Jun 062014

Much of the snow melted later in the day on June 2nd, and the following day it was gone, except where it collects below the roofline. I shoveled snow into my water-collection buckets; I’d been hoping for water. We’re back to sunny days in the 60s.

Green hillside

The hill out back.

Bent and broken willows leaned on power lines and blocked roads and driveways. The aspens dropped small branches here and there, but otherwise weathered the storm well. The only remaining snow is in the mountains.

Aspens, mountains, and snow.

Healthy aspens and the last of the June 2nd snow in the mountains.

The annuals on the deck, which I would expect to be sensitive, are a bit on the scraggly side, but are green and growing strong. Truth be told, scraggly seems to be the norm. I planted annuals for the first time last year. Between the wind and my refusal to pamper, groom, or force the plants to be anything but what they want to be, well, wild and scraggly it is. They don’t complain about living in old laundry soap buckets and the like, and I don’t complain if they want to be leggy or droopy.

Annuals on the deck

The annuals continue to live and grow.

The local wildflowers in the Million Dollar Bed, show the effects of the heavy wet snow, but seem to shrug it off and carry on. The yellow arnica stalks that were flattened will simply bloom lying down. The young punk flowers (that have no idea how good they have it) can stand up. Same for the lupines and Jacob’s ladders.

Arnica, lying down and standing up

Whether lying down or standing up, the arnica continues to bloom.

And cheers to the kale bed that I thought was a goner: I replaced just two plants in this bed, a collard and a bok choi. At this point, the leftover seedlings inside look much better than these survivors, but I’m sticking with the survivors. I’ll plant what I can of the leftovers in unfenced overflow beds where they may become moose food, and we’ll eat the rest.

I look forward to seeing this bed in a month.

Kale and other seedlings

The kale bed (with kale, cabbage, collards, mustard greens, bok choi, fennel, leeks, and cauliflower), on June 5th.

Snow? What snow? In June? Don’t be ridiculous.

Jun 032014

I had plans for today, really I did, and they did not include watching snow fall then watching snow melt. Snow hasn’t been on the agenda since April. But sometimes plans don’t work out.

The day began a little after 5 a.m. I woke to soft “whump” noises and the metallic clanking of the fuel oil line. These are familiar sounds.

I was instantly alert: Bump or Spike—the young bull moose hanging about lately—was probably munching on the fireweed just out the back door. It’s a great moosey snack spot.

I sat up in bed and saw nothing but white outside the loft window. Yesterday, everything outside that window was green.

Snow on the hillside.

The hill out back.

My heart sank. Snow—and no mere dusting. Whump! That was snow sliding off the house roof onto the shed roof. Clank! That was snow falling from a willow onto the fuel line.

At another time of year—say, anytime from October through March—my heart might leap with joy at the beauty of it. But not today. Just a few days ago, I planted out the seedlings I’d been growing in my house for the past 4–6 weeks. I’d just moved the pots and buckets with annuals out to the deck. Was this snow in the weather forecast? Should I have known? Beats me. I rarely look at weather forecasts. It’s been 50–60+ degrees all through May. I felt late getting things outside because I waited as long as I did. June 1 is the standard for-sure-safe-to-plant-now date. That was yesterday.

Snow on deck and flowers pots.

I moved the buckets and containers with annuals outside only a few days ago.

It snowed for the next four or five hours, sometimes lightly, sometimes with giant, wet blobs. Despite the weather, I heard one of the neighbor robins singing. A pair nests here year after year, rearing their young in our strawberry/raspberry patch, where they eat berries and insects and peck at the soaker hose to open larger holes and get more water. This year’s nest is under the deck.

Robin perched in a snowy aspen.

And still the robin sings.

Green leaves drooped and looked glassy. Willows bent—more than a few broke—under the weight of the wet snow.

Willows bent under the weight of snow.

Not weeping willows, but perhaps willows weeping.

I was distracted all day, wondering how the seedlings in the garden were faring—especially the zucs, squash, and pumpkins in the (not so) warm beds, and marveling at the drama and spectacle of it all. It really is a wonder that plants and animals survive the sometimes extreme conditions here: A fire is burning up the Kenai Peninsula; a volcano is erupting on the Alaska Peninsula, and we’ve got snow on June 2nd, after an unusually warm month, during which plants flowered early. (I’ll take the snow over the fire and volcano, thankyouverymuch.)

Several days ago, I walked through the tundra noting the gazillion tiny blueberry flowers and the white buds of Labrador tea ready to burst open. Now what? Will we have blueberries this year? I wanted to go out and see if the blueberry flowers had all been knocked off the plants or frozen, but there was still too much snow to know.

By midday, the snow stopped falling. That’s when I stopped watching it fall and began to watch it melt. Gradually, the pots of annuals on the deck became exposed. The plants were flattened, but still vibrant green, not dead. Not nipped as they get in the fall when it frosts. They looked better than the leaves on the willows and aspens.

Annuals under snow.

Annuals flattened, but not dead. I don’t think.

Several times, I ventured out to the garden and yard to see what I could see. I had forgotten that yesterday, after working in the strawberries, I noted how cold it was and put plastic down over the plants in the warm beds. Hooray! I wish I’d remembered that at 5:30 this morning.

Plastic on a raised garden bed

Not the right plastic, not well placed–but it’s there!

It seems to have done some good! Oh, plants are flattened, and not everything survived, but some plants did.

Tiny surviving zuccini plant

It lives!

On the other hand, the broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, bok choi, etc. don’t look so good. Given the rebounding I’ve watched today, I won’t write them off entirely just yet, but they weren’t protected, and things don’t look good in that bed. On the bright side of this, however, is the fact that I have a good many spares, warm, snug, and growing strong here in the house. As usual, I never thinned the starts, and when it came time to plant out, I carefully separated the partners that shared a container, and I have a bunch of leftovers.

The native wildflowers that I’ve been cultivating for several years were, like everything else, flattened, but they’re not dead, and every time I check, they’ve perked up a bit more. Just Friday, I explained to my mother that this is the first year this flower bed really looked nice. Figures, eh?

Lupines and other wildflower recover from heavy snow.

Many of the blooms are still there, and some of the arnica stalks are starting to stand up. Go, flowers!

And perhaps best of all, when I was finally able to survey the damage to the blueberries on the tundra, I discovered this:

Tiny pink blueberry flowers.

Hooray! Blueberry flowers survived!

I had a hard time getting a picture of the blueberry flowers: The sun was shining, and the snow was melting fast. Tiny branches sprang up as snow fell away, and the pictures had blurry streaks.

How’s that for bouncing back?

May 112014
Leaves popping out on aspen trees

Taken May 11, 2014

The aspens popped yesterday. One day’s growth is pretty spectacular. For the next three months, nature and the season are on fast forward.

First flower of the year.

The first flower of 2014.

I’ve begun walking through the aspen grove in search of fairy slippers. They’re usually the first flowers I see. This one, however, has been out for days. I suppose it has an advantage being in a somewhat cultivated bed.


And so it begins.

I planted some of these in mid-April, some every week since. I need to do some thinning, but, as usual, the idea makes me sad. Sophie’s Jen’s choice.

The main garden beds are turned, copious amounts of bloodmeal added. My hands are blistered, and my body feels as though it’s earned its dinner, which is from last year’s garden.

Mike set shrimp pots two days ago. Let the planting and harvesting begin!

May 012014

Here’s my little “Yopp!” for the #weneeddiversebooks campaign going on this weekend. Thanks to Grace Lin and Cheryl Klein for showing me where and how to direct my yopp—and for helping to provide the diverse books I love to read.

Children's books with divers characters and authors

It took me under a minute to grab a handful of diverse books off my shelf.

I want diverse books to be published because they appeal to my sense of adventure. I love to travel and do new things, and books enable me to do way-yonder more adventuring than I can do in my own life. I adore books that take me to new places, expose me to new activities, and show me different points of view.

That’s what diverse books do for kids, too, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s vital to developing empathy for others, a necessity in our complex, diverse, ever-shrinking world.

Mar 092014

Looky what I got in the mail!

Return To Me and What Now books by Justina Chen

Score! Justina recently started a Facebook author page, and I was an early follower. When she held a contest giving away a couple of her books, guess who was right there? Lucky me!

I e-met Justina through the Readergirlz. She’s one of the divas. I became a fan after reading North of Beautiful. I liked it so much, it was one of the books I gave away during Operation Teen Book Drop one year.

Books dropped during Operation TBD

At the time, I indicated I would write a review of the book, but, alas, it seems I never did. Know this, though: I’ve given away a number of copies. How’s that for a recommendation? There’s something important in that book, something teen girls need to read and think about.

I haven’t started Return to Me yet. I’m saving it for summer because it’s a real book (as opposed to those fake digital ones), and I can read it outside without fighting glare from the e-reader.

I read What Now: Survival Guide for the Blindsided and Brokenhearted as soon as it arrived. It’s intended for women facing a broken marriage, but, honestly, it has something to offer anyone who’s ever been blindsided or brokenhearted, whether that occurs in a relationship or in work or in life. If I were to describe this book in one word, that word would be “grace.”

If you’ve just been blindsided in your marriage and could use a survival guide—or know someone who has and could—send your (or her) address in an email to jen AT funkandweber DOT com, and I’ll send you this book. If no one claims it in the coming week, I’m going to send it to a friend who doesn’t strictly need it just now but who, like me, will get something from it. It’s a beautiful book that can help anyone turn “the dust of betrayal [or disappointment] into the stardust of a new life.”

Oh, and it’s signed, which makes it a little hard to give up, but it was a gift, and this gift needs to be shared.

It’s such a treat to win books. Thanks, Justina! If you’re not familiar with Justina or her books, I hope you’ll check them out.

Feb 232014

One of the Alaska traditions I adopted early on was that of keeping a sourdough pot. Practically speaking, being able to make sourdough pancakes, waffles, and bread is nice. It’s yummy, healthy stuff, easier to digest than commercial bread, with nutrients that are more readily absorbed.

I also tend to think of it as a sort of pet—I call it my “sourdough pet” instead of “sourdough pot”—a living thing that needs care and provides satisfaction and food in return. And a tough little critter it is: It can live on the counter or in the fridge, and it survives lengthy periods of neglect without complaint.

I don’t put any stock in claims of hundred-year-old sourdough. The way we continually add flour and water while using sponge means the contents turn over regularly. Hundred-year-old, shmundred-year-old. And as taste goes, I can’t tell a difference between one-month-old sourdough, one-year-old sourdough, and that which claims to be a hundred years old.

It’s been a while, but I started a sourdough pet recently. Today we had fresh homemade sourdough English muffins.

Homemade sourdough English muffins

Fresh off the griddle, homemade sourdough English muffins.

Hot off the griddle, we don’t toast them. We split them and top them will the usual toppings: butter, peanut butter, honey, jam, garlic butter, etc. They’re chewy on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Tomorrow, they’ll make great toast.

My favorite sourdough recipes and instructions come from Garden Way Publishing’s Bread Book : A Baker’s Almanac by Ellen Foscue Johnson. I have a first edition copy (the yellow one), which, of course, is no longer in print, though there are used copies available. If a recipe calls for additional commercial yeast, I’m likely to skip it, unless my pet is recovering from neglect.

The 1994 edition, The Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac has the same 1970s photos and the same great advice and recipes.

Reading the bread-baking basics in the front of this book greatly improved my results; I haven’t baked a brick since receiving it as a gift from my sister-in-law. Beating the first blending of flour, oil, salt, and yeast “at least 200 strokes” is, I think, the best tip I’ve ever gotten.

The recipes are outstanding—ethnically diverse and utilizing a variety of grains and other ingredients. In addition to the sourdough recipes, I love chappatis, North African coriander bread, lacy corn cakes, brown rice bread, wedding bread from Crete, and oh-so-many more. Last week I made rhubarb bread for the first time. Mmmm!