Sunday, November 30, 2008

We Begin our Photo Enterprise

Rich gets lots of compliments on his photos and we have often discussed the idea of matting them and/or making greeting cards for sale.   With the annual arts and crafts fair coming up, we finally got ourselves organized, ordered photo paper, ink, mattes, backing, clear bags to slide them into, card stock and envelopes, and set out to have a little photo business on the side.   We were completely shocked when we seemed to have no trouble whatsoever getting the photos to print out just the way we wanted them, as we tend to have issues with any kind of project we undertake.  We even started out in plenty of time so we would not be rushing at the last minute (hard to imagine, I know).  

We were working steadily when we had the first glitch: although I had ordered what I thought was LOTS of ink, we started getting low when producing 8x10's.   Putting those on hold, we commenced to finish up the 5x7's and what we are calling "trios," custom made mattes with openings for three 4x6's.   We then moved to the greeting cards, which did not seem to be printing out in the right dimensions and didn't fit on the paper properly.  Okay, we don't need greeting cards this time, let's just work on the rest of the photos.  

What's this?!  We are completely out of cyan ink?  I thought we still had another cartridge!   Big mistake #1 shut down the whole process as there is no one on the island who sells the kind of ink we need for our photo printer.

Luckily, we had plenty of photos already finished, so we just had to get them matted and would still be ready for the arts and crafts fair.    Matting is easy and no big deal, just a little time consuming.   Next we had to put backing on the mattes for a more professional look.   This turned into a major hassle as Rich had to go to the store two or three times in the wind and rain to find the right glue to hold the backs in place.  Meanwhile, we discovered that the backs that were sent with the "trios" were just a little bigger than the mattes. Big enough to be obvious but not big enough to make cutting them down an easy task.   Of course, we did not order any extras.   Rich finally had to go back out into the wind and rain to get a box cutter, which eventually did the trick.  Whew.   

Whose idea was this anyway?

Yesterday we made our debut at the arts and crafts fair.    It's always a fun event with local artists and crafters and bakers and jam makers and knitters and crocheters selling their wares. We  had a lot of fun chatting with people, Rich got many compliments on his work, and we even made some money!  A great day, all in all.   Now we have to get back to work on the greeting cards and reorder some supplies so we can set up for Midnight Madness at the hotel on Dec. 12!   
The top seller was the photo we call "Fireweed Mountain," the first one above.   I am including a few more that also garnered positive comments from the crowd of shoppers.     Rich had a little trepidation about putting himself out there for public review but was constantly validated and encouraged to continue with his venture.   Nice!    Look for us in our retirement years hawking photos at your local flea market.   :)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Hubby was up and off to work at 6 AM -- Thanksgiving is no holiday for those who work in a restaurant!   While many of us are enjoying a chance to sleep in, laze around the house in pj's, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on TV, call or visit our family and friends, these guys are preparing and cooking lots of fabulous food for others.  Thanks, y'all!   

Yesterday, I decided I was going to take my camera with me and document my day.  First photo:  Kali sitting patiently at the door, waiting to be let out (sorry about the weird green eyes but couldn't get them to go away!)   Second photo: Ajax, having just passed Kali on her way out as he came back in from the cold, wondering why in the world she wanted to go outside when he'd already had his fill.   Third photo (not included here): the car covered with snow.  If someone else had been taking photos, the fourth one would have been Jane turning the key in the ignition and hearing a CLICK.     Did I mention Rich has been going to work early?  Fifth photo would have been Jane calling Rich, whining, "my car won't start."  Sixth photo: Rich to the rescue,  having no luck starting my car,  having to drive me to work.  By then, my enthusiasm for documenting my day had waned considerably.  I'm sharing a few shots with you anyway, but it's certainly not what I envisioned.  

We did catch these eagles in a tree near my office after lunch.  They ignored us while we drove back and forth trying to get situated at a good angle.    I was surprised they didn't fly away but they were nonchalant about the silly  humans.    I'd love to eavesdrop on an eagle story-telling session.   I'm sure we'd be portrayed as fools.

It's still dark in Unalaska and I am, indeed, sitting in my pj's at the computer with the Macy's parade on TV.    I'm pretty much stuck at home today unless I want to venture out on foot, which seems unlikely.   :)     After the Thanksgiving meals have been served at the restaurant and all the whole turkey dinners have been picked up by the take-home crowd, the Hospitality staff will have its own gathering to enjoy a meal and the company of friends later this evening.   

Rich and I were laughing about reading my diary from 9th or 10th grade, in which I gave thanks for the Beatles and mini skirts, among other girly delights.   Mini skirts are off my list but I am still thankful for the Beatles.   :)   Thanks to Rich and the girls and sons in law and sweetest grandkids ever,  family and friends who make me laugh and support me from afar.   I love you mucho.   Life is grand and every day is a new adventure, even if it involves snow and sleet and broken down cars.   What more could we want?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winter Vacation

They say the weather in Unalaska is harsh.
They say we live in the "cradle of the storms." That we may not live at the very end of the world, but you can see it from here.
We have appropriated a lot of pithy sayings and cliches to describe the ever-changing wild weather and we toss them around to our friends and family down south and to the island's newcomers whenever we can:
"If you don't like the weather now, wait a few minutes and see what happens."
"It was raining (or snowing) sideways."
"In any other part of the country, the storms we have would be given names (as in hurricanes)."
We say such things as grumbling complaints, but they barely conceal a blustery pride that says "That's right. It ain't easy, but I'm tough and I can take it. What kind of wimpy, everyday existence have you got going?"
It's all true, of course, and I would be the last to deny any of it.
But don't tell that to the ducks. They don't believe it for a minute.
Starting in October, they begin to arrive in the Aleutians and Unalaska, coming from faraway places like Point Barrow, Alaska, unmapped Siberian marshes, North Slope bird towns, and nameless ice floes in the Arctic Sea. They include harlequins, cormorants, emperor geese, thick-billed murres, goldeneye ducks, common eiders and black oystercatchers, among others.
When Makenzie Bay freezes over, and the Yukon is getting seriously cold, it's time to fly away and find a more friendly place. Like Dutch Harbor.
Our ice-free, fish-laden, deep-water bays are just the ticket for the ducks and migrating birds from way up north who think we live in a paradise on earth. They have never found any reason to search any further for a pleasant place to winter.
So the next time you're about to speak about the hellish weather, think about the ducks.
They're in heaven.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Drive In Movie, Unalaska Style

With no movie theater in town, we have to be creative!   Our community engagement group, Alaska Kids are Our Kids (AKAOK) holds an annual event in which families work together to build a car from cardboard boxes or whatever else they choose, then haul their car to the elementary school gym for a "drive in movie."    The kids lounge in their cars while they enjoy a movie and good old  concession food like hot dogs, popcorn, and candy.   It's a great time for all and the cars get more elaborate each year!  Check out the Flintstones car, which took "best of show."  Amazing!    

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The cats don't seem a bit bothered by the weather.   There's a seal in the water, just a blur in the close-up photo of Ajax on the porch rail.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflecting on my Father on Veterans Day

We were an Air Force family, with no real home to call our own,  doing our best to create a new home and find new friends everywhere we went.   I loved many things about being a military kid, especially the travel,  the exposure to different cultures and the chance to meet so many people who would influence my choices.   At the same time, military life felt restrictive with its rules and regulations, and it became harder with each move as I got older and once again had to leave my friends behind.   

My father joined up as a 17 year old and spent most of the rest of his life in the service until he was forced into medical retirement when cancer took over his lungs.   As a young man from South Jersey,  he spent time on the Aleutian Island of Adak, not far from where I now live.  He had the opportunity to live in France with his bride, a small town Jersey girl who took a ship across the sea to join her new husband in another country. What an adventure it must have been for both of them!   From France to New Jersey to Louisiana to Georgia to Germany, back to NJ and finishing up in Texas, they piled an increasingly larger brood of kids, pets and belongings into a VW bus with the road visible through the floorboard or a station wagon with no air conditioning, cloth diapers drying out the passenger window, as they motored around the countryside or moved on to the next assignment.   My brother recently wrote a blog about his family's road trip, which reminded me so much of Dad yelling, "Who's driving, you or me?" when any of us would beg him to stop for directions as we circled some unknown city trying to find our destination.   

Dad started out as a cook, later cross-trained to be a crew chief on B52's and then a flight engineer on C130's and C141's.   He never had to go to war but spent some time on "secret" missions that I still don't know anything about.    He was a drinker and a cusser and an authoritarian who had a hard time expressing his emotions (except when drinking and cussing). He wasn't really a lot of fun for a girl to have for a father, though I remember receiving a few affectionate letters and some "paint by number" art that he finished when he was TDY,  playing card games at home, traveling around Europe, attending family reunions in NJ,   sitting at the bar and having a coke while he drank beer and played shuffleboard with his buddies.   

My dad and I had a complicated relationship at best.  I feared him when I was young and I was often angry with him when I was a teenager.  We disagreed about many issues and I am sure he wondered how in the world he ended up with a daughter like me.  He swore I would get him kicked out of the military with my "subversive" peace literature coming to the house on base during the Vietnam War.  I was disrespectful and "talked back" when I was supposed to listen. I hung out with unsavory characters.   Bless his heart, he probably wondered what happened to that good little girl who got A's in Catholic school in Georgia and took Sister Mary Clare's name for Confirmation because she was her favorite nun.  My father died at age 42 (wow, how young that sounds to me now) when I was not quite 19.  Though we had made our peace, we never had the luxury of becoming better acquainted as we both aged.  I wonder sometimes what we would talk about now, if we would be able to sit together and have an easy conversation, visit each other's homes, share stories with a laugh about those difficult growing-up years.  What kind of grandfather (and great-grandfather) would he have been?  

These days, I look at my father's  life and realize he was doing the best he could under the circumstances he encountered, from  his own difficult childhood to a society changing in ways he did not relish.   He gave us lots of opportunities to experience parts of the world that we would never have seen--how many kids get to explore castles in Germany, camp in the Black Forest, find a grandmother's ancestral village,  sleep in youth hostels,  slide down ramps in the salt mines of Austria and wander through a miniature village in Holland, visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and ride horses in Texas?   My Air Force childhood helped me to be open minded, curious, accepting, self reliant, and adventurous.  It gave me the gifts of  lifelong friends, an interest in the larger world,  an appreciation of cultures other than my own, and a sense of social justice.  It led me to be a social worker.   It influenced me to strive for a more nonviolent world, where war is not our first choice and we can figure out better ways to solve our problems.    

My father and I would most assuredly  disagree about the tasks the military has taken on lately, but that's not where I want to focus tonight.   Thanks, Dad, and Happy Veterans Day.   

Be the Change

No school here on Monday and Tuesday while the teachers have marathon parent conferences.  I don't know if that is an Alaska thing or just peculiar to Unalaska but the kids love having two days off.   Not sure how the teachers feel about two days of non-stop parent conferences.   :)  Last year, the Health teacher spearheaded the formation of a group called Natural Helpers, brought in some trainers, and enlisted the assistance of community folks.  The students are learning to help their peers with issues and problems in their lives, with adults serving as backup and mentors.   We were going to have a weekend retreat similar to last year's, but with everyone's schedules and overlapping activities, it was not feeling too workable.  Instead, we decided to have training on these two non-school days.  Honestly, I was not sure how many kids would want to give up their days off for training but we were pleasantly surprised to have 17 adolescents spend part of Monday and Tuesday with Darcel, Donna and me.

During the activities and discussion, the kids demonstrated their self awareness and their ability to feel empathy for others, while still grappling with their own difficulties in dealing with rumors and gossip and having friends with different attitudes and values than their own. We had some lively problem solving about whether it's better to confront someone who's gossiping or simply walk away and not participate.   We decided there are many ways to respond and sometimes it depends on the person and the situation....learning to be flexible and assess the circumstance at hand.   Donna told a story about a man who had lived in his home town for a long time when a new man moved in, beginning a torrent of taunts and criticism toward the first man at every opportunity.  Every time he was insulted, the first man would simply say, "no thanks."     I could see the kids light up with the recognition that there are some "gifts" we just don't have to accept;  if we can say "no thanks" to things we don't want or like, we can say "no thanks" to insults and rumors about ourselves and others.   

Someone brought up the movie "Pay it Forward," which led to a discussion about making a difference, which led to the Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  The students moved excitedly from individual change to systemic change, "What if we could create a gossip free/rumor free school?"   "What would that look like?"  "What can we do to make it a reality?"    It was so much fun to see them thinking about the big picture and not just about the pettiness of individual insults.   "What if we create an environment where the younger kids coming up will know what our values are?"    

We finished up our collages, which visually represented who we are and what we value. We then moved into practicing and role playing actual situations and the helping skills the students could use with their peers.    What a great group of kids!  I am very proud of them and know that they are making a difference in our school and our community.