Thursday, December 16, 2010

Handy Chart for Following the Major Sled Dog Races in Alaska

Photo by Frank Kovlachek
It's not just about the Iditarod. Sled dog races occur nearly every weekend from December through early April in Alaska. I've created a chart to keep track of the major races. Feel free to print out the chart and use it to record the winners of the major races, such as the Kuskokwim 300, the Copper Basin 300, the Kobuk 440, the Yukon Quest, and of course, the Iditarod.

Click here for the chart.

For more about the races, read my article, Alaska Sled Dog Races: Sprint, Mid-Distance & Long-Distance Races.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mishka the Talking Husky Says I Love You

I can't get enough of Mishka, the talking husky. She's a husky; she says "I love you." What's not to like? Here's the video that started it all:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My First Impressions of the Kindle: Advantages and Disadvantages of a Kindle

Well, I caved. I just got a Kindle (Actually my husband got it for me as an early Christmas gift.)

I said I'd never do it. I wanted the feel of a book in my hands. But my husband got one for himself (early Christmas present again), and after I kept stealing his, I asked him to get me one.

I'm still figuring things out, but I'll share my first impressions:

Advantages of a Kindle:
  1. It's insanely convenient. You can carry five thousand books in your purse. It's great for traveling. (Of course, I never travel, but if I did . . . ) And even when I'm not traveling, it's nice to always have a book (or a thousand books) handy when I'm waiting in line or stuck in traffic. (Well, the latter doesn't happen much where we live, but it's a thought.)
  2. You can get an amazing number of books for free. This surprised me the most. There are tons of classic books available for free from the Kindle Store, and recent books are often free for a limited time. You can also get free books from the Gutenberg Project and save them in Kindle format, then drag and drop them onto your Kindle . If something isn't available in Kindle format, you can send it as an attachment to a special e-mail address, and it will deliver it automatically to your Kindle  .
  3. Recent books are a little cheaper in Kindle format than print.
  4. You can also surf the web (clumsy but it works), listen to mp3 recordings (music or podcasts), and play games.
  5. You can increase the font size. (That would have come in handy when I had my eye infection. Plus, I'm trying to avoid bifocals.)
  6. You can search for a certain word in a book.
  7. The built-in dictionary is amazing. Simply place your cursor in front of the word, and the definition pops up.
  8. You save a lot of trees.
Disadvantages of a Kindle

  1. Yeah, it's not a book. For the most part this isn't a problem, but you can't "thumb through" a Kindle, and in some ways it's harder to do research. (Although the search feature can make it easier in some ways.)
  2. You can't read it in the tub. (Well, I suppose you could, but you'd need to be careful not to drop it.)
  3. Photos are only black and white at this stage. (I don't think I'll be buying The Meaning of Icons for Kindle.
  4. It's harder to lend books to people. They are developing a feature where you can give a copy to someone for two weeks, while that book is absent from your Kindle . I guess that has the advantage of getting the book back after you lend it out, but it's still not the same. And it's especially a problem for a family. It's a lot easier to just keep a book on the shelf and everyone can read it when they want instead of wondering whose Kindle has the book now.

Still interested?  You can order a Kindle below:

I also recommend a cover, to protect your Kindle:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Early Summer is Mulberry Season

Eating mulberries is one of my favorite summer memories. My brother and I knew where all the mulberry trees were in our neighborhood, and every June we’d make the rounds, collecting the sweet, juicy fruits. I’m not sure what we did with the berries we collected. I do remember putting them on ice cream. Perhaps that’s because most of them ended up in our mouths instead of in the bowl.

I’ve passed on the love of mulberries to our children. While most people “diss” mulberry trees because they don’t like the purple stains from the berries, we actually planted a tree in our yard. Eating the first mulberry is the sign of summer in our house.

We still eat many of the berries straight off the tree, but we also manage to save some for future use. Mulberries freeze easily in little baggies and add a sweet taste and appealing color to fruit smoothies (simply mix nonfat yogurt and fruit in the blender to make a smoothie).

We also love the taste of freezer jam made with mulberries. Freezer jam is easy to make and preserves the freshly-picked flavor much better than canning. Just buy a box of pectin, lots of sugar, and follow the enclosed directions for raspberry freezer jam .

I love mulberries so much that I even wrote a couple of articles about them. You can see them here:

What about you? Do you love or disdain mulberries? What are your favorite mulberry memories? Feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Controlled Burns on Grassland and Prairie

This year I got to watch two controlled burns: one as a participant and one as an observer. The Plains Indians burned the prairie regularly. The black absorbed the sun, which made the grass grow faster, attracting bison.

Controlled burns (at least in Nebraska) are typically performed in grassy areas to reduce the thatch and/or get rid of unwanted weed trees. The soil and underlying seeds and roots aren’t affected. In fact, the ash covers over the seeds, making a better bed for the new growth.

The first burn I participated in was at an acreage west of town. The owners (friends of mine) wanted to rid their fields of the little Eastern red cedar trees (common weed trees in our area). The second burn happened at the University of Nebraska East Campus, where a one-acre plot has been left to its natural state, allowing a mini tall-grass prairie of native plants to spring up. (Quite a wonderful place in the middle of the city.) Every spring the range management class participates in the burn as part of their studies, and occasionally we come and watch the process. The photos are from this burn.

The tools for a controlled burn include a drip torch to start the fire, fire swatters and/or fire brooms, coupled with water hoses, to control the fire. When I helped, we used a hose attached to a large water tank. The tank was mounted to the back of a pick-up, which slowly encircled the field, as I followed behind and sprayed the perimeter with water. (I also got to take a short stint at operating the torch – fun for a pyromaniac.) The east campus burn was easier to control, because the tall grass differed from the vegetation that surrounded it, so students carried backpack water pumps to use if the fire got out of hand.

Controlled burns require a permit, and the local fire department must be notified. In our area, regulations state that all burns must be completed by May 1st. A burn should not be attempted on a windy day.

Fields burn quickly, and it’s amazing to watch, especially a tall-grass prairie, where the flames leap high and the air around becomes very hot. Little mammals scamper away in fright. On east campus, the professor directing the burn made sure to leave escape routes for the mammals.

After a burn, the field seems silent, almost eerie, with smoke rising from the blackened field. But soon enough the green grasses sprout up, and the field becomes healthier than it was before the burn.

Just two weeks after the burn:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Removing the Burled Arch from the Iditarod Finish Line in Nome, Alaska

It's a sad day for Iditarod fans when the Burled Arch in Nome, Alaska, comes down. It signals the end of a race for nearly another year. Through the wonders of the internet, we can watch this process. In spite of our sorrow, it's interesting watching the huge machines remove the snow and cart away the famous Burled Arch that marks the finish of "The Last Great Race on Earth."

This year, I captured a series of shots on the Nome Cam and asked my husband to record some sad music to go with it. I present a montage of Front Street in Nome Alaska starting the day after the Iditarod finish:

Poem: Those Darn Pink Shingles (Dedicated to the Nome Cam)

This year, through the wonders of the internet, Iditarod fans were able to access a camera on Front Street in Nome, Alaska, to watch the finishers of the race. Not only could we access it, but we could actually steer it. This caused much frustration at times, especially because if we steered it too far, all we saw were pink shingles on a building in Nome.

When a favorite musher was due to finish, the fans would gather in a chatroom to fellowship while we waited. But while we chatted and snacked, often we'd end up yelling at the computer because some incompetent camera operator (who sometimes was yours truly) would turn the camera to face "those darn pink shingles."

So in honor of those shingles, I wrote a poem:

Those Darn Pink Shingles

We’ve got the Nome cam, the gang’s all here,
With plenty of cookies, brownies and beer,
Tea and lemonade, pretzels and Pringles,
But all we can see are those darn pink shingles.

How can I see all the users in chat?
Just click the little man, can you see that?
I don’t have a man, does that mean I’m single?
Oh, no! Now the cam’s on those darn pink shingles.

Look under the arch, see the big mob.
Now gee the camera, that’s a good job.
A musher is coming, I’m starting to tingle.
Aargh! Move the cam off those darn pink shingles.

Look down the street. Is the dog team in sight?
I think I see them. All right! All right!
I can hear the dogs panting, can hear the tags jingle.
But now all I see are those darn pink shingles.

Who’s that leaning against the burled arch?
Is that Lance or Libby or Paul Gebhardt?
Look at the mushers and fans, how they mingle
But now all we see are those darn pink shingles.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Poem for Pat Moon

Pat Moon has encouraged many people with his story. After riding as an Iditarider in 2006, he decided he would like to race in the Iditarod someday. This goal proved more difficult for Pat, since he had ulcerative colitis, and then was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. Still he pressed on, and this year he stood on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage, this time as a musher. Unfortunately, he had to scratch after running into a tree in the infamous Dalzell Gorge.

I always feel a sense of loss when a musher has to scratch, but I was especially sad when I heard about Pat's scratch. So I wrote a poem in his honor:

The Dream
by Marcia Claesson
Dedicated to Pat Moon

A dream took flight on a chilly day
For a young man crouched in a sled
That he would return as a musher one day
With a lead dog at the head.

The dream soared high in the next few years,
But the challenges did too.
Still the man pushed on through his doubts and fears
Till he stood on Fourth Avenue.

The dream that he kept through sickness and pain
Ended far too soon
In a tree-lined gorge with a rough terrain
‘Neath the cold Alaska moon.

But the dream lives on in the young man’s heart
Even with a different tune.
Though he may not stand ‘neath the burled arch,
He’s one tough Chicago Moon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Student Poems for the 2010 Iditarod

I’m teaching a unit on the Iditarod for a small group of homeschooled kids (grades 4 through 8) in our city. One of the assignments was to write a free-verse poem about the Iditarod using at least three of the following poetic elements: simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition, unusual words together, and using the five senses. While not all the students included three elements, I thought they did an awesome job on their poems. Here they are:

Alaska’s Big Race
By Jeremiah

Alaska is cold
The mushers are starving
The dogs are barking and ready to go
The first one to Nome gets the titanic truck
They don’t care what the color is
They just want the cheers

The Starting Line
By Jessica

Trembling, I step into the light, the cheerful sun welcoming me.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
My boots tread on the awakening snow.
Time ticks with the beating of my anticipating heart.
I am caught in the chorus of chaos as the countdown begins.
Five . . . hearing the chirping of songwriters singing to the Creator . . .
Four . . . feeling the tingling thrill of mushing through mayhem . . .
Three . . . seeing the sun rise after riding in dreary darkness . . .
Two . . . the aromatic smell of pine trees, their branches waving me on as I rush past them . . .
One . . . the joy of crossing the finish line . . . Go!
I awaken from my dream as my dogs mush on to be swept into a veil of needles and snowflakes.
Will I win?
I cannot think about that now.
I only hope to soon see the welcoming sign to congratulate my long journey.

Snow Shadows
By Alexa

The trees brush their arms against the snow.
Images dance around, then disappear.
Murmurs sound wherever you go.
As stops come and go
You fall into the deep shadows of snow.
Snow sparkles wherever you go.
Don’t slow
Let’s go, go, go.

All About Lance
By Simon

Lance is in Takotna
There’s thirteen stops to go
Until he reaches the Safety
Of the finish line in Nome.
He’s not wearing 13 like the three years before now.
He’s wearing 49, a way off from three years ago.

Iditarod Race
By Nathan

I am an Iditarod racer.
I duck and dodge obstacles that don’t exist.
I yell to others who disappear into thin air.
The finish is coming, the finish is coming,
I know it, I know it, I know it.
Whoosh-my panting pals run faster.
I see the amazing aurora borealis.
I see a looming figure, it looks like safety.
I start again. My dogs see the finish line. They bark joyously.
I finish the Iditarod race.

The Iditarod Race
By Kaitlyn

The snow is cold.
Dogs run fast.
My hands burn and are as red as a raspberry.
I’m scared as I see this hill upon me.
I speak “Lord, be with me as I face this hill of burning cold snow.”
My dogs, my faithful friends.
I trust them when they speak to me with their eyes.
I whoosh as I go over this hill.
Crunch, crunch, crunch goes the sound of my dogs and sled as they run through the snow.
My darling dogs with their pulling paws.
Cheers, cheers, cheers, I hear them call from city to city.
I catch them all.
We cross the finish line.
Hurray ! Hurray! We did it!

Mushing in the Iditarod
By Emma

Mackey won last year,
The year and the year before.
There are lots racing,
Young and old,
Veterans and rookies,
Girls and boys.
All in hope of covering
The finish line together
With their beloved dogs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Iditarod Poem - The Dogs - A Parody on The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe

It's almost time for the Iditarod, and that means I suddenly get inspired to write epic poems about my obsession. Yesterday, after a friend wrote a parody of "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, I got inspired to do a parody of Poe's "The Bells." So I present my first full-length Iditarod poem of 2010:

The Dogs
See the start gate with the dogs,
Eager dogs,
With the fans decked out in parkas from their Lands End catalogs.
See the waiting sled dogs jump
And their wagging tails thump
On the icy Willow Lake.
You can tell they’re really pumped,
As their harnesses they shake.
How they tug, tug, tug,
While the musher gives a hug
To each friend and family member
With advice and dialogs.
Oh the dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs,
Dogs, dogs, dogs,
Oh, the barking and the yipping of the dogs.

See the happy, running dogs,
Racing dogs,
Bounding over ice and tundra,
Through the blizzards and the fogs,
And the cold Alaska night.
How they bark out their delight.
Oh, the lovely howling sound,
All in tune,
While the wind blows all around
To the moon,
And the rippling Northern Lights,
A breathtaking Arctic sight,
As they run, run, run,
You can tell they’re having fun,
While the musher poles and jogs.
Oh, the dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs,
Dogs, dogs, dogs,
Oh the running and the pulling of the dogs

See the fans who follow dogs,
Husky dogs,
While they doublecheck the tracker
And the many mushing blogs,
As they click, click, click,
Checking out their top ten picks,
And their eyelids start to droop
After chatting with the group.
There’s the Anchorage Daily News
And the awesome Mushing Loon,
Sled Dog Central and the Nome cam and Backstage Iditarod,
Iditarod Insider and of course Iditablog.
But the BSSD Forum is the best website of all.
Oh the dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs,
Dogs, dogs, dogs,
Oh the rooting and the cheering for the dogs.

See Nome city with the dogs,
Winning dogs,
As they start to run down Front Street while the musher gees and haws.
Ah, the cheering of the crowd
Makes the winning musher proud.
Hear them bark, bark, bark
Underneath the burled arch.
Panting tongues and icy noses.
They just ran across Alaska.
No one did it any faster.
So the happy musher poses,
As they wear the wreath of roses,
Giving love and fond affection to their dogs.
Oh, the dogs, dogs, dogs, dogs,
Dogs, dogs, dogs,
So amazing, so inspiring,
Oh the dogs.