Spring is coming…but it’s dragging it’s feet!

#37 Christine Roalofs passing through the crowds during the Anchorage ceremonial start of the Iditarod

#37 Christine Roalofs passing through the crowds during the Anchorage ceremonial start of the Iditarod

Much has happened since my last post, but only recently have I had anything Cabin-worthy to write about!

The last post I was looking forward (with some anxiety) to my friend Christine’s running of the Iditarod. I’m very, VERY pleased to say that she completed it in one piece and all of her dogs came home healthy. Although she got the Red Lantern (last place) she completed nearly 1000 miles of trail that even race veterans said was the worst they had ever seen. Warm temperatures created sloppy trails and dangerous overflow on river and lake crossings. When the temps finally dropped enough to firm up the trail, she was hit in the face with a blizzard. We were all thankful when her GPS tracker finally showed her in Nome…and NO ONE was more thankful than she was!

A few weeks ago I joined some friends for a vacation to wine country in California. Thanks to the incredible hospitality of a childhood friend of a friend, we were able to stay in a guest house in the middle of a private vineyard. The grapes were still teensy green specks, but the foliage was thick and green and glorious to us color-starved Alaskans!

We spent 10 days exploring and touring in the hot sunshine before coming home to our dirty grey city. Even the snow on the mountains is grimy looking this time of year, but each day a little more green shows up in the yards around town.

While we were in California I celebrated a milestone birthday. (50…gasp!) That’s all I have to say about that. (eye roll!)

This last weekend we did a quick dash to Kenai to pick up the motorhome. The camping season is upon us, starting with a big group campout in Seward over Memorial Day weekend, so we have some work to do to get Winnie cleaned up, flushed, charged and restocked. In spite of that to-do list, I managed to sneak away on Monday to run up to the Cabin.
Much, much to tell about that terribly brief trip, so I’ll save that for the next post…

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Weekly Photo Challenge – my 2012 in pictures

 WordPress suggested a themed photo post so here goes…

The year started with a trip to Hawaii in January for my brother’s wedding.

January wedding - I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

January wedding – I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

A March trip to Homer was slightly delayed as we transferred gear to another vehicle after mine was attacked by my neighbor’s house!  Ice slabs the size of our coffee table smashed my car… 

ummmm....we won't be taking my car to Homer this weekend!  The ice and snow on my neighbor's roof slid off onto my car and smashed it ... luckily we weren't standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

ummmm….we won’t be taking my car to Homer this weekend! The ice and snow on my neighbor’s roof slid off onto my car and smashed it … luckily we weren’t standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

Late spring trips to the cabins for restocking and supplying for longer summer stays…


The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend's cabin

The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend’s cabin

Rain was a regular visitor to SouthCentral Alaska this summer
Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer - a record setting rainy summer

Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer – a record setting rainy summer

Lake levels were high and the poor old dock was very low!
Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad...This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad…This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

View from the lake.  See what I mean about how close those trees are?

This is what it’s all about for me these days…my private paradise

New neighbors at the lake this fall...I just hope they don't push the loons away

New neighbors at the lake this fall…I just hope they don’t push the loons away

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

All in all a pleasant look back at a good year…

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Thin Ice and a Hero

I followed a snow plow on my way to work two mornings ago, slowing my commute somewhat.  However, in light of what folks on the east coast are facing this week after Sandy’s devastation, I will declare a moratorium on complaining about Alaskan weather. 

My hoped for trip to the Cabin did not happen last weekend and won’t happen this weekend either as I am presenting my jewelry at two different private parties on Saturday and Sunday.  As a result I’ve been spending almost every waking moment (when I’m not at my regular job) at my craft table finishing designs, making displays, and the always dreaded pricing of the completed products. 

The Anchorage Fire Department issued a warning yesterday about thin ice on the local lakes.  This is an issue for folks who frequent the dog park at University Lake. 

Several years ago, D. and I were walking Shortie at the park in late spring.  The ice on the lake was thinning, with wide swatches of open water where the creeks feed and empty the main body of water.  The creek that empties the lake has carved a deep, narrow channel at the west end of the park. 

Shortie was carrying his Frisbee along the trail and decided to go down to the creek where he often went for a drink.  We weren’t able to call him back from the edge of thin ice before he fell through…all 110 lbs of him…and still holding onto that Frisbee for dear life.  Luckily he was in the open water of the main channel and wasn’t submerged under the ice, but the channel was too deep for him to be able to push off and climb out. 

I started off for the other side of the channel, a walk of five minutes at my top speed which is NOT very fast admittedly!  D. stayed at the near shore, calling ever more frantically even after I urged her to stop.  I was trying to get him to come to my side where the bank was much less steep and I was sure I could break enough ice to get to him.  Before I knew it her panic had led her out on to the ice where, of course, she fell through.  Now I had two of them to rescue and I was on the wrong side! 

Shouting all the way, I huffed and puffed back to the bridge and up the trail.  D. had her upper body partially out of the water, but couldn’t reach the bottom to push herself the rest of the way up.  It took all she could do to hang on to the slippery, wet ice.  In addition, she was still trying to pull on Shortie, who was delighted that mom had come in for a swim and didn’t understand why she wanted to pull him out of the water.  

The normally busy park was oddly empty and I was faced with an impossible and dangerous situation.  There was three feet of rotting ice between D. and shore, her cell phone was now waterlogged and my battery was dead.  I was (am) much too heavy to risk stepping out on to the ice…then there would be three of us in need of rescue…but the ice wasn’t quite rotten enough for her to be able to break her way back to the bank.  In addition she didn’t trust her swimming ability enough to cross the fast flowing open water to the shallower side of the channel.

 D. was in danger of getting hypothermic when finally, out of nowhere, a young, very petite woman and her small daughter came along the trail. 

 The woman was quick to realize what needed to be done.  She climbed out on a low hanging alder limb near D., holding onto another limb above her.  She was small and lithe enough that she was able to go right out over the ice on the branch.  She grabbed Shortie by the scruff of his neck and yanked him straight up out of the water to where I could reach him to pull him to safety.  I had to hold him back (he wanted to rejoin his mom!) while the young woman held out a broken limb to D. urging her to grab hold so we could pull her up onto the ice. 

 D.’s condition had become dire.  The cold had sapped her not only her strength but also her will, and she wanted to give up.  It took much shouting on our parts to get her to take the branch and hold it while the girl backed up, pulling her up and out as she went.  At last D. was able to lift first one leg and then the other up onto the ice.  We soon had her back up on the trail, shivering and thanking the young woman profusely. 

 From start to finish the whole incident probably took 10-15 minutes at the most, but it felt like hours of terror and helplessness.  Another five minutes and D. could easily have succumbed to hypothermia and drowned.

 Shortie’s and D.’s story ended well that day, but several dogs are lost every year to the lake, and the water rescue team of the fire department has had plenty of opportunity to test their skills, pulling owners like D. out of the frigid water. 

Shortie on a less stressful day.
R.I.P. sweet guy!

 We never got the young rescuer’s name that day, but D. has a fantastic memory for faces and finally saw her again at the park months later.  She was shy and a bit embarrassed to be approached by D., which was in complete contrast to the confident, firm voiced girl of action she had been on the day we needed her.

Heroes truly come in all shapes and sizes.

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Had to reblog this from “freshly pressed” today! Gonna make one next summer!

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Prelude to a road trip…

I’ve been promising some road trip stories for awhile now and the onset of winter seems a good time to sit around the fire and tell tall tales, so pull up your chair, wrap your chilled fingers around that mug of coffee (is that Irish crème I smell in your mug?) and enjoy…

In the early 80’s my parents invested in a little Winnebago motorhome.  Let me further define “little.”  This is not a Minnie Winnie such as you see on the road or in RV lots all the time.  It’s much smaller.  In fact it’s actually a Micro 319RK according to my insurance guy.  Driving it is not far different from driving a small pickup…like Chevy Luv small…like sitting directly on the pavement with a small house bouncing along behind you…small.

Isn’t she cute? She fits in most regular parking spots at the grocery store!

 My folks drove it down the Alcan twice on extended shopping trips as they looked for a winter home.  By the end of the second trip the starter began acting up and after a few more years of travels around the state, Dad gave up and parked it.   

I soon started hinting that I wanted first option when he was ready to sell it.  Finally, after it sat for nearly 4 years, he said, “come get it if you still want it, otherwise I’m towing it to the dump.” 

So for my 45th birthday I got a motorhome! 

Winnie can go places some of the big rigs can’t easily go – This cleft in the rock is the only road to get to McCarthy

My roommate, D., and I drove to Nikiski to collect it.  Mom and Dad helped with some new tires and a new cabin battery as part of my birthday present and we drove it back to Anchorage with no problems.  After an oil change, D’s brother looked it over and did some small, mostly cosmetic, repairs but otherwise pronounced it sound.  As an “RV warming” gift he and his wife bought us a hitch rack for additional luggage space.

We were ready for our first motorhome road trip!

Winnie at the Arctic Circle

 Take a look at a good map of Alaska.  See that wiggly line that goes from the northernmost coastline all the way to the bottom of the state?  That is the TransAlaska Pipeline that carries oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.  Following that pipe for most of its 800+ miles is a road known as the Haul Road or the Dalton Highway.  It has been featured on Ice Road Truckers in the last couple of years.  That was the road we decided to try on our first real outing!

(warning:  boys and girls…don’t try this at home!)

Map borrowed from Wikipedia…our route picked up the pipeline at Fairbanks and followed it all the way to Prudhoe Bay

(PS stands for Pump Station, Fairbanks close to PS8)

There were seven women altogether in three vehicles.  S. (my cabin neighbor) with two other ladies in her van and towing her popup camper, three of us in Winnie, and C. in her elderly Grand Cherokee.  We spent 5 days on the road together and there are WAY too many stories to tell in one post, never mind the thousands of photos I could share! 

Stay tuned…800 miles of mostly dirt road to come!

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Just a quick note to say…SNOW !!  The “S” word.  Termination Dust.  We woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning.

September 29 snowfall picture borrowed from KTUU’s website

It’s a little early and it didn’t last long … I didn’t even get a shot of it in my own back yard before it melted … but it was a shock all the same.  Many yards still have small white patches in the shady corners.  My friend who has a cabin near mine said we didn’t get any snow at all up there, but it won’t be long!

I’ll post more of my own pictures later in the week.  Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more snow!


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September 7-9 Fish Camp

My roommate has spoiled her friends with an annual tradition that we call “Fish Camp.”  After the summer renters have all left the lodge on the Kenai River, she uses it to house a group who are itching for one last big fishing trip to close out the year.  (She gets to use Broken Rod Lodge in return for care-taking it in the off season.)

Mt. Redoubt seen from the end of the runway on Funny River Road. One of my favorite photo stops on the way to Broken Rod Lodge

Everyone makes their way to Soldotna Friday night, most arriving in time for snacks and cocktails catered by my roommate.  Those who are fishing get up at what she calls “o-dark-thirty” on Saturday morning to drive to the boat launch to catch their guided fishing charter, while she stays behind to prepare for the evening feast and festivities when the fishing folks return. 

One year she did a Cajun “dump” dinner, somehow convincing all of her gullible guests to put on disposable surgical hazmat overalls without revealing what was in store for them.  Much giggling and outright guffaws ensued as we all sat around the table and watched each other in our ridiculous costumes eating from a steaming mess of delicious food dumped in the middle of the table!  (Note: hazmat suits are NOT necessary to eat a dump dinner under normal circumstances!)

That one will be hard to top, but she made a noble effort this year with grilled fresh red salmon, grilled New York steaks, homemade rolls, baked beans, salad, roasted veggies and much more.  It took two tables to hold all the food!  Afterward, anyone still able to waddle outside gathers around the fire pit to drink and tell fish stories.  We always intend to make s’mores but the size of the meal often discourages dessert longings! 

Red willow leaf…fall is really here…sigh

Sadly, Fish Camp marks the beginning of the end of summer.  This year we saw everyone off Sunday morning after a big breakfast of quiche and fruit.  Three of us stayed behind to finish laundry and dishes, clean out the refrigerator and tidy up, before we too headed back to Anchorage.

Mushrooms – another sign of fall. I laid my camera on the moss, pointed it up at the mushroom and trusted it to focus!

Soon the lodge will be officially closed up: plumbing drained and disconnected; pump shut off; furnace shut off; remaining liquid items stashed in the bathtub in case of frozen explosions.  Outside, the big travel trailer (that serves as a spare bedroom at the height of the season) is also winterized and then gets completely tarp-wrapped.  The fishing platforms on the river bank even get hauled out to minimize damage due to ice during breakup.  The lodge is completely inaccessible once the snow flies, so once it’s closed, we won’t see the inside of it again until May. 

In addition, as part of the chores this trip, we drove Winnie out to her winter home in my parents’ backyard in Nikiski.  We didn’t get to do much RV’ing this year…weather and schedules got in the way. 

Winnie’s custom made winter home…doesn’t she look sad?

It was hard to leave the Peninsula to head back to Anchorage.  The sun did its best to tempt us to stay, lighting the increasing fall colors along the road, but a stiff breeze warned of coming storms.  I took a short walk with my camera, but couldn’t linger.  

Camera shy leaves kept dancing away from my lens and defying me to take a focused picture!

With such a busy weekend, these fall color pictures taken during my walk were all that I took, but in hindsight I really regret not getting a shot of that food laden table!


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First of many September trips

September has been unusually busy for me this year.  Labor Day we went to Homer, the following weekend was “Fish Camp” on the Kenai River at my roommate’s cabin, and the weekend after that was a quilting/crafting retreat in Palmer…whew.  I’m still on track to dash up to my Cabin this coming weekend, making a total of four weekends away from home so far this month!


The wind was howling and these daredevils were angling at the surf to jump the breakers, sometimes lifting 20 feet off the water

The Homer trip was a great success.  After an overnight in Soldotna at the Kenai River cabin, we headed down early Saturday morning to Homer.  We had intentions of going across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia, but had some confusion over the many ways there are to get there, so missed them all!  No worries, we still enjoyed bopping around Homer, poking around the little tourist trap shops and grumbling about the tourist traffic…of which we were a part!  Not only was it the last weekend for most of the shops but a cruise ship was in town, the last of the season, so the foot traffic made driving on the Spit all but impossible. 

The Amsterdam leaving port swinging around the end of Homer Spit on its way out of Kachemak Bay

We escaped the crowds by barging in on friends who have a condo on the beach.  Yummy gourmet pizzas from Finn’s were washed down with some terrific wines!  A perfect evening was capped by taking the dogs for a walk on the beach before heading up East End Road to our rented guest house.

Exercising the horses at low tide on Homer Spit

Sunday morning we headed back out to the Spit, but the weather was moving in, so after grabbing some pastries from the fantastic Boardwalk Bakery, we hit the road back to Soldotna for the night.   The drive back to Anchorage on Monday was drizzly but pleasant. 

Dwarf dogwood (I think! All of my plant identification books are up at the Cabin!)

The wet reds of the fall colors at Tern Lake caught my eye.  The dwarf dogwood darkens to a deep glossy brick red, the currant and cranberry bushes vary from a mottled red and yellow to a rich cranberry color, while the trees were still (mostly) green that weekend. 

Not everything has changed color yet. The contrast between the greens and reds is especially pleasing to the eye this time of year

The alder leaves won’t give us much of a display; willows will mostly turn yellow with a few bright orange or even red exceptions, and the aspen, birch and cottonwoods (aka balsam poplars) will be yellow or sometimes brown if they’ve been hit by bugs.  Spruce and hemlock will stay green of course, but their color will appear to darken until they look almost black against the winter snows. 

Alder leaves sharing space with black spruce branches. The alder leaves will turn brown and shrivelly and many will linger dead on the branches until spring

As always, I can’t wait to get up to the Cabin to enjoy a little of the fall display!


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Fading Summer days…

Well, I did finally get up to the Cabin for a weekend in August, which was a good thing because September was packed with other obligations and if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to sneak away this weekend for a “closing it up” trip. 

Remember that beautiful fireweed in the last post? This is what it looks like now!

The August trip was productive though.  I used my little battery operated chainsaw (HAHAHAHAHA!!  I love my tools, but that one sounds so GIRLY!) anyway, used it to cut up a couple of downed trees that I had dragged back to my firewood pile.  Then…I actually made friends with Dad’s big axe. 

Yep, I’m a real Alaskan Woman now. 

I split all of the rounds I had cut up, and I was having so much fun that I dug out all the other old rounds from the bottom of the stack and split them too!  Kerwhack!  What a sense of accomplishment to hear that sound bouncing off the hills and see my wood pile growing…

This was one afternoon’s work and produced about 3-4 days worth of firewood in moderately cool temperatures. A real winter’s day would use about half the pile in Fatso! A more efficient wood stove will be in the new Cabin…

I also packed out some of the less winter-worthy food items this trip.  There’s plenty still there for a couple more weekend trips before the lake freezes up, but I don’t want to waste food that won’t survive a six-month series of freeze-thaws.  Things like rice, instant potatoes, tuna pouches, and ramen noodles stay year round, along with granola bars and other snacks. 

Two years ago I had company during my vacation at the Cabin, and my well-intentioned guests brought things like beer and wine and then left them for me.  I rarely drink except socially, so I put them away and of course forgot about them.  The next summer was my big flooring project and as I emptied the cupboard I found the wine bottle…minus its cork!  Luckily the “cupboard” is just a crate on an uneven floor, so the bottle was tipped up just enough that only a few tablespoons worth spilled when I bumped it.  Also lucky that the flooring was being replaced anyway!  I later found the cork clear across the Cabin near the firewood box.  That must have been some really cold weather to explode a bottle of wine that hard! 

Oddly, the beer didn’t explode, though I chose not to drink it.

Tea is more my speed, especially as the temperatures drop. I love the gurgle of the pot as the water heats.

I’m more careful since then to police my cupboards for explodables if I think I might not be back before winter.  Besides, it’s a shame to waste the wine!

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Craft overload

I was working in my craft room yesterday morning before work and had to dig for a specific part to repair a bracelet.  In the course of my search, I once again realized that I have too much stuff.  And, as happens often, that thought led to thoughts of my future life at my Cabin. 

 The new cabin is going to have to be bigger.  Much bigger.

 I have several friends who are quilters and I have spent years resisting their efforts to get me to try quilting.  My current list of hobbies and crafts is full and there is literally no room for another space, money and time intensive hobby.  The list is as follows:

Books – The Kindle is great but I also have a lot of money invested in old books just because I like the way they look and smell and feel.  I have two large bookcases full to overflowing, and I can honestly say that I’ve read almost every book on the shelves…many of them more than once.

Photography – Again the digital world has reduced the physical footprint of this hobby, but I still have three large bins full of slides and negatives and another with photo albums from the decades before I went digital.  I’ve backed off of this hobby a bit as the expense of a truly good digital camera isn’t justified by my abilities!  Maybe if I get really good at the WordPress photo insertion thing…

I have barely made a dent in the project of scanning thousands of negatives and slides and prints.

Camping and road trips – This takes up less space in the house now that I have a little motor home.  I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to do any more real backpacking trips and sold my tent and my beautiful Eagle Creek pack a couple of years ago.  The motor home is small enough that we can take it all over the state to remote locations that the big rigs can’t get into.  I promise some of those stories are on their way to the blog!

“Winnie” as she is affectionately known. She has many stories to tell…

Papercrafting – Card making mostly.  There are digital techniques that can be used for this, but that would rob me of the delight of opening my scrap bin and digging for just the right shade of green to embellish that birthday card.  Friends who know me are amused that someone who rarely sends cards spends so much time and money making them.  There has been a small financial return on this hobby.

Trying to combine two crafts here…making my own earring cards for display

Jewelry making – This is my most current creative passion and the financial return has been considerable, though it doesn’t quite pay for itself yet.  Again it amuses friends who used to rarely see me wearing any jewelry!  I’ve been able to incorporate papercrafting into this hobby, making little gift boxes and display cards for my pieces.

Writing – mostly the blog now, but I’ve always doodled.  I had several notebooks of such doodles packed in a box that disappeared after a move many years ago.   Journals going back to junior high school, stories and poems written for various classes, even old resume’s all gone.  I suspect that the box got into the goodwill pile by mistake, but as I didn’t even miss it for several months after the move, it was far too late to do anything about it.  I couldn’t even remember for sure where I donated those things by then.  Going digital was supposed to keep me from doing that kind of thing again, but I still have my old laptop from three years ago because I haven’t gotten around to transferring old documents off of it! 

Watercolor painting – sigh.  I have literally dozens of books and magazines on the subject.  I’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in Arches and Fabriano paper and various brands of paints, both in tubes and pans.  I even have some decent brushes.  I faithfully take it all up to the Cabin every summer and then pack it all back out in the fall.  The punch line?  I’ve completed one painting that I liked well enough to frame.  (And then gave it away before I photographed it…) I haven’t yet learned how to “see” a painting in an everyday scene or photograph.  My hope is to have time this winter to take a class to help me break the block.

 Quite a list, huh?  You can see why my little craft room is overflowing!  Oh wait…in addition to these hobbies, I tried this summer to do a little gardening in there!  I have three monstrous cherry tomato plants, a lovely arrowhead vine that was left by the previous owners of the house, an Aerogarden (currently full of flowers), and some kind of non-flowering begonia that I’m fostering for a friend who is remodeling.  (She may not get it back…)

Chitters is running out of surfaces and windows from which to supervise the neighborhood!   

Designing a work space always has to include making room for Chitters!

Re-reading this list I’m skeptical about fitting it all into any one room!  Or any one Cabin for that matter…

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