Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas!

We've had a week of mild temperatures and sunny weather this past week. It has been a welcome break from the snow! Everyone comments on how much snow there is for this time of year. We had a quiet, but pleasant Christmas, spending the day just hanging out watching videos and eating yummy food.

We have a HUGE praise for the camp as a whole - the camp's phone system is old, complicated and constantly breaking down. Jim Raymond was the only one who had a clue how it worked, but he left this past fall. Every time they dig lately they seem to break through a phone line. There is a huge need to redo the whole system AND have some of our guys learn how to do some basic phone work so they can keep up the system themselves. Having the phone company out to fix things gets VERY expensive VERY quickly! We did end up having them out recently and after about 3 hrs of work they could still not get the line working correctly. The guy who came out was willing to come to camp on a volunteer basis on his own time, but needed approval from his employers to do that. They agreed AND he was able to recruit a bunch of other people to come out as well! They will be coming out to rework our whole system! This will save the camp MANY thousands of dollars of work and will be such a HUGE help to make our system more reliable and easier to maintain. Yeeehaw!!! Merry Christmas, Victory!

I don't have a lot more news so I'll just post piles of pictures which everyone prefers anyway :) First are Christmas pictures of each of the kids - Andrei still in pjs getting $ for clothes (boring, but no way parents can pick out that stuff, and that's all he wanted).

Oksana with a new MP3 player - this is her third. She CONSTANTLY has the music going, so she burns through them pretty quickly. The new chairs were given to us recently. They need work, including new covers, but at least we can all actually sit on chairs until we find something we really like. Then they'll make good chairs for the shack in the back!

Sergei got tools to help him fix all the things he breaks. Well, hopefully to fix them and not make things worse.

Ellie's Christmas, but don't let it fool you. She actually spent most of the day outside RUNNING and having a BLAST! She just came inside to warm up in between runs. It's a rough life. What I don't get is how she doesn't fit in that bed, but Eider, who is twice her size, can curl right up in there. And someone forgot to tell Ellie that Bassets are supposed to be fat and lazy. That dog LOVES to run! She went with the boys up to the spring the other day (WAY up the hill through snow deeper than she is tall) and she STILL wanted to run and run and run after she came back!

Ummm, someone needs a hair cut! I lined them all up last night and got the clippers out after seeing this bad hair!

The shack in the back on Dec 20. The sun doesn't hit our house right now, but it isn't far from us! Our bedroom will get sun again before the downstairs will.

This picture shows our house fairly close to mid-day. You can see that the sun reaches just above the house. So solar panels just might work! The LED kitchen and dining room fixtures are on their way so we should be in even better shape with our electric usage soon! We may not even need solar panels if we can get our usage to drop enough!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

MORE pictures!

I discovered today that I'd never posted the sledding pictures! They are now in the photo album on the link to the right. I'd also put together one showing where our house sits from way back. You don't see many views in this direction. What you're seeing in front is the peninsula, then behind that the cove where our house sits.

Here is the house from the front after this week's big storm.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just pictures!

Figured I'd post a few pics from the storm the last few days. First is my favorite chick-a-dee tree - I LOVE how this came out looking like a postcard!

Next are the trees frosted with tons of snow-icing.

The quilt curtain I'm working on now - still needs to be quilted but it was cold enough last night that I wanted it up to keep things warm.

Rodney built bunk beds for Oksana's and Andrei's rooms. He is planning to build a desk/bunk for Sergei's room and still needs a few parts so he hasn't gotten to that one yet. Didn't catch the best facial expression on Rodney here but I didn't get another "finished" pic, so he's stuck with this one!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big storm and more intros and pictures

It's snowing. A lot. We've got about a foot already in the last 3 days. Maybe you all expect that in Alaska but it's very unusual for camp to get this much snow at once. Rodney and Nate were in PalmerWasilla (I might as well type it as one word, everyone here says it as one word) yesterday leaving Rod alone to plow. He just had the pickup truck and plow so he was having a tough time keeping up. He did our place twice yesterday and I still slid down the driveway hill and got stuck this morning. It was windy and cold so I was trying to take the kids to the bus stop but they ended up pushing me out. Ah well, we got there in time and the truck was warmed up by then so they did have a mostly warm ride. A tractor trailer jack-knifed between Sutton and Palmer blocking the road to Palmer so there's no mail today either. Basically, it is quite the storm! UPS got through, but they come out of Glennallen to the northeast.

Rodney and Nate were able to pick up the remaining things they needed to finish our utility room and Rodney was able to get the door on that today which should make a huge difference in keeping the house warm. All the old doors need adjusting, sealing or replacing because they leak so much air. That takes care of one of the three. I got another window quilt mostly done yesterday too so we're more prepared now for the really cold weather than we were last time. It has been down around 0 degrees most of the week, but for some odd reason it doesn't feel that cold. Well, today in the wind it does, but when it is still out, you don't notice the cold. Nate has been out most of the day with the HUGE plow digging out the entire camp. What a job but boy is it nice to be able to get around!

I confess that I DO notice the lack of light! We're almost to the shortest day of the year and it is getting light at about 10 am, dark again at around 4 pm. This week though with the storm it has been barely light all day. It might be letting up a bit though because I can see a few mountain peaks again this afternoon. I finally realized this week that it might be a good idea for me to use the light therapy light that my sister sent up with us. I realized that my brain wasn't really waking up until about noon and then I was having trouble getting to sleep. I NEVER have trouble sleeping! Anyway, after just one day of light therapy (15 min) and taking melatonin one night, I woke up feeling much more awake the next morning. This morning was the second morning, and I even woke up before the alarm. Success! It's a pretty easy fix and I have a lot more energy again. Funny what a little light can do!

A lot of people have left for Christmas at this point. It is pretty much just the maintenance guys, the director, the horse director, the cooks and I think that is about all that is left. Which reminds me again that I still have not introduced the rest of the people here at camp! Do you guys mind another long one? I have lots of pics to make up for it! I'm working the desk answering phones all day today so I've had plenty of time to work on this!

First, a map of camp showing where our house sits in relation to everything else. It also gives you an outline of the camp itself (and can be found without the arrow on the camp website). The Glen Highway runs pretty much east/west from Anchorage through Palmer, Sutton, Chickaloon, past camp and then on up to Glennallen. The heavy straight line on the right is the airstrip.

Next is a picture of my Christmas cactus which is blooming like crazy. I can grow things that don't need much water. ;) The reds started first, now the orange (left) are in full bloom and the pink/purple (right) are coming on. The whites (back on the right) are a bit further behind. It yields a long, drawn out display.

The obligatory scenic pics - two sunrises, the first pic by Nina up at camp, second is from our house. The oval on the lake is the kid's skating rink.

Now some pictures of the kids at the band concert

In front is Carol Cornfield, wife of Rick, the director here at Victory. She's another phenomenal cook and another amazingly sweet lady who is quickly becoming a great friend.

When I decided to do introductions of the camp staff, I really wanted to fill in a lot of details about each family. I never get around to getting those details down on paper and making sure they were correct so I'll just do quick intros and hopefully sometime get back with more details later.

Jacob & Heather Klapak - Jacob is the camp cook (ANOTHER great cook) and Heather is a BUSY mom who is also trying to help fill in as the camp accountant until the camp can find one who can be here more regularly. Their boys Luke and Cody are delightful busy beavers! Jake and Rodney enjoy discussing all things hunting and fishing while Heather and I enjoy discussing kids and all sorts of stuff. Heather is very sweet and I enjoy spending time with her and the kids.

Aaron & Chelsea Meeuwsen - Aaron is part time at camp (summer), part time youth pastor at the church (winter). Chelsea works with the youth and at camp as well (waterfront director) in addition to working at the local school in whatever capacity she can. The kids really love Chelsea and that they can talk to her at school any time.

Andy & Christie Dougherty - Andy is the program director at camp and his wife Christie is VERY busy with their three adorable boys, Elijah, Titus and Jude.

Sandy Anderson is the main office person at camp. Sandy knows everything. Any questions, ask Sandy. She runs the store as well. And she's nice too! ;)

Doug & Crystal Thiessen and their boys Carlen, Jared, Austin and Randall. Doug is the Ranch (horse) camp director. Crystal is another phenomenal cook and their kids are just awesome kids that hang out with ours quite a bit.

So that's most of the folks who are here year around. I still need to catch a couple more, but some of them are hard to catch, like Rick and Carol Cornfield TOGETHER! Easy to catch them apart, but too often they are putting out fires in different directions ;) I need to catch Nicole and Brian and their interns (like Nina of the picture above) too. I may need to "borrow" a picture to get them all in one spot. Anyway, hope you're still with me after that long one!

Monday, December 14, 2009

School band concert videos

Let me preface this by stating that I do NOT expect everyone to watch the videos. These are primarily posted for grandparents. We all know that grandparents will need to watch ALL the videos and will think their grandchildren were absolutely amazing! That's what grandparents are for! For the rest of you souls brave enough to give the videos a try, we'll blame the camera for poor sound quality and the camera woman for the jumping around (sorry, it was just a pocket camera with no way to stabilize it and my arms got REALLY tired). Seriously, it did seem to sound better in person, but then again, that may be parental bias speaking ;) It was WAY COOL to see almost the entire community turn out to watch! If you want to watch just one or two, I'd suggest #s 40 (band - Sergei behind the drummer on percussion, Andrei on piano, Oksana on violin) and 38 (singing group - Sergei far left). I think the camera battery died at the end of 39 and fortunately for ya'll, #41 is lost in cyber space ;)








Friday, December 11, 2009

We have POWER!! And a Sergei story

The time just flies! Here it is more than another week again. I think it has something to do with this time of ther year. There is so much to do that the time just disappears before your eyes.

We were able to get into Anchorage to talk to the off-grid people. They were very helpful and quickly identified what was likely causing our problems. Our system was using a car battery charger to recharge the batteries but that kind of charger really wasn't designed for our system. We were able to purchase a charger relatively inexpensively (compared to the inverter) and set that up on our system. Yesterday Rodney was working out at the house so the generator ran all day. The batteries got a GOOOOOOD charge and last night the system was much more stable, much happier. :) So are we! This morning the fridge and many of the lights were on in the house and the system was handling all of it with no problems. We got the thermostat for the "freezer as fridge" today and that seems to be operating well too. It doesn't run very often and seems to hold the temp fairly steady. The only problems are that now we've lost our built in kitchen bulletin board and there are no ice cubes inside. ;)

The kids had their school band concert this week. It went very well but I have not yet uploaded the videos or pictures. I'll try to work on that this weekend! There is a 24 hr bug going around that causes either the runs or throwing up. Some lucky people get both. At about 2 pm that day the school called me to pick up Andrei because he was throwing up. He threw up a couple of times at school, then a few more times at home. About an hour before we had to leave for the concert, he said he was feeling a little bit better. I had him continue to lie down until we left and then lie down at the school until it was time for him to play but he was able to play! He was the only piano on one song and he'd felt terrible that he might not be there so he was glad to be able to fill that spot. Poor Mr Owen (the conductor) had kids dropping out left and right to that bug but they managed to pull it off and it actually sounded pretty good! There were a lot of people from the community in the band which really helped out a lot. The school is small enough that even with most kids in the band, it is still small.

I suppose I'll have to tell this next story at some point. It might as well be now. Let's just say that it starts with Sergei. That ought to give fair warning that it is a doozy. If you remember last time Rodney had just gotten a new plow and had put it on his ATV. He'd spent an entire day working on his ATV tracking down an electrical problem and putting on the plow. He'd only had the plow on there a few days when our story takes place. Sergei. Sigh. Sergei has been home more than normal lately in order to focus more on his academics. He was getting bored with being home so much. He decided he wanted to take the kid ATV out and haul some logs to the house for fire wood. The problem was that the kid ATV was in the back of the ATV shed behind Rodney's with the brand new plow.

Rodney was in Anchorage with Nate and would not be home until late. Sergei wanted to move Rodney's ATV but I didn't think it was a good idea. He kept pestering and pleading, it was such a simple thing to do to move the ATV, he'd driven it many times, all he was going to do was move it out of the way and get his out, I never considered the plow when visualizing Sergei moving it. A couple of hours later Sergei came back in and told me that the kid's ATV had a flat tire, that it was soft, the less I said the more he talked. Rodney can tell you that a great way to get criminals to talk is to be silent. They feel they need to fill the silence. They were brand new tires. There was no reason one should be flat. The ATV had supposedly slid a little bit coming to rest right up against a nail in a board. Supposedly. With Sergei you're never really sure of what REALLY happened. Sergei had placed those boards in the pile and was supposed to have burned them, but he never got around to it. Then he drove over the boards. Again, the story isn't really clear. Maybe we'll find out what really happened in a year or so when he tells someone else the story (that's how we normally hear the real story).

We do know that he drove Rodney's ATV more than just to move it. There was fresh plowing done down on the ice. The problem is that the plow has bumpers on the bottom that prevent the plow from hitting too low so you don't scrape it on things. Those bumpers were covered in ice so Rodney had them in the house to thaw. Not a problem if you're not plowing but without those bumpers the blade gets scraped up pretty badly. Imagine how we figured that out. Additionally, the winch controls the plow which is a bit tricky to use if you don't know how to operate it. Sergei did not know how to operate it. He broke one of the control arms on the brand new plow and snapped some of the strands of the winch cable. Somehow. Then there's quite a ding on the plow itself, quite likely from running into a rather large boulder that Nate placed as sort of a foundation at the corner of the generator shed. And a bunch of tears in the brand new ATV shed door. All in a couple of hours while not even trying to be destructive. It's a gift the boy has. He never told me about all the other things he'd done. He figured no one would notice I guess. Rodney noticed. Later the next evening a little early for bed time Rodney came home and I told Sergei he might want to make himself scarce and he asked me why. I told him that he'd just done about $1,000 worth of damage and it might be smart to lay low for a while. He still didn't get it. His self preservation instincts seem to be lacking a bit.

We were able to get in to Palmer for Oksana's violin lesson this week. With people traveling and what not we were able to get a double lesson slot and she and Mrs Harding played for at least an hour. It was very intense but a great lesson! Oksana has really gotten into a groove again with her playing and with Mrs Harding and they're making great progress! She's even beginning to actually realize that her violin COULD become a future occupation. That would be really awesome!

I was soooooo annoyed with myself though! I forgot my camera! What a lousy day to do it! The scenery was absolutely stunning! Snow was heavy in the trees like an extra heavy layer of frosting covering each branch. The snow really closed in on the car, muffling sound and pulling you into the peaceful cocoon. The mountains were aglow with pink and gold bright sunshine over the snowy peaks. It was just one of those days that felt like there couldn't be another day more beautiful! That evening as we finished our shopping and errands we came out of Lowes to witness the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. It had somehow created a rainbow of brilliant sunset colors across the horizon. Picture the darkest, most vivid sunset colors you have ever seen. Along the horizon was a strip of sunset red. Above that was a strip of sunset orange blending to yellowish (not so vivid) which then went into a strip of green, then dark blue and finally faded into the dark purple sky. I wish I'd had my camera to try to capture it but I was kicking myself again for missing that! I tried to search online for a picture of something similar but I couldn't find anything quite like what we saw. This one comes close, but doesn't quite capture the depth of colors, nor quite the strips of color we saw (not to mention it didn't have the ray thingy):
Truly amazing! Once again we were caught with our mouths gaping open just in awe of the beauty of the scenery. And all of that right outside of Lowes of all places! It's just not right!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Welcome to December!

Greetings from snowy Alaska! Ya'll will LOVE to hear this! We're getting DUMPED on with wet, sticky snow! This rarely happens here according to all reports. They hardly ever close school unless it is too cold and today was no exception. Some kids did not get to school because the road is closed just up the highway from the school with 3' of snow. It is hard to say how much we did get because it is packing down, but I'll guess it was only around 4 inches. It is supposed to snow most of the week though so we'll see how it ends up. We haven't had enough snow for sledding or snow mobiling though so this is really welcome, along with moderated temperatures all this week and last. It even made it up above freezing today. The only problem with moderate temperatures is keeping the house cool enough. If I'm not careful to just barely keep the wood stove going, it will quickly hit 80 degrees in the house.

Rodney got the plow on his ATV yesterday along with tracking down the electrical problems. He still needs to change the oil in it, but it is a lot happier with these temperatures at any rate. He was able to use the plow today to clear a lot of snow in camp and to plow the trail across the lake that the kids take to school. I called down to Oksana's violin teacher in Palmer and she said it is raining there which means everything will turn into a sheet of ice soon. Our ice road is a MESS! It used to be pretty and slick. Now it is slushy and choppy. We won't be going to Oksana's violin lesson today just in case you were wondering. ;)

We DID go into Palmer and towards Wasilla on Saturday which had its ups and downs. We got to go to a great sale that had a TON of artists and artisans from all over Alaska. Dianne VanDaam had told me that if she doesn't shop anywhere else, she tries to make it to that sale every year. It was fun. Overwhelming, but fun. Oksana, Andrei and I lasted for about an hour and called it a day. It is one of those places where you buy an item or so at a time to build a collection or where you buy Christmas presents for people who have everything. Beautiful stuff! We also got a great deal on a TV at Sears which has made certain children VERY happy.

The down side of that trip was that it was snowing like mad in Palmer. The roads were fine up here at camp but they were terrible around Palmer and towards Wasilla. I don't think they had plowed at all so everthing turned into a sheet of ice. We were waiting behind a truck at a stop light and it took him 1/4 mile before he stopped spinning his tires. Not much of a driver for sure, but the roads really were terrible. At any rate, I wasn't inclined to try that trip again any time soon in the snow.

Camp is currently without power again so that means more running around checking heaters, generators and what not. The generator at Miracle Lodge (the main camp lodge) is down so there's no power there either. They sent a part out with Matt early this morning to be fixed so hopefully Matt can get back to camp with it today. If the roads aren't closed. There is currently a travel advisory from Chickaloon (half way from here to Palmer) on out to Sheep Mountain (just the other side of the school, where I got the pictures of sheep this fall). Beyond Sheep Mountain the road is closed. The food in the camp cooler and freezer will have to be moved into the cooler truck if they can't get that part today.

We are actually having power trouble ourselves, but that's not related to this storm (or the new TV). We've been having power problems for a few days now. Rodney hasn't really had enough time to figure out which part it is (probably the inverter, but possibly the alternator) but we DID find an outstanding website and business that deals with exactly the type of situation we are in. It has tons of ideas for how we might improve our system including a diagram of how they build their pelton wheel system: We're having a blast contemplating the possibilities.

We were already looking at replacing the kitchen and dining room light fixtures with LEDs. They are the large fluorescent fixtures which would seem energy efficient, but when multiplied by 4 huge bulbs in each fixture, they become energy suckers on our system. The fridge of course is also a big power sucker. Again, we have ideas, we just need to decide what will best balance cost, energy use and convenience. We're also considering turning a chest freezer into a fridge or doing something like this:

So basically, there's a lot going on right now! Additionally, Rod has turned in his resignation from camp, effective in May. While that didn't really come as a surprise, it still hit hard. Rod and Dianne haven't decided if they will stay here or move back to Oregon, but if they do move, it will be a huge loss for us as well as for many others here at camp, not just in the maintenance department. They do have a lot of family in Oregon though and the needs of all the kids to consider. While it would be hard to see them go, we do want the best for them and their family.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the boys had a huge volleyball game last week. There was no boy's volleyball league this year through the school but there was a girl's team. The boys felt like they were hot stuff and challenged the girls to play. Nate (an excellent volleyball player) was asked to be their coach and the date was set. They practiced almost every day but it wasn't enough to catch the weeks (and even years) of practice that the girls had already had. The girls beat the tar out of them in the first game. The second game was closer, but Robert VanDaam and Chris (you haven't met him yet) crashed heads, taking Robert out of the game. The boys lost momentum after that. It was unfortunate, because they weren't far behind the girls and the girls were getting pretty tired at that point. If they'd have caught them, they might have stood a chance of winning. They never did catch their stride again though and got creamed in the last game too, ending their dreams of routing the girls. To be honest, the girls played exceptionally well that day. They were determined to kick some male rear-end and they succeeded. Let's hope they can continue to play that well the rest of the season. ;) I had not charged my camera battery before the game so I didn't get many good shots, but here are a few that came out ok:

In order to keep the water in some of the unused cabins from freezing, they run water continuously. That creates ice. Lots of ice. Here is one of Rodney's favorite sculpture creations:And the room on the back of the house - it now actually has a roof, but will probably get an Alaskan special (a tarp) until spring because it is just too icy to finish right now. Jake and Andy are here right now helping Rodney do something under the house (maybe more insulating???) which reminds me that I need to introduce them to you next time. ;)
Required weekly scenic picture:Until next time, Happy December!

Morning commute

Morning commute