Monday, February 17, 2014

Oh say, can you sing that a different way?

uaa playing bowling green in anchorage 

Volunteering in school has its rewards, chief of which are hearing a room full of 7-year olds, with their hands over their hearts, sing to José in the morning. “José, can you see, by the dawnzerly light?” Somewhat further down the list of rewards in no particular order are: being sneezed on full in the face, being touched by fingers that were just in a nostril, and being kicked in the shin repeatedly.

Also, you may not know this, fellow Americans, but we do not sing the *Star-Spangled Banner. It is the “Star Sprinkled Banner”. With difficulty, I managed to choke back a laugh when I heard that phrase belted out in the classroom. (Considering 98.5% of Americans think a “spangle” is a member of Ghostbusters, this is one change that Francis Scott Key could endorse.)

But it’s not the kids I want to write about today. No, no, they are earnestly singing their little hearts out, unselfconsciously and delightfully. No, I want to offer some friendly advice for those good souls who sing our national song at sporting events.

A few tips, from the captive audience:

1. Read the music through. Knowing the words to the song really does help.

2. There are no vocal talent scouts or studio execs in the stands in Anchorage, Alaska, so proving you have a 5 octave range is unnecessary.

3. Vibrato is like wearing perfume. A very little will do.

4. Random pauses, unless one is choking (up), are just annoying. If fans have time to go for a beer and get back before the song resumes, consider taking fewer breaths.

5. Spectators pay to watch the game, so don’t go too long. (National anthem pace is more sprightly than funeral dirge pace, at least in the USA.) Some YouTube videos of the song clocked in under a minute. Let that be your guide.

(My editor/Last Frontier Garden attorney wants me to add this list is not meant to castigate any particular performer.)

a zamboni wetting the ice rink down

*The Star-Spangled Banner:

“O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

written by Francis Scott Key


Heard any good renditions of your national anthem?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A rip roaring good time with the sod ripper

I don’t understand how “sod off” got to be an insult. In my experience, not having to deal with the back breaking work of sod removal in the garden is a sublime, yet too infrequent situation. In my Little House on the Prairie phase, I removed turfgrass with a shovel. I felt really bad for Pa and whatever horse helped him turn over all that prairie sod.

expanding the gravel garden, one roll at a time

That phase ended September 5, 2013. On September 6th, the sun shone, the birds sang, the dandelions withered, and I rented a sod remover and joined the Machine Revolution. Hallelujah!

sod cut old school style: with a shovel

You might be wondering if it is worth the $. My roommate of 15 years, who shall remain unnamed, did indeed wonder this very thing. After watching me remove about 20 square feet per day, the proverbial snail’s pace (see pic above for messy results), unnamed roommate realized one of two things would happen. Thing 1: it wouldn’t get done before winter. Thing 2: it would get done but I would be a cripple.

a beautiful thing: rolled sod

Since regular readers know my fondness for lists, this post has two. If you answer yes to more than one question in the list below, the rental is worth the money. You’re welcome.

Reasons to Rent the Sod Ripper

1. are you over the age of 20?

2. do you feel arm wrestling Conan the Barbarian or Zena, Warrior Princess would be a challenge?

3. do you have more than 200 square feet to remove?

4. are you pressed for time, perhaps the season’s first blizzard is upon you or the crew delivering 10 tons of (fill in the blank) hardscape product just called and will be there tomorrow for sure by 3pm?

5. is there a slight incline involved anywhere in the removal or disposal area?

Since I feel sure all but one or two of you qualify for the sod remover rental, a few friendly words of advice. Words of advice that should be laminated and clipped to every sod ripper in the world, I humbly add.

Tips for handling the Ripper

Tip 1. In my opinion, anything called a “ripper” should be handled with caution. (I think rippers are close cousins to mangles. If handling a ripper scares you, they are also called sod cutters. Would you rather rent a cutter?) If you are tiny, frail, clumsy, weak, or just plain intelligent, get a friend to help. (If nothing else, they can call 911 when the ripper jumps out of the ruts and cuts your toes off.)

My partner in sod removal is 6 feet 4 inches and 180 pounds. He couldn’t have ripped our yard on his own, considering our particular brand of ripper weighed more than 300 pounds. We barely managed it together and I’m not much smaller than he is. How we got it back into the truck to return to the rental company is a tale for another day. I will only tease you with this: hill, ramp, pulley, bad language. 

sturdy boots and snazzy outfit mandatory

Tip 2. Flat land is best. Hills are tricky. If your land requires grappling hooks, crampons, or rope to traverse, forget it. If your lawn mower regularly gets away from you and propels itself like a runaway train down your hilly sward, just get your shovel out. Sorry. Our land is sloping and it took two large adults to steer the machine down the hill and around a corner without losing control. Up the hill was almost impossible.

can you tell this is on an incline?

Tip 3. Is it the rainy season? Would mud be an apt description of the soil? If you were to stand on the bare soil, would it swallow up your foot? The Ripper doesn’t like mud, at all. Dry or average soil is best. Proceed at your own risk if the soil is very wet.

the results of the ripper

Bonus tip. Your toddler or pet should not be around while the Ripper is ripping.

Yet another bonus tip. Safety glasses, gloves, sturdy boots, and a sense of your own mortality would not be excessive in this situation.

Last tip for now. Any shallow cables or utility lines should be marked. We ended up nicking the phone line and had to have it repaired. Whoever heard of burying a line an inch below soil level?

looking uphill toward the driveway at the ripper's handywork

Good luck with the ripper. You won’t regret it, and your back will thank you. It was $60 well spent. And yes, my sod removal job was completed before the blizzard, if you were wondering.

Done any sod ripping in your day?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I won the lottery

You’re thinking I’m being symbolic, right? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, a few important points of the past November in Alaska. I don’t say this is the worst November ever, because I’m an optimist. It could always be worse. But I think everything has suffered in comparison since my October jaunt to Florida.

my view for a week in Florida in October

1. November 1. Get into car accident on freeway. Airbags are deployed, thankfully not tempers. At least the kids are ok.

2. November 3. The kids are not ok: discover they have head lice. 

3. November 7. The fruits of my gambling career (with thanks to my octogenarian grandfather for showing me the ropes) that began on October 9 of this year: I fill out lottery winnings paperwork and send off to the great state of Florida. Envelope must be addressed to “Florida Lottery, Claims Processing.” As I write this address on the envelope my expectations of a payout dwindle. Just who, may I ask, upon seeing this envelope, would not be seized by an irresistible desire to rip it open?

Further contributing to my doubts, the back of the lottery ticket reads: “The risk of mailing ticket remains with the player,” which serves the dual purpose of covering theft by post office employee, lottery employee, loss of mail, or even act of God. A neat bit of work from the same breed of lawyer that crafted “do not eat raw batter” printed on the back of the cake mix box. Pfui!

4. November 8. I am talked out of seeing “Ender’s Game” at the movie theater and instead watch “Gravity”. I should have known better. Any movie that kills off George Clooney can’t be good. Nearly lose my dinner during the first twenty minutes eighty minutes. After Sandra Bullock lands in the water and floats to the top, my first thought was, “What, no shark?” closely followed by my second thought, “At least I’ll die on Earth.” If you get sick on boats, do not see this movie. You’re welcome.

5. November 9. I cheat Mother Nature and transplant three bits of Calamagrostis ‘Eldorado’ to the front garden. Weather is unseasonably warm in the 40’s (Fahrenheit).

6. November 12. Mother Nature doesn’t take kindly to cheaters. Things freeze and no snow.

7. November 15. After the whole house is laundered, wiped down, vacuumed, etc., and two hours minimum spent every day combing through hair, I am now an expert on lice. All this close grooming feels a little chimpanzee-like with the possible exceptions of the headlamp and tweezers. And no one eats the findings.

8. November 18. At 8:02am, I hear something so dreadful and shocking, I mentally curse the radio station that airs it. In future, let’s save “Jingle Bells” for after Thanksgiving (November 28), shall we? Boo on Magic 98.9FM in Anchorage. For my mental health, the radio in my car will now be at the classical music station until December 26, the official (at this blog anyway) Auditory Sanity Reclamation Day.

9. November 19. I had a chance to note the time for this milestone as well. At 8:09 am, it was –15F. Which would be well and good if this were January or northern Greenland.


I know you are all wondering if I am going to quit this cold country and retire with my Powerball lottery winnings to some warm, louse-free place, so I will set your mind at ease. I won $11. Which would be more impressive if the tickets hadn’t cost me $10. I wonder what delights December will bring?


Seen any movies? Christmas tunes in the air?

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