Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shipping Lanes and Aeroplanes

Many people have asked us how we will get our new dog, Jasper, up to live with us in Alaska. A good question, which then leads to the bigger question of how to get anything up to live in Alaska.
Due to its remoteness, and "one road in, one road out" geographic layout (the Alcan, or Alaska-Canada Highway was only completely paved in 1992) of Alaska makes shipping goods (or dogs) either direction a tricky proposition.
When we moved from South Carolina to Alaska, our adventure began a full month before we ever left. Goods may be shipped one or more of three ways, barge, the most common and most affordable method; air, by far the most expensive; or truck. Shipping via road or water takes days, weeks, or even months, depending upon the weather and road/water conditions.
One of our vehicles, shipped early to be awaiting us when we arrived took six weeks, and our shipping container of household goods, a month. Our friend, M.D. advised us to send a few boxes of winter clothing and toys for the boys so that we would have at least a few things to call our own upon our arrival, and that proved to be one of the wisest move decisions we ever made. Four boxes, traveling Parcel Post, made it to her house in a little over a month.
But on to the shipping of a dog. Fortunately, Yukon will be in Portland for a business trip and can make a short detour with his sister to pick up Jasper in Tillamook, Oregon mid-March. We will send an empty dog crate down with him (I would love to see the faces of the airport personnel when they look and see no dog in the dog crate, and the ensuing chaos). Dogs are constantly transported via air in and around Alaska, and many are shipped via Alaska Cargo, which we don't use because the cost is twice as much.
A trip up to Anchorage from Portland for Jasper will run about $100, attached to Yukon's ticket. They will arrive home just before Easter, and we'll affix bunny ears to the greatest Easter present we have ever received.
A good time for new starts all around.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Brightened by 20+ degree weather and bluebird skies, the Kirkland crew spent most of the weekend down at Anchorage's Fur Rendezvous, watching a parade, cheering on dogsleds, and generally having a great time.

Growing up in a town that celebrated the salmon run each October in a small-time, community-oriented event bringing just everybody downtown, this celebration of the winter fur catch in Anchorage appears to be a natural fit.

There is something incredibly secure in the mere act of walking down the street and needing to stop every few yards to talk to an acquaintance, turning the event into a community meet and greet. For a family transplanted twice in the past five years, settling into an environment by which we have such an experience just validates we are in the right place.

Although this was our first official attendance at Fur Rondy, we felt immediately at home during this 10-day festival, carnival rides and all. Bear took his first trip on the flying "ephalents", big brother challenged the Gravitron, and Yukon and I stood in the center of it all, marvelling that we were indeed sending our children on State Fair rides in the middle of winter.

With so many weekends at the office (Yukon) becoming the norm, our timeout together as a family trumped everything else. Big kid leading the way down the street, neck craning to see the winning dog team, little kid on Dad's shoulders, saying "good morning" to everyone, Mom oogling at beaver hats and gloves.
A photo note: The Native woman and her granddaughter are wearing kuspuks, a traditional parka that can be made out of everything from calico to caribou hide. Incredibly well-designed, the kuspuk keeps the entire top half of the body warm and dry. Fur trims the hood to keep warm air around the face and head.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Dog Blog

It is quite amazing the way things work out sometimes. A few weeks ago, Yukon and I, and the rest of the family, were still grieving over the loss of our beloved Yellow Dog. I had mentioned the tracks in the backyard; and my desire to replace a cherished running/office buddy to Yukon. While he understood my dog desires, he felt that a reasonable amount of time needed to pass before he would be ready to welcome a new member of the family.

Wanting some tangible way to know when the time would be right, we agreed upon two things. First, that the right dog would appear to us at some point, and we had to remember not to limit ourselves as to a certain type, size, etc. After all, some of the best dogs we have known were dogs we never expected to own. Second, the backyard needed to be covered completely with snow. Both of these markers would, we thought, give us time to get used to the idea of life without a dog, and then the idea of life with a different dog. At the time, the weather was still bitterly cold and sunny, with no prospect for any precipitation whatsoever. We were not cruising the dog rescue Web sites yet, nor looking through the classified section, so on that score we were safe. We went to bed that night convinced of a surefire plan.

We awoke the next morning to 8 inches of snow. Strange enough. Then I read an email, entitled "Great dog find".

Yukon's sister, who raises and shows German Shorthaired Pointers, had run into a young lady who was looking for a new home for her young dog; he was a too-short shorthair to be successful in the show ring. She had heard of our loss and offered her dog to our family.

Wolf smiled. Yukon wept. I took a walk, said a goodbye, and answered Yes.

Laughter through tears. Meet Jasper.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Media Circus

10 days to go until the 2008 Iditarod proceeds into mushing history with a record number of teams still signed up. Mushers from across the U.S., Germany, Norway, Sweden, etc. are doing final checks of team ability; most will not make a final decision until right before start time.

Idit volunteers in Anchorage are beginning the back-breaking task of loading up small airplanes for distribution drops all along the course. No small task, it takes hundreds of folks to make the drops happen; from private pilots who donate their time to young college kids who can heft a 75-lb bale of straw over and over.

Everyone is watching the weather closely, for, up until Sunday night, we had what was shaping up to be a fair trail for most of the way. Then here in the Anchorage area, it began to warm up. And up. Right now the temperature is in the mid 40's and pouring rain, and the two feet of snow we had over the past week is rapidly becoming but a memory.

My media credentials have been "approved" and now I must attend a briefing next week at the Milennium Hotel, the center of it all for the Iditarod, to learn all the must-do's and musn't-do's for the upcoming race. Since most of the media folks are from Outside, it makes sense to hold such a briefing, and we are asked to familiarize ourselves with the 60-page "Media Guide" beforehand. This Guide covers everything from fun facts to finding lodging in areas of the race where there is no lodging (read, you better like sleeping on somebody's floor), and what to bring/not bring.

On Sunday we traveled downtown to visit with some sled dogs participating in our Fur Rondy sprint races (races of around 11 miles through town and back), just to get ourselves excited about the Iditarod. Wolf had a ball patting and hugging and being loved back by some of the most delightfully well-behaved dogs, who, nonetheless, were excited about the commotion and the idea that perhaps they might be running soon. Bear and Yukon spent most of their time eating hot dogs and watching the trains at the nearby depot.

Mush on, everybody, and don't forget to visit the Official Iditarod Web Site at, or the Anchorage Daily News at for regular updates and interesting stories.

Yes, we might be getting some more anti-race comments, but we'll take 'em. After all, they are there, and we are here!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Winter Wonder

It is no secret that we have all been suffering a bit from "cabin fever", and with temperatures in January and early February averaging 5 degrees, going outdoors became a chore rather than an activity.

At the end of last week we were rewarded with both a rise in temperatures and an accumulation of almost two feet of snow, bringing the family back into its usual harmony. Boys go outside; Mom happy.

Yesterday the family trucked about 7 miles south of our homestead in east Anchorage to an event titled simply "Winter Trails Day". Sponsored by the reliable and community-minded REI store and the Bureau of Land Management, and held at the Campbell Creek Science Center (, the event was geared towards getting the whole crew outside for an afternoon. Free ski and snowshoe rental, skijoring demonstrations (dogs pulling people who are on skis), and free kid food. What's not to like about that?

With downy snowflakes falling about our faces, we put everyone on his or her own snowshoes (even Bear has some) and away we went down a short loop trail marked with interesting signs about local animals. Both Bear and Wolf did very well; Wolf leading the way and motivating Bear to keep moving. We saw moose tracks with their round prints and distinctive skid marks from hind feet skimming the snow; snowshoe hare tracks, and even some branches munched on by what we think was a porcupine, although we are not certain, since moose eat bark and branches, too.

We were home by 2:00, put Bear down for a late nap, got Wolf involved in a new book, and spent the rest of the afternoon in front of the wood stove, soaking up an Alaska winter day, and an Alaska Winter Ale. Not too shabby.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Spring Has Sprung, Not

My sister-in-law sent me these bulbs, complete with soil and pot, for Christmas. I had forgotten about them, but lo and behold, I have flowers!

Until I moved to Alaska I had never before appreciated the freshness of green plants, or the sweet smell of a flower in February, when spring fever hits us hard. Tired of snow, cold, and darkness (although that is getting better, rapidly), this is the time of year when Alaskans head for anyplace warm. Anyplace at all.

I love the view from my kitchen window; flower pot on the sill, snow-covered trees out back, my little snowflake lights glimmering around the frame. Winter is many months away, I fear (we had almost 18 inches of snow overnight and this morning, I had to shovel twice), but a little peep of spring is right under my nose.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Supermom Underpants?

Below is an adaptation of my weekly blog entry for Working Mother magazine...

Last week, while I was in the middle of making dinner, perusing my older son's half-done homework, and trying to listen to election returns on NPR, Bear took off his pants. Not a totally unheard of occurrence for this wigglesome three year-old, but this time he did it with such purpose I had to stop and ask him what he was doing.

"I have to put on my Superman underpants," he replied. And why? "So I will be stronger," he said, with a look that told me I should have known the answer.

Oh, if it were only that easy! If the makers of Jockey could produce some magic formula to transform a tired, cranky mommy at around 5 p.m. each day into Supermom. I could skip the evening traffic and fly to Wolf's taekwondo class, dinner would be on time, and the strange keyboard pattern would no longer be on my forehead because I fell asleep on it.

There have been many posts (on momblog) regarding the balance among work, family, and self; that the three-legged stool cannot stand if one leg is absent. How do we do it, then? How do we create the framework that allows us, as working mothers in diverse professions, the same dedication to our families and ourselves as we do to our jobs? I left a pretty nice set up at an Anchorage non-profit a few months ago to stay home with our boys. But something was missing, something as intrinsically important to me as my job of mothering and spouse-ing. The stool seemed to be missing not one leg, but two, and only with the re-emergence of a previously shelved writing career have they come back.

Yes, some days I desperately want those Supermom underpants. A child needs me to help at school two days before a huge deadline. The dog dies, or the car does. There are certainly moments when I wonder if it is all worth it, this running around crazy-like.

Then I take a look at that little stool in the corner of my office with all three legs firmly planted on the ground, and all is right. I wonder if Yukon would think Supermom lingerie is sexy, though?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Does God Care About the Jello Salad?

A pardon to those who have checked in, expecting to see a new post. I profoundly apologize, but I have been busy with God and the Jell-o molded salad.
I belong to a lovely church in Anchorage, 1st Pressed. Great people, many of whom have become lifelong friends, so for those who may be reading, please, no disrespect intended. As Yukon, the children and I become more familiar with church operations and activities, it is natural that we become more involved. One of those opportunities, a book club of sorts, is usually my weekly chance to vent about my husband and children to a group of like-minded women while we peruse a chosen book over the course of the school year.
An advantage to this "circle" (as groups of church women are referred to) is the opportunity to engage in this chatter and book study without our children crawling, whining, and throwing up on us, due to the PW. The PW, a group of women who have been at this church since Mary conceived Jesus, are an entity, a presence, and a force to be reckoned with. They also pay for the childcare. So when the PW asks, we become cheerful servants at such functions as Valentine's Day Salad Extravangaza, or the Springtime Tea and Cake Party. As we did on Saturday.
Supposedly a luncheon to appeal to the "younger women" of the church family, the event was a fairly simple affair. I cooked the hams in the cavernous church oven (every church has one, don't tell me yours doesn't), hiding out in the kitchen under the ruse that I musn't let the glaze burn.
Dessert, rolls, and punch rounded out our contribution, and the PW ladies brought the holy salads.
A salad potluck luncheon is a fascinating display of sociology. You can tell who spent the most prep time, who has done this before, and who stopped by the Fred Meyer on the way. Experienced ladies bring their own serving utensils and wash their dishes before they leave. Seasoned covered-dish participants are savvy to the wisdom of a smallish bowl; that to bring a huge dish is only asking for leftovers, and as everyone knows, an empty bowl is the greatest compliment.
So, we younger ladies ran around in the kitchen, bumping into each other and forgetting where we laid the pot holders and butter pats. I did not hear the speaker, but I understand she was quite good, for a younger woman. I missed the singing of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" because the ham got cold and I had to stick it back in the oven and the buns were not warming correctly. Then I had to scrape off the glaze after it hardened onto the countertop where I spilled it.
At the end of the day, when we were cleaning up, folding pink tablecloths and putting away sugar bowls, the PW Preceptress came into the kitchen and sought me out. Never a good sign. I figured she was either going to smack me a good one for not showing up in the Fellowship Hall to visit, or she was pleased with the whole affair. Fortunately, the latter. But not so fortunately, she also asked me if I would be the new PW Poobah.
"Understanding what challenges I had in my life right now", and patting me on the shoulder like a teacher to a slow student, she left me with a request to pray about it and think about the "balance" such a position might give to my life.
I wonder if Jesus ever had to worry about someone bringing the wrong molded salad to any of HIS meetings?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Caucus Crazy

It is not often that Alaskans are party to events happening in the rest of the nation. With our time difference (AK time is one hour behind Pacific time, which means a smacking 4-hour difference from the east coast) most notable events and activities are already over and done by the time we hear about it. But not yesterday.
Even Alaska's vote counted at the first presdential primaries of the open season for potential candidates. I even heard CNN talk about us in their play-by-play, up to the millisecond commentary. Granted, it was while muckey-mucks were waiting to talk about some other place, but we'll take it.
Alaskans turned out in droves to both the Democratic caucuses and Republican polls. The boys and I experienced this phenomenon first hand as we tried in vain to get home after taekwondo practice, once we decided to bag the attempt at seeing a caucus in person. This morning in the newspaper ( I discovered why. There were almost 5,000 people making their way across town to our neck of the neighborhood at 5:00pm to try and make it by 5:30. Start time for the caucus was pushed back until 6pm, then 6:30. Finally, organizers just went ahead and crammed the folk in and did their best to make sure no fire marshalls were in attendance.
Democratic party officials said at the last caucus held in Anchorage, only 200 people showed up. Republican officials watched as ballots ran out of circulation, and had to be copied for the hoardes waiting outside in below zero temperatures, waiting to cast their vote.
I think we are in for some serious change.... just think what will happen when Mayor Begich decides to run against Uncle Ted? I'd walk across town to cast that vote.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Roaring Silence

The yellow hair is still on my sweater, the trails are still visible in the backyard, circling the birdfeeder and fencelines. I still by habit step over now-imaginary dog dishes to get into the laundry room, and my hand somehow drifts down to the empty rug beneath my desk. The silence is deafening.
We cannot emphasize enough our gratitude for the outpouring of love and understanding from our family and friends. Emails and phone calls have flooded our home, and allowed Wolf, especially, some much-needed release of emotion with someone other than his parents.
For those who are not acquainted with the allure of the Yellow Dog, she was Wolf's friend during some very turbulent times; a rock of which he could cling when his days were just too full of misunderstandings and misgivings. She never asked a thing of him that he couldn't give, and was always, always there.
Many have suggested that we begin the search for another dog soon. Perhaps, when the hurt (our friend TG called it "visceral" and oh, how right he is) subsides a bit more. When we stop calling out her name as we come in the door in the afternoon, when a "new normal" begins to creep into our daily routine.
When I finally vacuum up the last of the yellow hair and it snows just a little bit.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Come Back Yeller

I am torn between wanting it to snow a foot to mask the paw prints on the deck and wanting the freeze up to continue so that they are there forever....

Pepper. 5/94-2/1/08