Archives for the month of: January, 2013

Moose at Cups 3 Moose at Cups Close

Saturday evening I had dinner down the hill and around the corner at Cafe Cups, which is arguably the best restaurant in downtown Homer. The food is edible art served generously, the people who work there act like they’re glad you came, and local seafood is always on the menu. The entire experience is as good as it gets anywhere, and it’s less than two minutes from my apartment.

Last night, weekend winding down, I dined in (as I do nearly every meal), and the special was organic microwaved popcorn delicately salted and served with a side of raw broccoli paired with a blob of low-fat blue cheese dressing. During dinner I enjoyed the pet section of Craig’s List Kenai backed by Craig’s List Anchorage playing their latest hits including Adorable Corn Snake,  Looking for Gentle Gila Monster, Hedgehog Stud Service, and Sweet 14 Year Old Pit Bull Newfie Mix Needs Love and Housebreaking.  No luck yet finding Small Well behaved Young Dog Neutered Loves People Dogs Cats Does Not Shed Does Not Require Constant Attention Rarely Barks Good Teeth Small Rehoming Fee.

Earlier in the afternoon I went down to Bishops Beach, which I now know is named for a couple who lived there in Homer’s early days. I had imagined the place name a connection to the historic landing of an Anglican church official who’d sailed in and out of days and nights to reach Homer from Bristol (England, not VA-TN).

My plan for the afternoon was to walk on the beach and take pictures. Right off I discover that the batteries are dead in the camera, but no matter: I have my geeky Blackberry. Then I see that the parking area is an ice-skating rink, and I haven’t worn cleats. I slide over to a grassy area, drink the travel mug of decaf coffee I brought along, and take some pictures . Then I toss my mug toward the car to pick it up when I make it back there. The mug skids past the car and the top pops off. On hands and knees, I crawl to the car, climb inside, and back up to retrieve the mug, but in the process, I drive over the lid.

On my way back up the hill, I spot a local gourmand sampling mountain ash berries outside Cafe Cups. She is standing on her back legs, pulling berries down, then kneeling on her front legs to eat them right off the sidewalk on a bed of gravel, sand, and slush.

Today, following up on a tip from a cheechako about to be inducted into the local ranks, I took a spin up to the big Baycrest garbage dump and recycling center to see eagles waiting for tasty meals. Apparently there’s a wait time here, because dozens were perched in tall, scraggly spruce trees.  I did see one couple who were waiting their turn at a seat in the bar.

Eagles 1

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

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I subscribe to I Want to be Her!, a fashion newsletter that comes via e-mail about once a week. [Note to grammarians: I Want to be She! just wouldn’t work.] Each issue features a young woman who’s been spotted on the street in a big city looking very cool. What these women wear looks reasonable and never over-the-top trendy, but the look is usually a bit youngish for me, even in my wildest moments, which I do still have from time to time. You can click on a link in the description of the outfit and go to an online boutique or big retailer to get the details, and so far not much has been within my budget.

Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen

Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen

None of this matters anyway, because I know who I want to be: Michelle Obama. Except for a few pants outfits, like the one she wore in a Middle Eastern country with matching head scarf, I want every single thing she’s worn since Barack got the nomination back in 2008. That is the style I want, along with her incredibly white teeth, her smooth brown skin, and, of course, her perfect arms.  I can’t wait to see what she wears to the inauguration festivities.

Being realistic, as I can be at times, I know good and well that I can’t look like the FLOTUS any more than I can look like Chloe, the makeup artist and barrista who wears a mink vest over leather hot pants, or Jaqueline, the au pair and aspiring pro golfer’s wife who wears a vintage Chanel jacket over red satin jeans. I am after all, a very fair white woman in her new forties, and I live in Alaska. So I am finding my own fashion role models here in the Last Frontier, and let me just tell you, the look is definitely not L. L. Bean.

The “in” look here, I’ll call it Frontier Chic, is a mix of most anything casual you would find style-savvy women wearing Outside-South during cool and cold months; that along with labels like Patagonia, Carhartt, Arc’teryx, North Face, Filson—and boots, which are required year-round and in a variety of materials for different types of weather. Rarely does anyone seem to wearing anything newly purchased, especially the boots, which after just one walk to your car look well-seasoned.

Driving home the other night after a swim and dinner with my grandson, Sam, I spotted the young woman who cuts my hair. She’s also a musician and sings and plays bass in a band. She was walking her dog and wearing Carhartt basic brown coveralls (here it’s the quilted-lining version) with a black and white scarf tucked in at the neck. She has long dark hair, and she wasn’t wearing a hat because it wasn’t horribly cold or windy.  At work she favors short black dresses or skirts and cowboy boots. Probably Ariat.

Friday night at the annual meeting of KBBI, Homer’s outstanding  public radio station, a new board member, an athletic 30-something woman, was wearing a short black ski skirt over leggings, a white turtleneck, black ski vest, and a yummy hot pink light wool scarf knotted at the neck. I’m guessing Sorel boots.

I was in The Fringe the other day. Tucked beneath an art gallery, this is a fantastic clothing consignment shop owned by a woman who has six children and who, in her spare time, designs and makes wearable art. She takes, say, an old cashmere pullover sweater, over-dyes it to create dreamy colors that mimic the sky and sea at various times of day and night. Then she remakes the neck, sometimes it’s asymmetrical, and then adds a geometric pattern of embroidery or maybe sequins. She’s usually wearing something she designed and made. That day, she was wearing black skinny leg jeans, a long pale gray sweater vest with I can’t remember what under that, and wool spats made, I’m pretty sure, from sweater sleeves over-dyed to create shades of purple and lavender. And black Frye harness boots.

Patagonia and Carharrt

Patagonia, Carharrt, Geek

So far, even though I’m a cheechako, the clothes I brought from Atlanta are working just fine. I haven’t had to buy much new stuff, and most days and nights I can pull off a pretty good Frontier Chic. Except when it comes to outdoor sports attire.  I haven’t got the hang of the clothes or the sports. Not yet.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

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I get a kick out of driving in ice and snow here in Homer. Just before I moved  from Atlanta, I bought a 2004 Subaru Outback–I’ve named him Silver–that someone had just  traded in for a new one at Continental Subaru in Anchorage. Matt and Sam flew up to handle the paperwork for me, then rode him back down the Sterling Highway to await my arrival.

About every other car in Homer is a Subaru and many of them are silver, so it’s not unusual to come out of a store and find Silver’s identical twin, or his fraternal Forester twin, parked in the next space or close enough to throw me for a loop. A time or two I’ve mistaken someone else’s car for mine, started to get into it, wondering who put a pair of muddy Carhartt coveralls in the passenger seat or how the heck a big dog got into the cargo space.

Silver came with a set of good studded tires, so in late September I took him over to Alyeska Tire to get those put on. With these tires and coaching from family and friends, I have plenty of confidence in riding Silver regardless of road conditions. We take things slow and steady, with no sudden braking or turning. Right now streets and roads are grooved with icy ruts, and he slips in and out of those. For less than a breath, I’m out of control; then those tires grab hold and we’re steady again. “You’re a good old boy,” I tell him. With about 132,000 Alaska miles on him, Silver is a little long in the tooth. But his windshield isn’t cracked yet, like about half the cars out here, and he’s sound mechanically. Come May, I’ll take him over to Star Wash for a bath.

In Atlanta I rode the streets and highways in Lil Red, a ’98 VW Cabrio that had only 21,000 miles on her when I bought her in 2005 from a meticulous dentist who kept her garaged and wanted to thin his herd of red cars to make room for more. Lil Red looked younger than her years, and I cared for her faithfully, though I couldn’t offer her the comfort of a garage. And did she ever serve me well. Every week day, Lil Red carried me to work through a stampede of SUVs, tractor trailers, tanker trucks, delivery vans, and every imaginable species of motor vehicle that could squeeze through the I-75/85 Downtown Connector canyon.

Lil Red could hold her own on ice and snow, too. One January when I was headed to Southwest Virginia to spend the Martin Luther King long weekend with my friends D.D. and Henry, Lil Red climbed right on up those steep grades at Sam’s Gap, outside Asheville, without a bit of hesitation. Another January day in Atlanta, when the streets were icy enough to cause school and business closings, she carried me up hills and down, around and past stumbling SUVs, to get to my sacred hair appointment. I told her, You go girl.

I rarely took down Lil Red’s convertible top because of all the traffic and exhaust fumes, but  a couple of hot afternoons, coming home from a day at work that had left me feeling like someone’s pack mule, I let down Lil Red’s top and we rode  home, barrel racing around the SUVs and tractor trailers, the BMWs and the Mercedes-Benzes. That’s when Lil Red’s 2-liter engine, her race horse heart, really kicked in.  Yeah, you go girl.

I did sometimes ask her to become a work horse. Top down, she hauled a few large plants and shrubs across town, and once an antique farm table that had to be loaded right-side up, legs wedged across the seats. Lil Red looked like she had a wooden top. We inched our way through Atlanta side streets to make it home. Stopped at a traffic light smack dab in the middle of town, I noticed a couple of Mexican men in a big-ass pickup truck in the lane next to me. They were looking down on me and Lil Red and laughing. Loco.

A couple of weeks before I moved to Homer, Lil Red went to live with D.D. and Henry at their home on the banks of the Holston River’s south fork. With their various dogs, horses, and goats, Lil Red’s living a life of sweet semi-retirement, no longer ridden hard in conditions that she wasn’t bred for. Instead, in warm weather, D.D. rides her into town for her regular tennis match and to do errands that don’t require heavy hauling. You go, girl.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

Scan of Contra article 1 - highlightsI stopped having my hair dyed when I was 45 because the process is time-consuming and expensive; even then, with a haircut, it cost about $100 a month. Then, within a few days, I needed a touch-up (which I never got), and it was obvious that I was no longer a brunette. What’s more, it was obvious I was trying to cover something up. Imagine Sisyphus with a bottle of hair dye.

So, with a great deal of confidence, I decided to stop that nonsense. A glamorous friend, my age,  had done the same thing and looked absolutely terrific. Furthermore, my husband was bald, and I figured if I loved his bald head, he would love mine in salt and pepper.

For a while, nothing much changed except that his head became gradually balder and mine went from salt and pepper to silver. Eventually, however, and probably inevitably, we did experience dramatic changes. Or I should say he did, in finding true love with a plump brunette dyed blonde. One day he and I were sharing a home, and the next we weren’t.

It’s true, of course, that one day I lived in Atlanta, and the next I lived in Homer, Alaska, but getting here took altogether about five years. And settling into this new home and lifestyle will take the rest of my life, which is a wonderfully exciting thought, because I have so much to learn.

For one thing, I had to figure out how to maintain regular vigorous exercise when temperature and road conditions aren’t conducive to running. So the immediate solution is the Bay Club, a smaller and locally owned version of L.A. Fitness, with a sweeping view of Kachemak Bay from the room with elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bicycles, and weight-training equipment.

Here I use the elliptical machines, take pilates and yoga classes, and three days a week participate in  Silver Waves, which is a water aerobics class. For a while, I resisted doing this because of the name of the class.  I have a strong aversion to groups and activities that are called something that is a reference to aging, in this case the hair color.

Just because I’m over that doesn’t mean I want to be reminded of it while I’m doing things in water that are difficult for a lot of people to do on dry land, regardless of age – like cheerleader kicks and suntan Superman. I still don’t know for sure what that is, and every time we do it I think about Christopher Reeve whose career and eventually his life were cut short by a horse riding accident.

I don’t let myself think about what the salt water and chlorine are doing to my skin. But I am just about euphoric when we do cross-country skiing, straight-leg marching, and helicoptering—all in water. And I love it when our instructor tells us to launching ourselves out of the water during high-legged jogging. Picture exuberant breaching whales.

The other day a silver-haired friend who was at the contra dance on New Year’s Eve told me that we were mentioned in an article about the dance in The Homer News. How can this be, I asked, because I’m a cheechako. No one knows me.

“We weren’t mentioned by name,” explained this long-timer, who knows the reporter. “We are the white-haired elders Michael mentions in the paragraph about range of ages at the dance. That had to be us, because we were the only people there with white hair.”

Me, a white-haired elder?  That was somebody else.  I have silver hair, and I’m a baby boomer.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

Kodiak shrimpYesterday afternoon, I saw the Life of Pi movie, even though I haven’t finished the book, which is something I intended to do last week. I read to page 51 and stopped, and that was four years ago when I started reading it out loud to a friend who had just undergone eye surgery and had to keep his head face-down for about three weeks. When someone so vigorous and active—and such a voracious reader—is incapacitated for a while, boredom is a threat. So began the reading of Life of Pi, and so, for the same reason, it ended.

The movie was not boring, and I’m still thinking about it this morning. Pi and the digital Richard Parker tiger are terrific. And Pi’s description of the freighter as a moving continent was especially meaningful since during the wee hours of yesterday morning the earth’s great undersea movements triggered a 7.5 magnitude earthquake near Craig, Alaska.

Moving continents, like the one that sank in the movie, are anchored now in Kachemak Bay with real, not digital, people on board, who pass through real storms. So instead of pondering the deep meaning of Pi’s story, I am pushing the scenes of storm and shipwreck out of my head.

Dinner after the movie was shrimp curry. Earlier in the week, on my way home from a Silver Waves water aerobics class at the Bay Club, I had purchased the shrimp at the seafood truck that is occasionally parked near the post office at the intersection with the big traffic light. The proprietor of the mobile seafood market told me, as he does every time, that my card statement would show a charge from Soldotna, not Kodiak, so I should not call the bank to dispute the charge. Every time he says that, I wonder, just for a second, where the seafood really comes from, which really doesn’t matter. I might ask next time, though, if I’m paying for the additional weight of shrimp eggs, because now, in regard to this one small thing, I am not such a cheechako.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

In 2007, I celebrated New Year’s Eve by scrubbing my kitchen floor, the idea being that I would give my attention completely to the task. Whenever my attention wandered to anything else, I would bring it back to the tile. And that year, anything else would have been my husband. In mid-October, he had told me that he wanted a divorce so that he could be free to find true love. After the initial shock of that, which sent me trembling uncontrollably into one of the chairs in our living room, I regrouped and followed through with my promise to drive Mother to Roswell for lunch with my sister. On the way, I felt Mother scrutinizing me. Advice was forthcoming, and it would have to do with my appearance.

“When we get to a certain age,” she said, “we need to make sure we check for hairs sticking out our nose.”  Eyes straight ahead – we were in the thick of traffic on 285—I said, “Thank you, Mother,” and drove on, making sure I was holding my shoulders in an erect posture, which is hard to do when you’re gripping the steering wheel. I think if she had reminded me about that then, I would have had to pull off the road (and check my nose).

In 2008, I celebrated New Year’s Eve with my wonderful neighbors, who continued drawing me into the couples’ supper group we had started several years before. Our hosts prepared an over-the-top roast beef dinner, and I brought a date – a smart, funny, kind man I had met in late summer.

In 2009, 2010, and 2011, I arrived back in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve afternoon, after spending Christmas in Homer. I think a couple of those years, I dragged my jet-lagged self to the neighbors’ for a few minutes, then came back home to unpack and crawl into bed. Nothing for dinner those nights.

CupsCafe_Dec31_2012_AHII celebrated New Year’s Eve 2012—night before last—among Homer longtimers. Dinner was perfectly seared ahi tuna at Cups Café, followed by lively contra dancing in a boat barn on Kachemak Drive. Ladies outnumbered the gents, and every now and then, as the caller moved us up and down the lines, one of the gents swinging me around was an eight-year-old schoolmate of my grandson.

Contra dancing is a good model for living. Cooperation, patience, and a sense of humor are essential. You interact not just with a partner, but with everyone else. You help each other learn. On this New Year’s Eve, I felt in place, at home, and not a bit cheechako.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick

CheechakoArt_Prologue_Dec31_2012For the past 25 years, I have been primarily a writer and editor, a so-called communications professional, and let me just tell you I have processed, one way or another, millions and millions of words. A lot of them originated in my head, but except for occasional handwritten notes, an annual Christmas letter, and increasingly more e-mails and Facebook posts, most of my work has served the purposes of an employer or client. For sure, that kind of work allows for considerable exercise of one’s creativity, and I have been incredibly lucky to earn a living doing what I love to do. But now I have some time to write with complete lack of purpose—only because I really want to do it.

For about a year, I have used Facebook to publish my personal writing, and that social medium has suited me just fine. You need to write short, and so I did — a lot — so much that I neglected the practice of longer and more reflective writing. And I used up all the content I might have included in my 2012 Christmas letter. I had already written practically everything I might have included in that.

Because of Facebook, nearly everyone who knows me already knows that I moved to Homer, Alaska, about seven months ago. But now I’m going to write longer about how I did that and why. And so, I hereby resolve, on this first day of January in the year 2013, to swear off Facebook for a year and publish instead a blog titled The Cheechako Diaries. Here, well into the new 40′s of my life,  I will write about being a newcomer, a cheechako.

Homer, AK
January 1, 2013

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick