Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rough landing — Young woman‘s dream to pursue air traffic control career leaves her homesick in Alaska

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Since arriving in October 1945, 20-year-old Joanna Bahnub had been in Talkeetna for more than two months. Now Christmas was only a few days away, and she was feeling terribly homesick and forgotten.

Bahnub knew her parents and her six siblings back in Black River Falls, Wis., had her address, and yet she had received no Christmas cards and no presents. She wanted to call and find out why, but the nearest telephone was in Anchorage — seven hours away by train — and she was working eight hours a day, seven days a week.

Unhappy despite the kindness of her co-workers at the Civil Aeronautics Administration station, Bahnub tried to cheer herself up. She tromped into the nearby woods and cut a 3-foot spruce, which she stood in her quarters as a Christmas tree. Then she made her way into town to Nagley’s “all-in-one store,” where she bought a nice box of stationery, which she wrapped and placed under her tree.

“I tried to tell people I got a present,” said Bahnub — now Joanna Hollier, 83, of Kenai.

But telling people that didn’t make her feel any better. Neither did the potluck and dance put on by station personnel.

Christmas came and went, with no cards for her, and no gifts. So when New Year’s Day rolled around, she became determined to contact her family.

Hollier had grown up on a dairy farm, and had become determined to have a different kind of life than the one she had known in childhood.

“I was the oldest of seven kids, and we really had to work. We had to go out and milk seven, eight, 10 cows before we’d go to school in the morning, run in and wash the cow manure off and run to catch the bus — if we caught the bus, if there was any bus.

“And then home every night, immediately after school and back in the barn till nine or 10 that night. We were literally hired men. This was during the (Second World) War, and times were tough.”

So Hollier consciously sought a job that would get her as far away as possible from milking cows.

Her plans took her away from the farm right out of high school and upset her father, who “didn’t believe in educating girls.”

Hollier wanted to attend a Minneapolis radio-television electronics institute, which would provide the training she needed for the training she really wanted: six months with the Royal Canadian Air Force at Boeing Field in Seattle.

The Seattle training would allow her to become something rare — a female aircraft communicator (today called an air-traffic controller).

But first she had to earn her way to Minneapolis. Tuition at the institute cost $200, and she had to work for all of it — two jobs, at a restaurant from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., then at a dime store from 1:30 p.m. to at least 6 p.m., at about a dollar an hour. Earning the $200 took her a year and a half.

After she completed her training at the Minneapolis institute, she headed to Seattle in the spring of 1945. She passed her Civil Service tests and learned to send and receive Morse code at a rate of 30 words per minute. She also learned the basics of air-to-ground radio communication and meteorology, and how to use a teletype.

By the fall she was a certified aircraft communicator.

“This is the end of World War II,” Hollier said. “The men are all in the Service. I was in the right place at the right time, or I never would have got in. And there were very few women in that profession.”

After her training at Boeing Field, Hollier had a choice to make: To which of 17 CAA stations in Alaska — that was her only choice of state — would she like to be assigned? To help her decide, the CAA sent her a handbook describing the Alaska stations. Almost immediately, she preferred the Talkeetna station because it was small and had potlucks on Saturday nights and dances in the station washroom.

“I figured I could handle that better than Anchorage or Juneau or Fairbanks,” she said. “And I knew a country girl like me better stay in the country. I could understand potlucks and little dances on Saturday nights.”

On Oct. 9, 1945, she arrived in Anchorage on a CAA DC-3 (“with bucket seats and a sack lunch”), and the very next day she climbed on an Alaska Railroad car at 9 a.m., bound for the station near the mining town of Talkeetna. She arrived there at 4 p.m., and saw the landing field and the cluster of white-painted station buildings that would become her home. In August 1964 Hollier was transferred to the Kenai CAA station. She was transferred back to Talkeetna briefly in 1947, where she married Ed Hollier, and then back to Kenai on Christmas Eve of 1947.

Despite the homesickness that would strike her after first arriving in Talkeetna, there were many benefits to her new job. To begin with, she earned the same pay for her job as the other two male aircraft communicators. When her first paycheck arrived she was shocked at the amount.

“I didn’t know there was that much money in the world,” she said.

With at least two full days of guaranteed overtime per week, each paycheck was several hundred dollars. Flush with cash, she began perusing catalogs to see what she liked. Her first purchase was a waffle iron (which she still owns). Later came a pair of skis.

But still, Hollier missed her family and Wisconsin.

And that miserable Christmas of 1945 was the last straw. Even though she knew she would have to pay her colleagues to work longer shifts in her absence, she made plans to travel to Anchorage to place a phone call home.

“While I’m down there on a Sunday, I had set up with the phone company at the time in the Federal Building on Fourth Avenue, right across from Woolworths. You had to make an appointment to make a telephone call Outside.

“So I made this call — and it cost me a lot of money, too. Anyhow, I made this (15-minute) appointment for 10 o’clock Sunday morning, and when my mother picked up the phone and said ‘hello,’ I started crying, and I never said nothing for my 15 minutes’ allotted time. My mother talked. I tried to sniff and answer her, but that’s how homesick I was.”

Hollier traveled back to Talkeetna without really knowing why she hadn’t received any cards or presents, but the truth soon materialized.

In those days, sending a card or a letter by regular mail required a 3-cent stamp, which was fine except where the Territory of Alaska was concerned, especially in 1945. Mail tagged for ground delivery got as far as Seattle, where it sat until it was loaded on a ship for the long waterway trek to Alaska. Once in the state, it traveled by rail or other overland means to its destination.

Had the members of Hollier’s family back in Wisconsin used 8-cent stamps for their holiday cards, the airmail rate would have ensured that she received her Christmas booty on time. Airmail rates also applied to packages, but the Bahnubs hadn’t known that paying the extra money was necessary, so they’d sent everything the slow way.

Sometime in January, Hollier received a large pile of presents and cards. Christmas at last, better late than never.

Little by little — State moving closer to preK education

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Keeping the attention of 11 4-year-olds long enough to sing a song or practice counting can be an impossible task, especially two weeks before Christmas. Yet Title I teacher Tricia Young at Nikiski North Star Elementary School was beating the odds Dec. 11.

Sort of.

One little girl was engrossed in trying to pull all her limbs into her shirt. Another girl’s attention was split between her Dorothy of Oz red glittery shoes and a cut on her leg, making sure to limp until a Band-Aid was applied. A boy was perhaps a little too attentive, jumping in with comments and answers whenever he had a chance.

Still, when the students were asked a question, their hands shot into the air. When told to “crisscross applesauce,” they dropped into a cross-legged position. And when a song required dance moves, limbs re-emerged from their cotton T-shirt entombment, and the previously immobile injured leg was miraculously healed.

In the pre-kindergarten class, that’s a big part of what learning entails — teaching 4-year-olds to listen, sit still, get along, pay attention and follow directions.

“It’s important. If they go into kindergarten knowing the social skills necessary to learn in school, they’re ready to go,” said Denise Cox, the preK teacher at Nikiski North Star.

There’s also an age-appropriate curriculum with academic skills, including the alphabet, colors and shapes, following a calendar and counting to 100. But it isn’t taught through lectures or sitting at desks.

“Our program is learning through play. We try to make it as playful as possible,” said Phyllis Oberhauser, a preK aide funded through the Salamatof Native Association.

A look around the cluttered classroom confirms that, with stacks of toys, puzzles and games, a box of dress-up clothes, fish tank and class pet cages, and art projects hanging anywhere there’s room. The kids take a music class and physical education, and have outside recess when the weather’s nice enough.

To the kids, school is fun time — at least after the initial period of adjusting to being away from home and their parents for part of the day.

“We do a lot of comforting the first few weeks,” Cox said.

To the education community, pre-kindergarten is a vital step in getting kids off to a good start.
“It’s called prevention versus intervention. If we catch them early on, we can prevent many of the difficulties students have once we get them in school,” said Doris Cannon, director of early education for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Cannon said the results of research on the impact of preK education are clear — early education is tremendously beneficial in catching, addressing and preventing learning problems.

“We know that having universal preschool available to all — not mandatory, but available to all — would certainly be a benefit to our kids. It’s just a good opportunity for kids,” said district Superintendent Donna Peterson. “In my experience as an elementary teacher and principal, if there’s one place we could make the biggest difference, this would be it.”

Kids learn the basic rules of school and how it operates, and they get used to being away from home so when they get to kindergarten, they’re ready to jump in with learning. If students do have learning challenges, they can be identified and addressed before they get behind in school. Students also get an introduction to basic academic concepts, like ABCs and 123s, which some kids may get at home, and some may not.

“It kind of levels the playing field for a lot of kids,” said Robin Thye, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Nikiski North Star. “If they don’t have a strong background coming into school, the preK program really helps.”

Nikiski North Star’s preK program has been going for four years now. The first year Thye had kindergarteners from the preK program, she could tell a difference, she said. Of all the students who have gone through the preK class, so far none have needed special help later in school, Oberhauser said.

But as successful as the preK program is at Nikiski North Star, it’s the only public preK program in the district. That’s because the state doesn’t fund general, public preK education.

Special education preK programs are funded by the state, Head Start programs for low-income families get public funding, and there are some private, preK educational programs, generally run in conjunction with day care. But none address the needs of the general population of students.

That may be beginning to change. Gov. Sarah Palin announced a plan to include $2 million in next year’s budget for the state Department of Education and Early Development to try a pilot program for half-day preschool. It would serve about 500 kids around the state, and districts would apply for the money through grants.

It’s not universal, public, preK funding — which KPBSD is hoping for — but it’s a start.

“At least they’re talking about it. Just to have the discussion on the table is encouraging,” Cannon said.

If the pilot program happens and KPBSD were to participate in it, Cannon said the district would approach it like it does everything else — determine where the greatest need is and start from there. Ultimately, Cannon said the district doesn’t want to start something that isn’t sustainable, but hopes the state is moving in that direction.

“We wouldn’t want to have it for one year, then it’s gone. When they land somewhere and it’s sustainable, then we’ll be there,” she said.

At Nikiski North Star, the preK program exists because the school saw enough of a need for it that it decided to sacrifice in other areas of its budget to shuffle funding and make it happen. There used to be a preK, day care sort of program at the Church of the Nazarene in Nikiski, but that was canceled.
“Everyone started looking for other places to put their kids, and there just wasn’t anywhere,” said NNS Principal Lori Manion.

The school receives federal Title I money because of its percentage of students from low-income families. Parents started pushing for a solution to the lack of preK and day care options in Nikiski.
“The community really was screaming about a need for preK, and we looked at the research that said kids who get started in an early educational experience, we weren’t going to be doing intervention on them as they got older,” Manion said.

Four years ago, with the district’s blessing, the school rearranged its budget to offer one session of half-day preK. They did without a kindergarten through sixth-grade Title 1 interventionist aide to do it — “that was really hard,” Manion said — and Manion recruited Cox from her position as librarian to do preK part day and library the rest.

The success of the program was evident the first year, Manion said, with an added bonus of increased parental involvement. Parents are encouraged to volunteer in the preK classroom, helping with art projects, reading or anything else. Those parents typically stay involved as their kids progress through the grades, helping with fundraisers, volunteering in classrooms and joining the PTA.
“We have really capitalized on parents getting involved early on,” Manion said.

Ramona Malston volunteered in the classroom last year when her son, Kyle, was in preK. She said the half-day format was a great transition into full-day kindergarten.

“He was just very comfortable in that school environment going from being a stay-at-home child, he was pretty shy and I was pretty concerned about his being able to sit down and focus. He really learned a lot and they do a lot of fun activities,” she said.Richard Malston said preK gave Kyle a head start on academics — he counted to 29 on his own in a parent-teacher conference last year — and got him excited about school.

“The social interaction and learning, he had a good time and he was really excited about school. Of course, his older brother (Brady) was going to school so he wants to be like him,” Richard said.
The mandatory attendance school age is 6, so preK isn’t required for 4-year-olds. Even so, NNS added an afternoon preK session to meet the growing demand, with 15 kids in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.

There are still challenges. The little guys and girls needed smaller furniture, new curriculum materials and don’t always fit in with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the school, although Manion said they try to integrate preK as much as possible into assemblies and events.

Transportation is the biggest hurdle. Students are only allowed to ride on school buses if they’re 40 pounds or heavier, and not all preK 4-year-olds meet that requirement. Even if they do, buses only take them one way — to school for the morning session or back home for the afternoon session — since buses don’t run in the middle of the day. Manion said transportation funding would be crucial to creating a successful statewide preK program. In the meantime, the school is working with the Central Area Rural Transit System to find a solution.

At NNS, the benefits of the program far outweigh its challenges, Cox said.

“I can see nothing but positive. I don’t see the negative of it,” she said.

Peterson is hoping the state kicks in to make Nikiski’s success possible throughout the district.

“It isn’t a matter of the school district trying to make kids smarter or take education down to younger and younger ages, it’s just having quality opportunities for all children,” Peterson said. “We’re not trying to make readers out of 3-year-olds, we have age-appropriate activities for them. It’s a good thing. The earlier we can do age-appropriate things with children, the better off we’ll be.”

License to learn: District extends HeadSprout

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Education starts in the home, and parents throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District had a tool this summer to start kids off on the right track before they ever set foot in a classroom.

The district bought licenses to HeadSprout last spring, a phonics-based reading program on the Internet, and made the program available to parents of incoming public-school kindergarteners.

The measure was an attempt to fill the void of a pre-kindergarten program in the district — a void created because the state doesn’t fund preK programs for the general school population (see related story, page 1). With HeadSprout, parents could log their kids onto the program on the Web, and they could work through the lessons over the summer.

The program boasts successful results in teaching phonics and beginning reading to kindergarteners, and in being a tool to help struggling older readers. So far it seems to be successful in KPBSD, said Doris Cannon, director of early education for the district. It was developed through extensive research about the way kids learn, Cannon said. Every element of the program is field tested with kids, from the critters they interact with to the sound effects and even the number of times the program will prompt kids to give an answer.

At the halfway point of the school year, Cannon said the program appears from anecdotal evidence to be working well.

“I’m pleased with what has been done with it. With any new programs you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get,” she said.

She heard from 25 to 30 parents about the program. Of those, only one didn’t like it, she said.
HeadSprout is now being used in classrooms, and as an intervention tool for older readers needing extra help in grades one and two.

“(Evidence) shows these kids who used it did fine in school when they got here and didn’t get caught up in the intervention process. It’s been well-received by the parents, and the kids are doing well with it,” Cannon said.

Five hundred eighty-six licenses are shown as being in use in the district. Of those, the district estimates that about half are actually in regular use. Cannon hopes to see those numbers grow, and the district has decided to continue licensing the program for another four years.

Nikiski North Star Elementary School is one of about five schools actively using the program.
Teachers reported some mixed results — it works for some and not others.

Nikiski North Star preK teacher Denise Cox said it’s a little too advanced for some students, but others do well with it when they’re ready. Kindergarten and first-grade teacher Robin Thye said she doesn’t use it much in her room, but from what she’s seen the program moves quickly and the kids seem to enjoy it.

Principal Lori Manion said she’s happy with the results so far.

“There’s a group of kids out there that have really taken off with it,” Manion said. “There’s definitely a need for it. From all I heard from parents, they really enjoy it and think it’s a very focused activity for (the kids) to be doing.”

Retire the change — Teachers, public employees lobby for return of pensions

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Holly Abel and Joanne Frey are at opposite ends of the age and teaching experience spectrum, but they’re both in the same boat.

Abel is a first-year teacher, while Frey has been in education for 20 years. But both are new to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District — Abel as of this year at Soldotna Middle, Soldotna Elementary and Tyonek schools, and Frey as of 2006 in Seward.

Both work in specialized fields that are becoming increasingly difficult for the school district to fill — Abel as a psychologist, Frey in special education with severely disabled kids.

And both are thinking about leaving the district due to changes in the state’s Public Employee and Teacher Retirement Systems.

Abel was born in Soldotna. Her parents and mother-in-law were all educators and qualify for Tier I Teacher Retirement System benefits from the state.

“We’re very grateful that both of my parents are under the Tier I retirement plan because they have health concerns. It’s much easier taking care of them knowing that some other entity is helping out,” she said.

Abel and her husband moved to Soldotna to be closer their families. At the time, being familiar with the benefits her parents receive, Abel assumed KPBSD was a good place to work, with decent benefits. She didn’t realize the state Legislature, in 2006, changed the retirement system from a defined benefits program — akin to a guaranteed pension — to a defined contribution plan — a 401(k) plan with variable returns. The change created a new Tier III for teachers and Tier IV for public employees. Those tiers operate on the defined contribution system.

Now that she knows about the change, Abel and her husband are questioning their decision to move back home.

“I guess I expected a little bit more security and predictability from the retirement system. That’s been a little bit scary realizing that’s not the case. It’s scary thinking about having a home and kids in this area and staying here,” she said.

In contrast, Frey did do research before moving to the peninsula, but it didn’t do her any good. She was living in Louisiana and decided to move after her home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. She consulted a financial planner and studied the retirement information on the state’s Web site before committing to KPBSD.

“Before I left, I did my homework, because being the age I am and my years teaching, I was very concerned about what would happen here,” she said.

At the time, in 2006, the Web site detailed the Tier III retirement system for teachers, which was still a defined benefits program. The planner advised that KPBSD would be a good move, so Frey hitched her trailer to her truck and headed north to Seward.

Somewhere around the Dakotas, it all fell apart. Her truck broke down, leaving Frey to buy a new one, and the state’s retirement program switched to the 401(k) system.

“While I was driving up here, lo and behold it changed and the new system took effect. When I got up here I realized, ‘This isn’t good, this isn’t what I signed up for,’” she said.

Frey doesn’t know what to do now. She’s nearing retirement, but with the stock market in sad shape, her 401(k) isn’t generating much money. She’ll qualify for Medicare in five years, but worries Alaska doctors may not continue to accept that coverage. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep her house in retirement.
She’s thinking about leaving her job.

“I’ll go deliver mail in mailboxes if it gives me a good retirement,” she said. “I don’t want to leave teaching, I love what I do. … That experience and the things I can do, and the things my staff and I together can do, may be going down the tubes.”

No benefit to working here?

Those were just two of the many stories shared in a forum on retirement security Saturday at Soldotna High School, organized by the Alaska Public Pension Coalition.

The purpose was to bring teachers and public employees together to discuss how the state’s move from a defined benefits retirement program is affecting them and their fields. Similar forums were held in Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough on Saturday, and one was held in Bethel last week. All were videotaped and footage will be combined into a documentary that will be shown to legislators in an effort to motivate them to bring back the pension plan.

Kenai Peninsula legislators were invited to Soldotna’s forum. Rep. Paul Seaton, of Homer, was the only one who attended.

LaDawn Druce, a local teacher and president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association (the local affiliate of the National Education Association union) organized the Soldotna event. She said she was pleased with the 50-person turnout of teachers and public employees from around the peninsula, and with the wide-ranging discussion.

Much of it included the same theme — people love their jobs educating youth, saving lives or in some other way serving the citizens of the borough, but are considering changing jobs over retirement benefits.

Several central peninsula firefighters talked about how difficult it is to recruit and retain personnel for fire departments in Alaska as it is, even before the retirement system change. Tony Prior, a Kenai Fire Department captain, said firefighters can earn three times as much working for private companies on the North Slope, and get much better support.

“They say, ‘What do you want, we’ll get it for you. We’ll get three of them.’ And here we’re begging for it,” he said.

Benjamin Simmonds, with Central Emergency Services, said he heard the same thing from recent graduates at the University of Fairbanks.

“The students said they wanted to remain but will not, and the reason for that is the retirement system is gone,” he said.

The result is Alaska is becoming a training ground for public employees, the firemen said. The state pays for their education and training, they work long enough to qualify for benefits, then they go to the private sector or take jobs in the Lower 48 with better benefits — taking all the money Alaska invested in them with them.

Alaska State Troopers alone cost $125,000 to $150,000 to train, said Tim Evans, the president of the Kenai Peninsula Central Labor Council and retired vice president of the state AFL-CIO. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 57 people left municipal jobs from January to October 2008, compared to 10 years ago when just 13 people left in an entire year, said Lynne Carter, with the Kenai Borough Employees Association.

Druce said the state trumpets portability of benefits as a good thing about the retirement system, meaning employees can take their retirement savings with them into other jobs. But that creates brain drain by encouraging qualified, trained personnel working in valuable, important fields to leave the state.
“How can portability be a good thing for this state?” she said. “How can you honestly believe that?”

Complicating matters is Social Security. Borough Mayor Dave Carey said that teachers and many public employees in Alaska don’t qualify for Social Security because the federal government gave states the ability to opt out of it. Alaska and 16 others did so, under the theory that public employees were already getting retirement benefits from the state. On top of that, Carey said recent events, including U.S. car manufacturers forcing unions to accept lower wages and retirement benefits, have him worried.

“If we don’t get out there and protect our rights, we will be undermined,” Carey said.

Carey is a retired teacher from KPBSD, under Tier I. He said it’s a matter of equality, with new teachers never able to get the benefits he does, even though they do the same job.

“We have to stand up for equal pay for equal work,” Carey said.

“We have to convince our legislators to do the right thing,” said Dick Kapp, with Central Emergency Services. “… I think we have to tell our legislators, I voted for you, now you vote for me. They understand that.”

Another perspective

Seaton, the lone Kenai Peninsula legislator who attended the forum, said it’s not that easy. The state retirement system is a matter of balancing current costs with future obligations. Adding new tiers, with successively higher restrictions on eligibility for benefits, was an effort over the years to get a handle on spiraling costs.

PERS Tier I was established in 1979, and it took 10 years before the state realized, “uh-oh, we didn’t think we were underfunding the system,” Seaton said. PERS Tier II was established in 1986, and PERS Tier III (equivalent to TRS Tier II) came about in 1996. At one point, actuaries counseled the state and local municipalities that they didn’t need to contribute as much money to the retirement system. That resulted in a significant shortfall in funding when the mistake was realized.

Another part of the problem is the growing cost of providing retirement benefits, since the amount of time for which the state provides benefits for is growing. Life expectancy in 1970 was 80.2 years, and rose to 83.7 years in 2005, Seaton said. The Supreme Court has ruled the state is constitutionally obligated to pay PERS/TRS pensions, so the only way to limit retirement costs was to limit benefits, and/or increase the restrictions on when people became eligible for benefits.

In 2006, the Legislature moved away from the pension plan altogether in creating PERS Tier IV and TRS Tier III, which involve employees contributing to their own retirement funds and managing how the money is invested in the same way most private sector employees do.

The new system doesn’t cost any less to operate, Seaton said, with the state and municipalities still paying in about the same amount to fund the plan.

“We designed it to not be cheap. We designed it to not save money,” he said.
The benefit of a defined contribution 401(k) program, for the state and municipalities, is it reduces cost liabilities down the road. Seaton said legislators didn’t want to encumber future budgets with paying for the current retirement system.

“These are the situations that you have to look at from the other side of the coin,” Seaton said. “That is the perspective that we are looking from.”

But he does recognize that having a less desirable retirement system than other states and private sector employers does hurt public sector fields, in recruitment and especially retention, so he’s open to suggestions.

“I’m hoping that the employees come to us with some better ideas,” he said. “… If there’s a way that we can get there so that we don’t generate unfunded liabilities on the budget of our kids and grandkids, I’m perfectly willing to do that.

“I’m hoping that as we go forward we’ll be able to work together on how to solve this, not just from one perspective or the other. You are the valuable people that make this state work. We just have to make sure from the other perspective … that when your kids are in these kinds of positions, that they’re not totally hamstrung.”

Yeah for clay — Nikiski students put process over product in art

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

When clay artist Terry Inokuma teaches a class, it’s about the process, not the product.

She keeps kids focused on learning each step of the process by not letting them know what they are making.

“I don’t tell them what it will be because kids have expectations of what it should look like so they jump ahead in the process,” she said.

She also teaches them to let their hands guide them by having students sculpt some pieces under the table without looking at their work.

“They separate their sense of touch from vision because we’re usually too dependent on our eyes,” she said.

But the beauty of clay is it’s a 3-D medium, which can appeal to kids who may struggle with other art forms, such as figure drawing.

“The two-dimensional world is so visually attached, whereas the three-dimensional world is allowed to be a little more abstract. It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she said.

Inokuma is finishing up a three-week stint as the artist in residence at Nikiski North Star Elementary School this week. The program, administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the Rasmuson Foundation, brings artists into schools to share their medium with students who may not otherwise be exposed to much art.

Inokuma is from Oregon. She’s done residency programs in her home district, and applied for the Alaska program after meeting a relocated clay artist from Homer. She’s been to Chenega on Evans Island, Teller, King Cove, Sand Point, Wasilla, Anchorage and Pelican. Her next residency will be at Sterling Elementary in January.

“The goal is to teach the basic methods of working with clay so as they progress through the clay world, if they love it, they’ll have the basics in working with clay,” she said.

At Nikiski North Star she’s working mainly with fourth- through sixth-graders, but has taught the primary grades, as well. There’s even an old kiln at the school to fire the kids’ projects. Being a clay artist, she’s had to improvise that portion of her classes before. In coastal areas she’s been to it’s usually warm enough to create a fire pit, but she’s also had to repair old, broken kilns, use a wood stove and create her own kiln with a burner and propane.

She has a clay day each time she does a residency, where she does demonstrations and her students exhibit their work to the public. Nikiski had its exhibition Friday. Inokuma said parents and teachers have been supportive of her work at the school.

“When I’ve heard from parents they come walking in with wide eyes saying, ‘What are you guys doing here? My kid’s coming home saying, ‘Clay is fun,’” she said.

Inokuma says parents should find a way to support the artistic tendencies all kids have, no matter what mediums they’re suited to.

“I encourage all parents to encourage the artistic sides in all of their children’s worlds, because everyone learns so differently and it opens up different avenues for children to learn,” she said.

Whoops: Failure to immunize leads to illness

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

Homer topped state epidemiology charts this month as one of two Alaska towns with the highest number of reported whooping cough cases.

Juneau and Homer have a combined 140-some of the state’s 181 whooping cough cases.

Public Health Nurse Leslie Callaway said the Homer Public Health Center has seen more than 53 cases in the past six months. Juneau saw 80 reported cases for the same period.

It’s not too late to get a pertussis vaccine, Callaway said. Even upper Kenai Peninsula residents are urged to get vaccinated, especially the elderly, those suffering a respiratory illness and young children.

Homer and Juneau showing up with the highest number of cases may lead some to draw the conclusion that a coastal environment helps spread the bacteria. But physicians say that has nothing to do with it, said Public Health Spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

“There are three basic reasons. One is a lag time between childhood immunizations and getting revaccinated in your teen years. And two, it shows up in large populations of people who chose, for whatever reasons, to not get vaccinated,” Wilkinson said.

The third reason is that, “Pertussis is very contagious. It’s easily transmittable,” he said.

According to the Alaska Division of Public Health, 181 cases of pertussis were reported across the state between July 1 and Nov. 24. That compares with 65 statewide for the same period last year, Wilkinson said.

Juneau had one reported whooping cough case last year, he said. Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley reported about 35 cases total.

Kenai likewise has seen only a small cluster, public health officials report. The Homer reporting area covers communities from Nanwalek to Clam Gulch, though most were centered in Homer, Callaway said.

Health officials are finding that the vaccine mandated for children wears off. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics now recommend scheduling a Tdap shot at age 11 or 12, rather than waiting until age 14 to 16, as previously recommended.

Babies 2 months through children 4 to 6 years old are vaccinated against the whooping cough.

“Then the vaccine begins to wane 8 years or so later, at the time when the child is around 11 to 12 years old,” Callaway said.

Whooping cough then can make its way around classrooms.

“Those most vulnerable are babies under 1 year of age and people at risk for respiratory complications such as people on chemo-therapy, or those who have had their immune system compromised or organs transplanted. The most important thing is to be up to date so as to protect those vulnerable to infections,” she said.

Even people who are not vulnerable to the bacteria should be vaccinated to help prevent the spread of it, she advised. Using good cough etiquette helps, along with immediately consulting a doctor when symptoms occur. Homer resident Roy Hoyt attests that the coughing sickness is a bear to shake. After age 80, he came down with it a winter or so ago, he said.

“I was in and out of hospital for two months,” Hoyt said. “I had never gone through anything like that before.”

Hoyt had traveled Outside for a class reunion, and believed he contracted it “courtesy of Northwest Airlines.”

“I felt badly when I got home. I had a cough. Then by the next couple of days, I was immobilized,” he said.

Considered highly contagious at the time, Hoyt was hospitalized in an isolation unit.

“Kids can shake it, but someone 80 years old really suffers,” he said.

It’s time for a new approach to ANWR — Oil development can be done responsibly if boom mentality changes

Ironically, Ted Stevens’ defeat by Senator-elect Mark Begich could pave the way for the exploration and eventual development of oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that the former senator so fervently desired.

Stevens, and even more so Rep. Don Young, made a strategic error by framing ANWR in terms of developers vs. environmentalists, although the latter certainly forced the issue. In the decades-long scenario that emerged, developers were the good guys and environmentalists were the bad guys and the issue took on characteristics of a religious crusade. The term “Open ANWR” had the tone of evil Outside environmentalists aided by a few diabolical Gwich’in magicians holed up in a medieval castle — ANWR — that contained riches the noble knights of big oil wanted to liberate for their feudal lords.

Making the issue even more divisive has been the vacuous “drill, baby, drill” cheer led by Gov. Sarah Palin during her vice-presidential bid. The chant evokes images of an Oklahoma-style land rush with wildcat drill rigs lined up ready to charge across the tundra at daybreak, scattering caribou and ground squirrels before them.

One would think that with the election of President Barack Obama the ANWR issue would be over for four years. Maybe not. There is a way the Obama administration and the American public might concede that careful, controlled oil exploration could be in the best interest of the country, economy and the environment.

That way is to start with the premise that after 20 or 30 years, when the oil and gas is pumped out, ANWR becomes a national park with management oversight by park professionals and the Gwich’in and Inupiat people who occupy the region. The concept should not be “Open ANWR!” but gradually and responsibly extract oil from subsurface strata under the direction of a park/first nation’s consortium. Castle ANWR becomes Project ANWR by conceiving of it first and foremost as a wilderness area in which the land is not leased for development, but oil companies are hired to extract the oil.

Castle ANWR becomes Project ANWR by bringing the best minds in the environmental, scientific, industrial and indigenous communities together with a mandate to configure the principles through which oil and gas development can be done within the framework of a national park. Some of those principles might be:

  • Do the baseline studies first. Know characteristics of wildlife movements and population dynamics and everything else about this remarkable environment. Embrace traditional ecological knowledge.
  • Minimize the footprint and require state-of-the-art environmental protection and monitor its use. BP doesn’t get to be in charge of anti-corrosion; use the pig. Encourage a corporate culture of environmental protection, and discourage practices that manipulate the intent of responsible regulation.
  • Give regulations teeth and don’t let the Supreme Court be in charge of punitive damages for errant corporations.
  • Respect the traditional and spiritual connection the Gwich’in and Inupiat people have to the land. If Iceland can put a jog in a highway to avoid a place where the “little people” live, oil companies can avoid building infrastructure and operational practices that impact the spirits of place without rolling their eyeballs or marginalizing indigenous people’s beliefs.
  • While economics of scale encourage boom-style development, the pace should be slow and deliberate to avoid poor decision making and negative community impact. (Perhaps you remember hookers actively soliciting cars stopped at Fourth Avenue intersections during the last oil boom, giving added meaning to the term “red light district.”)

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that ANWR oil development will substantially lessen dependence on foreign oil. And let’s be clear — any oil development will contribute to global climate change.

But, if all this and more is done, ANWR after 30 years will be much as it is now. The oil will be pumped out, and oil companies will have made a lot of money. The state and federal governments will be a little bit wealthier, and a few people will have had well-paying jobs. The caribou will still roam. Any acceleration of climate change will hopefully have been offset by activities elsewhere. And there will have been no boom, just steady change, and Alaskans will be viewed as a people who can think and act for the long-term good.

Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.

Editorial: Count goose eggs before they hatch

Gov. Sarah Palin announced her budget plan for the next fiscal year Monday. Her address to legislators was laden with phrases that smack of fiscal responsibility — “We’ve got to be prudent,” “save for the future,” “live within our means.”

As a whole, the budget reflects those themes. Spending on capital projects is reduced more than $300 million from this year, money for resource rebate checks is cut out and general fund spending is whittled down.

Palin said the budget represents a 7 percent reduction in overall spending — although there’s some debate about the validity of that figure, since it doesn’t include the money Palin proposes spending from the Alaska Housing Capital Corporation savings fund the Legislature created three years ago. Factoring that in, it’s more like a 5 percent reduction.
Either way, a smaller budget is good for Alaska, considering the declining price of oil and uncertainty about future economic conditions.

The problem is, it may not be small enough. In order for Palin’s budget to do all the wonderful things she says it will — provide necessary services, live within our means and save for the future — oil prices will need to average $74.41 a barrel next year. The price is at $38.76 right now,

It doesn’t take a state Revenue Department adviser to realize that’s a significant difference. And it shouldn’t take a clairvoyant to point out this year’s plunge in prices was not expected when the state budget was created last winter. Neither Palin’s administration nor the Legislature saw this coming. As a result, the state is expecting to spend more than $400 million from its savings to balance this year’s budget.

Prices may well dip again and stay lower than Palin’s administration expects. The state should be ready for that by setting a budget that prepares for that possibility.

The budget should focus on priorities — essential services, vital capital projects and investing in the future through supporting health, economic development and education initiatives. It also should keep nonessential capital projects on a waiting list and start them if and when money becomes available.

And don’t forget the part about saving for the future. As this year shows, paying for current cloudy vision takes foresight from the past.

Never too late to skate — Son’s interest in hockey gets dad on the ice

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Peter Klauder wasn’t completely unfamiliar with hockey before he joined a Tier II Rusty Blades hockey team this winter.

But his prior experience wasn’t exactly extensive.

“I’ve skated on ponds, like three or four times in my life,” he said of his childhood in Ohio. “We played hockey a little bit, maybe. I don’t know if we even had a hockey stick. I remember somebody’s mom playing goalie with a broomstick.”

But when Klauder’s 13-year-old son, Sage, decided he wanted to play hockey last December, Klauder decided to give it a try, too.

“My son, out of the blue, came up and said, ‘I want to play hockey.’ I said, ‘Great. The season’s half over, but let’s go check it out.’”

Sage was able to join a team in the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association, and Klauder shoveled off a section of the lake they live by for a practice rink.

“We were playing one on one and I was laughing so hard I’d be crying having so much fun,” Klauder said.

His friend, Shorty Lawrence, talked him into joining Rusty Blades, the adult hockey league at the Soldotna Sports Center. Not only did he need to hone his skating skills, but he was fuzzy on hockey in general.

“I was scared to death out there. I really had never played hockey. I didn’t know any of the rules,” he said.

He’s progressed past getting a penalty for standing in the wrong spot. Now he’s on to the finer points of the game, like avoiding collisions.

“Oh, man. I’m really a terrible hockey player, but I suppose I’m getting a little bit better. It’s just so much fun. It’s such a kick. There’s no checking, which is nice. As long as I don’t hurt myself running into things and other people, I’m having a blast,’ he said.

Klauder played soccer in high school and college, and he likes that hockey is similarly filled with action.

“It’s exciting, it’s fast, it’s a real adrenaline rush,” he said. “It’s constant action. There’s no break, there’s no lull, you just go full speed when you’re playing hockey. You go all out, take a quick little break and go all out again.”

Rusty Blades has a Tier I program for advanced players, and Tier II for the more recreational ones. Klauder likes that it isn’t a super competitive environment. He certainly doesn’t get caught up in the team’s record, the length of the season or the scores of recent games.

“Oh boy, all these technical questions,” he said.

Still, hockey now plays a big role in his family’s life in the winter. He and his son weren’t hockey fans before, but they are now. Klauder and Sage watch Brown Bears games, and they both like starting pickup games for practice. Klauder watches Sage’s Bantam games, and said Sage has turned into a good skater — “he can twirl around me,” Klauder said.

“It’s a great, fun thing to go do with my son. I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for him,” Klauder said. “It’s made winter for me. It gives me something to do in the winter that’s a lot of fun.”

Anyone with some skating experience — even if it involves neighbors’ mothers and broomsticks — is welcome to give it a try.

“You need to be able to skate a little bit. It is a competitive sport,” Klauder said. “It’s all about being energetic and going after it, but, golly, if you’ve got someone who’s energetic and knows how to skate, you should definitely go for it.”

Hopeful homecoming — This Hope returns to Soldotna for holiday music performances

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

No matter how many albums they release, how much international travel they do or how intertwined they become with their ministry in the Lower 48, the gospel singing group This Hope hasn’t forgotten its roots on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Daniel Johnston and Mikah Boudreaux met as kids through Soldotna Bible Chapel, where their families were members since the boys were in elementary school. They met Dave, Tim and Dan Inabnit when the Inabnits moved to Soldotna from Montana so their father could be pastor at the church. Jeane Bope grew up in the Soldotna-Kenai area, and met Johnston and Tim Inabnit when he started attending Soldotna High School and joined the school’s choir.

“We just started singing together in church there at the Bible Chapel. Different variations of the group of us would sing special music, like for Christmas,” Boudreaux said.

Eventually they all started singing together. Word of their talent spread and they began to book performances in other churches on the peninsula and around Southcentral Alaska. They spent summers performing, and became even more intertwined — Dave Inabnit married Johnston’s sister, and Johnston married Bope’s sister.

They began to consider singing professionally.

“It definitely wasn’t all of our ambition to go into this like as a career or as a full-time ministry,” Boudreaux said. “I think that the Lord just slowly brought us along. As the doors of opportunity opened and continued to open it kind of came to a point where the singing was becoming more and more of a time focus and it was too much to do all of that and continue to do regular jobs, and those kinds of things.

“We really prayed about it and sought the Lord’s will about what he wanted us to do. Over the course of those years the Lord impressed on all our hearts that he could use us with the singing, so we started to plan out into the future with that in mind.”

It took awhile to get there, but the good thing about humble beginnings is there’s nowhere to go but up. Their group’s first tour wheels was an old blue-and-white Suburban given to them by Pastor Ted Inabnit. It proved to be an adequate, if not faithful, steed, until the passenger side front wheel came off while rounding a curve on a trip to Anchorage, rolled in front of the Suburban and off a cliff. Luckily, they were able to hitch a ride with a passing acquaintance who had enough trunk room for their economical sound system — Tim Inabnit’s car speakers for mains and Dan Inabnit’s computer speakers for monitors.

Naming the group was another early challenge. Middle-of-the-night, stream-of-consciousness brainstorming sessions produced some not-so-catchy monikers, including Next Exit, For Reservation, With That In Mind and Five Guys in Bad Pants. This Hope came from a quote from Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

By 1996 This Hope members was ready to see if they could support themselves through their musical ministry. They decided to try it for a year, and traveled around Alaska and to the Lower 48.

“We were able to provide that first year. It was kind of funny because our expectations of the budget were like two or three times less than what we actually spent, but the income that came in also surprised us, so the Lord really provided for us,” Boudreaux said.

By 1997, Dan Inabnit decided that his path in life lie in another direction, but Boudreaux had graduated from high school at that point, so he joined the group in Dan’s place. Later that year they moved to the Lower 48, eventually settling in the Atlanta area. Alaska was too expensive and spread out to support their ministry, so they wanted to find an area with a large number of churches and where major cities were closer together.

Since starting their ministry over 10 years ago, this Hope has performed at the Southern Baptist Convention and has taken their ministry international, to Cuba twice and to Spain, Ukraine and Romania.

They’ve released 10 CDs, including two new ones that are available on iTunes. One is “Final Destination,” and the other is a new compilation of Christmas music. Both albums are a combination of a cappella music and tracks with singing over recorded instrumentation.

They make it back to Alaska every year and a half or so.

“Most of our immediate family moved away, but we still have some extended family and just a lot of friends from all the years we lived there,” Boudreaux said. “Even though we’ve been gone for 11 or 12 years, it’s still a homecoming for us, of sorts, coming back to Soldotna, and even Anchorage, Wasilla and Palmer. We look forward to it with great anticipation.”

This Hope will perform Christmas music at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at College Heights Baptist Church and 7 p.m. Thursday at Soldotna Bible Chapel.

“This is a fun time for us. It’s kind of a change of pace, and our Christmas music is really upbeat and fun and it’s really a neat concert,” Boudreaux said.

Admission is free. There will be a free-will offering.

For more information and samples of the group’s music, visit www.thishope.org.

Arts and Entertainment week of Dec. 27

  • The Kenaitze Indian Tribe presents the Old Town Holiday Gift Shop from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Fort Kenay, across from the Russian Orthodox Church, with Alaska Native arts and crafts.
  • The Kenai Performers present Victorian Carolers, who sing a cappella carols at holiday events. To book a performance, call Dagmar at 398-0865.
  • The Soldotna Senior Center is looking for artists to display their work in the center's lobby. Shows are one month long. Artwork must hang on the walls. Call Mary Lane at 262-8839.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi on display through December.
  • Coffee Roasters in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road will have rock band photography by Blair Reynolds on display Dec. 27-29 with an opening reception from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 27. Reynolds, a Skyview High School graduate, has photographed Fall Out Boy, Anberlin, Protest The Hero, Dillinger Escape Plan and many more.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has multimedia black and white art by Alissa Mattson on display through December.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Anna Jo Warfle on display through December.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Kathie Lee Painter and Donna Schwanke on display through December.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has children’s submissions to the VFW Women’s Auxiliary annual art show.
  • Veronica’s coffee shop in Kenai has photographs of Veronica’s through the seasons by Joe Kashi on display.

  • This Hope performs a cappella Christmas music at 7 p.m. at College Heights Baptist Church on K-Beach Road. Admission is free. There will be a free-will offering.

  • This Hope performs at 7 p.m. at Soldotna Bible Chapel. See Friday listing.
  • The Kenai Writers Group will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenai Municipal Library conference room. It is open to the public.

  • The Class Act performers of Triumvirate Theatre will stage a dinner theater production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Funky Monkey coffee shop at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person, and seating is limited.
  • Kenai Peninsula Orchestra presents an Evening of Christmas concert at 7 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna performed by soloists and ensembles, including the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tammy Vollom-Matturro. General admission is $8, with a special family price of $20.
  • Triumvirate Theatre will perform “Insane With Power,” a superhero comedy by Scott Haan, directed by Angie Nelson, starring Jamie Nelson, Chris Jenness, Terri Burdick, Karlene Meyers, Adam Meyers and Sally Cassano, at 7 p.m. at the theater in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Tickets are $10.

  • Santa will visit with kids from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, with live holiday music and goodies for kids.
  • Class Act presents “A Christmas Carol” at the Funky Monkey at 6 p.m. See Friday listing.
  • Triumvirate Theatre performs “Insane With Power” at 7 p.m. See Friday listing.

Coming up
  • The Central Peninsula Writers Group is accepting submissions for its 12th annual Central Peninsula Writers Presentation on March 14 at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Adult and high school writers from Cooper Landing to Ninilchik to Nikiski may enter. Entries are due Feb. 6. Entry forms and complete guidelines are available at the Kenai Community Library and online at kenailibrary.org under the Writer Group link.


Live music
  • The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch has Three-Legged Mule on Saturday night.
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has folk music on Wednesday night.
  • Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna has music by Anchorage band Hamma Jang on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has live music by Tyler Schlung at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Emily Barry at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has The Free Beer Band on Wednesday night.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has open mic Wednesdays and DedZep on Saturday night.
  • 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.
  • The Riverside in Soldotna has Travis B. and Sean on Thursday night and Tuff-e-Nuff on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 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. Tuesdays and 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.

  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has a Jager party on Friday night.
  • 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 and “Home Alone” movie night Friday.

Cool advice — Dropping temperatures don’t have to mean dropping activities

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Baby, it’s cold outside. But that’s no reason to stay inside.

Thermometers on the central Kenai Peninsula have registered single and negative digits since last week. But just because the temperature drops off, doesn’t mean outside activity has to.

“We live in Alaska, you know? If you’re gonna live up here, you gotta stay outside. Otherwise, you might as well move out,” said Justin Moore, of Soldotna.

Moore puts studded tires on his bike and rides in the winter. He used to be an avid snowboarder and lately he’s predominantly a cross-country skier. He did the Gatineau Loppet ski marathon in Canada last year, and is training for the 50-kilometer classic ski Jizersk√° pades√°tka marathon in the Czech Republic and the 60-K freestyle Dolomitenlauf ski marathon in Austria in January.

He said he tries to get outside and do something every day, no matter what the weather on the peninsula brings.

“It’s better than Fairbanks. I talked to guys up there and they’re skiing in 40 below zero. It’s been 20 below every day, so we have it easy down here,” he said.

The key is to carry plenty of water to combat dehydration and dress in layers for extra warmth to match the temperature — but not too many layers. Overheating leads to sweating, which makes clothes damp and even colder.

“I’m usually overdressed, which is not good,” he said. “I always worry about falling on the outside loop or a moose catching you and you’re stuck, so I end up wearing too many layers and paying the price, I think.”

Moore said the coldest conditions he’s been out in is biking at minus 35 degrees, which was more like minus 50 with the wind chill.

“I survived, barely. It was a difficult ride. No gears would change,” he said.

On Sunday, Moore was freestyle skiing around Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School in comparably balmy 4-degree weather. Skyview cross-country ski coach Kent Peterson and Skyview skiing alum Tommy Honer, now a freshman at University of Alaska Anchorage, were also out circling the trails.

Peterson said the ski team isn’t allowed out at minus 10 or colder, but the weather doesn’t keep him inside when he’s skiing on his own. He’s skied at minus 18 before.

“The nice thing is when it’s cold it’s really pretty out,” Peterson said. “… It’s kind of cool, you’re outside doing something when everyone else is inside hiding.”

The flip side is if he got hurt, there’d be no one around to help. That’s why it’s a good idea to ski with a friend. Two people can also check each other for the telltale white patches of beginning frostbite on faces, where it’s difficult to feel it happening. Dressing in layers was the skiers’ main advice, including wind briefs for guys and different thicknesses of underlayers depending on the weather. As a general rule, synthetic materials are better for active pursuits, since cotton gets soggy with sweat and loses its insulating abilities.

“They say cotton is really bad, but I still wear cotton socks,” Peterson said.
“You just said your feet were cold,” Honer pointed out.

For heads and faces, warm hats, headbands, neck and face gaiters and balaclavas are options, especially if an outdoor enthusiast doesn’t have nature’s insulator.

“I never wear that stuff when I go out and ski when it’s really cold. Facial hair helps,” Peterson said.

Keeping skin covered is important to protect against frostbite, especially in windy conditions. Skiers sometimes smear petroleum jelly on earlobes, cheeks and noses, or cover them with tape. Glasses or goggles keep eyes from getting cold in the wind, and there are products — like the oh-so-appealingly named Cat Crap — that can be smeared on glasses to keep them from fogging up.

“The best way to get warm is just go outside and do your activity,” Honer said.
Once someone gets going in an activity outside, keep going.

“The most important thing is to not stop,” Peterson said. “If you stop, you get cold, or get sweaty and then get cold.”

When someone is attached to a team of dogs, stopping can sometimes be a challenge. For mushers, it’s important to bring warm, trusted gear.

“The first thing you need is appropriate gear,” said Ashley Irmen, with the Peninsula Sled Dog Racing Association. “With any cold-weather situation you need to be well-equipped and have your gear tested and not just go out in 30 below with something you’ve never tried before and go, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work, I’m cold.’”

Irmen, of Sterling, has been mushing for four years now, after an acquaintance got her hooked on it. She’s been out in 30 below to 35 below zero before. She prefers dressing in a wool base layer, since wool insulates even when wet, and a synthetic or down parka. She brings extra gear in case of emergencies, and checks the weather before she leaves.

“Make sure you have what’s appropriate and know how long you’re going to be out and what weather you are going to face and plan for it,” she said.

That advice holds true for any outdoor winter activity. For snowmachining, there’s one important addition:

“If you’re going to go out on a machine, make sure the machine is in good shape,” said Nolan Compton, of Soldotna, with the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers. “Make sure everything’s in good condition and just be prepared if you are going to go out in cold temperatures, it’s always good to not go out alone.”

Specially designed snowmachining parkas and gear mitigate wind chill, are durable and breathable with zippers to control body temperature, and they’re padded in case you’re riding rough, Compton said.

Having a properly fitted helmet also is key. Anything below minus 10 can be difficult for snowmachiners because it’s tough to keep helmet visors from fogging up. Compton has been out in minus 30 on a search and rescue team around Eureka and said the lack of visibility and fogging issues make the ride uncomfortable.

But as long as gear holds up and safety precautions are met, cold is no reason to limit activity.

“I’d rather it was cold than warm any day,” Irmen said. “You live in Alaska. You’re cold nine months of the year. You better figure it out if you’re going to do outside stuff, you know?”

Badu Island, Australia: Sun, fun, fruitful fishing

The temperature was in the low 90s and I was standing on the most perfect, palm-lined, white-powder tropical beach I could ever have imagined. And yet somehow this island, 10 degrees south of the equator, reminded me of Alaska.

As with many Bush villages back home, it took two flights in successively smaller planes to get here from Cairns, Australia’s gateway city to the Great Barrier Reef. Both places represent the most northern reaches of each country – although the farther north you go in the southern hemisphere, the warmer it is.

Like most remote Alaska communities, the indigenous population, here a mixture of Australian Aborigines and Pacific Islanders, maintains a subsistence lifestyle. Instead of harpooning whales, the locals hunt dugongs (manatees) and sea turtles.

And like Alaska, humans are not at the top of Badu’s food chain. Instead of bears, sharks and saltwater crocodiles are the baddest beasts around. Bruins have never kept me out of the wild back home and I often couldn’t resist the calculated risk of diving in Badu’s warm and sparkling clear water.

But the most obvious connection, and the reason I was here, was David and Julie Maddock-Jones. This Australian couple came to Kenai in the early 1990s when Dave exchanged teaching jobs for a year with Dorothy Besch, a third-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary. They eagerly participated in any outdoor experience our Alaska staff offered up, and now 15 years later, I was ready for any adventure David and Julie had in mind.

It was October and their school had just released for a two-week break. We were to spend eight days camping at Gaubuth, a deserted beach located across the island from Badu’s only town. Julie drove out with the gear and provisions while David and I took advantage of the early morning calm to motor around in the boat.

“Glad you’re here, mate,” David told me as we left the harbor. “Julie and I get a lot of pressure from our friends and family to go visit them during holidays. No one wants to come to Badu because it’s so remote, so we don’t get enough opportunity to just relax and enjoy what we have right here.”

I couldn’t be happier to oblige. We anchored the boat off of the shallow and sandy bottom about 300 feet from the shoreline and swam to the beach. The wind was beginning to pick up as it would every midday for our time on Gaubuth; no sense being wave-tossed in the 20-foot skiff. We took advantage of being land-bound by setting up camp and gathering firewood.

Go off in any direction in this part of the world and there are a hundred animals, insects or plants that can kill or cause pain. Since we were all in shorts and sandals, once off the beach, we had to watch for snakes with every step. That didn’t help me much when I brushed against a nest of flaming needle wasps.

Yep, they have that name for a reason. While the burning sensation lasted for only a few minutes, the needlelike stingers felt like they were 4 inches long and the swelling on my arm didn’t go away for nearly a month.

To beat the high cost of bringing beverages to the island, David was perfecting a home-brewing operation and his beer now fulfilled a much-welcomed medicinal purpose. A few hours later when the wind died down, we began our twice-a-day fishing ritual to provide our food for the day and restock their freezer back in town.

The waters here are very productive. Unpredictable shallows, extremely strong currents and uncharted reefs don’t allow for commercial netting operations. There’s not a developed sportfishing industry and the island population is too sparse to have a big impact on sea life. Consequently, we had the most prolific ocean fishing I have ever experienced and we had it all to ourselves.

When we got too hot or needed a break from cranking reels, we anchored off a reef, donned masks and fins, armed ourselves with rubber band-powered spears and dove in to hunt for crayfish. We tossed each day’s catch in the eskie, short for Eskimo, Australian slang for ice chest, and eventually found our way back to our beach before sunset.

Are there many things finer than sitting with great friends on a lonely tropical beach, watching the sun go down while sipping a cool brew as fresh-caught fish sizzle over the fire?

David and Julie will stay on Badu for just one more year and I already began to plan for another visit the moment I climbed aboard the four-seat plane headed back toward the mainland.

James Bennett is a semi-retired teacher from Soldotna. He supports his international travel habit and outdoor adventures by working as a long-term substitute in Alaska villages.

Building a reputation — Caddisflies known for construction abilities, usefulness to fishermen in attracting trout

As virtually all fly fishermen and fisherwomen know, caddisflies are insects that build small cases of various materials, like pebbles, sand, leaves or twigs, found in various freshwater habitats.

Perhaps the greatest reason for anglers’ interest is that caddisfly larvae, pupae and adults are a favorite food for trout, and thus make great bait.

Caddisflies belong to the order Trichoptera. The name comes from the Greek words trichos (referring to “hairs”) and pteron ( meaning “wing”). Not surprisingly, Trichopteran adults have special hairs and scales on their wings. The common name caddisfly probably comes from Middle Ages England when cloth salesmen, called “cadismen,” attached elongated strips of cloth to their garments as an advertisement of their wares. Many pond and lake species of caddisflies attach elongated stems, grasses and twigs to their special cases. These fuzzy-looking cases then serve as protection or camouflage for the larva.

Caddisflies are closely related to moths and with their wings folded tentlike over their abdomen, they are often mistaken for small moths. Besides this look-a-like resemblance to their close relatives, caddisflies can also produce silk from special silk glands in the larval head. Larvae use this silk to bind various materials into protective cases that surround their somewhat unprotected abdomen. As the larva grows in size, the case is enlarged to fit its bigger waist size.

Some cases serve as effective camouflage, protecting them from visual predators like birds or fish. In other situations, the case seems to give them buoyancy and keeps them entangled in floating or standing masses of plant stems. In faster-moving water, the case may act as an anchor or ballast, keeping the case builder from being washed downstream.

These cases can take on a large number of shapes and sizes and are as varied as the materials caddisflies find in the habitat. The most common caddisfly in the Kenai River is brachycentrus, and its distinctive case looks like an elongated box with squared-off corners. They cut tiny, uniform sections of grasses and leaf fragments and assemble them like a miniature, hollow log cabin. There are other groups in the Kenai River that make distinctive cases of uniform sand grains in an elongated tubular shape reminiscent of a hot dog.

Not all caddisfly larvae make cases. Some use their ability to spin silk to create ultrafine nets between gravel or twigs that filter out fine particles drifting in the water column. The plant and animal materials that are captured by these tiny homemade nets are then consumed by the larva. Sometimes they will consume the whole net and particles together and then re-spin a new capture net.

Once the larvae have grown to a sufficient size and receive the appropriate temperature and light cues from the environment, they form a pupal case. This case is attached to a rock or nearby structure. A few days later they crawl out of their pupal skin and emerge as an aerial insect.

In midsummer along the Kenai River we often see large numbers of small gray caddisflies (brachycentrus) flying upstream to mate and lay eggs somewhere along the river.

Depending on the species, and there is a great deal of variety here, most of the caddisfly life cycle is spent as an aquatic larva with only a week or so as an aerial adult. However, there are some caddisfly species from the Kenai River that overwinter as adults.

Fishermen and women have a great many fly patterns that are tied to mimic the adult caddisfly on the surface of the water, laying eggs in a jerky, erratic pattern. There are an equal number of flies tied to mimic the larval stage and even some designed to mimic the vulnerable emerging pupal stage. These fly patterns work all over Alaska, since there are caddisflies in almost every freshwater habitat.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the biology of the Kenai River watershed.

Plugged In: Shooting for quality: A snapshot of digital cameras

Editor's note: No new cameras of consequence were introduced at the annual photo marketing show in March, so the cameras listed here should be current through about July.

Christmas is nearly upon us and, because digital cameras have become one of the most common gifts for Christmas, I’ve decided to discuss how to buy digital cameras in this pre-Christmas issue.

There are some major facts and misconceptions about buying digital cameras that I’d like to address first, because understanding them should result in more informed purchases and usage.

The basic technical knowledge required for highest-quality digital photography is the same as with traditional film cameras — correct exposure, good focus and depth of field, proper contrast and tonal quality, good color balance, avoiding blurring due to camera shake, using an optically sharp lens and all the rest. Even a high-end digital camera will not turn an indifferent film photographer into the next Ansel Adams, although it can help a knowledgeable photographer avoid some pitfalls.

A digital camera’s sensor acts very similar to traditional film, particularly high-contrast slide film. Except when using very large-sensor professional cameras, using higher ISO sensitivity ratings usually results in poor color and tone separation in shadows and highlight details, and in higher image noise that looks and acts just like film grain. As ISO settings increase, these problems gradually degrade image quality until it becomes unusable. This happens very quickly with small sensors that pack too many pixels into too small a space, causing serious electronic interference between adjacent pixels on the sensor.

A higher number of megapixels (MP) advertised for a particular camera does not guarantee higher sharpness and image quality, despite attempts by marketing departments to convince consumers otherwise. The megapixel race basically dupes consumers into buying this year’s model. Pros know that a good 10MP camera, used properly, can produce high-grade professional images. Given the current state of the art in digital sensors and electronics, there is an optimum megapixel level for each type of digital sensor.

Just as film cameras that used larger negatives usually produced better-quality photographs, digital cameras that house larger sensors will usually produce better-quality images than those with smaller sensors, particularly at the higher ISO sensitivities needed in dim light, when using high magnification telephoto lenses and when you’re taking high-speed action shots. Remember that unlike film, a digital sensor cannot be changed for something better — you’re stuck with it for the life of the camera.

Sensing a difference
The smallest sensors are usually termed 1/2.3-inch or 1/2.5-inch. These usually have the lowest image quality and are primarily useful for very compact casual cameras and compact cameras that mount high-magnification zoom lenses. Eight to 10 megapixels is usually about as much as can be rationally fit on these small sensors. Any more and you’ll usually start losing image quality, rather than gaining it.

Midrange sensors are usually listed as 2/3-inch, 1/1.6-inch, 1/1.7-inch or 1/1.8-inch. These sizes once were also used in higher-quality consumer cameras, but are now mostly found in high-end compact cameras intended for serious use. When used in good light at their lowest ISO settings (about ISO 50 to 200), high-end compact cameras using midrange sensors can take professional-quality photographs. Ten to 12 megapixels is about the useful limit for top-grade cameras using midsize sensors. Some of the more expensive compact cameras claim to squash 14 to 15 megapixels onto a small or midrange sensor, and I’m sure that even higher numbers are on the way. In such cases, image quality is often worse than in earlier models with fewer megapixels.

Most digital Single Lens Reflex (dSLR) cameras use what’s termed an APS-C size sensor that’s about half the size of traditional 35mm film but still several times larger than a midrange sensor. An APS-C sensor is capable of providing excellent quality photographs under a much wider variety of lighting conditions and high-speed photography compared to a high-end compact camera. A dSLR camera usually has a faster operating speed, often taking three to six frames a second when needed. Fifteen to 16 megapixels seems to be the reasonable upper limit for large APS-C sensors at the moment.

At the upper end of price and performance are the so-called “full frame” professional-grade cameras, whose 35mm film-sized frame sensor operates well, even in low light and at faster shutter speeds. However, even when comparing these mega-thousand-dollar cameras with relatively big sensors, lower megapixel sensors using larger pixels still produce better-quality images.

Zoom lenses with long zoom ratios, such as 15X, are more expensive and seem to appeal to less knowledgeable buyers. However, it’s truly difficult to wring good optical quality across a wide zoom range. Stick with zoom lenses whose zoom ratio is 6X or less — preferably less. You’ll get a lot more optical quality for less money. “Kit” lenses bundled with entry-level digital SLR cameras are often less sharp than high-end compact cameras, like the Canon G10. Do your homework and check the review sites listed below before making a purchase.

Lens sharpness remains critical but impossible to gauge by looking at a camera or reading ads. You should research potential purchases by checking some serious digital camera review sites. I’ve found that the best overall comparative camera reviews are found at www.imaging-resource.com, www.dcresource.com, www.steves-digicams.com, www.dpreview.com (British) and www.cameralabs.com (New Zealand).

The best inter-changeable lens reviews are at www.photozone.de (German), www.dpreview.com and www.imaging-resource.com. By far the best comparison of the digital sensors found in high-end cameras is at www.dxomark.com (French). All of these resources are English language sites.

Although all current digital cameras can save pictures in a compressed, ready-to-use JPEG file format, using JPEG compromises your ability to later correct and enhance photos and usually reduces overall quality and resolution. A camera that allows you to optionally use an uncompressed “RAW” file format is much more flexible and can capture the highest quality images.

However, you will need RAW-capable software, of which Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 is the least expensive, usually about $80 at Costco. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom ($299 list price) is a very modern, wonderfully intuitive and high-quality program that really shines with RAW images. Lightroom is fast becoming the choice of professional photographers. It’s still sufficiently easy to use and inexpensive so it’s also well-suited for any photographer who wants to get the most out of a higher-end camera. All digital SLR cameras, and a few higher-end compact cameras, have optional RAW file format capability.

Know your need
Generally, digital camera models are aimed at specific users, including:
Casual family snapshots that will be displayed on smaller computer monitors or digital photo frames and will rarely be enlarged much beyond standard 4-by-6 or 8-by-10 prints. My recommendations for compact casual cameras include the Canon A590 IS, the Pentax W60, the Kodak z1085 IS, and the higher-end models in Sony’s W series, such as the Sony W120.

The best buy is the Canon A590 IS. Panasonic’s FX150 is a worthy high-end casual camera with the bonus of optional RAW files. Best buys for high-magnification, long-zoom ratio cameras include Kodak’s z1012 IS or, if you also want a RAW file option, the Kodak z1015 IS or the Panasonic FZ28, whose 18X Leica lens is considered unusually good. Unfortunately, the lower-end consumer models from Nikon and Olympus tend to get rather poor reviews.

Business users such as engineers, contractors, government agencies and attorneys who need to document specific evidence easily and with sharp detail. Suitable entry-level dSLR cameras include the Pentax K200d (it has the best kit lens), the Canon XSi (EOS 450D), and the Olympus E520. Semipro quality compact cameras for professional users are pretty much limited to the Canon G10 and the Panasonic LX3.

Lower-level but still decent-quality compact cameras with good lenses and midrange sensors include the Fuji F60fd or Fuji S100fs, the Nikon P6000, the Panasonic FX150 and the Kodak z1085IS.

Frequent travelers and vacationers who need decent quality in a very compact, versatile camera. Consider the Canon SD880 IS, the Canon SD990 IS or the Panasonic TZ-5.

“Enthusiasts,” including hobbyists, serious photography students at the college and university level and fine art photographers. Cameras in this range are often considered “semipro” models. The only semipro-level compact cameras worth considering are the 15MP Canon G10 and the 10MP Panasonic LX-3. Both are polished models. There are several very good digital SLR cameras in this range and so many lens options that you really should check some rigorous reviews before making a purchase.

One of the best is Nikon’s new D90, whose image quality and usability seem superb, especially with Nikon’s new, very sharp 16mm-85mm lens. I also like Pentax’s quite rugged, weather-sealed K20d with the older but still excellent 16mm-45mm F4 and 28mm-105mm F 3.2 lenses. The Pentax lenses are often the sharpest available in their price range, assuming you get a properly assembled copy. Canon’s new 50D is also highly regarded, but check out whichever Canon lens is sold with the body — the newer versions are fine but the older optics had a deservedly bad reputation. The image quality of Sony’s entries in this category, the A300 and A350, has been unfavorably compared to the similar Pentax K20d and Canon 50D.

Although professional photographers will sometimes use a semipro model like the Nikon D300, the Pentax K20d or the Canon 50D, serious working pros often prefer full frame digital SLR cameras. The least expensive full frame camera bodies are the Canon 5D Mark II, the Nikon D700, and the Sony A900, which range between $2,700 and $3,000, without a lens.

Unless you’ve got the proceeds of your most recent bank robbery still stuffed in your mattress, purchasing a full frame digital camera is probably beyond the needs and the means of anyone who can’t legitimately deduct it.

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.