Sunday, January 25, 2009

it goes away... or, what's it worth to you?

I was trying to figure out what facebook is for besides killing time while I put off writing or some household chore. Then last Monday I saw lots of activity and unexplained comments made to my friend Nancy, with whom I recently reconnected. We attended college together at UW-Milwaukee. In the early 1990s I worked for Harry W Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee. Nancy still works there.

But on Monday the employees learned that after 82 years, at the end of March the independent, family-run shop will close. Though it's been years since I worked there, I still feel a fondness for the shop and an appreciation for what it represents in the community of readers and writers. A gathering place with author events hosted by people who love books. Great books.

Just a week before when I was adding a bookshelf to this site, I noticed that it offered a link for people to buy the book from an online bookstore. That's when I posted the note telling you about my favorite local bookstore here in Anchorage. (That would be Title Wave.) Little did I know that my friend's employer was about to close its doors, partly because of the competition from online sales; partly from the current financial problems that face so many Americans.

I know it's easy to shop online and that's why so many people do it. Besides, there are some things that just can't be purchased in Anchorage (like my favorite granola). But if you can get something locally, even if it's to have something ordered by a local shop, it supports local jobs. And those people are our neighbors and their friends and family. And if too many people stop buying locally, shops like the best book store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, go away. And I wonder if that can happen here to my favorite bookstore or to the bike shop where I work.

After all, these are more than just places where people buy things. They are shops where people meet to talk about the things they have in common, to share their passion, whether it is for words or bicycles... or both. These are the places that feed our desires to interact, to be validated, to have contact with like-minded people. These are the places many of us go to experience community.

Monday, January 19, 2009

inauguration days

It's not often I reminisce about life before Alaska, but it's with fondness that I remember bits of a day sixteen years ago. A sea of people on the Mall in Washington. Standing on the grass in the cool January air, next to a tree which obscured most of my view unless I stretched to look around it.

Voices heard above the crowds over the speakers as Bill Clinton took the oath of office the first time; Maya Angelou's voice, resonant and steady as she read her poem: On the Pulse of Morning. And after all the ceremony, a helicopter near the nation's capitol. Bush I and Barbara were the passengers. It lifted off and the crowd ran closer, waving and shouting goodbye. It was like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and the Wizard were in the basket of the hot air balloon getting ready to lift off. We could see their faces, it seems, as they rose from the lawn and left Washington.

The process will repeat on Tuesday, but even bigger, with Barack Obama taking his oath of office. Now I wish I could be there to feel the energy that will be a nation in transition. But I'll be watching from here in Anchorage with my friends, celebrating a new era, a better era, positive changes for our country and our world. We're embarking on a great journey, a man of vision and inspiration at the helm. I wonder where we'll end up. I think it'll be incredibly good.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


We obsess, I know
But these many days of frigid
more than typical
have us Anchoragites
hitting the weather websites
the mesonet
the wunderground
calling the 844
recording the minutia
that is early January, 2009

And tonight
downtown to the
parkstrip we went
bundled again for a walk
through the elements
not just to shuffle from the
car to the market
house to the mailbox
instead, we went
to walk on snow
through snow
between snow
around snow

We entered what could be called
a labrynth
reminiscent of a kiva
a circle with no top
a hedge made of snow
a walk around, through, the walled perimeter
looks like a dead end, then
turn to see the fire
in the center
down the enormous steps
prepared for theater
in the round
and the sparks cracked
flying up and out, above the circle
and we stepped close to warm
our hands and noses
drawn to the light and heat
drawn together with strangers
and friends

Sheltered from the wind
we are united around the flame
and though clouds obscure
the moon
we are aware of its fullness
its closeness orbiting
as we orbit above this flame
heat, like gravity keeping us
in place
keeps us from drifting too far
yet, satisfied
we draw away from its hold
venture back through the entrance
reverse our circle
and land outside
stepping onto more snow
and a pile of wood
that will keep us warm
while we wait for the temperature
to vault over zero

Find out about Freeze.
What's the mesonet?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

twenty-six below

Just because I've been off the bike doesn't mean Jon isn't riding. He's been commuting to work in this cold spell. This evening his thermometer registered a new low: 26.1 below at the Campbell Tract. It's all about the right equipment, head to toe.

Handlebar poagies, winter boots with heated insoles, facemask, wool mittens.
Layers, layers, layers.

Jon arrives home from work, mighty frosty.
(He was wearing sports shields & still
has a little frost on his eyelashes.

I'm pretty impressed with his dedication. And hoping that when he's ready to drive his car it will start. I'm also hoping that when my hand is ready to hold onto the handlebar we will have returned to 20 above zero. I'll even take 10.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

happy birthday, alaska

On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state. Tonight I joined Alaskans in Anchorage for the fireworks commemorating that day, 50 years ago. There was free music at three venues for those who arrived earlier. Jon and I arrived after work and walked several blocks from the car to get to Town Square Park, the park with the ice sculptures.

We strolled around to keep warm. Recognized bits of faces peering between the bottoms of hats and the tops of scarves. We didn't have a thermometer but it was hovering around minus 10F. Yet hundreds of people from toddlers to Sourdoughs were there in the park, bundled against the cold and the ice fog hanging in the air, falling from the air, covering trees in glittering white.

We weren't sure where the display would be launched. Then it started. To the east. To the south. To the north. I wasn't sure which way to look as the bright lights shot up, lighting the sky and the small park below. The lights reflected on buildings. Explosions echoed across the streets.

I started laughing. Other people around me, adults like me, they were laughing too and shouting, clapping. Maybe it was because it was so colorful in our otherwise monochromatic winter. Maybe it was because we were standing together out in the cold watching something most people in the country reserve for the time of year when they can sit on the grass or in a lawn chair enjoying a cold beverage. But that's not Alaska.

Here, the winter fireworks are better than any held in the summer for the simple fact that it doesn't get dark at night when it's warm out. Maybe that would explain why I haven't made it a point to enjoy a professional fireworks display since I left Wisconsin.

For some reason, though, I wanted to be there tonight. Maybe, like so many other people, I want to be a part of something. We want to be Alaskans. Which for me meant standing in the cold and singing only loud enough for Jon to hear:
"Eight stars of gold on a field of blue
Alaska's flag, may it mean to you..."
as the display wrapped up.

I love that we have a state song that reflects the place where we live. It still sums up the essence of our natural world and why it's a good place to live for people who like to be outdoors or who can appreciate the view outside their windows. And it was running through my mind as the display ended, reminding me once again why I live here. It's not because of the fireworks, they were just the reminder.

Friday, January 2, 2009

goals and cliches OR my better year

my better year
must be quantifiable and specific
no vague statements such as
lose weight
exercise more
and be more organized.

Take charge more
travel more
take more chances
write more
surf less
find the right word
read more books.
play music more.

Instead, I will:
lose 10 pounds
because 15 sounds like too much
ride my bike or run or ski
five days a week
file away paperwork
once per week
because the office piles
are too inviting for the kitty.

When we're going to dinner
Instead of saying "where do YOU want to go?"
when Jon asks "where do you want to go?"
I'm going to tell him where I want to go...
then ask if that works for him.

I'll book those tickets, then tell him when we're leaving.
I'll take those road trips I've meant to take
to all the towns on the road system
I'll fly in a small plane. Um, maybe.

I'll write every day. Something.
Can I include email?
I'll limit my surfing time to an hour a day,
unless it's to research something I'm writing.
In that case, I'll try not to follow the links
to more information that is not relevant to the project.
You know where I'm heading here, yes?

In conversations around the house,
I will refrain from calling an object:
a thing, a thingy or a thingamajig,
unless it is the game called thingamajig.
(Or a VW Thing... remember that?)

By reading more books, I could say I will
finish those I've started,
Read what I've bought before buying more,
Use the library more.
I could consult the list of "books you should read
before you die."
How about read the books people expect I've read
because I was an English major?

More realistic would be: I will read the books
that hold my interest.
and I will play my mandolin three days a week.
All this will start
When I am good and ready.