Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Burning need — Family of 8 homeless after fire

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Having eight people under one roof makes life hectic for Maria Pedro and her family. When their roof caught fire Oct. 29, life became even more chaotic.

Now the extended, yet close-knit, Nikiski family is even more extended, as they’re staying with friends here and there in the area until they can make their home livable again.

“That’s the hardest thing, we’re all spread out and missing each other,” Pedro said.

Pedro and various combinations of her family have lived in their home on Bell Avenue off Island Lake Road in Nikiski for nearly 15 years. Longer than that, if you count the time Pedro lived there before spending six years doing missionary work in Central America.

Before the fire, Pedro’s son, Gabriel Cazares, who attends high school in Kenai, and grandson, Eddy Gomez, who goes to school at Nikiski Middle-High School, lived in the triple-wide mobile home with Pedro. Also in the home were Pedro’s daughter, Olivia Hart, her husband and their three kids. Another of Pedro’s 12 children, daughter Veronica Cazares, just recently moved into her own apartment.

Now they’re all over the place, after learning the hard way that there’s no such thing as emergency housing on the central peninsula. They haven’t been able to find rental space that’s affordable and doesn’t require a six-month or longer lease.

The Harts are staying with friends off Gaswell Road, Gabriel Cazares is staying with a friend from school, and Pedro and Gomez are rotating between friends’ homes.

“We don’t want to be a burden to anybody,” Pedro said.

Meanwhile, life marches on, refusing to give the family a reprieve from daily disasters just because they’ve had a major one. The window in Hart’s husband’s car recently shattered, to the tune of $300. And life with kids is always interesting, including a bout of nightmares and a son who recently developed a case of hives.

“There’s always something with kids, a Cheerio up their nose or in their ear you have to deal with,” Hart said.

Pedro’s income decreased since she took some time off work at the Nikiski Senior Center after the fire, and her son recently turned 18, so she no longer gets child support payments for him. As for the birthday, the family couldn’t even think of a place to celebrate. They finally settled on dinner at Pizza Hut a week after his birthday, since at least that was big enough to hold everybody.

The family takes it all, including the fire, in stride.

“We’re used to a lot of stuff happening. We get over it pretty quick,” Hart said. “We always have food and clothing, so we don’t worry.”

On the afternoon of Oct. 29, heat from the home’s wood stove sparked a fire in ceiling insulation that was too close to the chimney. Hart and her three kids, ages 6, 2 and 9 months, were at home at the time.

“We were just hanging out and just smelled smoke. I thought it was the fireplace,” Hart said. “My son was outside. He came in and said smoke was coming out of the house. I said, ‘Smoke is always coming out of the house,’ but I went out to look and, sure enough, it was coming out of the roof.”

She put her kids in the car while the Nikiski Fire Department was on the way. Pedro was visiting family in Oregon at the time. Hart sent her mom a text message to let her know about the fire.

“She texted me. It said, ‘Please pray, the house may be on fire,’” Pedro said.

At first the message didn’t sink in. Pedro’s daughter in Oregon thought it was a joke, and family members in Nikiski didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation. One texted back, “Ha, ha,” while another said something along the lines of, “Way to go. What did you do?”

“They thought I was kidding. We joke around a lot, but not about something like that,” Hart said.

Even more unbelievable was the house catching on fire a second time, the morning after the first blaze. This time a short in electrical wiring was the culprit. Firefighters put the second fire out, as well, but not without smoke, soot and water damage to the home’s interior.

Still in Oregon, it took Pedro awhile for the impact of the news to catch up with her.
“I knew it happened, but it really didn’t hit me,” Pedro said.

She was in Wal-Mart, looking for a shoe-bottom scraper Hart had wanted to get for the house.

“Then I stopped and thought, ‘Why am I looking for this?’ I’m in Wal-Mart in Oregon with all these things you can’t get around here and I couldn’t buy anything because I didn’t have a house to put it in. I started crying in the middle of Wal-Mart. It was weird,” she said.

Pedro looked through the house when she got back to town. The fire damaged much of the ceiling and roof, the fire department had to knock a hole in a wall, and other walls were damaged from smoke and water. Everything in the house is covered in soot, ceiling insulation and/or water, Pedro said. Power and heat have been shut off, so pipes may have frozen and could burst. Since the house consists of three trailers with a shared roof and a wood stove, along with a gas heater, it wasn’t insured.

Still, Pedro isn’t focusing on any of those things.

“I’m not like that. I just count on God and look at the good side, not the bad side,” she said. “And the good side is everything is fixable and nobody got hurt.”

The fire department estimated the house is salvageable, and the flames were mostly confined to the ceiling so the family’s possessions weren’t burned.

Even so, it’s going to take an estimated $10,000 and a whole lot of work to make the home livable again. Friends, the community and the board of directors for the nondenominational ministry organization Pedro founded 10 years ago, En La Gloria Ministries, have offered to help.

The Red Cross helped the family with food money and gave them vouchers they can spend on clothes, furniture or housewares at The Salvation Army. Friends have offered donations, as well, but Pedro and her family haven’t had a chance to sort through the mess to see what’s salvageable and what’s not.

“A lot a lot of people at first said, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ but we don’t know what we need yet,” Hart said.

Housing is the main priority. The family would like to live together again while they work on the house.

Friends and the En La Gloria ministry board have offered to volunteer labor for the repairs, and a church group from Oregon may come up to help this summer. But they’ll need building materials, and that takes money. There’s an account set up at Wells Fargo Bank if anyone wants to contribute to purchasing building supplies. The Pedro family fire repair fund account number is 7319380957.

Beyond that, support has already come in a form that’s immensely comforting to Pedro, as a missionary to Central America, Alaska villages and Spanish-speaking churches in the Lower 48.

“I think we’re going to be OK because we have a lot of people praying for us and with us,” she said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Bears visit airport — Soldotna pilots find tracks inside fence

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Two brown bears apparently took an interest in aviation Thursday night and led themselves on a tour of the Soldotna Airport.

Pilots found bear tracks around their planes Friday, and the city maintenance department was called to investigate. Doug Schoessler, maintenance manager, followed two sets of what he figures were brown bear tracks, one large and one small, but didn’t see the bears. He thinks it’s a sow and cub.

“I saw two spots where they came under the back fence. They’d kind of dug through the trees under the fence,” he said.

An Enstar crew has been working on a gas pipeline outside the fence. They also saw bear tracks but didn’t seen the bears, Schoessler said.

The smaller tracks stayed mostly out by the fence, while the larger bear was bolder.

“They definitely walked through some of the planes right by the hangers there, but were mostly in the spots that were not populated by anyone. But the bigger one definitely walked around by some the airplanes and didn’t seem too shy,” Schoessler said.

No damage was reported to planes or other equipment. There aren’t any food sources or garbage left out at the airport to attract bears, Schoessler said. They may have been looking for game.

“I saw a lot of rabbit tracks. That was what I kinda wondered, if they were coming in looking for rabbits or not. But I didn’t see any kills or any anything other than tracks,” he said.

Whatever enticed them, the bears seemed to have let themselves out the same way they got in — by making a hole under the back fence.

“They walked right by that one gate that had a big gap under it, but they didn’t even try to get under it. I think they try to find their private areas,” Schoessler said.

There’s a stand of trees in the roughly 200-acre fenced enclosure, but maintenance workers didn’t see any sign of the bears.

“We tried to make some noise over that way to drive them out, but it they were in those trees at the east end, they were just sitting tight. But I don’t think so. I think they got out.,” he said.

Moose occasionally find their way into the airport fence in the winter and have to be driven out, but bears are uncommon.

“A long, long time ago they had some issues with bears, but I’ve been there five years and I’ve never had anything since I’ve been there,” Schoessler said.

Bears could pose a threat to humans at the airport, but the larger concern with any sizeable wildlife is the hazard they pose to planes landing or taking off.

“Moose or bears or any of those things, if a plane hit them, it’s not a good thing,” Schoessler said.

A chuckle a day keeps the doctor away

By Ann Marina
For the Redoubt Reporter

When Pat Porter conducts meetings at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center, everyone in the room starts laughing. Porter leads the center’s Laugh Club, which meets twice a week to practice stretching, breathing and laughter, the “best medicine,” as the old saying goes.

Not to be confused with Mayor Pat Porter, this Kenai resident with the same name is now retired from her job as Webmaster at the Peninsula Clarion.

Last year, Porter saw a news story on TV about the rising number of laughter clubs in the U.S.

“Something struck a note in me so I decided to start this club, to get adults laughing again,” she said.

Young kids usually laugh a few hundred times a day, while adults get maybe 15 hearty ha has, according to Barb Fisher, a laughter yoga instructor at the University of Michigan Health System.

“Laughter is a gift that has been given to us, to make us feel better,” Fisher said. “Children know this instinctively.”

Laughing produces the brain’s feel-good chemicals, which reduce pain and induce a pleasant feeling, Porter explained. It also improves circulation and strengthens the immune system.

“It’s a great health enhancer,” said Dorothy Howell, in between guffaws at a recent meeting. “Laughing exercises your lungs, and some people say it helps them ward off depression.”

Howell, 83, is a Kenai resident and senior center volunteer. She attends the Laugh Club meetings once a week.

“It gives a positive start to my day,” she said.

Laughter clubs started gaining momentum around 1995 in India, where people would gather in outdoor parks early in the morning. The practice is an offshoot of yoga, which also has roots in India, beginning centuries ago.

Laughter exercise soon appeared in other countries, gaining ground in fitness clubs, senior centers and health care facilities.

At Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, 30-minute Laughter Yoga sessions are held once a week, said Camille Sorensen, marketing specialist, who is one of the group’s leaders. The certified “laughter leaders” underwent extensive training in order to lead the sessions, Sorensen said.

“As we age, our breathing may become more shallow,” Porter said. “So I wanted to have a group for seniors, to help us increase our lung capacity.”

Laugh Club members enjoy playful exercises, such as:

“Ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha! Ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha,” the group calls out together, clapping to a steady beat. “Very good, very good — Ya-a-ay!”

Raising arms up high, they cheer themselves on.

Participants bend down to pick an imaginary flower, and then stand up again to take a deep breath and “smell the flower.”

“We do little skits, such as laughing with a friend on the phone, laughing at ourselves for making a mistake, or being elated over winning the lottery,” Porter said.

“I like the social aspect of it,” Howell said. “We make eye contact with everyone during the exercises.”

“This is ‘laughing for no reason’,” Porter said. “It works through the right brain, whereas laughing at a joke engages the left, or analytical side, of the brain.”

“At first, our ha-has are artificial, but within a minute or so, everyone is really laughing,” Porter said. “Eye contact helps to make it happen.”

“The good news is, the body can’t tell the difference between ’fake’ and ‘real’ laughter,” Sorensen said.

The Laugh Club meets Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10:30, at the Kenai senior center.

“People of all ages are welcome,” Porter said. “You don’t have to be a senior.”

For more information, call LuAnn Barrett at the Kenai senior center, 283-4156, or Camille Sorensen at Central Peninsula Hospital, 714-4600, or e-mail csorensen@cpgh.org.

A wealth of information on laughter as exercise is available on the Internet. One popular Web site is: www.laughteryoga.org.

Ann Marina is a freelance writer and former central peninsula resident. She can be contacted at writerannak@yahoo.com.

Immersed in chilling knowledge — Being prepared could be difference between life and death

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Professor Popsicle, dressed warmly in a bright yellow Sierra Designs insulated jacket, black gloves, a black wool hat and trim black snowpants, cross-country skied his way out of the edge of the mixed deciduous timber toward the lake. He maintained a steady pace, his breath puffing visibly around his face, until suddenly his arms flew up and back and he began to rapidly sink out of sight.

The professor had gone through the lake ice and was now flailing in a small open area churning with slush and small blocks of ice. His breathing, which had had a machinelike evenness while skiing, now became gasping in water that was a bone-chilling 34 degrees Fahrenheit. He fought to regulate his breaths while churning in the water in order to keep his head from submerging.

Fortunately for Professor Popsicle — also known as Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, considered the world’s leading authority on freezing to death and a professor of thermophysiology at the University of Manitoba — this is a carefully controlled scientific test. Rescue personnel are standing by, although Giesbrecht won’t accept any help until the cameras on scene have recorded his struggles and his explanations concerning those struggles.

For Giesbrecht, who helped rewrite the state of Alaska Guidelines for the Treatment of Cold Injuries in 2002, this is a teachable moment. So he stays in the water for nearly 15 minutes, demonstrating and discussing, before allowing himself to be rescued.

Nikiski Fire Department battalion chief, Greg Hyatt, attended the Sitka-based conference in which the state guidelines were revised, and he has tremendous respect for Giesbrecht’s work, particularly because Hyatt believes education is the key to avoiding cold-water disaster.

Giesbrecht, who in his tests of human endurance has become hypothermic more than 30 times, puts his own health in jeopardy in his attempt to teach others how to keep themselves alive. According to Hyatt, such “controlled danger” lends real authority to Giesbrecht’s recommendations.

In Alaska in November, when skiers, snowmachine riders and other winter outdoor enthusiasts are venturing out onto thin ice, Hyatt said this is a good time to begin considering safety.

According to Hyatt, who runs NFD’s dive-rescue and ice-rescue teams, there are four basic notions to consider: how to avoid going into cold water, how to survive if you do go in, how to get out and how to survive once you’re out.

Avoiding going in is crucial. There are common-sense ways to improve your odds: stay off thin ice; avoid open water whenever possible, even on snowmachines that glide over water if proper speed and angle are maintained; and especially avoid stream inlets and outlets, where a submerged person can be carried away under the ice away from the point of entry.

According to Hyatt, it’s best not to snowmachine alone, or to do any recreational activity in winter alone if traveling over ice will be involved. Ice thicknesses can vary widely, he said, depending upon the water’s current, freeze-and-thaw, springs beneath the ice and other factors.

People who do go in need to know the facts. To begin with, cold water robs heat from the human body at least 25 times faster than air does, and a person who goes into cold water experiences an initial cold shock that can kill quickly.

Cold shock can last three to five minutes, but the worst part comes right away. The cold can be so intense that it causes you to gasp, involuntarily drawing in a large breath, which can mean inhaling water if you fully submerge at first. Those who inhale water greatly reduce their chances of survival.

Otherwise, if you can keep your head above water and calm yourself enough to work through the initial hyperventilation, you will find that your breathing begins to normalize and you can think more clearly.

“If you can get your breathing under control, that shock subsides, as long as you keep your wits about you,” Hyatt said.

At that point you can think of self-rescue.

Time is still of the essence. The longer you spend in cold water — when the body shunts its main blood supply to the core for protection — the less able you are to use your arms and legs effectively.
“Dexterity goes away in the first few minutes,” Hyatt said.

Giesbrecht and Hyatt recommend attempting a self-extraction at the point of entry, where the ice is likely to be more stable. In one of his instruction videos for Discovery Canada, Giesbrecht, unable to simply pull himself up onto the ice shelf, places his elbows on the ice and then kicks with his legs as if swimming to propel himself forward. Doing so, he is able to pull himself out, at which point he rolls away from the hole and then crawls, careful to spread his weight across as wide an area as possible.

Without extraction, as Giesbrecht demonstrates later, hypothermia begins to set in, and then most people no longer have the capacity for self-rescue. At this point, he said, it is best to pull as much of yourself out of the water as possible, hoping to freeze to the ice and avoid drowning even in the case of a loss of consciousness.

If you do get out, your main concern — barring immediate rescue — should be restoring warmth to your body. Hyatt said you need to strip off as many of your wet items of clothing as possible, wring them out and then put them back on. You also need to build a fire and, if you believe that rescue is not imminent, you need to erect some sort of shelter.

Ultimately, Hyatt said the best fire and shelter should work in unison. If you can build a shelter that captures and reflects the heat of the fire while keeping you off the cold ground, you can not only survive but also begin to dry out and recapture any loss in your core temperature.

Hyatt also stressed a few important rules for would-be rescuers of cold-water immersion: First, don’t become a victim yourself. Try to maintain personal safety while extracting the victim. Second, once you have the victim out of the water, keep him or her horizontal, if possible, and allow him or her to warm up slowly. Hyatt suggested body-to-body contact as one of the safest ways to restore normal body functions.

Thin ice equals hot water if not prepared

Preparation can be the key to survival if you fall into cold water, especially in wintertime. If you are planning to travel over potential danger spots, here are some things to take with you that could mean the difference between life and death:
  • If possible, travel with a GPS (or at least a compass). A GPS can allow you to establish waypoints as you travel, thereby giving you markers to find your way out, even in the densest fog. It may be expensive, but buying a satellite messenger or leasing a satellite phone might save your life in case of emergency. Satellite messengers are about the size of a cigarette pack and weigh less than half a pound, and they are capable of sending a 911 alert with your precise GPS location. Avoid relying on cell phones, which usually cannot receive service in wilderness areas and can be notorious for drained batteries, especially in cold weather. A VHF radio, on the other hand, can be much more reliable and get you in touch with rescue personnel.
  • Dress for success. For just a little more money than conventional snowmobiling gear, you can buy a buoyant suit that can save your life. Those who wish to avoid bulky gear while skiing or snowshoeing can purchase buoyant jackets or even thin, inflatable personal flotation devices.
  • Avoid cotton or any clothing that readily absorbs water. In one of Giesbrecht’s videos, he and another snowmachiner sink in open water on an otherwise frozen lake; Giesbrecht’s partner is wearing water-shedding buoyant gear, while Giesbrecht is wearing a basic snowsuit. Soon, the professor is trying to stay afloat with 60 to 80 additional pounds of water clinging to him, while his friend is weighted down less than 30 pounds.
  • Have extra gear — socks, hat, gloves or mittens — in a waterproof bag in your daypack or fanny pack.
  • Improve your chances for self-extraction. Many companies now sell ice claws, sometimes known as ice picks or even bear claws. These hand-held picks are typically worn around the neck in sheaths and can easily be pulled out and driven into the ice in the way an ice climber would use ice axes.
  • Invest in or build an emergency fire-starter kit. Possibilities for kindling the blaze include waterproof and/or storm-proof matches, a magnesium striking tool, or a flint-and-steel combination. As for tinder, consider such options as Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, or even balls of sawdust or dryer lint, kept ready in a film canister or a similar watertight container.
  • Other essentials in an emergency include a signal mirror or flares, an LED headlamp, hand warmers, extra food and drink, medical supplies, space blankets for insulation, a 50-foot nylon cord for rescue or to help build shelter, and a knife and collapsible wood saw.

Building momentum — Peninsula Artists in Motion on the move toward expansion in 3rd show

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

For the Peninsula Artists in Motion, the motion part was constantly apparent in a rehearsal for the group’s third annual performance last week in Kenai.

Even in between songs the dancers were moving — feet practicing the steps, legs stretching into poses, arms swirling and mouths keeping in coordination with each other, often at the same time.

“We were doing it on one two, but we changed it to three four.”

“And the heel goes on its own?”

“I like it better on one two.”

“It’s look, then heel.”

“You guys, I’m going to try to book it out of your way.”

“We’re all up and you guys are all down, so we’ll drop and go back up.”

And finally: “OK, I think we’re ready.”

Once the music was switched on a switch was thrown in the dancers, as well, changing them from women with a shared interest getting together to have a good time into a group that embodies the entirety of their name — artists in motion.

“To cultivate dance, man. Isn’t that what it’s all about?” said Amy Tovoli, one of the PAM dancers, about the purpose of the group.

Now in its eighth year, PAM will stage its third community performance at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.

The performances encompass a variety of dance styles, including lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, African, modern and ballet. Encore Dance Studio and the Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy will be guest performers.

“We try to think about our audience and what they would really like to see. There’s everything from really powerful emotional stuff to really happy, fun, lighthearted pieces,” said Tara Slaughter, one of the co-directors of PAM.

Investigating different dance styles helps the performers stretch and grow.

“You step out of your comfort zone. If you just stick with whatever you’re comfortable with and that you’re good at you don’t get better,” Tovoli said.

PAM member Greta Danielson used herself as an example. She’s studied ballet for 10 years and had never done a style like hip-hop before joining PAM.

“I didn’t know if I liked hip-hop because I’d never done it,” she said. “You just get better at it and it’s fun.”

Slaughter and Katrina Carpenter developed PAM as an opportunity for women in the community to participate in dance. There are several dance studios and school programs for school-age dancers to be involved in, but after graduation, there aren’t many avenues for adults.

“Especially for women in the community. We’ve got long winters and not a lot to do and it really keeps them motivated in the winter,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter grew up on the central Kenai Peninsula and has been dancing here since she was 4 years old. She went off to college and got a degree in dance before moving back to the Kenai.

“It is so cool to actually be doing what I went to school for,” Slaughter said.

“It’s amazing how small the community is and still supports so many different arts.”

PAM has experienced significant growth since it was founded in 2000 and became a nonprofit organization in 2005. Last year the company doubled in size to 15, mainly from interest generated from their performance last year. Entrance into PAM is by audition.

The group rents rehearsal space from Encore Dance Studio in Kenai, but it isn’t affiliated with any one studio. Any woman from any dance background can try out.

Katie Reichert said she’s been in the dance company for years, minus a few breaks to have kids. Her children are actually one of the reasons she’s in PAM.

“My daughter is taking dance lessons at Encore and she liked seeing me there on the stage doing it too. If she has a love for it and sees me as her mommy doing it, I hope she’ll want to do it too,” Reichert said.

Tovoli is an instructor with Urban Dance in Kenai. PAM is her opportunity to be a dancer, instead of having to be in charge all the time.

“I’m always the teacher, so it’s really nice to dance with women and not be the teacher,” she said.

She doesn’t always get that break, however. Tovoli contributes to the choreography of the PAM company, as do Slaughter, Carpenter, Chris Morin and Rick Langley.

“There’s a lot of different personalities. We’re lucky enough to have several of the members in the company work well together and seem able to collaborate together on pieces,” Slaughter said.

Fifteen women in a smallish dance studio doing a collaborative activity with their own opinions on how it would look best can be hectic at times. But everyone realizes they have their job to do and is dedicated to creating a quality final product.

“It’s a little crazy and a little chatty at times, but for the most part I think we get along pretty well. There’s nothing out of the ordinary when dealing with 15 women,” Slaughter said.

The company’s progress will be evident in their performance this weekend.

“It’s our best show yet, that’s for sure. I know that much,” Slaughter said.

PAM also consists of Brianna Bolton, Nicole Egholm, Debra Kimbrell, Anastasia Massera, Nadya Matiya, Annie Mese, Laura Mocza, Cara Parker, Heather Schloman and Jessica Sherman.

Tickets for the PAM concert are $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors and free for kids 5 and under. Tickets are available at Charlotte’s and Encore Dance Academy in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, and at the door.

Art Seen — Artists Without Borders show offers lots to look at

Artists Without Borders has another group exhibit in the conference room upstairs in the 4D Professional Building on Marydale Avenue and the Kenai Spur Highway.

Sometimes the exhibits have themes, which can increase the creative input from participants (last month’s was “The color of music”). Occasionally, it will be a solo endeavor, but mostly the exhibits are open to any and all. There is no formal group that meets, but rather, an e-mail list that word goes out to regularly. Anyone wishing to be a part of the list can call Karen at 262-3958.

I would describe the current exhibit as cute, with an abundance of pieces popular for decades here on the Kenai Peninsula. Clear exceptions include Donna Schwanke’s pieces, and an entry from Kathy Painter titled “Peacock Gone Wild.”

Schwanke’s “Taking Risks” was the people’s choice, understandably, as it is a vibrant piece with unusual textural handling. The medium is represented as watercolor on textured canvas, but the brushstrokes are so severe and the paint so shiny and plastic feeling, I would have guessed this was done with a polymer of some type.

The composition is solid, and the colors are uplifting without feeling corny. The piece is so inviting and unusual, it needed a notice posted to keep viewers’ hands off of the canvas. It’s been fun to watch Donna stretch and experiment these last couple years, and her work is really starting to garner attention. One might call her “up and coming,” if she’d allow it. She is generally quite demur when complimented, simply professing a great love for creating her work.

Another piece with an interesting aspect is “Wild Horse Canyon” by Sherry Collins. She has used an oil knife rather than a brush, which creates much of the visual interest in this work, as it is pleasingly loose and textural. Her horses appear to be sort of floating in space, however, something I’m not thinking she intended.

Melinda Hershberger has displayed some really lovely and controlled brushstrokes in her still life “Apples and Ball Jar.” It is executed in oil, which can be a messier and potentially unruly medium as compared with others, so her skill is to be appreciated. The creamy colors used in defining the cloth are delicious.

Georg-Anne Phillips has done a nice job on the whimsical “Raven Love II,” a small but accessible painting.

I am pleased to see the interest in creating and displaying art that this exhibit represents. It would be a great benefit to our community if more of the artists took their interests a step further and sought training and education in the visual arts.

Kenai Peninsula College has an excellent program, with knowledgeable and patient instructors. Being in a school environment can open up a person’s perspective and world significantly, and can provide the impetus for expressing one’s self in unique and fortifying ways.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Arts and Entertainment week of Nov. 12

Holiday arts, crafts fairs:
  • The Sterling Senior Center has a Christmas Bazaar with handcrafted items and baked goods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science will have a Holiday Extravaganza with consultants from Arbonne, Mary Kay, Avon, The Body Shop at Home, Lia Sophia, Slipata, Cookie Lee, The Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Usborne Books and Tupperware from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the school on North Forest Drive in Kenai.
  • Star of the North Lutheran Church in Kenai has a Christmas Bazaar with handcrafted items and baked goods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds support mission work.
  • Soldotna High School has its annual SoHi Arts and Crafts Fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
  • The annual Country Fair Fundraiser and Brunch at Peninsula Take-a-Break will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Solid Rock Bible Camp on the Sterling Highway. Ladies can donate homemade arts, crafts, wearable items and food. Proceeds support Stonecroft Ministry. Live country music will be by Stefanie Bouchard, and inspirational speaker will be Marilyn Lee talking about joy of the journey. Lunch and childcare reservations must be made by Sunday. E-mail tab-reservations@hotmail.com or call Cindy at 260-6262 or Carolyn at 262-4214.
  • Kenai Central High School will host an arts and crafts fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 28 and 29 with more than 150 booths and door prizes every hour. Admission is free. Refreshments will be available. Table spaces can be reserved for $40. Contact Peggy Millyard at millyards@acsalaska.net or 283-5104.
  • Hope Community Resources will hold a holiday bazaar from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 13 on Kalifornsky Beach road behind Ellis Automotive. Vendors are needed and can rent a table for $15. Proceeds benefit Hope’s activity fund. For more information, contact Lisa Hamilton at 260-9469 or lhamilton@hopealaska.org.

  • The Kenai Community Library is offering community members the opportunity to participate in the StoryCorps Alaska oral history initiative by recording interviews. Participants will receive a free broadcast-quality CD and a copy of the interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. For more information or to schedule appointments stop by the library or call Cynthia Gibson at 283-4378. Interviews are recorded at 9 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays through Nov. 26.
  • Already Read Books in Kenai has “Collections” through November.
  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has a group show on display through November.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi on display through November.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has Dena’ina art and regalia on display through November.
  • The Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College has ceramics work by Steven Godfrey, head of ceramics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, on display until Dec. 11.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Jan Wallace on display through November.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Libby Berezin on display through November.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Only Moose,” an invitational art show, on display through November.
  • The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has a group exhibit by the Kenai Potters Guild on display through November.
  • Veronica’s coffee shop in Kenai has photographs of Veronica’s through the seasons by Joe Kashi on display.

  • Peninsula Artists in Motion will hold its third annual dance concert, with choreography by Chris Morin and Rick Langley, at 7 p.m. at Kenai Central High School. Invited guests include the Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy and Encore Dance Academy. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors and free for kids 5 and under. Tickets are available at Charlotte’s and Encore Dance Academy in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, and at the door.

  • The Kenai Community Library will celebrate National Gaming Day with new and favorite board games for the whole family to play from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • The Kenai Performers will have a potluck and annual meeting at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Topics include a review of last season and notes on upcoming opportunities for Kenai Performers, information on a capital campaign to buy a permanent home for the company, and a new proposal process for the 2009-2010 season.
  • The Kenai River Folk Dancers will hold a contra dance from 7 to 10 p.m. at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School with live music by the ContraBanD. Beginners are welcome, and all dances are taught. Bring clean, dry, non-marking shoes. Cost is $5 for adults and children under age 16 are admitted for free when accompanied by an adult. Bringing potluck refreshments is encouraged.
  • Peninsula Artists in Motion dance concert, 7 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. See Friday listing.

  • An opening reception for a ceramics show by Steven Godfrey, head of ceramics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College. Godfrey will give a slideshow presentation. Refreshments will be served.

  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch has live music Saturday night.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has folk music on Wednesday night.
  • Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna has music by Anchorage band Mother of Pearl on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has live music by The Good Kind at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Sarah Superman at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has live music Wednesdays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has open mic night Wednesdays and music by AK Free Fuel on Friday night.
  • Mykel's in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass by Them Other Shuckers at 7 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at J-Bar-B in Kasilof.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • BJ’s in Soldotna will show an Ultimate Fight Challenge pay-per-view fight at 6 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10.
  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has a nine-ball pool tournament at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The J-Bar-B has free pool on Sundays, a horseshoe pit in the beer garden, and a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has a dart tournament at 8 p.m. Thursdays.

Soldotna cabin gets stamp of approval — First post office placed on National Register of Historic Places

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

The elegant simplicity of the sign on the front of the building belies its complex history: “1949 Homestead Cabin — Howard Lee — First U.S. Post Office, 1949-1951 — Maxine Lee, Postmaster — Soldotna.”

The building, restored and recently designated as the first Soldotna structure on the National Register of Historic Places, has a history that is anything but simple.

In 1947, Howard and Maxine Lee read a “Saturday Evening Post” article about the homesteading opportunities for military veterans willing to move to the Kenai Peninsula. It sounded simple enough: Go to the Anchorage Land Office, file on a piece of land, build a habitable abode, live on the land at least six months and a day out of the year, and clear one-tenth of the total acreage.

Stationed with the Navy in Florida at the time, the Lees headed north in March 1948. Leaving Maxine and their 16-month-old daughter, Karen, in Seattle, Howard arrived in Anchorage only to discover that all the land abutting the new Sterling Highway had already been claimed.

Dispirited at first, Howard then learned of a couple that had gone to the area the year before, spent the winter and wanted out. The couple had hauled a 60-by-30-foot Quonset hut over the frozen highway, and Howard was told that for $1,000 they would relinquish their site and the Quonset hut to him.

Thus, when Maxine and Karen joined him at their new home in June, the Lees became residents of the fledgling community of Soldotna.

There, the Lees met the Lancashires — Larry and Rusty — and soon Howard was helping Larry to build the Lancashire homestead cabin, with the understanding that Larry would then help Howard build the Lee homestead cabin.

Using Larry’s portable sawmill, they cut and hewed spruce trees from the virgin forest in the vicinity of what is now Corral Street, and they erected a two-story cabin — for several years the largest building in Soldotna. In 1949, Howard and Maxine were able to move out of the old military Quonset and into their own home.

Just prior to this time, however, homesteader Marge Mullen approached Maxine with a proposition, and a petition signed by several prominent residents. Mullen proposed that Soldotna should have a post office, and that Maxine should be the first postmaster.

“Mail was our only line of communication (back then),” Mullen said. “We had no TV. The Anchorage radio — KFQD, I think it was — was only on five hours during the evening — 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., or something like that. You were just hungry for Outside news.”

In her application for the postmaster position, Maxine submitted the town name spelled Soldatna, and when the postal inspector approved her for the job, the spelling became official — and almost immediately a point of contention. It was not until the 1960s that the official spelling became Soldotna.
For her postal labors, Maxine was paid $14 a month.

“It wasn’t a really high-paying job,” she said in a 1998 interview. “But when you’re homesteading, 14 bucks is 14 bucks.”

Prior to the establishment of the new post office, most local residents had traveled to Kenai for their mail. Suddenly, the mail was coming to Soldotna once a week, and some people from as far away as Longmere Lake made the weekly journey to see what they’d received.

At first, the mail was delivered to the homestead cabin and then carried over to the Quonset hut, where Howard had set up a postal station for Maxine.

“When anyone came for the mail or stamps or money orders, we ran over to the Quonset, unlocked the door and took care of their business,” Maxine said. “In winter I learned to keep my ink and fountain pens in the cabin so they wouldn’t freeze.”

Soon, the homestead cabin was the full-time post office, and it remained that way until 1951, when, much to her surprise, Eleanor (“Mickey”) Faa became Soldotna’s second postmaster.

In a 1995 interview, Faa said: “Well, I took care of the post office several times for Maxine Lee when she went to town (Anchorage) and had things to do.”

Faa and her husband, Joe, were operating the Soldotna Inn (later to become the Bear Den Bar) near the Kenai River bridge at the time.

“One day Maxine asked me again if I’d take care of the post office for her. I said, ‘Sure.’ And that evening she came over with some cardboard boxes containing the whole post office. She was leaving Howard, and she wanted me to keep it — take care of it for her. And, of course, I didn’t know anything about it.

“I figured she’d just be going to town for a few days. But that wasn’t so. She left — completely.”
Maxine Lee did not return. With two children now in tow, she headed for the Lower 48, took college courses to improve her education, filed for divorce, eventually got remarried, and now lives in Palo Alto, Calif.

In Mickey Faa’s hands, the post office changed locations three times briefly, and then in 1954 the Faas bought part of the Lee homestead, including the cabin, and the post office returned to its original location.

Joe Faa added on to and remodeled the original cabin, and moved the postal operations into the addition.

“On mail days, I always had something baked,” Mickey said. “When folks came for their mail, I didn’t just let them escape with their mail. They had to come in for pie and coffee. Mail day was special.”

With the oil boom in the late 1950s came a postal boom. Mickey had to buy extra boxes for the mail, and then buy some more. Soon, the homestead cabin could no longer handle the demand, and a new post office with 500 boxes was constructed where Columbia Paints now stands.

The Faas, who installed electricity in the cabin in 1955, continued to live there until 1965, when they sold it and some of the adjoining land to Justin and Zilla Maile. The Mailes also added on to the original structure, creating “Zilla’s Yarn Shop and Bernina Center.” In 1985, Justin, who was color blind, had the building painted olive green as a surprise for his wife.

In 1989, some of the Maile land was purchased by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to ease bus congestion, and in 1991, Zilla gifted the building to the Soldotna Historical Society. Over the last 15 years, the additions have been removed, the olive-green paint has been stripped away, the building has been moved from its original location and then back again, and it has been refurbished and protected by numerous volunteers.

In 2005, Marge Mullen and Barbara Jewell began opening the building to the public during Farmer’s Market Saturdays from June through mid-September.

It was Jewell who completed and sent in the historical society’s successful petition to have the building included in the national register. She mailed her petition in Soldotna’s fully modern post office, on the opposite end of the Soldotna Elementary School grounds from where the original post office still stands.

Good luck in store — Prize winner passes thanks on to charity

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

An ivory statue meant to reward a lucky grand prize winner in a drawing held by a new local business will now pass its charm onto a lucky bidder at a fundraiser event for Planned Parenthood.

Carol Percival, co-owner of Tikahtnu Gallery and Gifts in Soldotna, gave away a Billiken figure carved out of mammoth ivory as the top prize in a drawing held to celebrate the store’s grand opening a month ago.

A Billiken is a jovial, bare-chested, usually somewhat portly figure with elf-like ears and a pointed head that’s thought to bring the owner good luck. Florence Pretz, a Missouri art teacher and illustrator, patented the design in 1908. Manufacturing of the figures began in 1909, and they were apparently sold as a publicity stunt for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. That may be how carvers in the Nome region came to incorporate the figure into their designs.

RoseMary Peterson won the statue in Tikahtnu’s drawing, but she didn’t have a place to put it in her home off Kalifornsky Beach Road, so she decided to donate it to Planned Parenthood in Soldotna for the organization to use in its auction fundraiser dinner Saturday.

“I just have no place to display it, and I thought that it would be a good cause,” Peterson said. “I used them (Planned Parenthood) before and thought it would be a good way to give them something back.”

Peterson said Planned Parenthood helped her get a mammogram when she couldn’t afford it.

Percival was happy for the figure to go to a good cause, even if it’s taking a roundabout way to get there.

“Now she’s passing on her good luck. I had a lot of admiration for her. So many of us would have just taken it home and said, ‘Thank you very much,’” Percival said.

“I hate to see him go, he’s been one of my favorites,” she said.

“He is extremely cute,” said Autumn Leach with Planned Parenthood when she stopped by the store Monday to pick up the statue.

The Billiken will be raffled off at the organization’s fundraiser dinner at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Crossing in Soldotna. The theme is “Food from around the world.” Only 80 tickets will be sold, 50 of which were already spoken for by Monday. Tickets are $40 per person or $70 per couple. Call Jackie or Jen at 262-2622 for more information or to buy a ticket.

Peterson had been planning on presenting the good-luck Billiken to Planned Parenthood herself, but was sick with the flu all weekend and couldn’t make it Monday.

“I probably should have hung onto it. Oh well, he’ll bring me good luck long distance,” she said.

Percival, a retired educator, opened Tikahtnu Gallery and Gifts with her daughters, Tara and Amber Lathrop. Tikahtnu, which is a Dena’ina word for Cook Inlet, sells scrubs for medical professionals, and almost everything else is handcrafted artwork and crafts made in Alaska.

“I have always wanted to do this,” Percival said. “I love these Alaska arts and I knew a lot of arts people and crafters who are very talented and thought it would be a nice idea to open a gift store.”

Many of the items the store sells are made by people on the central Kenai Peninsula, including handmade jewelry by Mindy Chamberlin of Sterling, Loraine Larsen of Kasilof and Laurie Cleary of the Kenai area.

Percival contacted the artists she knew and advertised for more artwork to get inventory for the store, and she approached craftspeople at the weekly summer markets.

“I thought, ‘Well, what do they do with all their wonderful goods during the winter?’ Maybe I can suggest to help them out in the winter,” she said.

She has work representative from art traditions across Alaska, as well as children’s toys, journals, greeting cards, hats and purses, and is on the lookout for more items.

“I’m constantly trying to increase our inventory with more variety, but definitely this is the place to buy your made-in-Alaska gifts to send Outside,” she said.

That’s been one of the biggest hits with the store so far, that almost everything sold is made in the state, she said.

“I am so pleased with the response,” Percival said. “People come in and say, ‘Oh, this is a nice store.’ Or I tell them it’s all made in Alaska and they say, ‘Oh, thank you for doing that.’ So many people are tired of buying things made in China, so people’s response has been wonderful.”

Percival put out comment cards to get shoppers’ input on what they’d like to see in the store.

“I’m really interested in it being something new and different for the local people,” she said. “… Considering the economy and the time of year, it’s going well. It’s going to take time for the communities to know we’re here.”

Percival created a store she likes to be in, and hopes others will like to be there, as well.

“I like to surround myself with this kind of thing. It makes me feel warm,” she said. “I just admire these people so much.”

Backing up data meets future technology

Data backup is now generally inexpensive and easy. Probably the easiest, most effective, and least expensive solution is to use the Windows backup program that ships as an accessory to every Windows program installation. Although this program, archaically, still defaults to backing up to a floppy disk drive — the least reliable computer storage media of all — Windows Backup can be redirected to other more reliable, faster media.

I prefer using an external hard disk connected to a USB or Firewire port for routine daily data backups. This is the fastest and easiest approach. You should have at least three sets of external backup hard disks, rotating them so that any backup is made on the disk previously containing an older backup set. Use a different hard disk every day and be sure that you keep one hard disk backup set at least two weeks before reusing it, just in case of slow, subtle data corruption from a failure computer system or a human error that is not noticed immediately, both of which really do happen on occasion.

Your hardware cost will be around $500 to $600 for the three backup hard disks with their external cases and connecting cables. Be sure to get the highest-capacity backup hard disks that you can easily afford. High capacity hard disks are now very inexpensive, and a larger disk drive will give you more flexibility later.

Before starting to make a backup, be sure that you know all of the places where Windows might store data. You’ll likely be surprised. Make a full backup every day. “Incremental” backups tend to be unreliable and rather more complex to use when trying to restore data.

Making DVD or CD disks are a useful approach to sharing data or long-term archiving of a small amount of data, but they are not a reasonable alternative for daily data backup. Their data capacities are low and disk writing speeds much too slow. Reusable DVD and CD disks are not very reliable, and you’ll need to sit around doing nothing but occasionally feeding a new disk into the computer, being sure that you’ve kept each disk in order and correctly labeled. On the other hand, if you use a large external hard drive, you can simply start the data backup process and go home, disconnecting the hard drive the next morning after the backup process is done. By the way, be sure to turn on Windows Backup’s “verify after write” feature.

The remainder of your physical security methods are pretty straightforward: Use a high-quality, high-Joule surge protector between the electrical wall outlets and all computing equipment, including computers, monitors, printers, incoming phone line, Internet and other network connections.

Be sure you store your critical business computer data in a single spot that’s easy to identify and back up. I strongly prefer putting all of my Windows and application programs on a fast C drive but adding a second hard disk, a D drive, to my computers and storing all of my data in logically named folders on the D drive. That way, it’s easy to back up all of your data — just back up the D drive. The Windows default of putting several thousand documents and photos into an unsorted “My Documents” or “My Pictures” folder is basically awful and suitable only for computer dilettantes who have little valuable business data.

Connect a reliable, uninterruptible power supply backup battery between each computer and network device and its surge protector, but make sure you don’t connect any laser printers to an uninterruptible power supply. Laser printers draw so much electrical current that they’ll likely overload the uninterruptible power supply and burn it out. About every 18 to 24 months, have a skilled computer technician replace the D data drive with a new, high reliability hard disk.

Finally, train yourself and your staff to use your computer systems correctly and carefully, paying particular attention to confirming dialog boxes such as “Do you really want to delete this file,” rather than just clicking through them until you realize it’s too late. Even then, some “deleted” files can still be recovered from the Recycle Bin, or using dedicated data recovery programs such Undelete 2009, sold by Diskeeper at www.diskeeper.com.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

Editorial — Alaska needs to keep spotlight

Due to the Nov. 4 elections, Alaska was in the spotlight like never before. Alaska’s leaders now must find a way to keep us there.

Most of the press Alaska received was due to the vice presidential candidacy of Gov. Sarah Palin. Like her or dislike her, there was no questioning her power to generate interest.

The state also received a fair amount of notoriety for the U.S. Senate battle between Sen. Ted Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Normally, Stevens re-election bids are ho-hum, blowout affairs, but this time he was found guilty of seven felonies shortly before the election. This led to a tight race that still hadn’t been decided by Tuesday.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, despite being under federal investigation, also raised a few eyebrows around the nation by holding off a challenge from Democrat Ethan Berkowitz.
So while a Democratic wave, led by soon-to-be President Barack Obama, washed over the rest of the nation, Alaska remained staunchly Republican.

The question now is how Alaska’s leaders make sure they get a seat at the Democratic table.

Palin played the typical role of vice presidential candidate attack dog, storming around the country accusing Obama of associating with terrorists. She also is the new star and the current next great hope of the Republican Party. A national poll said 64 percent of Republicans consider her their top choice to run for president in 2012.

One part of Obama’s energy plan is to prioritize the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope. Obama says the pipeline is critical to energy security and will create thousands of new jobs.

Constructing the natural gas pipeline also would be a significant feather in Palin’s cap. In a perfect world, the Obama and Palin administrations would work hand in hand to get the pipeline built, and not engage in partisan bickering over who gets credit for what.

It’s hard to see that happening. If push comes to shove, can Obama take a back seat on the project to Palin? Will Palin take a back seat to Obama?

As Deborah Williams of Alaska Conservation Solutions said in a television interview the night of the election, Obama’s and Alaska’s interests also intersect in the area of climate change. Williams has called Alaska ground zero for climate change, because this state has warmed more in the last four decades than anywhere in the country. How will Palin and Obama work together to address the problem?

If Stevens does return to the Senate, his power to bring home the bacon will be severely diminished. The Democrats now have a solid majority in the Senate, and Stevens’ stature took a hit due to the felonies. Young also will have to work to gain traction in a Democratic House of Representatives.

Young and Stevens are powerful figures in Alaska partly due to their ability to work earmark magic, but with the highlighting of earmarks in the presidential election and the ethical police all over Stevens and Young, the gravy train has left the station.

Alaskans overwhelmingly turned out for Palin, stood by Young, and appear ready to let Stevens go with a slap on the wrist because Alaska still believes in their leadership qualities. In the face of numerous obstacles, and at a critical time for the state, these leaders must prove Alaskans right.

Guest editorial — Economic collapse, bailout plan seem stranger than fiction

One of my favorite books of the past decade is “Confessions of an Economic Hitman.” Author John Perkins spent years working for global banks that lured Third World countries into taking out huge loans for hospitals, schools, highways, dams and other necessities, as well as luxuries. Superficially, this appeared benign if not altruistic. In reality, it was ultrapredatory lending aimed only at maximizing corporate profits.

Income from loan interest was but the iceberg’s tip. The modus operandi was convincing governments to borrow more than they could repay. When default occurred, the banks confiscated all collateral — for instance, land with diamonds, gold, timber or other resources — at a fraction of its market value. They also bought up industries at bargain rates.

Obviously, that couldn’t happen here in America. But it certainly would make a great plot for a conspiracy novel. Now that Mideastern countries control banks with more money than Allah, I could easily imagine them lending our federal and state governments massive amounts of money for domestic projects and (in the case of the feds) for foreign aid and wars. Then there are loans to businesses and to private individuals for home mortgages and on credit cards. Finally, when America is overextended beyond all redemption, the global banks would jerk out the rug and bring our economy down like a house of cards — much as the Soviet Union came crashing down after being bankrupted by their war in Afghanistan.

Enriching the credit crisis theme would be subplots about lobbyists blocking attempts to make America energy-independent and about selling out our leadership in technological innovation by letting our universities train foreign students in critical sciences, math and engineering, while American students watch TV, play video games and fantasize about automatic riches from careers on Wall Street or as music stars and professional athletes.

Once countries with cheap labor had enough highly educated personnel, as well as the Internet, massive outsourcing would be inevitable. Other subplots would involve global crime syndicates like those documented in books like “McMafia” (Misha Glenny), “Crimes of Patriots” (Jonathan Kwitny), “Legacy of Ashes” (Tim Weiner), and “Crossing the Rubicon: Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil” (Michael Ruppert).

Writing those parts of the novel would be easy. But where to go from there? Would the ultrawealthy banks buy up America on the cheap, injecting money back into our economy, but ever after controlling our politics through lobbyists? That in turn would give them control of our military to enforce their will worldwide. Or would the banks simply leave us a smoking ruin, at the mercy of some newly emergent Mideastern superpower?

Finally, depending on which of those scenarios I chose to follow, how could we ever regain control of our economy, government and democracy? And what role would be played by the Federal Reserve — a private corporation beholden less to the American public, than to its own stockholders?

Brick wall. I’m not an economist, a banker or a business mogul. Envisioning the bare bones of the story was easy. But fleshing it out was beyond me. Anyway, it seemed too far-fetched even for fiction. So I shelved the project, hoping that someone like Tom Clancy would one day pick up on it and develop a first-rate thriller. Little did I dream of how far America was already overextended on borrowing, or how fast and far our economy could plunge. Nor did I imagine that we would funnel hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout welfare back into the same banks that caused the collapse; and then consider giving control of those banks to the Fed. Talk about truth being more bizarre than fiction!

Fortunately, available evidence blames Wall Street’s problems on mistakes by our fellow Americans, not on some global conspiracy. Yet, looked at from a novelist’s perspective, I can’t but wonder whether there’s more going on than meets the eye, and whether evidence against conspiracy is really strong enough to make the novel totally implausible — assuming anyone would have money to buy my novel, should I ever get it written and published.

Now we’ve got a real-world crisis to solve, without much idea what or who can get it done. In novels, most world-shaking crises are solved by a hero like James Bond. In real life, who can we rely on? Barack Obama and his team? Or, heaven forbid, you and me? “The inquiring mind wonders.”

Dr. Stephen Stringham earned his mater of science degree at the University of Alaska studying moose and his doctorate degree studying bears. He is the author of five books on Alaska’s wildlife.

High (quality) impact — Brown Bears a boon for area hockey

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

In a community the size of the central Kenai Peninsula, with a limited amount of support available for any one program or area of interest, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

When it comes to hockey, that limit hasn’t been reached.

The Kenai River Brown Bears Junior A hockey program is settling into its second season, drawing higher attendance at games and more financial support from the community than it did last year.

“It’s been very good,” said Nate Kiel, general manager of the Brown Bears, of the team’s 700 to 750 game attendance average this year. “It’s been an improvement from last year. We’re still not quite where we’d like it to be, but it’s certainly been up.”

Part of that support comes from people who, in the past, have been devoted to other levels of hockey — the youth Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association and high school hockey programs. But any concern that there wasn’t enough fans or contributors to go around for all three levels of hockey don’t seem to be holding true, say coaches of high school and youth hockey.

“I’m happy with them being here. I guess I can’t think of anything really negative,” said Pete Iverson, head hockey coach at Kenai Central High School.

Iverson and Soldotna High head hockey coach Aaron Swanson, who also coaches KPHA hockey, said it’s still early in the season to tell for sure, but they haven’t noticed a decrease in their game attendance.

SoHi and Kenai had home games last weekend. At Friday’s game, Diane Garske, a SoHi parent, said she didn’t think attendance would decline.

“I see past parents that don’t have kids playing anymore. Parents do still come and support the high school teams,” she said.

Fundraising hasn’t been any more difficult, either. Swanson said SoHi’s team does value-added fundraisers, like making sandbags that local stores can buy and resell, so a program like the Brown Bears seeking larger-scale sponsorships doesn’t affect them much. The same goes for KCHS.

“So far Kenai has not experienced a lack of fundraising because of the Brown Bears, or lack of community support,” Iverson said.

The impact coaches have seen is increased interest from their players due to the Brown Bears.

“It seems like there’s a lot of interest in the younger kids with the Brown Bears being in town, which is helpful in building a hockey program in the area,” Swanson said.

“I know among my players that I directly interact with, that’s what they do when the Brown Bears are in town,” Iverson said. “That’s their weekend is going to the games. For that reason alone they’re good to have because it’s giving the hockey kids something to do.”

Beyond just providing more hockey to watch, having a Junior A team gives younger players a goal.

“It gives them something to look at and shoot for,” Garske said.

It also gives younger players an idea of what it takes to achieve that goal.

“They see these kids that are essentially two levels above where varsity hockey is,” Iverson said. “They see the talent level it would take to do that, because a lot of these kids are interested in doing that.”

Brown Bears are expected to perform community service and conduct themselves in a manner that reflects well on the organization.

“They’re seeing the work ethic and the moral standards that they’re held to,” Iverson said. “I hope that will be a positive impact on my kids. So far it has been.”

Kiel said the majority of players in the North American Hockey League are on track for college.

“I think that it is an excellent program for high school players to look toward,” he said. “The players we have are role models and they come from great backgrounds with solid grades and they all aspire to play college hockey.”

Kiel is the former head hockey coach at KCHS. Coming from that background, he’s tried to avoid conflicting with the high school programs.

Brown Bears practices are held in the mornings, so they don’t take up ice time after school when younger teams practice. And games are scheduled so as not to conflict with other events.

“Being in the high school ranks for a long time, we’ve done everything possible to not have conflicts in terms of scheduling,” Kiel said.

Even fundraising is done at a different level.

“On the one hard, realizing there are only so many dollars out there one might argue that, but we’re on a different scale in size and scope compared to high school athletics,” Kiel said. “We’ve approached lot of big, major corporations for support.”

“I think that it’ll have a positive impact on high school players, as well as on youth hockey, in general,” Kiel said. “… Young players are lining up for autographs and wanting to talk to players after the games. I think it’s been a neat thing to see our youth be exposed to this level of the sport, as well as the good kids that we have.”