Sunday, February 26, 2012

Snowflake Concert (Bagpipes)

Yesterday was the 5th Annual Snowflake Concert put on by the Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums. Each year people from around the Mat-Su Valley gather to watch the group of talented individuals that make up this group.

To make for a more pleasant and comfortable view experience each person is given a set of ear plugs along with the program. Upon entering the sanctuary you could see florescent orange earplugs poking out of each audience member.

Scotty and mom, Jo, are all ready to watch dad and big brother Steven

The pipers entered with gusto as they marched downed the church aisle and paraded up to the front of the sanctuary. Even with ear plugs it was loud. The emcee said that is was comparable to sitting between two 747 engines. Although it was loud it was BEAUTIFUL! 

Anne's famous Scottish Shortbread-Lots of variety!
At intermission we broke for refreshments and Anne's famous Scottish Shortbread. Anne is a member of ORLC and her husband Gary is one of the main leaders of the Alaska Celtic Pipes and Drums. I have never seen such a variety of shortbread--actually I never knew there were different kinds. Anne baked raspberry, chocolate, lemon, vanilla, and cinnamon shortbread. I was blown away by the variety. Of course I'm partial to chocolate :)

After intermission the concert kicked back up-literally. In addition the the drum and pipers, the Irish Dance Academy of Alaska had several dance selections. I watched in awe as each dancer moved swiftly across the floor. The footwork was fast, yet flowing and several audience members stood along the side aisles in order to take in the intense leg and footwork. It was really a piece of art. The dancers were young. Not even out of high school, yet their agility and stamina was something of professional dancers.

Credit: IDAA Website

It was hard to capture a good picture without flash as they moved so quickly.
The evening was fun and contained over twenty selections. Highlights included the ever popular hymn Amazing Grace featuring soloist Steven Hobbs, one of the youth of ORLC! Also the youngest participant Ryan (at the tender age of 7) participated in the "Student's Salute". It was great. Other favorites was a bagpipe duet. Something i'd never seen in all the instruments that have played duets, a bagpipe duet was a first for me.
Yay Ryan!
The evening ended with perhaps the most popular bagpipe tune "Scotland the Brave" as the piper marched down the aisle as they did in the beginning. It gave me goosebumps and was a fantastic evening.

This is our excited face! Well done Steven!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Butt Dust...

Pastor: "Remember you are but dust...and to dust you shall return."
Child: "Mom, what's butt dust?"

Okay so this wasn't actually said at my internship congregation but it's still funny. Ash Wednesday. It's one of my top 5 favorite church services. Right up there with Easter Sunrise, Christmas Eve Candle Light, Christmas Morning, and Palm Sunday.

Ash Wednesday marks the begining of lent a 40 day journey to the cross. It has it roots back with Jesus and his anointing... "A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table...When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. (Matthew 26:7,12)

The journey to the cross begins with an unusual anointing. Today people gathered at Our Redeemer as they do around the world. They enter in with quiet reflection and exit with a death mark upon their foreheads—ashes mixed with oil applied in the shape of a cross.

The cross is a powerful symbol of God’s deep and abiding love for us. Jesus became flesh to offer a divine, selfless love to restore all things broken. His life, death, and resurrection invite us into a relationship with God, and to live our lives with a love that reconciles and transforms all things. It is a reminder of death. Both the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and our deaths.

I speak in the plural, highlighting the two types of human death we contemplate during Lent. There is the daily death of self that we attend to with renewed vigor during Lent. Then there is the future death of our physical body, which the ashes remind us is looming. While death of self marks growth in Christ, physical death underscores the fate of this world—destruction. Our hope is that as we move toward our physical end through processes of decay, we grow in new life with Christ by giving up our preoccupation with self. We would like to see our power in these arenas be inversely proportional—less able to stop the decay of our body, more empowered to let our self die for the sake of Christ.

The passage above recounts an anointing prior to Christ’s death. Our Lord tells His disciples that it is preparation for burial. Some of those around Him do not understand the act. They even ridicule it. In a few days, Jesus gives up His body and His will to the will of the Father. We remember His words: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Like Christ, we are preparing for death. Receiving a symbol upon our body that others will not understand. Walking toward acts of renunciation that confuse them. It is the beginning of our death march—death of self during Lent. But it also marks growth in Christ—growing strength to be filled with God’s will.
Brock showing off his ashes.
Powers continue to exist that would arrest our growth and kill us even as our Lord was arrested and killed. These are the enemies of God’s economy. These forces would steal what is true in us, having us glorify rebellious desires and ignore those people around us whom God would have us help.

As you encounter difficulties in the next few weeks, let your breath prayer be the words of Christ, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just as the powers of evil misjudged God’s work in Christ, so too they will misjudge what God is able to do within your life.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday, Monday...Snow Good to Me

The local channel 5 news has reported on how Anchorage is running out of places to put all the snow. City officials have been working literally non-stop since December clearing snow. This is something that is very close especially to our Administrative Assistant Ericka. Ericka's husband, Ernie, drives truck to help with snow removal. Ernie has had 1 1/2 days off since the beginning of January.

Monday is my day off. So my adventure for Monday was to find and photograph the biggest pile of snow in the Anchorage area. Who better to ask for direction than Ernie himself? Ernie directed me to south Anchorage. We are talking an hour drive to the WAY south side of town. Ernie assured me that there I would find several snow piles.

So Monday morning I headed into Anchorage and meandered south. The sunrise was gorgeous coming up over the mountains. An hour later I arrived at Target where Ernie said I would have the best viewing. I parked my car and climbed up one of the snow piles in the back of the Target parking lot. Once atop the "smaller" snow pile in the parking lot I had view of several deep piles.

The largest pile of snow is not as tall as I was expecting but it was very wide and extremely dense. Ernie had told me how he drives a water truck on top of the ever growing snow pile in order to compact each new layer to ensure the least amount of space is taken up.

Click for larger image. The snow pile is in the back behind the fence and stoplight. Unfortunately pictures do not do justice, but trust me it was tall (note half as tall as light poles) and WIDE extending outside the frame of this picture

Click for larger image-notice yellow truck on right side headed up the switchbacks
Click for larger image. Yellow Truck (far left) with box hoisted dumping and two more trucks (right) making their way up the switchbacks.

I watched for several minuets as the trucks came to the stoplight and then turned into what is normally a wide open grass/swamp area. The trucks literally drove 4 switchbacks on the solid pile of snow only to dump their load and build up higher pile that they would eventually drive on and create another switchback. 

From my position standing atop the target parking lot pile I could also see another pile of snow in the distance. This one was not as flat but peaked several stories into the sky. Ericka told me how she drove out earlier this month to visit Ernie and watched as the modified roll out loader piled and pushed the snow higher and higher. We are talking HUGE machinery with tires 10 feet tall and a special extension and hydraulic system to extend the loader up into the sky.

Another snow pile several stories tall I could see from atop the target parking lot pile.
Similar type of loader system they use to pile up the snow. (I did not take this picture credit: Google Images)
After watching a dozen or so snow trucks parade in and out to unload on the wide snow pile I climbed down from my post atop the target snow pile. I then drove up the road to find yet another huge snow pile. This pile was not near as peaked as the one above nor was it as compacted as the one I had watched for my morning entertainment. This one was full, tall, and evenly spread.

Notice height compared to light pole

These are four of hundreds of piles around Anchorage. The other piles are not as big/wide but there are many. Almost every parking lot has 1/3-1/2 of it's space occupied by snow piles. Open fields turned into snow mountains, the limited space (grass) areas between neighbors driveways piled high, road ditches and edges, not to mention the ends of roads or centers of cul de sac. SNOW! It's everywhere, but then again this is Alaska. :-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Moose Hospital

The downside of motion sensitive doors...moose can enter the hospital!! In Anchorage at Providence Hospital that is what happened.

Here is the video of it! Crazy moose are EVERYWHERE!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Today is the day. Red hearts, pink roses, balloons, cards candy, and animals that sing songs of love. Stores shelves are stocked with flowers, hearts, candy and more. They began the day after New Year's to get ready for Valentine’s Day. Do you know that more roses are sold on that day than any other day in the year? All over the world, it is the day that people show their love for someone special.

The basest, most common definition of love is the meeting of emotional and biological needs. We all long for words and acts of kindness, for reassurance, and for physical contact with other people. These expressions of affection are appropriate and productive, but there is a higher level of love worthy of attention: unconditional love.

In Greek it is called agape. It is giving someone not what he wants, but what he needs. It is loving the unlovable. It is loving someone who does not love us and will not return our expressions of love. Some of the most powerful statements in the Bible speak of love:

  • For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
  • But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
  • Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. (John 15:13)

This agape love, then, comes from God. It is love in its purest sense. When we celebrate agape love, we honor the person to whom we express the love, and we honor God, who loves us even when we are absolutely unlovable.

When we reach out to our fellow human beings, especially those who need us most we are their Valentines, they are ours. “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’ ” (Mt. 9: 36-38).
You and I are the laborers in the Lover’s vineyard. Are we doing our task of love and compassion? Can we do more than what we are already doing? What do we want to really live and die for? Is our love for neighbor conditional or unconditional?

The powerful words of Jesus speak to the love standard Christians are expected to live by, not just on Valentine’s Day, but on every day of the year. There are two important focuses for our love.

There is one scripture reference that is the essence of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The people of the earth had gotten themselves into such a state of destruction and self-harm that God gave up trying to send his message through mere mortals. We were, and still are a stubborn and willful people. Instead, God, in his greatest show of love, sent his son, Jesus, to walk on this earth, to teach us, to show us how to live real lives, love-filled lives, and, eventually, to die for us. That is unconditional love, agape love.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:30-31)
Human love often seems complicated and frustrating, so it is comforting to have its complexities reduced to these two manageable realities: love God; love each other not with worldly love but with the unconditional agape love of Christ.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Final Moonwalkers

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

This past Friday was the last outing for my internship churches' Moonwalkers Ministry. The daylight is quickly gaining, just as rapidly as it was lost. We are gaining close to six minuets of daylight each day! That's crazy! With that said by next month it will be too light to embark out into the once darkness to see the moon at our normal Moonwalk time of 7:00pm.

Sunrise/Sunset for the week
For this final moonwalkers, as Murphy's law would have it, there was no moon. It was far too cloudy. The moon was wonderful all week and I luckily got some spectacular pictures earlier in the week, but on this final eve of Moonwalkers there was too much cloud cover to see the moon.
Moon from earlier in the week-yes I did, in fact, take this picture

Moon from earlier in the week

The weather over the past two weeks has reached the warmest temperatures all winter. Temps have been in the mid-30s and even some days of low 40s. While I like the warmer weather the locals dislike it. You read that right, dislike. The fact of the matter is there is far too much winter still to come and the warm spells right now have resulted in horrible ice conditions. The church parking lot is an ice rink. My daily trek out my door to my car is impossible without YakTrax.

Before leaving everyone in the group strapped on their ice cleats or YakTrax, grabbed their ice picks or walking sticks, and turned on their headlamps as we left for the final Moonwalkers of the season. This evenings outing was up the mountain from Vern and Ingrid's. At the top of one of the highest points in Eagle River we could see the lit up skyline below. The lights along the Glenn Highway created a snake pattern all the way to the distant lights of Anchorage. It was man-made but beautiful in it's own way.

Eagle river with the weaving Glen Highway leading to distant Anchorage.
Lights from homes on the mountain side
Mountain at night...notice the lights from houses that light the path all the way up.
View from the absolute top
Headlamps are a must.
I have long been a student of nature and creation. Working at camp for two summers as a High Adventure Counselor I took students on canoe trips down the river or into Minnesota's beautiful Boundary Waters. I always enjoy the vastness of space with its innumerable stars flung in the heavens for us to watch. When I lived back at home I would often climb up one of our grain bins and just sit and talk with God. It was, and remains to be one of my favorite places, 40 feet up gazing at the stars, just God and I. I love to observe the smallest creatures that live just beneath the soil -- the "creepy-crawlies", as I call them. I have never been one to get squeamish at these creatures although I could do without the mosquitoes.

I love to count the rings found in a slice of tree trunk, showing how many years it has stood before it was cut down. As a child, I used to lie on the ground on a warm summer day and watch ants at work. It amazes me that they "follow the leader" and that they, being so tiny, can still carry an object much larger than themselves. Then I think of giant mountains and the majestic seas. Such a contrast there is in nature!

Marvels are all around us, if we will but look for them. One of the greatest creations, of course, is the human being, who is wonderfully made by God in His own likeness.

While these are all great things of God, the grandest marvel of all, I believe, is knowing The One to thank. It brings us to the realization, once again, that He loves us because He brought us into being. We are each as a speck of sand in the vastness of His creation, but He loves us. God, the master of the whole universe, the creator of all things, loves us!

I will miss the Moonwalker outings with good people among God's creation but perhaps at my next church I can start up a Moonwalkers of my own. If not I always know where to retreat; On the Saturday nearest the full moon it's Chugiak, AK. I love this internship!

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Today on the front page of the Anchorage Daily Newspaper (ADN) was the following picture...

What you are looking at is a moose standing on top of a snow covered car in order to reach the higher branches. With such a rough winter boasting over 120 inches of snow the moose retreat from higher mountain elevations to lower regions. More often then not they head into the city. I mean if I were a moose I too would take to the city. Plowed streets, more food, etc. The moose seem to not care too much about the humans that surround them. The ADN has set up a whole collection of submitted photos from October until now of moose sightings. You can see all the photos -->Here<--- but below are some of my personal favorites enjoy.

From October (notice limited snow) Moose meets Cat
Two moose in town checking out the ADN mailbox on a residential street

Moose coming up on a back deck

This ADN reader went to let her dogs out only to find a mouse out her deck door.

Moose just crossed the road and now must make the jump from plowed snow

ADN reader went to leave for work and fond moose out his door

Downtown Anchorage at the Pioneer Home

Moose outside residence window
** Please note I did not take any of these pictures as they were all reader submitted to the ADN

Friday, February 10, 2012

Super Bowl Sunday!

This Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. I got in on all the festivities by attending the party at Vern and Ingrid Roelfs. I'm was invited to party alongside some of the most dedicated ORLC football fans. I personally am not a big football person but I attended for the food, fellowship, and commercials.

The Roelfs have a very nice set up. In one room a projector streams the game on a large 120 inch screen with rows of couches and comfy seats for one's enjoyment. This room was for the more intense super bowl watchers as the lights were off and the center of attention was of course the game.
The main room with some serious watchers
In the living room the game was also on, but on a smaller 47" flat screen TV. This was a room for the more "social" of attendees. The living room is also connected to the kitchen where people were free to wander to get all the best Super Bowl food including Roelfs famous chili.
Living room game...but we know who is the center of attention here....
The Roelfs don't just watch the game but play games within the game. Featured games included ongoing "Super Bowl Bingo" with 18 different cards. We first went for bingo to which Penny quickly won, and then continued to the blackout version. Spaces included on my personal bingo card were "A commercial featuring a talking animal", "A commercial staring someone under the age of 5", "A baby in the crowd dressed in Giants or Patriots gear", "A celebrity in the crowd" as well as some those on the card below. Like I said there were 18 different cards so it was quite fun with much variation.

A sample bingo card
Another fun activity was a guessing game to the score. Before the game started there was a blank grid placed on the wall. Each party attendee got to pick three squares to guess the score of the game. But there was a catch, the scoring numbers had yet to be placed so it was all random. After everyone had his or her name on the grid Ingrid drew numbers 1-9 and placed them horizontally and vertically on the grid.
Mike checking the grid at 3rd quarter.

At each quarter the score would be evaluated and matched to the winner. If it was a two digit score ie: 21-17 only the last digit would be used; in this case 1 and 7. The winner at each quarter got a prize. It was fun as well but totally random.

Of course I enjoyed the commercials. My top favorites are the Doritos "Man's Best Friend"

My second favorite was the Chevy Silverado end of the world commercial....

And who doesn't love the "Happy Grad" commercial?

It was a fun day finishing out with Giants 21, Patriots 17. I did not pick a particular team to win but I know most of the people at the party were satisfied with the Giants as they were the favored team by those in attendance.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ice Day!

Today half of the Anchorage School District (ASD) closed schools due to intense ice. Instead of calling it a snow day the term "Ice Day" is used and that is largely descriptive of the situation outside.

Yesterday evening and overnight South Central Alaska experienced rain and warm temperatures. I checked the weather before I went to sleep the thermometer outside my window read a cozy 41˚F, a temperature I have not seen since October.

The winds increased and a giant crash we heard outside the house. My host mom, Terri, came running down stairs to check on me to make sure everything was alright. We discussed possibilities and ruled out the downspout (which always falls of during Chinook Winds), as the crash was much too big to be a metal downspout. The crash was so loud and long Terri thought it might have been an earthquake. She then told me that ice from the roof coming loose makes a loud noise like that. After investigating outside and finding no lose ice or damage we decided it might have been a tree that fell.

The rain and winds continued overnight. While wind gusts were not as treacherousness as Chinook windstorms they hovered around a constant 20mph with gusts up to 50mph.

Fast forward to this morning as my alarm went off at 6:50am and I find that all Eagle River, Chugiak, and Palmer schools are canceled due to extremely icy and unsafe driving conditions. The bus routes, with pick-ups in Chugiak and Eagle River for transport to Anchorage schools were canceled as well.

Anchorage Schools were still open, but it is interesting to note that many teachers for the city of Anchorage live in Eagle River, Chugiak, and Palmer. The ASD closure announcement read " Staff should proceed cautiously where schools and offices are open...We recognize that some staff members live in different parts of town from where they work. They are encouraged to make a work decision based on what is best for their safety and to touch base with their school regarding their decision."

As I was eating breakfast and checking my Facebook the trending topic that plagued my news feed was reports from fellow Alaskans of the icy road conditions. One such report told of 100 cars in the ditch on Eagle River Loop Road. That's right folks no exaggeration 100 vehicles in a mile and a half stretch.
Reminder to slow down
After going through my normal morning routine I strapped on ice cleats and headed out the door. I was glad to have my ice cleats as within three steps of my exit an area of tick ice from downspout water run-off had formed.

I made my accent up the hill to my car only to find it covered in a thin sheet of ice. I went to open my car door but had no such luck as the rain water had gotten in-between the door, seal, and car body resulting in my car doors froze shut. I eventually gained entry through the passenger door and had to use full body force from the inside to open the driver door.
The sign does not lie
After seven minutes of scraping ice I decided that was good enough for my less than one mile commute to church. I began my decent down Amondson Road. The hillside covered in ice making each switchback difficult to maneuver. My steering wheel cranked at each hairpin turn, but my car refusing to follow. The whole drive was like going down a steep, curvy, slip 'n slide.

I reached the Old Glenn Highway with relief as the hillside portion was over and it was relatively flat going from there. As expected the Old Glenn was also covered in ice with tire ruts from previous traffic. Good news, I made it to church in one piece.

Picture of the Old Glenn-the flat part of my commute

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't just go to church, BE the church

Today I look back and am simply AMAZED. This evening 31 members from my internship church of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (ORLC) gathered to process some 600 pounds of moose meat. Last week ORLC was contacted by the Alaska Moose Federation as  Alaska has had deep snows and blizzard-like conditions which have created a "moose emergency" in Southcentral Alaska.

The Alaska Moose Federation, was rolling almost non-stop Thursday and Friday, responding to at least 15 collisions in 20 hours. According to the news report "Literally, a bull was hit in Eagle River on a curve, then a cow was hit by another car. They were (loaded) on the truck and we delivered them to a local church." (that's us, ORLC!!) On Friday some of ORLC's men responded to the call and worked in the heavy snow (8 inches accumulated during the day) to get the two moose ready for processing that would take place this (Monday) evening.

Workin' in and through the snow
So tonight it was the big event. Two moose, 1 bull and 1 cow, over 600 pounds of meat. We had 31 people turn up to help and managed to get it all done in 2.5 hours. That's quite an accomplishment.

So what is it like to process a moose? Well here is my perspective. The evening starts with cutting up butcher paper into square sheets to wrap the later ground or cut moose meat. I was feeling good as I knew what I was doing and initiated this event. I then handed this off to Kathy and MaryAnn as I went over to the grinder to help wrap and package.
Rollin' out the paper
Lots of tape and butcher paper lined up (right) but it didn't last long
Around the basement there were 4 different stations/table set up and at each station there was a moose leg. There were 2-6 men on any given leg cutting off pieces of meat. The meat can be cut into large chunks to make a moose steak, or into smaller chunks to later be ground into burger.

6 men working on two legs
It's like a giant chicken leg, only...not
They're so serious
I held many jobs throughout the evening but my job for the first hour was to be a runner. I went from station to station carrying cut moose meat the legs over to the grinder. While transporting the meat my job was to check for moose hair stuck to the meat (which occurred more often than not), and then remove the hair before handing it off to Len to grind into moose burger.
Transporting meat from table to grinder.
Go Jo! 
Once at the grinder Len would work to run it through and it soon came out into a pan. From there Kathy would take what she judged to be a pound of ground moose burger and place it on a piece of butcher paper. After that was finished Carl would take the meant on the paper, wrap it, and then tape it. It took two people to do this Kathy (as the "dirty" hands), and Carl (as the "clean" hands". Since Kathy was directly touching the meat to place on the butcher paper her gloves would get all full of moose meat making the butcher paper sticky and occasionally bloody so Carl did the wrapping as he only touched the clean butcher paper. It was an aesthetics things rather than an issue of sanitation.

 After the meat is wrapped MaryAnn or Ingrid would write the cut (steak or burger) and date on the outside paper, and then transport it to the freezer. In between transports and writing, MaryAnn and Ingrid would continually be cutting up butcher paper as each package was double wrapped, and also they would replenish the tape supply as it goes quickly.

MaryAnn, I hope to be as energetic as her when I'm older.
After being a runner for quite some time Len (at the grinder) told me to help wrap as they were falling behind. With so many people working on cutting meat from the legs they needed more assistance packaging. I then worked with Carl and Kathy on packaging. Several times we were caught waiting on Ingrid and MaryAnn to cut butcher paper. I say this not to criticize but to point out that each part of the "assembly line" is no less important than the others because if one is not up to speed we all suffer.
Wrap, roll, tape, repeat.

Believe it or not even with 31 people we still could have used more. I felt sorry for MaryAnn and Ingrid as they did many odds and ends. Fetching bowls, taking out garbage, removing un-usable meat, cleaning up blood or dropped meat on the floor. Things that one would not usually think about but really are essential to keep the process going smoothly.

It was simply humbling to see everyone come together to work for the good of the ministry and the food pantry. Many clients will benefit from this meat, it's all part of our intentional outreach. Becoming like Jesus means serving like Jesus "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28). God has called us to serve one another “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13) I feel that tonight ORLC really put their faith in action. Tonight we did not just come to church, we WERE (and ARE) the church.
The crew!

Don't go to church, BE the church