Monday, March 31, 2014

MathCounts Competition

Every so often I reflect on the great education I feel like my kids are getting here in Homer. There are so many "value-added" activities besides just school. One of these things is MathCounts, a nationwide middle school math competition that begins at the regional level, advances to state and then on to nationals. Aurora was involved in it both years in middle school, and now Denver has as well.

Middle schoolers who are in advanced math and have an A are pulled out of the regular classroom once a week to work on even more advanced math problems. The top 4 seventh and eighth graders (from Homer; if sixth grade is part of a middle school they are included), based on tests, are part of the official school team, while the next 4 can attend the regional competition as unofficial individuals. It gives them experience so hopefully they make it to the team in 8th grade. Aurora was only an individual the first year as she was homeschooled, and was on the Homer Middle School team the second year. Last year Denver went as an individual and this year as part of the team.

The competition involves three different types of tests:  the Sprint, Target, Team and Countdown Rounds. This year Denver's team got second place at regionals, qualifying them for state. What I didn't realize is that state is all-expense-paid, which in Alaska can be significant! The 4 kids and coach were flown from Homer to Anchorage ($240 or so per ticket), stayed in a hotel (2 rooms, 2 nights, $100+/night), ate out at restaurants ($10 per child per meal) and bussed around for various activities. This year the state competition was in Anchorage, though in recent years it has been in Fairbanks. The kids got to Anchorage at noon on Friday, visited a planetarium, got dinner and free time. Saturday was the competition and then a tour of the UAA Engineering Building which is being built right now, then free time and dinner. And finally they flew home Sunday morning.

It was a treat for middle schoolers to have this opportunity. Corporations, foundations and individuals contribute donations to make this possible. The hope is to inspire these bright minded kids to seek careers in math or engineering. But for kids who aren't thinking that far ahead, it can still be a fun time. This year Homer Middle School's team did better than they have ever done, getting second at state, with three top-10 finishes.

I am a little sad that this chapter of my kids' life is over. They have been involved in it for 4 years now and it has inspired their love of math, while developing their teamwork skills with that math. I am grateful that one of the local college instructors and a middle school teacher are willing to be there and help these kids on. It is one more thing that makes me appreciate their education in Homer!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cordova Adventure

Cordova from the air

This year the 3A basketball regionals tournament was held in Cordova. It is quite the coordination feat to get the teams there from around the Anchorage area and Kenai Peninsula. As part of the Board of Review, my husband had to go but he took the relatively quick and easy route of flying from Homer to Anchorage, and then from Anchorage to Cordova.  The teams, however, had a much longer journey.

Regionals began on Thursday morning, March 6.  The boys and girls basketball teams, cheerleaders, coaches, team managers and some parents got on the bus after school on Tuesday, fortified with Thai take-out from one of the cheerleader's parents who owns the local Vida's Thai (yum!) From there they drove to Hope, Alaska, about a 3 1/2 hour drive, which would put them within an hour of Whittier, where they had to catch the ferry Wednesday morning.  As a funny side note, because we have spent time in Hope my daughter knew where the Hope School was. The bus driver thought he did, but drove down a long road quite a ways (that would be heading out to the Palmer Creek Mine area). She told him he passed the school (which is only a block or so off the main road in Hope), but he said, "No, no, it's down this road."  Finally he realized he was passed it and turned around.

After spending the night in Hope, the kids got up bright and early Wednesday, at breakfast, loaded onto the bus and headed to Whittier, in order to get to the tunnel when vehicles were being let through. It is a 2-mile tunnel, and vehicles cannot go through at night, and during the day they are only let through every 30 minutes. Besides Houston High School, every team going to regionals was going through the tunnel at that time and getting on that ferry to Cordova.

Once through the tunnel, the kids had to go through TSA-type security and get on the ferry. Loading a ferry is quite a process. Some teams were taking their buses over, while other teams were taking private vehicles to shuttle kids around. Others were renting vehicles in Cordova (which is what my husband did). From what I heard the ferry was loaded TO capacity (maybe even a few extra folks) in order to get all the teams over. I heard they were going to have a second ferry run special for all the fans to get there, since there weren't enough flights to fly them all in.

The ferry ride was uneventful, luckily, but very long. It took off at 9 a.m. and didn't get to Cordova until 4 or 5 p.m. That was the "slow" ferry. On the way back they would take the "fast ferry," a catamaran (which was still a good 6-hour ride).

Once in Cordova the kids walked to their lodging. The girls stayed in a hotel that had kitchenettes, which was perfect so they could cook their own food, since Cordova only has a handful of restaurants open at this time of year. The boys were staying in the elementary school.  Most of the games were being played in the high school.  Pretty much the whole town can be walked in less than 10 minutes from one end to the next, so once the kids were there they wandered about the town and harbor.

Prince William Motel, Cordova

Doug stayed in a 3-story cinder-block motel, Prince William Motel, which he described as having "half-way clean rooms." It did have microwaves, small fridges and TV's in the rooms (I thought it interesting he even mentioned TV's. Don't all motels and hotels provide TV's nowadays?!). The rooms were spacious but there was no view, and the price was about right at $100/night. Apparently the motel complex had an interesting setup. I couldn't quite picture it from the way he was describing it.

Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for best food in Cordova
The other notable place Doug mentioned from Cordova was the pizza place he at one day, Harborside Pizza, which supposedly is the most popular restaurant in town. It was a single-wide trailer that they took out one end of and installed a wood fireplace that they bake the pizzas in. There is no seating in it and they used to deliver but the volume of deliveries requested was so great they had to stop doing that (maybe not making enough money from it?!). The inside is quite run down and old, but the pizza is good. The owner is looking at trying to save up enough money to get a sit-in restaurant.

The parents of the basketball teams had met and planned all the meals for the kids at regionals since they didn't want the expense and inconvenience of eating out. The boys ended up being right next to a kitchen at the elementary school and so that is where the teams cooked and ate their meals. Apparently a number of entrepreneur-minded folks in Cordova opened up their restaurants or made meals just to handle the huge influx of people on the town for 5 days.

The tournament was disappointing for both the boys and girls teams. The boys were ranked #3 in the state at some points during the season (top 3 from regionals go to state), so they were hopeful to go, but lost their fourth game. One of the top scorers for the girls team got violently ill the second day of the tournament and was out day 3 when we needed to win 2 games to make it to state, which we probably would have done handily had she been playing. But it is still exciting to travel and see all the teams playing. Quite an adventure to just play basketball! Two Homer High girls and one guy made the All-Conference First Team, Aurora and two guys made the All-Conference Second Team, one boy and one girl made the "Good Sports Team" and three cheerleaders were recognized for the all-cheer team. So they made a good showing despite some losses.

Cordova Air Terminal: quite small! It is 12 miles out of town in the middle of nowhere.
On Sunday Doug's flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 6 p.m. or so since the early flight had been booked. He was wandering around Cordova Sunday morning and it was like a ghost town. The ferry had left so there were few people around and none of the stores were open. He'd had to check out of his hotel so he was trying to figure how where the heck he was going to hang out for a whole day. 

On a whim he went to the airport and discovered that there was ONE seat open on the plane with the Houston team at 1:00 p.m.. He nabbed it! His flight to Homer was at 10 p.m. so it was still going to be a long day hanging out in the Anchorage Airport. He texted me to let me know of the flight change. I was in Anchorage just heading into Costco and then home and was like, "I'm in Anchorage. I'll pick you up at the airport in an hour after I shop at Costco."  We could not have planned that more perfectly.

Everything went smoothly on the travels, the weather was good and there was no drama between teams. The travel is always in the back of my mind when the kids are on the road for sports, and many other parents will mention in passing, "Whew! So glad the kids are home! So glad things went smoothly. They are all safe." Especially after the busload of cross-country skiers got in an accident in the pass going into Valdez this winter, we are all a bit edgy. And Aurora was happy because she got to ride on the ferry named Aurora!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Second Star Luxury Home

The Homer High School boys and girls basketball teams jointly ran a raffle fundraiser, the top prize being a day or evening rental of the Second Star, a luxury home on the east end of Kachemak Drive in Homer built by Beachy Construction. In order to be motivated to sell the tickets, players and their parents were offered tours of this home. It ended up being a fascinating look into what money can build, and felt more like a museum or showroom tour than a walk through a home that someone might live in.  Here are some pictures and perspectives on this 1.16 million dollar home (1.33 million including the land).

With 13 bathrooms, 8 luxury bedrooms plus bunkrooms and other children’s rooms, it seemed I was taking pictures of lots of bathrooms and bedrooms. It was hard to get the effect as there was so much to take in. Chandeliers abounded as did artwork and gorgeous views of Kachemak Bay. Some features include:
  • Pool with treadmill in it
  • Sauna
  • Hot tub
  • Game room
  • Movie theater
  • Library
  • Office
  • 3000 square feet of decking
  • Outdoor oven
  • Hidden passages
  • Servants quarters
  • NeverNever Land play area with ship, treehouse and passageways

The most common reaction from those of us touring the house was wide eyes, “Wow!” and “Look at that!” It is not common to have 17,000 foot luxury homes in Homer.  My favorite room was the office, as I could totally picture myself sitting at the desk enjoying the view, though I’m afraid I would just want to turn it into an artist’s studio and paint the views instead!

I really wanted to win the raffle ticket, picturing being able to enjoy treating friends to a gala event at the Second Star. Alas, it was not to be. But I still enjoy the memories of walking through this amazing home!

Small pool for exercise, with treadmill in the bottom.

Shower/changing room by pool/sauna/hot tub area

It seemed there were double sinks in all the bathrooms in the house, all unique!

Bunkroom, with at least 5 beds, including the one rocking one (metal frame)

All of the luxury bedrooms came with their own bathrooms, with each bedroom and bath uniquely appointed.

My favorite room:  the office with view of Kachemak Bay outside.

A section of the master bedroom's bathroom (the bathroom had multiple rooms)

Cute little kiddie-size tub

Bassinet in a nook off one of the bedrooms off of NeverNeverLand

Ship in NeverNeverLand on 3rd floor--kids' playroom plus bedrooms

Tree inside NeverNeverLand play area, with stairs and passageways to crawl through and fake grass carpet

Porthole bedroom off of NeverNeverLand

Treehouse in NeverNeverLand, except that it is supposed to be up in the sky (skyhouse?)

For more on this home and other pictures, see the local paper’s article on it in the Homer Tribune:

Goopy Guck Oozing off the Cliffs

Muck oozing off the cliffs along Bishop's Beach

I rarely get out for walks along Bishop's Beach these days, and even when I do I seldom get as far as the cliffs. Last week was a gorgeous sunny day (we've had a streak of those days lately!) and Denver and I had some time after school with nothing on the calendar for a couple hours. We decided to take a long walk on Bishop's Beach.  The last time I'd walked there was whenever I last hiked the beach from Diamond Creek to Bishop's Beach, last fall probably, and even then I was further out on the hard-packed sand rather than close to the cliffs. So I was startled at the changes along the line of cliffs since the last time I'd come by.

In some areas the edge had crept even closer to houses or cabins--in one place within a couple feet. In other areas large evergreen trees on the top of the ridge had fallen, prey to the receding coastline. And other areas had some significant slumping. What was most fascinating was coming across an actively moving area.  The oozing mud you see in the picture above was advancing as we watched, with water alternately trickling and gushing down the ridge in the 20 minutes we stood and watched it. Large rocks the size of our head tumbled down, as well as chunks of dirt bouncing down and then hunks of the earth breaking off. In this section the mud was mixed with sections of trees and brush.

The tide was advancing, so the muddy ooze above would soon be gone. In fact, the tide would get as high as where the ridge started climbing. If there were large waves during a high tide, it would take even more of the cliffside.

The receding coastline has been well documented, and to some degree it is a natural process that would occur whether humans were here or not. If property is not at risk, then nothing is usually done. And sometimes even if property is at risk, there still might not be anything that can be done. The type of earth and the level of saturation makes it difficult to contain. It fascinates me seeing erosion happening before my eyes, from month to month and year to year. And at the same time it is disquieting as ocean levels are predicted to continue rising and even as little as an inch can make a difference in how much a shoreline erodes. It makes me wonder what Homer's beaches will look like 50 years from now.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fighting the the Transfer Station

I have always associated bald eagles with beauty, strength and freedom, but delivering my trash to the transfer station recently I got a different perspective.  As I pulled up I noticed 10-15 eagles standing, hopping, eating and swooping around inside the transfer station where I needed to drop my trash. Being so close to these birds, I appreciated those vicious, curved beaks and I had no desire to get too close to them.

I backed in like always and cautiously got out, watching overhead. I heard about an eagle swooping close to someone's head in there.  I opened up my vehicle, tossed my bags out, got out my phone and took pictures and all the while the eagles virtually ignored me. With the rabbit population plummeting they are hungry, and trash is food, so they're looking for a meal.

People up here seem quite attuned to how life is different here than elsewhere, with comments like, "That's so Alaska" or "That's so Homer" being fairly common. Well, this was one of those situations that I thought to myself, "This is so Alaska," and thought it blogworthy in my otherwise fairly uneventful hum-drum life during the schoolyear.

So if you're visiting Homer and want to see eagles, you'll pass the Shell gas station as you're coming to the top of the Baycrest Hill.  Make a left right past the gas station and drive up to the trash disposal building and you may see a few (or a lot!) of eagles.