Monday, March 31, 2008

I'm Making You What??!!

Last week, on the way home from only five errands instead of the usual ten, Bear let loose a heavy sigh from the back seat. Glancing back, I asked what was troubling. After a moment of speculation, he said "Mommy, you make me nervous."

I make him nervous? How the heck could I possibly make a three-year old nervous, and where did he learn that word, anyway?! Perhaps he has heard us use it as we refer to new dog Jasper, but who knows. Bear is a very keen observer of his surroundings and the people in them, so it could have been the person in front of us at Fred Meyer for all I know.

At any rate, the remaining drive home gave me pause to reflect upon 1) whether or not I indeed make him and anyone else in the family nervous, and 2) if I do, how to change. I decided that afternoons definitely lend themselves to nervousness. Trying to make it to Wolf's school on time to collect him and his homework, nagivating traffic through still-icy streets, starting dinner before Taekwondo, interviewing people for upcoming articles, fighting of the PW (still); all potentially create a nervous mommy, in my way of thinking.

How to mitigate? Yoga, perhaps, but that would just be another thing I would have to commit to attending. Turning off the cell phone? Certainly. It drives Yukon nuts when he can't find me, but truly, he and anybody else can leave me a message.

I asked Bear yesterday if I still made him nervous. He told me "Yes, you do." I decided to probe a little further and asked "Why?" Maybe I would learn something more I could be doing for my poor little waif and his potentially shattered psyche.

"Because you don't give me cookies."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fancy Running Into You

I took the plunge this week and took Jasper running. With the boundless energy his breed is known for, I knew that it was only a matter of time before the heebeejeebees took over. Besides, being chained to him for four days gave me enough perspective to understand his little psyche needed to get outside and do something. So, we dressed in the running clothes, got out the memorial moose lead that belonged to Pepper, and trotted off down the street.

Immediately differences between running with an Old Yellow Dog and a young German Bird Dog became apparant. Whereas the Yellow Dog would run five steps behind me, hoping to get me to stop eventually so she could grumble at every passing yard dog, Bird Dog popped his stubby tail into the air and stepped lively in concert with me. A good feeling.

The further we went the calmer he became, coming to understand his purpose; to just run with Person and not stop to sniff, pee, bark, or otherwise detract from the outing's mission. We jogged this way for almost 45 minutes and circled back to see if any moose could be found along the treeline of the nearby park, just to see what, if anything, Jasper would do upon smelling one. None were visible or within smelling range (this dog has a nose!) so homeward bound we went.

I don't think Bird Dog has had much exercise in the past few months, as he headed straight for his bed after a drink, turned around three times and began snoring. Sleeping seems to be a favorite activity of his, we have noticed.

This weekend we are going to try a short trip to the park, walking on trails outside of our normal route. Jasper is bonding well to us and is trusting that we are okay people to be around.

Oh yes, and I have a writing dog again, too. He is sleeping at my feet, right where Pepper used to sit. A mere arm reach away.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fishin' Dreams

When the snow begins to melt, the days become longer, and the birds begin their twittering, an Alaskan man's fancy turns to.....Fish.

This is our third spring in Alaska, and, like clockwork, we have joined other Alaskan minds as they wander towards the upcoming summer fish catch. For us, it all began Easter Sunday as we sat around the table with our good friends, feasting on smoked salmon spread made by T & J.

March is the time of year when the newspapers begin publishing specials on guided fishing trips, new gear, and big boats. It is also when homeowners fortunate to have an extra freezer (almost a necessity) start digging into its depths to see what, if any, fish products are left from last season. Cleaning out the freezer is mandatory to make room for the 2008 cache. Depending upon the level of freezer burn, which may or may not make the product dog food, a schedule of weekly fish consumption is created, and our family has reaped the benefits. Besides the salmon spread, we will be dining on clam strips, halibut on the grill, salmon patties, and some scallops a friend sent us. As we sit down to the table to eat what we caught, dug, or netted ourselves, I can now fully appreciate the feeling of self-satisfaction as I feed my children food they helped procure.

I mentioned salmon as dog food. Yes, some types of salmon are used to feed the dogs. Usually pinks, the lowest on the chain of tastiness, but still pretty good when smoked. Dogs enjoy salmon as much as we do, in fact, many sled dog mushers feed the fish to their teams to get the full benefit of the omega-3's. Mixed with kibble and cooked into a soupy gruel, dogs slurp it up with relish.

This summer we will be dipnetting for salmon, fishing for halibut in Haines on a vacation with the above friends, digging clams in Ninilchik and Clam Gulch, and picking blueberries, crowberries, and cranberries on the hillsides near our home.

We will feel rich.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Family of Five

Our little Alaskan family of four has become a pack of five; Jasper Kirkland arrived on Alaska Airlines Flight #101 with Yukon early Easter morning. Though inititally (and still a bit) shellshocked at his new people and surroundings, he is adjusting well.

Yukon and I owe great gratitude to his sister, a German Shorthair afficianado, who has provided us with endless knowledge and tips for making the most of this potentially difficult transition.

One of her most valued pointers was to keep Jasper on a short leash 24/7 for this first week in order to allow him to bond with us, whether he likes it or not (fortunately he does). I must say, however, that holding an active dog on the business end of a lead all the time is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Ever try to put contact lenses in one-handed? Make a piece of toast and jam? Fortunately, Jasper is also crate-trained, and that gives us all some respite occasionally, and at night.

I liken this to adopting not a dog, but a toddler, and now we have two. Bear and Jasper seem to be kindred spirits. In fact, Jasper walked right up to him upon introduction, tail wagging. Whew.

Wolf has been a trooper, learning how to manage commands and taking short turns with the leash.

Yukon comes home in a few hours and will do his fatherly duty of the afternoon/evening walk around the neighborhood. I will get dinner ready with the full use of all my appendages (right now I am typing w/ the leash around my foot; Jasper is napping on the floor!).

A good boy coming into our lives at a good time. I will try a run later this week and see how he does. With the bears waking up, I will feel better running on the trails. At least in a general sense. I have NO idea how Jasper will react to the local wildlife.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Breaking Up

The boys and I arrived home late last night to dry pavement and brown grass instead of snow. The term for this annual arrival of Spring (a loosely used concept) is "Break Up". And boy, does it break up.

In areas where rivers, lakes, and other open water predominates, the melting of a winter's worth of ice is an important date, indeed. Ice means another way of traveling through the remote wilderness, i.e. with your snogo (snowmobile) dogsled, or even your pickup truck, should the mood strike you. Not only a way to pass the time in areas where entertainment is sparse (Nenana, a town on the way to Denali NP, has a big pool of people who win a ton of money for guessing when the ice will break), the "break up" of the ice is also a safety issue. Nope, don't want to be out there when it starts to go. People, dogs, sleds, and even a few moose have perished due to thin ice conditions.

In our neighborhood, we don't have to worry about much danger from melting ice, if you don't count what lies in our backyard.

Due to either my denial, or the snowpack (or both), I have until today neglected to pick up the residual effects of a dog living in our house this past year. Crap. So, this afternoon, with a brisk breeze coming from the North and sun shining brightly, Bear and I pulled on our "break up boots" and went to clear the poop deck.

In a burst of intelligence, little Bear promptly went to the swingset where his little legs dangled as I struggled to maneuver the shovel, plastic garbage bag, and pile after pile of what my less-than-delicate neighbor calls "dog poop soup". Adding to the mechanics of the process were the camoflauge of leaves left over from autumn and the rock hard ground.

Almost makes me wish for the -10 days again. At least then it was akin to pioneers picking up frozen buffalo chips.

I did what I could, rewarded myself with a cold beer in the yard while Bear finished swinging and Wolf chopped at a snowbank out front. The sun was still bright, the breeze still fresh, and we could at least walk a straight line to the back door without slipping in something.

Until tomorrow, when Yukon brings Jasper home. He sure is going to be busy out there...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Homeward Bound

After almost two weeks in the relative springlike weather of Seattle and Portland, the boys and I are headed back to Alaska tomorrow evening. I hear it snowed today.
My desire to return home is fueled mostly by the desire to get back to our normal routine, if indeed we do have one. I enjoy traveling, or at least think I enjoy traveling, until reality bites. Teenager and toddler fight for number one spot on who can be most irritating in the car ("He won't let me kick him!" "Mom, tell him to stop putting his fingers in my ears!"), Yukon refuses to be rushed through any restaurant as a self-proclaimed World's Slowest Eater, and I simply exist to referee, dole out juice and snacks, and pay off Wolf for good behavior.
Lest I sound catty, the trip overall was a great opportunity to show the boys the proverbial playgrounds of my childhood; we drove past the house my father grew up in, hiked some local trails, visited some family, heard good news.
But I like Alaska. It is our home, and it is calling us. I hear that Yukon did a militaristic cleaning job before he left. If this is true, I want to go there even more!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Roots for Wings

I took the boys and Wolf's little half brother and sister (ages 8 and 6) to the local park the other day. Sitting on the site of the old library (but in the same general area), this park was a staple of my childhood. The tall metal slide that was hotter than hell in the summer, a log teepee thing we climbed on, all that is gone and has been replaced by nifty train-themed equipment that is divided up in areas so all the kids, regardless of age, have a spot to play safely. Not that I totally agree with this; heck, I played on the teepee when I was too young, got stuck at the top, and ended up falling off with little damage done. But, times have changed I guess, and the children had a blast.

As the kids and I were walking home, young "S" walked with Bear and me and listened as I regailed them with my Issaquah knowledge. "So and so lived here, he was a mean man who got mad when we jumped over his hedge." "I used to go swimming in the creek down that street, we'd go all the way to lake Sammamish and then walk home." Impressed, S asked if I missed living here. I said I did sometimes, because there were so many things that were the same.

My roots run deep here. I went running the evening I arrived and kept going and going, jogging past all the places I used to ride my bike as a kid (with, I might add, no helmet or care of getting run over). Spring has arrived now, and with it comes the old houses with tulips and crocuses and little pots of primroses on their front porches. The smell of plum blossoms was almost overwhelming for the familiarity of it. I almost told Yukon that we needed to come back when I talked on the phone to him. I almost couldn't stand being so far away.

But the wings stopped me. My parents, for years, kept this verse hanging on their wall; "There are two lasting gifts parents can give their children. One is roots, the other, wings...."

I don't think the blossoms would have smelled so sweet, nor the flowers seemed so bright, had I not had wings.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Plane Talk

The boys and I, after an extremely crowded flight from Anchorage, are now in the balmy climate of Seattle ready to begin our break-out-to-Spring vacation. I hadn't had the pleasure of traveling with the children by myself for quite some time, and was a bit nervous at the prospect of spending three hours in an airplane cabin with a preschooler and a teenager.
Due to the volume of people like ourselves seizing an opportunity to leave Alaska in March, Wolf was seated by himself across the aisle and behind us, much to his delight. Next to him was an older couple from Maine, and as the flight progressed, I became more thankful for their understanding and willingness to accomodate him.
Bear, for the most part, was happy to be on an airplane and amused himself by looking out the window and reading stories. I had planned on renting the Digiplayer for both boys, but somehow the airline catering company forgot to load them on our flight, our luck. Fortunately I had a laptop and a Beach Boys DVD that Bear loves to watch. Wolf, on the other hand, was crushed to have his uninterrupted three hours of video bliss stymied by unthinking airline personnel.
While I was unsure how to placate him from a distance, the lady seated by his side suggested they play "Twenty Questions", not realizing she was sitting next to a scientific encyclopedia. However, this woman, who must have been hand-picked by Heaven to sit next to my son, thought he was the most amusing, intelligent child she had ever met and proceeded to laugh her way to Seattle. She even gave him a cough drop, Wolf's favorite soothing treat.
God bless this woman and her patient, kind husband, for making my trip, and my son's trip, smooth and enjoyable.
I am sure her knowledge of megaladons has been expanded immensely.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dude and Dad

Yukon, Wolf and I have been a family for almost 5 years, although Yukon has been a part of our life for close to 7. Consequently, Wolf and Yukon's journey to the plateau where they are today has been one of peaks, valleys, and rushing rivers of emotional jockeying to see where the other truly stands.

Stepparenting from where I sit is no picnic, even in the best of circumstances. Stepparenting a child with Asperger Syndrome adds oil to the water of the once-comfortable (to Wolf) family unit; a part of the overall recipe, but not quite mixing until shaken violently.

Wolf's transition to acceptance of Yukon's parenting came about over a few years, not after a few difficult months of moving across country, having a new baby brother, and moving back again to the Northwest. Nights of frustration over Math homework, rule-setting, taking time away from mom; all these "normal" reactions to a new dad were exacerbated by Wolf's inability to express how he felt about the whole thing, and our lack of understanding into Asperger's at that time prevented us from truly listening to his nonverbal cues.

I can say that as a family, the past year has been one of reckoning with respect to Yukon's relationship with Wolf and his diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome both coming at about the same time. Separate but equal in their importance, those chunks of Wolf's life were exposed to reveal a boy who wanted desperately to love his new dad, but didn't have the tools to figure out how to let himself do so. Until October of last year.

A friend visiting Anchorage from my office lost her husband in a tragic floatplane crash (not so unusual in Alaska, unfortunately). Wolf observed her sorrow, and our reaction to the accident, and was uncharacteristically quiet and subdued during the days following as Yukon and I scrambled to assist our friend with memorial service plans.

A few days after the accident, Wolf and I were in the car coming home from school, and he asked me if I thought it would be all right if he called Yukon "Dad", even though he had another dad already. I answered "of course".

Wolf looked out the window a minute, turned back to me and said "Good, because I really, really want to."

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Trip Outside

Gee, we are going on vacation. A real, live, no-agenda vacation. Yukon suggested a few weeks ago that perhaps the rest of the family would like to join him on a business trip over spring break down to Seattle and Portland.
Make no mistake, traveling at any time with a toddler and a teenager, much less a teenager who takes any change in his routine as a crisis, is always stressful. Even when it is fun. But with the calendar saying "Spring Break", and, not seeing any visible signs of spring anywhere, I decided to embrace the standing invitations from family and friends and get us the heck out of here to the Great Outside.
I had better enlighten readers not from Alaska to the interesting terms used to describe other states in the Union. When referring to anyplace other than Alaska, the term "Outside" is used, as in "She lives Outside", or "We are going Outside for the winter", not to be confused with going outside to use the outhouse or going outside to feed the sled dogs, a merely temporary condition.
Another term, and one most used by those who have resided in Alaska longer than my lifetime, is "The States", as if Alaska were still a Territory. We personally like this one. It gives us an even greater sense of just how far away from the rest of the U.S. we are. Especially given our current unpopularity with the rest of the world.
So I am cutting boys' hair and washing their underwear and pulling out the "good" fleece to be sure we don't appear offensive on the trip South. I found the spring jackets and tennis shoes in a box in the closet downstairs, and took last Fall's nail polish off of my toes in case I have the opportunity to wear strappy little sandals in Seattle.
Wolf and I are coming to an agreement over just how much stuff grandma will be allowed to purchase for him at the Museum Store in the Mall, and how long he will be allowed to watch Spongebob when grandpa wants to catch Law and Order.
Bear is still trying to figure out who, exactly, we are visiting. With in-person meetings with family all to infrequent due to our locale and the extravagant cost to travel either here or there, Bear is going to have to rewarm to all the people he will soon be kissed and hugged by. Grandma and Auntie and Cousin ought to do the trick soon enough.
I only want to sit outside without a coat and breathe in the scent of almost spring in the Northwest. Even if it is only Skunk Cabbage, I'll take it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Iditarod Race Start Photos

Start Your Dogs

With a whole lot of barking and yowling, the 36th running of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race began in downtown Anchorage this morning. From the moment the side streets surrounding 4th Avenue opened to mushers around 6:30 a.m., the atmosphere fairly crackeled with excitement.

Down in the staging areas early myself, I spent most of the morning talking with mushers, taking photos, and getting kissed. Sled dogs are a happy, loveable lot, and every outstretched hand meant another opportunity for some lovin'. I patted and petted hundreds of heads as I wandered among teams preparing for the 1,100 mile journey that really begins tomorrow in Willow, about 60 miles north of Anchorage.

The official starting time was slated for 10 a.m., and shortly before I staked out my spot along a snow berm 10 yards or so from the Starting Line, along with a pair of photographers from National Geographic, a CNN reporter, and a local radio personality that was calling in to her show via cell phone. Hoping my digital camera with no telephoto lens didn't give me away as an amateur, I nonetheless stretched GI-style across the berm to catch teams readying themselves for the call to "Go!"

Let me reinforce at this point an important clarification that continues to be contentious among animal rights organizations. These dogs LOVE to run! As soon as the harnesses and tug lines come out of their trucks and the booties go on their feet, these athletes are the picture of unbridled enthusiasm. Each team is assigned at least 7 or 8 handlers to hold a dog or two as they await their turn to start (for this race, teams start every four minutes). Dogs waiting to go yip, bark, and sometimes shriek their impatience to begin the race with their favorite person. Mushers will usually take a moment before the start to go from dog to dog, holding their heads and murmuring a few words of encouragement, not that any is needed. When the final word is uttered by the start official, the team is released and immediately the team is absolutely silent, heading out to open trail awaiting them and them alone, in their way of thinking.

After about a quarter of the teams had mushed out of the start area, I returned home to gather up the rest of the family and transition to the end of the day's route, at Campbell Creek Airstrip, owned by the Bureau of Land Management and a short drive from the house.

A perfect place to view teams out on the trail, the Airstrip was uncrowded and quiet, with a view of the Chugach mountains providing a backdrop for incoming teams. The sun was out at this end of town and the boys busied themselves playing in the trees, popping out when a team would come by to say "Good Luck!"

Tomorrow is the big time, with different attitude for some serious racing. Today was the warm up; an Alaskan adventure in the making.

I will post race updates as they come in, should something interesting happen to any of the mushers I met today. Readers can also follow along at for daily posts and interviews. A post immediately after this one will be all photos.