Friday, August 30, 2013

Seeking: Willing Workers on Alaskan Farms

It’s a sad day here at our homestead in Homer, Alaska -- we just said goodbye to our Woofer. Nope, not our dog or a component of our speaker system. Our woofer is named Julia and she came here from Oregon. She’s a “willing worker on organic farms,” affectionately known as a “woofer.” Have you heard of this program? It’s very popular in Homer, and also where we spend the winters in Hawaii.

Woofers (technically, WWOOFers) are usually young, college age or early twenties. Host farms post their information on one of several official websites, so potential “woofers” can make contact and the two parties can mutually decide if it’s a good fit. The arrangement is simple: labor, usually twenty hours a week or so, in exchange for room and board. The particulars of the situation depend on what the host farm needs, and what the worker is interested in doing or learning. Many woofers want to learn organic farming techniques or other skills connected to a sustainable lifestyle. Some just want a way to travel to new places without spending lots of money. For Julia, the appeal was that she could come to Alaska and really experience what life is like here, instead of zipping through with a backpack.

We don’t have a farm, but we have plenty of building going on. Julia learned things like how to denail boards, how to run a cordless drill, how to start a fire in a woodstove. She went blueberry picking with us and took a kayak trip across Kachemak Bay. She loved every minute of her two-week stay, even the times she stood out in the rain handing tools to my husband while he put a roof on our new shed.
Blueberry Picking

The benefits for us? I got the fun of having a new Oberlin grad and future med student hanging out in our ramshackle homestead. My husband got an overly educated carpenter’s assistant. My little daughter got someone new to chatter to. Anyone who lives on a homestead knows there’s always work to do, always a need for more help. Ideally, we’d have five strong kids to help us out. Instead, we go for Woofers.

Right now, I’d give the Woofer program ten thumbs up. But not all woofers are created equal. Some have a work ethic that, let’s just say, isn’t in line with what Alaska demands. There’s always the question of compatibility. The woofer has to be someone you don’t mind having at your dinner table most nights. It’s really important to talk thoroughly beforehand about what they’ll be doing and what everyone’s expectations are. Even so, things don’t always work out well. But the beauty of it is that it’s a temporary situation. Woofers rarely stay longer than a few months. If you want to keep in touch after they’re gone, you can; I certainly hope we do with Julia.

If you’re interested in the concept, either as a host farm or a worker, there are several websites here in the U.S. and internationally. Based on my experience so far, it’s a wonderful way to meet enthusiastic young people and pass on Alaska-bred skills to those who want to learn them. 

Jennifer Bernard's next release is HOW TO TAME A WILD FIREMAN, out on September 24. Read more at

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why are readers drawn to historical works?

Many reasons exist for why readers are hopelessly attracted to historical fiction. Getting back to the basics—our roots—seems to be the most common.

What inspired our ancestors to emigrate or how did family traditions begin? Where did I get brown eyes and curly hair? Why did my great grandmother celebrate Celtic holidays or speak French fluently?

These are questions my friends have asked. With a little research, they found answers. But who wants the journey to end there?

Hundreds of history books exist. Wonderful resources we can use to piece together the places and people we’re intimately connected to.

As a person with a restless mind, I always craved more than straight facts. I wanted to see the events through the lens of the people who experienced history first-hand. Historical fiction provides endless opportunities for readers to live in those fantastical moments. Is there anything more exciting?

Pick a century or culture. Follow the events of a birth of a nation or religion. Taste the foods and wear the costumes. Fight the wars or dream their dreams.
I ‘m never satisfied with a linear link. The possibilities in historical works are endless. After all, is historical fiction really that far from the truth?

I think technology and modern thinking has stripped us of some of the values we miss most. In historicals, we’re able to catch glimpses. I’m not saying modern-day heroes don’t exist. But there’s something extraordinary about an 11th century Viking avenging the death of his kinsman or presiding over criminal/civil cases in his court.

It’s a mixed up world out there. I prefer the clarity of the past. Call me a dreamer, but I know I’m not alone. That’s what inspired me to read, and now write, historical fiction. There’s magic on those pages, and valuable lessons to be learned.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it… George Santayana.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Alaska and summer

I don't know if you can find a better combination of words.  We've got sun, sun sun.  Hours and hours of it.  And outdoor sports.  Boating.  Fishing.  Camping.  Biking.  Hiking.  Everybody is outdoors, enjoying the lengthy summer days. 

And then there's me.  I do get outdoors at least three times a day.  When I walk my dog.  Go to the store.  Water the blackberries.  The rest of the time, I'm holed up.  Putting words into play.  Researching all sorts of cool/interesting stuff.  Playing piano.  And doing handcrafts.  You name it.  I like doing it.  Okay.  That's not entirely accurate.  I'm not much of a knitter.  And I might as well just confess it. 

I'm a counted cross stitch addict.  

Hi!  Jackie Ivie here, blogging about - of all things - cross stitch.  Why?  Because it's incredibly fun.  Yes.  I do cross stitch.  I admit it.  I've usually got eight to ten projects going - which is why I finish so many.  I have so many options on what to work on, I'm never bored.  It's a perfect craft for long, dark, cold Alaska winters.  

And it's a great accompaniment while I'm watching a DVD/researching the latest thing in jet aircraft.  Or what an updated WWII Diesel truck would sound like.  Or the night Alexander the Great razed Persepholis.  Or looking over the Temple of the Jaguar in Tikal (city of the Mayan empire.)  Or learning about the Forbidden City.  Angkor Wat.  The theory of special relativity. 

What can I say?  I do all kinds of weird/cool research, because you just never know when you might need this sort of knowledge for your vampire.  Or maybe your historical.  Or maybe just to confound your kids.  Or maybe I really am the nerd my kids call me.

Then could just be because it disguises my cross stitch addiction. 

And just last weekend, I got to start someone else on this addiction.  The art gallery in Palmer Alaska took part in the summer art walk (really cool idea, huh?). 
They asked me to partner up with 9-year-old Sammantha (you read that right.  She's Nine Years Old.  She's amazingly talented.  Already.)  Sammantha designs and constructs jewelry pieces, and I have to tell you, she's good.  And Sammantha brought something extra:  she has a little sister named Megan who is also extremely creative.  I spent some time with Megan, showing her the art of cross stitch, and assisting her with needles, and thread, and counting. 

(Yes.  That's us on the floor in this picture!) 

I had a ball!  Thank goodness we had people there with cameras - since I am never prepared - and we got some great photos. 
One is Sammantha, me, and the gallery owner, JoAnn. 
Another is of me and Audrey, a lovely woman who came by and let me tell her all about cross stitch. 
It's not just the pattern, you see. 
It's the material. 
And the weave. 
And the thread manufacturer. 
And the thread count. 
It's the beading. 
It's the metallic accents. 
It's the storage systems and pattern conversion,
Oh dear.  There I go again.


 --- Jackie Ivie


Friday, August 9, 2013

Glorious Alaska

It has been said: To all things there is a season. Alaska took that adage to the extreme.

From October until May the reality is cold and dark and glorious.

Then the light begins to come back. Give or take that allows Alaska four months of the other extreme. Summer. The Magnificent Anxiety.

Every endeavor is predicated on the reality that WINTER IS COMING!

People work and play until exhaustion drops them in a heap. They fish and hike and climb and hunt and garden and did I mention fish? They can and smoke and share and all the while they are outside they are surrounded by Alaska. Alaskan flora and fauna doing the very same exhaustive struggle to prepare for winter and those that pay attention can tell you what part of the summer you are in by what is blooming.

The riotous season begins with green-green anything. The fireweed shoots climb out of the ground before the snow is gone. Alaskan daffodils [dandelions anyplace else] spread joy and brilliance along the roadsides.

Mother’s Day, more or less, suddenly, there are leaves. I’m not kidding - over a three day period fat buds explode shielding all debris from sight. The understory begins to leaf out and bloom-Current and serviceberry and cranberry and Labrador Tea.
Ahh, June, the first week star flowers sprinkle like fairy dust through the woods. The second week the Prickly Roses begin and by then the Lupine has started. As the month progresses Chiming Bells and Geraniums take over and the last week Iris rule. At your feet a blanket of twin flowers flow over the sides of the lane.

July, the fireweed is five feet tall and pink spires proclaim summer is half over. Potentilla and Yarrow are everywhere. 

August-oh dear. Mushroom month. The green understory in the woods turns red and yellow.

Rain begins and the fireweed has started to seed. We call it getting fuzzy. When the fuzzies get to the top of the fireweed –snow is two weeks away.
These are some of my passionate observations - your milage may vary. There are soooo many more. Don’t tell me I forgot the chocolate lily or the arnica or — I love summers flowers. Sadly, winter is coming.

--- DeNise Woodbury

Friday, August 2, 2013

Real Men of Alaska - Mr. August 2013 'BILL'...


As Romance Writers We Are Always On The Lookout For Hot Hunky Hero Types, So Please, Take A Few Minutes And Tell Us A Little About Yourself, Bill.

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 J

I grew up in the southeast city of Ketchikan where my mother was born. I moved up to Anchorage when I was 25 years old to attend college at UAA . I have always been a pretty gregarious 'people person', so it made perfect sense for me to move into the restaurant industry as a means of supporting myself.
I’m 5’9” weigh 150lbs, have brown hair, green eyes and am blessed with a wonderful group of family and friends that are constantly supportive.
I’m not picky when it comes to food (with the exception of seafood- you can only eat so much fresh seafood growing up without becoming a little sick of it), but if forced to pick one place in Anchorage to eat I would probably say either Bear’s Tooth or Moose’s Tooth. They both have great food, but the atmosphere and most importantly the beer is what sets these two places apart.

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

I’m extremely attracted to someone with strong moral character who knows what they want and where they’re going in life. Someone with a great work ethic is a huge turn on. As trite as it may sound, I love when you meet someone and you can tell immediately that you’re meeting the “real” them. Life is all about these wonderful connections that you make with the people around you.
On a more basic level, if you love food as much as I do, we’ll instantly have something in common.

3: Where is your favorite place to take someone on a first date, and why?
I honestly really enjoy meeting people out on the town. One of the most important things you can do on a first date is put the other person at ease. When you both are in a comfortable environment it opens the door to honest communication.
4: What's the wildest thing you've ever done, other than, well you know, with a companion since living in Alaska?

Well… as someone from the southeast where tourism is such a major part of our economy, it’s sort of a rite of passage to moon the cruise ships in the summertime.
So I’m neither confirming nor denying anything, but some hapless tourist may or may not have seen my shining little behind.

5: Winter can be long, dark, and very cold here in Alaska. What are your favorite frosty pastime activities? (Remember the PG 13 rating J)
And, what is the coldest temp you’ve seen/been in?

I love the winter in Alaska. Many people have this misconception that winters here are long and depressing, which for me has always been a point of contention. Winter here is not unlike any other situation in life-it is what you make of it. I love getting out and skiing, skating, watching the northern lights, snowshoeing, whatever. As a true Alaskan, we all know that the weather doesn’t actually restrict our fun, often it just adds to it.

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?

I feel like I am like most Alaskans in that, in the summertime especially, I work hard and I play hard. Between double shifts at work, and extended camping/hiking/fishing trips, I more than make the most of my days.

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?

I learned how to drive on a manual and for me, that is one of the most important aspects of driving. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for big pick-up trucks, but more than anything I like being in control of the vehicle and having the option to downshift in the wintertime when braking may not be an option.
That said, there is nothing more fun than riding around in the summer sunshine on a moped.

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

I can honestly say that I’m not much of a big game eater, and while it is fun to see the common moose or bear along the side of the road it is pretty exciting when you get to see an Arctic fox or snowy owl.
Also can I mention how exciting it is to NOT see snakes, scorpions, or billboards while driving along?

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?

I’ve probably had a beer in most reputable (and irreputable) bars in southeast Alaska. I’ve adventured my way around most of the state and have certainly tried (almost) every local microbrewery here.
I have refrained from such activities as eating muktuk given my dislike of seafood - and may I just speak for all men when I say that the Polar Plunge isn’t exactly a good way to (physically at least) impress anyone.
But I will say, that if you haven’t been, you should definitely check out the Ice Worm festival in Cordova.

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

The beard.

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. J

In terms of story material, isn’t the one that gets away always the bigger/better tale?
With that in mind, I’ll have you know that I have lost many a lure in many an epic battle with our scaly friends. And I should note for the record that I come from a long, proud line of terrible fishermen.

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

In my travels throughout the years, I have found that in many places, “common courtesy” isn’t so common. One of the most romantic things for me about Alaska is that if your car slides off the road in the wintertime, without fail you’ll have 5 people stop to help you in 10 minutes time.
Here, it’s easy to get into a real conversation with someone in the Kaladi Brother’s line.
Here, when someone asks you how your day was, odds are, they actually want to know how your day was.
We haven’t resorted to apathy and disinterest, and to me, that is extremely romantic.

Our Thanks to Bill for a great interview - and to you
for stopping by!
Stay tuned for Mr. September 2013 -
- have a great summer!