Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Kremlin is almost empty...

The UAF Palmer Research and Extension Center (aka the Kremlin building) on Fireweed Ave.

The future of the Kremlin building on Fireweed Street in Palmer is "uncertain," according to Jud Scott, the farm superintendent at the University of Alaska-Fairbank's Palmer Center for Sustainable Living (aka the Matanuska Experiment Farm on Trunk Road).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month it was terminating the Fairbanks-based Agricultural Research Service due to budget cuts. Scientists who’ve spent the last decade with the Subarctic Agricultural Research Unit doing plant and fish byproduct research are vacating premises they’ve rented from UAF.  Scott said ARS has rented space both in the Kremlin Building and at the farm.
According to Sandy Miller-Hayes, the public information officer for ARS in Washington D.C., Fairbanks was designated an official research station in 2001 and currently hosts 10 employees there and in Palmer.  Many have already relocated to other jobs within the ARS system, which includes 100 locations around the U.S. Although local scientist, Dan Barney, referred questions to Miller-Hayes, the Alaska ARS team's research objectives included utilizing fish byproducts in a variety of ways, from composting to pet food and working on crop management for northern latitudes. (Click here for more.)
Scott said the USDA’s plans to vacate the Kremlin coincides with an influx of money for long overdue building maintenance. One goal is to renovate office space and move farm employees out of the Kremlin and to the farm to centralize operations and tighten the budget.
“This is the first substantial kind of funding we've gotten for any kind of maintenance at the farm for years,” Scott said.
He couldn’t say what the plans were for an empty, 1949-era Kremlin building, other than that its destiny is in the hands of the University of Alaska Land Management Office. That office is closed until Jan. 4.
“The dean is working with groups already to try and get somebody else to utilize that space,” Scott said. “As far as I know, they haven't decided who to work with.”

--Melodie Wright

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Get off your lazy axis!

A poem by Scott Feschuk

Dear Earth,
We’re still sweet on you and everything, and you totally remain one of our favourite spheres—but over the last couple months, something has changed between us. You’re different. You’ve grown colder, less hospitable. You’ve gotten… darker.
In the hopes that you’re willing to change, we wrote this poem for you.
Love, Everyone

Like, WTF, Earth?
In the annals of what prompts despair
Ranked just above losing one’s hair
(But below wedding a Kardashian)
Is the sun going down at 4 p.m.

The roads with headlights are festooned
Though the clock says it’s still afternoon.
Our skin so pale, our moods defective
Disorders seasonally affective.

The early dusk makes tempers short
Our smiles the dark will surely thwart.
Reduced we are to glares and glowers
When our star is keeping banker’s hours.

And in our homes as many yawns
As shirtless scenes in Breaking Dawn.
PJs, slippers, vim diminished
And Jeopardy’s not even finished.

Up north the dark’s a constant pest
The sun no more than fleeting guest.
It peeks out briefly just to tease
Like a thong above a woman’s jeans.

December’s global truth behold!
Some must be hot, some others cold.
A tilt of 23 degrees
Makes Earth one big McDLT.

(Was that last reference too obscure?
I know that’s not the meal du jour.
But I thought it surely would be glib
To compare our Earth to a McRib.)

Each year it takes us by surprise
The early gloaming, late sunrise
The street lights coming on at four
And your grumpy eight-year-old just swore.

Come summer we’ll stand in ovation
To praise the ways of your rotation.
But a curse, a hex, a thousand pox
Upon autumnal equinox.

And winter solstice, even worse
The hour of dusk just plain perverse.
It’s a cruel and truly heartless ruse
To make a day short as Tom Cruise.

Across our cranky hemisphere
There comes a unifying cheer:
Hey Earth—get off your lazy axis!
Autumn’s no time to relaxis.

We hear you’re suffering climate change
Hot flashes have you feeling strange.
And word is that we are the cause
Of your planetary menopause.

Perhaps a deal we can beget
(Though technically it’s more a threat):
Spare us from the winter bummers
Or we’re all buying H2 Hummers.

It’s not as though we’re asking much
Just angle your fat arse a touch
So your top half leans toward the sun
And the next four months don’t make us glum.

For some there’ll be a cost, we’ll vouch
The briefer daylight hours will ouch
Much like a kick in the genitalia
Thanks for your sacrifice, Australia

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hospice has an important role in our community

Photo by Rindi White
Eva Colberg and Helen Munoz volunteered at the
hospice tree at Palmer's Koslosky Building.
When Valley Hospice asked me to do some writing for them, I used the opportunity to take a closer look at this long-standing Valley organization and came away impressed with their commitment to caring for a sector of the community that is sometimes overlooked. - Rindi White

The holiday season is upon us, bursting as ever with good cheer, long to-do lists and generous deeds from friends or strangers that remind us this is truly the season of giving.

It’s also the season of thankfulness – for time shared with family, for a chance to reflect on the events of the last year and the milestones achieved. For many Mat-Su families it’s a time to remember loved ones who have passed on and won’t be celebrating this holiday season. And for some families it’s a time to be thankful for every moment spent with a relative nearing the end of his or her life.

Valley Hospice Resources helps dozens of families each year as they care for loved ones living out their last days. The group is a Mat-Su based nonprofit that got its start nearly 30 years ago when three local nurses saw a need for the kind of care hospice provides.

“Some people are afraid of the word ‘hospice’,” said Valley Hospice chair Pat Karella. “We strive to make every day you have as good as possible; to live until you actually die.”

Being told you have a terminal illness is a chance to reprioritize your life, she said.

Valley Hospice Resources partners with Mat-Su Regional Home Health and Hospice, a program run by Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. The program is certified to accept Medicare and offers nursing and respite care for hospice patients and their families.

Making life more enjoyable
Valley Hospice Resources supplements Mat-Su’s care with programs aimed at enriching the hospice experience. One such program provides palliative art for patients. Artist-in-residence Sandra Falkner Chandler visits patients and their families and designs art projects to meet their needs.

“It’s strictly for the patient, to create empowerment,” Chandler said. “They can talk about something that is not their illness.”

Chandler also helps patients make hand-painted Christmas cards to give family members and friends. Many patients also make cards for Valley Hospice to sell to fund future hospice programs. Chandler said the cards are available at Carrs stores and at the Wasilla and Palmer Light Up a Life hospice trees.

Telling the story of hospice
The hospice trees, available at the Koslosky Building in downtown Palmer and at Meta Rose Square in Wasilla through Dec. 24, are the primary fundraiser for Valley Hospice.

But it’s more than just a fundraiser. People can stop by and purchase an angel or star to place on the tree with the name of a loved one who has passed away. At 2 p.m. January 8, Valley Hospice will hold a Gathering of Remembrance ceremony at the Palmer Depot where the names on the hospice trees will be read aloud.

The group also holds a yearly community event aimed at helping people better understand end-of-life issues and it coordinates the Mat-Su Grief Support Group, which meets Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Trinity Barn. It’s a place where people who have experienced the death of a loved one can go to share their experience and receive support.

Sandra Wagenius facilitates the grief group and is a hospice chaplain, serving the needs of both hospice patients and their families.

 “The most important thing is just to be there and listen,” she said.

Wagenius knows the benefits of hospice from both sides. Before she became a hospice chaplain, she and her husband cared for their daughter, Kibby, as she battled multiple sclerosis. Kibby passed away seven years ago. The family relied on hospice care during the final year of Kibby’s life. Wagenius said it was vital for her family during that trying time.

“I can’t do anything but praise hospice. It went like clockwork from the very first day,” she said. “They think of the littlest things.”

Looking to the future
Valley Hospice has deep roots in Mat-Su and is striving for big goals in the near future. Top on the list is a hospice house – a place for Valley residents for whom receiving hospice care at home might not be possible or preferable.

A February 2011 McDowell Group study of senior showed there is currently a need for 11 hospice beds in the Valley. That number is expected to triple in the next 20 years.

While many hospice patients are served in the comfort of their own homes, not everyone who needs care is eligible to receive it. Patients must have a 24-hour caregiver to qualify for hospice care.

Karella said staying home is sometimes not the best option for patients. Perhaps an elderly couple has been caring for each other and suddenly one is too sick to care for the other. Both could temporarily move to the hospice house, she said. And unfortunately, hospice patients are sometimes young, with small children. Staying home might be more disruptive than comforting.

A hospice house would address these and other needs, she said. However, there are hurdles to reaching that goal.

“It’s not just the cost of building a house – that’s the easy part. But we need the community to step up and provide an endowment large enough to allow us to care for people effectively,” she said.

That’s where you come in. Valley Hospice Resources is a non-profit organization so all donations are tax-deductable. They’re also affiliated with Alaska’s Pick-Click-Give website, so it’s possible to give a portion of your Alaska Permanent Fund dividend next year.

Need to add a few more tax deductions this year? Donate with a credit card through the Network for Good. Find a link under “make a donation” at Valley Hospice’s website, Or send a check or money order to Valley Hospice Resources at 1150 S. Colony Way, Suite 3, PMB 349, Palmer, AK 99645.

Need more information? Email them at

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tough budget passes

Ladies and gentlemen, Palmer has a 2012 budget -- $14,357,622.

But that number comes with a cost, which includes two layoffs and several vacant city positions going unfilled in the coming year. 
Basically, Mayor DeLena Johnson and city manager Doug Griffin told the Post today, the city juggled a couple of complications while still recovering from several years of pricey capital projects and little money in reserve. The city’s general fund is actually down from last year by more than 5 percent, the mayor said. 
The city council emerged just before midnight Tuesday after passing a budget made tricky by at least two factors. 
Number one, a state retirement fund policy could require the city to pay retirement costs even for eliminated employees, Johnson said. That left the city very mindful of eliminating employees and adding positions. 
“We were very careful to not add any kind of permanent additional positions and we didn’t increase our personnel as much,” she said. “We didn’t give step increases.”
Number two, the insurance carrier that covers city employees waited until just a few weeks before the budget was drafted to drop a bomb: health insurance costs are going up by 16 percent next year, according to city manager Doug Griffin. He’d figured on what he thought was a conservative 10 percent increase. The city’s employees are insured through the Alaska Public Utilities Insurance Trust, a fairly small pool of some municipalities and utility companies. Nobody is saying what steps the city will take to remedy the increase -- switch carriers, increase premiums?
But in the meantime, the surprise cost forced the council to take that extra 6 percent out of the rest of the budget. 
The city cut two positions - a grants coordinator and a quality assurance inspector - both related to a run of capital projects in the last few years, officials said. The city also didn’t fill one electrician/maintenance position and left an administrative assistant position at the Palmer Library at 15 hours per week rather than boosting it to full time. The last amendment of the night - there were more than 30 - cut all out-of-state travel, Johnson said. 
One bright spot, according to the mayor, is the fact that the council managed to build a more than two-month reserve into the general fund, despite this tough budget cycle. “We’re being careful and we’re coming back,” Johnson said. “It’ll allow us next year to be able to start to decide what to spend money on instead of looking at it and deciding what we have to cut out.”

-- Zaz Hollander

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feed store pulls up roots

Photo courtesy Mike Presley.
Budget Feed's new spot on Outer Springer.
Budget Feed and Farm, the 37-year-old Palmer feed store, has moved from the old red shop on S. Colony Way in Palmer to a new spot on Springer Loop. The new address is 301 E. Outer Springer Loop, Suite B4.

Owner Mike Presley said he was chased out of the old building by a crummy economy and business costs that made it tough for him to continue milling pet and livestock feed at the store. Without the need for so much space, he said, it just didn’t make monetary sense to keep leasing the old shop.

Rest assured the feed he sells is still being made with all-natural and locally sourced ingredients, like Delta Barley and Alaska Wild Salmon meal. Same ingredients, same formula, Presley said. It’s just being milled at a different location.

Budget Feed opened at the new location Oct. 11, Presley said. And while the shop meets his needs for now, he said he's looking for a long-term spot. But he’s also trying to pin down future plans.

“Business has changed,” Presley said by phone.

Retail sales are down, he said, and the part of his business that is growing best is wholesale feed sales. His Alaska Grown Dog Food, made with salmon meal, potatoes and kelp, is sold at Alaska Mill and Feed at several stores between Anchorage and Fairbanks, including grocery stores and even a health food store in Eagle River (Ri-Generation Nutrition). It might make sense just to focus on the wholesale end of things, he said. But Presley said he’s still looking at the possibilities for his business.

Bob Thom, who previously owned Budget Feed and Farm, still owns the building on S. Colony Way. There are “For Lease” signs on the building but Thom wasn’t immediately available Wednesday afternoon to talk about its future.

For now Duane Clark, who has sold Christmas trees there for several years, is using the space. Presley said he and Clark discussed selling the trees at his new location but the new space just isn’t as good a fit as the roomy old shop.

Clark and his family sells trees at the S. Colony Way spot from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and will be open from 2-5 p.m. for the next two Sundays. He’ll be there through Christmas Eve unless he sells out before then.

Check out Budget Feed and Farm online at their website,

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Madrigal Christmas

Stan Harris directs the PHS choir during the Madrigal Feast
Last night, I attended the dress rehearsal of the Palmer High School music department's Madrigal Feast, held annually as a fundraiser at the Protestant Presbyterian Church.

And, except for a few minor senior moments (hey, it's a dress rehearsal. Actors are allowed to miss a few lines) and a doomed skit involving Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Beowulf, the students pulled it off beautifully.

This year's theme was "The Sorry Tellers" and the play itself revolved around a group of traveling story tellers from the Land of Sorry who enter a contest held by the king and his court. The silly word play - think puns, bad jokes and toss-offs such as "I like poop!" - is mixed liberally into skits involving grass houses, a Mad Libs-style holiday yarn, three pears who live in porridge and, oh yeah, Darth Vader and his eclectic group of buds.

The glue between the skits are Christmas songs ranging from the precisely beautiful Carol of the Bells to the sentimental Christmas Shoes. Veteran teacher Stan Harris directed the large group of voices to a gloss so shiny I had to remind myself these were high school kids and not a professional group.

Pairing the serious with goofily hilarious makes for an emotional roller coaster ride. But the high schoolers kept us all on board. If the old superstition that mistakes during dress rehearsal mean a perfect performance opening night, those of you with tickets (it's generally sold out) to the dinner theater are in for a treat. Unlike the dress rehearsal folks who sat in pews that made for difficult photo taking, dinner guests are treated to round tables with wide views of the stage area.

For the rest of you, mark your calendar for next year to get tickets. You get a good meal, fun entertainment and support a worthy cause by contributing to music scholarships at PHS.
The singing king and his court