Quinn’s Extraordinary Travel Ramblings:
November 14th- December 4th:

Our time at home was most satisfying. We enthusiastically entered the Christmas spirit by decking the halls of our happy abode. One of our newest holiday traditions is setting up the Department 56 Christmas Village which we recently inherited from our grandma Kay. Grandma Kay had been collecting village pieces for several decades. When we were really young my sisters and I would relish the excitement of Christmas Eve at our grandparents house and watch the lights of their Christmas village twinkle in the darkness. Eventually grandma Kay grew tired of the lengthy process of setting up, taking down and storing the ever expanding village. And despite the dismayed protests of family members, as a new year dawned she packed it up for the last time and sent parts of it home with her children’s families, telling us that she was spreading the joy and it was time for us to carry on the tradition in our own homes.

Grandma Kay did keep one piece that I suspect was probably her absolute favorite. The carrousel. A nostalgic mood can be powerfully evoked with a simple item of beauty such as the village carrousel. Growing up in southern California, Grandma Kay spent her summers on the coast at Santa Cruz with my great, great grandmother. This small seaport town held wonderful attractions for the young at heart. The long sand beach and salty ocean breakers are among the obvious. But an added bonus was the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Grandma remembers frequenting it during the summers of 1939 till around 1955.

The Fun House, one of her frequent stops on the boardwalk, allowed her admittance for just twenty-five cents. She could check out her wind swept hair bob in the crazy mirrors as she headed for a trek through the spinning barrels and then on to the wave boards. A climb to the top of the giant slide was a must; as from there she could survey the rest of her Fun House options. After a spell it was an exceptional day if she had an adult companion who would treat her to a mexicone. This was a soft shell tortilla which was fried till just a bit crispy then folded neatly into a cone shape and of course filled like a taco. I intend to try my hand at concocting one of these south of the border wonders.

Now best of all was the Looff Carrousel which appeared at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in 1911. This ride boasted seventy-three hand carved and exquisitely painted horses created by American artisan Mr. Charles I.D. Looff. The carrousel conductor would collect grandma Kay’s ten cents as she sauntered by, intent on claiming her prize stallion for the day. The music commenced and the carrousel slowly began to pick up its whirling speed. Leaning forward in anticipation, her hand would shoot out and snatch up one of the shining brass rings as she whizzed by. Then she would toss the ring toward the laughing clown’s mouth in hopes of hitting her target dead on.

The Alaska String Band has not toured on the west coast, except of course in Alaska and Canada, but we hope to some day soon. And if we do I surely hope to pay a visit to my grandma’s sea side haunt of Santa Cruz and take a spin on the Looff Carrousel. I’ll snatch a brass ring and hit the bull’s eye as I pass by. I’ll probably even bury Laura and Abby up to their necks in the sand. Then I‘ll dance the drunken sailor two step around them – chanting in my sing song voice… “It’s the pirates life for me!“, and slowly devour a triple scoop Rocky Road chocolate ice cream cone in front of them.

I seem to have digressed. Now back to the frozen north! We were decking the halls. So we began the ritual of baking holiday gingerbread cookies. These cookies are simply for decoration, and definitely not for consumption as they come out of the oven as hard as rocks. Our dog Cedar as been caught nibbling at them a time or two. I shape them roughly ten to twelve inches across, cutting around cardboard templates of various wild animals and some not so wild. Owls, ravens, roosters, parrots, cows, sheep, horses, goats, trolls, and Olivia the pig are a few of the chosen subjects. It becomes a work of art as Laura and Abby “sketch” each animal’s individual features in with piped white icing.

We spent a day or so of hunting in vain for our favorite garlands of fresh pine boughs, which were quickly snatched up when they first arrived in stores (one bummer of living in a small town in Alaska, where it’s the early bird that gets the worm.) We finally checked out the faux pine decorations at JoAnne’s Fabrics store. My mom abhors silk floral arrangements so she was not a happy camper. She and Laura finally settled on some garlands of red winter berries and brought them home. After they were suspended from the post and beam ceiling in our kitchen and strung with white frosted globe lights and the amazing gingerbread creatures we all stood back and agreed that it was just dandy. Departing from decorating tradition hadn’t ruined Christmas after all.

Of course my dad led us out on a tree cutting expedition. Southeast Alaska offers more trees than you can fathom. So selecting a tree is a simple and celebrated event. We drug it home and let it stand to dry overnight. Old world blown glass ornaments, and hand crocheted snowflakes, cranberry beads, popcorn strings and candles were hung on the tree in rapid succession. We’ve never actually lit the candles, but my mom says that some year she want’s to cut the tree on Christmas eve and light the candles while the tree is still fresh and it is reasonably safe to do so. I suppose I will have to stand by with a bucket of water.

The weekend that we returned to Juneau the Northern Lights Junior Theatre was performing their fall play “Cinderella.” Abby and I set out with our youth group from church to see the musical. In route we stopped at Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor. The play was taken from the original production written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This production consisted of actors from three years old to fifty at least. Much of the cast were friends of ours and who are educated at home and enjoy the arts as much as we do.

One evening in late November we were scheduled to provide entertainment at the Island Pub located on Douglas Island. We set up our sound system early in the day and checked to make sure that it was all working. When I say we, I actually mean Dad. Abby and I sat at a table and ordered pizza and salad. That evening there was a full house and it was as noisy as ever. I flipped on the sound system only to discover that some of the microphones would not pick up a signal. Dad and I tried our best to get them running to no avail. Down to one, single, hot microphone which we huddled around, the evening music got underway. There was much weaving in and out and bumping into one another as the evening wore on, but we managed. And everyone apparently had a great night at the Island Pub.

Abby turned 13 on November 17th which was a great excitement for her. We didn’t have a party on her birthday. Instead we were planning a double birthday party for her and I in December. My birthday wasn’t till January 15th so the party was right in the middle of them. We were planning on giving a Victorian dinner party followed by going to the formal Winter Ball of the season.

Abby invited a gaggle of girls to sleep over the night before the dinner party. They played games, ate food, tried each others dresses on for the dance and tried to see how many people they could get to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano at the same time (I believe they managed five.) Everybody piled into the truck and headed up the mountain to Eaglecrest our local ski area to go sledding. It was very dark out and henceforth things were made a little hairy scary. Later on I was kicked out of the house for the rest of the night so as to give the girls some privacy. I headed over to some good friends who lived down the road a bit.

Party day dawned cold and snowy. The roads were dicey with ice and snow on them. Our driveway which is long, steep and curvy was quite slick. So we sanded the worst of it. The dress code for the dinner party and dance was formal. It was great fun seeing all the gents and ladies decked out for the occasion. Only one boy tried to slip through the entrance in jeans. But I caught him and sent him to comply.

Mom and Dad put on an amazing feast including roast pork with apple glaze, dilled carrots, spring greens, garlic mashed potatoes and dinner roles. There was an amazing spread of fancy cookies and candies which Laura, Abby and I had baked over the course of several weeks.

Juneau’s winter ball was held down town at Centennial Hall. The Thunder Mountain Big Band provided live music for the evening. Most of our party of forty were semi experienced dancers and had spent time learning ball room dances as well as swing. A Conga Line was formed and everyone quickly fell in. Even our previous dance instructors who happened to be on the dance floor that night joined in with the fun. As we made a second pass through the hall an “older gentleman” approached and told us to stay out of the way. So sadly, we quickly dispersed.

The evening drew to a close. A group photo was in order of course. We asked one of the adults to take the picture which was a bad idea, because none of them could figure out how to operate the camera.

That night the guys came home with me. On the way up our driveway the truck lost traction and went screaming down the hill backwards. Us being less than perfect teenagers, took a consensus and decided to try it again. I backed the truck down Nine Mile Creek Road a good long ways, and with plenty of room for acceleration, I put the pedal to the metal. We took the first curve with ease, barreled up the steep incline and rounded the second corner. As all the boys bellowed an indistinct war chant about monkeys the rocket truck preceded to slide crazily down backwards again. This time though we were stopped quite abruptly by a large tree. Abandoning the vehicle we ascertained it might be a good idea to walk up…

Sunday after church in the daylight my dad and I inspected the rear end of the truck. I have decided to skip writing about that to save you from the grisly visual it would entail.