Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Getting Ready

Sometimes it feels like all we are ever doing is getting ready for what's next. Ordering materials for the roofing and insulation. Talking to contractors and designers hammering out the details for plumbing, mechanical and electrical requirements. Finalizing business documents, designing a website, even changing the look of this blog so that it will match the future website (many thanks to Jim). Imagining the future but somehow never feeling like the future is here, now because we are planning for the next stage.

Fortunately there is one exception.
Getting ready for vacation! This week I am researching public transportation in Seattle and on the Baja, Mexico. Next week, Brian, Oliver and I will be there. This week we are making a list and putting together a loose pile of stuff to remember to bring: child life preserver, travel car seat, bathing suits, a few warm things for Washington, passports, a book for leisure reading, extra diapers, lots of airplane snacks... In one week we will drop almost all of our Talkeetna responsibilities, hop on a plane and get away from this cold, snowy wonderland for three whole weeks. Vacation is one of the few events we get ready for that actually arrives...and actually ends before we start planning the next one.

I couldn't be more ready for this vacation. We can't afford it and really shouldn't take the precious time away from moving forward on the bakery building. But any amount of sunny seventy degree weather we can absorb while traveling will most certainly energize us for all the getting ready that lies waiting for us at home.

It's impossible to know the number of hours I have spent getting ready for the grand opening of Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe over the last ten years. And it's hard to imagine how much more getting ready I will do in the next five or six months. At some point, the future will be here. The cafe will be open. I will go to my job every day and just be doing it, living it, instead of always planning for it. Wow, that sounds good.

So, on this snowy Christmas and Chanukah day I am thinking more about the changes that Solstice brings. And the forward thinking as each day becomes lighter and a New Year is imminent. My New Year's Resolution: yes, get ready, keep planning, but feel how much the future has already come. As much as I look forward to many tomorrows, I am living right here, right now. Mexico here I come!

P.S. If you subscribe to this blog, take a minute to go the blog site and let me know how it looks and if everything works right on your browser!
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Dark and Cold

I actually got to take a walk by myself a few evenings ago. The temps have been hovering around zero or below for several days. But, no matter, the clear skies made being outside a pleasure even if my frosted eyelashes, the only exposed part of my body, felt like they were in danger of breaking off. I took a few terrible photos - no tripod, no special settings, clumsy gloves, and virtually dark. Funny thing is, I like them anyway. They capture something.

My frosty mood. The blurry blue that is twilight in winter. The slowness of everything this time of year. Yes, my family is very much looking forward to the vacation that we cannot afford and don't have time for.

I walked farther than planned when I glimpsed a spot of light through the trees and knew I had to get to the lake near our house quickly. I tromped through over a foot of snow down the short trail and out onto the lake. Tromped some more following some moose tracks around the bend in the lake and watched one of the most stunning moon rises I have ever seen. Things can get pretty muddled in the dark, snow covered blanket of days around Solstice. But a big, bright, orange moon rise over Tigger Lake, reminded me that moments of clarity are always there. We just have to take the time to look for them...

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Friday, December 5, 2008

In Defense of "Food Issues" or Yesterday I was Called a "Stick-In-the-Mud"

This week we have had a fascinating combination of weather all of which has made for slow going. Monday and Tuesday: 5 below zero (nail guns and air compressors revolt). Wednesday afternoon: blowing snow (tarps revolt, plus it's unsafe for carpenters working on the roof especially in the dark which right now is about at 4:30). Friday, today: rain and 34 degrees (again, unsafe for carpenters working on the roof). We were hoping to have the whole roof sheathed this week - looks like we're a little more than half way there.

Meanwhile, I have an itch in my brain that needs scratching.

Yesterday, as a friend and I were paying for our meal and trying to head out the door of a local food establishment, the owner called me a "stick-in-the-mud" for discouraging his offer of taffy for the children in an open bowl by the cash register. "Thanks, but no thanks," I said, hopefully not sounding as insincere as our governor a few months ago.

A few weeks ago at a really very fun, warm and enjoyable Thanksgiving potluck, I had to remove four bowls of M&Ms to an up high location in the kitchen so Oliver would stop eating chocolate before eating his dinner. This was somewhat challenging since the 20 or so other adults and children in the room seemed to be consuming and enjoying the chocolatey appetizers just fine.

Then, this morning, Brian got annoyed at what he called my "obsession with food issues" when I tried to point out the difference between some sugary, artificially flavored Quaker Oats instant oatmeal that he managed to find hidden at the very back of the pantry and the new box of organic, all natural Costco/Kirkland instant oatmeal I was hoping he would find. I have been fighting a flu bug of some kind, and he prepares meals so rarely these days, that I felt like I should keep my mouth shut since he was kindly making breakfast.*

However, I just can't keep my mouth shut. Last month I read Micheal Pollan's recent book In Defense of Food. I know this is part of the problem (or part of the solution depending on your perspective). It has awakened a sleeping giant in my brain and in my heart. For many years, the giant has been at rest, not comatose per se, but lounging out, making leisurely comments from the peanut gallery, definitely not standing up tall and proud and loud. After reading this book, the giant is standing up again. Here is why.

Human beings have these amazing things called brains - brains that think, that learn, that grow and evolve. My brain happens to be particularly interested in food: taste, nourishment, energy, and the sustenance, safety and sustainability of whomever will consume the food. Brian's brain happens to be particularly interested in shelter: houses, buildings, concrete, lumber, roofing systems, shear walls, energy efficiency and the sustenance, safety and sustainability of whomever will occupy the shelter.

Brian has learned after years of trial and error, education, and work experience that houses should be built with six or eight inch walls. The house will not fall down if it's built with four inch walls, but it will be a much stronger house that will last longer and waste less energy with a thicker wall. Similarly, I have learned that the human body will be stronger, will last longer, and will waste less energy if it consumes healthier foods, say, fresh whole wheat and whole grain breads instead of white bread. We are surviving just fine and probably consumed quite a bit of white bread in our combined 80 years. But now, my brain knows better.

Brian has found that formaldehyde-free insulation doesn't smell nearly as bad as the other brands of fiberglass insulation that are available. Now, we choose to use formaldehyde-free, no matter what some of the construction materials sales guys say about marketing hype - it just feels right, it just seems to make sense, it's not that hard, and we just know it must be better. And, I buy organic and locally produced foods whenever I can because no matter what some of the old school farmers or parents might try to suggest (or deny), buying organic or locally produced foods simply feels right, makes sense, and we know it must be better (no need here to go into research and proof that for the most part it IS better). When I was a little girl, it wasn't even an option. Although less pesticides were probably used on the foods I ate as a child, I am sure there was a good amount of things happening to my food that my parents didn't know about and that probably weren't very good for me. I also probably ate more candy, soda, and fast food than Oliver gets.** I survived. I'm even healthy. But does that mean I should eat the same way I ate as I child or a teenager or one year ago if I know something different now?

I am about to embark on a long-term experiment of making food for others. They will pay money for it and they will choose which foods I have available for sale that they like best mostly based on taste, price, looks, and overall satisfaction. I feel as obligated in continuing my obsession with food issues as Brian does to studying new building codes as they are released, or taking a class on earthquakes, or talking with experts in the field about roofing shingles or techniques for preventing mold and mildew. Need I go on? It's really rather odd that professional development is so widely accepted, even assumed for many fields of work - but not, I think, for being a homemaker or a parent, for running a household, for managing the health and well-being of a family all of which are as or more important than any career.

Although In Defense of Food is a bit academic at times, I do highly recommend it. It focuses on a number of food issues that I have felt strongly about in my heart for a long time but have only articulated in quiet ways. Like don't eat high fructose corn syrup. Don't eat foods that won't rot (like Twinkies). Take time to eat meals with people. Connect together the whole food chain: where the food comes from, how it's prepared, how fast you eat it, how if feels in your stomach once it's past your mouth, where the food waste goes, and on and on. Don't trust nutrition science to be the authority on calories or fats or vitamins, trust yourself. Enjoy eating whatever it is you decide to eat.

The now standing up giant is much bigger than little old me. There are others out there in addition to Michael Pollan that are really trying to bring attention to the interconnectedness of food issues with so many other important world-wide problems. Agriculture, petroleum dependency, the environment, education. I, for one, feel more awake to it all than I have in a long time. And that doesn't make me feel at all like a stick-in-the-mud, or like I "have issues." It makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I can make a difference whether it's just for Oliver, or for every person that walks into the Flying Squirrel.

On candy and children.
In Pollan's book he discusses the importance of food as culture. Nutritionists can research until the cows come home (a whole problem in and of itself when you consider industry's influence on the nutritional information we actually get). However, he suggests it's actually the act of eating in the context of family and culture that teaches children how to eat. Yes, childhood obesity and diabetes in this country is partly due to children eating fast food, soda, snacks and candy and, simply eating too much. But, it is also likely due to parents not eating meals together with their children. Or having the TV on continuously while eating. Or eating quickly prepared food in five minutes that involves little or no clean up time. I don't know a whole lot about being a parent. I am learning as I go. But I do know that it is my job as a parent to give guidance to my child in hopes that he will make good decisions as he grows up.

Does Oliver think that I am a "stick-in-the-mud"? Maybe. Sometimes. But he probably eats a lot more homemade cake, muffins, brownies, cookies, pies and breads than most of his friends and he seems to think they make just fine treats. He also gets his small share of the chocolate bars, hot cocoa, mints, Halloween candy and Fair food in which all of us partake on occasion. I still don't think he should eat taffy full of artificial flavors and colors and sugars, especially right before nap time. And I still think he should eat a good dinner before he eats a bowlful of M&Ms even if we're at a party where the adults are all eating M&Ms before dinner too. Hopefully I am not too heavy handed and he learns to make all kinds of good decisions when he is old enough. Call me a stick-in-the-mud. I can take it. And I can dish it out, too.

* In Defense of Brian: I just have to note that Brian is no stranger to a discriminating diet. In fact, at times, he is more likely to turn up his nose at something that is fried or overly sweet than I am. And, in fact, on occasion he does a fine job making non-instant oatmeal adding honey, fruit, milk, and cinnamon as he sees fit.

**In Defense of My Childhood and My Parents: Brian and I are both very lucky to be children of parents who paid attention to what we ate as children. Our mothers made baked goods from scratch most of the time. We ate together as a family most of the time. We rarely had candy, chips, soda or fast food available. We ate vegetables. Brian's mom even used whole wheat flour and such. AND, we got Halloween candy. AND, we enjoyed ice cream and birthday cakes and many other treats. We were always well fed and well nourished. Thanks Mom and Dad.
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Just one of many somethings to look forward to...

I am calling this one "Some Like it Hot Chocolate Cake." It was as much fun to make as it was to eat and some version of it will surely make occasional appearances at the Flying Squirrel. A decadent bite of this classic dense, moist, rich chocolate cake with ground almonds leaves the distinctly sexy and lingering flavors of cinnamon, Kahlua and chili peppers! Auctioned during a local radio station fundraiser a few days ago for $100.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Up, Up and Away!

Clear, sunny and cold. As good a day as any to "fly the trusses." Now, the building is really starting to look like something. You can walk in the front door. You can see out the big window openings that will be the dining area. I can show you around...
this is the front display counter, this is going to be the wood fired brick oven, the loading dock area will be over there, here is the "dish pit" as ex-dishdog now head of our framing crew Dave calls it. Amazing that in just 2 1/2 hours, a bunch of lumber stuck together suddenly becomes something you can grasp as REAL. So many years of imagining what this building would look, here it is....of course, there is still a long way to go. I imagine I will write another post just like this one when the interior walls go in, when the floor finishes are done, and again, when we start installing equipment. So what? And yipee!
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Monday, November 17, 2008

On Winter Construction

Most people have absolutely no idea what Alaska is like, let alone Talkeetna. Most people are completely awestruck by the beauty, the wildness, and the delicious fish, let alone the rugged self-sufficient people. Most people can't fathom living without running water, using an outhouse, or heating with wood, let alone not having blockbusterwalmartmcdonalds within 70 miles.

I am quite certain, given this kind of total incomprehension, that most people cannot possibly imagine who would be insane enough to build anything in the middle of an Alaska winter, let alone a fairly sizable commercial food establishment.

Snow piling up. Temperatures dropping. Darkness descending. On the other hand, think of it this way: no rain and no mosquitoes!

In my humble opinion, winter construction creates some breathtaking moments that just make you glad to be alive. Usually they involve knocking snotsicles off someone's beard or stepping inside to watch the frost melt off your eyelashes...

But sometimes the snow perches like a little hat on each anchor bolt that will soon be buried within walls instead of under several inches of fresh powdery snow. Sometimes, the view out the window that does not yet exist accentuates the way snow can blanket every branch, twig and leaf on every tree creating an infinity of depth that is at once precise yet organic, crisp yet pillowy. Sometimes, the necessity to work at 9:00 in the morning or to grab a few armloads of firewood after dinner or to plug in the block heater on the car when you wake up becomes the opportunity to absorb the darkness and look into the eternity of sky that gifts us with more twinkling stars than I have seen anywhere else in my life and moonlight you can read by.

It's not looking likely that I'll be swinging a hammer very much myself this time. But I have to be quite honest. Sometimes, I really wish I was.

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Never Again

You might think I am about to say I will never again be involved in a large construction project (too many rules, too many permits, too much money, too much stress). Or that I will never again open a food service type business (too many rules, too many permits, too much money, too much stress).

Or, on another subject entirely, you might even think I am about to say I will never again vote Democrat in a national election in Alaska since the results are inevitably announced hours before the Alaska poles are closed so I might as well help out the Green Party a little. Or, perhaps, that I will never again vote for Sarah Palin for anything, though quite honestly, I can't remember if I voted for her for governor or not - all I know is that most Alaskan's I talk to liked her an awful lot more then than they do now.

Never is a pretty strong word. One I try to use as little as possible except perhaps when it comes to VERY important concepts I am trying desperately to get through to the ever challenging 2 1/2 year old brain. Like, "NEVER pull the dog's tail" or "NEVER hit the dog with a flashlight" or "NEVER poke your fingers in the dog's eyes." It is now appropriate for the reader to think out loud, "Poor dog!"

What on earth am I talking about anyway? Get to the point!

60 feet, good water, only ok pressure. Now what? A weekend of denial. Half a day of cost analysis. OK. So, what do you know. I am about to say something I hope I NEVER have to say ever again because it's really just not my style. Here goes...


Eeeeww. I don't even like typing it.

We just asked the well drillers to keep going even after they hit fine water at 60 feet. We are hoping for better pressure at a known formation for our neighborhood... somewhere between 150 and 200 feet. Fortunately for us (or unfortunately depending on your perspective, I guess), we are not looking for oil!

UPDATE: Round 2, Day 1. No go due to 5 below temps.

Round 2, Day 2. We almost feel like millionaires! Only ten feet farther down and they got 50 gallons per minute. Major relief and cost savings. Maybe we'll get those tickets to Mexico after all. Continue reading »

Saturday, November 8, 2008

As if...

As if we didn't already have enough going on.
As if things aren't crazy enough already.
As if I am not still traumatized by the unexpected loss 8 months ago of the best dog in the world.
As if any dog will ever be able to match Sacha's loyalty, cuteness, unique personality and awesome colorful coat.
As if I need more house work.
As if, as hard as I try, it's not enough of a problem that my hair gets in the food.
As if we can afford dog food and vet visits.
As if I need more pee and poop to clean up.
As if I get any time to myself already.
As if I won't be working 60 or 80 hours a week come May.

On the other hand...

As if a 2 1/2 year old can NOT have a dog.
As if I don't need the exercise!!!
As if I don't need to get outside more.
As if I haven't been searching the Dog Rescue website for the right match every day for several weeks now.
As if she isn't sweet and loving and fun and so happy to join our family.
As if our lives aren't already so much richer after only two days.

What can I say? Meet Kinley. Well, I am actually leaning toward calling her Penny Lane for some reason. She came with the name McKinley, or Kinley for short, but she has these copper colored eyes that remind me of pennies.

7 mo. SF ISO LTR (Like I have time to peruse the personals... In other words: 7 month old single - or in this case spayed - female in search of long term relationship.) Really the blurb about her said "Loves everyone. Beautiful, affectionate and friendly."

And, so far, she does and she is. Continue reading »

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Please Share.

At the northern reaches of flying squirrel habitat, a humble bakery cafe is sprouting up in the semi-wilds of an Alaskan forest. As the conductor of what is sure to be an orchestra of helpers, I hope to direct the creation of something new, different, and exciting for area residents and visitors to Talkeetna, Alaska. After years of caching my ideas for some later date, it's finally time to dig up all the piles of nuts and seeds...and start sharing them with others.

So, here I am, on the eve of opening a new business. Watching the melodrama of the long-held dream unfold before my eyes. There is no turning back now, only moving forward. Seems to be a theme among people far and wide these days. Who DOESN'T want change for the better? Who DOESN'T want to make their dreams into reality? Who ISN'T scared of failure? One thing is for sure. I can't do it all myself.

So, here I am. Blogging. I have never thought of myself as a blogger type. Writer? Maybe, occasionally, some day. New fangled words that take on their own verb tenses like photoshopped, googled and blogged must be as disturbing to other liberal arts English majors as they are to me. But, in the end, I think human beings have a strange and very positive need to share. That's what I'm always trying to tell Oliver (age 2 1/2), anyway. Share. This is, perhaps, the driving force behind the desire to build this business, to create a funky bakery cafe in a little town in Alaska. What kind of world would it be if Joni Mitchell decided not to share her gift for music or Peter Gabriel or Miles Davis or Bob Marley or Mozart or my own sweet sister Esther Golton? How much richer is your life because you read King Lear or Siddhartha or Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Catcher in the Rye? Sharing is gift giving in it's purest form, in my mind, one of the most important and rewarding qualities of being human.

So, here I am. I think I have something to share. Something wholesome, nutritious, and delectable at the very least. At the most, I aspire to propagate some kind of philosophy of empowering others to be creative, to work hard, to treat others with equal respect. This seems like a good place to start.

Except, of course, the reality is still months away, each month seeming like years. Many, many people - friends and family and acquaintances along the way - have encouraged this crazy idea of mine. The least I can do is offer a few glimpses into the progress, especially for those so far away physically. I know from experience that building construction is a roller coaster of weather forecasting, writing large checks, and feeding very hungry, hard-working men (and women) mixed with excitement, trepidation and, inevitably, endless decision-making. I don't know what starting a business is like but I imagine some carnival ride that is even more thrilling and dizzying than a roller coaster. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Continue reading »