Thursday, October 28, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part Last

One of my earliest memories, when I was about 3, is of snowmobiling with Santa. Looking back, I’m not sure Santa was actually on the snowmobile, but in my mind he was. At least, I was riding on the back of the snowmobile, then was picked up and plopped on his lap. Surely he was there, too. I always pictured Santa abandoning his sleigh to race across the frozen white land on his Arctic Cat.

It was a privilege to grow up Alaskan and I wore the title Sourdough with pride. It was a gift to sit at the feet of the old Tlingit woman who taught beading and moccasin making. It was a thrill to deliver homemade banana bread to Montana Joe in his one-room cabin. He was one of the last homesteaders in Juneau and, even as I child, I knew I was looking into the face of history.

I was always told not to disturb the bricks I found when exploring the ruins of the A.J. Mine or the Treadwell mine. “Those bricks are valuable.” That’s why, when I moved to Arkansas and saw all the brick houses, I thought everyone was rich.

And all the time, it was I who was rich. Rich in a heritage and a boatload of Alaskan memories I will never forget.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part VII

“We’re going to the glacier!” We would yell to Mom as we sped off on our bikes. Nearly every sunny day was spent at the glacier, climbing rocks, hiking trails, fishing for ice, and (most fun of all) lying to tourists. We got a kick out of the questions we heard.
“What is the humidity here?” as the rain drizzled down.

“What is our elevation?” They had just come in on a cruise ship. Their elevation was pretty close to zero.

“Why is the glacier so dirty?” This was my favorite questions to answer.

“Those teenagers,” we would say. “They are always joyriding out on the glacier. They keep leaving their muddy tire tracks.” Or “That’s actually not the real glacier. The real glacier is out for cleaning, so they’ve just pinned up a huge photo.”

The tourists would nod in wonder.

The real answer, of course, is that the ice picks up boulders as it flows slowly down the valley. Mendenhall Glacier’s face was more than a mile from the parking lot, but because it is so huge, it’s easy to lose perspective. Boulders look like gravel, gravel looks like dust.

But what’s so fun about that?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part VI

Dad and my brother went fishing… no surprise. Would it be salmon or halibut for dinner? Neither, as it turned out. When the phone rang, it was Dad, calling from his Ham radio.
“Call your Japanese friend. We’re bringing home an octopus.”

Dad had caught and released the leggy creature, but when David caught the same one ten minutes later, it was either release it so it could eat more bait or take it home.
Our new eight-legged experience filled the utility sink, its body and tentacles seeking their own level like a viscous liquid. We all took a turn at pulling the suction cups away from the sink. Pop! Pop! Pop-op-op! By the time Mariya, my Japanese friend arrived, I was having second thoughts about whether I wanted to put that thing in my mouth. Her scream upon seeing the octopus made me even more nervous. Apparently she had never seen a whole, live octopus before. She had always bought chopped up parts in the supermarket.
Our expert was useless as a butcher.

“How do we kill it?”

“We can’t drown it.”

“Maybe we should cut off its head. But wouldn’t it still be alive?”

Luckily, we had a book on how to prepare octopus.

Don’t ask.

“Remove the beak then turn the head inside out,” the book said. Somewhere in that process we think it died. We pulled the stretchy skin off the legs, sliced them up and delivered them to Mariya who was waiting inside at a safe distance from the carnage.
She expertly turned the octopus into a bowl of indigestible rubbery disks.

At least we got a bottle of ink out of the deal.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part V

Winter in Juneau meant wondrous snow! On the playground, we all worked together to build the biggest snowman we could. Starting with a small snowball, one kid pushed it until it was too heavy for him to handle by himself. Someone else joined and, soon, twenty of us were pushing around a five-foot snowball. There. The bottom was done.

“Hey, I’ve got the middle part started over here!” someone else yelled. We all swarmed over to help, rolling the ball until it was the size of the first one. Only one to go.

The head was easy to make. Now to put it all together.

I don’t know how we thought we were going to lift several hundred pounds of snow above our heads to place the middle section of our snowman on top of the base. Never mind that one part was by the baseball field and the other was clear over by the swing set.

And so our snowman sat, every time we had a big snow, a slowly-melting testimony to our inability to learn from past mistakes.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part IV

Picking up trash is good. Planting trees helps the future of our forests. But for a memorable service project, how about starting a library? When my Girl Scout troop heard there was no library in Pelican, we were devastated. How can you live without a library? We collected books from friends and neighbors and packed them up in cardboard boxes.

Pelican had no roads, no airport. We would have to deliver the library by hand.

So, a bunch of 11-year old girls and our fearless leader boarded an Alaska State Ferry. We transferred in Sitka to a smaller ferry which took us to Pelican. With only a couple of hours’ turn around time, we would have to work quickly to establish a whole library. We walked, arms full of books and heads held high, down the boardwalk of the fishing village toward the site of the new facility. One of the town members had very kindly offered the use of her closet to host the new book collection.

A cup of tea, a Girl Scout cookie, a wave of thanks and we were off. I hope those books brought as much pleasure to their readers as they did to the delivery girls.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part III

Summer isn’t summer without homemade ice cream. And you can’t make real homemade ice cream without glacier ice—the freshest, coldest, purest ice on earth. Dad surveyed the ice from the shore of Mendenhall Lake, eyed a piece that was close enough to reach then plunged in with hip waders, ice pick and burlap sack. While he was nabbing the perfect berg for our dessert, we three kids were facing a challenge of our own.

“Who can keep their feet in the water the longest? Ready? Go!”

“One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand… AAAHHHH! Ow! Ow!” The bone cracking cold broke even the bravest of us within a few seconds.

Back home, sucking on a puzzle piece of glacier ice and waiting for dessert, I knew that the ice cream was just an afterthought to the experience.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Snowmobiling with Santa, Part II

Every summer we picked berries on Blueberry Hill. Tiny berries, barely bigger than bee bees, but so full of flavor, it was like eating candy right off the bush. We sang as we picked. Loud choruses of “The Other Day I Met a Bear” and “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” were enough to scare off any critters in the neighborhood.

Most of my pickins ended up in my tummy, but Mom somehow filled her bucket. At home, she emptied her pail straight into a sink full of salt water. What fun to run my fingers through the small, sweet marbles. Even the dozens of tiny worms floating to the surface did not keep me from sneaking a few more berries. It’s good protein and, besides, the ones with the worms are the juiciest!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Snowmobiling With Santa, Part I

Shadow tag at ten o’clock on a summer night. The shadows stretch fifty feet. There is no way to escape being stepped on by “IT.” This is childhood in Alaska—fun, wacky, and unforgettable.

I thought it was normal to come home from school and find a king crab wandering around the garage.
“Can we name him, Mom?” we’d ask.
“Yes, but don’t get too attached. He’s dinner.” And show-and-tell as it turned out. There is no cooler show-and-tell than a giant crab claw. Not even a lunch box full of skunk cabbage.

I thought everyone grew up panning for gold and finding little flecks of color, dreaming of striking it rich, just like in the glory days.

I thought all children wore bells around their necks to warn away the bears.

I thought the Easter Egg hunt on the Alaska State Ferry somewhere between Petersburg and Ketchikan was fun, but not particularly unusual.

I also thought everyone had an “end of the road.” With less than thirty miles of road in any direction from our house, we never got used to riding in a car. Every car trip “outside” Dad challenged us to stay awake and enjoy the scenery. By the time 30 minutes had passed, though, Dad was inevitably driving a car full of sleeping wife and kids.

I thought camping meant roughing it. Camping in the lower 48 was such a disappointment after the real life survivor challenge of camping in Alaska. One of my fondest memories is of the camping trip Dad and I took to Portland Island. Pup tent, sierra cup and dried apples were our only amenities. We were dropped on the beach and, when the boat pulled away, I knew we had to depend on our wits to survive. Never mind that the most dangerous wildlife we saw was a deer trail. Never mind that we were only there for two days. It was an only-in-Alaska trip and one of the experiences that shaped my life. Over the next week, I'll share few more.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Protecting My Future

Our family runs on a four month dry erase calendar.

If it's on the calendar, it'll get done.

If it's not on the calendar, it'll never get done.

Every day is scribbled full of all our activities. Tomorrow, for example, reads:

Ortho (dontist)
youth group

Usually, I rotate the months every several weeks. Not this month, though. The writing on the wall runs July 1-October 31. It's time to erase and start again. I'm enjoying the illusion that the next four months stretch out empty before us, though I know it's just an illusion.

If you want me to do something with you or for you, be sure I check my calendar first. I've been known to double and triple book myself.

What's on your calendar today?

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's All Relative

This is why when someone asks if I know so-and-so in Africa, the answer is probably no. The map comes from a fascinating blog on visualizing data called information is beautiful.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I was just looking back at this blog and was surprised to find that my last 4 posts were about food.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Warm Welcome

We weren't even all the way in the door at the new family owned grocery store before one of the workers greeted us. Dad pumped him for information about who built the store, how it was stocked, what made them stand out from the chain stores, while I picked up huge avocados, tiny pears, and arugula from a bulk bin.

The same worker met us on the other side of the store while we were browsing the cheese section. I asked if they had any prepared pizza dough. He didn't know, but he'd find out.

"We don't carry pizza dough yet, but we might later," was his answer. "But I'd like to introduce you to Erik. He's our executive chef."

Erik was more than happy to fix up some pizza dough for me on the spot and bring it out to me while I was shopping.

We met the same worker at the end as we pulled our cart up to check out. Dad did what I should have done in the first place--asked his name.


The new store, Chuck's Produce and Street Market, will be a fun place to shop, especially for hard to find items like passion fruit and good Gouda. But what's taking me back there is the warm welcome I received from Larry and the terrific customer service from Erik.

By the way, the pizza was delicious. Y'all should have stopped by.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Happiness is...

... a piece of moldy cheese.

My dad drop by with a huge hunk of gorgonzola cheese the other day. He split it in 3, left some for me and some for a friend who loves cheese.

Kind of random, I thought, but I've got to tell you--I've been enjoying that cheese. It's not the kind of treat I would have bought for myself, so it tastes a little luxurious. Also, I've discovered that both of my older kids like it, too. It's a snack the 3 of us can enjoy together and a reminder that their taste buds are definitely maturing.

My folks do thoughtful things like this all the time. A couple of dog bones showed up at my house the other day, a stack of coupons and comics, a basket full of freshly picked grapes.

It's fun to be thought of by someone who knows what you like. Has anyone done anything thoughtful for you lately? Have you done anything for someone else?

Monday, October 04, 2010


The Asian market has plantains on sale, nice juicy ripe ones. I bought 2 the other day and grilled them. One of the kids and I ate them both before anyone else got a taste.

Back to the market to buy a dozen of the giant cooking bananas. That was yesterday.

We ate them all.

6 went on the grill. The rest went in the fryer to go with eggplant sauce and potatoes for dinner. All went in our tummies.

What is it about food? Plantains were a staple for us during our years in Africa. I don't think I've cooked them since, but as soon as I started cooking with these, the kids started telling me stories of memories they have from Africa. The smell, the taste, the texture ... I'm not sure what it was, but those bananas awakened a long dormant piece of our family. It's fun to let the memories flow.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ask a random question. Get a random answer.

Q: What should I blog about?

A: Cheez-its.

Uh ...