Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Educating My Ass

Sorry, that's a little crude.  But it seems to be the theme of my riding lessons this year.

Perhaps I should say, Making My Seat More Intelligent.  Learning what I didn't know I didn't know, even with all these years of riding (most of 33 years, less about seven when I was horseless between baby #2 being born and baby #4 hitting preschool age).

What I didn't know #1: that I could ride with pretty much my seat.  Stopping, turning, even increasing the tempo aren't so much functions of the reins or legs as they are of the seat.  The sitting bones, the core, the angle of the pelvis, I've learned to use those more than my hands or legs.  The stronger my core gets, and the more flexible my lower back gets, the more I can lengthen or shorten the horse's stride with just my seat.  No wonder those upper level dressage riders look like they are just sitting there not doing much at all.  It's because their hands and legs aren't doing the lion's share of the work, aren't moving and flapping around for all to see.  No, it's their seat that is working (invisibly) constantly to produce the dance of dressage.

What I didn't know #2: lateral work. I really, really, did not know, or understand lateral work.  This has proven to be the hole in my riding education that I knew existed, in fact when I started riding with my current trainer I flat out told her I knew there were holes because my dressage training had been so sporadic and unstructured (and by and large on green horses I was training myself).  Even though I knew holes existed, I just didn't know what those holes were.  It's come to light that the holes are more like one big hole with title lateral work.  Leg yield, yeah I totally misunderstood how to do that.  No wonder it had never felt quite right or seemed as smooth as when I watched other people ride it. Come to think of it, I'd never really seen, in person, very many people ride leg yield.  Shoulder-in, nope, way off base on that one, which really makes sense to me now that I understand leg yield better.  Haunches in (aka Travers), ha ha ha, such a big no.  Half-pass, well, let's just say the first half-pass I attempted (just a few months ago) was a huge failure and we have since figured out why.  My perception and my aids were all screwed up, that's why.

What I didn't know #3:  How god-awful tense and stiff I am.  I mean, I had an inkling from a few medical experiences in the past such as when I had physical therapy for a knotted muscle in my neck/shoulder area back in 2002 (? maybe it was 2003 or 2004?) in which the therapist barely touched me and told me I really needed to relax, she'd never felt anyone with such tense muscles--and I'd thought I was relaxed!  Also the time an osteopath was going to gently realign a rib that I'd coughed out of place during my horrible awful cold and coughing spell in January 2016, he had to repeatedly tell me to 'give him my arm' that it wasn't loose enough--all while I'd thought I couldn't get any closer to being noodle-like.  Anyway, I knew that in general I'm tense.  But I hadn't thought I was that tense in the saddle. I didn't clench my butt cheeks or pinch the horse with my thighs, and I rode without my legs touching the horse every single second.  I was relaxed, right?   Until I finally understood how to keep my joints elastic and felt a huge difference in the way the horse moved, I definitely was tense.  It's still a struggle, sometimes, to let my body flow instead of trying to push my parts (and my horse) around mechanically.

What I didn't know #4: That riding lessons can be downright fun.  I've always liked having lessons.  When I'm having lessons, I know my potential to make progress is exponentially increased.  But somehow, lessons were always serious occasions and I got a little frustrated with myself if I couldn't meet my trainers requests in that riding session.  With my current trainer, however, I find myself laughing, a lot.  Mostly at myself when I am just twisting myself into a human pretzel and still not getting the desired result from the horse (like that lesson where she tried to teach me the aids for half-pass and I so did not comprehend what body part went where with how much pressure).  Sometimes, though, I'm laughing at her, as she tries to talk me through an exercise or movement by demonstrating, on foot, step by step sequence of aids and how the horse should respond.  As much as I was realizing (and getting frustrated with myself ) that I just wasn't doing things right in the half-pass, it was hilarious to walk (on my horse) behind her as she 'rode' an imaginary horse around the arena, trying to show me by the angle of her hips and shoulders, and placement of her legs and hands, what I should be doing at each point.  Or when I finally have a light-bulb moment, and my aids coordinate, and for a few seconds, I am that lovely dancing dressage rider, and I just laugh from the sheer joy of it.

What I didn't know #5: I really missed the social aspect of riding.  For so long, decades, actually, I'd been in a private barn situation, with one trainer available.  Through the years, the number of other boarders and students dwindled, and there were less and less horse people around me on a daily basis.  At my current barn, there are other active owners, other riders, even other trainers coming in to teach (and welcoming of people who want to sit in on a lesson and watch someone else ride--which by the way, auditing other people's lessons is an excellent way to pick up things and reinforce your own riding skills).  Even though we are from different walks of life, and of different ages, it's nice to chat with other riders on a regular basis.  It has really been since about 1992 that I have felt like part of a family of horse people; and now that I have connected with another 'family' it feels really good to have friends who aren't the wives of DH's friends or coworkers, or friends who aren't the mothers of my children's friends or teammates.  These are my friends, forged by a common bond of horses.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Blessing in Disguise

Injuring my wrist has been frustrating.  It has really limited the sorts of things I can get done around this little place here, just when there are tons of outdoor and indoor tasks needing to be taken care of.  Anything involving pushing or pulling with my right hand is out.  Anything involving carrying more than a few pounds with my right hand is out.   So, no weeding, no scrubbing, no kneading bread, no carrying of furniture or boxes as DD2 packs and leaves for school and DD1 unloads the rest of her boxes and furniture that she is moving in.  No stacking firewood, no carrying rocks from the area by the road that DH is cleaning up of dead trees and brush and discovered a rock pile just under the surface.

But on the other hand, it has been a blessing in disguise.  I have had a lot of downtime since I can't be physically going all out like I normally do when there is so much work to be done.  I've used that downtime for a lot of mental tasks, such as planning and researching.  I've also been able to keep up on the food processing that so far needs to be done.  

Peas have been picked, shelled, blanched, and packaged for the freezer.

Green beans have been picked, topped and tailed, snapped, and canned in the pressure canner. It's been a few years since I actually canned beans, and boy, was I so glad yesterday that I had gotten down to business and processed this current batch.  The kitchen smelled so good, of canning beans, and it took me back to summer days in southeastern Ohio helping my grandmother put up green beans.  Some great memories there.

The handful of ripe cucumbers were caught at the perfect size for making refrigerator pickles, rather than getting overlooked until they are golden yellow because I was too busy weeding and working to do a daily check of the cucumber row.

I've picked my Red Haven peach tree at just the right moment, and been rewarded with delicious, juicy peaches to eat fresh, to can, and even to share with a friend.

Broccoli heads are cut at the right time, instead of several days or a week later, when I have to cut out the open flower buds.

I've 'found' zucchini before it gets to baseball bat size.  We've even eaten small ones in shish kebabs on the grill!

On the planning front, I've spent time with both daughters helping them sort through their things and decide which items they no longer want or need, which items they use regularly, and which items are things they don't use now but will in the future that can be better stored in the attic than in the house.  Slowly, this house is getting a little less cluttered, and I'm feeling a little less anxious.  I feel like, bit by bit, I'm getting things back under control again.

Also on the planning front, I've made a few lists of easy projects DH and I can do to help finish rooms and make them more functional.  It's hard to believe that we've lived here nearly 14 years and still have a woeful lack of storage and use of vertical space.  All those 'little' things that we said we could finish once we moved in, yet life with four kids happened and so we either had no time or no money (or both!) to work on those seemingly inconsequential things like the floor to ceiling bookshelf for the study, or an actual room with walls for the laundry room (instead of a counter held up by 2" x 4"s butted up against the washer and dryer in one corner of the basement).  Even a nice shelf or two in one of the bathrooms would help it operate more easily and look less messy (and keep the floor and counter area empty for quick cleaning and washing on a regular basis).

I've even done a little bit of knitting on the sock I started in Alaska.

When I first injured my wrist, I was really overwhelmed at the thought of how far behind I was going to get in chores.  But, really, while I'm behind in some things, I've gotten ahead in others.  And, since DH feels kind of like he's to blame for my injury (I'd asked him to have DS1 come help instead of me having to lug furniture into the house), he's been helpful on the important tasks, and not complaining about the ones that are being left undone until my wrist is healed.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Pop Goes The . . .

. . . Joint capsule in my wrist.  :0(

This past weekend, we had some new furniture arrive.  A new mattress and box springs for the master bedroom (finally!  Ours has been pretty lumpy the past six years or so), and a recliner for DH.  Happy, happy!

I had hoped that DH would ask DS1 to come help him carry those things into the house, especially the mattress since it needed to go upstairs (and I remembered what an ordeal it was trying to squeeze/lug our original king sized mattress up the stairwell when we moved into this little place here).  But, nope, he didn't.  He insisted we could get it ourselves.

And we could.  We did.  It just wasn't as smooth or as easy as if there was a 20-something year old man on one end of the mattress.

After wresting the old mattress out, which was relatively easy since it went down the stairs all on it's own and all we had to do was guide it so it didn't hit anything on the way down the stairs and out the front door, and wrestling the new mattress in, which wasn't nearly so easy as it wanted to hang up going through the doorway and wedge the bottom corner under the edge of the stair tread. . .   Bringing in the recliner sounded like it would be a piece of cake.

After all, it came in two parts, the bottom part and the back/top part.  All we had to do was remove the box, and easily carry between the two of us one part into the house at a time.

Ha ha. Getting it out of the box was easy.  Picking up the bottom (heavier) part wasn't too difficult.  Navigating through the door was a little tricky, as the screen door was nearly ripped off by the wind a few years ago and no longer has that part that you can lock in position to hold the door open while you walk through it with your hands full.

I was the one to walk backwards into the house, with the chair between DH and I.  And just as I was about to say "When our new couch comes (because we'd also ordered a new couch) you definitely need to have one or both of the boys come help bring it in", I had reached about the point in the front entryway where you are almost past the stairs and entering the living room. (The ends of the treads stick out into the hallway for the first half of the staircase and end about where the opposite wall of the hall/entryway stops to open into the living room.)  That's when the overstuffed portion of the chair got a little hung up on the part of the stairs that sticks out and DH gave a little shove to push it through.

Except when he shoved, my wrist also got hung up on the part of the stairs that sticks out, and apparently my wrist was bent just right and DH's shove was just hard enough that the edge of the stair tread pressed just right into my wrist and I felt a POP.  No pain that I was aware of, just a distinct interior pop in my wrist and my eyes immediately filled with tears and I almost dropped the chair.

We quickly got the chair the remaining six feet or so into the living room and set it down.  All ready, my wrist looked like someone had inserted a marble under the skin.  It was swelling quickly.  Still no pain, unless I (or DH!!) touched that bump, but my wrist was definitely getting larger in circumference at a high rate of speed.


I went and made up an ice pack in the kitchen immediately, while checking to see if my fingers still functioned, if my wrist still bent up and down, if I could twist that hand back and forth like normal.  Yes, yes, and yes.  It was fine, worked fine, if you discounted the rapid swelling and the growing feeling of heat right under that marble like bump.

While I was sitting on the couch with the ice pack on my wrist, mentally running through what medical knowledge I had gained through years of raising kids and dealing with their injuries ("sprains swell immediately, breaks don't."  "a hot spot can indicate a break" When DS1 broke his wrist sledding in 2000, he could still move his wrist and fingers normally, but he had pain. The swelling didn't materialize until the next day.) DH brought the other portion of his new recliner in and attached the two pieces together. Then he tested it out, declaring it a great chair (he's been wanting a recliner for a long time.   We used to own a couch that both ends reclined on, but I wasn't comfortable sitting on it, and still do not find reclining furniture to suit my posture.)  Then he was very quiet for a few minutes before he said:

"I feel guilty that your wrist is hurt.  I don't want to ask you to cook now,"  (I was going to start cooking dinner once we'd gotten the new bed and chair brought in). "Do you want to go out to dinner?"

Meanwhile, I'd been thinking that if my wrist was too injured to be able to ride the California Horse, I was going to be devastated and have a really hard time not being grumpy about having gotten injured carrying in furniture.

After I'd applied ice for about 20 minutes, we did go out to dinner.  Nothing spectacular, as I was hungry, and my wrist was starting to feel uncomfortable.  Not pain, exactly, but a weirdness.  A little heat, an almost numbness that went from my index finger, through my wrist and toward my elbow.  I wanted to get dinner out of the way and then possibly go to urgent care to have my wrist looked at.  We probably could have had my wrist x-rayed first, and then gone out to eat, but I knew if I had to wait in a waiting room for hours before getting seen, I was going to be really hungry and possibly have a headache from going too long without eating.  So we went out to eat first.

By the time we were done eating, I decided to just go home, apply more ice, take some Motrin, and see how my wrist felt in the morning.  The swelling had mostly gone down by the time we paid our tab at the restaurant.

The next morning, it was a little sore if I touched the remainder of the bump, or pushed or pulled anything with that hand.  But other than that, it felt and worked like normal.  So I went to the barn, rode--my wrist worked and felt perfectly fine (until I leaned on that hand when I went to dismount)-- and cleaned stalls.  Before cleaning stalls, I had my wrist looked at by one of the other boarders, who happens to be a veterinary pathologist.  Based on examination and my description of what had happened and what it felt like, she diagnosed it as a popped joint capsule in my wrist.  The sudden swelling would have been the synovial fluid that had been released.  In human medicine terms, I have a minor sprain of the wrist, to be treated with ice, rest, anti-inflammatories (Motrin) and support with an elastic bandage if I insist on using it (as in, to clean stalls or other work, which I do to a degree.  Life doesn't stop for a sprained wrist).

Since I didn't relish the thought of wearing the same bandage on my arm to cook with that I wore while cleaning stalls, I brainstormed a way to keep my (one) elastic bandage clean while at the barn.  I wrap it in vetrap, which is a somewhat stretchy, somewhat sticky bandaging tape for horses.  It keeps the dirt and germs off my elastic bandage, and I just peel off the vetrap when I leave the barn. Works like a charm.  :0)

zebra striped vetrap doesn't look like zebra stripes on my arm

And the best part of this:  my wrist doesn't bother me at all when I'm riding.  So my riding schedule hasn't needed to change.  (If you can't tell, riding is very important to me.)

I have had to cut back on chores though, especially things like pulling weeds.  And I'll need help with the canner if I do any canning in the next week or so.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Changes, Changes, Always Changes

Seems like July flew by, but that's probably because it began (for me) in Alaska, and when I got home from Alaska the month was pretty much 1/3 over all ready.  And, once home, I went back to work right away plus had a ton of work at home to catch up on plus did a whole bunch of blog posts about my trip.

There was even more that happened in July than that, like selling The Quarter Horse (who went to a 12 yr old girl who has ridden for years but has never, until now, owned a horse of her very own), and DD1 moving back home (with a kitten!) because she will be living at this little place here while doing her student teaching at a local elementary school this fall, and selling two wagons of hay and putting up another wagonload that was cut and baled (and thankfully stored indoors) while we were all away on our long Alaskan vacation. The owner of the eventing barn I've been doing morning feedings at for over 10 months now very hesitantly told me that with her current lack of boarding horses (several of her clients take their horses home in the summer) she was having a little trouble making ends meet, and did I mind having a month or maybe two off?  Oh, and my lease on the California Horse also officially began in July, so I've been riding him about three or four times a week since I've been back.

Now it's August all ready.  Since I am not heading out to the eventing barn first thing in the mornings Monday through Friday, I've chosen to use the early in the day coolness to ride the California Horse before I get down to the business of cleaning stalls at the dressage barn.  I'm loving beginning my day in the saddle.  He isn't so much.  The first day, he threw a humongous tantrum because I didn't let him go out to the pasture with his buddies, and instead groomed and tacked him up.  Seriously, this was an enormous fit; complete with getting loose when I went to bridle him, then throwing his head all around when I and two other people ushered him into a stall and commenced to attempt to get the bit into his mouth, then about an hour of being a total bulldozer and asshole while I led him around in the indoor arena until he was listening well enough and standing still long enough that I felt somewhat safe putting my foot into the stirrup to mount.

Once I was on his back, he was an angel.  But we've had to run through lessening degrees of this fit every morning this week while he gets over himself and accepts that like it or not, his daily schedule now includes a ride after breakfast instead of in the middle of the day or the late afternoon.  In the few years since putting down my (Holsteiner) mare, I had forgotten how stubborn Holsteiners can be, and how large their egos are. And honestly, if I hadn't had nearly 20 years of working with them I probably would have been totally intimidated when he threw his giant tantrum.  Instead, I recognized that I needed to be firm, and not give in because if I did he would just act worse and worse each time I went to work him.

Honestly, though, after having several years of working with 'little old' 15.3 hand the Quarter Horse (that I could push around pretty much anywhere), having this behemoth 18 hand Holsteiner California Horse hopping around and trying to sling me against the wall so he could get loose did have me shaking and in a sweat.  He had me backed into a corner and we both knew it, and it was only sheer stubbornness and determination on my part that kept me from throwing in the towel, taking off his tack, and putting him outside where he wanted to be.  I guess you could say our 'honeymoon period' in this new partnership was over and now was the time he was going to start showing his true colors and testing me.

I believe that now, at the end of a challenging week, we have come to an agreement and he respects me as much on the ground as he does when I'm in the saddle, and that the weeks to come will be more pleasant for both of us.  Even though he's always been good while I'm on his back (even the one ride, the first time I rode him alone, when he tried to tuck his head to his chest, dip his shoulder and was going to then attempt to buck--which I averted by giving a mighty upcheck with my outside rein while punching him in the barrel with both legs, was as much he's tested me in the saddle); our rides this week have gotten better and better.  He's more energetic and responsive to my aids, and we're doing some really fun lateral work, plus more and longer canter sessions (I could barely get him into a canter at first; he's a lot of horse to collect and motivate).

DD1's arrival back at this little place here with a truckload of stuff from two years of living on her own has brought it's own challenge.  Until DD2 leaves for college (next weekend), the two of them are grudgingly sharing what used to be their bedroom.  It is currently overstuffed and cramped and there are alternate fits on about who is pushing whose stuff around and being rude, and who needs to clean up their 'crap' so the other can walk through the room.  (Oh, how I'm missing my empty nest!)

Plus DD1 brought with her a now 7 week old kitten, and the Yarn Thief is deeply affronted by the little grey female with the bell on it's collar.  Her entire mood changes when she hears the jingle of the bell, and the Yarn Thief has been spending much time outside (her choice) sulking.  I am really amazed she hasn't torn the newcomer to shreds, as she is very territorial and has succeeded in running off both of my barn cats.  The kitten, however, is either very gutsy or very stupid and doesn't run when the Yarn Thief growls or hisses at her.  Instead, she stands on her tiptoes and sidles closer to the Yarn Thief, even getting the multiple times larger older cat to stand down and back away.  These two just might, eventually, figure out how to live together.  Actually, it kind of mirrors the way their owners (as DD2 was, technically, the one who brought the Yarn Thief into our lives) are squabbling over territory in the upstairs bedroom.

The garden is starting to produce in earnest now and every few days I am bringing in ripe veggies.  There haven't yet been enough beans at once to bother getting out the canner, but I've spent several hours shelling and blanching peas for the freezer.  Cucumbers, similarly, aren't enough to fill a quart jar and make pickles, but they are enjoyed fresh, peeled and sliced.  We've had zucchini in our shish kebabs, as well as in bread and a chocolate zucchini cake.  The sweet corn is not quite ready, but most likely this time next week we will be enjoying ears only minutes from the garden and I will be assembling jars to can cream corn and whole kernel corn in.  My tomato plants are heavy with lots of green tomatoes.  DD2 was hoping that she might get to enjoy a vine ripened red one before leaving for school, but so far it has been very warm at night and none of the tomatoes are showing any sign of turning color yet.  Typically it is mid to late August before I have ripe tomatoes, so I might have to find a way to ship a few to her at college.

It is amazing to me, and to her, that she is all ready entering her third year of college.  She's eager to begin the next semester, but she is also freaking out a little with all the things she needs to do this third year.  Like hopefully secure an internship in her field for next summer.  And start looking seriously at where she wants to attend grad school.  It has always been her intent to go right through to a doctorate, so she can do field research, but the college she is at does not offer a masters program in her field.  Which means unless she can find a faculty member to help her write (and get school approval for) her own masters program, she will need to go somewhere else for grad school and then (her desire) return for her PhD.  There are several schools with good masters programs for wildlife ecology, but most are far away.  After visiting Alaska and finding it not too very much different from the U.P. where she now attends college, she is considering going to grad school in Fairbanks.

With so much going on at this little place here, people moving in, people moving out, reorganizing of bedrooms and storage, the garden ramping up into full production mode, and wedding planning needing to be done (we've started dress shopping!!) August is sure to slip by seemingly overnight.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Random Alaska

I know I've spent two full weeks, and a lot of posts talking about Alaska.  And yet, I keep thinking of little tidbits of our trip that I haven't covered yet.  Mostly random, not in order by place or location, some that actually could have been included in one of my posts, and others that seem so unrelated that they almost could have been a post of their own, yet there isn't so much to tell or show to devote a whole post to it.

So, this is going to be the disorganized, random, some photos and a few explanations post to cover all that.  :0)

In the Kenai, we seemed to see eagles everywhere.  Near the river, in particular.  One day when we were driving elsewhere, DH just pulled over into a little parking area that had a small trail for walking to the river.  He was hoping to see a bear fishing for salmon, but apparently the salmon (and the bears) weren't there yet.  Too early in the season, I guess.  What we did see though, was an astounding number of eagles.  It started with two, an adult and a juvenile bald eagle.  Then they flew off to our right, and disappeared behind some tall trees.  A few minutes later, an adult bald came flying toward the river from that direction.  Shortly after came another adult bald eagle.  Then, nearly on it's heels, a juvenile bald.

DH and I were feeling lucky to have seen not one, not two, but three bald eagles in one spot.  Imagine our surprise when, over the course of a few minutes, from the same direction, came several more.  It was like someone behind those tall trees had a pitching machine that was firing out not balls, but eagles at regular intervals!  Not just bald eagles, but also some golden eagles.

Some flew off over the river, toward a mountain in the backdrop.  Two landed in trees and perched there, apparently watching for fish.  Others just soared in circles overhead.  At one time we counted ten different eagles all in our field of vision.  And of course neither of us had brought a phone with which to take pictures of this.

There are many glaciers, and we saw several during our travels. One we got to see closer than the others, and that was Exit Glacier.

I had always just pictured glaciers as big white blobs.  Because they are layer upon layer of packed snow, right?  Well, sort of.  They are layers of snow that has just piled up through the ages without melting away completely.  But they're not bright, pretty white.  From a distance, yes, they look white.  Up close, they look kind of dirty and grimy, like old snowbanks in the early spring that built up on the sides of the road all winter long and collected dirt and salt spray as well as snow.  Glaciers are snow, and ice, and lots of debris that they pick up as they move.  They are a little white, but more streaks of gray, and areas that are blue from the light reflecting on the dense icy layers within.

The meltwater that comes out of the base of a glacier as it recedes is a very opaque gray color.  It reminded me a lot of the color of cement slurry.  In a way, the glacial water is a kind of cement slurry; it contains lots of silt and small stones, as well as water.

As the water flows away from the glacier, the silt and stones are deposited, forming a glacial outwash basin.

outwash basin, looking toward the glacier

outwash basin, looking from the base of the glacier outward

the current base of the glacier
(I wanted to hike all the way to it, but the rest of my fellow travelers didn't like the steep, narrow, rocky path leading from this observation point to the glacier itself, and I was voted out of continuing our hike.)

Once the sediment and rocks have been deposited as the water (known as a braided river because of it's many small intertwining paths in an outwash basin) flows further and further from the glacier, the color of the water changes.  Glacial lakes are a beautiful blue color.

Random Photos:

our home on wheels

a misty morning

Honorary Son and DD1 spent most of their wakeful hours in the RV like this,
 taking pictures out the open window even while rolling down the road

my one moose photo

I think, hopefully, I've reached the end of my show and tell about going to Alaska.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Botany Post

While in Alaska, I learned a few botany related things.  Everywhere I go, my eye is usually drawn to the natural world.  And if I'm on foot, well, I've been known to stop and take pictures of plants and flowers so that later I can look them up and learn what it was that I saw.  I was looking forward to going to Alaska and seeing what flowers I recognized, and also seeing flowers that were new to me.  What I didn't anticipate was 'discovering' other types of plants.

Like the moss I was amazed to see hanging from some spruce trees near Denali.  I knew that was a boreal forest region, but I didn't know that mosses which inhabit trees (envision Spanish moss in wet humid southern areas) lived there.  Upon doing some online searching, I found a really cool PDF of Alaskan mosses and liverworts that helped me to identify this surprising find as cat-tail moss.

While hiking the Bear Mountain Trail that I talked about in this post I saw and photographed what looked like pine cones growing upright out of the ground.  I knew they weren't actual pine cones, but I wasn't sure what they were.  So I took a photo for reference (a typical MO for me) and to help me remember identifying features when I had time to look it up later.  Turns out they are a kind of boschniakia; a parasitic plant that feeds on the root systems of certain trees and shrubs.

boschniakia rossica

I also saw many flowers that were unfamiliar to me.  Flowers such as:

chiming bells

arctic wintergreen

Jacob's ladder

chocolate lily 

snow arnica

fireweed (close up)

a patch of fireweed

There were also some grasses I saw for the first time:

Alaska cotton grass

squirrel tail grass

There were also several wildflowers that I knew.


wild iris aka blue flag

prickly rose

western columbine

wild geranium

No matter where in Alaska I went, no matter what the weather, I was usually commenting on the flora around me.  And, if we were out hiking, I was getting left behind as I stopped to examine the leaves and/or blossoms.  But what's the point of walking around somewhere if you aren't going to look at what's growing there?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Alaska Beer

Let me preface this by saying I am in no way a beer aficionado or even consider myself to be a beer lover.  I'm a picky eater, and an even more picky drinker.  DH says his favorite beer is a free beer, but me, if I don't like the taste you couldn't pay me to drink it.  I tasted many beers while in Alaska, and often I decided I didn't like them enough to actually order a glass and just asked for water instead.

That said, I'm sure many people would love the beer offerings of Alaskan breweries.  DH had no trouble finding an IPA he liked everywhere we went, and he often liked most of the ones that I sampled and turned up my nose at (I felt they were often hoppy, no matter the style.)

Here's where we went or breweries that we tried their beers at a restaurant or in an airport:

Midnight Sun
Mooses Tooth
Bear Tooth
49th State
St. Elias
Kenai River Brewing
Denali Brewing
Last Frontier
Silver Gulch

Most places I didn't take pictures; we were just there for a pint, or we were there for dinner and they were crowded.  I'm really not that into taking pictures of food or beer while sitting at a table in a public place.  So.

49th State, however, had a really neat beer garden, and it was the best weather day of the whole trip.  Plus, we'd gotten a text from DS2 and friends that they were heading toward Denali and wanted to meet up with us at 49th State Brewing, which is in Healy just outside the park entrance.  While their beer wasn't on the top of my list of favorites, I did drink an entire pint of the McCarthy's Stout (layman's beer review: too bland of flavor and 'thin' of mouth-feel to rank high on my list of yummy stouts, but then again it did say traditional dry stout and I'm not a fan of Guiness).  Even better than their beer was their guacamole!  Since we sat a while, waiting for DS2 and crew to arrive, we ordered some guac and chips.  Simple food as it was, it was amazing!

We sat outside in the beer garden, where they played Led Zeppelin over strategically placed speakers, offered disc golf, picnic tables, and other seating arrangements.  There was a signpost that told the mileage to other Alaskan points, plus the "Magic Bus" that was used in the movie Into the Wild.

Denali Brewing is actually outside of Talkeetna. We stopped in their tasting room on our way back to Anchorage after leaving Denali National Park, in the rain.  I recommend the Chuli Stout. I believe it was served on nitro, but honestly, I don't remember for sure.  That 800 mg of Motrin (I took in Denali for my back/shoulder pain) was in full swing and having a beer with it probably wasn't wise. Did make the rainy drive back to Anchorage more enjoyable, though.

Last Frontier in Wasilla was a dinner stop that same night.  Excellent food.  Really, really tasty food in generous proportions.  Beer to me was, well, I sampled two and ended up ordering a glass of water.  DH said it was good IPA, though.

We'd heard that Mooses Tooth, in Anchorage had to die for pizza.  So we went there for our final meal in Alaska.   The rumor wasn't wrong.  The pizza was some of the best I've ever eaten.  Beer, though, was too hoppy for my tastes.  DH and I ordered a sampler with three of the styles I typically drink from: brown ale, porter, stout; and a fourth that was an ESB, because here and there I have found an ESB that suited me.  I had one swallow of most, two of the stout, and DH ended up drinking pretty much the entire sampler because I didn't want any of them.  So, it was water for me again.  But the pizza was awesome.

My favorite brew of the trip was found in the Anchorage airport, while waiting for it to be time to board our plane.  We'd had to turn our RV in before dinner, and DS2's friend who had rented a car for the three of them to drive around in had to return it before 8 p.m.  Our flights didn't board until midnight.  So, we all ended up seeking a place to relax after going through security and before our plane was ready.  We found Silver Gulch.

Silver Gulch had an imperial stout.  I'm a little partial to imperial stouts.  And after almost two weeks and hundreds of miles of brewpubs with (to me) not so appealing beer options, that imperial stout had my name on it.  Actually, it's called 40 Below.  Which, after a few swallows, had me singing the Rodeo Song in my head.  Or, maybe not in my head, at least until DH protested me singing it in the airport lounge.  What can I say; it was the end of a long trip that had fallen way short of what I'd hoped for.  The weather, the extra time at the reunion, the total lack of real hiking. . . and it was pretty close to my bedtime, yet I wouldn't be arriving home for nearly eleven hours and I cannot sleep sitting up so knew I would be up all night because I wouldn't be able to sleep on the plane.  40 Below and the Rodeo Song it was.