Julia O'Malley

I passed the house that would be ours a thousand times without noticing it, hidden in feral-looking trees on a Downtown avenue. It came up for sale and we decided to have a look inside. It had been occupied by the same couple since 1967 and was being sold by their estate. It was a house-shaped time capsule. It had sculpted-shag carpets, rose-colored toilets, mirrored walls, and bulbous amber glass light fixtures that seemed, even in 1967, best suited for a bordello. The house did not have a good vibe. It had been abused and neglected. One of the bathrooms was half-gone and the walls were striped with smoke stains. The dust made me cough. The back doors looked like someone had tried to break them down. There was a lock on the inside of one of the bedroom doors. In the backyard was a...Julia O'Malley
On vacation in Hawaii in November, Sam Simeon presented his girlfriend, Julie Douthit, with a ring. They told family members who were on vacation with them that they were going to get married as soon as they got back home to Glennallen. After that, the plan was for Julie to travel to San Diego where Sam is stationed with the Navy. Sam, 20, and Julie, 19, are Glennallen High School sweethearts, king and queen of their senior prom in 2012. Julie knew the ring was coming, she told me last week. They didn't have the means for a fancy wedding or for both of them to have wedding bands. Instead, there was just the engagement ring. She picked it out. It was made of gold with two heart-shaped birth stones, one emerald and one topaz. Their names were engraved inside along with the phrase, "Our love...Julia O'Malley
It is my theory that the trailers and dog-eared bungalows of old Spenard tend to breed a higher concentration of intense people, passionate people, specialists with special skills. Tattoo portrait artists. Vintage motorcycle mechanics. Breeders of Chihuahuas. Kombucha brewers. Dianna Smith is just like that. Smith, who is 56 and mostly blind, has been, for the last five years, Anchorage's patron saint of geckos abandoned during evictions, turtles let go in city lakes and 15-foot albino Burmese pythons given away on Craigslist. She, her son, Clint, who is completely blind, and her daughter-in-law, Tammy, have built Smith's reptile-centered dream, the Alaska Cricket Ranch, in a crumbling house on West 32nd Avenue. Aside from pet rescue, which she recently stopped doing, she teases out a...Julia O'Malley
Last summer, workers demolishing an old Alaska Railroad warehouse near Ship Creek found something unusual inside a wall. It was an old-fashioned photo album: Black leather-bound cover with pages made of delicate black paper. "Marie and Irvan Christian" was embossed on the front cover. Inside were pictures of a couple who had married in 1906. The album was made after a party was held for their 50th wedding anniversary. There were pictures of family members seated at well-dressed tables. Ladies in gloves and hats. Interiors with wood-paneled walls, linoleum floors and lace curtains. A napkin printed with their names was pressed between the pages. Newspapers from Florida and Ohio printed announcements about the party, with detailed lists of who attended. No one knew what to do with the album...Julia O'Malley
The afternoon I stood with Jeff Fowler in his yard on Government Hill this week, it was so cold, I felt like the moisture on my eyeballs was turning slushy between blinks. We stood under a crabapple tree hung with frosted plastic ornaments and lights that flashed along with to a tinny version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." In my immediate view: a pair of glowing Christmas giraffes, an illuminated holiday dolphin, a festive miniature blimp with two penguins in the cockpit, and a glowing baby Jesus in a manger. To be honest, there was much more in my immediate view, but I couldn't fit another description in that last sentence. The Fowler Christmas yard is a thing to behold. You might say it is beyond words. I started to count the glowing characters there but quit after I got to 65. You...Julia O'Malley
Cellphones have been buzzing with worrisome news the last few days among Anchorage's estimated 700 to 1000 Nuer-speaking South Sudanese refugees. Conflict has taken hold again in their country, which has only recently been at peace after decades of brutal civil war that spread refugees across the world. At least 500 people have been killed in fighting in and around the capital city of Juba since a the weekend, according to news reports. Friends and family in Sudan have been calling relations in Anchorage from inside darkened houses and hotels. They say they cannot go out. Some have had no food for days. They fear for their lives. "I talked to him four hours ago," Thuok Bol, an airport shuttle driver told me on Wednesday afternoon about a friend in Juba. "He say he don't even know tomorrow...Julia O'Malley
Oh the sugar cookie! Pillowy and soft. With frosting that tastes like eggnog? Oh, yes. If you need to have one right now, Maya Evoy of Alaska From Scratch has got you covered . Since we're going to holiday sugar world, you might also be interested in making these peppermint marshmallows . Alaska food blogs are heavy with cookies right now. Megan Ancheta of Allergy Free Alaska is making big soft Paleo ginger molasses cookies . Nicole Pearce of Arctic Garden Studio is serving up double chocolate peppermint cookies . Megan Lierman and her kids are decorating gluten-free gingerbread cookies . And, there are other holiday treats, too. Kim Sunée made apple Calvados (apple brandy) gelees . Shannon Kuhn, writing for the Daily News, was mixing up pumpkin pie (espresso? chili powder? tofu?)...Julia O'Malley
A reader named Holli Hoskins wrote this week from Lyons, Colo. You might remember Lyons from the news. It was devastated by a flash flood in September. All the infrastructure -- sewer lines, gas lines, roads -- were decimated. Many residents were made homeless. They are still trying to rebuild, she wrote, but it is a slow, discouraging process. Recently, she had one of her lowest days. Then she got an email from Alaska. Hoskins taught in rural Alaska schools before moving back to Colorado. The email was from was her friend, Kerry Burkhardt, who is now the teacher and principal at the Cold Bay School. Last year, Hoskins' class and Burkhardt's class exchanged letters. Hoskins sent treats and holiday decorations she knew would be hard to get in the village. Cold Bay is on the Alaska...Julia O'Malley
Greetings, Black Friday readers; I have great news: Those of you who have been listening to the holiday station in your cars for the past week can now do so without shame. The season is upon us. With the help of Facebook and Twitter, I've done some holiday food scouting on your behalf and pulled together a list of 18 (or so) treats to eat and drink this season in Anchorage. Enjoy! 1. An eggnog milk shake. Lucky Wishbone. $3.95 for a small. Go now. Don't skimp on the whipped cream. 2. Satsuma mandarins. Citrus season is in full swing. Look for Meyer lemons, grapefruits and mandarins. Satsuma mandarins, sweet and often seedless, fit nicely in a stocking. Lindsay "Kainoa" McGuire, produce manager at the New Sagaya Midtown Market, swears by the BlueJay brand, which he says are left on the...Julia O'Malley
The square of Lynn Cragholm's front window fills with light long before sunrise on Turquoise Street in the Dimond Estates Mobile Home Park. When you are old, she told me recently, you don't need so much sleep. Mrs. Cragholm rises at 4 a.m. The trip that led me to her double-wide began with a letter. It arrived two weeks ago at my office, written in careful penmanship on five numbered pages. It had a graceful, formal tone that can only exist in old-fashioned letters, the kind written with pen on paper. She wrote to express a civic concern: Why aren't there seat belts for children on school buses? And, she wanted to know, why was the bus at the mobile park so crowded? As the letter went on, her autobiography began to slip out between the lines. She is nearly blind, she wrote. She lives...Julia O'Malley