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?