Thursday, January 31, 2008

Baby You Can Drive My Car

My feet are moving as if I am still shifting the Jetta into second and third gears. My hands feel as if they are permanently in the 10 and 2 steering wheel position.
This was one of those weeks when I appeared to be living in my car. All I needed was the sleeping bag and requisit dog. Instead I had children. Children, a Bob the Builder lunch box, and snack wrappers.
Mothers everywhere know that once children become old enough to have interests and needs, we are the ones who have to get them to the places that care for such. And when that happens, we proceed down the highway to automotive intertia that only seems to get worse as they get older.
This week, I provided Wolf with his daily to/from schlep across town to school, took Bear to preschool, went back across town to get Wolf from school for three appointments to care for his mental and dental health, transported him to taekwondo class, took Bear for his first dental appointment, dragged Wolf by his ears to his dentist appointment, and managed to remember my own dental rendezvous whereby I sucked their nitrous tank dry looking to relieve my twisted brain cells from all this driving and navigating.
I am proud to say that I only broke down once, in Wolf's therapist's office. But I figure that since she gets paid to watch people break down, that one was a freebee.
I would like to say that tomorrow I have no place to go. But the dog keeps throwing up on my carpet. And one of us needs to see the vet.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Drinkingest City

How very proud the citizens of Anchorage must be. Our city was announced in the latest issue of Men's Health magazine as ranking second in their America's Drunkest Cities poll.
The magazine based its findings upon the number of binge drinkers per day in a particular city, the number of alcohol-related liver disease deaths, number of DUI arrests and accidents, and finally, any positive influence the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) chapter either has or doesn't have in the city. Anchorage lost out to Denver, Colorado, by the way.
I am frankly a bit surprised Anchorage did not rank first. Not a day goes by we do not witness an alcohol-related incident on a street corner of the city. Alcoholism is rampant in Alaska, especially in the Bush areas, where domestic violence, drug offenses, and SNUI (Sno-Go Under the Influence) issues plague State Troopers and Community Service Officers (CSO's). It is sickening. It is a shame. It is also common.
With the end of the holiday season, the four or five months until Break- Up (when the snow finally melts) seem endless. Freezing cold temperatures that prevent much outdoor activity keep folks inside and tempers rise much faster than the thermometer. People drink to make the long winter bearable, or so they think.
Yukon and I went to a popular Anchorage eatery last weekend on a rare date night. The Glacier Brewhouse is wildly full on any weekend night, particularly in the summertime, when tourists swarm in for a dose of Alaskan charm. In the winter, the bar and restaurant are full of local folks who just need to get out for a while and see other people. Yukon and I try to go there, and to its companion restaurant, Orso, once a month or so. Orso was packed to the beer taps this time, so over to the Brewhouse we went.
So that readers can get a taste of wintertime bar conversation in Anchorage, Alaska, I have written the actual conversation spoken by the dolts sitting next to us at the bar.
Dolt #1: "Oh dude, I'm so glad to be here. I'm just getting over the dry heaves from last night!"

Dolt #2: "Yeah, I'm not even sure where we went, but I think we had fun!"

Friend (sitting nearby): "So how much did you have?"

Dolt #1: "Shit, I don't know! All I know is that I drank my dinner!"

Dolt #2: "It's a good thing your wife doesn't know about that!"

Friend: "Where is your wife?"

Dolt #1: "She's in Las Vegas playing hockey, but that's okay, she's probably doing the same
thing!"

Keep in mind that these two were 20-somethings, employed, although for how long is anybody's guess, as #1 worked in the famous Anchorage hotel that has provided me with rotten service every time I go there. Needless to say, we left soon after and went to Kinley's for the remainder of our delightful evening.
It was tough, however, to leave such fascinating exchanges.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rev up Fur Rondy


I have been getting many inquiries from friends and family regarding an Alaskan event institution. The Fur Rendezvous festival of events, and subsequent Ceremonial Start to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race has been an integral part of winter survival in Anchorage, with thousands of folks attending each year. "Fur Rondy", as it is affectionately known, has gone on since the mid 1930's, when Vern Johnson and a bunch of buddies decided to break up the winter doldrums by celebrating the winter's catch of furs. (When trappers stocked up enough fur, they brought them into Anchorage to sell to the buyers). Vern and his friends convinced the youth of Anchorage to participate in sporting events and a sled dog race. In a town of only 3,000 people in 1935, Johnson nevertheless was thrilled by attendance at the skiing, hockey, basketball, boxing and children's sled dog race, as nearly the entire town turned out to watch or participate.

Since then, "Rondy" has become an icon of fun for locals and visitors alike. With something for everyone, the 10 day festival this year features reindeer races (apparently I am signed up to Run With the Reindeer-we'll see about that), snowshoe softball, outhouse races, a fur buying auction, and an outdoor winter carnival with all the rides you'd expect at the State Fair. Ever ride the swings in a snowsuit at 10 degrees? Quite an experience, I assure you.

While many people try to come to Alaska during the summer, it is becoming a popular winter destination as well, and with events such as the Rendezvous, it is no wonder. There probably is no other event that will showcase the spirit and sport of Alaska. Fur Rondy brings folks from the Bush communities to participate in the Multi-Tribal Gathering at our Egan Convention Center, where Native life is brought to the forefront with dancing, food, music, and incredible handwork and crafts. The place to be if one is looking for Native Alaskan art.

It is always a bit confusing, however, to explain that the Iditarod is not an official part of Fur Rendezvous, but as it is always scheduled to start on the last weekend of the festival, most assume it is the cous de grace of the whole thing. Nobody really cares, except perhaps festival organizers who get tired of explaining the difference. Territory is not merely geographical in Alaska, apparently.

For those who have been asking which is better, Fur Rondy or the Iditarod, I say, do both. Attend the last week of Rondy, run the Frostbite Footrace or attend the Miner's and Trapper's ball in your Carharts, then plan to be downtown on March 1 for the Ceremonial Start to the Last Great Race and watch 1,000 dogs take off for Nome.

Go to http://www.furrondy.net/ for more Rondy events and links to everything else you need to know when you come up and visit us.

The fur always flies during February, just be sure you know who it is attached to!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Deceptive Dinner


I am a believer. For all the hullabaloo surrounding Jessica Seinfeld's new book, and the controversey forthcoming, I have initiated my own deceptive dining at the Kirkland home.
After a brisk afternoon of sledding and shoveling, the boys were starving. Yukon is away at a meeting, so I took the opportunity to experiment with dinner.
Bear, in particular, is a picky eater's picky eater. This child who used to eat every flavor of baby food and beg for more has transitioned into a mini pub-grubber, showing a preference for those kid-pleasing favs over anything green, yellow, red, well, you get the picture.
My sister in law gave me the Book for Christmas, and I was impressed by the variety of options for hiding nutrition in such a surreptitious manner. Avocado in chocolate pudding? Spinach in a brownie? Impossible!
Tonight I started slow; boiled the mac n' cheese with my back to the children, smooshing up the squash behind their backs. Stirred in the cheesy powder (at least it is Annie's) and milk, and then tossed in the squash before the boys could lift their heads from what they were doing.
I used an interesting variety of squash, a hybrid of spaghetti/delicata, not stringy though. I stirred and stirred until the cheese made a nice, saucy hiding place for the yellow squash.
Serving it up took courage; I tried not to stare as they took bites. Kids are so damned alert sometimes to any unusual dinnertime behavior. But I couldn't help it. Should this work, my world of nutritional deception would be wide open.
Wolf, intent on a book (reading only allowed at table when Dad is away), ate quickly and didn't even notice anything. Duh. Bear, on the other hand, ate like a horse, shoveling in spoonful after spoonful. He even had seconds.
It was all I could do not to dance on the table. By God, I got him to eat a vegetable! Copy, schmopy, vegatable plagarism, call it what you will.
Mission accomplished.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Peas and Carrots

On Saturday, Wolf had a friend come over to go swimming and sledding. This was the second time J. had visited our home.
With the combination of Wolf's ADD and mild Asperger's, finding, much less keeping friends has been a difficult endeavor. Not able to "read" people, as most of us are conditioned to do, Wolf does not easily converse in the traditional way. The boy will talk a mile a minute, but only about what he is interested in, missing the social cues and skills of everyday conversation. Thus, friendships usually are of short duration and frought with misunderstanding and conflict.
He has made great strides, however, in the last six months or so, with the help of a dedicated medical, school, and church "circle of caring". While social skills are still our number one problem, especially now that Wolf is on the brink of the great precipice called adolescence; when how one acts, looks, and impresses others is not simply something, it is EVERYTHING.
A few weeks ago, a mother who belongs to my book club at church mentioned that her twelve-year-old son was very lonely. She homeschools her three boys, and her oldest did not have many friends either, and appeared to enjoy the same things as Wolf. I could sense the answer to my many times prayed prayer for Wolf to have a friend closer to his own age, and asked if perhaps the boys could get together some day.
J. came over one afternoon and immediately we mothers could see the truly wonderful balance that allows them to be friends. Wolf is gregarious, silly, and often impulsive, but generally good-hearted and active. J. is calm, level-headed, and willing to play just about any game; he also loves to be outdoors. Together, one influences the other's most positive attributes, making their friendship like the proverbial peas and carrots. One round, one square, but both worthy vegetables. They played games, went sledding, ate cookies, amused Bear downstairs, and generally hung out like kids are supposed to do.
Other parents of children with similar issues agree that the worst part of the disability is watching other kids torment, tease, and isolate our kids. The frustrated tears we shed for our children due to one thing or another in the daily struggle with ADD or Asperger's is exasperated when the friendship issue appears again. We want to prepare the friend, their parents, the world, but know we can't, we can only encourage, remind, practice the skills we work on every single day. "I go to LCHS, where do you go to school?" "What movies do you like?" "Would you like to come over next weekend?" "What would YOU like to do today?"
J. stayed all day, ate Chinese food with us, and at church yesterday his parents asked if Wolf could go roller skating with them the next weekend. My eyes filled with tears as J.'s mom told me he thinks Wolf is "funny and great."
I don't think anyone has ever said that about him before. We'll take that as a moment of joy.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't Spit into the Wind

As this site is supposed to be about things I am learning, I will bow to its title and discuss a new little tidbit of information I discovered while jogging last week during our cold snap.
Our nighttime temperatures have finally risen above zero. Granted, there really is not much "real feel" difference to me of a thermometer at zero and one reading five. Comforting nonetheless, I decided to get back into the running regime and suited up. Long johns, wool sport socks, running pants, midweight top, half-zip top, fleece overshirt, gloves, hat, and the cous de gras (and my most prized running possession), the balaclava.
A nifty thing to keep the nose, ears, and chin from freezing completely, the balaclava is a skin-tight wonder that goes over the head and most of the face, leaving me to look like a robber or misplaced scuba diver. My Homer friend even has one with copper coils in it to warm the air she breathes in.
Off I went, feeling much better the further I jogged, toxins releasing like pollen on a spring day.
No moose even, to detour my route. But...
I still have a bit of a cold, and as everyone knows, when you have a cold you might have a bit of post-nasal drip that, well, drips. So you spit. Which I did, frequently.
As I ran faster and farther, this task became a little more difficult, the holding the balaclava down just long enough to spit, then pulling it up before my lips froze. The final launch was, I thought, a winner, surely clearing all body parts before coming to rest on the snowy street.
I arrived home, slowed to a walk, and noticed in the light of the street lamp all these frosty white spots on my black running pants. It was not until I got inside that I saw it was, yep, you guessed it, all the spit, frozen in little splotches on my pants.
Of course, Yukon and Wolf found this to be the coolest thing ever, and it was all I could do to keep Wolf from going outside and trying it himself. Only a 14 year old boy would want to spit on his pants on purpose.
Bear was more thoughtful. "Why did you lugi on you, Mommy?"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Perspective of Winter Ills


I have been remiss in my postings due to some winter bug I picked up, likely from the children.

Being sick with a fever and chills when the temperature is in the single digits is no fun, especially when one still has the daily duties to accomplish. Fortunately, Wolf was a trooper yesterday, helping out with Bear and had only one lapse in judgment when he dialed up his old friend in South Carolina without asking. At least he didn't dial up our friends in England.

Noticing how much more difficult even routine tasks are when ill made me think about some of my past clients' lives in Alaska before too many physicians, antibiotics, and other helps were available.

One woman, a tough little lady even now, at age 88, was born in a remote homestead cabin down in Kenai to parents who shot or grew everything the family ate. Not a problem in the summer. But in the winter, the family, out of fresh vegetables (rarely any other fruit than berries) relied on beans, bread, bacon, or whatever else they could stock up on infrequent trips to town.

If someone got sick, she said, Mother got out the natural remedies from the Native women in the area. Herbs were used for fevers, as salves, boiled with honey for coughs, and people relied on them if they did not have money for the "cures" sold at the store. But no antibiotics for strep throat or ear infections, or for even worse afflictions like diptheria or whooping cough, which could spread by visitors to the cabin.

If mom or dad got sick, chores still had to be completed. I found out real quick this morning that if the snow is not shoveled, it is nearly impossible to catch up after a time, as it packs like cement. Likewise with the wood stove. Who will stoke it if I don't?

Our family has developed a healthy respect for these homesteaders. Many of them have proclaimed to me that they really were pretty healthy most of the time; an abundance of fresh air and good food in the summer seemed to keep their immune systems working. Plus, many have said, Alaska was so sparse as far as population was concerned, that one did not see too many other people and thus did not spread illness like we do now.

Oh yeah, and the Cod Liver Oil. How could I forget that? Those of you who were force fed this concoction as children are screwing up your faces right now, aren't you?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Winterized




I am searching the Thesaurus for appropriate terms to describe today. Brilliant, shining, rich, magnificent, glorious.....

After two days of snow that dumped almost a foot of fluffy white stuff upon Anchorage, the sun came out for its five hours of glory today. And what a show the day had for us.

Although the temperature hovered near zero almost all day, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and shuttle the crew off to nearby Goose Lake, bordering the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. A popular venue for running, boating, swimming, and moose watching during the summer, the lake also boasts fabulous cross country ski trails and three skating rinks, upon which anyone can take a spin. Owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, and thus maintained by such, the rinks are hot-mopped on a regular basis (a low-budget type of Zamboni ice maintenance thing) so that the ice is smooth and utterly delicious to skate on, especially in such a setting.

Little Bear was eager to ski today, thank goodness, and strapped on the boards with little urging. He followed us around the snowy trees and onto the lake itself, and from there the lure of ice took over. Taking off his skis, he borrowed (well, okay, demanded) a ski pole and slid and stomped around the rink.

Wolf utilized his multi-sport talent and clicked into his skis immediately upon arrival, disappearing into the forest. It is interesting that a kid who struggles with coordination with so many things can be so fluid upon skis or skates, and for that we are thankful. He ditched the ski boots and put on his figure skates for a few spins around the rink while Yukon and I took turns skiing across Goose Lake and along its shoreline.

An interesting side note is the Lake's proximity to the Iditarod trail. One of the best places to watch the first leg of the race is right along the trails near the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Today I finally felt like we are supposed to feel in Alaska, after a staggered winter's start with little snow and crummy weather. We went outside, we got cold, our noses ran, and we were the kind of tired that only comes from breathless activity. Perfect.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

She Who Shovels


We finally received our first significant snowfall since Christmas day. It began snowing around 1:00 this afternoon, and hasn't quit yet (late at night). The boys spent a few quality hours frolicking in the white stuff, Bear with his little loader making trails in the front yard, and Wolf re-building a snow fort that had previously melted. I shoveled snow.

Most people put shoveling snow right up there with taking the garbage out; something that has to be done before it gets away from you. But for me, the nightly scooping and pitching over the driveway berms is a peaceful interlude from an otherwise hectic day. Right now it also provides me with an abbreviated workout, since Yukon is away and I cannot take my nightly run.

There is a strategy to shoveling the driveway, and I have it down to a coordinated grid of one way and then the other, being sure not to end up with too much snow on the flat blade for fear I will really screw up my back. You laugh, but it is amazing how much one shovelful of snow weighs. In fact, the Anchorage Daily News even published an article on snow shoveling today to make sure people do it right. I read somewhere that 30 minutes of brisk shoveling can burn 500 calories. That ought to cover the half-can of fluffy white frosting I ate for dessert tonight.

So the snow keeps falling, I keep shoveling, and my biceps keep growing. This is my journey into solitude right in my own driveway. I won't let Yukon shovel, he doesn't appreciate its mental health benefit.

The weather outside may be frightful, but my little regimen is quite delightful.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

While the Husband is Away, the Wife Will Clean


Yukon has departed the frozen North for gray and rainy Portland for four days of meetings. I have departed to my downstairs family room for four days of sorting, stacking, purging and trashing more of the "stuff" that seems to accumulate overnight.
A pack rat of the highest esteem, Yukon has collections of paper-type items that date back to his college years. It is my duty as a member of the obsessive-compulsive-cleaner-club to get rid of much of it. Among items of note; a Star Trek Star Fleet Manual (which I actually saved, you never know who might want that some day) and a 1984 "Oregon Women" calendar from his days at U of O. I might keep that too, come to think of it, to remind me that the 80's were a decisively horrid fashion decade.
I am experiencing a certain degree of glee in poking through papers that can safely be thrown out or burned in the wood stove with no fear of Yukon ever discovering I did it. Why? Perhaps the layer of dust covering everything was a clue.
With no kids in the house this morning, Bear having begun pre-school and Wolf back at his institution of higher learning, it is nirvana of organization. Hopefully all telltale signs will be removed before Yukon's return, then I'll wait and see if he even notices....

or I'll put the calendar on his pillow and watch his reaction.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Wolf No Longer a Pup

About this time fourteen years ago, I lay in a bed at Northwest Hospital in Seattle, staring at a small bundle who stared right back at me. Young, idealistic, and a bit old-fashioned, I figured I had this motherhood thing in the bag after a short labor and no drugs that made me a bit of a celebrity at the birthing center.
Now, at the fork in the road between little boy and impending manhood, I am made to think that the longer I do this mom thing, the less I know. For instance, the "come here, go away" behavior when we go anywhere is intruiging, especially the morning after the evening of a great game of Scrabble or Uno when, for a brief moment, all is right in his world.
Fourteen. Wolf can now, in Alaska, get a Learner's Permit to drive, operate a firearm, and kill his own caribou (should he desire to do this). If he lived in one of the remote Native villages, he would also be considered a man on the annual seal or whale hunts. He would be expected to pull his weight (all 95 lbs of it) and more as a contributing member of the group. And should his father become incapacitated by a polar bear or other unforseen tragedy, he would be considered the head of the family. All at fourteen.
I'm not sure I'm ready for fourteen, or anything beyond it, for that matter. It still seems like just a little before yesterday that he was swaddled in his hospital blanket, watching my every move and deciding about me as his mother.
Happy Birthday, Wolf.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Homer Highlights




Visiting Homer for our family is the next best thing to being back home in Port Angeles, WA, from whence we hail. The atmosphere, people, and wide range of activities suiting our lifestyle appeal greatly to us. In fact, if we could swing it, we'd be living there right now!

Crazy busy in the summer with the tourism trade, Homer is a quiet rural retreat the rest of the year, bringing us down there more and more often. On this trip we stayed at the Ocean House Inn, located right on the water where we could listen to waves crashing against the shoreline. A steal in the wintertime, the Ocean House had great service and a great view. Their Web site is http://www.homeroceanhouse.com/.

Enjoy some photos from our holiday in Homer.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Five Minutes, Five Yards


We are an outdoor family, meaning that our main form of entertainment consists of any activity that will get us outside and away from our desks, computers, video games, and dvd's. So when Yukon and I first met, a top criteria for our future together was the other person's desire to spend time in God's country enjoying the wilderness, ocean, etc. Naturally we assumed when we had children, this would continue. We must have been out of our minds.

For weeks we had been looking forward to our trip to Homer, if nothing else than for some great cross-country skiing with our Friend and her little daughter. Homer, for some reason, has been getting the lion's share of the snow that Anchorage usually does. Thus, upon our arrival in the little village, at least 20+ inches of the white stuff was on the ground. Yukon was more than ready to strap on the skinny boards and do some schussing down the trail, and I certainly was. Older son Wolf was as ready as any teenager is to do anything. A monosyllabic "yuh" was all we needed from him. Then came Bear.

Bear, not unlike his blog pseudoname, is a bit independent, and a bit too into his own world, as many toddlers are. He loves to be outdoors, and he loves to ski, as long as it is on his terms. On this particular day, the terms would not have satisfied a Union negotiator.

After two hours of getting ready (those of you with children will attest to the phenom that occurs when you get ready to do anything in the snow with kids; it takes two hours to prepare them and take the double shot of Jack Daniels to see you through), we were finally in the truck, dutifully following Friend to a lovely area at which to ski. Talking incessently about skiing, Bear hollered to "get me out" upon our arrival at the trailhead, got his little skis, and slogged to the start area before any of the rest of us could even say "not yet".

Unfortunately, the planets that allow skiing must not have been in alignment that day, for about five yards down the trail, Bear decided he wanted to walk. On a pleasant summer's day in Homer, I am sure the trail is a delightful place to walk; however, with 20 inches of wet and heavy snow, and he being only 30 inches high, well, you get the picture.

Whining, then violent protesting, and finally, flailing insued. I, and Friend, frustrated with the culmination of hours of preparation, picked both children up (for her child now did not want to go, either) by the straps of their little ski suits and dumped them into the sled where they continued to thrash about and cry until the tears began to freeze on their eyelids. No kids winning this battle, nosiree.

It turned out to be a great day. Bear got his way and walked most of the trail, pissing off no doubt countless skiers who had hoped for groomed cross-country skiing and instead found size 9T boot tracks on the route. Yukon got some great skiing in with Wolf and another friend, for they bailed as soon as the whimpering started. Cowards.

Best part was, I got a heck of a workout. Bear, tired of walking at least a mile in the snow (duh), would not ride in the sled w/ Friend's child on the way back and made me piggyback him for the return trip.

Hooah.