Friday, May 24, 2013

Planting the Garden! It Happened!!

So yesterday was the first day of summer vacation.  I let the kids sleep in, then hauled them out to the garden to help me plant (actually, they came willingly)!  The weather warmed up to almost-just-tshirt warm, which is more than we've had since last summer.  We had 90 potatoes to put in, which was 4 1/2 rows, then a couple rows of onions, a double row of carrots in a raised bed, a double row of spinach (double rows are where we plant 2 rows, one on each side of the string with no walkway between), and a row of kale.  I threw some kohlrabi and radishes in on the end of an onion row.  I always like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, but I didn't have any starts, and those are touchy ones to grow when we're off traveling (put covers on them, but then they get too hot and die, or else they get too dry and die.  So we'll just frequent the farmers market this year and hope for some good prices on that produce.

The garden planted, with the rabbit fencing at hand to put up before the critters start to munch!
I also got the strawberries and rhubarb in the raised beds weeded.  I had forgotten I'd planted strawberries in the raised bed and the plants couldn't be seen for all the weeds.   I'd started hoeing when I saw a strawberry plant leaf and so weeded rather than prepped it.

The strawberries and rhubarb are looking pretty wimpy this spring.
The greenhouse planting started with a quick run to Wagon Wheel, our local garden center that is worth a blog post all to itself.  I picked up a couple more pepper plants, a couple more zucchini plants and some fertilizer since I don't have time to make fish gurry or manure tea.

Wagon Wheel is a popular Garden Supply store in Homer, close to the base of the spit.

Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini are in.....
Four tomato plants, four pepper plants, five zucchini plants, four cucumber plants and bean seeds round out my greenhouse planting, in addition to the lettuce that has already been in for a month and that is just up and sprouting.  With these raised beds it is easy work.  The soil is horrible (very porous so it dries out quickly) so I added some soil from the garden (the goopy stuff) and fertilizer.  Viola!  Planting done!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Preparing the Garden

I've been lamenting for a month now how cold it is and how late our spring is this year.  I find it so difficult to think about planting when it's been snowing still.  I've had a few items on my gardening prep to-do list for a month and finally got to them in the past few days. 

Item #1 was to clean out the compost bin.  Here it is, in the middle of being emptied:

Emptying my informal compost:  5 pallets with the front a hinged door.
When I had a composter like this a few years back at our previous house, it got so hot that the shredded paper was smoking, even on snowy days!  Unfortunately, I do not live on a farm anymore so access to manure is sporadic, and I don't get many fish carcasses either.  Those are the two keys that keep my compost from really heating up.  Basically, it is a matter of getting the carbon (dead stuff) and nitrogen (live stuff) ratios right so that things decompose.  What went into my compost over the past year was kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps, shredded paper, hay (BIG mistake!  I put too much in at once, didn't mix it up and it was still there, smack dab in the middle, not decomposed at all.), garden plants after harvest, alder leaves and sawdust. 

If I was good I would have 2 of these compost bins set up next to each other and would take the top stuff from one and put it in the other when I'm cleaning out like this.  But I'm not so I just pulled out all the stuff on the top that hadn't decomposed yet and put it aside on a tarp.  The hay in the middle I pitched elsewhere.  After I put it on last year I considered how many weed seeds are probably in that hay and decided it was just Dumb (yes, capital D) to put it in there.  If it got really hot it could kill the seeds but it doesn't so they're outta there! 

I ended up getting 4 wagon-loads of compost from a year's worth of collecting.  Two loads were nicely composted, while the other 2 still had some recognizable "stuff" in it.  Growing up in Wisconsin, we just buried our compost directly in the garden, but here it just doesn't decompose fast enough, and I read that having the undecomposed stuff in the garden actually leaches nutrients from your plants (or at least doesn't allow the plants to access the nutrients).  So I made my judgement call about what was composted "enough" to put on the garden.

I spread it around, putting it in areas that didn't get compost last year.  I wish I'd taken a picture of my garden last August.  The spinach plants that had compost soil were about a foot taller, darker green, lush and thick compared to the ones in the natural soil in that area.  Wish that would motivate me to compost more! and better! but I muddle along with what time and energy I have.

Pre-tilling garden
We got some dirt last summer for a yard project and had some left over so I'd put that on the garden.  It was supposedly really good topsoil, but nothing was growing on it so I did a soil test on it (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash) and it had nothing in it--zilch--no nutrients at all.  So why did I put it on the garden anyways (you can see it in the picture above--a lighter color than the local soil)?  The dirt in the lower half of the garden is WET--thick, heavy, goopy stuff.  In fact, I stepped in it yesterday after tilling and my foot sunk 6 inches and when I tried to get out my foot came out without the boot--leaving the boot stuck in the muck.  So my hope is that this 'light' stuff will improve aeration of the soil in that section of the garden.

Ahhhhh--a beautiful garden all ready to plant!
So yesterday was 'till day.'  I'd contacted my friends to see if anyone else needed some tilling done while we had the tiller rented (just one did).  I picked up a tiller rental at Ulmer's:  they have 16hp, 13hp, 6 hp and 5hp tillers with 4 hour, day and 24 rentals.  Because of our schedule we had to keep it overnight so it was $50 for a 6 hp on 24 hour rental.  Normally we do 4-hour rentals on a weekend but we've run out of weekends this year (been busy attending track meets!).

Last year's potatoes from my garden ready to plant!.

This is such a tiny little garden compared to the two huge gardens we had growing up.  But we got plenty of food from this little plot:  5 large laundry detergent buckets full of potatoes (see below for picture of the leftovers, ready for planting for this year), our onions (in cool, dark spot) lasted until December, our kale (frozen) lasted until November, our spinach (supplemented with some from my aunt's garden) lasted until March.  The cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower we devoured fresh.  From the greenhouse the zucchini lasted until February and the chives until April, while the beans, peppers, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers we ate fresh.

For this year so far the garden 'bill' has been $100, fifty for the tiller and fifty for plant starts for the greenhouse.  I am always doing a cost-benefits analysis to make sure I don't spend more than the food is worth.  With prices as high as they are here, and the home-grown organic element as well, I think we are way ahead of the price curve.  I don't want to try not planting to find out though!

With today the last day of school, the next couple days are going to be planting days.  It is a bit early as there was still thick frost in the soil a few days ago, but we're about to launch off on summer adventures so it's now or never!  My attitude toward's gardening is "throw it in and see if it grows!"  If it doesn't I replant (taking advantage of the crazy-fast Alaskan growing season) or put something else like lettuce or spinach in where it didn't come up/died.  No space goes to waste!  Hopefully in the craziness of planting I'll snap a few pictures and keep you posted on how it goes!

Monday, May 20, 2013

First plants

First flowers of spring.  See if you can spot the moose in the background.
With such a late spring, it has been especially exciting to finally see plants growing.  Yesterday while walking the path from Islands and Ocean Visitor's Center down to Bishop's Beach, I was so excited to see my first flowers of the spring I had to stop and take a picture--even if they are just dandelions!

Pushki (cow's parsnip) tends to be the first thing up in the spring, followed by horsetail--two of the banes of our lives:  pushki for the blistering effects and horsetail for its prevalence and the impossibility of pulling it up and getting rid of it.  Both these plants grow quickly, but if cut down enough, stop coming up.  So pushki patrol begins in our yard, with Douglas walking the perimeter of the yard with a shovel and hacking the roots off just below the surface of the ground.  Horsetail (see picture below) I just pull from flowerbeds and garden with no attempt to eradicate it.  It only comes back once or twice a summer, then the growing is done so if I keep it down I feel like I've succeeded.  Supposedly horsetail only grows in poor soil so I am hopeful that as I add more nutrients (compost) to my soil that there will be less horsetail.

Horsetail just coming up!
And that apple tree that got ringed by the rabbits last winter (a year ago) is just beginning to get some leaf buds on, so I don't know if that's because it is a late spring or if it is not going to recover from the assault on it.  Just a few other trees have anything close to leaves on yet so it could be that everything is late.

Sun is on the forecast for this week with temperatures up to the 50's and even 60's next week (gasp!) so there is hope!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Final Day--Homer Rope Tow

Well, our time has finally run out!  Though there is still lots of snow out there, it is melting at a fast clip, even with our unseasonably chilly weather.  Today dawned brilliantly sunny so when I suggested to Denver that we head up to the Homer Rope Tow, he jumped at the chance to have one final day snowboarding this season.

Homer Rope Tow--last day of 2013 season, May 19th
As gorgeous as it looks (like, it ought to be warm!), the slopes were icy today so conditions were less than ideal.  And "the gully", just off the picture on the left, which is a favorite run for the teens, was bare and not skiable.  Douglas and I decided to bike Ohlson Mountain Road while Denver 'boarded, and with the odometer on Doug's bike discovered that the road is 9.5 miles (we went just shy of that because there was still deep snow at the top of Ohlson Mountain so we couldn't quite go all the way to the end of the road) round-trip, from Skyline drive all the way up past the barrier to the gravel pit.

Rope tow put in perspective with the overall area.
Since we were up there I took a picture of the Rope Tow from there, to give you an idea of what it looks like in the landscape (a shrimp!).

Rope Tow take-off point
This picture of Denver is amazing.  Just a few short weeks ago (like when I biked Ohlson Mtn. Road recently), there was 6-8 feet of snow where Denver is standing right now.  Normally at this spot there are steps carved into the snowbanks to get to the trail to the rope tow.

The Rope Tow's new sign, taken earlier this winter
I just had to include this sign because I was soooooo excited when it went up this year!  For 5 years now we've been coming to the Rope Tow and there was no sign, or some handwritten sign on a post that said "open" or "closed" and nothing else to indicate what this place was--that it existed.  So for the Rope Tow to get a sign (to go with the new deck, warming huts for operators and outhouse, all courtesy of HEA) was a major move up in the world...after all these years!  My aunt and uncle in Ninilchik, who have been there for 45 or so years, would drive down every weekend of the winter 30 years ago and ski here!

Frankly, I'm ready to move on to summer activities and am not sad the Rope Tow is FINALLY closing.  Snow begone!  Summer come!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grocery Shopping in Homer

I know....what a mundane topic to blog about.  If you're coming to Homer and need to know where to go, this is a primer on where to do your grocery shopping!

Everyone knows Safeway.  It's on the main drag through town on the Sterling Highway and it's a well-known chain.  If we watch the sales fliers it has better deals than even Anchorage or Wal-mart in Kenai for fruit, meat or other perishables.  The deli is a good option to eating out, though only slightly cheaper, and the little Starbucks cafe provides a place to sit and eat if we need it.  The packaged foods are mostly "Homer expensive":  not out of line for Homer, but expensive by some standards (Of course, any time I say 'expensive' I think of the prices of groceries in the bush and I just shut my mouth and stop whining.).  Sometimes big boats will come in and line up cart after cart of food to stock up the boat's pantry for the summer, so we'll see a line of carts and a checkout dedicated to getting them through.

Save-U-More is one of those places that if you didn't know about it, you might not ever find it.  It's a concrete brick building one block off the Sterling Highway with no sign pointing to it:  just turn up a dead end street between ACS and GCI.  It has the feel of a very rough warehouse.  Dust covers the cans (makes me nervous!) and the layout of goods is not logical.  I've been wandering around in there and run into friends also wandering and we ask each other, "Where's the taco sauce?" or "Do you know where to find mayonnaise?" and we have great fun going on a scavenger hunt for groceries.  For whatever it's shortcomings, Save-U-More has the best selection of ethnic foods on the Kenai Peninsula.  Russian, Thai, Chinese,'s a bizarre mix all thrown together but at least we have some of these weird things in Homer because New Sagaya and Mid-town Sagaya in Anchorage 4 hours away would be the next possible option, and even they don't have some of these things!

Save-U-More also contracts with a local butcher so we can order a cow or hog and request the cuts we want, getting a good rate per pound that way.  The animals are grown in Alaska (that makes them local!), often are grass-fed and are very fresh.  The meat sold in the store is also from McNeil Canyon Meats.  I think it is interesting knowing where my meat comes from; it is less generic than, say, Safeway, where they would look at us weird if we asked them where the meat came from.

K-Hole is the final grocery store, located on the corner of Pioneer and Lake Streets next to Subway.  Actually, the name is Kachemak Wholesale, and the first time I heard 'K-Hole' I thought it was some obscene name, but that's what the high schoolers call it, as that's where upperclassmen head for lunch since it is only a block from the high school.  It is kind of like a warehouse too, though they've been making some physical improvements so it doesn't feel quite so low-rent.  This is the source for bulk foods (great selection!) and health foods.  When our health food store closed a few years ago, Kachemak Wholesale filled this niche and that is pretty much all I ever go in there for.  They also sell mattresses, tools, toys and a weird assortment of stuff just as Save-U-More is the source for pet food and supplies.

Both Save-U-More and Kachemak Wholesale's produce sections can be iffy.  At times the food is old or else really expensive.  Save-U-More's bananas are almost always cheaper than Safeway's, but beyond that there is nothing that is consistently cheaper there as all the stores have great sales to draw people in the door.  Save-U-More is a Costco supplier, so we shop there if we want the Kirkland brand, but we end up paying anywhere from $2 to $8 more per item there than at Costco.  So it's not cheap enough to be worth the drive to Anchorage just to shop, but if we're already up in Anchorage we will always shop Costco first for all our groceries.

So each of these stores has a niche in Homer and they are different enough that they are hardly interchangeable.  When we look at our grocery list we know which store we need to go to in order to get what we want.  But living at the end of the road in Homer, I'm just happy we have choices.  If we lived in Seward we would have just Safeway!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kachemak Bay Oysters!

We won a dozen oysters at the Sea to Ski Triathalon and I finally got around to redeeming the certificate.  We had a number of discussions in our house about how oysters are eaten (raw or cooked was the great debate), so it was going to be a grand experiment.

The source of oysters in Homer:  Kachemak Shellfish Growers Co-op
It started with picking up the oysters.  I'd seen this building on the spit but since we don't eat oysters or other shellfish I'd never paid attention to it before.  All those oyster farms I've seen in Halibut Cove and Jakalof Bay supply this co-op, and according to their website there are 14 oyster farms.  The dozen oysters we got would have been $17.  I asked the man at the desk how to eat them.  He said pry them open with a bread knife, dip them raw in lemon juice and eat.  He assured me I'd love them.  Hm.

Fresh oysters from Kachemak Bay
Denver was the only one in the family besides me willing to try the oysters, raw or otherwise.  Aurora didn't want to chance getting sick with the state track meet only days away, and she was a bit disappointed because she was the one who'd won these in the first place.  Douglas just wasn't going there.

Prying open the oysters
So we got out our butter knives, lemon juice and started prying!  I was not successful on my first two; Denver quickly established himself as the expert.  He also relished slurping the oysters out of the shells, and after 5 oysters, figured he'd had enough for one day and we'd save the rest for tomorrow.  He determined they were better without lemon juice.  I think I had one, and that was enough for me, and I liked them with lemon juice.  But it was indeed an educational experience, and since I live right next door to where oysters are grown, I really ought to know more about them than I did--which was nothing!  Experiential learning is the thing, so we came, we tried and.....we'll save oysters for Denver for his birthday!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bishop's Beachwalk

Morning view from Bishop's Beach over the entrance of Kachemak Bay

Recently while contemplating our upcoming vacation to the Lower 48, both my kids have mentioned that it will be weird not seeing the ocean or mountains, and my daughter doesn't think she wants to go to college somewhere if there isn't water.  They haven't even left and they already miss them!  Water and mountains are central parts of life in Homer since we are surrounded by them.

At this time of year all of my jobs and volunteer work drop off dramatically so I have more time on my hands for beachwalks.  My son forgot some homework that I ran into school for him and the beach called me.  It was a gorgeous morning, with the fog hanging onto the mountains and a brisk breeze.  Normally I don't notice the smell of the sea, but this morning it was smelling distinctly "sea-like"--briney, seaweedy, crisp and sharp.  The tide was going out but the wind was picking up so there were small waves coming in.

The newly redone path from Islands & Oceans to Bishop's Beach.
 The riff-raff of Homer (as one friend put it) wasn't out on the beach yet, and nor were the dog-walkers, so I had it all to myself.  Mine were the first footprints on the wet sand.  A strong line of kelp and seaweed had washed up on the high tide, and there must have been some waves because there was a fresh pile of gravel a foot or two high next to the kelp at the high tide line.  It was really nice it was so warm, so I didn't freeze despite the strong breeze.  These terms are relative:  'warm' was lower to mid-40's, and strong breeze was probably 10-15 mph winds.  I am grateful for any nice weather, and the sun was shining so no complaints about the strong breeze today!

The view of Bishop's Beach looking north. 
The tree trunks and beach grass help stabilize the shore.

I know that as we walk the shores of Lake Superior this summer we will be in awe that the waterline is always the same:  no tides is a novel idea!  We will miss the mountains, but we will also appreciate them all the more when we come back!  We're looking forward to new adventures!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Regionals Track Meet

Late snowcover has wreaked havoc with spring sports this year, but it is especially challenging for track because the season ends so early compared to baseball, softball and soccer (which go past the end of school and Memorial weekend).  Track Regionals was scheduled for Nikiski this year, but even a week ago we weren't sure it was going to happen these since they had so much snow.  The only other track that was available (clear of snow) was Homer.  We were sure they were going to switch it to Homer but they decided to work around the snow in Nikiski.  So the meet happened Friday and Saturday, despite feet of snow left, mud and water on the track.  It was messy, but no guarantees Homer could have pulled off a better meet with only days to prepare.

The infield still had a foot or two of snow on it.
Sitting water on the track was an issue.  This is also the awards table.
The field was just cleared off enough to do the shot put and discus.
This is how results were posted.

 The meet was run like any typical 2-day meet:  field event and running preliminaries on Friday, finals and relays on Saturday.  The triple jump and long jump pits were giant puddles of water and they had a pump out there to try to pump out the water.  It was okay in the morning before the snow started melting, but once afternoon hit the pits were unusable.  Kids with brooms kept sweeping off the wettest areas of the track, but when one kid went over a hurdle and fell there was quite a big splash.

While things moved along in the meet, it was a little bit on the slow side, with some long lags between races.  The concession stand and t-shirt printer did brisk business as Nikiski doesn't have much in the way of restaurants or food (it is about 20 minutes north of Kenai towards Captain Cook State Park).  After having been part of running track meets in Homer the previous two weekends, it was a relief for me to just be able to sit and watch the meet and not have to time my sprints to the bathroom between races.

This meet was for Region III, which is the fastest region in the state, for 4A (large schools), 3A (small schools), 2A (really small schools) and 1A (really, really small schools).  The top 4 winners of each heat on Friday advanced to the finals on Saturday.  In the finals, the winner of the race goes to state, and then the next 4 top times from all regions also go to state.  Because of this, unless you win the race (like Homer's girl's 4x400 relay team), you won't know until all the results from all the regions are in who is going to state.  We thought it would be a couple of days till we knew, but by time we got home from the meet last night and went online to, all the region results were posted and we were excited to see that 9 girls from Homer and 4 boys were heading to state.  This is Homer's first year in 3A (not because they lost numbers but because the cutoff changed.  I believe schools over 500 students are 4A; Homer High has 385 to 400.), so they qualified in more events than they usually do, but looking over the results a number of kids would have qualified even in 4A.

This coming weekend, May 17-18 is the state track meet in Fairbanks.  It's a 12+ hour drive up there or a pretty expensive plane ticket so I'm not sure if I'll be heading up there.  The kids will be getting on a tour bus that will take all the state qualifiers from the Kenai Peninsula.  Any way about it, we're glad Regionals is over since Homer track parents were braced for the possibility of having to run the meet!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Moose Stories

Lonely junior (one-year-old) moose

I've been seeing a lot of moose lately, and some interesting drama with them as well.

Last Thursday I was driving to my morning workout.  Momma moose with junior (I call one-year-old moose 'junior', as distinguished from 'baby' which is a newborn) were alongside our road.  An hour or so later when I came home momma moose was loping away in that kind of awkward bouncing gait that moose have speedily--without junior.  Later that day, who was hanging around our yard, all alone, moping?  Yep, junior!  Momma must have chased him off, as momma's do each spring when they are about to have their new babies.  He looked so forlorn and lost, wandering aimlessly around our yard for a couple days.  He finally bedded down under the spruce trees right outside our living room, right where he'd bedded down with momma all these months past.  It was strange seeing him by himself as the young 'uns stick close to the mommas all year.

Sunday a friend who lives on the next road over and I planned to meet for a walk.  When I met her on the road, she was running.  She was a little freaked out because she'd been walking along when all of a sudden a momma moose peered around a car at her, making distressed woofing sounds.  In all her years in Alaska (including getting attacked by a moose while cross-country skiing in Anchorage) she'd never heard a moose make that noise before, so she was running to get the heck away!  A little later we saw a momma and junior moose together in a field along the road.  Maybe momma was sad about chasing junior away?  Or junior was so lonely she took pity on him?  Or else it was just a trial run to see if junior could fend for himself for a couple days?  Could also be it was a different moose momma and junior than the ones in our yard.

The babies are going to start dropping in the next few weeks, but it has been such a cold spring that there is hardly any sign of greenery yet so I hope they wait as long as possible!

Another unrelated moose observation:  Saturday night another junior was walking through our yard and stopped to browse on our rose bushes by our front deck.  We got a good view of him and I noticed something I've never seen before:  new antler buds.  These buds were just above the eyes and were hardly sticking out at all so obviously they've just sprouted recently (there's got to be a more scientific term than that, but I don't know what it is!), and the other junior hanging around definitely did not have buds so there are multiple juniors in the area.  Wish I'd gotten to my camera faster and gotten a picture as it was interesting. 

For all the moose I see, I rarely see one with antlers.  The males seem to have different browsing and travel patterns as they don't have the pregnancy and baby moose to look after so they stay more hidden while the mothers stick close to human habitation as protection from bears (though that unwittingly puts them at risk to be being preyed on by loose dogs).  In all my years here, I only see a couple antlered moose a year at most.

I cannot imagine visiting Alaska and not seeing moose, but it is so possible.  I'll go for months not seeing a single moose, and then suddenly I'll see them constantly as their movement patterns change with the seasons.  So right now I'm seeing at least a couple moose every time I drive to town it seems, which keeps things interesting!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brainy Stuff: Homer Math Meet

Every spring Homer Middle School hosts a borough-wide math meet for top 6th through 8th grader math students.  It is patterned after the national MathCounts meet, with sprint, target, team and countdown rounds.  Being the good mom I am, I offered to volunteer to be a proctor at the meet last Friday (after slacking and not helping for the two years my daughter was in it!).

Mathletes hard at work

The day began with kids streaming in from schools all over the peninsula:  Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Nikiski, Soldotna, Kenai, and Chapman (I'm sure I'm missing a few), as well as homeschoolers.  Once the kids got a snack, we proctors spread the 90 kids at tables around the gym with pencils, paper and tests.  After giving them directions, all math coaches and adults besides the proctors had to leave the room.  The four of us proctors paced the gym for 40 minutes while the kids furiously worked on the sprint round, which was a sprint because there were 30 problems to complete in the time allotted, and most kids would not finish them.

A quick break after that allowed us to sharpen pencils and put out clean scratch paper while the kids snacked, drank water and swapped comments about problems.  Yes!  They like math so much that they want to talk about which problems they got right, which ones they got wrong, how the problem was solved and what the answer was.  Cracks me up.  I was never so into math.

The target round consists of 8 problems to be completed in 30 minutes.  Once again we read the directions and paced the room, making sure there were no straying eyes.  More kids finished all the questions on this round.

A little relief between rounds.

Lunch was next, with kids scattering around the gym to eat guessed it!  Swap stories about math problems!  Sorry--I'm cracking up some more.  Not all the kids love math, but a significant portion of them do.

After lunch things got fun.  The coaches had split the kids into teams.  Each team was supposed to have 2 girls, 2 boys, some high-level performers and and lower-level performers, all from different schools.  One mom I was talking to whose son is going to graduate from high school mentioned that her son still remembers kids he was on teams with in middle school math meets.  The kids got 20 minutes to complete 10 problems.  They could split them up however they wanted.  The first 10 minutes there was hardly a sound as the kids had divvied up the problems and were working hard, though we did remind them they could talk!  As they completed the problems there was a low murmur as they began to discuss them.  I joked to another proctor that we had a room full of middle-schoolers, we'd told them they could talk and they wouldn't talk!

Another break and the suspense rose.  For the final round the top 12 scorers from the combined sprint and target rounds are selected to compete.  Here's a description of the procedure for the countdown round:  "The two lowest ranked students are paired, a question is projected on the screen and students are given 45 seconds to solve the problem. A student may buzz in at any time, and if s/he answers correctly, a point is scored; if a student answers incorrectly, the other student has the remainder of the 45 seconds to answer. Three questions are read to each pair of students, one question at a time, and the student who scores the most points (not necessarily 2 out of 3) captures the place, progresses to the next round and challenges the next highest ranked student. This procedure continues until the fourth ranked Mathlete and her/his opponent compete. For the final four rounds, the first student to correctly answer three questions advances. The Countdown Round proceeds until a first place individual is identified."  All the rest of the kids watch, and lots of parents filled the bleachers at this point, the only section that they could join in.  If neither of the kids could answer the question the kids in the audience were allowed to answer.

That done, a short break was followed by an awards ceremony for the top 3 places for each round as well as overall winners from the combined sprint and target rounds.  One amazing 8th grader cleaned up, winning all events (though I think his team got second).  He won the state MathCounts meet the past two years and he went on to Nationals.  Denver ended up tying for first place in the target round with that boy and the first words out of his mouth were:  "I can't believe I tied with brain-iac!"  There were also prizes of iTunes cards (what every kid wants!) and other goodies just for participating.

Homer High School is ranked in the top 8% in the country.  Part of the reason why is because the feeder schools (elementary and middle) have awesome events like math meets that the kids can engage at a higher level in academics.  Parental and teacher support makes a difference as well, as does the culture of excellence and learning.  I was so pleased to have spent a day helping out with this event and I'm a little sad it took me so long to get around to doing so as my daughter has participated in all the math meet events the past couple years.  I'll be the first to sign up to help next year!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Clean-up

Spring street clean-up in Homer

At this time of year it becomes commonplace to see sweepers, front end loaders, dump trucks and road cleaners like the one pictured above on the roads and in the parking lots around town.  Our winters are icy, icy, icy, being on the edge of freezing temperatures here, so lots of gravel and sand are used to keep the roads safe.  It was my understanding that salt is not used on the roads, but I've seen more signs that salt is used in some places, on some roads.  Without salt, the ice stays on the roads longer (like all winter!) so gravel is applied time and again, creating amazing amounts of build-up on sidewalks and roads.

Just last week I was walking on a sidewalk that I didn't know was a paved sidewalk because there was so much gravel.  I came across a section that was cleaned off and it was a stunning difference.  Various groups jockey for position to sweep parking lots as fundraisers (I blogged about doing that last spring).  This year the track team decided to focus on training and not on fundraising through sweeping so they gave up at least 3 parking lot sweeping jobs.  I happened to be part of other organizations that those lots were offered to.  Musical parking lots.

And another view on a different day...