Monday, December 31, 2007

The darkest day, celebration, and reflection.

It's been a little while. We were hunkered down in the basement, illuminated by the faint glow of 1 candle. A stray thread of light to focus our emotions on as we entered the darkest week in Alaska. It was all we could do to find sanity. December 21st, the darkest day came and went and at slightly less than 5 hours of daylight at the darkest hour.....we have prevailed. It is only uphill from here, adding 6 minutes of daylight each day. Now, as a result we are moving to South Africa this summer to enjoy a more steady flow of daylight, warmth, and a new adventure! HUH!!!!! And there were those who thought we would fold.... I have to admit, it was weird, yet humbling. I mean, you learn a new respect for the natives who have braved the difference of life here many centuries before us. You learn to adapt in ways you never had to before. Mind you, today doesn't really seem anymore light out than the 21st, the shortest, darkest day....the winter solstice. It is actually quite a celebrated day amongst most Alaskans. Even more special because it's Johns birthday! It is a day and night that many parties for friends, family, the community, whoever wants to attend takes place. At homes, churches, all over. We were invited and attended a party for the winter solstice with a group of spiritually minded healers, hippies, and native tribes people. It was a very enlightening night of drumming, singing native Indian songs, and sharing stories all in front of a bonfire in single digit temperatures. Oh, and lots of really good food! It is a belief that this day represents the elimination of all that burdens you and the welcoming of those things you want to bring new into the coming year of light. There is a story that this tradition of gathering began when native tribes people felt that the gods were angry with something they had done. This is the only reason they could figure for the days becoming darker and shorter. Basically....they pissed off the sun. So a celebration of life began in hopes of bringing happiness to a saddened sun with the hope that the days would once again be long and bright. Makes sense! ;) I tried the naked snow dance and it worked!! John spent the night at one of the community churches here in Nikiski with some of his friends for a 'lock-in'. Funny, in California it would be construed as a 'lock-down'..... Not nearly the same. Simply put, the youth attending were basically there for the night for games, dancing food and fun and not allowed to leave til morning.

After the last post we were intrigued by a development here in the house. One morning Maryann woke up and the temps were down to -20 below 0. She went into her studio and about choked when she found little ice sculptors scattered throughout the walls and corners of the ceiling. Apparently as we were to discover there is a name for these phenomena. 'Ice cactus'. This is a common thing for many homes, and most especially log homes. When the temps drop that low, any air gaps be it a door seal, a pinhole gap between logs, a draft from a window, anything that emits cold air from the outside will freeze and extend it's frozen rigidity into the interior as what resembles an ice cactus. People readily take action, as we did, to utilize these ice markers in order to seal up air gaps. I heard a story of one woman who found ice cactus around her door and used her mail to stuff into the door gap to stop the air. Others use such things as duct tape, newspaper balled up. We simply used a tube of silicone caulking and insulating spray foam. In fact we all 3 spent a long night in Maryann's studio fondling the walls to find air flow, caulking, foaming and doing all we could to better insulate it. In the end, we did pretty good. It is difficult with the log siding as so much as a fracture or split in a log can cause a draft. Plan is to really work on sealing between the logs from the outside this summer. Another thing that was neglected here by the previous owner....jackass! Sorry. All in all the rest of the house fared well. Still never figured out what that horrific noise was that night out back. There is speculation that it was moose....many moose around the lake that cold night, communicating to eachother. I don't buy that. It was a supernatural occurrence of great magnitude! I just know it.

Hopefully everyone had a safe and Merry Christmas.....Merry Christmas! And that this will find everyone with a Happy New Year. Again, many Alaskans will celebrate tonight bringing in the New Year with friends, family and community. Fireworks are a tradition here, and many folks go up to Anchorage and Talkeetna to buy displays to shoot off at home come midnight. Not the little ground sparklers either. These are those big mortar balls that launch 150 feet into the air letting off those huge showers of colored displays. I am sure there will as well be those who prefer old fashioned oxygen and settling in large balloons..... ;) We will be home tonight keeping it to family. John may have a couple friends over, and of course the party animal dogs of ours. Maryann and John worked diligently all day making homemade pizza, hor d eavors, cookies, and other good stuff for the night. I think we will be pulling out the game of Monopoly. I am somewhat hopping to make it til midnight really. The past week brought much snow, many long hours of snow plowing all hours of the day, and very little sleep. I will do my best. Toothpicks. Pryed between the eyes! So here to a new beginning. There are many friends and family who have taken some hits this year. Many who have lost someone or know somebody who lost a loved one. We actually received sad news last night of someone well known in our old community in Arnold who passed from cancer the other night. Last we saw her was last fall at another friends' wife's funeral. She looked fine and we were shocked to know different. Our prayers go out to Ron and her family. But despite all of those bad situations, those sad situations, we should look a little deeper and see the good that came out of the past year. It seems too often a focus on the bad of each exiting year. Good or bad we wish everyone enlightenment, peace, health and togetherness in 2008. Don't look back at 2007, but foreword to your dreams and hopes. Gone with your fears. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Life as a real Ice Capades performer.

Remember the Ice Capades? Before the days of Disney on ice, and all of those dress-up character ice shows. I always wanted to go to the Ice Capades when I was young. I remember seeing the commercials when they would come to Los Angeles, and ask my parents if they would take my sister and I. Much like the G.I. Joe action figure I asked for Christmas after never happened! Little did I know that later down the line, the Ice Capades would become a regular event in my life of which I would, unwillingly....or unwittingly depending on how you want to look at it, become a performing part of. Let me recap some of the recent highlights of my world of ice.

Did you know that when traveling down a highway at say 45 MPH on a cold day, that an aluminum ladder, discharged out the back of a pick-up truck, will in fact become a speeding projectile when it hits the icy road? It was almost like a flowing choreograph out of "Riverdance" the way it flew out and began a horizontal swirl on the pavement. The fashion in which it stabilized its forward momentum, and almost quite literally gained speed and then gracefully swooned to the shoulder as the two stages of the ladder began to separate.....pirouetting separately into a double sow-cow as they slide off the icy embankment to take a bow. Seem unbelievable? Well, as I caught a glimpse of something flying out the back of my truck, I looked in the rear- view and witnessed the uncanny spectacle first hand, and as you may complete disbelief! I still haven't figured out how it got out of the strap that was holding it down. I am guessing that at that speed, the latching mechanism may have just froze to the point of 'give', and 'gave'! Fortunately, nobody was hurt during this ballet on ice, and in fact the ladder did survive with only a scrap on it's rubber footing.

One of the centers that I do maintenance on has a section in the rear where shop owners and such sometimes leave their vehicles parked overnight.....or at times longer. What is amazing to me is the genius who leaves their vehicle parked for the weekend, in a large puddle of water. What is even more amazing to me is when that weekend the temperatures drop drastically, and that puddle of water becomes a block of embedded ice. With anything that was parked in it before hand becoming an affixed semi-permanent figure in that ice..... for a couple weeks. Think about it, if a toe truck ties a cable to it to try and pull it, a piece of the vehicle may come apart. On the other hand, if you try to use a propane flame-thrower, you may well melt the tires. As the ground has become progressively frozen to the point of 3 inches of solid ice on every surface that once was not, these predicaments seem to become more and more common. Do ya think!?

Speaking of 3 inches of frozen ice on the ground. We are a little fortunate here at the compound, as the ice is only an inch thick on our once thriving lawn. It is however closer to 3 inches or better on the drive and is so slick that it's glossy appearance would remind one of a subtle mirrored pond winding down the length of the drive. I know better though. Therefore I avoid the thick 3 inch ice of the drive, and often find myself taking the shortcut across the more manageable terrain of the frigid lawn. To my dismay. The other day as I gingerly traversed the rise of the grade past the corner of the garage on my way to the truck, but my feet felt a yearning desire to mimic those of no other than Mr. Bojangles. In one felt swoop I found myself doing a vertical slide which erupted into a glorious horizontal rise, attempting to defy all laws of gravity, as I felt my body leave mother Earth just long enough to mutter the words, "oh fu...., I began a rapid descent back to Earth. Fortunately I landed not on my back, but on my ass. Unfortunately, I have no ass, thus no 'bouncing effect' transpired and the sheer blunt trauma of the ensuing "thud" left me without breath and utterly dumbfounded....staring at the sky. Down at ice level, the trembling thought that was going through my rattled mind was that Maryann had already left for work, and if John decided to go to town after school, I may die of hypothermia on my ice laden lawn. Good news to this story was that after a few moments of lying there on the ice field, my unpadded ass became so cold that I could no longer bear it and the will to stick it in front of the glaring wood stove drove me to force my aching body back to it's original vertical homo-erectous position, and I waddled half-gimp idly back to the house. Oye!

With Maryann still working the time she gets home and settles it is well into midnight. Thus, I often find myself staying up and bedding down just past midnight. In the case of last night, Maryann was off so we went and did our weekly grocery run into Soldotna at Freds. Coming home later that night, I noticed the distinct white glow forming in the crystal clear night sky to the North. It appeared almost as like the 'bat signal' peering star ward in a straight column. Sure enough it begun to turn a greenish hue. The Northern Lights. Now, after arriving home I found myself continuously going out and looking at the night sky, waiting for the Aurora to emanate, but to no avail. So that night around 11:45, Maryann and I start to go to bed. I walk into the bathroom, and through the window I notice that white hue again, spread out across the sky. I alert Maraynn, and the two of us begin a dash to grab coats and slip-ons. I however was the only one to gallantly make it out the door. At -3 below 0, I guess Maryann figured she would wake John and watch through the warmth of his bedroom window with him. Now it would seem a normal thing to any onlooker, Greg runs out the door and starts to see it emanate across the sky, and as he looks upward in complete awe, staggers across the frozen grass to get the 'ideal' viewing spot. Unlike the front grass near the garage, the back lawn is less traveled therefore capped with traction bearing snow. No chance of slippage here. All of a sudden out of the dead silence I here this loud noise somewhere in front of me which literally made my hair stand on edge, and turned my legs into wilted noodles. I had never in my life heard this sound and as a hundred questions of curiosity, fear, and the urge to dis spell flooded over me, somewhere in that jumbled mess I thought, oh crap. A moose. You see, unlike the warmer months, moose tend to be a little more temperamental and unpredictable in the frigid cold. In the summer they are warm, and there is plenty of food. In the winter, they are cold, miserable and hungry since their food is encased in snow and ice. This makes those 'Marlin Perkins' like photo shots I was able to take up close, impossible as they will just assume charge and mame. Back to my thought....oh crap, a moose. I did a complete 180, and high tailed it back to the back door, I am sure leaving a trail. Meantime Maryann and John are watching out his window, wondering why dad seems to be backpedaling to the door like he just saw a ghost. Now, scared, yeah I was. But the instinctual curiosity which runs in the Phillips veins, compelled me stop and delve deeper into what had just happened. While doing so, I noticed that I was hearing no hooves trampling ice....nothing. I am befuddled. I stood there for a minute listening intently. Then out of the silence, again this blood curdling loud sound bellows across the lake, echoing in the cold night air. Now, just before this run outside to see the lights, we were watching the "X-Files" on tv. Talk about feeling the hee-bee friggin gee-bees. I darted into the house, all erried out. Somehow I persuaded Maryann to come out and listen to this horrid sound. I was telling her it almost reminded me of a loud electrical impulsing noise. Again, I have never in my life heard anything like it, but am quickly realizing that this is no animal. No, this is huge like some geophysical oddity, or a space craft about to come up out of the woods across the lake. no, this is huge, man. So Maryann comes out and soon enough she hears it around the corner of the house and says it is the hot tub. But the hot tub doesn't cycle on and off in les than 2 seconds, and echo across the lake. And, it stays in one place...on our deck. Not shifting from place to place in front of and around us. And so she gets a good one. This one is loud and I watch her eyes get big and her knees somewhat buckle as she says, "what the hell was that?!" Now, we are both about to lose to bottom end. We both freaked and immediately darted back into the safety of our confines. And so it was, just like the X-Files, "the truth is out there...." But we are oblivious much like Mulder as to what that truth is.

We have some guesses as to what kind of strange phenomena may have transpired. We are sure it was the lake. How an inanimatable body like a lake could make such an inhuman blood-curdling bellow like that, is quite beyond me. I never knew a lake could fart! We suspect it has something to do with the ice. I am sure it is very thick now, and given the gonnos, one could easily walk out onto it. Possibly the water table is slowly rising, causing the edges to pop? Or maybe expansion of the ice? But no joke, this sound is unlike what you would expect from expanding ice. I mean, this sound like it is occurring below the ice into the depths of the water. But the reverberating bellow it makes, seriously almost sounds like a huge electrical pulse. Weird doings here. So I am sure at some point we will find out the source of this mystery sound. But in the mean time, it sure was fun getting the crap scarred out of us in the midnight ice!

And so is life in the Ice Capades. Thanks mom and dad. Thanks for never taking me to the Ice Capades when I was young. You must of known in that instinctual heart that all parents have, that someday, I would be the friggin Ice Capades! Take care, and walk litely!!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Phillips Family

Well we're all at home today with different chores in mind, hanging the rest of the Christmas lights on the cabin and the garage, doing some painting in my studio (if it ever warms up) and maybe taking the dogs for a run on the beach. The last may not happen. It's generally colder on the beach because the bluffs act as a wind tunnel. This morning we just didn't get up in time before the winds kicked up to go down to the beach. We've been finding with the sun not making it's appearance until 10:30am it's harder to get out of bed. That and with my work schedule I'm still not getting home until midnight. This will change soon.
So, I'm sure you've seen the picture I've posted this afternoon of us on the swing. We did this today because so many people, mostly family, have been complaining that they want to start seeing pictures of us. Here we are.... We braved a -4 wind chill to take this picture for you. We actually took several but would have to race into the house to get warm in order to get a variety and choose the best to post. And yes, that is Greg with Cherokees Christmas Antlers on. Too cute. There will be more to come.
The tree is now up and lit, a gorgeous sight of 11 feet, no joke. It is beautiful, I will post that one next. Christmas shopping was easier than ever, the stores were not crowded and with only a few stores to choose from it has made the holidays much more special. We need to do some last minute things for the dogs and we're done. Yaah!
Other than that I have to say thanks to Yvette for commenting on her special tradition on my last blog. Yvette, you had me crying....what a wonderful way of celebrating in giving yourselves to people who don't get to see too much, if any of their own family. Wow, thanks for writing. I also wanted to say sorry for your loss. We're thinking of you all.
John received an Honorable Mention Award for his sketch on the previous blog and also given forms for a special scholarship through the art guild if he should want to pursue a career in art. Greg and I are very proud of him and his achievements. And I do agree with Yvettes last comment that TJ is proudly looking down upon John for his achievement also.
We will continue to post our pics of not only ourselves but of our holidays and wish you again a Merry Christmas. The Phillips' Family.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Traditions and The Other Artist

As a family that hasn't ever been away from family and friends during the holidays we're gathering our thoughts and ideas on how we can make these holidays memorable. Yes, we've had thoughts of building an ice cave on our property and serving Christmas dinner in it but I'm thinking that may be a little uncomfortable, although the dogs would sure enjoy it. Maybe constructing a zipline from our house above down across the lake for added, too dangerous. If you come up with anything let us know. But for now this is what we've done; Greg and John put up bright blue and white xmas lights on the cabin. Hopefully when I feel comfortable to walk across the surface of the lake I will get a picture of it. It is truly magical. With the sunlight diminishing and the Christmas lights on, I just can't explain how beautiful it is.

This past Monday John and I were shopping in Fred Meyer (local dept/grocery store in Soldotna) when we came across a Christmas tree with tiny tags of local needy children expressing what they would like to have for Christmas. John pulled a 5 yr old little girl who wanted an Island Princess Barbie and a new pair of shoes. He had such a great time, choosing her Barbie and a pink pair of Converse (Johns favorite shoe). I saw a tear in his eye when we payed for the items and left them for Salvation Army to pick up. John expressed to me how great he felt doing that for another person and wished that he could have at least enclosed a card. He did a wonderful thing and he's going to be on the lookout this spring for a 5 yr old with bright pink Converse. :0) So as of yet, this is what we have done to make our holidays special because it has been different. I will keep you posted as to the other minor details like the zip line and igloo.....don't hold your breath.

I'm saving the best for last here. John recently had an assignment in his art class, which consisted of sketching a picture of what he felt was Patriotism. This is his sketch which is hanging in the Kenai Peninsula Fine Arts gallery (the same place my experimental project was in) it is truly unique. The bottom right side says, "Silence of War Where Some Wounds Remain Unseen." The twin towers sit in the upper right corner above the soldiers head. There's about 30 drawings and they've been judged by the Womens Auxiliary and we're just waiting to see what the outcome is. I think John won when he sketched and entered this piece, it is truly dramatic and breathtaking to see.

We hope your all having a magical holiday season and know you are always being thought of by us. Please take a moment this year and do something (even if it is small) for someone in need.

The Phillips Family in Alaska.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A photo fest

Good morning....or good noon to those who had sunrise at a relatively early hour of the day! We are into 5 hours and 52 minutes of daylight today, and it is dropping by 6 minutes a day until the darkest day, December 21st. Then the daylight starts to increase again. The temps this week have been....well, by most Alaskan standards "unseasonably mild". Now to someone who moved to Alaska to savor the cold and snow, this flat sucks! However, we did have a tasty shot of winter last week, as the temps hovered in the 9-15 degree range with wind chills dropping to -22 below 0. Now let me tell you something about wind chill....if I might. They say that when a 'wind chill' kicks in, it only means that "it feels like" -22. I feel compelled to say that there really isn't much difference between 'feels like' and 'is'! It was just plain cold, man. Maryann and I braved it one morning and went out into the hot tub for a soak. My beard began freezing within a minute or so from the steam of the water, and both of our hair would ice up where it touched the water. It was great fun to...dip the each others hair freeze. Dip the head to melt the it freeze again. Very entertaining! What was even more entertaining was getting out and the trek between the tub and the house! Lets just say, things happen when the human body is wet in that kind of extreme. We have got some snow, not alot, but nonetheless the ground is staying permanently frozen now, and should remain that way until 'break-up' in spring. I hear 'break-up' is an eye opening experience.

Big news here this past week. We finally got DSL!!!!!!!! The eternal 'waiting list' finally drew our number in the lottery, and we are now in high speed heaven. Don't know what to do now that we don't have so much time to do household chores, cook meals and such while waiting for the computer to download! No, now it is strictly business as we have no time for these things anymore! ;) Those little teaser trials with DSL at the hotels on the trip up here last summer lit the way for a faster future, and I can't say I ever want to be a 'Slowski" again. Ever. I sure do miss those 'cookie bars' in those motels on the road!
Yesterday found me with some time on my hands as Maryann was at her watercolor club at the Fine Arts Center. So I spent time hanging in and around Kenai. I had the chance to see some pretty spectacular scenes this day as the weather was nice, and the day beautiful. I grasped the opportunity and decided to share some of Kenai.

This first photo looks out across the tidal flats. Beyond the tidal flats runs into the Kenai Wildlife Refuge and that spans for many miles to the Caribou Hills which you can see snow capped in the backround. The Caribou Hills serves as a very popular place for dog sled teams, snow machines, and some beautiful hiking and sights in the summer. Somewhere the other side of the range would be the town of Seward. Not much happens in Seward as it is small....small. Although it is a beautiful place to visit. Next, we find ourselves at the mouth of the Kenai river, where it flows into the Cook Inlet.

A spectacular thing about the Kenai, as well as several other rivers of the area, is that the water is a very sectacular and vivid teal color. Almost like out of a fairytale or something to that effect. This is because of the small particulate glacial matter that flows down from the higher glaciers. As a result, the water in the inlet sometimes will appear a little muddy, and this is from all of the sediment and silt that flows into it from the glacial rivers. If you look carefully in the lower left corner you can see a couple of people at the top of the snow on the beach.

These two were actually snow sledding on the beach as I was taking this picture, as seen in this next one. Clever! The other day I was out on the highway out north, and there was a woman jogging on the bike path that runs along the highway. She had her dog by the leash jogging behind her....and her dog had a sled by a tether pulling her child behind it..... People here definitely take advantage of recreational activities despite any odds! The actual town of Kenai sits just above the mouth here, and as you could imagine depending on the weather, and how the light is, there are some really beautiful sights from this bluff. It's kind of like a 360 degree serious display of eye candy!!

I found myself next down at beach level and got a great shot of the Caribou Hills. There was a couple off in the distance walking the beach, enjoying the mild beauty of the day. Believe me, it would be hard not to enjoy the beauty or a nice day on this beach. It is spectacular, and a very calming place to put ones' hemispheres back into phase. As you turn to the right of this photo you would be looking down towards the Gulf Of Alaska, and about an hour and a half drive would find yourself in Homer. Remember the 'spit'?! Now this was about 1:00PM and you can see behind the clouds that the sun is already on it's way back down.

The waves were really nice this day and were making that mellow "pounding sound" as they broke on shore. I can't say enough what a beautiful day it was to be on the beach.

In Alaska, no matter where you go you will find old buses. School buses, church buses, bus buses.... Everyone has buses! Alot of them are often used for storage. I mean, you will drive past someones property and see an old bus parked next to the house, trodden in weeds, full of...stuff. You can see it piled up in the windows sometimes to the roof. This is actually a great utilization of space, for storage. In the historical part of downtown Kenai, there is another old bus parked along side the road. This bus however is a special bus. If asked the fabbled question, "are you on or off the bus?", the wise answer for this bus would be '"on it, man!"

This is one of the best digs in the area. The Burger Bus. They turned this ol Bessie into a take out burger joint, and they serve the best burgers in Alaska. Just ask John! I was the first to eat at the Burger Bus, and when I told him they had the best burgers this side of the Yukon, he had to go see for himself. John is a devout Burger Bus boy now. He has his own Burger 'punch card' and is working away the punch outs for his free burger as we speak! Be it a regular burger with fries, a sweet grilled chicken burger....a halibut is killer.

I could not pass up the opportunity for those who can appreciate an efficient piece of equipment. These large plows are actually a common sight in and around Kenai and Soldotna.

As you can tell by the "stoic immensity" (a phrase of your delight, Mike) of this beast, some plow services here don't mess around with snow. Look to the right of the blade....that is 'little' ol me. Kind of an illustrational testimonial of the capacity of this plow. The Binford model of snow removal equipment!

And so as the sun soon would start to set, Maryann and I found a delicious lunch across this parking lot at The Acapulco Mexican restaurant, one of the best for Mexican food in the area and afterwards headed back home. Home. I love the sound of that word. If you would have told me that this would be 'home' a year ago, I would have thought, "wow, that would be nice, huh". No longer do we have to 'think' that, because this is home now. True, we do miss many aspects of what 'home' was, in fact I still find myself in conversation making reference to "back home" at times. But to anyone who wondered, worried, or wished the best, I can honestly say to you that we are home now, and are discovering a subtle comfort and happiness that we only dreamed of before. Come visit, and I promise you, you will quickly see why! John, Maryann and I went out and bought some Christmas lights today at Fred's and John and I came home this afternoon and strung them around the house... in the dark. It looks so nice, and I can honestly say as I stood back tonight admiring them, it definitely solidified in my heart that this is our home now. Take care, and our love to all.