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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."...

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...

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 ...

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...

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...

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...

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage teacher Mary Beth Hammerstrom's answer to my first question about her recent appearance on "Jeopardy!" was supremely unsatisfying.

Me: "What does Alex Trebek look like up close?"

Her: "He looks exactly like he looks on television."

Hammerstrom, who teaches economics, criminology and Alaska studies at Dimond High School, appeared last week before a television audience of just over 9 million people as a contestant in the quarterfinals of the "Jeopardy!" Teacher's Tournament. She advanced to the semifinals, and will appear again on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. on KYUR Channel 13...

Julia O'Malley

A picture I saw in an Anchorage courtroom has haunted me the past couple of weeks. It is of a woman, naked from the waist down, sitting in the middle of Commercial Drive. Her face and clothes are covered with blood. It was taken in late April 2010, just after 1 a.m. The woman's age is unknown. She is Alaska Native. She's pointing to something out of the frame. Her mouth is open, as if she's screaming...

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage has a soft spot for the 4th Avenue Theatre, one of the city's most visible historic buildings, with its art deco style and stunning interior. Those of us old enough to have been inside remember the smooth walnut panelling and Alaskana murals, including the gold leaf of Mount McKinley, and the lovely staircases. How many first kisses have taken place under the twinkling big dipper cast in lights on the ceiling? Could "Ghostbusters" or "Gone with the Wind" or "The Exorcist" play in a better venue? No. Not here.

The theater's sign no longer glows. Its lights have long been dark. Recently when I walked under the awning, I noticed peeling paint and crumbling cement. My heart broke a little...

Julia O'Malley

It's been hard not to do budget math while reading the paper this week. The Anchorage School District is short $23 million in operating funds and is looking at cutting teachers. Meanwhile, the world of professional tennis, including Billie Jean King and the Williams sisters, has been lobbying Anchorage lawmakers to build a tennis facility that will cost at least $8.5 million and that a lot of people don't want.

I don't think I'm alone when I asked out loud while reading these facts at the breakfast table: Why are we building a tennis facility we probably don't need while we can't fund schools? What the heck?...

Julia O'Malley

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