Monday, February 28, 2011

Mary Poppins blows into town

Well, it’s the end of February, and everyone knows what that means.  (I’m looking for an answer other than “March” here.)  In Alaska, it means we long for spring and nature throws the usual northern fastball, single digit temperatures and various other unpleasant items, like a wind that can blow away nannies (see Mary Poppins or any child under fourteen for an explanation).  So what do Alaskans do when spring isn’t in sight and they’re really sick of the prolonged cold?  Why, we have an outdoor festival of course! 

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Some may recall I wrote about our world famous Fur Rendezvous last year.  If you missed the fantastic and nail-biting parade coverage or dog sled race lowdown, check here.  Only one snag: Alaska is about to blow away.  If you don’t believe me, check the facts at NOAA here.  So if nothing else, “gusts to 45 mph diminishing to 35 mph toward morning” should be a clue that not even mad dogs or Englishmen are outside by choice. 

It turns out we’re the lucky one because Juneau can plan on “gusts to 65 mph near downtown” and Valdez is getting “gusts of 65 to 80 mph in town” but they can’t complain.  Their wind has died down a little from 95 mph.  I have conveniently circled how windy it is in the picture below but was unable to capture all the nannies blowing away.  I apologize, and I can only assume, some kid or kids in Anchorage just got a new nanny named Mary Poppins who is “practically perfect in every way.”

rondy 024   Our little fur festival is downtown, mostly.  All those narrow and straight city blocks are great wind tunnels.  At one point, during a particularly nasty gust, people were gasping and shielding their faces.  I turned the kids around to face the other direction till the gust died down.  Then we tromped onward through the dirty snow, envying those wearing cozy fur hats and coats.  One thing about modern arctic wear, it just doesn’t look cozy, like these fluffy animal skin hats for sale on the sidewalk.  Sorry, gore-tex, I had to say it.

rondy 045   My destination, 3rd Avenue and E Street and the Rondy Carnival.  I was there to see some people getting tossed around on a blanket of seal skins.  It has a history you can read about here with our Native peoples during their spring whaling festival.  Check out the link, there’s some fun pictures and they actually mention Alaska’s very own far northern town of Barrow.  But first a couple of interesting ocular diversions for you.

Ever wondered just how a musher transports a team of dogs and all the miscellaneous gear required for a race?  Me too, and if I ever find out, I’ll let you all know.  Meanwhile, here are some pictures of vehicles that I think have something to do with it.

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Reminds me of a hotel room I once stayed in, but the dogs seem cozy enough with their straw lined vehicular cocoons.  Another fun sighting, the entrants for the Outhouse Race.  Yes, you read that correctly. 

I can just see the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, thick in a meeting about how to drum up some tourists and spending during the official “most disappointingly cold month” of the year.  “Eureka, we’ll have them race outhouses down the street!  The tourists will flock to Anchorage to see adults push their latrine themed, and ski equipped, Frankenstein's down the street in a footrace!”  People were posing on these babies for pictures, I kid you not.  I wanted to, but my posterity vowed to disown me if I did.  Rats, foiled again.

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Ok, ok, enough of the potty pictures.  This blanket tossing stuff is what I wanted to see in “real life” having only seen it previously on newscasts and at one really rowdy high school party where the landing wasn’t so good.  And once at the bottom of a sledding hill where the landing was even worse.

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After walking in a bent position for approximately 20,000 city blocks into the wind, I had my first reward.  The temperature in the sunshine raised a degree or three and nearly thawed my fingers and my jaw enough to croak, “there’s the carnival, kids, keep moving or hypothermia sets in.” 

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My next reward, the sight of a person being tossed above the crowd.  I elbowed a few five-year olds out of the way and got to check out the blanket and the tossing method.  My investigation should be useful when I try to replicate this pastime at home sans seal skins and twenty able-bodied helpers.  Maybe I’ll use a blue tarp.

Do you have a favorite thing to do when it’s too cold to do anything normal/reasonable/rational? Outhouse comments? 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Three periods in a row and no mess!


I was all set to write about that grand sport that all Alaskans try at least once before giving up and moving to Arizona.  The experience that cannot be accurately simulated, imagined, or described.  And just one of the many sporting activities in which three year-olds regularly out-perform the Last Frontier Gardener.  Naturally, I’m referring to ice hockey.  But first I want to see how long I can ramble before I get to the point.  This may be a new record.

The LFG hubby and I celebrated a double digit anniversary in high style: an early walk-about at my favorite art galleries downtown, a dinner at trusty go-to restaurant Club Paris (a great little dive, and a great filet mignon), and attendance at the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s hockey game. 

I feel I also must mention that we capped the whole thing off with a trip to Home Depot.  It’s just not a truly romantic and meaningful date without that compulsory last minute trip to pick up odds and ends for the house.  (For the record, we bought a box of rivets, three magnetic register covers, and torx screw bits.  I have no idea what those last bits are.) 

Now, you may be smirking at our little pit stop, but I haven’t even shared the part where we went through the McDonald’s drive-thru for dessert.  Oh yes, it gets better and better.  Our low brow natures (well, his at least) got the best of us.  He got a vanilla ice cream cone and I got the Oreo McFlurry.  McYummy!  (I think all those items at the galleries that I pointed out would be a great investment/make the room look smashing/I can’t live without/etc. made him feel like he needed to be thrifty for the remainder of the evening.)

The best part of the evening was the art gallery walk hockey game.  Besides politics, what can turn ordinary, even sensible folk into a bellowing mob of borderline lunatics?  Why, organized sports of course.  What flips a switch in cute little six-year old children, wherein they utter phrases like, “Die ref!” or “You suck!” at the top of their precocious little lungs?  Why, sports of course.  Just what is it that turns docile, frail octogenarians into potential agents of destruction for someone wearing/waving the “wrong” colors?  Sports again.

I am fully prepared to believe hockey fans are the most deranged of them all but I have yet to attend a curling match or a cricket match, so I may be wrong.  And I’m sure you’ll all let me know.  The LFG hubby played hockey at college, so he keeps a little torch burning for the sport and we indulge in watching a live game when we can.  I stand up and cheer but do not hoot, holler, roar, bray, or bawl.  Not for hockey at least….

After sitting through three twenty minute periods and ruefully noting the miserable state of my tailbone area, I concluded that hockey, like so many other sports, is way too long.  Give me the first twenty minutes and I’m satisfied.  The next twenty minutes I’m thinking about those nachos at concessions I should have gotten and the bathroom break I should have taken.  The last twenty minute period, I’m usually listening in on other people’s conversations around me and speculating on the amount of time I can continue to torture my bladder before I make a scene.  You can all relax, I made it through.

How do you celebrate big occasions?  And are sports games too long?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Something about neighbors and fences?

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Now how does that old saw go?  “Fences make for feuding.”  No, that wasn’t it.  “Good neighbors are hard to come by.”  Nope, not that either.  “You can meet your neighbor on Facebook anyway, so go ahead and build a fence.”  Hmmm, maybe not.   

I recently moved from the garden formerly known as the Last Frontier Garden, to my current abode a couple of months ago.  I haven’t named the garden yet but I’m thinking along the lines of “Lady and the Pack of Tramps” or “The Shaggy Dog (across the Street)”, or even “All Dogs Go to Christine’s Yard”.  My gripe today is twofold, both folds having to do with neighbors and their animals.

A good neighbor is like smooth chocolate fudge.  A joy that I don’t encounter nearly as much as I would like.  So we’re all on the same page, my low bar for good neighbor includes the following:

1. does not operate a meth lab or brothel on the premises

2. does not have more than one (OK, this is Alaska, so I’ll say two) junk vehicle(s) in a permanent auto coma in the front yard

3. keeps track of their domestic beasts, including spouses and children, and doesn’t allow them to make public nuisances of themselves with regularity (politicians not excepted)

Is this a difficult thing, oh readers?  I am writing from the viewpoint of the perky, friendly neighbor here, the one that brings cookies to the new move-ins.  It’s not a natural behavior for me, I’m more independent and surly, but it builds character and I know I should do it, so I do.  My last neighborhood became so friendly, we had neighborhood BBQ’s in the summer, right smack in the middle of the cul-de-sac.  Out of a dozen houses, only one or two wouldn’t show.  Not bad, eh?

Of course, like any neighborhood, there were warts.  One dog, a beagle, would howl and bark and bay, occasionally for hours at a time.  I realize beagles are a noisy breed, but how on earth can you ignore that?  My plan of listening to AC/DC really loud only worked 'til the kids came home from school.  Then what?

Well, I thought I had escaped the beagle and the roaming cats (I’m saving that topic for another day after I’ve had my Valium) by moving.  I have an acre now.  Everyone else in the ‘hood has an acre or more, so I naively thought all my animal problems were solved.  Not so, said the little white yappy dog that appeared in my garage one day.  Some folks just aren’t thinking of others now, are they? 

I have to imagine the inner monologue here, as I just can’t believe I’d do this myself: “If I enjoy Fluffy then everyone will!  I’ll just turn him loose for a few hours and hopefully he won’t maim anyone with pet allergies, knock toddlers off their tricycles, or get into any fights with wolves, cats, dogs, Republicans, or animal control officers.  I hope he stays away from the street, he could be hurt there.  Also, it would be great if he didn’t get into the garbage with such zest on trash day.  I love my pet!  Go free, Fluffy, go free!!”

Yes, you guessed it.  We have dogs in the ‘hood.  Lots of dogs.  Big dogs, little dogs, fat dogs, old dogs, but most of all (gripe one) loud, (gripe two) roaming dogs.  I’ve lived in this city over thirty years and never seen another neighborhood like it.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think I moved into an off leash dog park. 

I wake up to dogs barking at 6:15 every morning.  For the past two months.  I am lulled to sleep every night, say 11:15ish by dogs.  (I think I am beginning to formulate a Dr. Seuss book about it all: “Dogs in the morning, dogs at night, every day a fright, fright, fright!”)  I know I haven’t moved into some Twilight Zone vector of selectively deaf and blind pet owners, because I see a couple of people walk their (non-barking) dogs on (hallelujah!) leashes, so their are a few Responsible Neighbors.  One of these jewel-of-a-neighbors observed, “Yeah, this neighborhood is weird about dogs.  I’ve never been in one like it before.”

My solution: bake bread/cookies/edible items, and walk over and meet the worst offenders.  I am tired of waiting for them to come meet the new neighbor (i.e. me), and it seems unkind to just introduce myself to gripe, so I will have a complaint free intro and get phone numbers.  I’m thinking something along the lines of “Oh, hi Marge, sorry to disturb you so late at night, but Fluffy seems so agitated.  She’s been barking for twenty minutes.  Is everything OK?”  (I won’t mention that I can hear the barking in every room in my house with the exception of the bathroom.  My bed won’t fit in there, anyway.)

I am losing my mind.

Had any neighbor problems?  Do you recommend a different approach?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recovering from the flu? Don’t try this.

Only a dope would try strenuous exercise while recovering from semi truck crud/swine flu/or numerous other seasonal ailments.  For long-time readers (my family, plus Lucy), that statement almost guarantees a subsequent item I really shouldn’t have done.  This is no exception.

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I blame it all on peer pressure.  The problem here is I have these friends see, these exercising friends.  (Watch out for this lot.  They now have me eating carrots and grapefruit for snacks, instead of my preferred chips.)  They don’t “hit the gym”, they exercise outside.  Being lost in a snow drift, stomped by a moose, or run over by a motorist doesn’t deter them.  If I didn’t like them so well, I’d look into having them committed, poor things.  Just what did they force me to do, you’re wondering?

On a whim, last year I bought some skate ski equipment at a swap meet.  (Someday I’d like to write about shopping at a winter swap meet and compare it to running with the bulls or riding a scooter on an LA freeway, but today is not the day.)  Eyeing it ruefully afterwards, I thought that probably meant I should do some skate skiing.  One problem: I didn’t have the book, “Skate Skiing for Dummies” or even a smallish idea of technique.  Never fear, the exercising friends are here.

So I went a handful of times last winter and survived.  There were some undignified falls, yes, and a few instances when hasty prayers were uttered along the lines of ‘please let me not have a heart attack’ or ‘just let me not hit a moose at the bottom of this hill’ but mostly I was thinking “This would be fun if I was in shape.” 

They convinced me (more like forced me) into going on Thursday.  My flu was winding down, but that was no excuse for not elevating my heart rate to maximum, breathing cold air, and sweating like the proverbial pig for an hour.  Everyone needs such friends, no?

It’s over and obviously I’m here to tap out the sad tale, so no tragedy, but my humble advice for those recovering from illness, stay away from those bullies.  No, not the wee tykes smoking during lunch behind Service high school, mucking up the ski trails, and looming menacingly in large groups out of the forest at passing skiers.  The exercisers.

Anyone have a bad experience exercising?  Taking in the great outdoors gone wrong?


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