Friday, May 30, 2008

Stoked for Tok

The mamas have arrived in Tok, Alaska, gateway to just about everywhere. We would have been here earlier, but the car stereo held us up.

J. and family had a new stereo put in their van yesterday. Only problem was that they did not have enough time for a tutorial on its OP's, so it was left on all night in our driveway on "standby", which we all thought meant the same as "off".

Kids packed up, kisses exchanged, door locked, key turned in ignition. "Click". Key turned again. "Double Click". Kids unpacked, doors unlocked, jumper cables found. Ah ha.

I am happy to report the rest of the journey was uneventful, save for about a thousand bathroom stops with 3 year olds who have not yet been instructed in the School of Peeing in the Woods, leading to a bit of a learning curve.

Sunshine all the way, lots of mountain goats, swans, and one moose traveling up the middle of the highway in front of a pilot car. Guess he wanted to be the one with the sign saying "Follow Me."

A few pics include the far-off Matanuska Glacier, retreating more every time I pass by; our wait for that pilot car, and some playground photos from the Tok School, where we spent our evening after a dandy dinner at Fast Eddy's. A few young Alaskan girls were there with their little sister, and the oldest wanted her photo taken; she is on the slide grinning away.

Tomorrow is the mega-drive. We'll meet the ferry of First Pres Youth in the evening and get ready for our week of VBS.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mama Road Trip

When my friend J. called me a month or so ago to ask if I would be interested in driving down to Haines with her, of course I said yes. Her husband is the Associate Pastor of First Pressed here in Anchorage, and the Jr. High youth were embarking upon a mission trip to assist the good people of Haines Pressed with the annual Vacation Bible School week.

J.'s husband needed to accompany the young people on the airplane (how do they rate?!) and ferry ride from Juneau to Haines, and J. needed a second person in her car, if for no other reason than to provide conversation that did not involve princesses or Game Boys. No problem. Have music, will travel. Four children, a cooler of juice boxes and peanut butter sandwiches, and the portable DVD player. Cool.

We will be driving 14 or so hours up, then down, due to the Alaska Highway system, such as it is. Passports are also required due to a drive-through of the Yukon in Whitehorse. Haines is tucked away along Lynn Canal, about five hours from Juneau via ferry.

A slight twist to the journey is the truck that I am now assigned to pilot. Apparently a friend of J. was in town, bought three trucks for his business, and needs someone to drive one on down. In Alaska, any opportunity to help a neighbor is a given. This will be our "relief" vehicle. Whenever J. or I need some adult alone time, we'll shout across the walkie talkies and trade seats.

Tomorrow our destination is Tok, Alaska. Yes, it is pronounced just like the activity you are thinking of. The last time I was in Tok was in 1992. I think I forgot everything about it. I'll post some photos when we arrive, if I am still sane.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Da Bears

There be a bear in our midst, and he or she is definitely looking for the picnic basket. Or, to be more specific, the holy garbage can.
A perk to living in Alaska is the abundance of wildlife roaming about our fair city, to the joy of the tourists and the chagrin of wildlife officials. Every spring the Yogis and Boo Boos wake up from their dens (which, incidentially, have been found right across the creek from our neighborhood) and go in search of the nutrition that has eluded them since the previous November.
Normally, their diet includes moose calves and the odd downer moose, and an occasional domestic critter (i.e. cow, dog, etc.). This year, with the season starting late and moose calving a bit behind schedule, the bears began feasting on our trash cans.
East and South Anchorage neighborhoods, especially, are in the target zone because of the proximity to the mountains. In East Anchorage, where many homeowners are a bit, shall we say, lax on the educational component of recycling, clean yards, and garbage removal, the bears have found Mecca.
Anchorage's Fish and Wildlife guru, Rick Sinnott, has cracked down on trash mongers, fielding a huge fine if the garbage cans are outside from April to October. But, as is the case of our neighbors, this seems to fall on deaf ears.
Last weekend a black bear was found sleeping at the bottom of a neighborhood deck, napping off the bounty of the park trash can (why the Muni of Anchorage hasn't fixed that yet, I can't figure). He/she proceeded to amble to the folks across the street and investigated their front porch.
The problem lies in their neighbors. A grandma, daughter, and miscellaneous grandchildren who never seem to remember the Bear-Trash rule. Every Sunday, regardless of the warnings, they station their three cans of garbage at the curb to sit overnight in plain view of the bears, coyotes, and ravens.
Monday they put it out too late, so now it sits along side their house, up to six or seven bags now. Yukon and I, along with the other neighbors, have told them about the bear, and the trash rule, yet there it all sits.
I am a bit unsure what to do now. I hate being the complainer, squealer, whatever. Yet with small children outdoors at all hours during the summer, we cannot ignore it too long. Bears love to continue a habit they have begun; the Anchorage Daily News reported in an April issue ( the number of bears inhabiting the general proximity of Anchorage, and our neighborhood. I sure don't need them all finding the trash!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Anchorage Daily News Gets New Bloggers

For those of you so inclined to read more blogging by Erin Kirkland, feel free to peruse the Anchorage Daily News' Community Blogs. I will be blogging on ParentPoints, a three-woman-strong blog featuring issues surrounding working parents (by Gina Romero), teenage/young adult issues (by Alaska writer Heather Lende, one of my writing heroes), and Moi, covering the fun stuff to do around Alaska with the whole family.

Give it a try at The blog should be up and running tomorrow. Gina will post on Mondays, I will be the Thursday writer, and Heather Lende will post on Fridays, I believe.
Our blog photo is above as a collaboration of hands and a foot; Bear's, mine, Gina's, and her little one's tiny toes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wrong Turn!

Springtime always brings the Swallow population of the entire world to Alaska, where the little gray birds swoop and dive after the world's entire population of skeeters. Bug reduction is always welcomed in Alaska, however small, so we don't mind their frantic aerial ballet. But, they also need places to live, and this is where the Swallow seems to be a bit un-welcome.

The Swallow in the picture made a little mistake. All afternoon on Thursday I had been a bit puzzled at the dog's behavior. He seemed enamored by the glass door to the woodstove, putting his paws up on the raised hearth and sticking his nose to the door, tail wagging. No barking, none of his usual frenzy when he sees something he wants to play with, so I figured maybe he had discovered his own reflection in the glass.

When I would appear around the corner, Jasper would slink down to the rug and look at me with the guilt only a dog can muster. But I could see no evidence of bad doggie behavior, so I left him alone.

Finally, on about the fifth trip past the stove, with the dog this time poking his paw up on the door, I decided maybe a look through the glass might not be a bad idea. And there sat the bird, wings askew, sitting among a pile of old bills and bank statements.

The neighbor, a bird owner, was reluctant to help me, as she does not know anything about birds that do not walk right onto a finger when the cage door is opened. Darn.

I called our friend the Bird Biologist, who, although suffering from an overdose of her migraine medicine, said she would be right over. Jasper and I, and now Bear, who couldn't figure out why mommy put a bird in the stove, sat like we were in front of the television and watched the Swallow, who watched us back.

I have to admit, the little thing was calm as a cucumber, never beating her wings or pecking at us, or even attempting to make her way back up the pipe. It was as if she knew she was in a pickle and was resigned to whatever the outcome.

Heroine BB came made it to our house, laughed when she saw the predicament, and proceeded to open the door, stick her hand around the bird, and bundle her out. Quickly checking for broken wings or neck trauma, she found none and took bad birdie to the deck, where she let her get her bearings a second and then tossed her in the air.

Birdie flew a but unevenly at first, then swooped around and headed directly South.

Back to San Juan Capistrano, I imagine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Green is a Good Color

Finally, finally, I got my garden day. Sunshine, plants and seeds, and the last day of "Mom's Morning Out" at church provided me with a peaceful morning in the yard.

With nightime temperatures out of the freezing range, it was relatively safe to plant and sow and mulch, which I did with abandon. Beet, radish (Bear's request, even though he won't eat them), carrot, and zucchini seeds were popped into their respective rows along the south side of the house where temperatures are warmest. I had to replace a few strawberry plants, and a lupine, but every other perennial has shown signs of returning.

One of my most important annual flowers is the petunia. My grandfather in Montana grew them by the bunch in the red brick planter out front of his house. The first thing I would smell upon our arrival was their spicy-sweet goodness; I have planted them at every house we have inhabited.

Summer is expected to continue through August. Just a few short months to try and get everything to grow. Before we know it, the time will be upon us to cover back up those strawberries and flowers, and rake up the leaves that today are breaking open on the branches.

It's too horrible to think about!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Update From the Wolf Den

Almost two weeks have passed since our oldest child made his journey Outside. Wolf called us five days after his arrival to say that he has passed "Orientation" status (something all kids must complete to assure theirs and others' safety). Although five days spent in scrubs and flip-flops was a bit on the "wierd" side, according to him, Wolf nonetheless adapted fairly rapidly to life at a Residential School. He is back in his own clothes and has begun to decorate his room, thanks to mom.

His day is rigidly laden with routine, a valuable and necessary component to any program for Asperger children. Seven days a week, the students, who range in age from 12-17, wake up around 6:30 a.m., shower (thank god), eat, and begin one of the four daily group therapy education sessions designed to tackle their daily challenges head on. School also is factored in, and students attend year-round, although less during the summer months.

One day per week Wolf meets individually with a therapist, as well as a once a week meeting with Yukon and I over the telephone. The structure of the therapy surrounds Wolf with 1) no escape from the reality that yes, indeed, he has a need to learn certain skills and mechanisms unique to other kids, and 2) no escape from therapy in general.

Many have asked how long Wolf will attend School. Most students are there for a full 12 months from the time of their admission; some longer, some shorter. The premise is based upon the child's ability to meet the goals and plans of care that are reviewed every 30 days. At this point, we are unable to say how long Wolf will attend; it all rests on his slim shoulders, but he, and we, are confident he will emerge a stronger, more mature young man.

For those who have asked about sending Wolf a letter or postcard; please do. He loves to receive mail and one of his goals is to improve his communication, and letter/postcard writing is a great vehicle to this. If I have not contacted you with an address, please send all Wolf correspondence to our home address, and we will see that it gets to him. Please, as delicious as it may be, send no food items. The school has vending machines, etc. for the kids to use when they earn the money.

Wolf says "hello" to everyone, and wants you all to know he "likes it here." A different kid's voice comes over the line when I answer the phone; a stronger, more confident one. A good-sounding voice.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Boys and Dogs

"Every boy should have two things: A dog, and a mother willing to let him have one." - Robert Benchley

I have mentioned before the correlation between raising a preschool child and a preschool dog. This statement has been proven over and over, especially now that there are just the two of them representing the under-14 age set.

The human child is in a very special phase of life-lessons these days, resisting any interference with sleep, food, recreation and even bodily functions. So he has been without underwear, naps, and nutrition for at least a week now. Fortunately he doesn't seem to mind because the dog is right behind him, reinforcing every "No".

The other day I was down here in the office working on a few things and folding laundry. Yes, I have learned how to type with one hand and fold shirts with the other; see how multi-talented I have become since obtaining SAH status? Anyhow, I kept hearing suspicious "thumps" coming from the upstairs areas. And laughing, which meant that the combination of sounds was leading to no good.

I hollered "What's going on up there?!" To which Bear responded "We are not doing any-ting!" Duh, why do I even bother asking? I leaped up the stairs two at a time to find the miscreants taking the wood stove kindling out of its basket and tossing it about the room. Canine child would seize a piece in his gnarly teeth and begin gnawing and knoshing and leaving toothpick-sized pieces in the carpet, and human child was building what he termed a "castle" on top of the coffee table which he had dragged across the floor to the sofa. Mind you, I had just finished moving furniture around to vacuum, something that only occurs on a full moon. Or a holiday.

Neither even looked up when I appeared, but kept on knoshing and dragging, until I grabbed both. Four eyes looked up with a "whaaaaaatttt?!" And what did the speaking member of the family say?

"Jasper did it."

Poor dog, he better learn to talk soon or he's in real trouble!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tour d'Anchorage

Ride on, Anchorage! Today was designated "Bike to Work" day, and hundreds of folks took to the 120 miles of paved bike trails and headed off to their respective places of employment. My firm-fannied Yukon was among the dozen or so VA employees who braved a chilly, windy day for the sake of a day's respite from fuel costs and the gain of clear-headed returns from the office.

Yukon utilized Bike to Work day as his own kick-off to summer and his thrice-per-week ride to work via the bike. With diesel reaching $4.59 a gallon today (the VW Jetta TDI still is the best deal, however), and Old Betsy the Explorer needing a break now and then from the travails of travel, Yukon was even more eager to get out on the trails.

We frequently bike to local parks and mountain bike trails during the summer; the paved pathways are flat, wide, and perfect for kids and parents alike to roll along with relative ease. Plus, we can't lose them to a turn or pothole like we can on a trail. Our usual ride takes us from our home in East Anchorage along the path West towards Goose Lake Park (, where the Paddleboat Cafe' delivers homemade ice cream sandwiches with a dash of local flavor. At about a half-hour ride, it is a perfect halfway point for little Bear, who gets tired of his position in the bike trailer and wants us to "hurry up". We play in the sand and on the equipment, watch people swimming (yes, for a few brief weeks, swimming is refreshing rather than fatal), and then start back, taking a cut through Russian Jack Springs Park and the local 9-hole golf course.

Sometimes we have to detour because of the moose, but on many occasions only one of us will see him/her browsing among the birch, and usually after we have gone past the point of no return, so we just continue on. Most of our local moose are used to bikers and don't appear bothered. Until the Rut, of course.

Cycling in Anchorage is probably the best I have encountered thus far in my limited exposure to bicycle commuting/pleasure riding. And the best part is those same trails turn into 120 miles of prime Nordic skiing once the snow falls; lights and all. Some hardy souls cycle to work year-round, and many ski to work on the groomed surface. Nice. We may be rough around the edges, but Anchorage has cornered the market on getting places by your own power.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Nest Half Full

"All of life's experiences are valuable. I may not be aware at the time, but experiences and how I deal with them make me who I am. I am molded by both the painful and the joyful happenings in my life." -Coping With Caring, Lyn Roche

Yesterday I woke up with a start when the alarm went off at 6:45 a.m. For a moment I panicked, thinking that we were in real trouble for getting to school on time. Then I remembered.
For the first morning in a long time I had no earthly reason to get up before the paper boy. Or my husband. No reason to fuss over a sandwich of baloney and mustard.
Things around here, while peaceful and serene, are a bit out of sorts. I am reminded of just how out of sorts when I set the table or make my grocery list. Three, Erin, not four.
I remember from my work with family caregivers how lost they felt when their loved one moved into a long term care facility. They would report they had trouble filling the spaces of time previously dedicated to direct care tasks. It's an odd feeling; relishing extra time yet not being too sure what to do with it.
But it is nice to read the whole newspaper with my coffee before night falls.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How Much Do Mamas Love?

An exerpt from "Mama, Do You Love Me?" by Barbara M. Joosse...

"I'll love you until the umiak flies into the darkness, till the stars turn to fish in the sky, and the puffin howls at the moon."

"But what if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, shiny teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?"

"Then I would be surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you."

For all the questioning of ourselves we do, for all the doubts and guilt and heartbreak and tears; we know we love our children. No matter what wild animal they turn into.

We know their potential even when no one else does. We know who is behind that snarly face even even when their actions are hurtful to us. For they are our children; part of us, and thus worthy of our unconditional, unwavering love.

But we let them go. We allow them the freedom to make the choice to turn into that bear, walrus, or musk ox. But we will welcome them home when they change back. Always.

"...Because you are my Dear One."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Wolf's Moment of Truth

On Tuesday morning, the email account seemed to be fuller than usual. When all the incoming mail finally appeared, up came three messages from CHYC.

"We are pleased to tell you that a spot is all ready for your son, we are making travel plans for Friday." Friday. 72 hours. Three days. 14 years.

After about month of soul-searching and praying and finger-crossing, Wolf, accompanied by Yukon, made a life-changing move Outside to begin a new journey towards managing his life successfully. The school, known across the northwest for its unique approach towards teaching kids with Asperger Syndrome, had an opening, and we took it.

For those who have known my son, and me, for some time, you will know some of the struggles and challenges he and I have faced over the years. I don't think even I recognized the depth of those challenges until I began filling out the pages and pages of health history for the school, and became exhausted at what we had tried to do for so long.

Wolf's life thus far has been difficult; sometimes even impossible. Asperger's sufferers live in a world that is different from ours, and conforming to boundaries and rules that make little sense is a daily struggle, with or without help. The goal is to introduce Wolf to a new way of thinking and living and succeeding; to embrace the bright, articulate, and creative young man we all know he can be, not in spite of the Asperger's, but because of it.

The program will last at least a year, give or take a few weeks or months. It is all up to him, with our support along the way. He knows what he has to do, he knows how many people love him, now he has to know how to love himself for who he is as a Child of God, with a purpose and a meaning to his very existence.

Yukon said Wolf was excited to meet the kids on the unit. He settled in well and is looking forward to learning to ride horses, river raft, and talk books with the other boys.

When the guys left with our friend and pastor for the airport, Wolf leaned out of the front seat window and held his hands in the shape of a heart.

Me too, buddy. Me too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Morning Sickness - Sickness

Made you look, didn't I?

This was the only way I could aptly describe the ill that has been sweeping among our friends, and now myself, this past week. Since last Saturday I have been stricken to the confines of the bed, couch, and on one occasion, floor, as the nasty bug knocked me flat.
Poor Yukon was, of course, assigned to all aspects of home management, which he performed admirably. There is nothing like watching a daddy do mommy stuff with mommy watching, however.
"Uh, dear, he's playing outside in his underwear."
"Did you give them anything resembling vegetables tonight?"
"Sweetie, please do not let Bear eat jalapeno Cheetos for dinner, even if he wants them."
I believe one night Bear went to bed around 11 p.m. (you must remember that is when it gets dark around here now). Dad and Wolf stayed up and watched "Wild Wild West, the Series". Mom, Mom who?
I remember when I was a kid and my mother would go somewhere on a Saturday, or when she was sick, Dad would make the two things he knew how to in the kitchen; cheese sandwiches with butter and scrambled eggs. Then we had to go with him to clean the garage.
I think the jalepeno Cheetos - outside in your underwear thing sounds a whole lot better, don't you?