About Me

My photo
Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Dinner Tonight

Tonight, after a brief hiatus from cooking (we HAVE eaten in the past few weeks, just nothing spectacular), I am making french onion soup with chocolate pie for dessert. (I intend to cheat on the pudding, as Jello chocolate pudding was on sale for about a dollar a box at Foodland, and I can't resist a bargain).

I love to cook, and have an enthusiastic audience in my family, who have many favorites. They love my enchiladas, chile beans, apple pie, North Douglas Chocolate Cake, spaghetti and meatballs, posole, Mrs. Sagimori's Chow Mein, etc. Other things that I cook that meet a less enthusiastic response are my tuna casserole, hamburger stroganoff and oven fried chicken, old tried and true (and less expensive) offerings.

I love to cook and I learned from one of the best: my mother. Charles jokes that she had some sort of special oil in her hands that flavored her cooking to taste better than anyone else's. When I cook something that Mom taught me to make, such as enchiladas, posole or chile beans, I can almost feel her at my elbow, telling me to add more of this or that (usually salt, as she loved salt).

Once, when she was visiting, she was making chicken soup and was salting it when the lid of the salt shaker fell off and she dumped the entire shaker full into the soup. It was like the Dead Sea - I swear we could have floated a brick in it. She insisted that we could just "cut up a potato in it" to soak up the excess salt, but it was completely inedible. This was the only cooking failure of Mom's that I can remember, although there must have been more.

I tend to cook like she did, more by feel than anything else. I do like to try new recipes, but once I've made something, I like to fiddle around with it and try to make it my own. I won't be brought to a standstill because I don't have an ingredient or two, I'll just throw something else in and see what happens.

Mom could make 20 apple pies at a time from the four apple trees that we had in the backyard. She would mix up the pie dough without measuring anything, put me to work peeling and slicing apples and build the pies, one at a time, until we would have pies stacked up like cord wood in the freezer. In the middle of winter, she would reach into the freezer in the morning, and pull out a pie to thaw. We'd have warm apple pie for dessert. It seemed miraculous to me, and still does.

I was intimidated at first by her seemingly effortless skill at pie crust making - so much so, that after my first failure, I gave up and resorted to Pillsbury pie crusts, until we hit a low patch financially and since homemade pie crust is cheaper than store bought, I tried it again. Bingo! It worked! During the Pillsbury years, I managed to pull the wool over people's eyes when they asked me how I made my crust. I would tell them: "My mother always told me to make sure the water is really cold". Which she did. But now I know from experience that she was right: the water does have to be really cold; it is best to use a pastry blender and not handle it too much; don't make the crust too thick; and waxed paper works just as well as a pastry mat.

Like I said, I love to cook. I love to cook for large groups of people, mostly because, like Mom did, I love a party. I love to cook for our family and a guest or two because having a good conversation over a good meal is such a pleasure. I love to cook for just the two of us because Charles and I are usually in the kitchen together and it's nice to have the time to chat and chop at the same time.

I love to cook because food is love. Mom taught me that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ask Me No Questions

Thanks to my sister Mary (see above photo), I have excellent grammar and spelling skills. When I was younger, she would correct my speech if I was using incorrect grammar or lapsed into using "y'know" or "like" as fillers when I was speaking. She would say, "No, I DON'T 'know' - enlighten me", or "'Like' WHAT?". Eventually, she made me more aware of my speech patterns and I was more careful when I spoke or wrote. This has been beneficial to me, especially when I was working for the State of Alaska and had to write reports or give presentations. So, thanks, Mary!

One of the recent and most annoying speech habits that I have observed over the last few years is the tendency for people (especially young women) to use an interrogative at the end of their sentences, that is, ending their sentences with a question mark. I went to a lecture and slide show the other evening given by an accomplished and extremely talented young woman here in town. At the beginning of her talk, she began using this speech pattern, which sounded something like this: "My name is Amy? (Not her real name). I have been doing (her particular skill) since I was about 10 years old? I was given the opportunity to study at (the school where she learned more about the skill)?" By the way, the reason I am being so circumspect about the young woman is because she is wonderful at what she does and it is a small town.

My point is that this young woman had absolutely no reason to be unsure of herself or to lack confidence in her abilities. But the way she expressed herself made it seem as if she didn't believe in herself.

I have seen this tendency in young women increase in recent years. What makes so many young women speak like this? Are they really that unsure? Do they feel they need permission to make a simple declarative sentence? What were all those years of struggle in the feminist movement for, if young women don't feel confident enough to speak as if they mean what they say, instead of posing everything as a question?

I managed to beat (not literally, of course) this habit out of my daughter in her teenage years when she would speak like this by responding, "I don't know." She'd say, "What?" and I'd reply, "I don't know the answer to your question. You said: 'I went to the movie?' I don't know, did you?" Eventually, she would get so irritated when I responded like this that she stopped using the questioning tone. I am now seeing this speech pattern in a little girl that I'm close to, and, since I am not her mother (or her aunt), I hesitate to employ the same method. But it bothers me to hear it, especially because she is smart, athletic, talented, funny and beautiful, with no reason whatsoever to have any doubt in her abilities.

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but I hope that all of us, especially young women and girls, will know that it's perfectly all right to make a statement of fact without asking a question first.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Icons and Biscochitos

Icons and Biscochitos

My husband, Deacon Charles Rohrbacher, is an iconographer. He has been painting icons since 1980. He studied with a Russian emigre' iconographer, Dmitri Shkolnik in San Francisco early in his career. He had been working in San Francisco for a non-profit agency (The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors) and was also an artist. He wanted to find an art form that was an expression of his faith, so he started to study iconography with Dmitri. Charles tells stories of attending the Easter Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Church in San Francisco, about the five hour long liturgy followed by a huge banquet for the attendees (or "the survivors", as Charles puts it!). He then moved to Juneau (to marry me!) in 1982 and continued studying on his own.

We often reflect on how he became a full time iconographer. It was a perfect fit for him. Iconography is a mix of theology, history and art, all of which Charles is passionate about.

Two months after we were married, on December 12th, 1982 (the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), I was making cookies for the office cookie exchange. Of course, I wanted to make Biscochitos, the traditional New Mexican Christmas cookies that my mother made every year. It's an old family tradition, not to be broken (at least not by me) and so, when I discovered that we were out of sugar (planning ahead not being my strong suit), I sweetly asked my new husband to trek to the grocery store in the icy slush and get some sugar for me.

In those days, Foodland (then, and still, the only grocery store in Downtown Juneau) was closed on Sundays, so the only option was J&J Deli, a convenience store/deli on the other side of Evergreen Cemetery from our little cabin on the hill/newlywed love nest. Because Charles is such a good sport, and possibly because I had been singing the praises of Biscochitos to him, he agreed to walk to the store to get the sugar. It had snowed earlier in the week, then frozen, and then thawed so the conditions were just right for Charles to, as he stepped from the path in the cemetery to the sidewalk next to the Chief Kowee memorial, slip and break his ankle in four places.

Fortunately, a person walking by asked if he could help and instead of saying: "Please call an ambulance", Charles asked the Good Samaritan to help him get to J&J Deli, a few yards away. Once there, he asked to use the phone, dragged himself the length of the counter, called me and said that he had fallen and thought that he had broken his ankle. I started to cry hysterically until Charles remarked mildly that HE was the one in pain and could I arrange a ride to the emergency room. I called friends who showed up with a Volkswagen bug (thanks Danny!) and off we went to the ER where they determined that the ankle was indeed broken and that Charles needed surgery.

When he was discharged from the hospital, he was ensconced in the living room of the little cabin, our bedroom being up a set of narrow and very steep stairs (read: honeymoon over) and, unable to work, or even get out of the house due to the very deep snow, slippery conditions, and no car, he began to study more about iconography, thanks to the Interlibrary Loan program at our local library. Studying led to sketching and painting, then more sketching and painting. He was out of work for six weeks and we were surviving on my paycheck as a newly-minted State of Alaska employee, who, after being a volunteer for two years, a preschool teacher for another year and a drug store clerk for six months, thought that this cushy State job with health benefits for both of us was a huge jump ahead, finance-wise. We agreed that we could indeed live on my salary, so Charles became a full time artist after his ankle was healed, and an iconographer was born.

So, to all of the people and churches for whom Charles has written icons over the past 29 years: you have my mother to thank, the woman who taught me to make Biscochitos.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Doldrums

I'm in the doldrums. No, I'm not on a boat, stranded in a windless sea, I'm just feeling blah.

I think Christmas was so much fun that the aftermath is too quiet. I have been doing a lot of reading and watching movies and (God help me) daytime TV (although just a little of Kathie Lee Gifford is a little too much). I've also been napping a lot.

It could be because of the bad news around the world, especially the violence in Tucson. I have been trying to just pray about it, but it is hard to do. There are other things in the world to be sad or angry or anxious about too. It's hard to not become overwhelmed.

So, in the "better to light a candle than curse the darkness" realm, I have decided to do the following:

1. Take a walk every day, even if it's just around the block.
2. Make sure I take what my mother used to refer to as "death control" pills (just my regular prescribed meds - I always forget!)
3. Drink more water (I have no where to go but up in this regard).
4. Hang up my clothes instead of leaving them on the floor like the shed skin of a snake.
5. Eat a salad every day.
6. Set aside time to sit quietly and reflect on how blessed I am, and to be grateful.

The other day, I heard a great quote: "The conversion of the world begins with me."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Favorite Books and Magazines

Our house is filled with books. We have books in the bedroom (three full bookshelves), two bookshelves in the living room, one in the dining room, one upstairs in Miguel's room, one in my office, one in the upstairs landing and an entire wall of books in Charles' studio.

I tend to lean in the direction of women's fiction (NOT romance novels!). My favorite authors are Elizabeth Berg, Maeve Binchy and Jan Karon, although I was disappointed in Jan Karon's second novel in her Fr. Tim series, The Company of Others. Elizabeth Berg has written so many great books and I've enjoyed every one that I've read so far. Maeve Binchy has improved over the years - her early books had kind of a melodramatic, couldn't-figure-out-how-to-end-the-book-so-I'll-kill-somebody-off feel to them, but she really turned a corner with Scarlet Feather, followed by Tara Road. Quentins was a fun read, mostly because of her "short stories within a novel" approach. She is a good short story writer. She has reintroduced many of her characters in her books, so it's kind of like seeing old friends again when I read a new book of hers. She has a new one coming out soon that I'm looking forward to.

As far as non-fiction authors go, I love Haven Kimmel, whose two memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off The Couch are two of my favorite books - so much so that when I see copies of them at the Friends of the Library's Amazing Bookstore, I buy them so I can pass them on to friends. And of course, there is Heather Lende, who has written two books about life in Haines, Alaska: If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name and Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs. Both books are moving, funny and completely real. Her stories of her friends and neighbors and of life in a small Alaska town are great. I have given her books to friends and relatives as gifts, and would collect used copies, but her books are not the kind that people donate to used bookstores - they are the kind that people keep to read again.

I just finished a funny book by Wally Lamb, called Wishin' and Hopin' that was so funny, I had to keep putting it down to wipe my eyes from laughing. I think more Wally Lamb is in my future.

Books are a big part of our lives (and our decor, obviously!) I'm glad we live a couple of blocks from the Douglas Public Library.

Charles' taste is more for non-fiction: theology, history, current events, patristics, biography and poetry. When he moved to Juneau, he shipped up 75 boxes of books. He periodically culls his books, as do I, but he has a huge library.

We have a couple of boxes of children's books that are in storage for our future grandchildren. Some of them we bought for our kids, and some were part of my children's literature collection from my days of teaching preschool.

I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living, mostly because the photography is so beautiful. I also read Real Simple (which a friend says is neither!). The merchandise that is discussed in Real Simple is pretty expensive, but it is fun to look at and the articles are informative and interesting. I like Country Living, again for the beautiful photos. I have actually gotten some ideas for our own house from Country Living, but we're not going to win any decorating awards! I love Woman's Day and Family Circle for the recipes (and especially Woman's Day because Heather Lende now has a regular column!)

I read People and Us magazines to keep up with popular culture. Charles once said (during the Princess Diana craze) that I knew more about the British Royal Family than I did about the people next door. It is mental popcorn, and I am completely unapologetic. If I start reading the National Enquirer, then you can criticize me!

We love to read like we love to breathe.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Sunny Saturday

While I wasn't out taking pictures today, I probably should have been. It is absolutely gorgeous - blue skies and a slight breeze. Perfect weather for flying in a small plane, which Charles did today. He had to go over to Hoonah to help with a funeral of one of the elders there who passed away this week. As a deacon, Charles can preside at funerals outside of Mass and at Communion services and Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. Charles was flying over today to preside at the prayer vigil tomorrow and Fr. Scott is flying in to preside at the Funeral Mass on Monday.

I'm grateful that the weather was good for flying - I worry when Charles has to go to Hoonah in a small plane. I try to avoid small planes myself. I got enough small plane travel when I was working for the State of Alaska as a Child Care Licensing Specialist and would have to fly to Haines and Skagway every few months.

After dropping Charles off at the airport, I stopped at Starbucks at Safeway for a latte before my haircut appointment. I have found that it's impossible to go anywhere in Juneau without seeing someone that I know - which is fine with me, because I love chatting with people. Today I ran into Frank and Gail. Frank is a school counselor at JDHS and he asked after Miguel at college and after Phoebe, who works with his sister in a group home for disabled adults. I worked with Gail for a short time at Hearthside Books. Always nice to see them.

At the hair salon, I ran into Sonie with whom I sang in a production of Godspell about 15 years ago. We chatted about our kids (and in her case, her grandkids).

I stopped by Phoebe's place to drop off some things for our friend Rachel, who is visiting from Seattle for a few months. We're trying to persuade her to stay longer, at least until spring. Had a quick cup of tea and a nice visit then to the Glory Hole to drop off a wool shirt and a fleece vest that are perfectly fine, but not something that Miguel or Charles will ever wear. Then home, where I should be vacuuming up needles from the tree instead of sitting with the computer.

This afternoon, I may try to catch a matinee of a movie that I know Charles probably wouldn't like (Love and Other Drugs) while he's out of town, and then tonight will go to the Juneau Lyric Opera's Midwinter Vocal Festival concert out at Chapel By The Lake.

A pretty quiet Saturday, compared with the busyness of a few weeks past. It's nice to be able to draw a deep breath and relax a bit!

Friday, January 7, 2011

About Our Life

I've lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer www.jvcnorthwest.org/ to work in a child care center. I volunteered for two years and decided to make Alaska my home.

My husband Charles came up to visit mutual friends in 1980 and then returned to visit in 1981, when me met, fell in love during his two week visit and got married 10 months later. (A very romantic story, best told over a leisurely dinner with pie for dessert!)

We have two children. Phoebe is 25 and an artist, and Miguel is 18 and a freshman in college.

We also have two dogs. Gwinnie is a terrier mix, who is quite elderly, deaf, and smelly but also very sweet and loving.

Beans is a Westie, who is five years old, funny and cute and unfortunately, suffering from an eye condition (KCS) which is irritating for her and time consuming (and not a little disgusting) for us. I'll spare you the details.

Charles is a Roman Catholic permanent deacon, which means that he is an ordained clergyman and that I am a clergyman's wife (I'll try to watch my language, but don't be surprised if the occasional "damn" or "hell" crops up). He works full time for the Diocese of Juneau www.dioceseofjuneau.org/ and also is an iconographer. You'll be hearing more about Charles' art and I'll be posting photos.

I am retired from 26 years with the State of Alaska and, despite a few forays back into the work world, am happy to stay home, taking care of the house and dogs and helping out with various volunteer tasks.

We are quite involved with the Church and keep busy with various liturgies and other events. I'll post about Church stuff from time to time, just because it is such a huge part of our lives.

I love to cook, so I'll be posting recipes and talking about food (the preparation, serving and eating of) quite a bit. I also love to read, so I'll be talking about books and magazines that I enjoy.

Music is a big part of my life. I have been singing since I was a little girl and love choral music and folk music, and opera and classical music as well.

Be ready to hear about lots of events around town, and day to day happenings in our little corner of Alaska!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Welcome to Home in Douglas!

This is the view from my front yard.

You can't see Russia from my house, but you can see Juneau, which is across the Gastineau Channel. (That may the first, last and only reference I will make to our former Governor!)

This blog will be about our life in lovely downtown Douglas, Alaska. Douglas is part of the City and Borough of Juneau, but it used to be a thriving town in its own right because of the Treadwell Gold Mine (back in the old days).

Douglas has a post office, a bar, which is named Pat's Douglas Inn (but everybody knows it as Louie's), a church (Methodist), an ice rink, a fire hall/library and a couple of restaurants. It also has a great beach and several nice trails.

My husband Charles and I have lived in this house since 1997. We are empty nesters, with our son in college and our daughter living across the channel.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more about life in Douglas!