are many kids who take dance lessons in Homer, especially ballet. Alaska--dance?? No way! Yet there are numerous quality productions (The Nutcracker every December; Jazzline in March; Godspell just finished playing this past weekend) featuring young local dancers. These productions also feature outstanding directing, sound, lighting, props, etc. The first time I saw The Nutcracker I couldn't believe the talent was nearly all local--it is a first class production, and they pull it off year after year.

What else to do in Homer? The Homer Soccer Association brings in a coach from the Lower 48 for the summer to run the program, and of course there is a traveling team. Little League and adult softball leagues are active here like everywhere. The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club holds Junior Nordic ski lessons for a couple months January through March and nearly 70 kids show up for that each week. Gymnastics, kayaking, broomball, pilates, yoga, you name it, Homer seems to have it. This list doesn't include all of the artistic groups, painters, writers, poets, photographers, etc. that congregate in Homer, each which warrants a blog all their own.

My fears that Homer was Hicksville, USA with no opportunities for my kids have been laid to rest. In that way it is much like any other place in America: plenty to keep us busy, busy, busy. Part of me yearns for the days when kids didn't have weekend tournaments to constantly be traveling to, and when play meant to go outside and climb trees and explore. Play instead is a sport, and it is competitive. At one point Alaska may have had fewer opportunities than elsewhere, but the influx of talented and ambitious people has led to the creation of developmental programs seeking to maximize children's talents at as young an age as possible.

I'm not complaining; I can hop off this bandwagon as easily as I jumped on. The bottom line is, I am happy these opportunities are available, and it doesn't make us feel exiled to a far planet when there are fun activities for the kids to enjoy. The bottom line: they are having fun!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ash is Falling!

After the big eruption of Mt. Redoubt this morning, I have been awaiting the ashfall all day, thinking I would be able to tell from my window. Well, it started and I didn't even know it since it is snowing too. I laughed, grabbed my camera and went outside to get these pictures, not realizing that ash is very different from snow. A piece of ash fell into my eye and it has scraped my eyeball. Ouch. My eye still feels a bit gritty, and my computer keyboard is feeling a bit gritty too. And I'm afraid these pictures don't do justice to what this looks like. The one below is of the snow that drips off the eaves of the house and the dark line of ash is more obvious.

Really, it's almost impossible to tell that there is an ashfall going on. The sky is cloudy-looking, like a normal cloudy/foggy day, and not unusually dark. It's only when I look at the ground that the snow is more gray than white, and where my husband's car tracks come in, the contrast is more clear--the white against the gray.

Most school events are canceled for this evening on the Kenai Peninsula and the word is to stay indoors (You don't have to tell me twice. I just learned my lesson!) and drive as little as possible. The ash can rip up a car engine, but supposedly if we put nylons over the air filter it will take care of the problem. I'd rather not chance it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mt. Redobut has Erupted (Thanks for Telling Me!)

Photo of Mt. Redoubt on Thursday, March 19, two days before the eruption,
taken from Sterling Highway just south of Ninilchik.

Mt. Redoubt has officially erupted as of last night. The "explosion" that occurred a week ago (Sunday, March 15) has finally been called a "minor eruption." I was grateful that my husband emailed me this morning and told me that Mt. Redoubt had blown; otherwise, I would not have known. Shortly after I found out about the eruption, the electricity went down, and then shortly after the phone line went dead also. This was not looking good. Halfway into Homer I was able to get a cell phone signal and the college had left a message: classes are still being held even though there is no electricity. Hey, flexibility is key here, right?! Come to find out, the electricity was an issue with Bradley Lake Dam across Kachemak Bay and completely unrelated to the volcano (the electricity came back on just before my 10:30 a.m. class), but it certainly added to the suspense! Many of my students didn't even know Redoubt was erupting, and others found out from friends or family in the Lower 48 who were watching the news.

So now we just have the volcano continuing to erupt , though we wouldn't know it to look out our window. Life goes on like usual--besides that "edge" and attentiveness. The windows are covered, electronics wrapped in plastic when not in use, masks and flashlights are handy, extra water stockpiled. According to the AVO volcano watch website (, eruptions could happen at any time and could continue for weeks or months. As of now, "The explosions also destroyed one seismic station near the volcano's summit (RSO), and disrupted telemetry from AVO's obsveration hut." This is annoying; for the past several months the seismograph readings and webcams have become part of my life, like breathing and eating, so it is frustrating not to have these connections to what is going on at Redoubt.

I seriously hope the electricity and phone lines don't go out again, because those are our connections with the rest of the world, and we don't know what's happening if we can't turn on our computer or radio! Meanwhile, home seems like a good place to be!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Missing Limbs

Last night while I was at my son's wrestling practice a cheery 3-year-old with a missing arm ran by me. Last weekend at the gym a high school student with an amputated leg was working out. I hardly notice men with missing fingers anymore since they're fairly common around here. While I know missing limbs are a regular occurrence, especially in areas with commercial fishermen, it is still startling, particularly when it is a child sporting the missing arm or leg. There are many ways to lose a limb, but I do wonder if this is an indication of Alaska being a more dangerous place to live...or there's just fewer people so I happen to notice the people more.

No pictures with this one....just my observations and ponderings.....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Travelling the Puddle Jumpers

I have known that flying is a vital mode of transportation in Alaska, but when the college I work for sent me to a conference in Fairbanks this week I got to experience firsthand what I call the "puddle jumpers"--small planes that are vital links to all the small communities in Alaska.

Fairbanks is not even halfway across the state from where I live in Homer, but it would be a 12 hour drive in perfect conditions. Even people who attended this conference from Anchorage flew, and they had half that distance to travel.

Some things struck me as I made the flights from Homer to Anchorage to Fairbanks and then back to Anchorage and on to Kenai (I had a meeting there the day after the conference ended, and my daughter had a forensics tournament in town, so that worked out perfectly!):
  • The cultural diversity in the Alaskan airports is amazing. I couldn't even begin to list all the different cultures I saw represented in each airport I was in, though there were many different Native Alaskan groups represented (Many people would think Native Alaskans are all Eskimos, but that is only one small slice of native population. Compare Alaskan Natives to what people call "North American Indians" and all the various tribes that make up that category).
  • The lack of security is delightful. I actually had to show my ID with my ticket, which is not something all the small airlines require, but that was the extent of it. There were no embarrassing searches, shoe removal, x-ray machines, lines, etc. Coincidentally, as I was reading the paper in the Anchorage airport I came across an opinion piece stating that there are new tightening security regulations on the horizon for these small airlines. It would devastate this means of travel, since the cost of implementing all these security measures would jack up prices, and ultimately the locals would be the ones hurt by it. People from the Outside who can afford to get to Alaska can afford a rate hike, but people who count on these local flights to get them to doctor appointments, sports games, meetings, etc. would be hard hit.
  • In one airport an employee casually pulled out a pocketknife and cut up a label before tossing it in the trash--something that most people would grab a pair of scissors to do the same job. I wondered if maybe he was breaking some rule, but he didn't seem to notice it, nor did the employee he was talking to!
  • The airline and airport staff were the same on both my outgoing and returning flights, so there was a sense of humanity: Wow! I actually recognized them!
  • The dress was decidedly casual: Carhartts, jeans, khakis, baseball caps and bandannas were the norm for men. I consider that "business attire" in Alaska!
  • In one flight that wasn't full (the plane in the above picture) the stewardess moved some of the passengers to other seats to "balance the load!"
One interesting event occurred as I was leaving Fairbanks yesterday. They made an announcement that our flight would be a little late. Meanwhile, a private plane landed just outside the door, about 10 men somberly filed in, were in the terminal for about 5-10 minutes, and then they all filed out, boarded the plane and it took off. I suspect they were oil field workers, though I got the sense of prisoners they way they walked. They were all big men, they appeared tired or at least very serious, and it looked like they had done this before.

A fast turnaround surprised me in Fairbanks. When our flight finally came in the passengers disembarked, we loaded, and the plane was back in the air in less than 20 minutes! I picture the puddle jumper pilot job as something like a bus driver or taxi!

And to top off the strangeness of the above incident, the man who sat next to me on the plane from Fairbanks to Anchorage calmly opened a thermodynamics textbook (upsidedown!) and proceeded to take notes (upsidedown)! He read the book upsidedown the entire hour long flight! Hm. It makes me think maybe I'm just too normal!!