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Despite the last post, it’s not really winter yet. Yes, it was 28 degrees when we left the house this morning–and then I came back home, because it’s my flex Monday–but there are still leaves on the trees, and the snow didn’t stick. There’s that nice, crisp autumn feel to things.

Things have been busy, though! I spent most of last week’s evenings getting ready to teach some Unitarians to geocache. They have a camping trip, up in Wasilla, each fall, and they thought it would be cool to have a geocaching workshop. Dale and I were the only people loosely affiliated with the Fellowship (“loosely” is a key word–I’m on the mailing list, but we’ve never been to services) who knew how, so we volunteered. On the bright side, a fair bit of my preparation time can be reused when I teach my coworkers to geocache and put a cache in my library (assuming our local approval volunteer is OK with it being so close to another cache). And it seems like the class went really well: people seemed to have fun and more or less pick up the basics. I neglected to mention that you have to re-hide the cache as well as it was hidden before you found it, clearly, but otherwise, it was a success.

The remainder of the day was fun. We liked the people there and will probably start attending the Fellowship, at least sporadically. 11am on a Sunday shouldn’t be hard, but for some reason it is–it’s not that we’re [always] asleep then; it’s that we’re not usually showered and dressed and ready to go. But when I get back into my morning exercise routine, starting tomorrow, mornings on weekends will get easier again, at least for me. ;)

The day did end rather abruptly when the canoe I was trying to get into tipped, and I fell in the lake. (Dale let go just 30 seconds too soon. He was very apologetic.) Late September in Alaska is not a good time to get in the lake, at least not without a change of clothes handy, so we drove home. I was pretty bummed about missing the campfire, so he made it up to me by building a big, wonderful fire in our fire pit, last night (Sunday). We made s’mores with fancy chocolate. So we’re even. :)

Anyway, back to the homestead: during my end-of-summer/beginning-of-winter preparations, I tore down my garden and harvested what I could. All told, I got a stalk of broccoli (smallish, but delicious), a stalk of cauliflower (smallish, sitting on the counter), 3 nice-size beets (to be cooked this week), 3 servings of potatoes (a huge disappointment after how big my plants got, but at least they were tasty!), 4 strawberries (and counting–they’re indoors, now, with several berries yet to ripen), and some lettuce. We didn’t love the lettuce–this variety was kind of bitter–and because we’re so slow to use it, we probably won’t bother in future years. Other lessons: broccoli gets huge and blocks the light from other plants. Beets can, too. Cucumbers… I don’t know how to make those or zucchinis grow, but I really want to figure that out this time, since those are my favorites.

I definitely put more money into the garden than I harvested in vegetables, but the lessons learned were worth something, and I know better what to do to prepare, next year. Also, with any luck, we’ll have a little bit of sun next summer. This one was all rain. (Though fall has been lovely!)

My other project, starting on Friday, is the 365 Days of Cooking Challenge, which you can follow on the linked blog–I’m not the only blogger/participant, by far, so if the writing style looks different than you’re used to from me, check the author. ;) The goal is to cook at home and therefore not eat restaurant or pre-packaged foods for a year. Nobody, so far, is really aiming for 365 days. The most popular goal seems to be 6 days a week, which is what Dale and I are aiming for. (I’m actually aiming for 13 days out of 14, but we’ll see.) I’m also trying not to buy things with ingredients I can’t use in my own kitchen–so, citric acid is OK, but soy lecithin might not be–or with unethically farmed meat or eggs. No CAFO meat, anyway. It doesn’t have to be organic (though that’s nice), but it does have to be grass-fed or cage-free, whichever the appropriate modifier is. I’ll buy local when I can, as well. … Which means we’ll be eating vegetarian & pescatarian a fair bit of the time, too.

Anyway, that’s all the news that fits in print. Dale’s supposed to post pictures from when Dad was up here, plus whatever else we haven’t put up yet, and I’m sure he will, but like I said, things have been busy. And Halo Reach just came out. I’ll bug him. ;)

Snow (or something) is falling. Not sticking–it’s 40 degrees–but falling.

Seriously, you expect snow by Halloween, but not by Oct 1. It’s not even legal to have studded tires, yet.

(I know I sound freaked out. It’s only the inevitable march into winter that has me at all out of whack. Not the snow itself. That’s not going to stick.)

We only had 3 months with zero snowfall (well, flurry-fall, or sleet-fall, or something) this year. June, July, and August. Crazy.

Update: There’s snow on the mountains. It’s no longer summer, for reals.

Did we mention we went to the state fair? Well, we did! Check out that 900 pound pumpkin!

There were also goats at a petting zoo! And chickens! And a reptile show and the Bird Man of Las Vegas!! And a million different kinds of food. … All very exciting and totally worth the $10 admission.

We didn’t go see Kenny Rogers, though.

I drove into Alaska and Anchorage on September 11, 2009. I was exhausted, and the birds were completely distraught, one with an injured face and the other with an injured wing. I listened to the AM radio (my iPod having been lost in Canada somewhere) on the way in, and they were talking about a Mardi Gras festival happening downtown, which I decided I was too tired to attend. Even if I hadn’t, I was stuck doing paperwork with the Weidner lady (we all remember how THAT went–or maybe you don’t, but I sure do–in a word, “poorly”). I had vowed to go this year, but then I found out about an Intro to Orienteering class, followed by an intro to contra dancing get-together, and I figured I could use the exercise better than I could use the cajun food. So, on the Mardi Gras thing, as I’m saying to a great number of things right now, “Maybe next year.”

Anyway, the prize I mentioned in the post title is for being First Visitor to Come See Us in Alaska, and the winner is my dad! Yay! Round of applause! (“First Visitor to Stay With Us” is still up for grabs, though–he stayed in a hotel. ;)) He snuck in just under the year mark! We’ll post pictures from his visit in the near future. I forgot to ask if I could repost his YouTube video, which is a slideshow of the pictures he took. (Spoiler: his camera’s cooler than ours.) The highlight of the trip–besides just getting to visit, in general–was a 5-hour wildlife cruise out of Seward. We saw an otter, some Dall’s porpoises, cormorants, puffins(!!), a coastal mountain goat, a black bear, a (freaky-looking) jellyfish, and Stellar’s sea lions (which were hilarious). No whales were out that day, but black bear and mountain goat sightings are really uncommon, so I think we won, on balance. Not only that, but it was the prettiest day we’ve had in WEEKS. We even got a little bit sunburned! A big bull moose also wandered across the road as we drove through campus, and I made a crumble out of some wild blueberries Dale had picked (off the side of a mountain!), so it seems like Dad got the full Alaska experience.

Dad correctly pointed out that I haven’t blogged much this summer. Dale’s posted pictures a couple of times, but we haven’t posted much commentary about them. Sorry about that. We’ve been busy doing summer things. I suspect, as autumn continues (and you should have no doubt: it’s here already, in Anchorage), we’ll find ourselves indoors and at a computer more often. I may go back to spring and summer events, to write about them and give you a better idea of what a first year in Alaska is like. Or I may just move on and blog about whatever’s happening at the time. We have a couple of cool things planned for the winter: we’re volunteering for a political candidate; we may throw a Halloween party; we’re going up to Fairbanks to visit Chena Hot Springs and watch the Northern Lights for our sixth dating anniversary, in February; I’m visiting Juneau, also in February, for the Alaska Library Association conference; and … actually, that’s it. We’ll get up to more stuff, though, I’m sure. I have a couple of projects, which may or may not get blog time.

Here are a couple of not-quite-exhaustive lists, for people who are into that kind of thing…

Things we successfully did, over the year (with an emphasis on summer): going on the wildlife/glacier cruise; visiting the Sea Life Center and getting an awesome photo of a puffin, with a mat decorated by Mr. Puffin Himself; visiting Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle; visiting the Renaissance Faire; giving a talk at Drinking Liberally (that was all Dale) and convincing them that Approval Voting is the best thing ever; seeing the ceremonial start of the Iditarod; attending a geocaching event or two; seeing a glacier up close; and going to the Star Wars exhibit at the Anchorage Museum.

Things we meant to do this year (mostly this summer) but never got around to: visiting Homer; visiting the Zoo, the Musk Ox Farm, and the Reindeer Farm; visiting Mat-Su glacier; attending the Highland Games; seeing the real start of the Iditarod; going flightseeing over Denali; going on the 11-hour Denali bus trip; taking part in the Pride Parade and Coronation; doing lots of geocaching; getting a drink at Silver Gulch (the farthest north brewery in North America); seeing the northern lights; getting back into homebrewing; hiking Flat Top; going to Unitarian church; visiting Cordova (and the sea bird festival!); visiting Valdez; going salmon fishing; eating moose; and finishing the Alaskan Highway (OK, that was mostly me). There’s more on this list that we’d like to do, but a lot of this was in our vague year-long plan and didn’t happen.

Now that it’s been almost a year (at least for me), I suspect people are going to start asking us if we plan to stay. The best answer I can give now is, “Well, we don’t plan to leave.” Which is true. Neither of us really feels ready to swear on a stack of holy books that “I love Alaska enough that I promise I will never ever leave,” having only been through one winter and one summer–and, in Dale’s case, not even a full winter. But neither do we feel like going anywhere just yet. It’s at least as good as Pittsburgh was in most respects: we’re happy; we have great friends; we have an apartment that works well for us; we can afford to live here on the salaries we make; we have stuff to keep us busy. It’s better in a couple of respects: the summer, even when it’s “a crappy summer,” is soooo much better; the winter is less depressingly grey; the public transit is more reliable in its timing; the people are possibly the tiniest bit friendlier, on average; parking is not as bad, for most things; there’s a theater pub (the exception to the parking rule); we have room for a garden in our back yard. It’s short a couple of things: we miss our east coast friends and the ability to visit family over a long weekend, rather than a long week; 5 months of winter is a lot; a few things are a little hard to get, up here; I miss fireflies and thunderstorms (but do I miss them enough to endure 90 degree weather again? maybe not). On balance, though, it seems to us that Anchorage compares pretty favorably with everywhere else we’ve lived. There’s a lot that’s wonderful about this state, and as I said above, we still have a lot of it left to see. The prevailing political wind is frustrating, to say the least, but we’ve found a few little enclaves of like-minded people to socialize with and to keep us sane… and that was the case in PA and VA, as well.

So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s been a good year. We’re looking forward to at least two more good years before we feel compelled to make a decision about staying in Anchorage or looking elsewhere. (In an academic job, you give as much notice as you can; I’d want to give a year. And there’s no way I’m putting together even a practice tenure file–due in the fourth year–only to move the following year. If we stay four years, we’re staying at least six. :)) But, for now, the probability that we’ll choose to stay seems high. Ask us again in six months, though, after our second winter. ;)

I just finished the first book of the Healthy Book Club (uh, we may come up with a catchier name), The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I definitely recommend it! It got me thinking about eating locally and sustainably–and how hard that might be to do in Anchorage.

So, I figured I would share what I found with an evening’s Googling.

  • Here’s a list of places to get raw milk in Alaska. I wasn’t really looking for raw milk, but for grass-fed beef. http://www.realmilk.com/where1.html#ak – I kind of wish there were more information available on Lunachick Mountain Farm, such as the cost of a goat share (to get unpasteurized milk) or those “wickedly fresh chicken eggs.” They do, however, keep a blog, to which I’ve subscribed.
  • I have a request in to All I Saw Farm, to see if I can get on their egg delivery route. http://AllISawFarm.com/
  • Spring Creek Farm has CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscriptions available, in addition to pigs that have been raised ethically. They also offer classes: http://www.springcreekfarmak.org/
  • We bought a box from Glacier Valley this summer. They’re nice because you don’t have to buy a whole subscription, and you can say “I don’t like onions, but I like carrots,” or something similar, and they’ll try to fill in with more of what you like. (I wonder if they would leave out lettuces. I hate salads. All the lettuces are PRECISELY why I don’t subscribe to a CSA already.) In the off-season, they bring in organic produce from other small farms, Outside of Alaska: http://www.glaciervalleycsa.com/
  • Here’s something a bit like Craigslist (hence the name, I guess), with all kinds of fresh meat, produce, and eggs from all over Alaska. Not a lot right near Anchorage, but it gives me hope: http://alaskaslist.com/1/posts/14_Farm_Garden/83_Fresh_Products/
  • Information on “chemical-free gardening,” including composting (not ONLY applicable to Alaska, but she lives in the Mat-Su valley, so I assume it is at LEAST applicable here): http://www.goodearthgardenschool.com/index.htm
  • Permaculture. I don’t have a feel for these guys, yet (though I’m frustrated that they make you wait for someone to manually approve your account AFTER you have already verified your email address). They could be a great resource for learning to eat locally and live more sustainably in Alaska… if they’re willing to put up with people who want to start with baby steps and gradually improve, rather than going whole-hog into it from day 1: http://akpermaculture.wordpress.com/

Our farmers markets only go May through October. There are some indications that grass-fed beef and local eggs are available at those, which is great. But I’m not sure if local locavores do a bunch of canning or what to get them through the winter.

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