Category Archives: holidays

‘Best’ bet of the season — Holiday show must go on at Triumvirate

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Gladys, played by Charli Byrd, performs her superhero rendition of the Angel of the Lord, disrupting the Christmas pageant that director Grace Bradley, played by AnnMarie Rudstrom, is attempting to stage.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Gladys, played by Charli Byrd, performs her superhero rendition of the Angel of the Lord, disrupting the Christmas pageant that director Grace Bradley, played by AnnMarie Rudstrom, is attempting to stage.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and said unto them —

“Shazam! Out of the black night, with horrible vengeance, the mighty Marvo!”

At least, that’s how it goes when Gladys Herdman plays the angel in the annual church Christmas pageant. She’s the youngest of the herd of six Herdman kids. Altogether, the brood is more unruly, ill-mannered and wild than anything that would eat out of a manger.

“They’re basically raising themselves, they run amok, they’re hoodlums, they smoke and they curse and they bully the other kids. They’re really terrible children,” said Kate Schwarzer, who’s directing “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Triumvirate Theatre this weekend.

In the show, the pageant is a staple church tradition of the Christmas season, but the usual director is out with a broken leg, leaving eager but inexperienced Grace Bradley, played by AnnMarie Rudstrom, to take the helm. Her enthusiasm, patience and optimism know no bounds, until the Herdman kids decide to participate and bully their way into the lead roles.

“So, Imogene has volunteered to be Mary — I’ll just write that down. Now, what other names can I put on my list? Janet? Roberta? Alice, don’t you want to volunteer?” Bradley says, as other kids are too intimidated by the Herdmans to speak up.

Gladys, the youngest Herdman, played by Charli Byrd, is convinced the Angel of the Lord is a superhero, and regularly sends rehearsals off track with her dramatic outbursts.

“I know a name! I’d call it, ‘Revenge and Bethlehem!’” she shouts.

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Hunting, Fishing and Other Grounds for Divorce: Calculations on giving more in getting less

By Jacki Michels, for the Redoubt reporter

When we were first married, I announced to my husband, “I have an idea!”

That idea led us to living in a very remote cabin in Southeast Alaska with four children under 5 and no running water (unless it rained and filled the cistern). Wahooo! It was hard and awful and truly the best of times.

A few years ago I made a similar announcement, “I have an idea!” We agreed on this “idea.” We sold our suburban mansion of 1,500 square feet and traded up for 325 square feet of log loveliness and an amazing upgrade on outdoor elbowroom. No, we’re not a boat ride away from civilization and we have running water so we don’t qualify for own reality show. (Darn. There goes my chance to be a millionaire.)

The other day I did some rough calculations. Once I subtracted the stove, cabinetry, beds and so on we had approximately 125 square feet of actual unoccupied space, divided by three persons and three fur creatures, that leaves about 20.83 feet per being, give or take boot driers, fishing/hunting/musical gear or other seasonal trappings.

In our spare time (Ha ha! Like we actually have spare time) we are building a slightly larger log cabin. The first cabin will be a weaning pen for our youngest and a storage facility for company. We have never built a log cabin before, but we once had company for a month. That’s THIRTY days!

And we are still married. (Applause.)

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Make it rein — Reindeer raise money for charity

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Comet and Crash the reindeer munch on hay while Santa gets a wish list from Kaydynce Bowman, 6. The reindeer belong to Jenna Hansen, of Nikiski, who raises money through photo opportunities to pay for their feed and to donate to charity.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Comet and Crash the reindeer munch on hay while Santa gets a wish list from Kaydynce Bowman, 6. The reindeer belong to Jenna Hansen, of Nikiski, who raises money through photo opportunities to pay for their feed and to donate to charity.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For kids visiting Santa, there’s some imagination required. There’s the big guy in the red suit, of course, usually some candy canes and maybe a decorated tree, faux fireplace or prop sleigh to add to the effect. But the bulk of Santa’s magical world — the North Pole, the elves, the mountains of toys — is up to the kids to conjure.

But on Saturday, kids coming to see Santa in Soldotna got a look at a real, live part of Santa’s entourage — his reindeer.

As Santa visited with kids on the seat of a sleigh, Comet and Crash the reindeer munched away at a bale of hay, obligingly providing an antlered backdrop to the photos parents were snapping.

“Will you leave me some cookies?” Santa asked 6-year-old Kaydynce Bowman. “You know what the reindeer like? They like carrots and apples. Can you leave some carrots and apples out for Santa, too, and the reindeer will be really happy, OK?”

After a “Merry Christmas, ho, ho, ho,” and a candy cane, Bowman crab-walked over to her dad, not wanting to take her eyes off Santa’s furry transportation system.

Though it wasn’t the Comet, of course. Nor is Crash a nickname for any of the other eight famous reindeer. Those guys are saving their strength for their big night come Christmas Eve, but they’ve got a couple of cousins in Nikiski willing to stand in their stead, even if they won’t actually be pulling Santa’s sled.

Comet and Crash belong to Jenna Hansen. She got her first, Crash, four years ago as a Junior Market Livestock project for 4-H. She raised a steer and a reindeer that year, but could only sell one animal at the fair auction.

“So she decided to sell the steer and keep the reindeer because he was so well trained and so good with people,” said Jenna’s mom, Hara Hansen.

Comet arrived the next year.

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Crafted for fun — Craft fair vendors, shoppers find holiday cheer

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mandy Pieh, left, and Shaya Straw attend the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair every year to shop for out-of-state family, and to catch up with each other.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Mandy Pieh, left, and Shaya Straw attend the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair every year to shop for out-of-state family, and to catch up with each other.

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

For being ostensibly about commerce, the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair, held Black Friday weekend, no less, inspired surprisingly little talk about spending money. Far higher on the list of priorities for vendors and visitors was spending time and attention on loved ones.

“We come shopping here together every year. It’s our tradition,” said Shaya Straw, who was perusing the booths Friday at Kenai Central High School, in the annual fair put on by the Peninsula Arts Guild, with her friend, Mandy Pieh.

“We both work full time, we both have kids and we don’t get much time together, so it’s nice to have time together,” Pieh said. “… Friendship is just something to really be valued.”

For Jessica Russo, craft fair season is reunion season.

“To me, this is holidays. I see people I don’t get to see but once or twice a year. And it’s just wonderful to see everybody and see new stuff. I haven’t really gotten a chance to walk around yet but I know there’s a lot of awesome stuff out there every year. It’s a good way to start the holiday season,” Russo said.

She and her mom run a booth as an extension of their gift shop, The Peddler, in Ninilchik. For Russo, selling is a way of buying time with her family.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “This gives me a great side income to be able to stay at home with my son. And it’s my Mom and I that partner in the business, so family owned and operated and it really feels good to be able to do what I love and be able to make a small living at it.”

The familial focus is familiar for Ashleigh Little, of Kenai Bijoux. She started selling jewelry, wine charms and jewelry board organizers about four years ago.

“My husband told me to get a hobby, so I got a hobby,” she laughed.

These days, she’s a stay-at-home mom to her 1-year-old son, and the business generates at least a little income for her. She’s born and raised in Kenai so loves that she gets to see so many familiar faces at the fairs.

“It is fun. It is a lot of work, though — hauling and organizing. A lot of preparation goes into it,” she said.

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Holiday tradition cracks the mold —  ‘Nutcracker’ charms in 28th year

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

From putting up decorations to making festive foods, there are numerous ways people celebrate the holiday season. On the Kenai Peninsula, taking in the Homer Nutcracker Ballet has become an annual tradition for many residents over the past 27 years.

“The production has been going on since 1987 when my mom, Jill Berryman, had the idea,” said Breezy Berryman, who, along with Jennifer Norton, will be the co-artistic directors for this year’s 28th annual performance, as they have the past five seasons.

Jill Berryman, along with Joy Stewart, Marianne Markelz and Ken Castner, built the show up over 22 years from a little production with a few sets and costumes into a giant yearly tradition.

Breezy remembers those times, too, since she was often in the production.
“I was in the very first one as Clara and every year until I graduated, and then I even came back many different times to dance and help my mom choreograph different roles,” she said.

Since taking over the production, Breezy and Norton have tried to bring their own twist, including, at times, the use of lasers and neon lights, but have often favored the original Russian storyline.

“When Breezy and I took over, we introduced E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale back into the show. The original ballet is based on that story, but focuses more on Clara, and a kind of dream sequence in which she sees wonderful dances from around the world. We decided to focus more on the Tale of the Hard Nut, which is how the Nutcracker actually becomes a Nutcracker. We got to introduce a lot of fun new characters that way,” Norton said.

This year, they decided to return to the more traditional ballet story, although still with some deviations to make it creatively their own.

This year’s production will also feature one of the largest casts so far.

“We had 103 kids audition and we have the biggest cast ever at 85. It is very challenging to get all those people coordinated, but perhaps more challenging to turn them down at auditions,” Norton said.

Many of the kids are younger this year, too, mostly 13- and 14-year-olds, but Breezy said they have practiced hard to meet the expectation of performing to the best of their abilities.

“This year the cast is pretty young because a lot of our high school students graduated. Some of the choreography is quite challenging, but I’m really pleased with how much they are working hard to step up to the challenges,” she said.

Norton said it helps to try and pair each teen with a role that best suits them, based on their talents and abilities.

“The most complex part of this production for me is trying to give all the kids a part that they will love. There are often several hard-working dancers competing for the same roles and we try to make sure that even if they don’t get the exact role they imagined, we are giving them something challenging and rewarding which best highlights their abilities,” Norton said. Continue reading

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Giving spirit at play — Toys for Tots gifts provide cheer for area children

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Danika (left) and Isaak Winslow help sort and count donations for Toys for Tots on Monday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Between fundraisers and donations, the program will provide 1,605 toys to Kenai Peninsula families in need this year.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Danika (left) and Isaak Winslow help sort and count donations for Toys for Tots on Monday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Between fundraisers and donations, the program will provide 1,605 toys to Kenai Peninsula families in need this year.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Ever wonder what a holiday elf feels like? Volunteering for Toys for Tots offers that experience.

“I’m a toy Sherpa,” said Cassandra Winslow, perennial hauler of donation boxes for the annual toy drive on the Kenai Peninsula, held Oct. 1 through Dec. 13 in Kenai, Soldotna and Homer.

Reindeer service is an important part of Toys for Tots, as the donations need to be collected from the 30-plus drop-off locations in area businesses and offices, as well as transporting the hundreds of additional toys bought Sunday at Fred Meyer with money collected in fundraisers this year.

By Monday evening all the toys had been hauled to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and stuffed in any secure area possible — much of them in director Johna Beech’s office.

“I think we have a lot to do,” said volunteer Dawni Marx, surveying the mountain of boxes and bags containing all manner of toys and games, leaving uncovered just Beech’s desk and a narrow path leading to it.

“It’s stuffed in here!” said Isaak Winslow, 7, who, along with sister Danika, 9, was a “Sherpa in training” with their mom.

“Yeah, it is,” Beech replied. “Count ’em as you drag ’em.”

Thus began the procession of toy-stuffed bags and boxes — some as big as the kids trying to lug, drag and slide them — from her office into the main gallery space down the hall, where everything was piled on one side of the room, then counted as it was moved to new piles on the other side.

From there all the items were loaded into a box truck and hauled yet again, this time to The Salvation Army, where distribution will take place. The most-important trip still awaits the toys, when they’re brought home with parents to be wrapped and stored under the tree to be given to their kids on Christmas.

“It’s so amazing to work (at the toy distribution), but it’s so sad to think we have that level of poverty in our community, too,” Beech said.

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Harvesting a happy tradition — Imperfect Christmas tree a perfect fit for family

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Bringing home the Christmas tree, dog sled style.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Bringing home the Christmas tree, dog sled style.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

The goodies, the gifts, the lights, the music — all are nice ways to experience the holiday season. But for me, selecting our family Christmas tree is a tradition I look forward to more than all others.

Notice I say “selecting” a tree, not putting one up. Blowing the inch-thick dust off the boxes of ornaments in the basement, hauling everything upstairs, straightening then anchoring the tree in the stand and decorating the whole assemblage is actually rather mundane to me. Getting the tree — now there’s the good stuff.

Selecting a tree means different things to different people. For some, the decision of a tree was made years ago while looking at a stock model in a store. I have a brother-in-law who long ago went the artificial tree route. To his defense, he always has his tree up the day after Thanksgiving, it always looks great and he never has to worry about vacuuming dropping needles as Christmas draws near. But to me, that’s just not natural.

In town, I see no shortage of people pushing a bright-orange cart out of Home Depot with a tightly tethered tree protruding like a lance several feet in front of them. Purchased trees are less work than harvesting your own and have more character than the mass-produced artificials. And they smell real, but it’s a purchased reality, rather than an experienced one.

More to my liking is taking advantage of the seasonal opportunity allowed by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to load up every family member, drive to a remote area, swaddle everyone in thick layers, plod through the woods seeking a suitable spruce, chop one down and lug it back to the vehicle for the trip home.

My wife and I are both nature lovers who have weighed the odds of which is more harmful to the environment — synthetically produced or naturally harvested trees. From the research we’ve done we believe harvesting is the better choice in the long run, and as dog mushers, my wife and I go an additional extra mile to find each year’s selection.

Running a team of dogs through miles of forest all around the peninsula affords us the opportunity to eyeball many prospective trees months in advance of harvesting one. My wife and I have to take many passes by prospective trees since we’re going by them so fast, and back home we weigh the pros and cons of each potential.

You might think, then, that we select the tallest or fullest-bodied specimens. Quite the contrary. We realize we’re going to kill a tree, but we don’t want the added guilt of seeking out the choicest, healthiest tree. Instead, we select one that is closely competing with another tree that will likely, over time, die off anyway.

By cutting one out before that happens, not only will the other tree better thrive from the open space and sunlight now available to it, but we benefit from taking the competitor home for the holiday season. It’s a win win for everyone but the cut tree, though we console ourselves that it wasn’t long for this world anyway.

This tree might not fit a Norman Rockwell scene, but it’s a highlight of Christmas all the same.

This tree might not fit a Norman Rockwell scene, but it’s a highlight of Christmas all the same.

A side effect of this approach is that our tree is the most aesthetically pleasing. It tends toward the Charlie Brown, rather than Norman Rockwell, aesthetic. We’ve gotten used to our tree having one side that’s a little stunted, with shorter branches and thinner needles than the rest of the covering. No matter. This side just gets turned to face the wall.

Harvesting by dog team, while fun, is also no easy feat. Once the perfectly imperfect tree is selected, I have to get the dogs to stop close enough to it. As anyone who’s been around a sled dog can vouch, they’re good at going forward — but standing still, not so much.

If I can stop them within spitting distance of the tree, they have to stay that way long enough for me to step away, cut the tree and secure it in the sled. (And by “secure” I mean foisting it off on my wife who is riding in the basket of the sled, who wraps her arms around the tree and hugs it the whole way home to prevent the branches from being bent or broken on the return trip.)

It’s like Christmas algebra for me — there are many variables at play, but when all come together the resulting equation perfectly sums up the holiday season for me. Concerted effort and conscientiousness make for a celebrated tradition. Looking back at photos of past Christmases, I remember the character of each tree and what we went through to get it as much as anything that went under it.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Redoubt Reporter.

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