Friday, April 26, 2013

Leaving Alaska

While I happily make my home in Alaska, I also leave Alaska a lot. Since my husband and I are building in Hawaii, we go there every winter. I travel east to see my family every summer.  And then there’s “conference season.” During conference season, romance writers love to get together in milling, mile-a-minute groups where we buy each other drinks and discuss Amazon trends and alpha heroes. Since much of our time is spent being virtual hermits, huddled over our computers, the thought of venturing into the outside world can be daunting.

It’s twice as terrifying if you live on a homestead in Alaska where you go months without shaving your legs. Now, all of a sudden, you’re faced with the Herculean task of making yourself presentable to readers and writers – not to mention publishing industry types who look like they’ve stepped out of “Sex and the City.”  In my natural habitat of Homer, I’ve perfected the “grunge elf” look. But velvet sweatpants, mudboots and Tibetan earflap hats aren’t going to cut it at the 30th anniversary ball at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. 

Clothes shopping is a must, but wardrobe is just the start. What about my hair, which is usually stuffed under a wool hat , its once-cute layers a distant memory? What about my toenails, which lurk under layers of Smartwool socks, cringing at the prospect of daylight? Have I shaved my armpits since last conference? I’m afraid to find out. Getting ready for conference season, I often feel like Sandra Bullock in the movie Miss Congeniality -- she needs a team of white-coated scientists to whip her into beauty pageant shape. For myself, I’m not aiming for beauty contestant – my goal is to not scare the public.

Making myself presentable is just one challenge. Any trip out of Alaska is a trek. For me, it starts with a five-hour drive from Homer to Anchorage. Since I’m going to the big city, I like to allow time to see family there, and get together with my beloved AKRWA writer’s group. Then there’s clothes shopping, and the eye doctor, and all the above-mentioned self-improvement efforts. Might as well spend a few days in Anchorage before hopping on the plane.

Speaking of that plane, when you’re flying out of Alaska, there’s a good change your flight will be scheduled to depart at 12:50 am, or 1:30am, or some other equally sleep-depriving time. Why? I have no idea. I wish someone would explain it to me. I imagine it has to do with connecting flights, because unless you’re going somewhere on the West Coast, a connecting flight is guaranteed to be in your future. Along with connecting flights go long layovers, and missed connections and lost luggage. I try to turn connecting flights into a positive. For instance, a friend of mine is meeting me at LAX so we can spend my five hour layover catching up.

Of course, if I’m going to fly the huge distance that is any trip out of Alaska, I might as well combine it with visits to people in the lower 48 whom I never see. The upcoming RT Convention is in Kansas City. My elderly aunt, who rarely travels anymore, lives in Chicago. How can I be so close and not visit? So I tack on another stop, a few days in Chicago. By now we’re looking at a week, and I haven’t even gotten to the conference yet!

The return trip will be the same drill in reverse, with a few extra twists. I’ll soon find out how much snow has piled on top of my car while I was gone, and I’ll have to adjust to the fact that it’s STILL WINTER in Alaska, even though everyone else is picking strawberries and enjoying the sunny daffodils.

After a trip out of Alaska, I don’t truly relax until I’m all the way back in Homer, cuddled up in our cabin in my velvet sweatpants. Leaving Alaska is hard, but coming back makes it all worthwhile. 

Jennifer Bernard's latest book is SEX AND THE SINGLE FIREMAN. Visit her website for more. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Marathon

No words can possibly describe the feelings we all feel facing yet another terrorist attack in the United States. The latest report (at the time I’m penning this) claims 3 people died and over 130 injured. So many thoughts are racing through my mind… I’m angry—heartbroken—and surely not surprised. And ever-thankful it wasn’t more catastrophic. I have family and friends in New England, some only a few miles from Boston.

They’re all accounted for.  

Started in 1897, the Boston Marathon is an iconic event attracting athletes from all over the world. Locals and tourists gather to support participants and simply to enjoy the race. It’s a wonderful event and demonstrates the spirit of competition and freedom we appreciate in America. Also, it’s important to remember it was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts.

I’m terribly sentimental and very patriotic, and I’m reminded of a quote by Abraham Lincoln.

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

In the days to follow, please remember we are united in spirit. Regardless of political affiliation, religious belief, creed, race, or sex we are Americans first. Resilient. Brave. Noble. Tough. We forgive where forgiveness is warranted. Wait when patience is required. Unite when tragedy occurs. And answer injustice with unprecedented force.

Flawed as we are, that’s America.

So I ask you to remember the people whose lives were lost or devastated by this attack. Hug your family members and friends. Pray or meditate. And always remember… no one can divide us.  

--- Violetta Rand

Friday, April 12, 2013

Spring Gardening in Alaska

      Snow in April????     Come on, Mother Nature!
 I was planning on writing something about spring and gardens today, and including sprightly photos of my melting garden, but as you can see, it doesn’t feel like spring here. In fact, it feels reversed. Mother Nature decided winter wasn't over this weekend, and dumped two more feet of snow on us. So much for me getting my hands dirty any time soon.

In Alaska, it isn’t unusual to get snow in the Anchorage area as late as May. I’ve been a certified Alaskan Master Gardener for 13 years, now, and gardening much longer than that, and boy do I have gardening stories to tell. One year I remember rushing to lay bed sheets over my zucchini plants because it snowed in June. Farther north, they routinely get snow even later. Nineteen years ago, my husband and I were staying in a cabin at Poker Creek (the northern-most border crossing in the U.S.) in July, and one night the sky dropped three inches of snow.

Pea Flowers
 So how DO we manage to garden up here? Well, for one thing, we start almost everything indoors, even those “touchy” plants like cucumbers and zucchini. The photos above are broccoli. Green beans and corn get their own little pots and I transplant them out well into June when I’m fairly certain we won’t have a freak frost. I’ve even known people who transplant peas, although I’ve never bothered, since they don't need a long growing season to produce. I do, however, "pre-sprout" them, otherwise, our cold soil may delay germination long enough for the seeds to rot instead of grow.

Wallo' Water
 We also use season extending tricks, like row tunnels, Wallo' Waters, or plastic Infra Red Transmitting Mulch (not to be confused with black plastic, which actually makes the soil cooler up here.) In a pinch, clear plastic will work to warm the soil, but won’t block weeds. And I stopped bothering to attempt growing tomatoes or cukes in the ground, because our soil never warms up enough to make them happy, no matter what I do. Instead, I use an unheated greenhouse and, being the frugal Alaskan I am, I made some homemade self-watering containers and plant in those. As for beans and corn? Well, let’s just say depending on the weather, there are bean years and there are lean years. You take your chances, and make sure you always plant enough broccoli and carrots to make up for a lean year. 

The water that comes out of my well is a frigid 38˚ and will shock plants, so I never water things like tomatoes or cucumbers right out of the tap. Instead, I allow the water to warm either in the hose or in watering cans before applying. A sprinkler is okay for the main garden because the air takes the chill off the droplets before they hit the plants. 

June in the Garden
 In spite of fighting the chilly short season, there are some really nice things about gardening up here, too. We don’t have many garden pests. Slugs can be a problem in a rainy year, but I simply trap them or use iron-phosphate slug bait (organic.) Root maggots can be pretty bad, but I let my chickens into my garden beds every spring and they root out most larvae. I’ve also watered with beneficial nemotodes, but it’s hard to tell if they made a difference, and they are expensive to ship. Using a breathable row cover right after planting seems to work best of all, keeping the flies from laying their eggs on the baby plants. 

Finally, our loooooong daylight creates some monstrous veggies. Last year, Scott Robb set the world record for largest cabbage at the Alaska State Fair, with a monster weighing 138.25 pounds! I've grown 35 pound cabbages with little effort. Plus, it is awfully nice to be able to garden while the sun sets at 11 PM.

Tam Linsey lives in Alaska with her husband and two children. In spite of the rigors of the High North, she grows, hunts, or fishes for much of her family’s food. During the long Alaskan winters she writes speculative fiction. You can find her at or on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Real Men of Alaska - April

Join us here each Friday for a new post. Especially on the first Friday of each month, when we're posting interviews with some of the rugged, intelligent, male specimens found in such abundance in the great State of Alaska.

Please Join us in Welcoming:

Wil, Mr. April 2013 - Real Man of Alaska

Wil with his 4 month old lab, Neo.
1: Were you born in Alaska, and if not, then how did you end up here? What do you do for a living, and what do you do for fun. Age, height, fav. food, and any other statistics you are willing to share. Just remember though, we are a PG 13 site and blush easily.

W: I was shoved kicking and screaming (at 4:15 AM) out of the womb into the middle of northern Anchorage. I currently subsist on scholarships and parental handouts while finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at University of Alaska Fairbanks. I like long walks on the beach (or, as they’re called in Anchorage, “mudflats”), fine wines, and long conversations about modern art (I made that last one up). I’m 21, 5’ 11”, and I love tacos. Then again, who doesn’t? (Editor's insert: Wil's 22nd birthday is later in April).

2: What kind of woman appeals to you, and who do you let make the first move, you or her? 

W: The living kind. You’d think that would be obvious, but with the growing zombie and vampire populations, it turns out you actually have to let people know that. And I’m fine with letting her make the first move, as long as it’s not for my blood or brains.

3: Where is your favorite place to take a girl on a first date, and why?

W: Laser tag. I don’t think I need to explain why.

4: What's the wildest thing you've ever done, other than, well you know, with a female companion since living in Alaska?

W: We went to UAF’s Starvation Gulch celebration, which had five massive bonfires. Things got pretty hot.

5: Winter can be long, dark, and very cold here in Alaska. What are your favorite frosty pastime activities? Not counting the obvious of course. Remember the PG 13 rating. And, what is the coldest temp you’ve seen/been in?

W: Hibernating ranks at the top spot, though sledding comes in as a close second. The coldest I’ve ever been in was -48 degrees, though I have walked outside without a coat at -36 degrees. I don’t plan on repeating that any time soon.

6: And, if we ask about winter then we simply must inquire about the too short, wonderful summers. What are your favorite things to do during all those long hours of sunshine?

W: Disc golf, tennis, bowling, barhopping, you name it! Anything at midnight with the sun out is fun. Except for taxes. Those are never fun.

7: Alaskan men take their vehicles very seriously. What is your favorite mode of transportation – car, truck, snow machine, four-wheeler, airplane, skis, snowboard, etc., and why?

W: My motorcycle’s definitely my favorite way to get around, as long as the roads aren’t covered in gravel and it isn’t icy or raining. Unfortunately, living in Anchorage, that leaves only about 15% of the year.

8: What is your favorite Alaskan animal – to see along the highway or on your dinner plate?

Polar bears. They’re pretty rad.

9: Have you ever wrestled a polar bear, mushed a dog team, panned for gold, eaten muktuk, done the polar bear plunge, climbed Denali, run the Mt. Marathon, or any of the other, found only in Alaska, activities?

W: I have been to Denali National Park, gone gold panning in Hope and at El Dorado Gold Mine in Fox, caught king salmon in the Kenai River, and caught halibut on a fishing charter out of Seward. I haven’t wrestled any polar bears, but I did see one at the zoo once. It was pretty small. I probably could have pinned it in 10 seconds.

10: In your opinion, what exactly is it that makes an Alaskan Male so wonderfully macho and appealing?

W: It must be something in the water. I’m not sure which has a greater effect: the glacial runoff or the bear steroids. 

11: What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever landed? And we mean the kind with scales and fins that swim in water, not the locker room bragging rights variety.

W: The largest fish I’ve ever caught was a 400-pound king salmon. I may have added an extra zero to that.

12: Other than making love under them, what is your favorite thing to do when the Northern Lights are out and putting on a show?

W: Two words -- interpretive dance. 

13: And last but certainly not least, in your opinion, what is the most romantic thing about Alaska, and why?

W: Mosquitoes, because nothing says “I love you” quite like a mosquito buzzing in your ear.

Join us next month when we feature another True Alaskan Man!