Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bad Connection, No Pictures

All my well-laid plans to post my pictures from up here are running up against the great wall of poor wireless connection. I'll keep trying, but so far it just isn't happening. Guess I'll have to get better at description.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Monday in Naknek

What a difference a few things can make in the way one experiences life up here. I'm sitting on my bed this evening, jazz on my iPod, a beautiful green scarf with yellow suns draped over my window, a huge yellow, red, green, and blue blanket from Mali nailed up on the wall next to my bed, my room super clean thanks to a friend here who made sure the cobwebs were scrubbed away before my arrival, blue sky still blazing away outside even at this hour, and my lovely little connection to the world--my netbook--balanced on my lap. Usually, coming up here is akin to going into monastic seclusion: I run through my days doing my job but return to a bare room, no contact with family other than a few snatched phone calls, always too short, no clue as to what is happening "out there". Last year I remember the only news I heard was of Michael Jackson's death. In four long weeks, that was it for news.

Today was slow--no fish yet to speak of--and relaxed. A good day to iron out some kinks in the equipment, search for my missing ladder (still missing, but at least sighted recently), stock some fiber with the forklift, do a sniff-test of some containers with the truck driver (the past few deliveries of pallets have been moldy moldy moldy--not good for shipping fish), visit with my dear friends Mike and Trish on the fishing tender The Rolfy, wash my carhartts still filthy from last year. I am cherishing these few slow days because I know that in the blink of an eye--or the flip of a fish's tail--I will be buried in 24-hour salmon production.

I am the shipping supervisor for the fresh/frozen plant here. This means that I am responsible for everything that comes out of the freezer: I make sure all the frozen salmon is labeled properly when it is boxed up in 1000 lb. totes, that it is loaded into the correct 40-foot refrigerated container, accounted for in the shipping manifests, and shipped to the correct destination.

I first came up here in 1994 with my soon-to-be husband. It was like the football test on steroids, for we were to be married at the end of the summer and I just knew--although it was never exactly addressed--that my performance under the strain of an Alaskan working summer would establish a certain baseline for our coming life together. I am happy to say that I passed the test, had a lovely wedding, and went on to work another 4 years here until Samuel's birth. I figured with his arrival, and Grace's two years later, that my time in Alaska was over.

To make a long story short, this is my 7th year back up here (if I count the first summer back which was only a week-long intensive bid to help save the company's shipping records). I have had really horrible years here and really great years. It is always really hard to leave my family and my life at home. But at the same time, it's a very liberating experience. I have so many good friends that I see only here. Each year I become more confident at my job and it becomes, if not less stressful at times, at least more familiar.

My story will be different in about two weeks. I'll be buried under fish, working 16-20 hour days, and wondering why in the world I insisted on buying so many shoes this past winter. A little moratorium on spending might make me feel a little more like I could shut the door on this lucrative venture. But then, it'll start tapering off again, we'll go back to day shift only, I'll get a little more sleep, and then on July 25 I'll get my paycheck and instantly forget about all the hardship. In a weird way, it's like going through labor and having a baby at the end with only a vague memory of all the pain.

We'll see how much energy I'll have for writing when peak hits.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grace's First All-Girl Birthday

A new soccer outfit for Felicity and a new American Girl doll, Kaya.
Horses and dolls--her greatest passions now outside sports.

After 8 years of sharing a birthday party with her brother, usually dominated by boy guests, Grace finally got her own party with three girlfriends. And guess what? I forgot to take a picture of her party. The girls played at the park: badminton, rock climbing, wading in the river, tag. They took breaks to eat potato chips, sip on orange soda, and talk about girl things.

Girl parties, I noticed, are a lot different from boy parties. For one thing, they are so much more civilized. No shouting, pushing, arguments. At least for now.

One extra special friend came back with us for a sleepover. The girls set up their sleeping area in the basement, played until it started to get dark, then watched "A League of Their Own" together before bed.

So sweet, my little girl who is no longer the chubby-faced shy one, but a tall, lithe, athletic ball of energy. Now that she's nine, she is already plotting a party for the magical number ten.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Well-Kneaded Dough

Sitting on the deck with Grace this morning, eating apple puff pancake, watching the chickens scratch under the hedge for bugs. Lovely gentle breeze, grass so green, lavender in bloom, chimes in the distance, blue blue blue clear sky, not yet oppressive as it will be later in the summer.

Although not spoken of, Alaska is constantly on our minds. This morning, Grace asked me if she went without earrings for 5 weeks, would her holes close up? I must go without earrings while in Alaska, hence the question. "Yes, you're still growing, your holes are pretty new. My ears don't close up in that time, but maybe if I went for a year they would. I've had the holes a lot longer than you." After a little pause to think about it, Grace replied, "It's like well-kneaded dough. When you pull dough out after kneading it, it goes back into place. My ears would go back quickly because the dough hasn't been kneaded that long. Your holes would go back into place more slowly because they've been kneaded a lot longer."

A great image. It's amazing the things my very imaginative, bright young girl thinks up.

On a completely different note, this is the first post I've made on my new Netbook. Dave got me set up with my blog, email, and skype. It'll be a new experience for me, being in electronic contact for the first time ever in my Alaska career. I think it'll help significantly with the loneliness and homesickness.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Samuel! (or, One Party Down, One to Go)

My little guy had his first all-boy, no-sister birthday party today. Swimming at the pool for hours, home to pizza, baseball, chocolate cake, and more baseball. While he's not technically 11 yet (he still has two days), he has declared himself 11 and no longer the only 10-year old in the group.

I can't believe my little baby is growing up so fast.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Morning Routine

We have slipped into a comfortable summer morning pattern. I wake up about 6:30, early enough to hold the door for Dave as he wheels his bike out the door to go to school. Make my coffee, turn on the computer, settle down on the couch with coffee, newspaper, and Tom on my lap. About 7:15 I'm starving and wondering what we're going to eat for breakfast.

Today is a good example of our typical mornings of late. About 7:15, wondering what to eat, I decide that I have enough clean dishes in the kitchen (having spent the greater part of yesterday evening at a baseball game--no time for dishes before collapsing into bed) to make scones. I've found a lovely English scone recipe in which I have--gasp!--doubled the butter to make a heavenly little biscuit. Pulled them out of the oven, poured my second cup of coffee, took it and two piping hot butter bombs plus wild blueberry jam outside to watch the chickens. Grace stumbled out in her jammies so we let the girls out for their morning explore and bath. It rained, again, last night and early this morning so there were plenty of bugs to peck at.

Samuel finally came down about 8:15, perked up immediately upon hearing about the doubled butter scones (he does not like them the normal way), and made himself a nice little plate. We all sat outside in the dappled sunshine and watched the chickens, the cats, and the dog. It's just beautiful out this morning. The grass is sparkling from the rain, a single line of spider's web stretches from the plum tree to a flowerpot on the deck, catching the sun right in the middle of its span. Warm scones, light breeze, sunshine and puffy white clouds. Magical.

After the girls have pecked and scratched and explored a bit they settle down in a pile of feathers, feet, and beaks on a small section of dirt. And then they become dopey. They let the kids pet them, pick them up, anything. They fluff and wiggle and kick up some dirt, push their heads under their neighbor's bottom, settle down again. Over and over again. It's mesmerizing.

Samuel with Martha.

It's a little hard to see, but the chickens are in the darkened foreground,
Tom and Fluffy are on the deck under the bench.

By this time I have changed their water, filled up their food, eaten my breakfast, drank my coffee, and tired of sitting outside not doing the laundry or the dishes or whatever else I should be doing at that moment. We herd the girls back into their coop, shut the door, and head back inside, the morning routine over, the magic over, the day on its way.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Lesson In Flexibility

We went to bed last night dreaming of spending the afternoon at the pool today. We all find a lot of pleasure in being at the pool while "everyone else" is still in school. It's only for a week or so that we get to play hooky like this but it's worth every moment. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet this spring.

After a last look at the stars popping out from behind the trees outside my bathroom window, I went to sleep last night dreaming of my first dip in the pool this year. I woke up this morning to pouring rain.

In this desert oasis in which we live, we have had the most wet and unpredictably gloomy spring I can yet remember. Yesterday it rained off and on all day. I decided to approach this weather differently yesterday: for the first time since I've been able to hang out my laundry this season I didn't lament the fact that I'd have to use my drier. "What the heck," I figured, "be grateful to have the drier since I have tons of dirty laundry that has to be dealt with." I went about the day, turning out basket after basket of clean, dry clothes, happy to just watch the sun come out, then the rain fall, in an endless back-and-forth. We had a brief break in the weather in which we scrambled to get suited up and headed to the pool. Samuel and Grace played with their friends for about thirty minutes before Grace--usually so hardy--crawled out of the pool, goose-pimply and dripping wet.

The gray clouds and intermittent rain cleared away again just in time to enjoy our dinner outside on the deck. We sat around the table laughing at the chicken antics (the girls love to come out in the evening), gazing at the big fluffy white clouds patched against the brightest of blue. Plans hatched for swimming on Monday, spirits lifted at the hope that we were finally going to get our "normal" weather back this week.

I said goodnight to the stars outside my bathroom window and crawled in bed, window open to let in the cooling air.

This morning, it poured again. "Okay, let's be flexible. I'll read a bunch of our book to the kids, The Captive, by Scott O'Dell. Do a little math, bake some bread, maybe even some cookies. Heck, make it a cozy inside-the-house Monday." Flexible, right?

And now, as I finish up this post, the sun has burst out again, lighting up the sparkling green of the grass, touching the tops of our backyard trees, sending the birds into paroxysms of morning song.

It's a perfect lesson in flexibility. No point in resisting the arrival of rain, or even (someday) the oppressive heat that is sure to come, eventually. It all happens and all we can do is adapt and live the day the best we can. Bring out the rain coats, or the swimsuits, or neither, but do it gracefully and without complaint, for the weather is going to happen whether I resist it or not.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Shameless Bragging

Here is a short clip of Samuel pitching in today's first game of the Little League tournament his team is in. It amazes Dave and me how cool and collected he is on the mound.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why We're Not Having Quiche Tonight

I had grand plans this morning after a visit to my town's opening day Farmer's Market. Use up some chard from last week's market, add sauteed leeks from this week, make a lovely quiche with a side of lettuce salad also purchased today.

We already ate all the strawberries. I know, heavily pesticided, but so tasty!

And then somehow the day got away from me. Wrote a silly entry about ticks, just for the sheer pleasure of grossing myself out even more. Read a couple pages of a new/used medieval mystery, played some Uno with Grace, watched Samuel play with a friend all morning then take off to play with another one all afternoon.

Grace has wanted to take me on a bike ride she and her dad did last week. Down the river, up and over it, and into a lovely park on the other side. About a 10-mile ride. Nothing too strenuous.

The view from the park

Nothing too strenuous for Mr. Heavy-Duty Biker Dude or Miss Strongest Almost-9 Year Old Girl Ever. For me? I can hike anywhere, up and down, in any kind of weather, no problem. For miles and miles. No problem. Yes, I have a cushy bike, a wide seat that bounces up and down with every minuscule bump and nice fat tires. But I am not in biking shape. It's a long way up to cross over on the freeway. Even on the lowest possible setting I barely made it up, huffing and puffing behind Grace. Then I got to do it again on the way back. Hmmm. My bottom was absolutely numb by the time we got home.

So I crashed out on the couch, mumbled out instructions as kids came and went, hazily listened to NPR, cuddled deeper into the blanket, until reality hit. I was too tired to deal with crust, chard, leeks, lettuce. I cook from scratch every single day. Today, I don't want any of it.

And so, we are having take-and-bake pizza. Overly salty, bread-y, greasy pizza. But I don't have to dirty any dishes to make it and I don't have to do more than turn on the oven.

Maybe I'll make the quiche tomorrow.


"Ticks are blood-feeding parasites that are often found in tall grass where they will wait to attach to a passing host. A tick will attach itself to its host by inserting its chelicerae (cutting mandibles) and hypostome (feeding tube) into the skin. The hypostome is covered with recurved teeth and serves as a hammer.[2]

Physical contact is not the only method of transportation for ticks. Ticks can't jump or fly. Some species stalk the host from ground level, emerging from cracks or crevices located in the woods or even inside a home or kennel, where infestations of "seed ticks" (the six-legged stage of newborn ticks) can attack in numbers up to 30,000 at a time[citation needed]. Weak or elderly dogs, puppies, and cats are particularly endangered and can die from anemia from a sudden influx of seed ticks[citation needed]. Seed ticks also attack horses, cattle, moose, lions and other mammals, causing anemia, various diseases, paralysis and even death. Such infestations can be difficult to detect until thousands have attached themselves to an animal and eradication can be difficult.[3][4]

Mature ticks are harder to see. Frequent grooming and chemicals for control may control the spread of seed ticks and adults.[5]

Changes in temperature and day length are some of the factors signalling a tick to seek a host. Ticks can detect heat emitted or carbon dioxide respired from a nearby host. They will generally drop off the animal when full, but this may take several days. In some cases ticks will live for some time on the blood of an animal. Ticks are more active outdoors in warm weather, but can attack a host at any time.[6]

Ticks can be found in most wooded or forested regions throughout the world. They are especially common in areas where there are deer trails or human tracks. Ticks are especially abundant near water, where warm-blooded animals come to drink, and in meadows wherever shrubs and brush provide woody surfaces and cover."

from Wikipedia, an entry on "ticks"

This is the downside of our lovely jaunt in the swampy area around the Yakima River yesterday. "Forested region?" Check. "Deer trails or human tracks?" Check. "Near water...in meadows [of] shrubs and brush provide woody surfaces and cover?" Check. In other words, thanks to all the rain, the cool weather, the mild winter, our hiking location yesterday was a perfect example of "ticklandia."

We discovered two ticks on Lady at the hike, two more at home, none of them embedded. We thought we had thoroughly checked ourselves, too.

And then Samuel came home from watching a baseball game down the street: "Mom! Guess what I found on the bill of my baseball hat? A tick! I squished it." Three full hours since coming home from the hike. Oh my. We did a head search: nothing.

I figure all is well and good, post a funny little quip on Facebook about the horrors of ticks and all that. Think we are beyond feeling itchy, we are free and clear, etc. etc.

Later that night, Grace came flying down the stairs after her evening shower: "Mom! I think I have a tick in my head!" My stomach turned. Ticks on a dog are one thing. Ticks on a person? I think of vampires and leeches and bats and... ticks. Sure enough, we part her hair and there are two lovely little dog ticks affixed to my daughter's head, side by side like they're on a dinner date. Embedded but not engorged. Samuel starts screaming which starts Grace crying and Dave and I scurrying around trying to find the proper paraphernalia to address the situation. Calm, calm, calm. Right? That's what we parents are supposed to be. I poured the alcohol, Samuel grabbed the tweezers, Dave located the ticks again under a nice bright light. I pulled them out one at a time, dropped them in the alcohol, dabbed Grace's head with hydrogen peroxide, and then we all proceeded to check ourselves AGAIN for ticks.

What is the point of this long post? To wonder why in the world (literally) ticks exist. I mean, are parasites a natural part of the world order? If we lost ticks from the face of the earth, what balance would be upset? I get the salmon connection in our rivers. It's a no-brainer. Same for bees, ladybugs, wolves, and certain bacteria. But ticks? If I was a religious person maybe I would tell myself God put ticks on Earth for a purpose and then trot out the "God works in mysterious ways/It's not for us to question" panacea for these kinds of conundrums. But I'm not. I fit more in the Buddhist way of thinking--all sentient beings are connected, interdependence is the fabric of our world, and so on. Still, I am going to be thinking about this for a while.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tapteal Greenway Stroll

An easy hike with the kids and friends this afternoon along the Yakima River. All of us but Lady escaped picking up any hitchhikers--I liberated her of four ticks once we got home. Ick.

Wild roses lined the path.

Sagebrush and desert flowers.

Mystery stuff on the sagebrush--there's a science lesson in this.

Nature T.V.

The view from our bathroom window this morning: Our mulberry tree is heavy with fruit right now. Although they wouldn't show themselves when I was taking this picture, the tree shook and trilled with starlings and squirrels. It turns out our chickens love the mulberries too. My daughter has been taking the dropped ripe fruit to the coop where the girls gobble up the berries.

Homeschool Doings

My daughter and her friend spent a very rainy spring day yesterday making many new colors from the few bottles we had. Blue, yellow, and red became purple, brown, tan, and orange. Their excitement and joy at creating color on a gray day was priceless.

We go through a lot of tape. Case in point: my son decided to perform an experiment on his remote control car. Would an erector set battery hooked up to some propellers from a remote control airplane (now defunct) and taped to the back of the car make it go faster? The jury is still out on this one. He's talking about "thrust" and "propeller positioning."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chicken Love

I am so in love with my chickens. I didn't expect to enjoy them as birds so much as egg-delivery-systems. They are, however, absolutely charming. At 11-weeks old now, they have become my favorite form of entertainment: farm t.v. as some people have called it.

Martha, Nancy, Abigail (Gabby), Ida, and Michelle. The First Ladies. They run out of the coop at top speed, seeking their favorite dust patches to bathe in. They ruffle up their feathers, scratch at bugs and grass, squawk/fly over short distances. Now that they are used to Lady (and vice versa) they scuttle around her, looking to get the best grass that she herself likes to munch on. Last night Ida even jumped up on Lady's back, looking to get the perfect shoot of grass sticking up through the deck fencing. Surprised them both. The cats watch them intently, looking for an opening to attack, but I think that as they get bigger, Tom and Fluffy are content to just watch. Those beaks are not afraid of putting a cat (or a dog) in its place.

And as much as I love them now, just imagine how exciting it will be when one of us finds that first egg.