Sunday, December 30, 2007

We're Here Because We're Not All There

Happy almost New Year greetings from beautiful Homer, Alaska, where the Kirkland family is getting away from it all at the end of the world. Or at least, to Homerites we are at the end of the world.
Homer sits on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, about 250 miles south of Anchorage. Usually within four hours we can be sitting at the table of our good friends with beer in hand. This was the first time we attempted to drive down in the middle of winter. It took six fist-clenching, teeth-grinding hours.
Our first go at coming down here was stymied by dreadful weather last Thursday, so we postponed a day and left around 8 a.m. on Friday. Dark and icy, the Seward, and then Sertling Highways were quiet, save for the yahoos that kept appearing behind us. Yukon was admirable in the driver's seat, keeping us from sliding into the brink of tragedy. I, on the other hand, had a terrible time.
I hate this road; it is the cause of a hundred different traffic accidents a year. People drive too fast and too stupidly for conditions. Add in moose popping out of the trees, and a recipe for disaster is made.
So off we went, the boys' heads swiveling around at regular intervals to watch for moose, and me adding commentary to Yukon's navigatory ability. "Better watch out, sweetie, that car is passing us." Or, more likely, "Oh shahhhh, watch yourself, slow down, don't follow that guy too close, do you need to put it in 4-wheel drive?"
To his credit, the only sign of any possible agitation on Yukon's part was a slight twitch in his jawline. He knows me too well to listen to me, anyway. But driving along an ice-covered road for hours with two kids and a wife, and anyone can get annoyed.
At any rate, we made it, saw our friends, and went out to dinner at the lovely Cafe' Cups in Homer. The mountains are spectacular, the seafood is incredible, and the Homer atmosphere is one of sublimity. Can't beat that to kick off a new year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ho Ho Ho Untangle the Presents We Go

There is nothing like a little gift un-wrapping to bring a couple together in the most meaningful way. Past Christmases have been much simpler; Wolf goes to bed on demand, Bear was too little to want to stay awake looking up the chimney for Santa Claus. Gifts came with little, if any, assembly, required. Just like the holiday itself. Until this year.
Pagent complete (Yukon did a spectacular job as the Anonymous Townsman, btw), the Kirkland clan ate its traditional Chinese dinner at the local Mongolian Grill and Tsing-Chao hut, and went home to get the children all nestled snug in their beds with visions of I-Pods and candy dancing in their poor little heads.
Two hours later, with Bear popping out of his room every ten minutes with a "is it morning yet?" screech that would wake my great-grandmother from her grave, Yukon and I finally shut his door with a bang and marched downstairs to begin a process that has plagued parents ever since Santa began Ho Ho-ing. Putting together the presents. Or, unwrapping the presents from their packaging, to be more specific.
I even read in an article this morning in our local paper about "wrap rage", and I did not laugh, for I understand these souls' anguish, who have spent too long untangling wires from the Go Diego Go Tub Time Boat, only to find out that a phillips screwdriver too small for a mouse is needed to disengage the actual boat from the pathetic cardboard packaging. Terrorism? The only terrorism in this country tonight is from parents who, with bleeding fingertips, will beat upon the lead-laden toy companies' front doors to ask them why, in the name of GOD, do they do this to us?
Three Hot Buttered Rums later, we finally resorted to using the Boy Scout pocket knife (I knew that thing would come in handy some day) to pry the stinking screw off of the boat and set the little plastic figurine inside. Exhausted, we collapsed on the sofa, only to discover that we had only undone ONE present, and had about a gazillion more to do.
Did our little Bear tenderly cradle his Diego boat on Christmas morning? Did he sweetly croon "Thank you Santa, for making my dreams come true!"? Not on your life.
He said "I wanted Dora."

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Best Christmas Present, Ever

Abies Grandis

Christmas, 2004

Charleston, South Carolina

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Answers to the Questions

Here are the answers to the eight questions regarding Alaska and its history, for those of you who took the time to play our little game. Answers are in no particular order, just to shake it up a bit.

Alaska became a state in 1959.

The state of Alaska is 570,000 square miles. Yes, that is bigger than Texas.

The State Bird of Alaska is the ptarmigan, a bird so dumb you can kill it with a rock.

The State Tree is the Sitka Spruce. Bonus if you know the latin name.

The official sport of Alaska is dog sledding.

Alaska's name means "Great Land"

Alaska is 3 miles from Russia, from the Diomead Islands way out in the ocean.

There are 8 stars on the Alaskan flag.

Hope you learned something! These questions were from Yukon's HR Party last week.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Test Your Alaskan IQ

My aunt down in the Lower 48 recently sent me a book titled "Alaska Now". Knowing my penchant for old books, she thought I would enjoy it, as it profiles Alaska and everything one needs to know about the "territory". Written in 1950 by a man named Herb Hilscher, the book gave Alaska facts and tips for survival should one decide, as many did, to pack up lock, stock, and kids and move to the Last Frontier.

We read exerpts at the dinner table the other night, and particularly enjoyed the section that soothed worried minds about "Alaskans being just like regular people anywhere". Thank goodness.

So, in the spirit of Alaskana, and all that is unique up here, see if you know the answers to the following trivia questions. Answers with next post.

What year did Alaska become a state?

How many square miles is Alaska?

What is Alaska's state bird?

What is the official sport of Alaska?

How far is Alaska from Russia?

How many stars are on the State Flag?

What is the state's official tree?

The name "Alaska" comes from an Eskimo word Alashak, meaning what?

So, get out your travel books and Web searches to find the answers, and have fun!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holy Hairballs Batman

I just finished grooming the Yellow Dog. Brushing and plucking and pulling, for she appears to be shedding out every last Husky hair from her body. An old lady by dog years at 13, Yellow Dog has resigned herself to being an indoor doggie; ice and very cold temperatures don't do much for her anymore. Her body appears to be letting her, and us, know that she doesn't really need the layers of fur any longer, and thus is dropping it on the carpet, the kids' fleece pants, and my black cashmere sweater.

While Bear napped this afternoon, I took what I thought was a few minutes to grab the dog grooming mitt (a great thing I learned from my horsey days) and go to town. A half hour later, the darned dog still had all kinds of hairballs falling off her now-skinny body (hairy dogs appear much fatter than they really are).

Adding to the problem was the lack of humidity in our air right now (it is 10 below at our house and so dry we keep the humidifier on all day/night), so the baby-fine hair stuck to my clothes and went up both our noses. Ever try to get dog hair off something? Can't be done. Damn stuff floats around like it has a mind of its own.

Right now old Y.D. is stretched out on my office rug, exhausted from her battle, with her back to me. She looks like she has been attacked by Mothra.

I'll have to give her five dog cookies to make up for it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Not Fair

Wolf has had a number of trials already this school year, the most challenging for him (and for us) being the management of social skills.
Common for kids with learning disabilities, social skills, something most of us took for granted as we grew up, become another subject to be learned like Math and English. And almost as tough.
Wolf's previous middle school, an urban mix of cultures and attitudes, was a struggle to find a niche of friends to hang out with. It became very clear that for him, friends are not easily found nor kept. School became a dark place.
This year, after transitioning to a very small Catholic school, Wolf has begun to reach out to kids. His teachers and the administration surround him with lots of love and firm boundaries for what is appropriate behavior. He tries. Oh, how he tries, to have friends.
But there remains the problem of other kids. As a mother, I have discovered that while there are many areas of my child's life I can control, finding and nurturing friendships is one area I simply must stay out of. I cannot make kids be nice to my son. Nor can I demand that the school do so, either. To be perfectly clear and fair to the school; there is no bullying, per se. No open taunting, pushing, shoving, stalking, etc. There is simply nothing. No phone calls to hang out, no trips to the movies or to the skate park. Nothing.
I remember a boy in my class at a Catholic school in Bellevue, WA. An overweight, homely kid, we teased and taunted him mercilessly. He tried and tried to be friends with us, offering cool stickers and bragging about trips to Hawaii. But we didn't budge. The class fed off of each other and made his life miserable.
Maybe God is bringing that back to me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A perfect Alaskan year

The postman stuffs them into our frozen mailbox on a daily basis now. The immortal Holiday (now that Christmas is no longer p.c.) Greeting letters are coming fast and thick, spewing from them illusions of perfection in 2007.
It is somewhat surreal up here in Alaska to read about achievements and accomplishments of the little gymnasts, equestrians, and young yacht captains who reside Outside, when some of the youth in Alaska are keeping busy with other pursuits, which, if not actually productive, are at least unique. Let me illustrate...
(Sample letter) "It's been another wild one up here in Tok. We finally finished the new smokehouse, just in time for (youngest daughter) to get her first moose. We were out in the bush for a week, waiting for that sucker to show up, but danged if he didn't and danged if she didn't just point and shoot the hell out of him. Now (daughter) wants to mount the head for her bedroom."
(Another sample) "The kids are all anxious for Christmas to arrive, and they all had long lists this year for Santa. (Oldest son) is just dying for an I-Pod port for his Sno-Go so he and his friends can spend all day out on the trails without coming in to recharge. (Middle son) wants a new fishing pole and chest waders, he swears he'll beat dad this year in pulling in the limit."
One woman I know who lives in a small village outside of Dillingham (way west of Anchorage, on Bristol Bay), wants a real bathroom for Christmas, hoping that the request will reach her fisherman husband, who is still completely satisfied with the "honey bucket". (I must correct those of you who are thinking in your minds that a Honey Bucket is not so bad. The term in Alaska means nothing more than a 5-gallon bucket with a plywood circle cut into it, and YOU are the one responsible for emptying it. Even on the -50 days.)
Yes, the Alaskan holiday greeting can merit some chuckles upon reading. But at least we are interesting!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


It is very important to have all the facts personally verified if one is going to attack. As in almost every other sport, there are those who make the majority look bad. And the Iditarod is no exception.
Most people who attack the race as inhumane have never seen one. Have you been to a race track? Watched a dog show? Lived vicariously through your children? Wake up and walk your talk.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mush On!

As any good Alaskan knows, there is little that embodies the sense of fierce Northern independence more than the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The Iditarod, a race of over 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, tests dogs, mushers, and equipment through ice, blizzards, and incredibly cold temperatures. Good mushers know they are nothing without their dogs, and the best ones pamper their pooches year 'round.

The 2008 race starts March 1st with the ceremonial send-off in downtown Anchorage. And I get to be there, press pass firmly attached to my parka.

The start is a frenzy of dogs, sleds, and crazy people dressed in fur. Teams take up howling and barking as start time nears, and pretty soon they all begin a chorus; with over 1,000 dogs, that's a loud choir of yips and yelps.

My coverage of this race actually begins now, with the creation of the Fur Rendezvous guide for Coast Magazine, based out of Anchorage. My participation on start day is purely reward for hundreds of phone calls and interviews with mushers, veterinarians, and other bigwigs of the race. This race has intriqued me for years, and to be invited to move among the chosen few is the opportunity of a lifetime. Our family will also travel to Willow the next day for the "official start" of the race, about 90 miles North of town. From the front row we'll watch sled dog teams begin their odyssey, and hope everyone makes it under the burled arch of Nome.

I'll provide links to the race and other interesting tidbits of information as they are garnered. In the meantime, check out the guide to "Fur Rondy" as it is called, in case you are thinking of a mid-winter trip to the North.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Let it...

Dear God it is finally snowing in Alaska!
The naked snow dance by Bear out on the front lawn last night seems to have worked and we have large, fluffy snowflakes falling, covering up the two inches of ice and slush that almost prevented anyone in Anchorage from getting to work this morning...
The Anchorage Daily News published an interesting article this morning about the doldrums that have set in among Alaskans. I believe the best comment was from a resident who said that she "wanted to eat a tub of lard and crawl into bed."
That about sums it up.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ice Capades

Alaska is full of outdoorsy people. Usually this time of year, we are all out on our skis, happily schussing along the trails or runs in a state of wintry delirium. With a distinct lack of snowfall for December, running is replacing skiing as the most available mode of outdoor activity. (Photo at left is from Jan '07)
I mentioned previously that ice has made even walking down the sidewalk treacherous, so to some the mere idea of running (on purpose) during such a cold snap is unthinkable. But ice or not, getting outdoors, especially during our dark days is imperative.
Before I moved to Alaska, ice and snow was an excuse to stay in, as moving about could prove fatal, or so we were told. But Alaskans, like many others who live in snow and ice-prone areas, have a solution in the ice cleat. But until about a year ago, I didn't know we could actually run in them.
Almost every evening, after the kids are in bed, I dress for my half-hour of solitude (depending upon the temperature, this could take a half-hour itself). But the final touch is my shoes, permanently affixed with spikes similar to golf shoes. I scritch-scratch my way across the deck and down to the driveway and street, where the spikes confidently grab the icy surface. Nighttime, besides bringing the thermometer to zero, also brings quiet, and the only sound I hear is the crunching of my shoes.
Stars are out, and sometimes the Northern Lights, giving me all the visibility I really need. Occasionally I have to slow down a bit to navigate a slippery turn, and sometimes the wandering moose, but generally I run faster in the winter than other times of the year. My spikey shoes and their sound byte also give me cadence, and I jog along like a Marine recruit, enjoying the regular sound of my feet hitting the ground.
I am always almost sorry to round the corner to the house. My husband, who doesn't always like the fact that I run at night, suggests that perhaps I might run during the daytime after my tenure at work is finished. Perhaps. But there is too much hustle, too much bustle, and not enough quiet contemplating.
Night. All is calm. All is bright.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hey, Unto You a Child is Born!

As everyone knows, the mommies who have the least amount of time always end up baking the cupcakes, driving on the field trips, and directing the Christmas Play. This phenomenon, harkening back to my own mother's participation, has now resulted in email conversations consisting of "we know you would be perfect", and "it really isn't all that hard". Who could resist the personal kudos and warm fuzzies emulating from such praise? A sucker, that's who. And you're reading about her.
I have just returned from a meeting at which I was delegated (and half-volunteered) to write the timeless classic "A Baby is Born on a Farm in a Box", to quote Bear, who is just beginning to notice the fuss over this Baby Jesus guy. In little more than 24 hours, I am to come up with a script, characters, and music for our Christmas Eve family service, all without damaging any pint-sized egos, parental expecations, or church furniture.
I wonder if I could just play "Christmas Karaoke Dance Party" and let the kids boogie down the aisle, no memorization required, and we do have a big screen to project the words. As long as they are in English.
Hey! Unto You a Child is Born!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Jetta Prison

Yeah, so I have been griping about how warm the weather has been in Anchorage lately. What was I thinking?
Took the Jetta to the Monster Car Wash (Sasquatch Wash, $11) yesterday because I could not see for the two-inch layer of dust accumulated on the windshield; coupled with blinding sunshine, an accident waiting to happen.
Sat in line, listening to the Sounds of the Holidays on our local silver-hair a.m. radio station, watching some idiot in a 16-passenger van attempt to go through the wash's height-limit bar.
Had a lovely car wash, spent the time engulfed by "Spooky Soap" cleaning out my bag to the tune of "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas", drove out of the Wash, and dripped my way down the road to pick up Wolf from school. I parked, donned my wool gloves and hat, and pulled the door lever.
I tried again, this time with a slight push on the door itself. Hmm, no movement, but a slight cracking was heard. Smiling at the man in the car next to me like this happened all the time, I jockeyed around in the driver's seat, pulled my leg back, and delivered a kick worthy of Bruce Lee. With a loud "boom" the car blew open and showers of ice crystals fell upon me as I, too, blew out of the car and into the ice-covered parking lot.
Reminiscent of Yukon last year making the grave mistake of rolling down the window (in the same car) after emerging from the car wash to discover moments later that the window had frozen in the down position. Only -10 that day.
Fool us twice......

Monday, December 3, 2007

Half-Shell Nirvana

Yukon loves oysters. Really, really, loves oysters. So when a friend had two dozen delivered to our home last week, you'd have thought Yukon was going to roll right over and die with glee, he was so happy. I think I saw him do a little dance on the back porch.
We all know that oysters are a love-them-hate-them sort of seafood item, as mysterious in flavor as they are in physiology. People either screw up their faces in disgust or light up in delight when oysters are mentioned as part of the menu at our house. References to snot and other mucus-related terms have also been heard around the table. At any rate, my husband would miss the little bivalves should their presence be eliminated, so I try to humor him and just leave the room when the oyster knife comes out of the silverware drawer.
Yukon is a man of true culinary ecstacy when it comes to two things; beer and raw oysters. A friend who owns a restaurant taught him how to shuck oysters a few years ago, something that must bring out the wild in a man, for Yukon can stand all day over the sink or out on the deck, depending upon the season, to pry open an oyster shell, suck out its contents with a dash from his ten selections of Tabasco sauce, and toss the shell into a bucket.
The best oysters in Alaska are found for the most part around Kachamek Bay, near Homer, a 5-hour drive from Anchorage. Our wonderful friend, upon hearing of Yukon's pining for oysters, made a special trip down to the Coal Point Seafoods and ordered 24 fresh-from-the-cold sea, in-shell beauties. (They also have outstanding packages of other seafoods native to Alaska; halibut, salmon, black cod, and the like); of course.
After almost eight years of Yukon's acquaintance, I am used to his oyster binges. In fact, even from our first date, where we attended a book signing for the acclaimed "Heaven on the Half Shell", our lives have been shared by oysters.
Aren't they an aphrodisiac?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Buzzed Bullwinkle

It appears that Anchorage's propensity for tipsy folks walking the city streets is not limited to the human kind.
Our resident moose, and we have several hundred who just seem to hang out in their own 'hoods, sometimes venture downtown to snack on tree branches in the wintertime. This particular bull participated in some early holiday fun one recent afternoon by ambling his way to our Town Square, calmly munching away at the branches while Anchorage-ites did their best to avoid him.
Remembering that moose can become characteristically grumpy for no particular reason at all, the fact that he was downtown in the middle of the afternoon, and in such a public place, a certain kink in normal operations took place. Everyone knows to give moose, especially the big guys, a wide berth, which can bring life to a screeching halt. Schoolchildren know to go another way or wait it out if moose are in their path, cars on the highway will idle while a moose ambles up the center lane, and most of you know of my story last fall when I was forced to drag my mountain bike 50+ yards down the muddy beach of the Coastal Trail when a rutting bull charged me.
So, among a public flurry of reorganization, this fine ungulate specimin continued eating from the tree, and in the process managed to take a string or two of LED lights with him, adorning his antlers like Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation". Finally, having had enough of the looky-loos, he changed course and, dragging the lights behind him, sauntered towards a more suitable venue for a man of his stature; Bernie's Bungalow martini bar. Ah, the ambiance of Bernie's seemed to suit our friend just fine, especially since Bernie's also has a large crabapple tree in their stylish garden area out back. And late-season crabapples, to boot.
Adorned with lights, chewing on the now-fermenting crabapples, the moose lay down in his own private nirvana and proceeded to get smashed. Eyes glazed, he watched the curious moose-watchers with the sort of expression one would expect to see at a Grateful Dead concert.
Eventually the Fish and Game officer, who apparently is an expert in dealing with drunken wild animals, arrived in time to see the Buzzed Bullwinkle nodding off to sleep, little lights twinkling merrily, in a cozy nest of leaves. He called him a cab.
Check out photos at, plus a number of other Anchorage moose photos.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Coping With Caring

"I am never given more than I can handle; but need to consider new ways of handling situations if the old ways are not working.
I am open to new ideas, new solutions, and new arrangements if they are called for."
-Lyn Roche "Coping with Caring"

Who'd of thought that giving notice at work would garner such insightful responses from my co-workers and friends? After two short years working at a place, albeit one full of creativity and insight anyway, announcing that I was leaving had people quoting philosophy from down the hall.
The decision was made last week that I would return to the daily overseer role for the young Bear and Wolf children; Wolf's social and learning issues being the most convincing reason.
I initially accepted the job at the Office while we were still in South Carolina, knowing that the long, dark winters would soon drive me to certain distraction if I didn't have something to do outside the home. But 24 months later, it is time for me to go back into the home.
Bear will be able to attend "regular" pre-school, free of hotdog and white bread lunches and naps on institutional cots with children who ate Doritos and Kool Aid for breakfast. He will be able to play dress-up and pirates with mommy, and go to playdates.
Wolf will have a mother available for all-to-frequent parent/teacher visits, volunteer opportunities, and school project assistance.
Yukon will have a wife who doesn't look as if she just emerged from the clothes dryer on a static-y winter afternoon.
And me? Oh yeah, me.

I will write. And drink wine. And laugh.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh-oh Tannenbaum!

Since the weather was less than perfect this Thanksgiving weekend; a limp layer of snow covers the yard and trees, and a rink-perfect layer of ice gleams on the streets, we decided to allow the boys to decorate the Christmas tree.
Did we tromp through the Alaskan wilderness, singing Christmas carols and drinking hot chocolate as we searched for the perfect holiday symbol? Not hardly. We opened the box.
There. I admit it to the world. We own an artificial tree. Bought on sale at the local big box hardware store. "7-Foot Fraiser Fir" the display said. It had to be better than our tree last year, one that we pilfered from somewhere we shouldn't have, one that even Charlie Brown wouldn't have given a second look. It was a desperate attempt to keep alive the family tradition of cutting down our Christmas tree, something I had done my entire life. Buying a tree was unthinkable to begin with; buying an artificial tree is grounds for public flogging.
So I took out our 7-foot Treeus Fakus, put the three sections together, fluffed up the needles in one of the three suggested patterns (the Claw, the Flat, or the Poofy), and stood back to check out my handiwork. "Hey guys, come look, it's not too bad!" Wolf was the first to come out from his cave where he had been tuning me out all afternoon. "That tree is fake!" he screeched. "I'm telling Grandpa." I must inform readers who are not acquainted with my family that my father is a forester, the one who instilled in his children the love of the tree, for whatever reason it is used. This was not good.
Yukon was on my side. "Looks good, better than I expected" he says. "How much did that cost us?" Better to tell him that most of the other trees were over $250...
Bear woke up from his nap and danced in place as he yelled "Did you put up that pretty Christmas tree while I was asleep!?" Ahhh, someone who truly appreciates my effort to preserve the tree that won't have to be cut and shipped 1,000 miles to Alaska, the land of trees to be in my home. See, in Alaska, the fir and spruce and pine trees are rather stunted and spindly, due to the harsh weather conditions. Everyone in the greater Anchorage area, and north, has to buy a tree, either real or fake.
The only thing is, as I was packing the box away, I noticed one important detail.
"MADE IN CHINA".......

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chinook Blows Away Turkey

The turkey on top of the Cuppa Joe coffee drive-through is missing, blown away by a Fall Chinook wind that roared in yesterday. Tom and his blow-up feathers are likely on their way to Seward by now.
We woke up early in the morning to the sound of water drip, dripping outside of the house. Odd, since just two days before we had been wondering if it was time to plug in the cars, since winter seemed to be here for good. Fooled again, as weather often does to one in Alaska. The wind known as Chinook can arrive at any time, and does, shooting garbage cans across the street, bending trees in half, and scattering holiday decorations hither and yon.
The water dripping sound was coming from the gutters, full to overflowing with melting snow. Yes, melting snow. The foot of white stuff that had been gracing our lawn, covering a multitude of landscape debauchery was now replaced by soggy leaves and dirty-looking puddles in the back yard. Nothing like a little Seattle weather to darken a holiday. With no snow to brighten things up, outdoors looked darker than it usually does at 9am on a November morning.
Wolf was distraught when he got up around lunchtime and found his igloo-in-process was now half its original size, and the comic books he had placed inside were now splatted on the front of the deck rails. Young Bear looked outside and said "where did the snow all go to, bring it back!"
The neighbor next door, an almost-Sourdough (someone who has lived through many winters, or, at least says he/she has) told us that sometimes the wind screams through our neighborhood so powerfully that doors rip off the hinges, and one time the roof on the house across the street peeled off like an orange. But not to worry, "it always simmers down in time". How have we missed this excitement thus far? With wind like that in South Carolina, we'd be boarding up the windows and heading for the Upstate Motel 6.
Temperatures reached nearly 50, the Alyeska ski area (down near Girdwood, AK, 40 minutes or so south) had to close because of hazardous avalanche conditions, and creeks are up to their banks. Check out the NOAA weather web site, to see what is happening up here, and the projected weather conditions for the entire state. The site is chock full of maps and other such interesting things. Weather is a big part of Alaska; no one goes anywhere without checking first to see what conditions will be. Our weather channel on the radio is our before bed listening; "ohh, honey, let's cozy up to the computerized voice and have a glass of wine while we listen to Zone 172".....
A happy Thanksgiving to all; remember those who have little....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Alaskan Education

There is a reason why people new to Alaska are called "Cheechakos". Beside the fact that the very word in itself sounds weenie (yes, I just said "weenie"), the word means "greenhorn". And every person who sets foot on the frozen soil of Alaska, thinking that he or she will conquer the Great White North, is a greenhorn. Just look at Chris McCandless (whose legacy, by the way, is spearheading an influx of idealistic Cheechakos who are desiring to visit the decrepit blue bus he lived and died in thinking he too could conquer Alaska). In To The Wild? I'll show you the wild, just visit downtown Anchorage on a Saturday night when Darwin's Theory empties out. Another story entirely.
At any rate, I promised to relay what we learned those first few months in Alaska. 1) Everyone who moves to Alaska has moxie, and it ain't just because of the cold weather. Granted, plugging in your car so that the diesel doesn't turn to jell-o by morning, and being sure to keep exposed body parts away from frozen metal is enough to shrink even the most brave resolve, but truly, Alaskans are a different breed of American. And in fact, when we talk about the U.S., it is in that time-honored word "Outside". Everything else that happens in the States (as some of my more elderly friends say it) might as well happen on the moon. And we like it. No, Alaskans are the type of people who may run over a moose on the way to work and keep going, after they call the local food bank to let them know that dinner is on its way, just as soon as the State Patrol finishes loading it onto the flatbed.
2) We like the sun. A lot. When summer arrives, sometime in June, we rush outside and don't come back in until the termination dust appears on the hills in August. Yes, that means only two months of summer, with toasty temperatures upwards of 70 degrees. There is a saying that Alaskans are tired in the winter because it is dark most of the time, and we are tired in the summer because we never go to bed. Try getting a toddler to go nighty-night when the sun is shining in his window and the neighbor kids are playing basketball outside his window. But on the upside, beer tastes mighty good on top of a mountain at midnight.
3) There are animals here. Big animals, whose life goal seems to be either to disrupt your daily routine, or at best, scare the crap out of a person. Many of you have heard about my moose interactions (for that was what they were). I seem to attract them like bears to garbage cans. Moose are interesting; during the summer they and their calves, along with slacker teenage moose from last year's deliveries hang out in the woods outside of town, snacking on foliage and hiding out from the hunters who start to appear in late August. However, during the winter months the two-ton ungulates make tracks to the neighborhoods of Anchorage, feasting on leftover Halloween pumpkins and rose bushes, seemingly unaware, or not caring, that they are standing on the front porch to do it. The most frightening encounter with moose is while driving, when they wander along the roadway waiting for the right time to cross the street. The problem is that we humans never know when they perceive the "right time" to be. Thus the moose-car collisions are an all-too frequent and sometimes deadly occurrence.
Alaska is not for the faint-of-heart; as the wife of a friend found out when she came up to live and found herself practically prisoner in her own home because she a) refused to drive in the snow and b) did not want to get out and walk our some 200 miles of trails because she feared getting attacked. Hmmm, maybe ask for moxie for Christmas?


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Learning what?

"Elituq" means quite simply, "she is learning" in the Dena'ina Athabascan language, a tribe that resides mostly in the areas around Anchorage and to the South.
I have found that the past five or so years have been filled with the kind of learning that either makes you go crazy, or forces you to begin some level of insight into who you are.
My husband and I (along with Wolf, then 9) were married in 2003. At the time, we figured we would stay forever in our little town on the North Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Yukon was employed by the National Park Service, and I was the Director of Development for a small but thriving long-term-care organization under the Episcopal Church. Life was full of the sweet outdoors, wonderful friends, and a great neighborhood. We were at the top of our game.
But the Park Service, under new and ineffective management, sucked the energy and the inspiration out of Yukon and he began the hunt for further employment within the Federal System, of which I knew almost nothing. Now an at-home mother/writer, my days were spent in an almost catatonic, glazed-eye stare at the computer screen, looking through the Web site for interesting position descriptions with the Feds. I felt that was the least I could do; to find us someplace that was at least kind of exciting.
So we went to Charleston, South Carolina. One of the most "interesting" places for someone who had never lived in another state but her own. The South is a blog unto itself, and I shall not go into great detail here, but for the record, let me state that the things I learned about raising children in 100 degree heat and humidity, and fire ants, and avoiding hurricanes, brought me to a whole new plateau of self-actualization, i.e., actualization that I KNEW by the Fall of 2005 I could not manage to spend one more summer in that state. Yukon agreed, and 18 months and one extra son later (Bear was born in Charleston in October of 2004), we flew up to Anchorage, Alaska just in time to see 2006 ring itself in.
I know where I fit in, and where I do not fit in; the South made me feel like somebody transported my body to Mars one night while I was asleep and left me there all alone. From the second I stepped off the airplane in the smallish Anchorage Airport (named for our now almost-busted Senator, Uncle Ted Stevens), I was home. The air felt crisp and cold, the mountains were turning pink in the late-afternoon alpenglow, and folks there did not give a rip about where we were from or who our people were.
Quickly, I had to learn how the Government helped one to establish housekeeping when you do not have a house. Thankfully, the folks at the Residence Inn (I would HIGHLY recommend this facility when you visit Anchorage) welcomed us with open arms and a nightly happy hour, allowing us a brief hour of sanity after a day of searching for acceptable neighborhoods intermingled with trailer parks (a common sight in Alaska). A good thing, too, as we stayed there for almost two months while the wheels of the government slowly ground forward. Patience, for those of you who know me, is not a strong point of mine, and it took every ounce of willpower not to call up the Move Assistance (HA!) folks in Texas and give them a piece of my mind on a daily basis. This is why I married Yukon, his patience level is enough for the both of us.
I also had to learn a few things particular to Alaska, and these gems of Northern wisdom I will share tomorrow, for all the new and potential Cheechakos (greenhorns) who may be reading this.
I leave you with a Dena'ina saying.

"Chin'anguninyu", Thank you, that you have come here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Welcome to Elituq-"She is Learning"

For those of you who have been awaiting the creation of this blog, thank you for your patience. For those who have no idea who I am, thank you for your interest in commentary from an Alaskan writer, wife, and mother.
In the interest of my family's privacy, I will do my best to maintain pseudo-names for my husband (Yukon), and sons (Wolf and Bear), as some topics would undoubtably cause strife in the household should their identity be divulged. However, photos will be occasionally posted in order for people to see truly why we love Alaska and its people.
Keep checking back for regular updates from the land of sled dogs, northern lights, and perpetual change. I'll do my best to make it worth your while!