Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Arrival of Geese (and Other Feathered Friends)

On Sunday I drove by that field I told you about a few weeks ago along East End Road that we see 5-13 moose in and there were about 20 geese.  Thirty minutes later I drove by again and there were 100 geese.  Yesterday someone was on the phone when they drove by that field and said there were 500 geese in that field!  And when my husband went by last night he said the geese and the moose were sharing the space.  I'm kind of surprised they put up with the noise!  Since this flock of geese is the talk of the town, thought I'd share them with you.  Here's my video of them from the car as I drove to my workout this morning.  This was taken at 6:20 a.m. by the way--nice and light out (and it was cloudy).  I'm not a birder, so all I can tell you is that they are not Canadian Geese.

Speaking of geese, I heard there were 3 different kinds of geese out on the spit yesterday too, which according to the source, in all the years they've lived in Homer they've never seen so many so they were happy the numbers are rebounding.

The sandhill cranes are flocking in too, with up to 100 seen in one field by Wasabi's the other day, and they swoop over our yard regularly.  (You'll get a picture or video of them when I happen by them with my camera, which will be sooner or later as a group of them walk up our road regularly.).  Each morning when I wake up I am greeted by tweets and twitters of birds I haven't heard since last fall. 

The Migration Festival is coming up in a couple weeks:  a week-long celebration of all the thousands of birds that migrate through Homer.  People come to it from all over the world and we see all the fancy filming and sound capture equipment out on the spit (nothing at all like my low-tech video above!).  Even for a non-birder, it is exciting to be on a major migration route.

I am thinking spring is here.  Hip-hip-hooray!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Diamond Creek to Bishop's Beach Hike

I know I've blogged about this hike before, but other times I think I meant to blog about it but didn't get around to it.  We usually do this hike once or twice a year.  It wasn't even on our radar today.  We were going to go to the rope tow, maybe crust skiing (we heard conditions are right!), maybe biking.  But as we drove to church and noticed the super-low tide, we checked the tide book and quickly convinced ourselves to do the Diamond Creek to Bishop's Beach 8-mile hike on this gloriously brilliant day.

Last March we did this hike and there was 3 feet of snow on the 1 mile of road to the trailhead.  Today was better than that, with ruts showing it has even been driven already this spring--probably because there has been a logging operation in the area since last fall.  Today you're going to get a photo blog entry.

Not too much snow on the road section to the trailhead of Diamond Creek.
The first section of trail is nice--it is on more stable land and mudslides haven't wiped it out.

I love this rock formation on the way down the Diamond Creek Trail.

The muddy trail means hopping from dry-ish spot to dry-ish spot as it makes it's way along the edge of a steep ravine down to Diamond Creek.  A wrong slip could mean a bad fall in places!

I just love this view of the Kenai Mtn. Range from the bottom of the Diamond Creek Trail, looking towards Homer.

The next challenge was crossing Diamond Creek.  Today the logs were icy and slick, adding to the challenge.

Coming across vehicles stuck in the mud on the beach is not unusual.  Today a Good Samaritan hiker was helping this young man get his vehicle unstuck from the mud (jack it up, put rocks under tires).  A few minutes after I took this picture he sped by us on the beach.

Here we are, back at Bishop's Beach entrance, 2 1/2 hours later.

And a little treat--a video I made about halfway through the hike.  The wind was blowing pretty hard so I think that is the background noise you hear.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Kachemak Bay Campus Art Show Opening Reception

Kachemak Bay Campus Art Show Opening Reception
Each spring, students from all of the art classes showcase their artwork in the Kachemak Bay Campus commons.  Tonight was the opening reception for the show and since that is now on my radar of "things to be part of," I went, and invited my friends to come see what we've been working on all semester.

In class last night we spent nearly 2 hours deciding where all the paintings should be hung, which was an interesting experience trying to get 10 students plus art instructor to agree, by consensus, which paintings should be hung where.  I'm impressed it took only that long, and finally I suggested we step away for a bit and come back with fresh eyes.

Along with paintings, there was pottery and handmade books from the bookmaking class.  Light refreshments greeted us and students from the classes mixed and mingled.  One Russian gal in my class brought her family--which was somewhere around 15 people!  We each had 2 items we could display in the commons, which will be up until May 17.  We also put artwork on display in the classroom--paintings in process or that we hadn't gotten around to taking home.  There was quite a mix of styles and genre, which made it more interesting.  It feels a little weird to have my artwork on display (I'm just a beginner!), but kind of fun too.  As my self-portrait is titled:  Oh What the Heck!  That's how I feel about it!!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Arrival of Toasters

Sometime in the fall, gradually all the recreational vehicles disappear from the roads.  I call them toasters, though, since my days working in Yellowstone National Park--a name that has stuck over the ensuing 20-some years.  A couple weeks ago I saw the first toaster of the spring.  In other places it might be the first robin or the first daffodil that increases one's hope that spring is here.  Since some robins actually winter over in Homer, and my daffodils bloom in mid-June or so, neither of those are accurate indicators of spring.  So when I parked at Mariner Park on the spit yesterday and saw two toasters and one converted house-bus, I knew that spring was truly here.

The arrival of 'toasters' signifies spring in Homer and around Alaska
Unlike robins or daffodils, I am not inspired to joy when I see toasters.  I--and just about anyone who has driven Alaska roads in the summer months--have been at the mercy of slow-moving toasters for countless miles with no option to pass.  In the summer I add 30-60 minutes to the time it takes to get from Homer to Anchorage to account for them.  The thing that is the real kicker of slow-moving toasters is that it is illegal in Alaska to have 5 or more vehicles backed up behind you.  Pulling over to let cars pass is the law. I have counted as many as 25 cars backed up behind one toaster along Turnagain Arm, where there curvy road extends about 30 miles--but there are countless wide, paved, well-marked pull-offs and the beauty is stunning so it would be a great place to just pull over.

I have also heard of strong and courageous Alaskans, caught behind a toaster for too long, who pull off when the toaster does and proceed to inform the driver of the law.  I want that to be me.  The Seward Highway south of Anchorage to just past Girdwood is one of the deadliest sections of highways in the state.  I can appreciate people wanting to come to Alaska, and driving in an RV can be more flexible and economical than renting a car, staying in hotels and eating out every meal.  But I don't appreciate the danger they present when people are so furious about being stuck behind them that they do crazy things. 

So if you come to Alaska, please watch the traffic behind you.  If there are more than 5 cars behind you, pull over.  Last fall my uncle was driving the speed limit on the Kenai Peninsula and he got stopped for cars backed up behind him.  My uncle couldn't quite get his brain around the fact he'd been stopped for going the speed limit, but as the state trooper pointed out, it was creating a traffic hazard.  Even better, you can do what I often do now:  if there are more than 3 cars behind me, I pull over (in the winter, it only takes 1 and I'll let them by.  Better than them spinning out trying to pass me.), even if I'm already going over the speed limit.  I see it as making other people's day, setting a good example and allowing everyone to drive safely and comfortably.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring Planting...

For as much as I love the fresh veggies from the garden, spring sneaks up on me and I'm usually so busy and preoccupied (and it still seems like the dead of winter!) that I don't get my seed starts planted in time so I end up having to buy them.  About this time, mid-April or so when the days are getting longer, I suddenly get this overwhelming urge to plant my greenhouse! 

My greenhouse--storage area in the winter and needing to be cleaned out before I plant my greens this week!

My greenhouse is a storage area in the winter, and with the snow and ice blocking the fence, I can't even get in there all winter.  I was able to pry open the gate enough to squeeze through a few weeks ago to prune my apple tree, but yesterday the urgency of needing to get my greens planted overwhelmed me and I trekked to the greenhouse.  The gate opened easily since the snow and ice are gone, but with every step I squished a few inches into the very mucky, wet lawn.  I found last year's seed packets tucked around the greenhouse and checked out my stash in the freezer too (yes, I store my seeds in the freezer; supposedly they last longer!) to see what seeds I need to buy.  

Pruned apple tree, with the branches
skinned by the rabbits

If I plant the lettuce and greens in the greenhouse by the last weekend of April, I will have lettuce for 5 months--June through October.  Usually by this point of the winter I am so tired of store-bought lettuce it cannot happen quickly enough and I'm usually snitching the poor lettuce leaves shortly after they peep out of the ground.  And I plant waaaay too much, which is fine because I love giving fresh stuff away.  The garden is a serious month away from being plantable--like the lawn it is a mucky mess.  Plus I need my compost bin to thaw out so I can pull out the stuff on the bottom and throw it on the garden before we rent a tiller from Uhlmer's for our spring tilling.

I am so casual about my planting it's amazing I get anything, but year after year I throw some seeds and plants into the ground, water it a bit, weed a bit and presto:  food galore!  I still have potatoes from last year's garden, stashed for planting this year.  (Usually I mooch planting potatoes off my aunt, but this year I decided to be bold and independent and actually not eat all the potatoes.)  My spinach, carrots and chives ran out a month or so ago, and I was happy my stash of onions made it into December this winter.  My kale didn't last as long because I would throw a handful into my daily smoothie every day starting in September.  By mid-September our freezer is always jam packed with fish, berries and veggies, and I make bets about how much I can fit in there.

At this time of year, when everything is cold and wet, it is ONLY because I've done this before that I do it again:  the promise that yes, the sun will shine, things will warm up, things will indeed grow.  I don't have to do it perfectly or prettily to get the produce.  I don't have to have a high tunnel (more about that another blog post) to feed my family.  I keep it within my time and energy limits so I have time to play, which is what Alaska summers are all about to me.  The food supports me, rather than me putting so much energy into supporting my food.  So I'll spend half an hour prepping my greenhouse and planting this week and then hope the sun shines and warms things up!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Local Dump...Becoming Transfer Station

When we lived at the end of East End Road we never went to the local transfer station because there was a trash drop-off site by McNeil Canyon School, right on our way to town.  These were eagle havens as the eagles scavenge for food at them.  They had limited recycling--just newspaper, cardboard and glass, if I remember right.  Periodically a truck comes up, drops off a new dumpster and hauls the full one to the dump in Homer.

Outlying area trash drop-off site by McNeil Canyon School

Since we moved closer to town it is now more convenient to go to the dump which is up Baycrest Hill heading out of town, between Roger's Loop Trailhead and the DOT trailhead.  Hours are most days, including limited hours on Sunday, and there are some times that this is a hopping local place.  It is free for residents to drop off their trash here, and usually just takes a quick minute or two to back into the big building, toss of the trash on the conveyor belt and pull out.  On the far right in this building there is a salvage area that people can drop off items that others might want--trash to them but that others might use.  There is a place to drop off appliances, fluorescent light bulbs and fish nets (a very Homer thing!).

Dropping off trash is as quick as backing into this building and tossing out the trash on the conveyor belt.
There is also a "big stuff" area up a hill to the right of this building where we drop off branches, wood, or any big pieces of trash.  Last year we made 5 trips to that section with our trailer loaded as we cleaned up our yard of years of junk of accumulation.

The recycling area

My favorite area is the recycling.  They take the standard recycling:  tin cans, corrougated cardboard, batteries, glass, aluminum, paper products, newspapers, #1 clear and #2 (milk jug) plastics.  I've often wondered if it is cost effective to recycle in Alaska because distances are so great, increasing transportation costs, but an article in a local newspaper a year or so ago assured us that it is indeed worth it so I separate my recyclables at home and when I head up to the dump I dump those things too.

The new transfer station being constructed

All this will change come August.  A new transfer station is being built right next to the current facility so trash will be trucked up to Soldotna. Apparently when this dump was established, its capacity was limited and it has reached the end of it's life.  I'm not sure how the transfer station is going to change the services we have now.  Will there still be a place to dump off branches and wood?  I am assuming the recycling center will stay.  The borough has contracted out the running of the new transfer station so it will no longer be borough-run.  I am also assuming that we will not get charged to drop our trash.  It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

So Much Daylight!

According to the US Naval Observatory (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php), on this day the sun rose at 5:29 a.m. in Homer and will set at 20:42 or 8:42 p.m., which is nearly 15 hours of daylight, not including dawn and dusk.  I don't need any website to tell me that things are changing--fast!  Day by day, it is lighter out at night when I go to bed and bright enough in the mornings we don't need to turn on lights.  I really appreciate those blackout blinds at this time of year (now until September) as I need some sort of signal that it is time to go to bed!  Before we had blackout blinds installed in our bedroom, I would often get up at 5:30 a.m. in the summer and easily be going until midnight.  When the sun is streaming into the room at 5:30 and if you didn't look at the clock you would think it is 10:30--the sleep cycles get all messed up!

The lethargy of winter gives way to a hyperactivity from here on out.  Just as plants in Alaska sprout, bloom and die at a frenetic pace, so people seem to try to pack as much life and living into the 5 months of daylight.    Last night at 9 p.m. Denver was bouncing around the house with too much energy so we told him to go out biking for an hour.  Then we looked at the clock and realized he was supposed to be in bed in an hour.  Whoops!  We had no clue what time it was because it was so bright.  We make jokes in Homer about mowing our lawns at 11 p.m. in the summer because it's so light out and we really don't know what time it is.  People are out and about doing all the things people do--just later.

There are advantages to all this light:  flashlights aren't something we worry about having when we go camping in the summer.  Electricity bills go down substantially as the lights are hardly ever on in the house and the outdoor lights are not needed either.  We can go for walks or hikes very early or late and be able to see the wildlife around us.  Our lives become dictated by rhythms other than light.

What I miss most about having long days is that soon the stars will disappear and we won't see them again until September.  I have wonderful memories of laying out on the lawn on summer nights watching for shooting stars streaking by and satellites blinking their way across the sky.  If we had fireflies up here, I would miss that too as they would just seem like hovering bugs rather than lightning bugs.  Fourth of July fireworks are shifted to New Years Eve fireworks for the same reason:  it just doesn't get dark enough for an awesome effect.  And huddling around a campfire when it is dark out is so much more cozy than huddling around one in the light.  So there are tradeoffs to these long days of light.

I'll admit, I am already counting down to summer solstice when the days will start getting shorter.  Two months to go of gloriously long, long days!  It is so worth it when the days are sunny, and it makes up for the dark winters that sometimes feel like endless night.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Bike Ride

Looking at the upcoming forecast, I noticed a week of rain and snow is predicted, so I thought I ought to take advantage of another day of clear blue skies and sunshine.  It was warm enough I didn’t think crust skiing was an option, so I decided to get out my bike.  I detest biking on roads, and the bike paths in Homer are only about 6 flat miles long, round-trip.  I decided to drive up to the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Drive, park there and bike to the end of Ohlson Mountain Road—maybe 6 miles but hilly with no traffic and awesome views.  I got a little wildlife viewing as part of the package.

Wearing my new "tube" neckwarmer/hat for warmth biking.  Kind of dorky looking but I stayed warm.

I’m not a fan of cold-weather biking so really haven’t done it before.  It must have been warm out, though, because my thin ski gloves over biking gloves kept my hands plenty warm.  I pulled out the “tube” I won at the Sea to Ski—one of those funky tubes of cloth you can wear like 27 different ways (neckwarmer, facewarmer, hat, hat and neck, hat and face, etc.) and pulled it up over my head like a hat, and it also covered my neck and had enough play that when my face got cold I could pull it up over my chin and cheeks.  Perfect!  A thermal shirt with my Women’s Nordic jacket was plenty warm as well.

View of Kenai Mountain Range and Grewingk Glacier from Skyline Drive before turning onto Ohlson Mountain Road

From Wynn it was a quick 15 minute ride to the turn onto Ohlson Mountain Road.  I didn’t realize how fast riding on the pavement was until I got onto the gravel/dirt road, even if it was dry and hard-packed.  Shortly after my turn, though, I came around a curve and saw a brown blob in the middle of the road.  Bear!  Nope.  It was a porcupine.  I took a video to share with you; we’ll see if it loads up right. (It's a little bit slow-moving--I'm not a totally experienced video-taker!)  I watched porky waddle down the road towards me and up the snowbank, impressed at how slow he was going.  Do porcupines hibernate?  I haven’t the foggiest.  He just seemed a bit groggy.

After the porcupine I went down a fun, fast hill, then up a loooong hill, stopping to take pictures a couple times.  Perfect excuse for a break!  Then I went down a sweet, long downhill past the Lookout Ski Trails, past the rope tow, past the Extreme Tubing hill that has been closed for a couple years and into the grader zone where the road was being worked on.  So I didn’t get all the way to the end of Ohlson Mountain Road or even up Ohlson Mountain, but it ended up being an hour and ten minutes total for the ride, which was just about right for my first time out this year.

View of the Alaska Range (that's either Mt. Redoubt or Mt. Illiamna) from Ohlson Mountain Road, with Lookout Ski Trails in foreground

Biking I noticed things I don’t normally notice as much when I’m driving:  the hills, the contours of the land, the mountains.  From up there the Alaska Range spreads out in a stately panorama on the way out, and the much closer Kenai Range commands the view on the way back.  I consider the area off Ohlson Mountain Road to be the ultimate Homer playground:  cross-country ski, downhill ski/snowboard, sled, snowshoe, snowmachine, and in the summer add in 4-wheeling and mountain biking down the Watermelon Trail.  The bike ride left me with the glow of sunshine, a good workout and amazing beauty.  I just love it up there!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Speaking of Moose....

Moose eating compost
Speaking of moose and getting fresh food.....I looking out the kitchen window at 7:30 this morning and there was a MOOSE eating from my compost bin!  Now in all my years of composting, I have always been sensitive to bears being attracted to my compost, but a moose?  Generally I don't keep up my compost all winter because the snow is deep and we had so much junk back in that area it was hard to get there, but in cleaning it up we cleaned it up so well that the moose can get back there now too.

I should add that the rabbits also greatly appreciated my compost this winter, and I think that is why they are so fat, and why they live under my greenhouse.  There's been a rabbit trail (so packed it was icy!) from the compost to the greenhouse this winter.  My son and a friend were going to set snares to catch them (there were 2 till our cat caught one the other week), but they didn't want to catch and kill our cat so  we're just going to have to count on some other predator to catch the remaining rabbit.

Anyways, back to the moose.  I talked to him and told him to please go away and he just looked at me so I grabbed the fence and rattled it and he took of running--out of the area.  Now I have to come up with some moose deterrent to keep them out of my compost area.....

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Moose-y Meetings

On my way home from my morning workout this morning I saw 5 moose hanging out in a field.  This particular field is the local spring moose gathering spot.  Around dawn or dusk, the moose congregate here (which is why I don't have a picture of them....the lighting wasn't quite right to get a good quality pic with my iPhone camera.  This is a moose pic from in our yard.).  This field is on East End Road, just past the Gear Shed a little ways, on the left.  We have seen as many as 13 moose in this field at once--we are usually limited by how fast we can count.  Despite the pile of haybales, the moose spread around the field, probably nibbling for the more nutritious first green shoots.

Much of the winter I see only occasional moose in Homer, but at this time of year they come out in droves, hanging out in highly visible spots along the roads near town at the lowest elevations.  I always thought it was because of the snow up high, and that might partly be the case because at the top of the ridge, there are still feet of snow and little food to be found, while in town at lower elevations things are a few weeks further along the spring growth spectrum.  The momma's are also getting heavy with calves, though it will still be at least a few more weeks till they start dropping, so they are staying near civilization where bears, newly out of hibernation, are less likely to get at them.

Speaking of calves...that is a fun time of year to wait in anticipation to see the little babies tottering around, freshly born--and it seems most years we do see the very newly born moose calves.  The lives and rhythms of moose's lives are like the tides:  they become part of the rhythm of our lives too.  It is a sweet thing that I know I would miss if I didn't live here!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Snow Woes--Cancelled Track Meets

Homer High School's new Olympic-quality track

Yesterday we got word that both the Homer High Track Invitational and Soldotna's Middle School track meet were cancelled due to the tracks still being under snow.  I love track meets and even though I was scheduled to be a race official for 2 full days, I was totally jazzed about it.  I so wanted it to happen.

At this time last year Homer High's track was condemned and was in horrible shape, with potholes, ruts, cracks and loose gravel on it.  Due to the energy and persistence of the high school running coach, money came through from the state, borough and city (not positive about that last one...) and last summer we got a new Olympic-quality track.  It is the official size and material, so technically, it could be used for qualifying events.  We were hoping to get it in Mariner Blue, but are just happy to have it.

The best view at a track in the state!
As the track team is discovering, though, the track is not a lot of use when it is covered with snow.  Although we didn't get a lot of snow this year in Homer (up on the ridge there is the usual quite a few feet, but in town there is much less), it was an icy winter.  At one point this winter when I drove by, the entire football field and track--the whole area below the bleachers--was a sheet of ice, fine enough to go ice skating on.  It is that ice that has really slowed down the melt, despite warm days recently--upper 30's and lower 40's.  It is so close--the snow will be off within days--but even once the snow is gone the infield will be mucky and the sand in the jumping pits still frozen.  On top of that, the brand new hurdles are not here yet, and once they come in (any day!), there will be nearly 100 of them to put together.

It is only 2 weeks till boroughs track meet, then regionals the next week and state the week after.  If Homer's track team hadn't gone to the Big C Relays in the dome in Anchorage a couple weeks ago, they would have had no meets yet, and probably only one meet before boroughs if next week's meet doesn't get cancelled (at the location of the middle school meet this week that got cancelled).  But from what we've heard, we're not the only ones with this problem as Anchorage has been getting lots of snow lately, and the soccer teams at Homer High have been practicing in the gym since their fields are still under snow also.  And in talking to relatives in Michigan recently, it sounds like it has been snowy there as well. 

The good thing is that Homer is hosting boroughs in 2 weeks, so we'll still get to run a meet on our new track this year....weather permitting!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ATR--An Awesome Workout

I started hearing rumblings of a "new workout in town" a year or so ago.  A friend invited me to go but I was on the road traveling too much at the time to make it to anything with any regularity.  When school was starting up last fall, I heard that this "workout" was going to be held at the high school a couple mornings a week before school (in addition to their full schedule at the the old Helly Hansen building on Ocean Drive) and I decided it was time to jump in on it and join ATR, or Alaska Training Room.

This is a Saturday "boot camp":  1 1/2 hours of intense exercise on the circuit (with a run to Beluga Lake thrown in!)

What is this workout?  Different words come to mind:  weight lifting, strength training, circuit training.  We hear so much about the "core" these days, but this goes beyond the core.  It is a series of stations designed to strengthen key muscle groups, including the back, legs and arms.  There are also exercises to improve coordination and balance.  In between the circuit exercises are what I call plyometrics or other strength builders:  stair running, stair hopping (bunny hops!), bridges, and a bunch of exercises done with medicine balls (weighted balls, 2-10 pounds) and a partner.  Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, with the tempo fast-paced.  After stairs we actually get to let our heart rate come down.  MJ changes up the exercises regularly to reach different muscle groups (or to torture us, we sometimes think!) and to keep things fresh.

Working hard--working out at the Alaska Training Room!  (Thanks, MJ, for these pictures from your Facebook page.)

Now I must let it be known that I am not a joiner.  In my whole life I don't think I've ever been part of a group exercise routine (besides yoga--kind of different!).  I've been part of sports teams, but mostly that's being told what to do and then going off and running or skiing, mostly on my own.  Even 5 years of attending the Bay Club and the plethora of classes they offered, I could not make myself go to a class since I detest exercising in rooms with mirrors.  So what is the difference between all those classes and ATR?  One key difference is the owner/trainer:  Mary Jo (MJ to me) Cambridge. 

I first heard of MJ when my husband came home raving about this new JV softball coach they'd hired a few years ago--she'd coached college softball, was an athletic trainer, and had trained Olympic tennis players (including Sloane Stephens).  Sometimes one has to wonder why people end up in Homer--of all places.  But then you look around and realize that if you're going to be somewhere on earth, it is a beautiful place, even if it is a loooong ways from anywhere.

It is a delicate balance to be tough and push people to improve their physical fitness and yet encourage them that they're making progress and to keep at it.  These aren't highly trained and fit Olympic athletes who join ATR in Homer:  they are teens through senior citizens, they are newbies who have done nothing athletic to your serious recreational athletes, they are somewhat motivated to very motivated.  So what this sounds like in real life is:  "Way to go 'shell!" (that's my ATR nickname), "Come on Doug!  Push it!" and "That's the way to do it, Ro!" (Aurora's ATR nickname.  It cracks me up how some of us get our names shortened.  Sounds better--or wastes less breath on talking?!).  MJ is enthusiastic, has high standards, wants everyone to do better and improve, but also knows that this isn't everyone's top priority.  ATR without MJ wouldn't be ATR.

With just a month of ATR twice a week, I discovered I could sit up straight and didn't slouch as much as I spent hours a day at my desk in front of my computer.  A few more months of ATR gave me some muscle definition and as MJ put it to me one day, "You've shrunk!"  The biggest problem I've had with ATR is that it is such a good workout that I don't feel a need to do other workouts.  My body feels strong and I feel good, so I just go for walks or mellow skis. Sometimes it is a bummer that the workouts are only at scheduled times and not drop-in-when-you-want, but that is also part of what makes it beneficial.  When you're at a session, it is intense and really a work-out.

Bottom line is, I, and a number of other Homerites, are very grateful for having the skills and expertise of MJ in our little town.  She adds so much to the fitness of our high school athletes, runs the concussion testing program for the high school as well, and contributes to some really strong, fit people that in turn leads to fewer injuries and better quality of life.  So three cheers for ATR!

Monday, April 15, 2013

On A Huge Middle School Track Team

The first year Aurora did track there were about 75 kids on the team and we thought that was huge.  Last year it was down to 50 or so.  This year there was an amazing influx, with the numbers of boys and girls on the track team shooting up to 106.  Considering there are only about 180 kids in the whole school, that is a stunning number!  It helps that track is the only spring sport for middle schoolers.  Come high school softball, baseball, and soccer all compete with track as a spring sport and numbers dwindle dramatically (22 boys and girls on the high school team this year is considered great!).

There is a head coach for the track team, and I can assure you, she's not getting paid enough!  Two assistants help her, but when you consider all the specialization of track (throwers, jumpers, hurdlers, long-distance runners, sprinters--boys and girls), you realize that even four people are not enough for the chaos of that many middle schoolers--most who have never run track before and are complete newbies.  Talking to one of the assistant coaches, she laughingly said that she is getting used to the chaos, and reassures herself that chaos is okay.

The line-up of kids at track practice.

I answered the call for parent help, and just happened to choose the day they were handing out uniforms and preparing for the first meet.  Talk about chaos!  Practice starts with the kids running around the gym, shooting basketballs, bumping volleyballs or otherwise warming up--if they're so inclined (some are not, opting to sit on the bleachers).  When Coach Annie blows the whistle they all line up on one side of the gym and she tells them which groups are doing what.  Today the list of events for Thursday's meet in Soldotna is posted so there is an added buzz.  After the talking (no jewelry at the meetings, relay teams must all wear the same uniform, yadda, yadda), the kids get in a big circle and warm up.  Then they split into groups.

Lots of middle schoolers stretching!

The distance runners-girls were to meet at the flagpole.  From there were were to run a trail behind the school and do hill workouts--5 times up and down a pretty long hill.  I didn't know where the trail was so one of the girls led--but she didn't lead us through the woods.  Guess we took the long way around!  Of the 7 girls, three were able to do their 5 times, while the others interspersed their running with walking.  On the way back they led the way down a wet, snowy, icy trail to the school.  I was supposed to take the boys out next but we'd run out of time.

I offered to help with the chaos in the gym which was handing out the uniforms.  Yikes!  Who gets what--there weren't even close to enough uniforms and warmups for all the kids.  Some kids got part of the uniform but then we ran out.  It's not my problem, but I am so glad I am not Coach Annie!

So I did my parently duty and helped out so that kids wouldn't get cut from the team....It was chaos, and I survived, and I only have 2 more Mondays to volunteer!  Yeaaaaa!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring Skiing

You notice I didn't label this post "Crust Skiing."  I am sad to say crust skiing has not yet materialized this year.  After a nearly 2-month crust skiing season last year with amazing sunny days, I was hoping for the same this year, but each time I run into a skiing friend and hopefully ask, "How's the crust skiing?" I've been disappointed.  It happened, a little bit, in some places, for a few days, but not consistently enough for people to be out there in droves.  So today I skied on the trails at Lookout off Ohlson Mountain Road while Denver was snowboarding next door at the rope tow.

A view of the Alaska Mountain Range from the Marathon Trail.

Spring skiing is still a joy--even if it is on trails.  For some reason, the thought of going around in circles on ski trails is anathema to me at this time of year.  It is the season for letting loose, being free, being unhindered by things like....trails.  Without good crust skiing conditions, I opted to head out on the Marathon Trail--one way as far as I would care to go.  It wasn't groomed, though it still had an icy base.  In some places there were 4 inches of fresh snowdrifts, while in other places the trail was speedy as heck (in other words, ICY!), so it was a process going from snowy patch to icy patch and back.  But there was hardly anyone out there (I saw 2 other couples, neither on the Marathon Trail), so it was sweet to have the woods and hills to myself (keeping a casual eye out for bears just out of hibernation...).  It looks like someone had hiked the Marathon Trail today--fresh footprints went one way out to the road, but I didn't meet them.

My sunshine spot on a yurt platform.  Still plenty of snow, as you can see!

There is a yurt (it looks like it was recently taken down, but the platform outside the yurt is still there) near the top of what one of my friend's has dubbed "Suicide Hill."  Slow slogging up the hill meant I was tired so I took off my skis and made myself comfy on the yurt platform, taking in some serious sun.  Since the sun often doesn't really warm things up in the winter, it was exquisite to bask in the truly warm sunshine.  I felt like my face was being fried to a crisp (it wasn't--I'm just a bit more tanned). 

The view from that spot always makes me yearn to ski and be free.  The open spots are crust skiing mecca when the conditions are right.  Until then, I can dream on!  Here's to hoping for crust skiing soon!

The hills beckon!  A wonderful, wild playland off the Marathon Trail!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Taking a Painting Class...In Homer!

There are certain groups of people of Homer that are endearing (or annoying, if you've been here too long!):  the casual xtra tuffs crew, the ultra liberals to the very conservatives, the environmental activists, the uber athletes, the adventure-seekers, the fishermen....and the artsy crew.  While my family rubs elbows with members of all these groups daily, we don't deeply identify with any of these groups ourselves, nor are we immersed in them.  Knowing how strong the arts are in Homer, I was a bit nervous about taking a painting class at the local college, Kachemak Bay Campus.  But the urge to paint has been lying dormant in me with brief flare-ups when I've taken two informal community-education-type painting classes over the past 7 years.  This was a big step:  a college class, 5 hours a week for 15 weeks in class plus more outside-of-class painting as well.  I screwed up my courage and dove in!

The students range ages 18 to 84, with the beginning, intermediate and advanced classes all combined into this one class to meet enrollment requirements, so the experience level is varied.  Some had painted before, some had not.  Some are prolific painters (like the 84-year-old grandma--she seems to do a painting a day and she is good!), while others appear to mostly come to class and paint. Some had worked with other mediums (this is an oil, water-based oil or acrylic class).  Some just had experience drawing.  Some have space at home to paint, while others take advantage of the open studio hours (most every weekday, all day!) and do their out-of-class painting on campus.  Everyone came in with supplies they already pulled together, and we got a primer on what we "had" to have and what we could use a substitute for (like paper plates instead of a palette or plywood for canvases) and pros and cons of each. 

The instructor is Asia Freeman.  You have to check out her website at http://www.asiafreeman.com/ to know that she is an awesome painter (eek!  What am I doing here?!).  My first introduction to Asia was over Christmas when my son and I were wandering around the Anchorage Museum's Art Gallery and came across a couple of Asia's painting's.  I had no idea who she was, but I recognized the name and knew she was from Homer.  First class I finally put a face with the name and realized I'd seen her around town and my son was classmates with her son (small town....).   Having an active artist as an instructor makes for great richness in understanding the questions we are faced with:  cost of supplies, where to order them, alternative supplies, and on and on.  Both Asia's mother and grandmother were art teachers, and in fact her mother designed the art room (pictured below) on campus.  Asia's roots in the arts in Homer run deep.  She is also the director of Bunnell Street Gallery (http://www.bunnellstreetgallery.org/), a non-profit whose mission is "To nurture and present innovative art of exceptional quality in all media for diverse audiences," so many local "artsy" activities are brought up and we have been encouraged to get involved in the art community of Homer.

The art studio at Kachemak Bay Campus.  Couldn't capture the amazing view of mountains out the window!

First class we were each given some white gesso, some black acrylic paint, a blank sheet of canvas and a 2" chip paintbrush like you get at the hardware store.  Instructions:  PAINT!  My stomach flip-flopping and hands sweating, I started painting.  Uh, that one went to the trash.  I truly couldn't stand it.  My next one, though, is lots of people's favorite:  the crazy toaster.  Still-lives, in black and white, with a 2" chip brush.  Geez.  What a way to start!

My first painting of the semester--black and white acrylic still life of a toaster.

Ok--so the toaster is misshapen and there are so many things wrong with it--but that cord is quite interesting the way it is squiggling all over the place, and even a misshapen toaster can be interesting! 

So we moved on to wipe-outs, to single color paintings in different shades or hues, to a single color with that color's complementary color, and then adding more color (still doing still lives.....) and then RELIEF!  Time for landscapes!  Except that the landscape was restricted to the view out the window.  This is, after all, Homer in the winter.  There were days that the view out the window was visible less than an hour before it got dark.  Other days the clouds were whipping by and the sun was playing hide and seek so every time we looked out the window what we were painting looked different--and it's all about light so how to paint what's always changing?  How many scenes can you find out the window?  Innumerable, I discovered.  We jockeyed for position each class period--some up close to the window, some way back.  We'd have to scootch here or there as our view was obstructed.  It's a messy process....but it is painting...in beautiful Homer...!  Our class alone probably painted at least 15-20 views out that window in the past several weeks--and each was special and had its own flavor.

I was tired of jockeying for position, and I was tired of the view that kept changing and tired of that particular view so I started looking through my Alaska photos for pictures I would like to paint and found one of Turnagain Arm that is my favorite (both the picture and my painting--it's in my blog somewhere from last May or June), and another in Cooper Landing overlooking Kenai Lake.  I set up my iPad next to my canvas and painted from that.  Not ideal, but this is practice anyways, right?  And the conditions outside are so less than ideal....

Then Asia announced the paintings that struck terror in more than a few hearts:  portraits.  But she let us cheat.  We could start with a landscape with a small (tiny!) figure in it, and each painting the figures should be larger.  Tuesday I began a self-portrait, not wanting to massacre a painting of someone else and make them feel awful that I massacred them.  Someone painted me:  they did a nice job at capturing my essence as I painted (hunched shoulders, hair flying in every direction...).

In a few weeks we have the Kachemak Bay Campus student art showcase.  We pick the one or two paintings we most want to show and it is displayed for 3 weeks in the KBC commons.  I both want and don't want to have something displayed.  Part of me doesn't want to have people walking by my painting thinking, "She sucks as a painter!"  Part of me is darned proud of having done this.  How many people paint?  Well, lots in Homer, but most people cut off the possibility of their being any good before even trying it.  For years I've coached my students in learning positive communication skills: "How many times did you fall before you learned to walk?  Thousands?  Keep at it--keep practicing.  It does get better.  Don't expect it to be perfect right away."  I try to remind myself of that.  Some days are better than others.

My at-home painting studio.  If I turn around I have a stunning view of Grewinck Glacier I need to paint someday.

Now it's Thursday afternoon and I am blogging about painting rather than painting.  My stuff is all set up in my at-home studio, in the cabin opposite my office desk.  I will paint today....even when I'm cringing and thinking, "This looks awful" or thinking, "I need some exercise" or "I'm hungry...how about I get something to eat?"  Like my urge to write, painting pulls me in.  I wish I could explain it.  It is a skill to develop, but it also changes the way I see the world.  I notice light on things. I observe subtle colors.  I take in how things are put together...and how they exist in relation to other things.  I'm in my infancy of pulling out the essence of what I see and trying to convey that on canvas.

A mish-mash sampling of my paintings from this semester, in no particular order. 

I've learned about painting, but also about seeing.  I've learned about brushes and paint and canvases.  I've learned about great artists.  I've learned what it's like to share one room with 11 other painters.  I've learned to notice what I like in others' paintings, and to share feedback tactfully.  I've learned to be gentle with myself.

Taking this class reminds me of my favorite quotes by Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr.:

One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

Once this class is over in a month, I may not pick up a paintbrush again for awhile, but the things I've learned will continue to reverberate in me.  I am a different person, and it is a journey worth taking.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Roger's Loop Trails

Roger's Loop Trailhead

The Roger's Loop Trailhead is my favorite take-off point for snowshoing, skiing, and  hikes.  It is a quick 5 minute drive up Baycrest Hill heading north out of Homer, so if I'm running errands and need to "waste" an hour, I'll often take the time to run up there for a quick hike, ski or snowshoe.

Part of the Roger's Loop snowshoe trail

The ski trails connect with the Sunset Loop trail system, as well as with the Marathon Trail that meanders all the way up to Lookout Trails, so conceivably there are many, many kilometers of ski trails.  More often, though, when I'm in town and want a quick outing, I don't have my full outfit of ski clothes and don't want to get all sweaty, so I opt for the mellower snowshoe or hike.  A few days ago, the snowshoe trail was hard enough to hike.  While I know the diehards frown on hiking the snowshoe trail, if I start breaking through, I turn back and give it up, because I know how annoying big holes in the trail are.  However, on Monday, the temperatures were in the teens or 20's so I knew I wouldn't be breaking through.

Late evening (8 pm) sunshine on trail.
The snow levels right now--in mid-April after a winter of below-average snow--was from 0-4 feet.  Under thick boughs where not much snow made it to the ground, there was bare ground, while most other places there was 2-3 feet.  A few years ago a new trail was forged, making a loop trail out of what was once an out-and-back.  It takes me about an hour to snowshoe that loop, which is just about a perfect amount of time.  It is nearly all in the woods, so it is protected from the winds, which was my main concern the other day as the winds have been piercing lately and I wouldn't have ventured out for a beach walk that particular day.

By mid-April the bears usually are coming out of hibernation, so I kept an eye out for tracks but saw nary a sign.  Usually the bears hang out on the other end of the Roger's Loop trail system by the dump, but I avoid that section:  blowing trash, swooping eagles, and raucous crows don't make for as relaxing an experience.

I know it is spring...but it sure doesn't feel like spring here.  Winter came in mid-October, but overall for the winter, it was warm, staying in the 20's and 30's.  But come mid-April when we're ready for the snow to melt, 20's and 30's feels cold.  Bitter winds and snow for the past several days have cemented winter in our minds.  Good thing I like winter sports, but I'm still rooting for sunshine to melt the snow on Homer High's new Olympic-quality track that we're supposed to have a track meet on in 9 days!