Posted on July 24, 2014
Alaska in mid-summer has many attractions. But two of them are salmon and rhubarb.
The red salmon are hitting big this time of year. Whether you’re a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay or a weekend combat fisherman on the Kenai River, this is the highlight of your summer. (Side note: some people are starting to use “fisher” as a non-gender specific way to refer to fishermen and fisherwomen, but some hate it, so I go for the usual word for tradition’s sake. It can mean either gender.) My writer friend Tiffinie Helmer (http://www.tiffiniehelmer.com) was just out in Bristol Bay, and she said it was insanely busy this year, to the point where she and her family crew members almost couldn’t handle the volume. I don’t often fish myself (long but not very interesting story), but I have three family members at the Copper River dipnetting for reds this week. I hope to have lots of filets and smoked chunks in the refrigerator by the time you read this.
Every Alaskan has his or her favorite way to preserve and cook salmon. For ease, nothing beats cleaning, filleting and throwing it in the freezer. We got a vacuum pack machine a few years ago, so our filets are preserved well for a year or more. We also smoke some if we have enough; it takes more time but it’s not hard once you get the hang of it. My husband loves to eat smoked salmon for lunch, which no doubt makes everyone in the faculty lounge green with envy. Smoked salmon is a prized gift or possession around here.
Cooking salmon is not difficult–just remember to give it a light hand and take it off before you overcook it. Our favorite way is to grill it with equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, with a little garlic, onion, and whatever herb or spice you have to throw into it. It can be baked the same way. Leftovers (or canned salmon) can be easily added to chowder, pasta, salad, made into salmon patties or salmon loaf. If you want to be a little fancy, throw the smoked salmon into those dishes, and it’ll taste like a gourmet meal.
I don’t fish, but I have a couple huge bushes of rhubarb nearby, so that’s my contribution to summer dishes. I started cooking rhubarb with my next-door neighbor’s recipe for rhubarb bread, a sweetbread heavy on brown sugar that works as a dessert. Now I’ve branched out to rhubarb pie, crisp, buckle. I like the sour taste myself, but often add berries to sweeten it up a bit. My daughter discovered that you can chop up a stalk or two and freeze it, so you can have a taste of summer anytime.
It’s time to go whip up a batch of rhubarb crisp!
Posted on July 18, 2014
According to the OED, the first written use of “hay fever” was in 1835, and it is defined as “a disorder of the early summer, characterized by a catarrhal condition of the ocular, nasal, and respiratory membranes, accompanied generally by asthmatic symptoms, usually caused by the pollen of grasses and some flowers, sometimes by the dust of other substances or the odorous emanations of some fruits and animals.” (I love the way they put things, so I gave the whole definition here!) I looked it up because my hay fever has been really bad this summer.
I’ve always had hay fever. Sneezing and itchy eyes is just a sign of summer to me. I’ve taken most allergy medicines over my lifetime, changing every now and then as my body gets used to the latest one and it’s time to switch it up. I had a scratch test when I was young, where they prick your skin and deposit extracts on your back to see which things cause a reaction. My back had red dots all over it, and the doctor pronounced I was allergic to every plant in Alaska.
This year, under current conditions, the plants seem to be pollinating even more than usual. I’ve switched medications a couple times already, trying to find the best combination of chemicals that will shut down my body’s reaction to the histamines. Right now, nothing seems to work, and I’ve developed a sinus infection on top of it. So my days are filled with congestion, a raw throat, and sinus headaches. Gardening is out of the question–the weeds can take over this summer. It’s hard to focus and get things accomplished when I cough every time I talk and my head throbs. But I guess that’s the price for living in Alaska. It’s one I’ll pay, but I can’t say I’m enjoying it either. Maybe we’ll get a good rain or something so I can get a break soon.
Hoping your summer is a fun one, without hay fever!
Posted on July 11, 2014
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Posted on July 4, 2014
Historically, Alaskans are big on celebrating the 4th of July. Even before we became a state, territorial residents made a point of partying on Independence Day. In my research, I’ve seen photos of parades in Skagway in 1898 and Nome in 1900, and a huge crowd celebrating in Fairbanks in 1904. (The photo here is from Nome in 1916.) And those are just the settings I researched for my books–I’m sure there are many more photos in archives and collections.
Alaskans are pretty independent themselves, but proud of their heritage, so this holiday really struck a chord with them. Independence Day celebrations in Alaska usually featured a parade, speeches, and some kind of games. I’ve read about baseball games, canoe races, rock-drilling contests, and eating contests. Workers at the Treadwell Mine in Douglas, near Juneau, held fire department hose races; you had to carry the hose a certain distance, connect to the hydrant, and start the water running.
Today the tradition continues, with many Alaskan towns holding 4th of July celebrations. Anchorage, Seward, Valdez, Sitka, Juneau, Wasilla, Fairbanks, Whittier, Kenai, Tok, Seldovia–all have events that pop up with a quick online search, and I’m sure other communities have plans too. Most have parades and family activities. Anchorage always hosts a double-header game followed by fireworks, but to be honest, the fireworks aren’t very impressive when it’s still light out. Many Alaskans’ favorite Independence Day celebration is Seward’s Mount Marathon Race, which started as a bar bet in 1915 and involves running up and down the mountain. Only the brave and sturdy need apply, but everyone can watch the runners from downtown. I’ve never attended, because I’m not big on crowds. But I hear it’s amazing!
What will I be doing? I’ll give thanks for our democracy and its traditions. Then I’ll attend the local parade, and head to Birchwood for the Alaska 49ers (my shooting club) territorial championship, Shootout Under the Midnight Sun. For three days, we’ll dress up like cowboys and cowgirls, shoot old style guns at steel targets, and tell stories with our compadres. I hope to shoot well, but mostly I’ll spend time with my dad and enjoy the company of my posse. (For more on the Alaska 49ers and cowboy action shooting, see our website at http://www.alaska49ers.pistolshooting.com.)
Wishing you a good Independence Day, wherever you are! How does your community celebrate the 4th?
Note: some content from previous blog post
Posted on June 27, 2014
I just spent most of the day with an elderly friend in the emergency room. She had a relatively minor problem, but enough for me to be a little worried about her, and I am glad to say she is doing all right now.
I’m still a little rattled and probably not very articulate yet. But I do want to say thank you to all the health professionals out there. From the nurses’ aides to the sanitary crew, from the nurses and doctors to radiologists, everyone was so kind and helpful today. And I know that people like you are doing great things for patients and their loved ones every day. Thank you.
And I am thankful for my family and friends. We’re all in this together. I’m grateful to have such good people in my life.
Posted on June 20, 2014
Solstice is a big deal in Alaska. Because of the dramatic change in sunlight, we really notice the difference between the longest day and the shortest day. Whether you think of it as a part of old pagan rituals, a mark in the cycle of the seasons, or just want to have fun, summer solstice is a good time to celebrate. Alaskans throw parties, have big events, generally do something on that day.
Summer solstice is a great excuse to throw evening parties, in the land of the midnight sun. Here in Southcentral Alaska, we get about 20 hours of sunlight that day. The baseball leagues usually have a big game that night, and the fireworks people have a midnight show. (Although it’s hard to see, because of the sunlight.) One of my family members got married on solstice–that was pretty fun, and the hubby won’t forget the anniversary day.
As a history buff, I enjoy going to the John Bagoy Memorial Cemetery tour put on by the Cook Inlet Historical Society. This is the 20th year for their walking tour, pointing out pioneer graves and telling their histories. In recent years, they’ve added actors telling the stories in vintage costume. It seems a fitting thing to do on the longest day of the year.
Whatever your celebration is where you are, hope you have a good summer solstice!
Posted on June 13, 2014
I’m at the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference this week. Here’s the second half of the encore blog post from 2012:
Last week I started sharing what I’ve learned about life. Here is the rest of the list:
6. What you have matters less than what you do with it. That’s true with your body, your material goods, your life situation. You can live a rich life just by using what you have with style or passion.
7. Enjoy the little things, whether it’s a sunset or a friend’s smile. As Laura Ingalls Wilder put it, “I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
8. Be where you are when you’re there. Live in the moment, instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Feel the emotions you are experiencing now, then move on.
9. Exercise your right to vote (or start when you’re 18). It is interesting to learn about issues and candidates, and satisfying to have your say. And sometimes your vote really makes a difference; it happens in Alaskan elections quite often!
10. And of course, savor the power of words. Use them wisely, enjoy them, make them part of your life.
Anything you’d like to respond to, or any items we should add to this?
Posted on June 6, 2014
While I’m working on edits for the next novel, Quicksilver to Gold, and getting ready for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, it’s a good time to post an encore blog post. Here’s one of my favorites from 2012:
I turn 50 this week. That has led me to reflect on how far I’ve come over the years. I do have a little wisdom that I’ve learned, some of it the hard way, as we all have. Maybe I can smooth the way for someone else by sharing it here:
1. Love is all you need. (Yes, the Beatles were right.) Overall, love is the most meaningful, most empowering thing in my life. And it has changed the world; look at the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. for starters.
2. All we have is each other and nature. So take care of both. Show respect for all people and all of the natural world. (You don’t have to talk to ravens like I do, but it can’t hurt.)
3. Tell your family and friends that you love them. (Okay maybe not in so many words if that’s not your style. But show them, somehow.) If they know you care about them, then you’ll have fewer regrets in life.
4. Express/accept yourself. You are the only “you” on this planet. And you live with yourself 24/7. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Respect yourself and become the best “you” that you can be.
5. Take care of your body, mind, spirit. Eat healthy, exercise, practice balance in your life. Learn something new every day, feed your soul with things you love, and do whatever formal or informal spiritual practice helps you to grow and flourish.
That’s probably enough for one post. Five more next week!
Anything on the list that strikes a nerve with you, or anything that I should include that you don’t see yet?
Posted on May 30, 2014
The North Words Writers Symposium is held in Skagway every year, and my friend Lizzie Newell has been several times. I kept hearing her recommend it, and finally signed up for it this year. I have friends in town, and I wanted to do some history sleuthing for my current work in progress. So Lizzie and I came down a few days early to hang out, sightsee a bit (and for me to research), and then go to the Symposium.
It has been a great trip so far. People have been generous, and visiting with my friends was great fun. And of course Skagway is beautiful, nestled between two mountain ridges and facing Taiya Inlet. Everywhere you look, there’s a gorgeous view.
Over two days, I visited the Skagway Museum, the National Park Service’s Visitor Center, and talked with a couple local experts about Skagway in World War II. Plus, a resident who was here during the war graciously took me around town and told me some of his memories. I have learned a lot about Skagway in 1942: it was a major shipping hub for getting equipment and supplies to Whitehorse for the troops building the Alcan Highway and the Canol pipeline for the war effort. The town grew from about 500 people to 3,500 when the troops started pouring in. Suddenly all these GIs outnumbered the young ladies in town–possibilities for romance, don’t you think? Dances and other activities were fun ways for the young folks to meet and have fun. But there was a darker side to town life as people knew the Japanese had invaded the Pacific, then Dutch Harbor; the possibility of an invasion was on everyone’s mind. Families were encouraged to have evacuation kits ready and have a place staked out in the hills just in case. (And with many of the men off to war or working 18 to 20 hour days, the wives often had to take responsibility for these kinds of things.) That must have been nerve-wracking for some living in Skagway. These are just a few things I’ve been exploring while researching in town this week, made even more poignant by the fact that we had Memorial Day and my thoughts were on our servicemen and women making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. During World War II, many people made sacrifices big and small for the war effort. My thanks to the Greatest Generation for what they did for us.
On a happier note, the Skaguay News Depot & Books store (in photo) bought copies of Fools Gold and hosted a booksigning for me on Tuesday. I had a delightful afternoon visiting with locals and cruise ship passengers as they stopped by the shop. It was great to interact with people and talk about books and Alaska.
The Symposium started Wednesday. Faculty from Alaska and Canada will give sessions on topics such as “Reality Basted: Writing Readable History that Sticks to the Facts” and “My Dog Spot: Making the Ordinary Compelling.” So far, my experience has been very positive, and the people are great. I am sure I’ll learn a lot and feel inspired by the time I head home. This whole trip has been like finding gold, rich in so many ways.
Links for more information:
North Words Writers Symposium: http://www.nwwriterss.com
Skagway Museum: http://www.viator.com/Skagway-attractions/Skagway-Museum/d943-a3949
National Park Service Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park: http://www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm
Skaguay New Depot & Books (and explanation of Skaguay vs. Skagway): http://www.skagwaybooks.com
Posted on May 16, 2014
How I Found the Write Path
(This is an advice letter to myself when I first started writing toward publication. I wrote this as part of a book project hosted by Carrie Butler. For more on this topic, see Carrie Butler’s blog at http://soyoureawriter.blogspot.com/2014/04/i-need-your-help.html.)
Dear Newbie Writer Lynn,
Good for you for deciding to get serious about your writing! It will bring you many years of satisfaction and enjoyment. Here’s some advice to help you on your way to publication:
1. Don’t worry about whether you’re a “real writer”or not. You became one the day you committed to writing a novel. Try not to blush every time you talk about your writing or feel bashful about telling people what you do. And when you do, have faith that you’ll stop blushing one day.
2. Take advantage of writing groups and other opportunities to learn more about the craft and business of writing. Not only will you learn things that will help you in the future, you’ll make friendships you will cherish for many years.
3. Take your writing seriously, and make sure people around you do, too. Schedule time for writing just like you schedule time for appointments and other commitments. Tell others about your writing schedule so they can respect it. Your husband will learn not to interrupt you when the study door is shut; just remind him of the routine and give him a little time to get used to it.
4. It’s a great idea to subscribe to Querytracker and learn about the business side of things. But don’t be too eager to send off those queries right away. It will take years to get your writing ready for primetime. Focus on your craft first.
5. Enjoy the journey! Celebrate the milestones as you go down the path, from your first “The End,” to the first query (and first of many rejections), all the way to the first book in your hand, and more. Each step will bring you closer to your goals. It will take a few bucks to spring for the extra chocolate and restaurant bills, but it’ll be worth it. Do something special for yourself on each big day. You earned it!