IMG_1041In the stairwell this afternoon, I hung an old plywood advertising sign I purchased from the short-lived Homeric Traders. I had figured it would have to be suspended gallery style by wires attached to the window frame way above; thus my appeal on Facebook last night for an assistant with a tall ladder and upper body strength.

Early this morning, my son Matt (I forget that he’s on Facebook) sent a text saying he would be by within the hour to hang the sign. But, as sometimes happens, a simple do-it-yourself solution had come to mind during the night. The installation wasn’t nearly as complicated as I imagined for the two years this treasure leaned against a wall downstairs.

My idea was to run bolts through a couple of the numerous existing holes in the sign, secure the bolts with washers, then run picture frame wire across the back and hang the sign on the stud-secure hook that’s already in the wall. I love the painting that was there, but it’s too small for that space.

As I searched for bolts, I realized — mind you, this is after two years of delay — that I could use regular picture hanging gadgets, which I always have in the kitchen junk drawers, so I set to work and got the sign ready to hang in short order. Why did I work myself up into thinking this was such a big deal?

Not once did I put any of the screws in my mouth, heeding the warning in the picture hanging kit. I know they caution about this because, with screws in your mouth, you can’t say or shout the things people sometimes need to say when they’re deep into do-it-yourself projects. For me, saying “Crap!” every few minutes helps tremendously.

IMG_1047The sign isn’t terribly heavy; it’s just bulky — four feet square — so I was confident and proud to tell Matt I could do this all by myself. Carrying it up to the landing was easy. Lifting it and getting the wire over the hook wasn’t, so I built scaffolding with things close at hand: an old wooden bench salvaged from a garage sale in Seldovia and an old Pearl Oil box, which also came from Homeric Traders. I thought about how crows are clever about rigging up solutions and felt pretty pleased with myself.

IMG_1049Once I got the sign on top of all of that, it took some panting and three big pushes (I thought of the encouraging nuns on Call the Midwife) to get the wire over the hook. The sign is hanging too low, but I won’t change it today. This is good enough for now. It’s time for me to head down to Bishops Beach for a haircut at 2-2 Tango. I wonder what groovy music Angela will be playing this afternoon.

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HeartRockDark-1

Heart rock found on Bishops Beach, Homer, AK.

First day of the month, during Senior Aquacize class at the Bay Club, the instructor, Vision, announced that this is National Women’s Heart Month. She invited us students to participate in the celebration by wearing a tiny red enameled lapel pin shaped like a flirty little dress. A basket of pins, each attached to a sheet of “healthy heart tips,” was sitting on a plastic patio chair just inside the door to the pool.

Vision is laid back, steady. “This class is not enough,” she says. “You need to walk, too.” I listen to her because she doesn’t shout out non-stop instructions and encouragement, which in the confines of an indoor pool can be downright obnoxious. Vision never shouts.

I brought a pin home and read the healthy heart tips.  Believe me, I know about exercise, stress reduction, ideal numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, waist size, weight. I know all about that stuff, even as one day’s ideal isn’t good enough the next because a new research study has been published. Oh, God, yes, I know about all of that.

But, of course, February is National Women’s Heart Month. What woman isn’t thinking about her heart?  You can’t avoid it with Valentine candy, pastries, cards, and balloons heaped into Safeway right after Christmas. And there are bouquets and potted plants ornamented with plastic Valentine gewgaws. And, and . . . if you like chocolate and don’t care that it’s packaged or coated in red or pink, you can get good deals after the fourteenth.

In this month of the heart, I think about how much I love my children, my family, my friends, and all the ones that don’t fit into those categories, but that I still, always love.

And I’m thinking, “Put on your red dress, baby, Lord, we’re goin’ out tonight.”

Copyright 2016. Genie Hambrick.

OkraPickles005Twice in my life I’ve won something by chance.

In the late 70s, I scored a pepper grinder, a door prize at the Ethan Allen store in Bristol, Tennessee. That was back when I had an interior decorating business. The store was having a furniture fashion show, and one of my clients liked their stuff. I thought the prize was cheap given the cost of the furniture, and back then, where I lived in southwest Virginia, freshly ground pepper wasn’t a big deal. I still don’t know why it’s special for someone to bring the grinder to the table and put it on the salad. By the way, “score” is a word I see frequently in articles about decorating and design. People score, or scoop up, furniture and property. Seems kind of competitive and predatory. Like an eagle, or bear, scooping up a salmon.

About ten years later, I got lucky again when I won back the dollar I paid for a scratch-and-win card that I bought in Staunton, Virginia. I made that purchase at a convenience store adjoining the laundromat where I went when our dryer konked out. That was back when “our” meant the dryer belonged to another person as much as it belonged to me (I was married then). Not sovereign plural, which some political candidates use these days.

While I was Outside recently, I got into the Power Ball lottery. I thought most about what I would not do: Not tell anyone, at least not right away; not buy a bigger house; not get a face lift; not travel around the world; not stop waiting for J. Peterman to put stuff on sale.

What I would do was harder.  Of course, my children would get most of the prize, and a few non-profits here and in Virginia would get more than they could ever dream of. I would buy art anonymously, full price, from my sisters, and more from other artists whose work I covet, which I know is in violation of the tenth of the Big 10 Commandments.

Other than that, I can’t think of what to do with a lot of money. I have a hard time imagining bodacious goals and dreams. I feel lucky every time the plane lands. I feel lucky that after a 7.1 earthquake only a few pieces of art were askew in my sturdy Alaska house.  I feel lucky that I learned to type, that I grew up in an extraordinary small city in East Tennessee, that I have the children I do, which is not to say that yours aren’t wonderful.

And then today I found pickled okra, hot and mild, at Kachemak Wholesale. Stuffed with homemade pimiento cheese, there is nothing better. I am really, truly lucky.

Copyright 2016. Genie Hambrick

Cotton_field

My annual trip Outside this winter has taken me deep into the South–way down past where the Appalachian Mountains start, down where Spanish moss hangs from the leafy branches of big old live-oak trees and some folks still grow cotton. They wouldn’t know what to think about the way biscuits get toasted in Alaska.

Down here, cow pastures are still green this time of year. You see a lot of bony hound dogs, and some small towns look abandoned, especially when you get a far piece from the cities. You wonder how on earth anyone makes a living. I reckon you’d have to leave to find work if you wanted it, and you’d always be a little homesick. I didn’t grow up this far south, but I know you’d miss home.

Hounds

Copyright 2016. Genie Hambrick

Proxy 002At the moment, I am biking in Spain with my boyfriend. Recently I picked grapes in East Tennessee and hiked country roads in Ireland. I’m just back from Hawaii, Bali, Greece, and France. Next week, I head to Mexico to cure, for a season, a bad case of SADD.

I live this adventurous life vicariously as I sip coffee sent from Panama and eat steel-cut oats and stewed rhubarb with a silver teaspoon engraved with “Mcuh lvoe. XOXO”; and when I taste, for the first time ever, never-frozen King salmon, which I fished by proxy from Tutka Bay on Monday afternoon.

Benedict Hamlet Last Thursday I went to Anchorage to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet in a broadcast of a live performance at the Royal National Theatre in London. It was the real deal, the whole of Shakespeare’s Hamlet Prince of Denmark, showing one day, one show only, seven o’clock. I had to see him.

I flew up on Ravn Air, saved the in-flight peanut butter-chocolate chip cookie, and picked up a Budget rental car at the airport. With the driver’s seat stuck in LeBron James position, I maneuvered the cherry red Ford Focus down the narrow concrete spiral in the parking deck and straightaway drove to Downtown to see the Van Gogh Alive exhibit at the Anchorage Museum.

Anchorage Oct 2015 021-SMALLInlet TowerAfter lunch in the museum café and a couple of hours immersed in Van Gogh, I checked in at the Inlet Tower hotel. Jutting up 14 floors out of, but close to, the major tourist area Downtown, I can find it without taking my eyes off the road too much. It’s not expensive (AK residents get a discount) and has a funky vibe and a pretty good restaurant, though I wonder about the lone tropical fish in the tiny aquarium at the front desk. I stayed there often enough this summer to notice a different fish every time.

While it was still light outside, with the help of the woman cloistered inside my phone, I drove from the Tower to the Cinemark Century 16 on 36th Avenue. That’s in Midtown. Without a single missed turn, I was at the theater in less than 10 minutes, which gave me time to eat a takeout salad by the fireplace in Natural Pantry, just across the street.

Intermission came about nine o’clock, just after Uncle-Stepfather Claudius says he’s having Nephew-Stepson Hamlet murdered in England. Not wanting to chat up strangers about the campy production, I checked my phone, which had been in airplane mode. I might have missed a call! Or a text message! I could squeeze in a few more plays in Words with Friends!

But I couldn’t unlock my phone. I couldn’t turn it off and restart it. So forget messages, texts, and figuring out a move that would earn double letter and double word points. I was in a part of Anchorage I don’t know. So I abandoned scrumptious, sweaty, athletic Benedict Hamlet to begin finding my way back to the Tower. “Make haste the Tower!” I thought. ‘Twould be better lost in Anchorage wide awake at nine o’clock than wandering drowsy at eleven.

As I got into the car, I thought about one of my recurring dreams, which plays like this: I am stranded somewhere in Middle of Nowhere trapped inside a car; I try to call my departed husband; my cell phone fails. Lately, without waking up, I know I’m dreaming and drift out of the danger. A couple of friends have said is lucid dreaming. Both asked if I take control of the situation within the dream, and so far the answer is no. I just continue sleeping.

Granted my predicament wasn’t nightmarish (like Polonius, I do go on). I wasn’t anywhere near Cook Inlet or Potter Marsh with the car sinking into dark, cold water. The hook man wasn’t hanging on the door, but it was raining and dark. I drove with the windows down to allow a clear view to the left and right.

I sensed the direction I needed to go, but one-way C Street thwarted me. “In this car, I can probably drive around until daylight,” I thought. But after about 45 minutes, during which I ranged as far as the end of Spenard near the airport, passing the Harley Davidson dealership and the Puffin Inn (if you stay there, demand a room that’s in the new section and away from the elevator), I spotted Title Wave Books, then Minnesota Drive, then the Tower’s beacon.

Back in my room, I plugged in my phone, which was 90% charged. I put on my pajamas, ate the Ravn cookie, and pondered what Hamlet would have been doing about then. I’m pretty sure Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and crazy Ophelia were already dead. I went to bed and read through one of the three New Yorker magazines I brought along for the trip.

Next morning, I went down to the lobby early to take advantage of the free continental breakfast before I went to the airport. I asked the first person I saw with an iPhone for help. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s the new operating system. Just press the home and on-off buttons at the same time.” Forsooth!

I hope I remember this next time I have that dream.

Anchorage Oct 2015 026

AppalachianMountains

Thank you, EBB.

Last Saturday, riding out East End Road to a friend’s 60th birthday party, I was listening to “Mountain Stage” on KBBI. Right off, from his accent, I knew the guy talking was from my neck of the woods in southern Appalachia. When he mentioned Mt. Rogers, I pulled into the parking lot at the Gear Shed. Public radio can do that to you.

Turns out the guy doing the talking was Wayne C. Henderson, the world renowned guitarist and luthier (for the likes of Doc Watson and Eric Clapton). He used to deliver the mail to Sugar Grove Elementary School. The show was a replay of an August broadcast from the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia. So close to home.

Funny thing, accents. In Homer, mine is a giveaway that I’m not like most people here. I’m a recent transplant. I’m an Appalachian hillbilly who happened to move cross-country to a bucket list tourist destination. People like me don’t usually end up in Alaska.

Tomorrow I’m going up to Anchorage to watch a replay of a live broadcast of Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet. Come Friday, I’m tuning up my autoharp (thank you, RC). I know who I am. I’m kind of like a rogue pony, but I know my home is where the mountains are very old.

GenieDannyJPonchoRhubarb House is just a click away, a click away, from being public on AirBnB. Oh, children, we are just a click away. I am channeling Miss Lisa Fischer doing “Gimme Shelter” with Mick Jagger, and I am having a lot of second thoughts about this whole thing.

My company-best towels and sheets have been in everyday use since I bought them when my departed husband and I hosted his cousins who came to Atlanta for a family wedding that took place about 15 years ago in a Southern Protestant cathedral. I have priced replacements online at Garnet Hill and Amazon Prime and can’t bring myself to buy more. Guests will have to overlook tiny holes, frayed hems, and a few spots of rust and teary mascara stains that won’t wash out.  After all, this is Alaska.

Leo and Rys are not just friendly indoor cats. Leo drinks from the toilets even though I keep bowls of water around the house. Rys swats at streams of liquid – any liquid—so in the bathroom . . . well, guys, watch out. And how do I, the nearly new-50 single woman, know this? My grandson told me about it. I asked if he missed; he did not. Not long ago an adult male visitor was surprised to experience the same thing. I did not ask questions.

LeoByStoveLeo and Rys also walk on the kitchen counters, and this has persisted in spite of the negative reinforcement training I tried with a spray bottle of water for a few days after each of them came from the animal shelter to his forever home. Plus, if Rhubarb House guests don’t want the company of one or both cats during the night, they have to keep the bedroom doors shut. Leo and Rys knock for a while, but eventually they stop and settle in with me.

I haven’t put any of that in the listing, because people will figure it out soon enough and just chalk it all up to being in the cosmic hamlet, but I am including a few house rules. The first three – no pets, no shoes inside, and no smoking – appear in several listings I’ve read. The first needs no explanation since Leo and Rys have already been mentioned. The second is common practice in Alaska homes, and I’ve noted that; the third is a no brainer, but Joy asked, “Don’t you think you should mention chewing tobacco?” So I am specific:

No smoking, chewing, dipping, or snuffing tobacco products inside or out. If you wish to inhale other substances, please advise the host ahead of time as she is just getting used to new laws. Exception: If you enjoy an after-dinner cigar, please take it to the deck and expect the host to step out to catch the aroma.

Rhubarb House Rules continue as follows:

  • Guests, especially those from anywhere east of Mountain Time, may experience an altered sleep cycle. Those who awaken before 6:00 a.m. (AKDT) are encouraged to be quiet until that time. Catch up on reading and work crossword puzzles. Sleep masks may be helpful June – August.
  • No cooking, but you may chill beverages and keep medications in the refrigerator. The hospital has a helipad for emergency medical transport to Anchorage.
  • No eating or drinking, except water, in guest rooms or lounge area. I may wait until guests arrive to tell them about this rule. It’s to protect the carpet from stains.
  • No cleaning of fish on the premises. Take them to a processor, or catch and release. Back home, you can get the same fish – wild-caught in Alaska – for a lot less money. I am not kidding.
  • Tidiness is expected: please make up your bed, hang up your clothes, don’t spit toothpaste on the bathroom mirror, flush the toilet, and wash your hands with soap and water. I can’t say that, can I?

When Joy was here last month, I finished the AirBnB listing, even though it was past the time when folks make summer travel plans and reservations. I wanted to get a jump on summer 2016. Then one morning she looked up from Garden and Gun magazine—the issue with the divine tomato sandwich on the cover—set her mug on the coffee table, and said, “Have you thought about having to clean the bathrooms maybe five times a week? Changing the bedclothes over and over again?”

I have been thinking about that, and a bunch of other stuff, such as just how strange a stranger I want to host, and I have decided to shut the door of Rhubarb House before it ever opened. BnB is not 2B, unless you’re family or friend. I know you, and you know me. Neither of us is any stranger than the other.

The rules about pets, shoes, and tobacco still apply, and these:

  • If you can’t sleep, make popcorn and watch DVD or online videos until it gets dark outside, though by then it will be morning. If you’re here in the winter, the light won’t be a problem.
  • If you wake up before I do, please turn on the coffee and feed Leo and Rys. That would be so nice. Eat some yogurt, and if you want a big breakfast, I have three great restaurants in mind. One opens at 5:00 a.m. Let’s try them all while you’re here.
  • Please do cook.
  • Eat and drink whatever you want, wherever and whenever you want. Stain remover is stashed in both bathrooms and the laundry room.
  • I honestly don’t care if you make up your bed and hang up your clothes the whole time you’re here. And since I know you it’s OK if you spit toothpaste on the mirror. Most likely you would wipe it off.
  • I will take you to the Spit to watch people clean fish. The muscly guys at Butt Whackers have been a big hit with a few of my guests. Then we’ll mosey around to The Auction Block to buy halibut. A friend from Georgia gave me a great recipe for halibut casserole.ButtWhackers Just let me know when you’re coming and ask about what you need to bring. It’s not what you think. This may be the end of the road, but it is not the end of civilization. I have plenty of everything, and did I tell you that Save-U-More has a whole aisle of Trader Joe’s stuff?

Copyright 2015. Genie Hambrick  

I registered Rhubarb House with AirBnB in the dark of January, raring to go after a holiday vacation Outside. I was fully recovered from the flu that bit me two days after I arrived in Atlanta. A dose of Tamiflu had zapped the bug nearly over night, and my ankle was mending after I sprained it in the collosal parking deck of a ritzy physicians’ building.

Genie&SilverWinter2015I was there as my sister’s designated driver to and from a routine senior procedure, and thank God she didn’t get the flu and have to postpone the thing. She did have to wait for a while in a wheelchair at the entrance of the building, because I was recovering from a swoon brought on by the pain of the injury. And then I still had to find the car. I appreciated the kind woman who brought a damp paper towel for my forehead and said she liked my coat. I had dressed up, sort of, being in the city, you know. If I had been wearing my hiking boots instead of prissy city shoes it wouldn’t have happened.

LivingDining2Anyway, back home in Homer, I started filling in the required information for AirBnB. “Two bedrooms, private bath , and lounge area in an owner-occupied, in-town residence in Homer, AK, halibut fishing capital of the world, cosmic hamlet by the sea, drinking village with a fishing problem, at the end of the road (U.S. Highway 1).” I’m still deciding which superlative to use.

Moose at Cups 3The convenient in-town location is definitely a plus: “Within walking distance of the Pratt Museum, Bishop’s/Bishops/Bishops’ Beach [however it’s spelled], art galleries and shops, restaurants, bars that have live music nearly every night, and coffee shops, including Starbucks.” Homer may be the end of the road, but it’s not the end of civilization, and for some reason I feel that saying there’s a Starbucks in town proves that, even if it’s inside of Safeway and not my favorite place to enjoy coffee in Homer.

AirportMooseI note that there’s “a view of Kachemak Bay, a hiking trail at the end of the street, and that mosquitoes are not a problem” [here]. Before I make the listing visible to the public, I may add that the walk to reach the in-town fun is downhill, which means uphill coming back, with South Peninsula Hospital just two blocks beyond. I might mention bear activity in the trail area.

I describe the interior of Rhubarb House. That you “enter through the front door”; in other words, no private entrance for whatever purpose a guest might want that, though things seem to have changed enough that this probably isn’t much of an issue. I note that “guest quarters are on the lower level,” which could be a deal breaker if climbing stairs are a problem; that there’s “wi-fi, but no network cable television,” which implies that Rhubarb House is a place for folks who aren’t into Fox News.

HostPerson_Aug2015The YOUR HOST information block is still empty, because I can’t figure out how to make myself as interesting as the other hosts of Homer. I am a cheechako who knows barely pea-diddly about Alaska and Homer. I can provide little more than basic directional information about the town and nearby points of interest, recommend restaurants, advise on moose safety, and identify with certainty two volcanos, one glacier, and Poot’s Peak. I don’t know jack about kayaking, fishing, and hunting.

HostCatsAug2015I’ve described Leo and Rys as “two friendly indoor cats, ” and they’ll be at the door with me as I welcome Rhubarb House guests with a cheery “Hello! No! Welcome! Stop! Get back in here! Sorry. Come in. Hurry.”  (To be continued)

Copyright 2015. Genie Hambrick

HouseFrontEven before I moved into my Alaska house, I toyed with the idea of having a BnB. I knew I would have extra space, what feels like too much after my condo in Atlanta, and I love having company. Plus it’s the sort of enterprising thing that a lot of Homer people do. In this town, people–I’m talking individuals–make pottery, paint, write music and sing and play guitar, have a big garden, maybe a high tunnel, freeze and can boatloads of vegetables and fruits, make jam, catch fish and smoke and freeze them, develop web sites or write books, have a day job–or just retired from one–as a scientist or something like that, and they have a BnB. They also kayak and paddle board out in Kachemak Bay with the whales and sea otters. And have a pilot’s license.

I don’t do any of those things, but maybe because I want to fit in, to seem less cheechako and more enterprising and real Alaska, I’ve been thinking, “Well, hey. I’ll have a BnB. I can do that.” Hosting tourists would be fun and profitable, which surely is a motivator, even for Homer polymaths.

I wanted a catchy name for my BnB knowing that I couldn’t rightfully christen the place with anything nautical or suggestive of Alaska wildlife. So I came up with Rhubarb House, because a year after I moved in the only thing growing in the yard was a big clump of rhubarb that survived the dirt work that preceded construction of the house. I do harvest the rhubarb and freeze most of it because one person can’t eat all that much of it at one time.

Whenever out-of-town company comes, that’s just family and close friends so far, I use them as a captive focus group to test my BnB idea, and because they’re genial guests, they’ve all agreed to participate. Maybe they’re just being nice and don’t want to hurt my feelings, but not one has discouraged me—not even my sister Joy, who would be the first to burst the bubble if she thought it was a ridiculous idea. Her name may be Joy, but she minces no words. Just one “That’s crazy” from her, and I get sane real quick.

My guests have given me lots of great ideas and suggestions. One long-time friend suggested that I get a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit. Another who has really great hair that’s still not gray suggested a better hair dryer for the guest bath, and the one I had in there was pretty feeble. I bought it at a CVS in Lansing, MI, because I forgot to pack one when I went to visit Zach several years ago.

Joy has come up with a lot of ways to distinguish Rhubarb House from other BnBs in Homer. I really love her idea of serving complimentary wine and crudités in late afternoon. No cheese because of weight and cholesterol concerns. This service would be offered instead of breakfast, because I have said all along I don’t want to prepare a biggie size morning meal. I can’t stand frying bacon. It gives me cold chills.

Eventually we decided that breakfast would be cheaper. I would let folks know up front that they could expect a piece of fruit, homemade muffins made with rhubarb from the side yard, and great coffee. That comes from Panama and is shipped to me by the same friend who advised the fire extinguisher and first-aid kit.

Maybe I would have non-fat yogurt available too, for people who are gluten intolerant. I think that could be a Scots-Irish genetic thing, but I may be wrong, because I don’t have it. I will purchase the fruit and yogurt at Safeway on senior discount day and make the muffins myself to keep a good profit margin so it’s worth the trouble of registering Rhubarb House BnB with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and collecting sales tax. By the way, I have a great muffin recipe that earned a seal of approval from my former husband who otherwise had no confidence in my cooking, and that wasn’t the only thing.

When Joy visited last month, her second trip to Homer, she suggested that I not give up on the happy hour idea, but make it BYOB, and provide live autoharp music. She came up with that idea during an in-home wine tasting, and if we had been drinking Coca-Cola, we would have snorted it out our noses.

As the tasting continued, the idea evolved into an autoharp singalong including old favorites such as “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which doesn’t seem appropriate for high season summer months. (To be continued)

Copyright 2015. Genie Hambrick