Jun 212016

Summer adventure #1 is underway.

For several years now, I’ve made rose-hip syrup in the fall when the hips are ripe and soft. I use the syrup on peanut butter-slathered waffles. Rose hips do not taste like roses smell; they have a flavor unto themselves.

Last year, my friend, Beck, gave me a bottle of pretty pink rose-petal syrup. The sweet, delicate appearance alone made me want to love it: Smooth, translucent pink . . . it looks delicious and refreshing, even dainty and romantic.

Everything's Comin' Up Rose Petals

I’d never had rose-petal syrup before. It did, indeed, taste like roses smell; it’s a whisper of a flavor. I stretched my portion as far as it would go, sweetening green tea with it, drizzling it over waffles, on granola, and more.

For years, my favorite tea has been Stash’s Jasmine Blossom Green Tea. (Heads up: affiliate link) I adore the subtle flower flavor.

This year, I am on a mission to make my own rose-petal syrup . . . and tea . . . and water . . . and boy does this English rose cake look and sound good, as do all the rose-petal recipes here.

Petal collecting has two rules: 1 – roses must be pesticide-free; 2 – scent = flavor, so fragrant roses only, please.

Wild Prickly Roses (Rosa acicularis)

Wild Prickly Roses (Rosa acicularis)

Here at my largely uncultivated, edge-of-wilderness Alaska home, that means wild prickly roses (Rosa acicularis). A good many grow in our tundra yard, and more grow along the road. Since I also want rose hips come fall, and since I’m averse to killing beautiful growing things, I take 2 or 3 of the 5 petals from a blossom, and leave the rest to attract pollinators and add (albeit lopsided) color to the landscape. Unless, of course, I’m harvesting whole buds to dry, which I have also done. “Harvest” sounds so much better than “kill” or “take for my own pleasure or purposes.”

Wild Prickly Rose Petals

Four ounces of wild prickly rose petals.

The first time I came home with a bucket of soft, fragrant petals, I followed one website’s instructions for rose-petal syrup and muddled them with sugar, leaving them in the fridge overnight before boiling with water and more sugar to make syrup.

Rose petals for tea.

Rose petals for tea.

I saved a small handful of petals from that first batch to make a cup of rose-petal tea. Again, I looked up recipes on the Internet, and was pretty confident when I poured hot water over my lovely pink petals: Very quickly I would see the color leach out of the petals and tint my water. One source advised me to remove the petals as soon as the color transferred; others suggested I could leave the petals in without any bitter repercussions.

Rose-petal tea fail.

Rose-petal tea fail.

Soaked petals from rose-petal tea.

Soaked petals from rose-petal tea.

None of them led to me believe I’d wind up with tasteless warm green water.

But I did. Go figure. I still drank it.

The following day, the syrup I made from my muddled petals turned out to be green-brown and not so tasty. Not at all like Beck’s syrup last year or the syrups pictured on the blogs I was reading.


On one hand, bummer; I was looking forward to delicate, flower-flavored yumminess. On the other hand, interesting! Here was a murky mystery I could embrace with my garden-calloused hands.

I picked another bucket of petals. I tried a different rose-petal syrup recipe: This one soaked the petals in water overnight, then boiled with sugar the following day. Mind you, I didn’t blame the previous recipe. I just like trying different things. The petals-muddled-in-sugar recipe was the one Beck had used successfully last year, so I don’t doubt it’s a good one.

No, I was pretty sure my soft well water was to blame, so this time I used some ancient bottled water stashed in my garage.

Again, I pulled out a handful of petals to have another go at rose-petal tea. To my surprise, the water was still greenish—it’s pink in the pictures on other blogs—but it tasted like roses smell. Partial success!

Rose Petals in the Dehydrator

Rose petals laid out for dehydrating.

Dried Rose Petals For Tea and Syrup

Dried rose petals for tea, syrup, water, mental health, etc.

I also put a few handfuls in the dehydrator, having read some syrup and tea recipes that utilize dried petals and buds.

Rose petal syrup made with bottled water

Rose petal syrup made with bottled water.

The bottled water in which I was soaking the petals for syrup remained clear even though the petals became translucent. When I made syrup with the soaked petals the following day, the result was, indeed, pink. And rosy tasting. Again, success!

Beck was out last weekend, and we enjoyed another petal pick. Yeah, roses are abundant here. She muddled hers to take home, and I had another go with my well water, this time aiming for rose water.

Allowing the petals to soak in room-temperature well water: Success. The water is clear and tastes rosy.

Boiling water and petals in well water: Fail. The water is green and doesn’t taste rosy. That batch is now fortifying the raspberries.

So the well water is only a problem when it’s heated.

Rose Petal Syrup, Girdwood Edition

Rose Petal Syrup, Girdwood Edition.

Beck went home and made syrup. Maybe it’s the lighting, or maybe her syrup really is that much darker than mine. It’s hard to say. Yet. I’m going to find out: Beck left me several gallons of water from her tap, and I have a batch of muddled petals waiting in the fridge.

All right biochemist friends (Sharon and Amy, I’m looking at you), what’s the deal with my water and rose petals? Maybe the sulphur is reacting with some rose compound when heated. Maybe the soft water is pulling out something other than the pink color, like chlorophyll. Should I be concerned?

Feb 102016

Andrea Gabriel, Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs Illustrator

Meet Andrea Gabriel.

Today is the official launch day of Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs. To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to the book’s illustrator, Andrea Gabriel.

How did it come about that you were asked to illustrate this book? How did you connect with Arbordale?

Because I love science, I naturally loved Arbordale books (back when they were Sylvan Dell—they had a name change), and often sent them samples in hopes of being asked to illustrate one of their books. Little Gray’s Great Migration was my first book with them, followed by Wandering Woolly and now Been There.

What made you want to illustrate this book, and what was your favorite part?

My father was a wildlife biologist who spent a lot of time showing me animal signs in the woods. In fact, I spent one summer helping him track collared deer with radio collars. So I already had an interest in animal signs. I love drawing wildlife!

Was there anything particularly hard about the project?

Drawing people is not easy for me. I definitely am more comfortable drawing animals! Luckily my neighbor, Lulu, and her best friend, Mason, were willing to pose for me, which helped greatly.


Been There Cover Sketch, by Andrea Gabriel

Cover sketch, by Andrea Gabriel


If you had to illustrate this book all over again, and you weren’t allowed to paint, what would you do instead?

Hmmm . . . I always wanted to do a book with cut paper illustrations. So maybe I’d try that.


Otter and Bear, cut paper art, by Andrea Gabriel

Otter and Bear, cut paper art. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Of the animals in the book, which is your favorite and why?

I really liked the snowshoe hares. It is a challenge to paint white animals on a white background.

I love the hares, too!


Snowshoe hares eating willow bark, by Andrea Gabriel

How the snowshoe hare sign came to be. ~ Andrea Gabriel


Have you had any cool animal or animal-sign sightings? Tell us.

Oh yes. Once, when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and my hiking buddy was miles ahead, I saw prints of a mama and young cougar. That woke me up! I also love to see how all the squirrels chew down the pine cones before they are ripe, and sometimes the bears get to them before the squirrels can. I love to see snake tracks in the sand.

If you were to do a follow-up book with kids hiking in a different place, where would you have them go and/or what animals would you have them looking for?

I would love to see a book with kids hiking in the Sonoran desert. So much to see!

Name a picture book you wish you had illustrated.

Animalia. Yes, I definitely wish I had made that book.

I have that one on my bookshelf. Yep, that’s a good one!

If you could paint with only one color for the next three years, what would it be?

Burnt Sienna


Inspecting Hare Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Inspecting hare sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


You have to paint something but you can’t get any paint on your hands, and you can’t use a brush. What do you do?

I would use sponges.

Pretend your next picture book project is about a yummy dessert with a problem. What is the dessert, and what is its problem?

I guess it would have to be a chocolate mousse. Well . . . can you imagine how amazing it would be to catch a chocolate mousse? I imagine he has a problem with strangers who want to lick his fur.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you be?

I would like to be an ornithologist at Cornell.

You’re going to be locked inside a closed factory for a weekend. What kind of factory do you choose and why?

Hmmm. I think I would like to be in a factory where they make virtual reality games and equipment. I would like to play all weekend without anyone noticing how silly I look or how bad I am at games!


A piece of your art will be displayed anywhere in the world you choose. What piece of art will you show and where?

What would be fantastic is if Oprah Winfrey decided to buy one of my otter paintings for millions and millions of dollars donated to wildlife preservation, and then displayed it in her house.


Discovering Beaver Sign, by Andrea Gabriel

Discovering beaver sign. ~ Andrea Gabriel


The celebrity of your choice will read our book on the TV show of your choice—and we will both become rich, famous, beautiful, brilliant, and fit. Who is the celebrity and what is the show?

I would like Helen Mirren to read our book on Masterpiece!

Oooooo, I’d like that, too!

You know, I’m pretty sure both Oprah and Helen read this blog, so you’ll probably be getting phone calls soon.


Books by Andrea Gabriel

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

Little Gray's Great Migration, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Little Gray’s Great Migration

Wandering Woolly, By Andrea Gabriel

Wandering Woolly

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Would I Be in an Evergreen Tree?

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Where Do I Sleep? A Pacific Northwest Lullaby

Animalia, by Graeme Base

Animalia, by Graeme Base (NOT by Andrea)


Feb 042016

Once Upon an Elephant, by Linda Stanek, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

Linda and Shennen’s book, not mine.

Listen. Do you hear it? That’s the sound of fingers no longer drumming.

Linda received the first batch of her new picture book, Once Upon an Elephant, about six months ago (or maybe it was two or three weeks ago). And then Linda’s co-creator, illustrator Shennen Bersani, received hers, as evidenced on Facebook, and my co-creator, illustrator Andrea Gabriel, received hers.

Me? Nada.

Every day, I walked to the mailbox, with pen in pocket, ready to sign the little slip of paper our rural carrier would leave notifying us that we had a package too big for the mailbox. I was sure the book box would be too big for even our super-sized mailbox. That’s an almost-two mile round trip . . . through the snow . . . sometimes through bitter wind, too . . . down and up our steep driveway.

Every day, there was no slip, no box.



Linda reported the first review of her book.


You know that scene where Charlie Brown opens his mailbox, hoping for a Christmas card but finding an empty, echo-y cavern? That was the scene here.


Until a few days ago.


Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

Now, this one is mine. Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs, by Jen Funk Weber, illustrated by Andrea Gabriel


We were so used to the routine of finding an empty mailbox, we were caught off guard, gobsmacked by a giant box rather than a tiny sliver of paper. It juuuuuuust fit inside our jumbo mail receptacle. That our mail carrier knew it would fit is impressive.

Trouble was, we weren’t exactly prepared for a box, especially a heavy box too big for my backpack. Mike tried to cram the box in my pack, but no way was the zipper zipping, and the strap was too short to snug around the box and keep it in. Had I been expecting a box, I would have brought rope.

Oh, sure, we could have left the box there and returned with the truck, but where’s the fun in that? No, Mike carried the book box to the snow mound behind the mailboxes and used a key from his pocket to open it. He then rearranged the four sets of paper-wrapped books in my pack, along with the Arbordale catalogs and other sundry marketing materials.

Mike carried the empty cardboard box home. I carried 32 pounds of books and catalogs. Did I mention that the almost-mile trip home is uphill? And that our driveway is particularly steep?

Should I mention that it was also kinda fun? I felt as though I’d earned something.

Best of all: They’re here!


Snowshoe Hares in Been There, Done That: Reading Animal Signs

I’m especially fond of this illustration by Andrea Gabriel.


Buy the book
(Head’s up! It’s available in both hardcover and soft. Make sure you get the one you want.)

Fireside Books | Amazon | Powell’s

Please note: These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I might earn a small commission. Fireside Books is my local Indie bookstore, located in Palmer, AK. They ship.

Oct 162015

The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A with 50 fact-filled maps!

Written by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
Wide Eyed Editions (Oct. 1, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1847807113
Ages: 7-10
Grades: 2-5
Pages: 112 Hardcover

The 50 States is what I call a “busy book,” like those by Richard Scarry, Graeme Base, and Stephen Biesty. It’s jam-packed with tidbits of info and illustrations. It will take hours of perusing to just see it all, and a bit longer to process the info and think through all the connections a kid is sure to make.

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The facts assembled in the book focus on state symbols (state flower, postal code, etc.), geography (maps, du-uh!), history (timelines), and people (one-sentence bios). There are also some cool natural history tidbits in the mix.

Here’s a smattering of what the book has to say about Alaska:

CHANGUNAK ANTISARLOOK ANDREWUK: “SINROCK MARY,” 1870–1948, The Inupiat “Queen of Reindeer” turned a small herd of reindeer into the largest in the state, becoming one of Alaska’s richest women.

LEONHARD SEPPALA, 1877–1967, Norwegian-born Seppala’s ability to breed, train, and mush sled dogs made him an unbeatable dogsled racer.

AUGUST 19, 1923: Iñupiat Inuit Ada Blackjack is the sole survivor of a tragic Arctic expedition.

JULY 19, 1961: The first World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is held in Fairbanks; it now includes a muktuk (whale blubber) eating contest!

MARCH 24, 1989: After an oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker, 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats, and 100 airplanes and helicopters begin the cleanup.

THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE is home to all three species of North American bear: polar, black, and grizzly.

WHALE WATERS: Humpback whales travel 3,100 miles during their annual migration to Mexico.

YUKON RIVER: This nearly 2,000-mile- long river is the third longest in the U.S.

The 50 States, Alaska Close-up

Close-up of Alaska spread

Information was provided by the publisher; no product or monetary compensation was received. However, purchasing products through these links may provide a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

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Oct 102015

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

You know, she worked both puzzles and got both answers correct.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

That means she got two entries. Twice as many as you, if you only solved one puzzle.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Oh, yes, she’s a she. All you hes can stop reading now. You didn’t win.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

And remember, the prize is a collection of my puzzle books to be mailed when I am back in USPS range.

And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Gee, I wonder where I’m sending them!


And the winner of our Alaska Book Week puzzle contest is . . .

Karen Bacigalupo


Thanks for playing, Everyone! I hope you enjoyed Alaska Book Week and maybe discovered some new authors and books.

The holidays are coming. Books make excellent gifts! Wait . . . have I said that before?

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Oct 102015

Stay tuned for the winner of the Alaska Book Week puzzle contest. While you wait, let’s have one last flash interview.

Barbara Lavallee

Meet Barbara Lavallee

Name: Barbara Lavallee

Location: Anchorage

Home on the Web: http://www.barbaralavallee.com/

You’re making a float based on one of your books for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. What do you do? I would do something based on Mama Do You Love Me, since it is the most widely known of all my books.

The main character for your next book is a dessert. Yes, the yummy after-dinner thing. What dessert is it? Baked Alaska


I’m working on a new book written by Dawn Weyiouanna called Winter Moon at Noon.

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

This Place is Cold, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is Cold

This Place is Wet, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is Wet

This Place is High, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is High

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Lavallee

Mama, Do You Love Me?

All You Need for a Snowman, Barbara Lavallee

All You Need for a Snowman

All You Need for a Beach, by Barbara Lavallee

All You Need for a Beach

Groucho's Eyebrows, by Barbara Lavallee

Groucho’s Eyebrows

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful, by Barbara Lavallee

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful

The Best of Barbara, by Barbara Lavallee

The Best of Barbara

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