Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pier One Theatre

Back in March my son got involved in a local production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." Having never been involved in a play before on any level, it has been interesting getting an inside view of show biz in Homer. Pier One Theatre is a hub for plays in Homer in the summer.

"Much Ado" opened the third week of April at Alice's Champagne Palace (I know! What a name! I guess it is a historical spot in Homer), a large, barn-like bar. Three nights there were packed with locals who enjoyed dinner while they watched the performance by a cast of 21. After a month hiatus, the show re-opens this weekend for a three-weekend run at Pier One Theatre on the Spit.
The Pier One Theatre building, located next to the fishing hole 3 miles out on the Spit, looks like a giant red shack. The front is nicely painted, while the sides are peeling. There is no running water in the building which is why it is only open for 3 months in the summer (play practices happened at the Homer High School theatre). There is a port-a-pottie for the actors and a public restroom in a building across the gravel parking lot. They do have concessions, and my son was thrilled to get the leftover popcorn after last night's performance. This theatre seats 61, and I had to chuckle because the back row is a set of overstuffed, comfy seats and when we went to preview night on Wednesday, the back row filled up first. The other seats are padded seats with wooden backs--as comfortable as any you will find.

While at Alice's the actor's 'backstage' was actually upstairs in the loft (with a set of very creaky stairs that had to be traversed to reach the 'stage!'), here there is actually a stage, albeit a small one. In the April production a table with tablecloth and a chair or two were about the extent of props, but for the theatre production there are backdrop changes after nearly every scene. Costumes are garnered from the Homer High School costume room (that would be worth a blog entry of its own!), and while the costumes are obviously pulled together from whatever is available to fit the shapes of the characters, they are reasonably well done. And I am always impressed with the talent found in a little burg like Homer. While the full cast is not incredible, the cast is solid and the director, Bobbie Lee Briggs, does a good job pulling this together.

Pier One also has a Youth Theatre summer program each year in June with a production in July as well as a spattering of other productions throughout the summer. While my son enjoys acting and is good at it, this performance has maxed him out. Practices for 3 hours every night eat up his free time, and last night he didn't get home till almost 11:30 after an 8:15 p.m. performance. Performers have to be very committed, and I am amazed at how many people are dedicated to the local theatre. I am hoping Denver recovers from this production and does some more acting...otherwise maybe I'll just take up acting myself!

In case you're interested....reservations for all performances are 235-7333.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Captain Cook Camping & 4-Wheeling Trip

A beautiful weekend and a few days off work for Doug convinced us we needed to get out for our first camping trip of the season. We'd visited Captain Cook State Park the first summer we moved here three years ago and we've been itching to do a 4-wheeling trip for awhile now so we loaded up our Durango and trailer and set out for the 2 1/2 - 3 hour drive up the shore of Cook Inlet, past Kenai and Nikiski to the end of the road: Captain Cook.

This is a nice campground. Fifty-three sites blend in with the contours of the land with different levels and layouts, making it interesting and fun to choose a site. The entire campground is overgrown with Devil's Club, a pervasive, extremely prickly plant that makes it impassable between sites. This early the leaves weren't even out yet, but in a few weeks the huge leaves will spread out, giving privacy to an already spacious campground. On a Saturday night the place was about 40% full, with quite a few campers and RV's and a spattering of tents.

One big draw of this campground is the 4-wheeling opportunities, and that provided the interest of this trip for us. Four-wheelers are not allowed in the campground, so we had to drive about a mile to the park entrance with the trailer and unload there. We didn't have a map and really knew nothing about the land we were about to 4-wheel, so we set out with an attitude of adventure and exploration. Doug and Aurora rode the Honda Foreman and Denver and I rode the Honda Rancher (80% of the 4-wheelers sold in Alaska are Honda's). Not a mile down the trail I got stuck in the muck. Doug got through, got out the pull strap and hauled me out. Shortly after I got stuck again, and again, and again, and again. By the third (fourth? fifth?) time we had our routine down: kids would jump off, Doug would pass me, hook up the pull and I would rev it as he pulled. The strap would get tucked away and off we went again for another few hundred feet, if we were lucky.

After a couple miles I looked at Doug, he looked at me, and we made a U-turn. We'd had enough mucking. We'd heard the trail was mucky, and if it had just been us without the weight of the kids on the back it might have been different. None of us were having fun, I'd almost lost my boots a few times in the thick, viscous slime and I was covered with it. We got stuck another time or two heading out and it was with great relief that we arrived back at the parking lot. We hadn't hauled all that equipment all that way for 4 miles of misery, so we headed down to the beach. We'd heard that people go out to the point of the Peninsula (across from Anchorage) on the trail and then would return on the beach, so we knew the beach was fair game.

Riding on the beach was fun. While we had to weave around the rocks some, it was smooth and we didn't get stuck, so that's all that mattered to us. We went out a few miles and then were ready for a break and the tide was coming in so we returned to the parking lot, loaded up and headed back for a few hours of relaxation and lunch. We noticed on the tide table that low tide was at 8:30 Kenai River time, so figured if we headed back out on the beach in late afternoon we could catch a low tide.

At 4:00 we donned our 4-wheeling gear (wind jacket, gloves, helmets) and headed back out to the staging area. When we reached the beach we were dismayed to see that the tide was still very high--too high to 4-wheel on we thought. We headed back to the trails we'd been on in the morning and a beautiful, secluded lake (with broken glass and a pile of trash) and had snacks and explored for awhile waiting for the tide to go down. Forty-five minutes later, the tide was low enough for us to go. We went out nearly 12 miles, stopping once to let the kids climb giant boulders and give our sore thumbs a break. Areas with wet, smooth sand we could cruise at 40+ mph, while in other places were were down to 10 mph maneuvering around boulders and rocks. This kind of 4-wheeling we liked, and we would go back there for that.

For me, one of the more interesting parts of this camping trip were all of the sounds I was able to hear with my new cochlear implant. Birds, squirrels, the crackling fire, and people talking in other sites were all things I would not have heard a month ago, and would not have heard since I was a young child. One man came over an apologized for his generator running to power his C-Pap for sleep apnea (He and his sons and grandsons were out hunting for black bear. Guess a brown bear messed up his camera and bait set-up). The generator hadn't bothered us, but it was sweet of him to mention it. The best part of all, though, was being able to hear perfectly even with my helmet on. I found that amazing! I didn't think it was possible to hear through a helmet.

Besides my agonizingly sore body and the loads of laundry, it was an awesome trip that we really enjoyed, and we were grateful for sunshine and temperatures in the 50's.

First Cruise Ship of Season Visits Homer

As I drove into town this afternoon, I was startled by the number of people walking around Homer on Pioneer Avenue. Five blocks later there were so many people I came to the logical conclusion: there was a cruise ship docked in town. When I returned home I could see it docked near the end of the Spit, and when we had to drop Denver off at play practice this evening we saw it up close: it was huge! However, it was also moving fast, so while it was just off the north side of the spit, by time we walked past the buildings to get a good view of it, the ship was beyond the Spit and heading out of Kachemak Bay.

Homer does not get a lot of cruise ships. A 'normal' summer seems to see two or three, and not the humongous ones. Supposedly there are supposed to be up to nine cruise ships visiting this summer. This one, the Amsterdam with Holland America Line, was by far the largest I've seen in Homer. I was impressed, as always, at the number of people these ships spew out, and also impressed at how much money these ships must bring into the area. I can see that a few more ships might mean a store staying in business or not. When we visited Juneau a few years ago these giant ships were in and out daily; those have the perfect setup as downtown Juneau is right on the boat dock. In Homer there is the 5 mile Spit and then some to get into 'town,' though I am guessing shuttles are provided.

The Homer News had a nice write-up on the cruise ships coming to the area this summer, including this one. See

June 8: The Amsterdam was back today and this time
I made sure to get a picture before it left harbor!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Homer Observatory

I had heard about 'some guy who has an observatory' in Homer, so when Denver expressed an interest in learning more about it, I tracked the guy down. After nearly two months of back-and-forth, and he finally emailed yesterday and said, "It's sunny and I'm around!" so we finally got together.

Tom Kern's setup is pretty cool. He built a shed with a top that slides off so that he doesn't have to recalibrate the telescopes each time he uses them. Of course they are hooked up to his computer so that he can control things from the comfort of his house, and pictures from the camera attached to the telescope can be downloaded directly to his computer as well. The telescopes are hooked up to a motor so they can track the sun or other celestial bodies as the pictures he takes can take many hours of exposure (one he had on his wall took 9 hours of exposure). Things can also be automated so that if he wanted, Tom could have his computer take pictures at night so he wouldn't have to stay awake for viewing.

When I asked him how his location was for viewing, Tom was blunt: "It sucks." He lives in Homer so has the city lights glowing around him. Apparently this far north there is a lot of atmospheric interference so things that might be clear at a lower latitude are a bit blurry here. In addition, there are about 5 months of the year from April through October that there is no nighttime viewing at all due to long daylight hours. Cloudy days limit the number of opportunities as well, so the actual window of opportunity for viewing can be slim. Apparently when there is a string of clear, dark nights, Tom will be up as much as he can, which can wreak havoc on sleep patterns, but it is a passion he has enjoyed for many years.

Homer is full of people with passions and talents in a huge array of areas, so it was neat to find one who was willing to share their hobby. Denver got to see a sunspot and track it for an hour ("It's still there!"), wanted to get his paws on the equipment, but really wanted to see more "stuff"--which he would need a dark, clear night for. For now, it whetted his appetite for space viewing.

If interested, Tom's
astrophotography website can be found at