Adventures continue in Sitka!

Adventures continue in Sitka . . .

What a beautiful week this Holy Week has been. Temps have been in the 50’s and sun has been plentiful. Every day the ocean has glistened as if it is covered in jewels. The gulls continue to feed on Herring eggs along the shoreline. Thousands of them come early in the morning and feast on the eggs. By afternoon, the tide is fully in and the gulls are mostly gone for the evening. Here are links to two short videos of the gulls feeding if you have an interest in seeing them.

 

Gulls Feeding Gulls Feeding on Herring

Gulls Feeding

Herring Eggs. Hmmm. A community pitch in dinner to celebrate the herring was held this past Wednesday evening. It is a potluck where everyone brings in something to share. There were Herring eggs in every form (alone, in salads, in soups, etc.) They gather on hemlock branches and are eaten sprinkled with seal oil.

Herring Eggs gathered on a hemlock branch

I found them to be “not my favorite”. The taste is okay but the texture is very strange. They snap and crackle when you eat them. Kind of chewy and spongy too.

My days off have been Sunday and Monday but last weekend I elected to take on a project. In the visitor center we have a room that has become somewhat of a catch all (or junk) room. At one time it was the gift shop, then it became the Law Enforcement office, then a work room for cultural resources, and finally a “junk” room where we weren’t sure what was there. You know the room I’m sure. We all have that place in our homes that catches all we do not really want and yet cannot throw away.

With space a priceless commodity in the Visitor Center, and no place for anyone to go to eat lunch when it is raining out, it was decided to clean this room and make it a combination storage/break room. The Park’s Law Enforcement Officer gave me a hand and we removed, sorted and organized this room into four distinct areas. One of those areas was a break area where folks could have lunch.

The project finished on Monday afternoon and I was so pleased with myself. Items were organized, trash had been hauled out, and we now had an area to go for lunch if needed. On Tuesday I had all the rangers admiration (that would be short-lived but do keep reading.)

Storage Room almost cleaned and organized. Prior to this point you could barely walk in here.
And yes, I have even made room for a ‘break / lunch” space!

I will say here that this room has historically been kept locked and there was no indication that it would not continue as such. On Wednesday I went into the room to get items for a pre-school story hour and found our Superintendent using it for a meeting (all other meeting rooms were occupied). I promptly excused myself, got what I needed, left the room, and yes, I LOCKED IT!

See, it is a sliding door that locks from the outside.

About an hour later I received a call from the Park Superintendent asking if I would please let them out of the closet. Apparently they had been knocking on the door but I didn’t hear anything and so, he was forced to call into the visitor center for attention. You see, there is no way to unlock the door from the inside. I was blessed to find his sense of humor in tact and security has now been told to remedy the situation ASAP. I will be forever known as the volunteer who locked the Park Superintendent in a closet!!!

The remainder of this past week has brought us temps in the 50’s and sun, lots of sun. The water glistens, the snow capped mountains shine, and the entire area has this look of serenity. For the past five days it has been unbelievable. But the rain will return soon and we will see the “other” kind of beauty that lurks about here when it rains. I love it too.

 

Views of the harbor
There are no words!

Last weekend was a local artist walk downtown and we had the luxury of meet-n-greets throughout town. Silver carvers, Wood carvers, pottery makers, glass blowers, jewelry makers, etc. all shared their pieces of fine art along with wine and cheese at various locations along the way.

Picture
This is a local artist co-op. One of my stops on our artist walk.

This was also a practice week for the Sitka Sound Slayers, a flat track roller derby team here in Sitka. Me, and my roommate Marti, were invited to their practice and we gladly went. One of the rangers, Ranger Erin, is a player. Her derby name is “Sin & Tonic”. It was great fun to watch all the ladies and there is a match coming up in just a few weeks. Michaela, my granddaughter, will be interested to know they have a travel team and a home team, just like they do in hockey.

The Sitka Slayers practicing their skills.

However, the player names are a riot. Here are just a few: “Me-licious” “Bev-o-lution” “Double Decker” “HotWheelz” “Becker the WreckHer” – – – these ladies are awesome”! This is Sin&Tonic, otherwise known as Ranger Erin, with Marti and me.

 

Range Erin (Alias Sin & Tonic) with my recent housemate, Marti.
Yep, that’s Sin & Tonic with me! You’ll note I only have one shoe on – – – thought for a moment I might put on some skates but then I saw them practice and decided it might be dangerous for me.

Ever heard of Lavendar Donuts?  Grandma Tillie’s Donut shop, just a short mile walk from the house to there and then the park, is a great stop just a little out of the way. They are expensive ($20 for a dozen donuts) but they are oh so good. Here’s a look at a lavender donut (sorry folks – by the time I thought about a picture I had eaten half of it!)

Grandma Tillies – it is a drive up / walk up only.
Yep, a half eaten lavender donut!

The Apple Trees look so different here. They are spiney and their branches are covered with moss. Hard to believe they bear fruit but I’ve been in Sitka in the fall and enjoyed the apples later in the season. I find them oh so interesting in their shapes. Here are a few.

 

Apple Trees
I love this one.
These two are close to each other and are just outside the back entrance to my house.
Trying to get a close-up of the moss.

Skunk Cabbage is another one of those plants that I find amazing. It is coming late this season due to all the snow and ice Sitka experienced this winter. And, while there has been some, the normal crop has been delayed. The bears eat this to start their digestive systems after their winter hibernation. Here’s are some views of it growing on the trail between the white house and the main road. (This is where we sing to let the bears know we are coming down the road.) All the yellow flowers are skunk cabbage as it begins its growth. It will grow into a very large plant with very large leaves. The yellow flower is the beginning bloom.

The yellow flowers are the beginnings of the skunk cabbage plants. You can also see some that have not flowered yet.
More along the side of the road to the house.
Do you see all of it back in the swampy area?

My roommates returned to their respective homes this past week so now am living alone in the White House. A majority of the remaining interns and volunteers arrived yesterday and are staying in the Bunk House just down the road. I’m told we will have more temporary personnel coming in a few weeks who will be staying here with me so that will be good. For now, the White House is a quiet house.

 

The dining room at the “White” House.
The living area in the “White” house.
Another view of the living area.

Having no television or internet services mean my times at the house are spent reading and sewing. I’ve gone back to embroidering again and am having a good time making Christmas presents. I found these pillowcases here at the local Ben Franklin store to cross stitch.

 

Great Christmas presents don’t you think?

Much to my surprise I had a stack of cards waiting for me at the Post Office on Saturday. Melissa and the kids sent Easter Cards. Since my mail has to be sent to me c/o General Delivery, Sitka, AK 99835, I check at the post office to see what surprises might await when I know something is coming. I was expecting a package but not these cards. A welcome surprise for sure! Thanks to Melissa, Robert, Cam, Tom & Mike and Gus too.

Letters from home!
Beautiful cards I continue to look at and read. I sure miss these folks.

Marti and I took a trip to Ludvigs Bistro (local restaurant) on Friday night. The food there is wonderful and a bit pricey ($80 dinner so I eat there just once while I’m here). It is definitely fine dining Sitka style. The salmon is to die for and their Clam Chowder is the chowder of all chowders. The chowder is sold at the Sitka Sound Science Center bistro just next to the National Park. It’s $8 for a cup, $11 for a bowl.   I never take pictures of meals but here you go. Hope it makes your mouth water because it was SO SO good.

 

Makes me hungry just looking at this picture. It is SOOOOO good.

Another adventure for me has been a return to walking. Each day I walk an extra 40 minutes on my way to work just to build some stamina. I found out yesterday that we will be “taking a hike” during one day of training. And they mean a real “hike” up a mountain trail. Well, I’m sure that will bring me at least one story about grace and style! Stay-tuned.

Finally, this past week has been one driven by faith and culminating this Easter Sunday. Holy Week ended today in Sitka with an all denomination sunrise service at 7 a.m. in Centennial Hall. In John 11, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
For all those you have loved and lost, I say these words. And for those near to me that are now gone, I remember. Especially Grant, Cassen, Tommy, Dave, Mike & Drucilla (my mom & dad), Lee & Virginia, Jesse (my grandfather), Randi (my cousin), Jack (my uncle) as well as other family members and friends who are spending Easter together with our Lord and Savior. I thank Him every day for the gift of your life and your journey with me.

I hope your Easter was a happy and joyous one. Allelujah! He is Risen!

Till next time . . .

Mara

Experiencing Life the Sitka way

It was rainy the first part of the week (no surprise) but the last 3 days have been full of sunshine. The key word here is “SUN” which isn’t here often but when it appears it is absolutely breathtaking. It glistens on the water like diamonds. Normal here though is rain and lots of it.   And, because it is so wet, moss grows on everything and the ground is swampy in many areas.  However, oddly enough, I thoroughly enjoy the rain here.  Makes me wonder if it rains in heaven???  Sorry – random thoughts out of nowhere!

Last night I pondered the why of special places we find in our travels that really speak to our hearts. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to them but when you arrive it is an immediate awareness that you have found something special. Sitka is that place for me. It’s not just a feeling of welcome, it is a feeling of peace and contentment. There is a safety here that allows me to reflect about my life and experiences. I can reach deep within my heart to places I rarely go and make peace with those times that were cumbersome or painful along the journey of life. It is also easier to see and celebrate those wonderful times throughout the journey.  I hope everyone can find that special place for them. I firmly believe it has little to do with the city of Sitka and everything to do with the combination of who you are personally and what speaks to you. It might be a special place in your own backyard. Wherever it is, use it. Let the peace and safety of that spot wash over you as you ponder your life journey and the highs and lows along your way.

Work at the Visitor Center this week has been focused on getting ready for the busy season which will begin the first of May. We are cleaning and organzing. Those of you who know me know that I take great pride in clearing out someone else’s clutter and organizing their “stuff”. So much so that I worked my days off to tackle a catch all room that seriously needed attention. It was both fun and rewarding.

I also took time this week to get to know my “roomies”. The “white house” is shared with a temporary Law Enforcement officer, Sean Brinnen, and a temporary administrative officer, Martha Stebbins. In addition, we had a temporary resource person here to work with the curator, Barbara Cumberland, for one week. We went out to dinner a couple times and watched movies too. It’s been most enjoyable and I’ve added three new acquaintenances that I’m sure I will remain in touch with as time goes on.

Martha Stebbins, Interim Admin Assistant Officer
Barbara Cumberland from Harpers Ferry with Kelsey Lutz, Curator.
Sean Brinnen, Interim Law Enforcement Officer from Rhode Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my last week of “prep work” before the actual summer training begins on April 17. We will have two weeks of training and, at the end, I should be able to give tours of the Russian Bishop House. Interpretive tours will be a new world for me and frankly, I’m a little nervous. I will give it my all and with some good thoughts from all of you I will pass the training requirements.

Oh, by the way. One thing I knew but was reminded of this week was how important those little extended kindnesses are to others. For me this week it has been the kindnesses of Ranger Ryan, Ranger Anne and Safety Officer Mike that stood out. When someone goes out of their way to be helpful it is their hearts that you see and some people are so pure in their offering that their whole being opens up and you feel you see right into their heart. That’s true of these folks and I thank them for being there for me.  I’m encouraged to remember to deliver personally on these kindnesses to others as well.  These are the tiny gestures that mean so much to others.

I attended my Sitka Church home last Sunday.  It was as I remember, quiet, personal and deeply spiritual to me.  The beauty of this church with its rich woods and small sanctuary combined with the peace of the surrounding water speaks to me in ways I have never known.  Rev. Julie was traveling today but Rev. Deacon Kathy and Nancy Jo delivered Morning Prayer. I was not able to attend Palm Sunday services yesterday but many events are scheduled for holy week and I’m looking forward to Easter services next Sunday.

Hope all is well in your part of the world. I love hearing from you so, if you have time, drop me an email and make my day.

Happy and Joyous Easter to each of you!

Mara

 

 

 

 

Welcomed in Sitka.

I flew into Sitka the evening of March 29.  As we landed, I peered out my window to see a whale blow in the ocean.  What a sight.   Now you don’t get that kind of welcome just anywhere. As you will see from the picture, I wasn’t fast enough to get catch him but I assure you he is there.  It was a grand welcoming for the start of my 3-month stay here.

Looking over the wing to see a whale blow. Awesome!!

Ranger Anne was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and transport me to housing.  With two suitcases (each weighing close to 50 lbs.), she grabbed one and never complained.  We drove to housing to unload the suitcases before heading to the park for a special art exhibit.

The bunk house where I stayed in 2015.
The “white” house which is just up the road and where I’m staying this year. Fabulous cottage.

There are deer tracks in the snow (yes, there is still snow!) and I’ve been told the bears are waking up now and are hungry.  Hmmmm – guess I best get that bear training class under my belt real soon.

A view as I walk from the White House.
More of the road from the White House to the main street. It’s so peaceful to walk each morning.

After dropping off luggage, Anne and I went straight for the art show at the National Park Visitor Center.  Seven artists demonstrated their work to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Cession.

Missionaries of Alaska, 2017 Tim Troll Acrylic on canvas
Sugpiag Headdress (Nacaq) 2017 Kayla Christiansen Glass beads, leather, imitation sinew and metal charms (Kayla is just 23 years old and an Alutiiq artist) The picture does not do it justice!
Another picture of the Headdress from the side.
WordWrap 2017 Lisa Link Digital prints on vinyl This is a series of digital prints which explore the legal and legislative response to the Treaty of Cession. The banners are displayed on trees on the Totem Trail.
Selling Alaska, 2017 Mary Goddard Copper cuff and digital print on vinyl
Fragile Wealth, 2017 Erin Gingrich Basswood, acrylic and glass beads
Remembering Chief Thomas’ Children, 1923, Nenana, 2017 Karen Austen Oil and acrylic on canvas

The artist,  Lisa Link, came by the Visitor Center on Thursday.  She did the WordWrap 2017 art.  She lives in Boston and has a daughter who is in her first year of college at George Mason University, which is less than 10 minutes from my home.  She was worried about her being so far away from family.   I was pleased to offer her a solution to this problem as we exchanged information.  I am in hopes her daughter, Olivia, will connect with us soon.  What a small world it really is when you make connections like this.

Walking home from the Visitor Center that first night felt good.  I was fully welcomed and happy to be back here again on this peaceful island.   Walking in the cold night air brought back many memories of times past and warmed my heart.

After unpacking I settled into my new room.  My daughter, Melissa, made me pillow cases to remind me of home, the kiddos, and, of course, Gus.  They are a wonderful reminder of how much I am loved.  I must remember never to take these gestures of love for granted.  Friends and families are so important to us.

My Pillow Cases from home! Love them.
My home away from home.

Thursday morning I was up early and set out for my morning walk to the Visitor Center.  We are still in the off season here so visitors are a little scarce.  However, they still average 10-50 per day.  After a couple hours getting reacquainted with old friends and meeting new folks coming in for the current season, I was again greeted by whales who have found a home in the channel just outside the center.  I meant to ask what kind of whales they are but was so mesmerized by them being there that I didn’t even ask.  Glimpses of them came and went quickly as their tales came out of the water just slightly and their breath was visible as they “blew” from their blow holes.  Makes me think back to when Melissa and the kids came to visit me here two years ago and Dave Lubins took us for a sea adventure.  He anchored us so close to the whales we not only saw them but we felt and SMELLED their breath as well.  Awesome Memories!!!

The water remains as awe inspiring and daunting as always.  I know I have some reflection and healing to do and this is just the perfect place.  I sat in the cold this afternoon watching the water and boats and just felt the peace of it wash over me.

The beautiful view from the Visitor Center.
I received a ride to the “big” grocery only to be greeted by this beautiful rainbow!
Mr. Raven came to say hello too.

 

Boats in the harbor.
Love the glassy water.
Oh my, that sky!
This was just before church on Sunday morning. That sky is just awesome.
St. Peters by-the-Sea
Snow capped mountains. Today, (4/3/2017) the morning skies are clear and you can see there is still snow on the mountains around us.

And so it begins, another adventure here in Sitka, Alaska.  I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to see and experience this beautiful Alaskan land.

I’ll be working this week at the Visitor Center and getting more acquainted with interns and staff.  My current roommates are short-timers who will be leaving in the next couple weeks.  I’ll get some pictures this week and tell you more about them in my next blog.

Till then, have a great week, enjoy the beauty of this land wherever you are and don’t waste good worry.

 

The joy of a grandson . . .

Grant Michael Kleman was born on May 8, 1998.  At the time he was born I was just starting my return to college to secure my bachelors degree.  I was 48 years old and this boy held my heart like nothing else.  I thought the love of my daughters was the maximum amount of love any heart could hold.  I was wrong.  The birth of this boy doubled the size of my heart and I could not have loved him more.  (Later I found that your heart just keeps getting bigger as you add grandchildren.  They are all special but I must admit the first one holds a very special place.)  His mom sent pictures and kept me updated on his growth while I was in school and we enjoyed many visits together on multiple occasions.

Laundry Baskets were great for playing with special toys.
I remember this day. He was so mad at having to leave what he was doing!
Such a handsome guy.

 

 

 

Grammy’s Graduation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2000, I graduated from the university and was fortunate to be able to move to Texas and to live with Jennifer for the next seven years.  Grant and I had much to experience together.  We had the moment when, while driving, with Grant in his car seat in the back seat, I gave him a peppermint candy and he choked on it.  In the middle of traffic I was frantic to get to him.  I know I lost 10 years of life in that 5 seconds between choking and spitting out the candy.

There was the time at the park when he fell on the jungle gym and cut the bridge of his nose which ended up as a scar.  He always told everyone that Grammy did that to him!  Maybe being the first grandchild carries greater risks than I imagined (for both of us!).

How about a kiss from my favorite boy.
A little pensive at times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2002 his brother Reid arrived and he became the big brother.  He and Reid were best buds and they loved spending time together.  In 2007 the twins arrived and Grant and Reid were both big brothers, and great ones at that.

Grant and Reid. Brothers and friends.

 

There’s two and they are alike.

 

 

 

 

Grant was ever cautious, never a risk taker.  He played soccer as a kid but it was never about the sport and always about talking with the other kids (often while playing).

Happy Kindergarten graduation!
Grant’s first parade entry.
Aunt Melissa reading with Grant.
Great Grandma Drucilla with this very sweet boy.

School was fun for Grant but not his one and only love until he figured out how to have a business of his own and that definitely got his interest.  G&R Auto detailing was first with the beginnings in their local neighborhood doing car washes and auto detailing.  Grant was about 13 when they began this business.  Regular customers kept them busy and the ever pragmatic Grant made sure he saved most of what they earned.

After a couple years of this Grant expanded to landscaping and was able to make enough to pay cash for his truck when he secured his drivers license.  Along the way he decided the percentage he was sharing with Reid wasn’t valid and he decided to lower Reid’s cut, upon which Reid quit!  They remained close but Reid was no longer a working partner.

Grant went on to create a landscaping business along with his auto detailing.  It served him well and he loved time spent working.  The harder the work the more he seemed to enjoy it and the satisfaction of completing a job well done.  His work ethic was solid.

Grant’s faith was strong. He loved God with all his heart and believed strongly in his words.  He kept his bible on the dashboard of his truck always.

After high school graduation he went on to Texas Tech University.  It was a difficult transition.  I don’t know what happened or changed in his life those final few months.  And, for whatever reason, I’m not meant to know.  However, I do know this.  Grant was a special boy who held a special place in this world.  I, and his family, will miss him greatly.  We will do our best to focus on the joy of his 18 years with us and smile with our memories.  He will be with us for always.

Grant passed away on December 10, 2016.  A life lived well but cut way too short.  I am blessed and grateful to have this photo of the two of us at his High School Graduation.  I love you Grant more than you will ever know.  The first grandchild holds a very special place in our hearts and that spot will remain with me forever.  I look forward to the day when memories can be shared freely and I thank God every day that my heart is full of gratitude for the 18 years I had with him.  See you later buddy!

Grant and Grammy at his high school graduation, May 2016.

I am so grateful for all of my grandchildren.  Adrianna will graduate from George Mason University in May; Dominic is taking courses at NOVA in Virginia and working at Walmart; Cameron is a junior in high school and loving Robotics; Reid is 9th grade and working on his Eagle Scout; Thomas is 7th grade and proudly maintaining straight A’s in school;  Michaela is in her element at 6th grade, loving school and a real social butterfly, and twins, Luke & Jack, who are learning new things every day! They are blessed gifts, each and every one.

Reid Kleman (and his cousin Wyatt)
Twins – Luke & Jack Kleman
The McVay-Jenkins Grandkids (Adrianna, Dominic, Cameron, Thomas and Michaela

Unexpected Benefits from a Tandem Skydiving Gift . . .

 Unexpected Benefits from a Tandem Skydiving Gift . . .

For Christmas this past year my son-in-law, Robert, gave me the gift of a tandem skydive. Always the adventurist, I was delighted. Scared, but delighted. It would be a brand new experience with a couple unexpected benefits.

My daughter, Melissa,  and I drove out to the jump field. Always the supporter, she got up early to join me and share the experience. It seems no matter what crazy idea or scheme I come up with, she is without fail my biggest cheerleader.   In fact, the night before I mentioned she might want to join me if they had an opening and she agreed (however,  I could tell she didn’t have the passion in her heart, just the love for me!). I also knew that she would go with me because that’s the kind of daughter she is.

Melissa and Mara – first skydive

Benefit #1:  Having someone who fully supports your adventures, who never encourages you to be cautious (just safe), and readily jumps aboard your moving train is a blessing known by few. I am humbled and grateful that I call her my daughter.

It was a cold morning, with a high in the 30’s and a nice brisk breeze. We were the first to arrive and sure enough they had an opening and could take us both together on the first flight. We signed our waivers (they tell you all the different ways you can die and you tell them you are okay with that and will not hold them responsible!).   We met our tandem jump mates. Randy would jump with me, Angelo would jump with Melissa. Randy would train us, which consisted of a 5 minute list of instructions and strapping us into our harnesses. Randy’s passion for what he was doing and his joy in the experience was a reminder of how important it is to celebrate what we love in a way that others can see and feel it. Randy made certain of that and, while we continued forward with a healthy dose of fear, we were excited because he was excited to share this jump with us.

Randy & Mara – Awaiting enough altitude to jump from the plane.  Anxiety levels for me are pretty high at this point.  Randy is calm as a cucumber.

Benefit #2:  Doing anything WITH someone who is joyous and passionate is a reminder of the reason we celebrate life together.

Melissa and I with our tandem guys climbing for altitude.
Melissa and Angelo – – it was just the two of us and our partners in the plane. 

Once we jumped from the plane and pulled our parachute, we coasted in the silence overlooking the earth below. Randy continued to openly share his thoughts and feelings about the wonder of being high above the ground, cascading slowly in the silence of the sky, and looking out over the wondrous place we call earth. He laughed with me, he encouraged me to open my eyes wide and take it all in, and he marveled at the beauty of the silence as we moved with the wind high above the ground.

Coming down . .
Look at me, I’m loving it.
My hair is a fright but I am absolutely loving the thrill of it.
She is brave and gazing down upon the earth below. It’s a long way down!
The initial free fall is quite the experience..
My hair is a fright but I am absolutely loving the thrill of it.
She is brave and gazing down upon the earth below. It’s a long way down!

The morning was incredible.  In just a very very short time we had completed an awesome adventure together.  I repeat,  awesome!  Thomas, Melissa’s middle son, says that we have started a tradition.  From here forward, Melissa is responsible for taking Michael, her daughter,  skydiving for the first time, and Michaela will in turn take her daughters for a skydive as well.  Nice to know the adventures will continue for generations to come.

Happy adventures one and all.