Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Take out the Trash

So a quick post but a humorous one, anyways. Garbage day is Wednesday (tomorrow). I am house sitting for a family with a very steep driveway. Today for the ump-teenth time this year it snowed. The weather man said 1-3 inches but in Alaska 1-3 inches can quickly turn into 1-3 feet (see previous post "Dig Out"). At work during my lunch time I took some pictures at church since it was really coming down outside...

That's my (the family I'm house sitting for's) car- Covered with snow in 2 hours.
The front of the church, icicles, Christmas wreaths, angels and snow!
It continued to snow into the afternoon and after work I got home and it was still snowing. Tomorrow is garbage pick up and I'm anticipating it will snow throughout the night. So I decided to heave-ho the garbage up the steep driveway though 6 inches of snow instead of in the morning with how ever much MORE SNOW we will get.
Look at the snowbank...that's what I dug through, so I could get the garbage can out
Drag, drag, drag...this is a drag (haha)

I made it up the driveway tracks all the way
Mission accomplished

After the first obstacle, the snowbank of 2 feet of snow and the removal of snow from the garbage lid, it was a drag (no pun intended). I took a shovel to scoop a path through the 2 foot tall snowbank in front and then literally drug the thing up the driveway making a nice clearing for my walk back down. I pushed the 1/2 foot of snow all the way up. By the way, wheels on a garbage can are a good idea but are completely WORTHLESS in the snow. Someone should build some skis for these things...maybe I will. Make millions? Probably not but wouldn't that be a funny sight. Oh Alaska!

Cyber Christmas

Christmas for my family came on December 26th. I awoke early at 6:00am Alaska time in order to be skyped in with my family back in Minnesota at 9:00am Minnesota time. It was strange seeing my house, and living room while not being physically present. I was even given a tour of my bedroom which has had an extreme makeover with new wallpaper to cover the 100+ years of cracks, with 4 intense tornadoes, and many a windstorm. I also am getting a new ceiling--or at least tiles to cover the cracks so you can sleep with the cracks out of mind wondering when the attic will fall on top of you. I also got a tour of the bathroom. It's PURPLE?! When did that happen. How things change.

The gift opening did not begin until 7:30 (10:30am CST). It was fun to see all the packages I had sent home be opened. Christmas this year was not just missing me but my youngest sister Kayli too. Kayli is currently in Crailsheim Germany as part of Worthington's German exchange program. Kayli had called in earlier as her time difference is 7 hours from Minnesota. It's a cyber Christmas for sure!

Although I was skyped (video) in it seemed like I was right there opening presents. Some of the highlights included a digital picture frame that I gave to my parents with pictures on it, a 5 pound Hershey's Chocolate Bar from Adam to my dad (this is becoming a Christmas tradition), lots of German chocolate from Kayli to the family, several "Alaska T-Shirts" to my dad and brother, and jewlery for my sister. Perhaps the most favored gift I gave to my family was a homemade CD recording of me singing traditional Christmas songs including "O Holy Night" which I sang each year at my home congregation and family gatherings on Christmas Eve while my youngest sister would accompany me on the piano.

My Brother Amery
Dad and his 5 pound candy bar from Adam- a tradition two years running
A gift from Kayli in Germany, you burn incense in the chimney of the house
I even got some Christmas presents via the internet. My brother bought me a gift but since I was not there to open it dad offered to do so. My dad opened it for me and revealed that Amery had bought me the main characters to Willow Tree Nativity. How perfect! I have been steadily collecting Willow Tree, or "Faceless People" as my brother likes to tease me, since I was a freshmen in High School and my collection is growing bigger.

Willow Tree Nativity. I do not have all the pieces but someday I will :)
My family, in Minnesota, ate dinner and then went to Grandma and Grandpa Pfeil's in the afternoon. Grandman and Grandpa do not have internet but with Adam being so high tech he took our hotspot from the farm to Grandma and Grandpas for a surprise skype with them. They have not seen me since May, and wont see me until I get back after internship. It was great to see them.

I then got to sit in on the opening of presents with the Pfeil side of the family. I am so thankful for my fiance Adam. Bless his heart he is going to all my family, and extend family Christmases without me. What a keeper, that's true love right there.
Grandpa, Amery, and Adam.
Grandma got perfume! 
Mindy got a neat hat
Mom got some new towels
I am so thankful for technology and being able to "attend" my family Christmases from 3500 miles away. It's really unique. When I become full time DCE I told my family we will have to move Christmas to July, it comes with the territory of working within a church, but as far as I'm concerned it's Christmas every day as this congregation, my family, God Himself keeps on ringing in the blessings and that should be celebrated not once a year but EVERY DAY of the year.

Merry Christmas to all of you with love from Alaska!

Christmas Day

I awoke Christmas Day, early to get ready for church. Upon going outside I found that the world had been covered with a fresh blanket of snow (i'm getting used to this). After digging out my car I attempted to make it out the driveway where I'm house sitting. No such luck so I slid back down and took the Cheesman's Subaru instead.

Church was a a cozy group of people as we followed "A Service of Lesson's and Carols" something that has been done for many years now. I really liked this service there was no "sermon" Per se but rather readings begining with the Old Testament and continuing through the new Testament of the story, and prophesy of the coming Christ Child. In between each reading there was a traditional carol sung. Some of the highlights included "What Child is This", Angels We Have Heard on High, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Lo! How a Rose, Gentle Mary Laid Her Head and others. There were a lot! It was fun to sing so many traditional carols and celebrate the morning with my church family.

After the church service I was invited to spend the day with the Coburn's, a family from church. We ate lots of food, played several rounds of Apple to Apples and I had the honor of taking family pictures for them as they were all together. It was a relaxing day and a memorable one at that.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve-A Family Tradition

Christmas Eve has always been one of my favorite church services of the year. Back home we would have both 7:00pm and 10:00pm church services. Generally the Kuhl side of the family would gather and Grandma & Grandpa Kuhl's for supper, open presents, and then we would head out to the late 10:00pm church service. At the late, 10:00pm, we would have the traditional candle light service with the glow of candles. It was one of my top two favorite services (Easter Sunrise being the other) of the year.

This year I am not at home but instead on internship in Alaska. I was excited to see that my internship church of Our Redeemer Lutheran also does a late night--10:30pm candle light service as well as an earlier 7:00pm service too. We gathered at the 10:30pm service. The women of the choir sang a pre-lude "Emmanuel" from Handel's "Messiah". We then preceded to sing traditional songs and hymns that brought me back to my childhood. The choir sang, once again, during the offertory "Lulley Alleluia" and then went into the Lord's Supper.

After the Lord's Supper the congregation was invited to gather in a circle to continue on with the candle light portion of the service. I thought it very fitting that we be in a circle as it is a symbol of eternity just as through Christ's birth, death, and resurrection we are offered the gift of eternal life.

With a smaller congregation the circle did not make it quite all the way around the sanctuary but we still we able to see meaning and purpose in the idea. Starting with Pastor lighting his candle from the advent wreath the flame was passed on both sides from one person to the other, until the whole room was lit by the glow of candles. The passage from Matthew 5 was read:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:15-16).

With that the congregation joined in singing Silent Night. I was overwhelmed by the Spirit as I got goosebumps across my arms and neck. It was a very powerful moment that nearly brought me to tears. I stood there with my candle in hand to reflect on how blessed I am by this congregation and the people in my life thinking where I have originated physically (distance) and in my faith walk and how far I had come.

"Radiant Beams" light up each of my families face-yes family I say :)

Candles and the brightly lit Christmas tree-I love it!

 As we joined in the final verse the lyrics "Radiant beams from Thy holy face / With the dawn of redeeming grace" struck me to the point of tears. The candle of each congregation member shone brightly with "radiant beams" upon each individual's face. While I would love to be at home for Christmas with my family I could think of no place better than to be at Our Redeemer with the group of people I consider my family and that allows me this night and always to "Sleep in Heavenly Peace". How blessed I am, Praise God!

A Semi-Circle of candles around the sanctuary 

*click on any of the images to see them in larger view

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dig Out!

So as mentioned in my previous post we got some snow. Okay, that's an understatement we got two feet of snow! I did not make it to work today but the beauty of my job is I can work from home so I did. After I heard Jim (the plowman) come by late morning I went outside to finish digging out. I didn't realize how much snow there was.

I geared up with my boots, snowpants, hats and gloves. It was slightly overwhelming as I didn't know where to start. I decided to start with the Cheesman's car (the people i'm house sitting for). I started with an ice scraper/brush and I realized that would take until Christmas! So I grabbed a shop broom. Back and forth I pushed the broom over the vehicle. Everytime I tried to take a step to move I would nearly fall over. The now was up to my knees! It was hard to walk, even stand since the snow was like cement holding me in place. My upper body could move but my feet were securely planted.
Brushing it off..I thought I'd never get done

My car!
That's deep!
I had just finished the hood of the Cheesman's Subaru when I moved to the windshield. With each sweep across the windshield the snow was like a mini avalanche sliding onto the hood--it seemed like I was not making any progress. I began to laugh. Like really laugh. I'm not sure that the situation was funny but sometimes things humor me, and this was one of those times. Pictures just do not do justice of the snowfall so I took a video. (see below)

I continued with the Cheesman's Subaru and managed to clear off the snow. I backed it into yet, another snowbank and left it there. I then proceeded to work on my car. This time the snow was deeper since all of the snow from the Cheesman's car had been pushed over the side into a large pile where I had to now stand to clear my own car. 

One down, one to go
Two cars out...now time to plow out the area.
 As I was clearing off my car the pile was getting deeper still and then I realized that it was up to the middle of my door. I tried to get the drivers door open to drive my car out but, as luck would have it, the snow would not allow me to do so. Moving snow once is bad enough but I had to scoop it a SECOND time to get it away from the door of my car.

I parked my car up on the road and Jim Sampson arrived with his truck and plow. He informed me that he could only get the main area so I would have to scoop the snow from the sidewalk and front of the car manually. I grabbed the very large snow scoop (I call it a "Yooper Scooper" since that's what Adam called it on his internship in Marquette, MI).

Hooray Jim showed up!
What it looks like after it's plowed out...still snow but significantly better.
Snow, and snow, and more, snow pushing. It was 18*F outside but I was sweating! An hour and a half had passed since I ventured outside and the end was in sight. Jim plowed one final path up and out the steep driveway. I walked up to my car (parked on the road atop the steep driveway) and parked it back in front of the garage. For the first time in a long time my car did not scrape snow on the undercarriage. I then parked the Cheesman's car back as if nothing had happened.

All done..until the next storm
I walked up the steps to realize I had not cleared them so I took the smaller snow shovel and scooped off the steps and deck. I was tired, hot, and sweaty. On the plus side I got in my workout for the day so for the rest of the night I can just kick back and relax. Oh Alaska, how I love you so!


Overnight Eagle river got a reported 14 inches of snow. I ventured outside to see how much I had received. 18+ inches!!! I need to plow out. Luckily one of the church parishioners plowed out the driveway but my car still remains literally buried! Living up on the hillside in higher elevation means that I received more snow. The drift by the garbage can is over two feet. 
There are 3 cars in this picture can you find them all? The one far left corner is COMPLETELY covered up to the roof

For all you Minnesota folks with a black Christmas, perhaps I will ship some snow your way because, well, we have lots of it. The bay window off the kitchen has drifts of over three feet!

Another interesting event that occurred this morning was an earthquake. I felt the house shake like a large snowplow had gone by. I looked outside and it was still dark so I couldn’t tell. Having felt a few earthquakes since being here I decided to look online at recent earthquakes in Alaska and sure enough a 4.05 magnitude earthquake had struck at 8:22am.

Never a dull moment in Alaska. Well, I better suit up and head out to dig myself out wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

King Size Bed

 For those of you who do not know I am currently house sitting. This time it is not with a dog but instead with a cat. This kitty needs a pill each day for a thyroid problem. So here I sit, in a very humble estate with a spectacular view--from what I can tell, although I've never seen it in daylight since I leave for work before the sun rises, and get home after the sun sets.

I am a people person which is why I'm glad for a busy lifestyle and yet here, for a moment, I sit. Currently I am playing, and replaying, and replaying one of my favorite modern Christmas songs "Born In Bethlehem" by Third Day. I have lots of favorites and I am the type of person who starts listening to Christmas music as soon as Halloween is over, but I seriously love the season.

I am glad to be here in Alaska because I hear that back home it's a black Christmas. I really love the snow. No matter how many times the snowflakes dance from above, how many early mornings of scooping snow of the car, or getting stuck there is something simply magical about snow.

So I sit here thinking about this. I'm not sure if I love snow because it's snow, or if I love snow because I associate it with Christmas. I look around this house and something is missing. Unfortunately this year I do not have a tree. Since the owners are gone on vacation they did not put one up, me being me, I set my desktop background to a Christmas tree. Back home we always had a HUGE tree. Each branch had it's own string of lights on it, but again I don't think it's the tree I love so much as Christmas itself.

I would not normally take the time to notice these things as it seems I fly from one thing to the next, with great anticipation and agenda and yet, in this moment I sit, in rest, with no particular place to be, or task to accomplish.

I came across a picture online that really got me thinking. "King Size Bed" is the caption. WHOA! I think about a King Size bed as the size of a bed. A hefty, comfy, big enough to sprawl out on bed. But this really adds new meaning.

The Children's Christmas Service complete, the carols have been sung and services have been attended. Hope has been offered, joy has been celebrated, love has been revered and peace has invaded. The Angels have harked, Shepherds have watched, and the Magi have followed. And… and… most importantly, the Christ child has been honored, worshiped and adored.

It’s a busy time of year.

As we prepare for Christmas, I am now looking forward to resting. One of the reasons that Jesus came was to give us divine rest from the tumultuous life that our brokenness and confusion has brought us. But soon, really soon, I am grateful that I am able to enjoy this rest in a comfortable bed!

Let me share with you a few thoughts about the kind of bed that you need to rest in if you want to experience divine rest this Christmas.

What kind of bed will you rest in?

Will it be a Single or Twin Bed?

Some will sleep in a single (or twin bed) this Christmas. Why such size beds are called twin, I do not know. Their size makes it comfortable for “twins” to sleep in! By this, I mean that they will rest alone. Maybe not physically, but rest alone because the focus of their Christmas is all about them. They are consumed by the gifts that they will receive, the joy that they will give, and the fun that they can consume. I confess that for the majority of my Christmases, I’ve laid in a single bed, defining Christmas by how festive I felt and rather crudely, the kind of gifts I received. Honestly, it’s hard to rest well in a selfish single bed because, as Augustine said about God, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”. We cannot satisfy ourselves at Christmas in the way that God longs we be satisfied.

Will it be a Double or Queen Size Bed?

Some will try and rest in a metaphorical double size bed, because their Christmas season is centered on spending it with loved ones. This is a comfortable and cozy way to find rest, because we share it with those who are so special to us. I know families whose children are returning from military service for the first time on Christmas Eve. Family members who are flying in from around the world to gather together and many people who will gather in groups because Christmas for them is only special if it is spent with loved ones. This is a good – a great - thing, but it does not provide the deep, abiding, replenishing rest that our souls require. Don’t believe me? …How often have we spent Christmas in the presence of family only to depart more exhausted than when we arrived?

Or will it be a King Sized Bed?

A king size bed looks just like this picture. It’s not really a bed. It’s a manger. It holds a King. It can look uncomfortable at times; it is without much tinsel and decoration. But it’s the bed where Jesus, the King, lies. It is as we rest in him that our souls are satisfied, our sins are forgiven, our hope is actualized, our dreams can be realized and where full life can be found. This year, this Christmas season, Jesus wants to give you rest. But that rest is not going to be found in the selfishness of a single bed. It won’t be found in a double bed shared with loved ones. It’ll be found in a King Size bed as you find your strength and source in Jesus Christ.

So here I sit. Resting in this house all to myself, replaying this song

"Halleluiah, the King is here, given for all men.
For today the Holy Son of God, is born in Bethlehem."

Merry Christmas friend. Rest well.

Stuck in the Snow

As I may or may not have mentioned I am currently house sitting. Not for the same family earilier this year but instead a new family. This time instead of a dog, I am caretaker of a cat as she needs a daily pill for a thyroid problem.

The house I’m at is a dream house with a fantastic view—from what I can tell, I’ve never seen the view in daylight as it’s dark when I leave for work and dark after I’m home—but the lights below look pretty. Since the house has a view it is also at a higher elevation. Higher than my normal host home, and the switchbacks are steep…steeper than my normal host home.

On any normal day my car (named “Bessy”) can make it up just fine. She had troubles initially the first time up because we had received an 8 inch dump. This morning I awoke to 6 or so inches of snow. I brushed off my car as usual and then made my way out the driveway.
Bessy needs a rest until Jim arrives.

It doesn't look that deep but with the steep grade it's deep enough

A side note about the driveway—it’s steep! Like I would guess 15% grade possibly 20%. So this morning I tried but Bessy was spinning her tires and not going anywhere. I backed up and tried to get a running start, but same thing.

I called Pastor to let him know my situation and then I called Jim—a neighbor and congregation member. Jim also does the snow removal at this house while I’m housesitting. So sure enough in 10 minutes Jim arrived with his pick-up truck, complete with chains on his tires. Jim would plow later in the day but it was still dark and he wanted to wait for daylight.
Hooking up the rope-still dark at 9:45am

Jim then hooked up a tow rope to my car and pulled me out of the driveway. From there it was a steep commute down the mountain. I did the neighborhood a favor and plowed all the way down as Bessy hangs low to the ground. I made it to church only an hour late. Not bad considering. Just another day in Alaska.

Alaska Adventure #2745 Sled Dogs!

In order fulfill mom’s “Alaska Experience” I took mom to go dogsledding. We awoke early and met with one of my friends, Philip. Philip is a musher at the Dog Sled Farm. Arriving at the dog sled farm there are 18 individual house with the 18 dogs chained to a special pole that allows 360 degree movement around their dog house as well as jump on top of the roof.
The dog farm each with his own house

Up on the housetop

When the musher, Philip, arrived the dogs knew they were going out so they all came out of their houses and jumped up on top of their houses as they have been trained to do since it is their “Safe spot”. The first task of the day is to walked around with shovels and pales to scoop up all the doggie waste. Then the musher and the dog owners discussed which dogs would be going out today, and which trails they would explore.

As we walked around to each dog house the musher explained how shy and timid a sled dog really is. They are loyal only two their owner and one other person, and do not like other people. They are very shy. As I walked around to the houses the dogs each jumped on top of their houses. The musher was very surprised because this is a sign that they will allow you to walk up and pet them.

I was introduced to the dogs by name. This farm has four different litters. When a litter is born they are named by a theme. The litters on this farm included the Glacier Feature Litter (theme) which had dogs named; Cerek, Cole, Mulan, and Dryas. The Gemstone Litter; Ruby, Agate, and Sapphire. The Flower Litter; Ester, Elias, and Lilly. The Water Litter; Rapid, Shute, Falls, Brooks, Sweeper, and Eddie. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the doggies they are all very sweet and each have their own personality.

The special truck that carries the dogs has a kennel in the back with “dog stalls” to hold the dogs. They are 2-3 dogs high and 6-7 dogs wide. The musher unhooked 1 dog at a time while the dog is on top of his house, and when he gives the command the dog runs into the pick-up and jumps into his kennel.
Each dog in his/her own spot in the truck

When the dogs are harnessed to the sled they are brought out one at a time starting with the lead dog. Then the second dog on the opposite side of the first dog, followed by the third dog on the opposite side etc, until you get one dog alternating on each side of the cable until you get to the sled. They you start at the sled and work your way back up to the front, every other side.
 Harnessing up

3 down
Almost all ready

The dogs are barking because they are ready to go. The sled has huge hooks that get hooked around two poles or a vehicle while the musher is loading the sled. Just like a horse must have a door in front of him, the sled dogs must be anchored down or they will take off with or without the musher. The dogs want to run and have no problem running without the musher on the sled.
The large hooks that hold the sled back to prevent the dogs from running off without a musher

When the sled is loaded and the musher is ready he says “Ready” and the dogs all stand at attention in their position. He then says “Tight” and the dogs pick up all the slack, the hooks are then released from the pole or vehicle and the dogs take off.
Mother is ready to go-Thumbs up
There goes mom
Mom went on a 5 mile ride while I stayed behind to help with the next load team of dogs. The mushers over the years have looked for dogs that are obedient, loyal, strong, hardworking, and most importantly they have to eat even if they are sick, or injured. It is vital that a sled dog eats. When a dog is running he must consume 20,000 calories a day which as the musher explained is the equivalent of 20 big macs. On the trail the dogs are fed a mixture of fish, raw meat and kibble. It is vital that the musher starts a fire to boil water, in which he cooks their food and also so that both musher and dog has water to drink. The favorite meat this particular sled dog team is horse meat. Although horse meat is very similar to beef, it is the preferred meat for the sled dogs.
Lining up the team

Round up the pups

I love these dogs!
Optimum weight for a sled dog is 55 pounds or less. The typical sled dog is not what you think of as a husky, but rather a smaller, petite dog. Originally the Siberian husky was used due to their big boned, muscular working build. As things have progressed dogs are no longer used for transporting goods as a necessity but rather run races for sport. With that said, the dogs of 2011 are smaller and built for speed and endurance rather than for “working” as the natives once used the huskies for. In a race the dogs are trained to run speed 9-11mph for a minimum of 6-8 hours at a time.

In a race there are both lead and wheel dogs. The lead dogs are the first two dogs on the string. It is a highly stressful job for them and the musher explained that lead dogs cannot lead two days in a row due to the stress. Therefore you must have a minimum of 4 good lead dogs. A lead dog is your most obedient and most intelligent dog. They set the pace, and it is their job to keep the line tight.

The wheel dogs are the four dogs directly in front of the sled. Their job is to pull the weight. They are the muscle dogs. All the dogs in the middle are your “runners” their job is to keep pace and run. A lead dog can run in any position from lead to middle, and middle dogs may be switched out to wheel dogs if needed. A wheel dog can pull 150-800lbs per dog. That is over 3-10 times its weight.

As I reflect upon my internship in Alaska I realize how lucky I am. I mean, where else do you get to run with sled dogs? LOVE THIS PLACE!