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No Place Like Home-r

After weeks of suffering from daily-grind-itis, it was high time for us to get out of town for the weekend.  Since the weather has been turning spring-ish, John hooked up our little trailer, loaded our fishing gear, and we took off Friday after work on the 5 hour drive to Homer, the artsy-hippie-fishing town on the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Driving

The drive to Homer goes by fairly quickly.  In all, it’s amazingly scenic, and there is plenty of wildlife to look out for.  We spotted a half dozen moose on the way down, but no bears, even though they should be waking up from their winter nap.

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Arriving in Homer is a great finale to a nice drive.  When the little fishing village first comes into sight, you are high up on the bluff above Kachemak Bay, with the town laid out below.  The long stretch of the Homer Spit, a long, beachy peninsula, shoots into sight across the bay.

 

Staying

We spent Friday and Saturday night parked at the Driftwood Inn.  They provided both RV parking and hotel rooms.  Other amenities included bathrooms, showers, a laundry room, a small playground, and a fish cleaning counter.  The best part was the location: high on a bluff with a stellar view of the confluence of Kachemak Bay and the Cook Inlet.  A few short trails led down the bluff to the beach.

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Fishing

Over the last week, John picked up a couple of shore-casting rods so we could fish from the beach.  I still have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to fishing, so I just let him choose my gear for me.  After breakfast on Saturday, we drove down the Homer Spit.   It’s lined with cutesy little gift shops and charter fishing businesses.  We parked at the very end, I fed the baby and put him down for a nap in the trailer, and we set out to try our luck with our new set-ups.

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The morning was chilly.  The thermometer on the truck said it was in the forties, but the breeze created a significant windchill.  My hands went numb almost instantly.  I let John get set up and test the waters, literally, and played with Si on the beach.  The view from the spit made the cold tolerable.  The beach was a mix of sand and millions of perfectly round, flat rocks; a stone-skippers dream.  Out across the water, the other side of the bay was a panorama of jagged, snow-capped mountains.

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After awhile, John seemed to have the new fishing method figured out, so I gave it a try.  Shore-casting rods are heavy and in the range of nine-feet long, and casting requires flicking the rod to send the rig flying hundreds of feet off the shore.  The problem is that flicking is a light and quick movement, and the rods are…not.  John didn’t have too much of problem reconciling that issue, but my casts were a bit less than impressive.  It didn’t take long for John to start reeling in Alaska Walleye, a kind of pollock, with long spotted bodies, big, round eyes, and similarly shaped mouths.  I tossed out my pathetic cast, felt a light tug, and pulled in…a little purple starfish.  A few casts later, and I felt like I was getting the hang of it.  I felt a bit harder resistance on my line, and reeled in a bit bigger of a starfish.

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We stayed on the spit for two or three hours.  Our final tally was seven Walleye for John, and three starfish and two lost rigs for me.  I am completely clueless about what qualities make a person good at fishing, but I don’t have them.  However, to be fair, John was fully focused on fishing for those several hours, while I part-time fished, and part-time kids-line-untangled, rock-hunted, baby-carried, photo-took, snack-delivered, water-out-of-boots-dumped and lost-hook-searched.

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Eating

We usually pack our cooler to the brim for camping; eggs, bacon, sausage, steaks, chicken, fruits and veggies, it all comes.  For this weekend though, we suspected all that planning would go to waste since we’d heard so many good things about all of the options for eating out in Homer.  We kept the cooler empty for fish.

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On the drive down Friday night, we stopped at St. Elias Brewing Co. in Soldotna.  We had been there before, last summer after fishing on the Kenai River, and knew we wouldn’t leave disappointed.  I knew full well this weekend would be a huge gluten-bomb to the system, so I just rolled with it and ordered pizza.  John had Pesto Chicken, Si had Pepperoni, and I had Chicken with Pineapple.  I think we all liked John’s the best.  We also filled up our Hydroflask growler that I bought John for Christmas with their Dos Lobos amber ale before getting back on the road.

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Our next four meals were all within walking distance of the Driftwood Inn.  Saturday morning we ate at Maura’s Cafe.  It was amazing.  Si had Blueberry Crepes, crepes stuffed with farmer’s cheese and topped with a generous serving of blueberries with a chicken and apple sausage on the side.  I ordered the Root Veggie Hash, which was a pile of potatoes, yams, and arugula topped with fried eggs and the same chicken sausage.  John asked for the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict, and it really gave my own recipe a run for the money.  The salmon was cold smoked, and the sauce was topped with capers.  My recipe has definitely been suffering from a caper-deficiency.  Their poached eggs were truly a thing of beauty, and I vowed find out what their secret was.

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For lunch, we went to the Two Sister’s Bakery.  I usually just say no to bakeries to avoid the temptation, but everyone I’d talked to about Homer had mentioned it, and I’d already fallen off the gluten-free wagon.  John had a turkey sandwich on foccacia stuffed with almost every kind of veggie – kale, zucchini, roasted red peppers, grilled onions.  I had Hungarian Mushroom Soup with a salad, and I ordered Si some veggie soup that came with two giant hunks of bread.  He only the ate the bread, of course, so I had vegetable soup along with my soup and salad.  Si likes to talk a big talk about our nutritional lifestyle, “Oh, I can’t eat that.  We only eat protein.”  But put him in a sugar/gluten/dairy situation and he’ll destroy it like nobody’s business.

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Dinner that night was AJ’s Steakhouse.  I saw a poster advertising the live music from the previous Saturday night, and, as it turned out, we were a week late to see Nikos Kilcher, Jewel’s brother, play.  Instead, our dinner was accompanied by a woman with a beautiful voice, a guitar, and jeans and Sorels; true Alaskan style.  We thought about steaks, but decided there was something sacrilegious about having beef in the “Halibut Capital of the World”.  So, I had the halibut.  It was a bit overcooked, but had decent flavor.  John ordered scallops, and had no complaints.  Ever since the scallops I made him a few months ago, he’s been a fan.  I usually let Si get whatever he wants when we go out to prevent any foods from acquiring a forbidden allure, but was still disappointed when he ordered PB&J.  I mean, seriously, kid?!

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Sunday morning, we went back to Maura’s Cafe.  I had been expecting them to be closed for Easter Sunday, so it was a pleasant surprise.  This time, we both had omelets.  John’s had shaved ham and brie, and mine had shrimp, rice noodles, and sweet and spicy Thai sauce.  Both were excellent.  Si had just scrambled eggs and the good ol’ chicken sausage, since he had just eyed my eggs over his blueberry crepes the breakfast before.  All breakfasts were delicious once again.  I remembered to ask about the poached eggs.  Apparently, a bit of vinegar in the water helps keep the egg together.  Who knew?  Well, probably everyone, but it was news to me.

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Overall, it was a fabulous weekend.  A new destination, a check off the Alaska list, some much needed R&R, and a whole set of plans for future return trips.  There’s no place like Homer!

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2014 Checklist and New Year’s Day in Photos

We may be living in the last frontier, but we are still far removed from frontier living.  In lieu of resolutions for the new year, I instead made a checklist of things I’d like to accomplish in 2014, all centered around sustainable, local living:

1. Grow a garden – Last spring, John did some strategic Craigslisting, and traded a jackhammer he no longer needed for piles of redwood 2×12’s, which we made into planter boxes.  We lined the bottoms with gopher wire, filled them with dirt, and fertilized with worm castings.  I collected packets of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Spring just finished melting off the last of winter and…we decided to move to Alaska, so we had to scrap the whole project.  I’m looking forward to sweet redemption this year.

2. Shoot something and eat it – I grew up around hunting, but still have managed to know almost nothing about it.  Tags? Licenses? Permits?  I don’t even know where to start.  I’ve fired a 9mm and a .45 in a shooting range, and an M-16 with blanks, but that was about 10 years ago.  Despite the obstacles of ignorance and inexperience, I’m sure it can be done.  I should probably start making some local friends.

Once I navigate the legalities and subtleties of the hunting part, I’ll be thrilled to get on to the eating part.  I picked up a copy of “Cooking Alaskan” at a thrift store, and have perused such timeless recipes such as “Baked Seal Hindquarter”, “Moose Tongue Stew”, and “Ptarmigan and Dumplings”.  The only question now is which magical meat will end up in my pan?

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3. Catch more fish – This at least I have a start on, having caught my first Sockeye salmon last July.  I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of Alaskan fishing with those outings, however.  There is still charter fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing among other fishing venues that I continue to know next to nothing about.  Again, friends in the know would be quite a boon.

4. Can – This should easy if my garden is remotely successful.  Anything that can be done in the kitchen is well within my comfort zone.  I tried to make blackberry jam once, and it completely bombed, but I came up quite short of the recipe’s called for amount of blackberries.  I’ll call that one a fluke.

5. Make soap – I bought a book on soapmaking in high school, undoubtably linked to the timing of Fight Club coming out on VHS.  I’ve dragged the book with me everywhere.  It’s time to make that dream a reality.

6. Go berry picking – For this kind of expedition to be fruitful (terrible pun intended), I not only need to make friends, but make friends that really like me.  The locations of berry picking spots in Alaska aren’t something that can be Googled.  They seem to be filed less in the category of ‘public information” and more so in ‘highly classified’.

To add some check marks to my list, I’ll need to put in some concentrated effort on planning, learning, and networking. It’s a good thing I gave myself the whole year.  Meanwhile, here is a photo recap of our New Year’s Day.

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John and Silas enjoyed some more downhill action…

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while Skye and I explored 4 miles of trails.  Here is what we saw:Image

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We’re Legit!

John has already been in Alaska for more than six months, and I’ve been here for almost five.  I feel we have finally reached a few milestones that elevate us in status to a point slightly over “tourist”, perhaps even above “extended transient”.

1. We now have a kid with an Alaska birth certificate.

Certainly, the most exciting development is the small addition to our nuclear family.  Skye was born November 5th via flawless home water-birth.   Born in the same fashion as his big brother, Skye’s birth certificate is also pretty unique, citing a city of birth that has no L & D department. I was hoping this birth would go as well as my first, and it did, with the only surprises being a) the lightning-fast 3 hour labor and b) Skye’s robust weight of 9 lbs. 3 oz.

By now, nearly four weeks later, I feel almost 100% physically recovered, with the exception of a complete inability to run.  I discovered this temporary disability on the treadmill at the gym on Monday, but I was at least able to row myself into a sweaty frenzy as an alternative.  But enough about me…here’s Skye!

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Skye is now one of the few people I know in Alaska who was actually born here.  Meeting someone new usually involves an exchange of names, other relevant information pertaining to the conversation, and a mention of where each person lived originally.  I have yet to hear someone say, “Oh, I moved to Anchorage from Fairbanks five years ago.”  It’s usually, “Georgia”, “Minnesota”, “Colorado”, etc. I think that explains why all Alaskans love Alaska; everyone is here by choice. I hope Skye, and Silas, of course, will love Alaska as much as John and I do already.

2. The DMV knows we’re here.

For the past several months, I’ve felt increasingly self-conscious about the “California” plates on my car.  In my paranoid imagination, they drew nothing but scornful, eye-rolling looks from fellow commuters every day.  I even had a coworker take notice and advise me about driving in the snow, to which I had to reply, “I’m not from THAT part of California”, (though I have lived there).

Thankfully, that episode is over.  In the days John stayed home with me after Skye was born, he generously braved the DMV for me and picked up my new Alaska plates.  About a week later, I was able to face the DMV myself to trade in my California license for an Alaska one.

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3. We’ve had a holiday that involved a moose tragedy.

Halloween was a whole new game this year.  I didn’t expect the non-stop stream of trick-or-treaters, and ran out of candy.  A neighbor estimated she had 70 kids stop by, which may serve as evidence of how most couples pass time in the dark winter months.   I wasn’t surprised by the moose patronizing the neighbors’ yard, as I had been notified that they are particularly fond of munching on jack-o-lanterns.

What did surprise me was the over-zealous neighbor who took it upon himself to defend the throng of local children from our placid ungulate visitor.  Moose are not amused by human challengers, and humans with loaded handguns are not amused by moose who stand up for themselves.  The standoff ended with the moose in an injured heap, waiting for law enforcement to arrive, finish the job, and end his misery.

I couldn’t help thinking that the whole episode added up to an unnecessary waste with respect to the moose, as well as precautionary overkill with respect to carrying a loaded firearm to go trick-or-treating, but chalked it up to my California-style sensibilities.  In relating the story to others, however, I found my reaction was pretty universally shared, and I was being neither too soft nor too liberal.

4. Our family holiday photo shoot took place in 15 degrees.

My only additional comments are 1) They look amazing, and 2) At least it was above zero.

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5. This plug:

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An indicator that you are observing a vehicle that is not parked in a heated garage and has an owner who would prefer the engine not freeze to a point that keeps them stranded at home all winter.