Pioneer Potluck: About birthdays and old friends

We are blessed to have many great friends. We heard from many at Christmas by way of a pretty card and the “new” way to wish everyone Happy New Year — the cell phone. We so appreciated the messages. Thank you for remembering us!


Here are a few birthdays right after Christmas that I want to mention because I really think they get robbed of a birthday celebration.

My grandson Arleigh’s birthday is the 6th of January and he is spending it on the North Slope again! By the time he reads this he will be 31 years old. Happy Birthday!

My niece in Colorado has a birthday on the 2nd. Happy Birthday Libby Bivens. Larry Minehart’s birthday is the 27th of December. There are more birthdays later in the month on my calendar.

This story takes place in my “other life.” (I have had about four “other lives.” Thank you, God for taking care of me through it all!)

One of our “old time” friends, John Ragan has a birthday the 5th of this month. I am going to tell how old he is! An active 75! Haha I am older than YOU!

I met John and Marty Ragan 48 years ago, Jan. 1, 1969. The kids and I were getting ready to fly Colorado to be with my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas 1968. We had to take Otto the dascshund with us. He was a “gift” to the kids from their dad. The dog did not like me! Well, I did not like him either!

The first clue was he would run to the door and the kids would let him out to go do his business. If the kids were in school and it was just him and me — he would run to the door and pee on it! He barked at me and showed his teeth every time I came into the room. He would grab my shoe and run up and down the hall of our trailer shaking it like it was some kind of rat. No one else’s — just mine! I had to trap him to get it away. He always was in his growl, show his teeth mode if he came near me.

One day I came home from work and the nice Alaskan blueberry muffins I had made were missing from the table. Thinking the kids had eaten them, I planned on making more later.

The next morning getting ready for work I slipped my foot into one of my shoes … my toes met with something squishy! Jumping about four feet back, thinking I had a smashed a mouse, a shrew or something, I looked down at my sock and it was purple! Each of the only three pair of shoes I owned had a blueberry muffin pushed down into the toe. Now the mystery: the kids did not eat any of the muffins and the only one in the house was Otto! Because the muffins were packed so far down in the shoe, I am sure that long, short legged, pointed nosed dog had a great time pushing them down in each of my shoes, like he had to bury the muffin. I went to work with wet shoes. I had to wash them out — what a mess! Blueberry muffins are not the easiest thing to get out of the toes of shoes. He went to the top of my list of “Things I do not like!”

The trip I planned did not include Otto! At the last minute the lady that said she would care for him while we were gone, decided to go home to California for Christmas!

I stuffed him in a dog carrier that I borrowed and sat him next to our luggage. I was dreading what to tell my Mom when we got to Colorado because she did not and never, ever allowed animals in the house except her little dog, Yum-Yum that she and Dad shared — and Mom complained about her.

Brother Jim picked us up at the airport in Denver and transported us to Fort Collins. As he was unloading the luggage, he said goodbye and sped off into the twilight. He did not want to stick around and hear what Mom would say. I had planned on keeping Otto in their garage, but it was very cold that winter and it was not heated, so I was stuck. I told Mom I would keep him in our bedroom. She was NOT happy at all. She remained pretty peeved at me the whole time we were there. Otto’s attitude did not help! We had a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas with Mom and Dad and the rest of the family. Time to go back to Alaska.

I could only get tickets back to Anchorage the 30th of December, so we were transported back to Denver by brother Jim in his GTO. His parting words to me was “Been nice to see you and the kids — next time don’t bring a dog!”

We flew to Seattle for a four hour layover. An hour into the layover a blizzard hit the airport. Not much snow, about 2 inches fell, but it made the runways slick and no airplanes were landing or taking off. The wind howled through the old Sea-Tac airport, with the doors flapping in each gust of wind. Finally a smart guy locked the doors to keep the cold air and snow out and try and keep all the stranded passengers warm. We picked a place far from the doors and windows in a corner, huddled in a group on the floor with our coats on and tried to make the best of it. Our luggage and Otto were in the luggage area. Off and on we could hear the faint howl and bark of “a dog.”

At 9:30 the next morning, the speakers came to life — everyone going to Alaska come to the Alaska Airline counter. Oh boy, we are going to get out of there! The wind had died down a little but it was still snowing. The lady told us to gather our luggage and go to door “so and so.” We were being bussed to Portland! The airplanes could not get off the Sea-Tac runways because they did not have the proper gear to clear off the runway. The planes could not get traction to leave.

Well, being young and taking everything in stride, we gathered up our luggage — four bags and the dog! I had to put Otto under the seat with us because the luggage compartment of the bus was not heated. Not only did Otto not like being under the seat, I am the one who jammed him under there. He barked, howled and growled all the way to Portland. We checked our luggage in. I was so thankful that the luggage compartment in the airplane was heated. Goodbye Otto until Anchorage! We crawled onto the nice warm Alaska Airlines plane, snuggled down under blankets and head on pillows and went to sleep. Once in a while I am sure I heard a faint howl!

Arriving in Anchorage at 2:30 a.m. January 1, Richard met us and we went to get our luggage — it was coming in the next plane! Oh, but … there was OTTO! Because it was late at night, by then 4 a.m., we decided to go to Richard’s friend’s, John and Marty. I thought we could just stay the rest of the night and pick up our luggage in the morning. Well, John and Marty’s apartment was a little bitty place. It was decided that my kids would stay the rest of the night. John and Marty offered to take them to the airport for a flight to Kenai after the luggage came in. Richard and I would just drive on to Kenai in a brand new 1969 Ford pickup with a brand new Polaris snowmachine in the back. Night and day in the winter in Alaska does not matter much as it is either dusk or dark — you drive with the lights on at all times. We arrived in north Kenai four hours later and went later to pick up the kids. And YOU think I left out something? Otto shared a space on the floor of the pickup! He was so exhausted he never even showed his teeth at me!

So that is how I met John and Marty, these very fine, generous, caring, forever smiling, hard working, people. We have had so much fun through the years and when they moved to Nikiski several years ago I was elated. John and Marty have shared many things with me through the years. Last year, 2017, John called and said he had too many gooseberries, come and pick them. I was thrilled! I juiced about 5 gallons of gooseberries, made jelly and gave John a big half gallon of juice for wine making. I can never repay them for their for there million dollar smiles and generosity. And I must mention that John can tell the best jokes. No one enjoys them better than he does. He is excellent at telling jokes and imitating riding on the cartoon horse in Tumbleweeds. Ask him sometime!

Happy Birthday John, We love you!

This story comes to mind every Christmas: From my little brother, Jim.

A little boy was drawing a picture in Sunday School after they just got through singing “Silent Night.” He drew Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. He also drew a rather large, rotund man standing on the side of the manger. “Who is that?” Asked the teacher. “Oh,” said the little boy, “that is Round John Virgin.”

Happy Healthy Wealthy New year to all.

The Pioneer Potluck series is written by 50-year resident of Alaska, Ann Berg of Nikiski. Ann shares her collections of recipes from family and friends. Grannie Annie can be reached at, or look for her on Facebook at Grannie Annies COOK BOOKS, where you can find details and ordering information for her cook books.


I made this often on cold busy stock days when I worked at M&M. Boss, Curt provided the ingredients and I chopped and dumped them in a crock-pot.

2 cups of broccoli flowerets, peel stems and slice thin.

1 cup cauliflower, divide into small pieces

1 onion chopped course

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 green pepper, diced

1 large potato, diced

1 large carrot, grated for color

Cover with water or broth of choice.

Simmer until crispy done.


3 cans canned milk-1 can water

2 cups grated cheese of choice, Velveeta is a fast melting smooth cheese.

Heat through and thicken with:

2 tblsp cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup water. Stir until thick.

Heat but do not boil. Call the hungry hard working shelf stocking troops.

Add diced ham if you like.

Recipe from my cookbook, Cooking at the Homestead.


1 pound thin sliced bacon

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup brown sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 X 13 baking pan with foil. Cut bacon strips in half and arrange on

pan in single layer. Bake 10 minutes, turn and sprinkle with sesame seeds and brown sugar.

Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes. Remove to a buttered platter to cool.

Makes about 36 slices.

Found in the Best of the Best of Alaska Cookbook, written by my good friends, Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley and published by Quail ridge Press. The recipe comes from a cookbook titled, Moose Racks, Bear Tracks and Other Alaska Kid Snacks.


Barbara and Gwen picked out several recipes from my cookbooks to be published in their wonderful cookbook, Best of the Best of Alaska. They included this one.

1 can chicken broth

1/2 cup each chopped onion, green pepper and celery

3 or 4 new red potatoes, diced with skins on.

1 cup sliced carrots

1 teas minced garlic

1 can creamed corn

1 can evaporated milk

1 tblsp flour mixed with 1/4 cup water

1 pint of salmon, dark pieces removed

2 tbslp butter

Pepper to taste.

In a large glass or enamel soup pot with lid, (or crock pot) place the broth, onions, green pepper, celery, potatoes, carrots and garlic.

Simmer, like I did, on the wood stove, until vegetables are tender (or crock pot!). Stir in creamed corn and canned milk. Thicken with flour and water, making sure the ingredients are hot but not boiling. Stir until thickened.

Take off the wood stove or remove the lid of the crock pot, and stir in 1 pint on canned salmon, liquid and all. Stir in butter. Serve in large bowls with a sprinkle of pepper.

Pass the sourdough garlic bread, or saltines, but don’t forget the dill pickles.