Moose and Midwives and Reindeer, Oh My!

Just back from a whirlwind trip to Alaska, I thought I’d give you a brief report. We slapped together a quick plan to visit with Jim’s family in Wasilla, Alaska, to celebrate his brother’s birthday and visit his sister, Judi, and her family. Patrik, our son-in-law contributed some guest passes from Horizon Airlines and we flew standby, a new experience.

We left Thursday afternoon and there were plenty of seats both from Yakima and from Seattle. I love to travel, so I snuggled in with a book, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, a book about learning to forgive. Though Jim and I were in the same row, we were both in middle seats on opposite sides of the aisle. I plugged into my iPhone’s music and the trip went very quickly.

Met at the Anchorage airport by Judi, we were whisked off to Wasilla to meet the rest of the family and to celebrate Jim’s brother, Rusty’s, birthday at Evangelo’s. It gets dark about an hour later up there right now – around 6:30 pm, and it doesn’t really get light until after 8 am. After dinner, we set off for a 20 minute drive out of town where they live “off the Grid” in a new home with a generator. Having grown up with a generator up on Snoqualmie Pass, I remember lights out at 10 or 11 and the accompanying silence when the generator was turned off for the night. Though things are a bit more modern at Judi and Harry’s, the same issues must be dealt with that we dealt with in the 60’s. Their generator runs on about 5 gallons of diesel per day – a bargain to keep things running in their big log home. Appliances with heating elements make a big drain on the system, so if we wanted a shower we had to turn off the refrigerator to compensate! They are also very careful with curling irons, hair dryers and ovens! Their home is beautiful and very cozy with hot water circulating through the floors. We crawled appreciatively between our flannel sheets and slept until the sun came up.
After toast and coffee while we looked out on a snowy scene of willows and breathtaking mountains on Friday morning, Judi was called to the home of a mother to oversee her sixth delivery. She dropped me at the coffee shop where I got a hot chai and walked down the street to Fireside Books in Palmer. I happily spent a couple of hours chatting with a dedicated employee named Annie. I just can’t help myself. I love bookstores! It is so much fun to meet booksellers, see what their favorite books are and feel at home even though I’m worlds away. We chatted about books, events, swapped stories, ideas and I bought a book called Watchman, a graphic novel. A bookseller whom I highly respect, Paul Hansen, from Eagle River Books on Bainbridge Island, WA, told me that Watchman was not only the best graphic novel he ever read, but maybe even one of the best novels of any kind he’d read. I’m about 20 pages in and learning to make the change of reading style necessary to appreciate the graphic genre. Watchman is coming out soon as a movie. Stand by for a review.

Judi picked me up and we went to another bookstore, Pandemonium, in Wasilla. I had visited there last summer just after they opened and I’m pleased to report that they seem to be doing very well. It is a very busy place. They have a full service coffee shop and cafe, a wonderful meeting room that is booked nearly every day and a nice selected of great books. They do a lot of business with homeschoolers. The state of Alaska helps parents with the cost of books needed to teach their children. Since many people live in remote areas where homeschooling is the only option, Pandemonium is providing a great service to these parents and children. We had soup and salad and I visited with Shannon, the owner, for quite awhile.

My childhood friend, Debbie, lives nearby in Eagle River, so she met me for coffee and a quick visit. Judi zipped down to the clinic to get some work done and Debbie and I did our best to squeeze in a lot of talking. We went to grade school together in Easton and she was a bridesmaid in our wedding. She always encourages me.

Judi picked me up around five, we rendevoued with the husbands and set off for a movie in Anchorage. After a quick stop at Red Robin, we saw Seven Pounds in a second run theater for only $3.00 each! The movie was well done, somewhat disturbing, but worth seeing. Will Smith does a superb job in this story about the futility of undoing terrible things by punishing yourself and trying to show kindness to others. We killed some time at another bookstore that happens to be a chain – “The place that shall not be named”. My daughter, Libby, quipped, “I didn’t know there was a Voldamort, Alaska?” Only you Harry Potter fans will get that, I guess, but I thought it was hilarious! At midnight, we picked up our daughter, Carrie and her husband, Patrik – the generous source of our standby tickets as they arrived from Portland.

Since Wasilla and Anchorage are about 40 miles apart and since Judi and Harry live outside of Wasilla, we spent a lot of time in the car over the four days we were there. But being together is the point and we talked and laughed the whole time.

On Saturday, we watched two moose meander around in front of their house, nibbling at the willows. Harry sprayed some kind of repellent on their newly planted lilacs and other tender plants to keep the moose lips off of those. I’ve been to Alaska many times, but never seem to see the moose everyone else sees, so I was elated to watch these huge, lumbering critters. Later, we set off for a road trip to Talkeetna, the jumping-off place for climbers of Mt. McKinley, about an hour and a half away. The snow was a bit deeper up there and we saw some more moose en route. We had Reindeer Chili and cornbread with honey. It was yummy and warmed us up. My only regret is that we didn’t sample the rhubarb-blackberry crisp! The walls of this log inn are covered with pictures and signatures of climbers from all over the world. The place has a lot of character and even had some resident characters!

Fortified for the trip back to Wasilla, we played the old sign game, looking for the letters of the alphabet on signs that were pure Alaskana – advertising snow machines, taxidermy, laundry and showers, and lots of signs with the word “tundra” in them. Back home in just enough time to get ready for a Valentine dinner with some of Judi and Harry’s friends. We were welcomed like regulars and feasted on Chicken, wild rice, salad and some little individual chocolate cakes that I can still close my eyes and taste. These long-time friends meet regularly and were finishing up their study on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, Life Together. Great people.

Dividing and conquering, some of us showered Saturday night and others on Sunday morning. We had delicious baked oatmeal, full of dried apricots and nuts, and of course more great French-press coffee for breakfast and managed to get everyone into the Suburban by nine so we could go to church together. They attend Wasilla Bible Church, one of the churches in Alaska that Sarah Palin attends. We didn’t have a Sarah-sighting, but everyone int he congregation seemed happy to be back in the building after arson damaged their building a few months ago, an event that was never proven to be politically motivated. I had to smile when I noticed this announcement in their bulletin: WBC Men’s Retreat 2009 – Always Be Prepared, I Peter 3:15. Bring: Sleeping Bag, Guns, Snowshoes, X-country Skis and Snowmachines. Only in Alaska.

Back to the house again for moose stew, cornbread, salad and pie. We sure did a lot of eating this weekend! We played with our great-nephews and niece, enjoying their sweet personalities. The guys did some serious work on the fireplace rock work. Jim set his special stone in place, a unique piece of granite with garnets embedded in it. Harry has been thoughtfully placing a few rocks a day – for several months. It might be done next time we visit and it will be a beauty! At 3 we left once more for the airport and our next stand-by experience. There were about 50 empty seats from Anchorage to Seattle, but we were the last ones on a very full flight from Seattle to Yakima. I read an advance copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s latest book, Wintergirls, a young adult novel about anorexia – and finished it! You can read my review at

Published in: on February 17, 2009 at 5:43 am  Comments (2)  

Winter Institute Wi4 – Salt Lake City, Utah 2009

Salt Lake City is beautiful. The snow-covered mountains just seem to hold the city like protective hands. Everything downtown points to the LDS Temple and their grounds are impressive. We did a little walking around, but didn’t get a tour. Some in our group were able to sit-in on the Thursday night rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and they said it was very impressive. It was great to have Jim with me on this trip. He is such a patient partner.

Day One: The pre-conference seminar was on the value of buy local programs with numerous sessions and speakers on the subject. We were addressed by Salt Lake City’s Mayor Becker who, along with his city council, is convinced of the power of restoring neighborhoods to be little self-contained towns within a city, where small businesses thrive and people know each other. Studies have shown that when this model is used, crime is less and the economy is stronger. We also heard from Laury Hammel. co-founder and co-chair of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of Growing Local Value. He talked about how we can all work at convincing our friends, families, customers to shift 10 percent of their purchasing from the big chains to local independent businesses and he had statistics about how much impact that intentional decision can have on a small business. He is working on a website that will be ready at the end of February and I’ll post it here as soon as I have it. The other thing he said that really stuck with me is that no one is blaming local independent businesses for our current economic problems. Perhaps it is time for each of us to point that out to our circle of influence. Just 10%!

Our luncheon speaker, Terry Tempest-Williams, author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in one of those breathtaking moments that won’t soon be forgotten by 500 rapt booksellers, said that independent bookstores are “the visitor centers of our national parks. Without you, we would have no place to sit around those metaphorical campfires,” she said. “If it wasn’t for you, writers like me wouldn’t have a voice.”

The afternoon was filled with more great education about Buy Local programs. Later, after enjoying a fabulous meal at a local Italian cafe, we savored our visit to The King’s English, one of several great independent bookstores in Salt Lake City. Betsy Burton, the store’s owner, has been an avid participant in the city’s Buy Local program. It was a joy to meet her and tour her wonderful store. She is also the author of The King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller which was published in 2006. Her store is smack-dab in a residential neighborhood. Day Two-Five: It would take pages to tell you everything we did. I spent mornings and afternoons in education sessions learning things like: the average book club reader reads 12-36 books per year, that there are some specific things I can do as a business woman to weather these tough times, that publishers can’t wait to tell me about their newest books, and that small stores like ours must adapt to the new environment by having e-newsletters, websites and blogs. Hey, hey! We’re on board with that!

Each day we met dozens of great authors incuding Michael Malone, Jonathan Stroud, and Jane Hamilton and we brought advance reading copies of their books home with us. Well, we shipped them. No more “gorilla arms” from toting books through airports! The atmosphere at Winter Institute was electric with great ideas, and though “book people” firmly believe that books aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, we must agree that the method of delivery of information is becoming more and more computer/smart phone-centric. Therefore, we will use all the means we can to tell people about books – the good old, paper and ink, conveyors of culture – books!

My posting wouldn’t be complete without telling you about Sam Weller’s, another independent bookseller in the city and a part of the city since 1929. They had a tiny open house reception for 500 of their peers on Thursday night. The walls of their three-story store were filled with pictures of the authors they have hosted over the years and it is like reading an American history book. Their Rare Book room is fascinating. They served tasty appetizers along with Polygamy Porter (fine print on the bottle: Why Have Just One?) I’m not sure how the Weller ancestors would feel about the choice of beverage, but it sure made us smile. Both Sam Weller’s and The King’s English are the kind of store I hope Inklings is when we are all grown up.

Published in: on February 6, 2009 at 1:14 am  Comments (1)