March Thaw

Red balls, March thaw

Alaskans love to share wisdom with a cheechako, so early on I learned that ice cleats can keep you from busting your butt, unless you don’t mind crawling across a parking lot on your hands and knees. I do mind that. I learned that a moose can stomp you to death, so head the other way, fast, when you see one walking across the street. Or hide behind something; I wonder if a stop sign is a good enough deterrent. I learned that earthquakes happen nearly every day, but a big one isn’t likely to happen for several hundred years. When it does, drop, cover, and hold on.

I learned that you can make tea from stinging nettles, that ferns are poisonous past the fiddlehead stage, and you do not need ice for meat and fish purchases. I am not planning to make nettle tea or cook fiddleheads, and I asked only once for ice in a grocery store in Anchorage. The guy behind the counter looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re not from around here.”

Most Alaska long-timers are also generous with tips on coping with the dark months of November, December, and January. Starting in August, they say, sit in front of a SADD light for a couple of hours a day (I do, while I work at my computer), stay busy (I’ve never needed encouragement), exercise (of course), go South (which I can manage for a couple of weeks in the winter).

Last year, several people told me to beware of March. “It’s the worst month,” they said. “Very bad for mental health.”

“What’s so bad about March?” I asked. No one seemed to have a convincing explanation, other than its still chilly temperatures and occasional snow. But having lived happily through two Alaska Marches, I think I’ve figured it out.

While the Lower 48 hoops and hollers through March Madness, Alaska oozes and slogs through March Mudness, when snow melts and dog poop thaws. Everything covered by snow and winter darkness is exposed. Alder, aspen, and willow are bare. Snow is infused with black grit. Wherever people walk and drive vehicles, beer cans and liquor bottles emerge from the ice, some still wrapped in the brown paper bags that are supposed to make people think the tipplers are slugging down health drinks.

There is mud, and there is dust. The wind whips it into miniature tornados on sidewalks and streets. Trucks roar along Sterling Highway whisking up clouds that nearly obscure vehicles. I hold my breath as long as I can when they pass by.

In my house, bright sunlight, about 12 hours a day now, blasts through grimy, streaked windows exposing my sin of omission, the lick-and-a-promise approach to housecleaning this winter. Dust glistens on baseboards, table tops, books, lamps. The car is coated too, inside and out, except for the arcs cleared by windshield wipers, and mud is splattered from tires to door handles.

Of course, I am not despondent. I know that, come May, leaves will bud on trees, and we’ll see green again. Weeds, including dandelions big as saucers, will cover the litter. And by then, I will have run Silver through the Star Wash a couple of times, vacuumed the interior and wiped the dash clean. I will have dusted inside the house, too, maybe with a little more attention to detail as summer visitor season draws near.

I may have planted something in my muddy yard to block the invasion of pushki, the cow parsnip, which resembles gigantic Queen Anne’s lace. It’s edible, but it can cause dermatitis when you pick it. Go figure that one.

For now, I’m putting on hiking boots to tromp the muddy Reber Trail. The temperature has soared to a balmy 41 degrees and the skies are that Carolina color everyone loves whether they’re a Tarheel basketball fan or not.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

ImageLast Saturday, I started an art project in cut paper. I’m inspired by the work of one of my sisters—both are professional artists—and by a Matisse documentary which was one of numerous Netflix movies I watched while cold bugs raved inside my head. God, what a party they had.

I’ve been itching to make art for a while. I used to make two-dimensional paper puppets:  caricatures of close friends for their birthdays and famous women in history. The subjects of that series are modeled after real people.

Joan of Arc is a young woman who was a work friend in Atlanta. She’s from France, multi-lingual, and lives now in Delft with her husband and son. She connects women and children, especially expatriates, to each other and to community resources.

Marie Antoinette is another woman I worked with, but not a friend—a boss. Once, in a staff retreat, while she delivered a talk intended to be motivational, she stood before us licking her fingers and eating cake supplied by a vendor who knew her sweet tooth. Of the down-sized and out-sourced, I imagined her saying, “Let them eat cake,” and soon enough that would be several of us, including me.

Elizabeth I, the largest puppet I’ve made, is an El Greco-style Meryl Streep with orange construction paper curls. Her dress is made from scraps of Christmas wrapping paper. For several years, she hung by magnets on the cover of the electrical breaker box in my condo. Low lighting, you know, preserves the color.

The remains of my paper puppet collection, created over a period of maybe 10 years, are shielded from light until someone empties the contents of the old camel-back trunk where I stored them. They’ll wonder why I kept the puppets and everything else that’s in that trunk. So do I. By the way, the only male figure, Rumpelstiltskin, bears uncanny resemblance to one of the founders of a major corporation whose signature color is orange.

When I decided, in a fever, to get into paper cutting, I remembered a couple of large, flat pieces of corrugated cardboard I kept from the packing for a floater frame I ordered online from Blick Art supplies. Saving the cardboard says something about how living in Alaska has changed me, because in Atlanta, I would have whisked it to the recycling bin in my condo community before the sun set.

With an X-ACTO knife, I cut one piece of the cardboard to 24 x 20 inches, which is the size of the largest frame Blick ships. I assembled scissors, glue, scraps of wrapping paper and dozens of paint chips left from last summer when my house was under construction.

I thought about the subject of my work—probably a seascape, maybe something with a boat in it. Maybe a fish.

I cut paper, moved it around on the cardboard. I cut more paper, stopped to make dinner and eat it, blew my nose, cleaned up the kitchen, then dragged myself to bed with a cup of herb tea and a box of tissues.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, I cut more paper and moved it around when I wasn’t blowing my nose and coughing into my elbow.

By Wednesday evening, as I stood over my work, I felt not artistic. I felt like a convalescent reluctantly participating in craft time at the old folks’ home.

I don’t like the paper. The largest pieces are seasonal; the good paper (paint chips) are too small.

I need big sheets of black and white construction paper. I need more tissue paper; all I have now is red, green, and white (Christmas). I need to be, as my sister Joy counseled, a hoarder if my art form is going to be cut paper and collage.

With just enough space cleared for one car, her garage is a  storehouse and studio chock full of canvases (blank and works in progress), tubes of paint, brushes, and mountainous stacks of painted paper. She could be Matisse’s assistant; better, he would be hers.

On Thursday, I cleared the kitchen counter of all my materials. And while I waited for inspiration, I started playing “The Hidden World of Art.” It’s a computer game where you look for hidden objects stuck into master works of classical art. I think the developers like James Tissot because at least a dozen of his paintings are featured in this game.

Pulling this game together is the background story of a young woman named Lana Vassari who is hired by dealers and collectors to restore works of art. Let me just tell you, it’s a fun diversion, and it’s made even more fun by the captions that made me realize, early on, that English is not the first language of the game developers.

Here are samples, exactly as they appear on the screen; I mean, exactly, the spelling, punctuation, spacing.

I wished to have this painting as once as I saw it.

No argue, it’s painted really well. John Millais was really famous artist in his time. But I don’t really liked this painting . And I think that there is no difference as for me – as it is the stuffed bird is even better – you can watch it well from all sides. And alive bird will fly away!

You know that young people, they are ready to throw away all the past and look only in the future, they forgot their roots and don’t want to know anything! Today we were brought a canvas of Dominque Ingress work, he’s a master of neoclassicism.Do you know what they were talking about when saw it? They say, that according to the rumors, the master was terribly drinking, that’s why the ladies turned out to be more beautiful on the drawing than they really were.

How can you laugh! This thief turned out to be an artist, he decided to attract attention to himself in such non-standard way – like, make it out yourself, which is my work and which is Lesrel’s one

Oh, no… Right, I remembered – my friends, knowing about how much I love art, presented me very expensive painting. But I spatted it with a nail polish accidentally

Almost each his painting is an allegory.

You certainly understand that not everyone can own a private collection without allow. I can. And I can allow to myself a specialist of your high standing.

Almost all his life this artist had to fight with a poverty, . . .

Well, the case is really delicate, big money is obviously takes place here . . .

Does this painting convey you something?

Than you should know that it’s Fragonard who rose this graceful style of art to the unheard-of  loftiness.

Look at this painting. Agree, it’s breathing with peace and home cosiness.

Thank you for such a cognitive talk!

By Friday, I felt close to 100 percent well. I played “Hidden World of Art” one more time, and read the credits: Oleg Kuznetsov, Vladimir Borulko, Vlad Dyjnchak, Dimitry Batura, Aldeander Tochinsky and others. I’m guessing they’re Russian, probably in their early 20s, and if they don’t use perfect English, they have a sophisticated knowledge of classical art, and they’re really good at hiding jack hammers, tennis rackets, and Gramophones in a Tissot painting.

Yesterday I felt inspired again to make art. I shopped Amazon for paper cutting scissors, a set of X-ACTO knives, and a self-healing cutting mat. The order has already shipped, and my artist tools will be here by mid-week.

In the meantime, I see possibility in every piece of paper, Kleenex excluded.

ImageThis afternoon, I walked around the outside of my house imagining how the place would look with botanical ground cover instead of mud or snow, which looks great, but I don’t want it year round.  In the back, I retrieved a float that the wind had ripped away from the old shrimp trap I have on the deck. How many times, middle of the night, did I get out of bed and stand out there trying to figure out what the heck was beating against the house?  I’d noticed that I wasn’t hearing that anymore.

I stepped around piles of poop left by neighbor dogs. A cat’s small prints are mixed among theirs. No coyote came by, unless they’re in the canine mix. No bears. No moose, and I had been so sure they would meander through the yard and rest under my deck. No humans, not until today. This is, of course, a very good thing.

On the east side of the house, I saw the tiniest bit of red life pushing up from the mud. Rhubarb is coming back in the spot where there was a huge stand of it before my house was built.

From the person, who lived in a house trailer on this land before me, I have rhubarb and one rusty metal can that I’ve repurposed as a flower pot.

Everything, everyone has a season and a purpose.

cold or flu virusInside my head, a bug is having an otolaryngolical party. Hey, ya’ll: I didn’t volunteer to host this. I did not offer to serve herbal tea and Emergen-C around the clock. I did not offer heaps of tissue, Auburn University style, for the party animals raving in my nose.

No. I’ve been minding my own business, going about town, washing my hands frequently, noticing how many times I touch my hands to my face and trying not to do that, wishing people would not lick their fingers when they turn pages (this, in Safeway, as an officious manager type approached a checker type with some kind of paper work while I was checking out. Please don’t touch my groceries, I thought).

You know that drill. But here’s the thing: bugs get into us. They find a place to do their thing. The longer I go, the more I know it. For now, I’m nearly happy that it’s just a cold.

For dinner this evening, I had salmon and broccolini. The salmon was wild caught as it swam from ocean into river to spawn, to make more life.That happened in Alaska, if labels can be trusted. I’ve run out of friend-donated salmon so I can’t be 100% sure.

The broccolini, purchased late afternoon at Sav-U-More, looked OK in the store, and it was under $5 for the bunch.  I was wooed to buy it by the price (fresh anything out here is expensive). 

In the light of home, which is mighty bright, I saw that the broccolini had started to bloom. Somewhere, someone had bought up a crop that had pushed way past its prime. It was fixin’ to mate or whatever broccolini does to sustain life. 

Tonight, for my little dinner, I’ve consumed some of this hope. Makes me think, this little dinner. 


Retired equipment, Homer, AK.

Like Warren Zevon said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” God knows, I enjoy a peaceful night of sleep, or at least to rest in comfort when the night seems too long, then not long enough.

What I mean is that I intend not to slow down and not to wear out. This takes effort. It can be tiring.

There’s new technology—daily updates as the software and hardware companies I buy from now do their dead-level best to keep me informed. Adobe, Apple, and Dell. Blackbaud. GoDaddy and Google, LogMeIn. Microsoft, MozyHome, and McAfee. Skype. Constant Contact.

Appliance manufacturers reach out continuously. They ask me to rate their products and services. The other day I was invited to rate how well I liked the oven’s self-cleaning feature. Going through that online survey, I got the idea that this is not going to work well when I get around to using it. There’s a bug in there. Betcha. I stopped answering questions when I had to select which type of electrical outlet the stove is plugged into. I was not about to move the stove, because I did not want to risk disconnecting the gas line.

Maintaining health and appearance. Oh, God, that too.  Exercise constantly, eat a healthful diet (notice that I did not say “healthy diet” – that really bugs me). Hell’s bells: it’s all a challenge. You know what I mean.

Not losing touch with popular culture. That’s a biggie, and I am definitely disconnected from some new performers. Of course not Miley Cyrus of the rude tongue, or Justin Bieber (“Justa Beaver” as I heard the Alaskateers say before they developed what seem to be adult brains inside their little kid bodies).  Granted, Justin and Miley aren’t new anymore.

Scanning tabloid headlines as I go through the grocery check-out line is some help, and I take advantage of magazines in the waiting area at Alyeska Tire & Automotive. Some of these are a year old, but unless I take my own reading material, they’ll do. Occasionally I read an article in a hunting magazine. Why the heck not?

My to-do list goes on and on, and if self-maintenance one day becomes my vocation, its loftier purpose is that I won’t be a burden to my family.  But it’s about me too. I want to have fun, be fun. I want to be a rolling stone.


I get Rolling Stone magazine’s online newsletter. Check out The Arcade Fire performing on Jimmy Fallon’s new Tonight Show. Apologies for the commercial, and who knows which one you’ll get. First time I watched, it was for a dog breath freshener. A puppy drank out of a toilet bowl. Second time, Pizza Hut; that looked delicious.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

8 A.M.

8 A.M.

I was hot to trot this morning, ready to zip out to the Bagel Shop for the lox and schmear special, a luscious sculpture of brined salmon, slivers of red onion, capers, and snips of fresh dill on a voluptuous bagel. This would be a special Sunday breakfast, with half left for tomorrow morning to fuel a session of “senior aquacize,” formerly known as Silver Waves.

Life has evolved so there’s time to consider details such as whether to have the first cup of coffee, regular, on the way to the Bagel Shop, or have a leisurely cup at home,  then take my second cup, decaf, to go. I decided to have a cup while I read the New York Times on line. Today, T magazine’s focus is women’s spring fashion.

While I waited for the hot water to drip through the filter, I admired the unspoiled snow outside. Then I noticed the deck. I wanted to believe that I had forgotten to clear it after yesterday’s second snow, but I hadn’t. I knew it. Another three or four inches fell last night, which meant that the front porch steps, car, and driveway had to be cleared for the third time this weekend—before I could get to that  bagel.

But no big deal. I’m kind of into snow shoveling. Stoked with a cup of Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend, I put on thermal underwear, wool sweater, jeans, down jacket, wool cap, gloves, extra woold socks, boots good to -40 (it was 12 at the time), and waddled out the front door. I dug in, and, yeah, I guess my life has changed. I actually enjoyed it.

When I’m clearing snow, I try to move efficiently, sort of like mowing a lawn. I give trim the edges crisply, though after a point I ask myself, “Why are you doing this? Good enough is OK.”  It gets kind of like trimming a hedge, trying to eyeball an even slice across the top. But one end is a little low, so you buzz the high spots again with the clippers. Next thing you’re thinking, “Oh, well. It will grow out in time.”

One house down the street, my neighbor Fedora was shoveling her driveway. She’s Alaska Native, short with dark hair, and maybe not much younger than I. When we’re outside at the same time, she offers practical advice, year round. She alerted me to the threat of moose in the neighborhood. “If you see one in the street,” she warned, “turn around and go the other way.”

Last week, she cautioned me about pulling Silver in and out of the driveway to pack the snow. I was pleased with having thought of it. It seemed so efficient and quick. “Better not use your car like that,” she said. “That packed snow is going to turn to ice.”

This morning, as I shoveled the car out, she held up a snow scoop and said, “You better get one of these. Much easier on your back.”

9 A.M.

9 A.M.

By then I had finished, but on the way home with that beautiful bagel on the seat next to me, I stopped by Ulmer’s Everything But Groceries and Pets and bought a sleek black scoop. I’ll be ready next time.

This has me thinking about how much of life is repetitive. As soon as the dishwasher is emptied, there’s another glass to start the next load. Same thing with the garbage, laundry, making the bed. The only way to deal with it is to savor the doing, which may be how poor old Sisyphus dealt with the mental load of that boulder he had to keep pushing up a hill, day after day.

3 P.M.

I can see that I’m going to get a lot of practice because, you know what? It’s snowing. Again.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

Footnote: 4:17 p.m. Snow scoop works great! Cleared maybe an inch more of snow in less than 10 minutes. Back inside in time to stir the rhubarb before it scorched on the stove.


Heart rocks from Bishops Beach.

Let’s be honest. When a single person describes someone as “just a friend,” there’s disappointment. Maybe not a lot, but some. You hoped for more, but there’s no passion, not even a spark. No hearts afire, unless you put too much salsa on your taco salad. So the time comes to acknowledge the truth to one’s self, to the hopeful and perhaps relieved other, and to the curious who ask, “What’s up with you and So-and-So?” The answer: “We’re just friends.”

Gracious people are up front about this with each other. That is, you don’t downgrade a relationship when you’re out  with a bunch of people and one of you introduces the other as “my friend.” One of you may have been thinking, hoping, “Maybe this time . . ..” Go ahead and state the obvious in private as soon as you know.

The other day, I looked up the etymology of the word “friend’ and learned that it’s from the Ur-Germanic frijojanan, “to love.” A friend is one who’s beloved, and I can tell you this is not what people mean when they say they are “just friends.” It means they aren’t in love.

If there’s no love between people, then maybe “like” is a better word. That one, also from the Ur-Germanic, means “to please, be sufficient, and is related to “being the same.” But I don’t think “like” works either, because the “just friends-like each other” relationship is definitely insufficient for the long haul, and in my experience, when all’s said and done, in these situations, there are major differences between the two people. They’re not alike, at least not enough to move things into a different category.

Several years ago, a friend who was single then and I, still married, developed a matrix for relationships. Granted, eHarmony and had already figured out all of this as a profitable enterprise. Our work, on a white board in my office, provided  brief opportunities for creativity during workdays that could be mentally stifling.

We determined that potential romantic partners must have common elements to make a go of it. We assumed from the get-go that the two would have the same sexual orientation, but figured there was room for variation in several areas, such as hobbies, desired height and weight, age, and income. We acknowledged that extreme variation in any area could be problematic. Like a 20-year age difference, though that applies only if the guy is the younger one. We knew all too well (boy-oh do I know it now) that it doesn’t matter the other way (think Anna Nicole Smith, as an example of extreme variation in age). In matters spiritual, cultural, and political, you’ve got to be pretty closely aligned.

We did not consider accent a factor, though some apparently have strong feelings in that area. I had a date with a man who told me that he could never be in a relationship with a woman who had a Southern accent. This was in Atlanta, in a restaurant.  I said, “Well, hey, I’d hate to mess up your dinner. I am very OK if you want to move to another table or leave. I’m staying. I love the red curry here.”

Here on Valentine’s Day 2014, I’m home with Leo, this beautiful creature friend who has come into my life. My friends–not the “just friends”—are plenty enough to make my heart happy. I love them, and I like them.

They are my Beloved. That’s bee-Luh-ved. Not bee-Luvhd. Please use the extra syllable, to distinguish between noun and adjective, at least the way I talk, which is Appalachian*. And that’s Appalatchun; not Appalaychen.

And one more thing:  there were no Ur-Germans. Ur-Germanic is a proto-language pieced together by historical linguists from the languages of a bunch of people who, from what I can tell, didn’t think much about romance, which is why God made Romance languages that descended from Vulgar Latin, and I’m not going down that path here.

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

GrayHairWhen I was 45, I let go of the notion that I could stave off old age with hair dye. For one thing, when you have dark hair, keeping ahead of gray roots is obscenely expensive.  You’ve got to do it once a month to keep from looking like a skunk.

Furthermore, I was married to a balding man who didn’t do that comb-over thing, wear a toupee, thank God, or take Rogaine. Since I loved his bald head, I figured he could love my gray one. And for a while, except that I got grayer and he got balder, not much changed except the tab at the end of a salon session.

Then one day I was in one of those hip salons with brick interior walls and a concrete floor –this was in Richmond, in The Fan. Very cool. The stylist finished cutting my hair, lifted his scissors with a flourish, snipped the air a couple of times, and said, “There you go, Dearie.”

That was the first time it happened – the senior salutation – a Dearie here, a Dear Heart there, perhaps the frequency for a while depended on the lighting. But now there’s no hiding from it. I am bombarded with the honorifics of age, which I accept as opportunities to consider how I might share the wisdom of my years.

If a grocery store cashier asks, “Did you find everything you need today, Dear?” I think, “Thanks for asking. And actually, no. I didn’t find everything. For the life of me I couldn’t find the Preparation H. Would you get on your intercom system and call one of the other children who work here to go find that for me?”

Then, while we wait for the Preparation H, I can tell the cashier about off-label uses. “Oh, it’s much more than plain old hemorrhoid treatment. Some women swear by it as a facial moisturizer [actually I tried that, but quit when I read that it can cause high blood pressure]. Body builders oil up with it before competitions. And it’s supposed to speed up the healing of new tattoos. Maybe you tried it? I mean, isn’t that a cobra’s head I see peeking out from your cuff?”

Or if the question is, “Do you need help getting your purchases to the car, Love?” I think, especially if it’s raining, “Oh, yes, how kind of you, but first, would you mind re-bagging everything in alphabetical order?” While the cashier and bagger work on that, I ask them how old they were when they could sing the alphabet song all the way through without missing a letter. I should point out that I would not ask if I think either of them may have learned English as a second language.

When I am called Love or Lovie by a man I’ve never seen before, I want to make the conversation more personal. Here I might say, “Excuse me. Did you call me Lovie? How interesting, because I could swear I have never met you before. Have we ever known each other that well? Did we know each other in the biblical sense and I’ve just forgotten? Oh, dearie me.”

Men also ask, “How are you today, Young Lady?” And sometimes, I can’t resist. “Oh, I’m doing great, even though, as you can see, I am not young. But how are you, Sonny?” More than one has responded, with eyes rolling, “Well, gosh, I was just trying to be polite.” What I want to say is, “Just use deodorant. That would be really polite.”

Sweetie.  That one really gets to me, because the bald husband called me that. Once he called me that—just once—and it was a big surprise, because it was completely out of character.  “Did you call me Sweetie?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” he said, looking a little surprised himself. “I guess I did.” As it turned out, the brain inside his head, which was really bald by then, was a little confused. He forgot who he was talking to. It was me, the gray-haired wife who could run a half-marathon—not the plump blonde he had come to prefer, the one who got her hair dyed, on his recommendation, at the same Buckhead salon where I had mine cut. Talk about a Sweetie.

The other day I was surprised by a loquacious cashier who breaks the monotony of ringing up the contents of overflowing carts with tales of dysfunctional relationships and misfortune. When I finally made it to the register having learned more about several people than I wanted to know, I handed him my driver’s license to prove that I am old enough to purchase a bottle of Daily Red.

He looked at my license, handed it back with a flourish, and said, “Well, you’re just a Spring Chicken, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not a Spring Chicken, as you can surely see,” I said, “ but you, well, you are a real turkey.”

Next time I came through his line, he muttered with a forced smile, “How are you today, MADAM?” To which I said, “Oh, just great, and you can call me Babe.”

Copyright 2014. Genie Hambrick

ImageI hear them at night. Dragons breathing as they swoop low, close to the windows of my house, then whoosh up to the sky over Kachemak Bay. Their great tails nick the edge of the garbage can on my deck. One little breath expressed, and fishing floats scatter on my front porch.

In another time, before understanding, but when imaginations could render dragons for eyes to see, the dragons’ breath caught the sparks from fire pits , then cobbled chimneys. With their awful breath, they spit consuming fire.

I am tucked inside a house built to protect against the elements. It’s so tight that there’s a system to exchange inside air for what’s outside. The windows are snug and double-glazed, but I can hear the dragons. In another time, before understanding, I would have been freaked out. The wind here is big.

Copyright 2013-2014 Genie Hambrick