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

Hearts dry brush

Heart rocks from Bishops Beach.

I have two books in progress, both in the self-help genre. One will share my expertise in dealing with supervision and the other in developing romantic relationships.

The working title of my book on supervision is “Being Bossed: How to Enjoy Supervision.”  With nearly seven decades of experience (that’s approximately 600,000 hours), I have far surpassed the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule popularized a few years ago by the writer Malcolm Gladwell (Dr. Ericsson claims that 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert).

From parents to teachers, employers, spouses and, more recently, children, as well as enforcers of various public laws (when to put out the recycling, the IRS) and private contracts (banks, building inspectors, Internet service providers, etc.), I have practiced being bossed in nearly every imaginable life situation.

Ericsson’s theory has been convincingly challenged in recent years by a growing number of cognitive psychologists who have found that practice alone is not sufficient to develop superior levels of expertise. Innate ability makes the difference between pretty good and really good. So as LeBron James is to playing basketball, I am to being supervised. He’s naturally good at the game, and he practices a lot. I am naturally good at being bossed, and I practice all the time.

“Finding Romance the Not Old-Fashioned Way: A Guide for the Astonished Over-60 Single Woman” is the working title of my second work in progress.  This project spans a shorter length of time, about seven years now, with no more than 5,000 hours of deliberate practice (I can’t go into how I practiced).

Frankly I am struggling with this one because I have little success to report. It will take me another seven years to rack up 5,000 more hours, and there’s the natural ability factor. I may not have it.

Pretty soon I have to tweak the title a bit.
I feel writer’s block coming on.

Copyright 2015. Genie Hambrick

ONE-MORE-SILLY-001I am addicted to the Weddings (formerly Weddings and Celebrations) section of the New York Times.

First, I need to say that this has nothing to do with Alaska, or Homer, Alaska. Yes, this is a great place to live, but really and truly, it’s great for me because it’s a small artsy town. If it weren’t for my family here, I could be just as happy in most any small, progressive town, as long as it wasn’t beastly hot in the summer. I am, after all, an Appalachian hillbilly, and there are many places in that part of the world that are every bit as wonderful as Homer. What my heart places have in common is not much traffic and grand vistas without crappy buildings (houses and otherwise).

Next, I need to say (I do need to say this) that I am thrilled that we can now celebrate marriages of anyone who chooses that way of defining/consecrating/categorizing/honoring a relationship with someone they love. Used to be that everyone could celebrate, but only some could marry.

After I read as much of the NY Times news as I can bear (this weekend that includes, among many things, Beau Biden’s funeral and American Pharoah’s Triple Crown), I click over to Weddings. Sometimes I read the feature wedding, sometimes not. From a few weeks ago, one of the feature couples (they’re both in the WNBA) is back in the news: dissolution/annulment/divorce, whichever their lawyers can figure out. And one of them is pregnant, which was also news yesterday.

Then I try to figure out, based on names listed (without images), who is not young, who might be older, like me. Today, there was a Gertrude and Tom. With the name Gertrude, you have got to be older, unless your mother is someone like Gwyneth Paltrow or Madonna. Turns out the bride is 74 and the groom 73. And then I see Charles and Stuart, 82 and 64.  They are the grooms, though the Times doesn’t call them that.

By the time I moved to Alaska, I had accepted being single as a permanent state, but I enjoy thinking about celebrations of true love. And marriages — someone else’s that is.

silly day at home 003This winter, having not once worn ice cleats or shoveled my driveway, and only once having worn my blimpy down jacket, I was comforted by the tease of winter that winked at us a week or so ago. We had snow, which is what I anticipated more of when I moved to Alaska nearly three years ago. It’s reassuring when what you think is going to happen actually happens. Even if you thought it was going to be kind of bad, it’s still reassuring. You know what I mean.

That little bit of snow, which is all gone where I live, in town, got me thinking about why I like living here so much, even if climate change cut the snowfall nearly in half this year. I like being here because it’s still cool – cool enough year-round to enjoy hot soup and to wear a black turtleneck (cotton, silk, wool, depending on the outside temperature).

The latter becomes increasingly important for reasons that I won’t go into, but as I approach the new 50 (or maybe now, it’s the new 40) . . .

You know what I mean.

Halibut Cove Aug 7 2014 005The other day I was listening to KBBI AM890, Homer’s public radio station, and Terry Gross was interviewing a famous person I’d never heard of. She kept asking if he still did this or that, still liked this or that. He was really sweet about it. He kept saying yes. “Yes, I still do that . . . I still like that,” instead of saying, like I would want to, “Why are you asking me that? Do you think maybe I wouldn’t still? Like maybe I made a mistake and now don’t still? Or I’m too old to still?”

Anyway, I got to thinking that I would assess my life according to whether I still do or still don’t whatever it is. I decided this would be as good a way as any as determining my overall satisfaction with life. So here goes.

I am still dissatisfied with the way I look. Nothing has gotten better. Go figure. I mean, after all, I am approaching the new 50, and I’ve never had a good jaw line. Still I don’t get my hair dyed; still I do wear it short. Still prefer winter clothes to summer. Better to cover the upper arms, you know.

I am still afraid of heights, public speaking, sharks, and dentists. I’m getting better about doctors. Good thing, that.

I still love thinking about words, knowing where they came from, knowing what they mean, figuring out the best one for a sentence.

I still have an aversion to strong perfume and whatever that’s called for men. Same thing with most scented candles, though some – the ones that are obscenely expensive – are nice. Just not at the dinner table. I still despise hair spray and frying anything. Gives me cold chills.

I still love art, loathe tacky and over-sized or faux anything.

I still love music, live or listened to at performance level. All kinds of music, but especially rock and roll, Americana, alt country. Still love to dance. Still prefer that with a guy, though here in my work studio, solo, I can get down.

I still love cats, and have come to understand that this means I tolerate a lot of things from a cat that I wouldn’t in other creatures, including humans. Still I am one of a very few people in Homer who do not have a dog.

I still love to have company in my home, still love to talk, though now I love listening more.

I am still single, coming up to the seventh anniversary of when all that started. Still like seeing a guy in a bow tie. Still like to see a guy with a beard, but not the extra-long kind that suggests religious fundamentalism. Still really don’t like that.

I still love everyone I’ve ever loved. Family, friends, husbands, and a few guys that for a while were sweethearts. Memory goes way back. Way back.

I am still glad I moved to Alaska.

Life is juicy.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

Sam approaching tusty for trip backSaturday morning, June 21, on board the Tustumena and waiting to sail from the Homer Spit to Kodiak and back, my grandson Sam looks at me and says, without sighing or rolling his sea-blue eyes, “G, I am kind of bored.” It’s raining, and we are in the solarium of the aging, austere vessel once known as the Trusty Tusty, now the Rusty Tusty (it spent a long time in dry dock last year). Think floating government building or post office.  We are approximately 21 hours away from the end of a grandmother’s idea of a fun summer vacation activity for a 10-year-old boy.

view for most of the trip to KodiakI say, “Let’s get going with the movies.” I pull my Luddite-edition Dell laptop from my back pack and dig out the five movies Sam selected the day before at Barb’s Video.  I dose us both with organic, homeopathic seasickness pills from Safeway. Vomica is an ingredient; I am not kidding. Everyone I know who’s made the trip said we wouldn’t have a problem, but the crew member who checked us in suggested otherwise, and I didn’t even ask her about it.

Sam starts watching a movie. I pull out a cross-word puzzle book I bought for my trip to Georgia in May. The puzzles are so easy I fill in the answers while I build a mental image of the creator: she’s about my age, from the South, and she’s very religious. Sam laughs out loud at The Lego Movie. He says, “I don’t get tired of watching it because it’s not animated. Every character had to be put together by hand.”

Sam lounging and laughing as ship moves1The Tusty rocks a little; the sea is a little choppy. Sam goes out on the deck to get fresh air and comes back in, wet and laughing. He spots a seal. We eat in the dining room where the crew members are cordial with an edge of government employee discouragement. The food is not bad and not expensive. We see whale spouts in the distance. Close up, a whale’s tail, a porpoise. Sam tries malt vinegar on fish and chips. “Not bad,” he says. He shows me more features on my iPhone.

life boat

Kodiak entry 2Kodiak fishing boatsSam entering powerhouseTen hours pass, fast. We see Kodiak ahead, the sky clears and rain stops. We find The Old Powerhouse restaurant where I have a salad made with raw fish and squid salad. Real-deal Japanese. Sam has apple juice because he’s still full from fish and chips and cracker jacks.

Flowers at pursar's window

guest instructions on door2We check in for the trip back to Homer. The pursar, practicing U.S. Postal Service style hospitality, hands me a key to our cabin. It’s about as big as a walk-in closet, and Sam loves it.

We settle in. More movies for him. I pull out five back issues of The New Yorker I haven’t touched since I got back from Outside. I put them aside and pull on my sleep mask. I hear Sam laughing in the bunk above me.

Sam on his bunk ship blanket labelSunday morning, I wake up about 6:30, slip out of the room and make a cup of coffee in the magic-bullet machine just outside the dining room. Back in the cabin, I sip coffee and look out window. Good golly. We’ve just spent the night at sea. Sam wakes up when the pursar announces that we’re about 45 minutes from Homer.

Just before 9:00, the Tusty docks in Homer, and Sam says, “G, This is about the most fun thing I’ve done all summer.” He points out gulls nesting in the dock structure. We did not get seasick, the Tusty did not leak or sink, and I’m ready to go again. I think Sam is too.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

baby wildflowers 001I don’t pray about weather, because what I think might be good for me could spoil someone else’s plans for the day. In fact, weather is the one aspect of my life that I accept unconditionally and without trying. That’s regardless of whatever the weather is, even when whatever it is in Alaska can feel over the top for a cheechako.

I didn’t pray for rain yesterday as I turned on the new lawn sprinkler and watched droplets shaped like dollar signs soak into the dirt. Water is expensive in Homer, but it’s hard not to love Alaska’s summer sunshine, and I knew people who were counting on it yesterday. Just down the hill AC General was pouring concrete and people were setting up for an outdoor event to honor one of Homer’s patron saints of the arts.

I didn’t pray for rain, but last night when I started outside to turn on the water again and saw rain, I did say out loud, “Thank goodness.” I said that again this morning when I saw signs of infant Alaska Native Wildflowers around the edges of the lot.

Yard Abstract 1In my back yard, the effect is more Abstract Expressionism than Impressionist. I’ve got a Rothko kind of yard instead of a Monet. Instead of a field of poppies, I’ve got a gray-brown block of color striped with green. I accept this knowing that more color will creep into the composition. Something will grow there eventually, and right now anything is welcome. Even dandelions.

DandelionAt 5:30, I pull off my sleep mask and open the curtains. I see a faint skim of green over the back yard. I think, “It’s happening. Alaska Native Wildflowers are sprouting. They’re alive. There’s already ROI in landscaping.” Believe me, it’s a modest investment but a gracious plenty, even with Alaska prices, for a skinny city lot and a budget leaner than that. Besides, the entire front is a gravel driveway.

I put on my glasses, make the bed, muck the litter box while Leo makes a cursory swipe at his jute scratching post. This is to throw off my investigation of disfigurement of the leather sofa I bought last summer on Craig’s List. The housesitter discovered the damage while I was Outside.

Leo races upstairs and at the top leaps halfway up the wall. Listen, if someone was going to make coffee for me and serve breakfast, I would leap. But that ain’t gonna happen, so I unkink as I go. I circle my arms, roll my head, blink. Sometimes there’s just not enough night.

I flip on the electric kettle to heat water for coffee: one cup of regular and not a sip more or I’m driven to do crazy things like iron sheets. I did that the first full day I was home from Outside, when a little groggy, a little disoriented after nearly three weeks in my sister’s kitchen, I used regular instead of decaf for my second cup.  I turn up the volume on the radio I bought at the Salvation Army. It looks OK but the on/off switch doesn’t work so it’s always on and permanently set on KBBI AM890. I listen to national and Alaska news, which today includes the Pavlof volcano eruption, the Funny River fire, and a grass fire out East End Road.

I pour hot water through a paper cone into my favorite mug (dark brown pottery, made with no handle), feed Leo his preferred mix of wet and dry food. I cook a bowl of steel-cut oats in the microwave (I’ve perfected this: power level 5 so no eruptions of oatmeal lava). I dress it with blueberries and a bit of banana. Organic stuff, all of it, and expensive. Designer gruel.

I check e-mail, read Writer’s Almanac, Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation (currently he’s writing on the Enneagram, which I do not get . . . I am all of the types). I read NY Times online. Good stuff in Home and Garden. By 6:30 a.m., the sun and I have been up a little more than an hour.

House June 6 2014 006I peel off pajama bottoms, pull on ratty jeans and wool socks, pop a jacket over my pajama top.  On the front porch, I poke my feet into XTraTuffs, no longer embarrassingly new. I tromp around back and unwind the new, green garden hose Matt brought over a couple of days ago.

I set the sprayer on shower mode and walk backward, waving it back and forth like a priest swinging the incense thurible. Swing to the west and water catches sunlight from the east, so every other step, I see a rainbow. Tiny white butterflies flit through the air. Sometimes they’re in couples. Hmmm. I move slowly back yard to front, eyes cast down to catch sight of infant Alaska Native Wildflowers.

Rhubarb Oasis smallIt will be a miracle when I see them. The green I saw earlier must have been the reflection of a wall of trees at the back of the lot on the hard surface of the yard. Maybe the Alaska Native Wildflowers will push up through the cracks that are forming as the ground dries. But in case they don’t, I’m not discouraging what was already here. Pushki grows along my side of the next-door neighbors’ privacy fence. Later in the summer there’ll be gigantic blooms that look like Queen Anne’s lace on steroids. Horsetail persists, along with Alaska size buttercups and dandelions. To one side of the driveway, wild roses and small alders poke through tall grass. And a patch of rhubarb survived excavation and construction. I won’t harvest it, because the enormous leaves create a small green oasis on the east side of the house.

Matt and Beth advise me to have hope and keep watering, and I will, but I’m automating the process. After a cup of decaf, I’m going to buy a sprinkler at Ulmer’s Everything But Groceries and Pets.

Me, with a bit too much sun and looking as if I have been chewing tobacco, but really it's just coffee.

I swear I don’t chew tobacco. It’s just coffee.

I have just returned from Outside, which is Alaskan for anywhere in the Lower 48. For me, Outside is Georgia, where I stay with my sister Joy, enjoy her zany hospitality and art-filled house, and commute to Atlanta for appointments with doctors I haven’t been able to make myself give up.

Of course, it’s not all about the doctors. Joy and I cram in movies (this time Grand Budapest Hotel, Chef, and The Lunch Box) and music (Lucinda Williams at Variety Playhouse). In the park behind her house, we take early morning power walks among gigantic oaks, greenbrier, wild grapes, poison ivy, frogs and turtles, including one snapper laying eggs on the bank of Hog Wallow Creek.

She turns on the party lights and water feature, a hand-me-down from me when I move to Alaska, and we sip wine on her screened porch. The whole thing is about as Southern as life can be. No one even comments on my accent.

Outside last month, I made a side trip to Michigan to visit my younger son, Zach, and his dog, Mary, in their new home. The first full day I was there, we (I mean Zach and I) went to an estate sale across the street, and even though we were first in line, in the blink of an eye someone popped a sold sticker on every piece of good furniture. Not that I could have brought anything back to Alaska, and except for one piece of Danish modern, none of it appealed to Zach.

After the sale, we toured the new Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nearly next-door to his office at Michigan State. And let me tell you that the art is the most contemporary of contemporary. For example, there’s a gigantic sculpture of pink dental resin in which the artist imbedded hundreds of false teeth. Maybe thousands. I am not kidding.

So I’m back from Outside, which is not to say I’m Inside. In fact, that term is not used; if you’re in Alaska and you’re an Alaska citizen, you’re just here. And here I have been for two years and two days, making my way in this different place, realizing more every day that living in a different place does not make a different person. I still do not hunt and fish. I do not chop wood and carry water. I do not grow my own vegetables and can or freeze them for the winter. I have not paddled a sea kayak through a pod of orcas (I have not paddled a sea kayak). I have not sat naked as a jay bird in a backyard sauna with anyone (I have not yet sat in a sauna). I have not been ravaged by mosquitoes, though I do have a fresh bite on my face, and I saw the guy who did it to me. Big as a bird.

In spite of all that and an accent that gets noticed as soon as I switch planes in Seattle or Portland, I am officially recognized as a full-time Alaska resident and this October will receive my first dividend check from the Alaska Permanent Fund. I’ll use that for a trip Outside, but the next time will be different.

I made the transition to a local hair stylist the first summer I was here because I couldn’t fly to Atlanta once a month to see Wayne and Diane at Cowlix. Early that first fall, I found an ophthalmologist because I couldn’t see through my sunglasses (botched prescription by an Atlanta provider). This past fall, a broken tooth led me to a Homer dentist. And now it’s time to put on my big girl pants and bring the rest of my healthcare inside Alaska before I have to.

Then Outside will be all fun with family and friends in Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, and who knows where else. Maybe Wales. Maybe Mexico, where I don’t know a soul, but I hear the weather is mighty fine in February and March. In the meantime, right here, right now, is mighty fine with me. I’m going outside.