Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Getting Crowded in These Parts

The effects of the economic situation are more far-flung than many in the Lower 48 might realize. With the cost of electricity, gasoline, and heating oil rising by astronomical leaps and bounds, many Alaskan Bush communities are making tough decisions.

Gasoline in Anchorage is deplorably high; around $5.00 for diesel, $4.76 for regular. Gasoline in Bush areas like Ekuk, Kake, and St. Lawrence Island can range anywhere from $8.00 a gallon to almost $12.00; tough enough if you have a good job, almost impossible if you don't. The cost of heating oil is even more dire; $9.00 a gallon to heat the small oil-burning portable furnaces most Bush families use in their small, poorly insulated homes. It takes about 7 gallons to effectively provide heat overnight when outside temperatures hover between 15 and 25 degrees below zero.

Schools are closing; district superintendents cannot cut the budget any further to meet the critical demand for fuel. As one put it, "you can't turn on only half the lights, or heat only part of the building." As a result, children are flowing into the Anchorage School District like ice during Breakup. The district has had a 7% increase in student enrollment since August, and the numbers continue to grow. Many of these children did not come in the company of their moms and dads, instead, they were flown to Anchorage to be met by a relative or friend willing to board them for the school year.

For a child who has never been more than a few miles from his or her village, the culture shock can be overwhelming. Strange customs, sights and sounds demand their attention and distract from the job at hand, and the schools are doing all they can to support them through after school activities, tutoring, and even meals.

It is a lesson in grace, this influx of children. Families doing all they can to educate their children, in the best way they know how.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bear and the Beetles

While helping Yukon clean out the garage on Saturday, Bear wandered out to the front yard's lone birch tree. Wanting to climb it, he was deterred by a colony of unusual lady-bug type beetles that came streaming out of a cut in the trunk.
This captured his attention for the rest of the afternoon, and the procurement of a small magnifying glass just added to the excitement of looking at the "lady bug village".
We're not sure if the beetles survived our hard freeze last night, so our experiment today is to see if they are still wiggling.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Autumn Checklist

Let's see, tires changed over, flowerbeds cleared out, hoses detached, outdoor electric cords found ("plug in at 20 or below!"), snow shovels located.

I guess we're ready. Bear found the summer tires quite amusing. You can see that the leaves are in full color now; it is expected to drop down into the 20's tonight.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Update From the Wolf Den

There was nothing to talk about on Tuesday. And we loved it. Wolf has had a good week; reports from school, RT (recreation therapy, a daily program), and staff on the unit at CHYC have been more positive than in a long, long time.

The school's "level" system requires that the kids maintain a level for a period of time before moving up to the next one, easier said than done, as there are stars to be earned and contracts to be fulfilled. That said, the students always seem to rise to the challenge eventually, and the levels become their lives. Not a bad thing, considering that they are focused on what they need to do to accomplish the next step up. And, they are very aware of how to get dropped.

Now that Wolf is on the "Rising" level this week, he has his room back the way he wants it. A new comforter, pillows, and sheets bought by moi during my visit. He also can put back up his posters and pictures. He is comfortable, and we want him to remember how un-comfortable it was to not follow the program.

Yukon and I took a few moments to tell him how proud of him we were, and we could hear his grin over the phone. Have you ever heard a grin?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn Upon Our Return

Somehow in the short 10 days we were away from Alaska, it became full-fledged autumn. Not only are the trees vibrant yellow, but the snow is on top of the mountains and rapidly descending. Dang. Guess I had better do more than talk about getting the winter gear out of storage.

Our last few days in Portland were uneventful, thank goodness. A baby shower for my sister, a trip downtown to ride a streetcar, simple things that are easier when one feels up to doing them. My body appears to be on the healing track, although I am still sore and tired. Yukon says my brain needs to heal as well, since I made myself believe I was dying. Psych self out - that's me.

We arrived home to find the house meticulously cleaned by the dog-sitter. She earned our eternal admiration and respect for staying with a dog that on the first day made her think he was going to chew up her ankles and bark until her eardrums broke. A three-day adjustment period later and the two were inseparable. The photos are examples of her thoughtfulness and dedication to her dog-families; she laid out pillows for Jasper's comfort and ambiance, and even cleaned my bathroom downstairs! How often do you come home to the toilet paper folded up in a little triangle? Not often. She's hired forever.

We are happy to be home, happy to be in Alaska where life is slower and the frenetic pace, even in Portland, is slower and seemingly unaffected by recent world/national events. Kind of nice to worry about simple, life-things; wood for the fire, putting the gardens to bed, keeping moose out of the ornamental bushes, that sort of stuff.

I am drinking tea and watching the rain fall outside my window.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Unwanted Momento From Portland

I just woke up from a three-hour nap, finally sleeping after an exhausting, frightening, and painful few days.

On Tuesday night, after a wonderful celebration for Father-in-Law's 91st birthday, my lower stomach began aching in a most dreadful way, becoming progressively worse on Wednesday. Prompted to return from work early, Yukon found an acceptable ER to visit, and we spent a few quality hours there together before the diagnosis of an ovarian cyst was made. Today I am embraced by a Vicodin-induced euphoria, hanging out at the in-law's condo while Bear is at the Zoo visiting a baby elephant with his auntie and grandma.

I am in debt for life to the incredible nursing and physician staff at Providence Milwaukee, Ore. Besides listening to and empathizing with my rising sense of panic as such tests as blood draws and CAT scans were ordered, they also congregated in my little room with Yukon and I to discuss Alaskan politics. Yukon and I were of course happy to do our part for the election effort.

For those inclined to worry; don't. I am fine, or will be as soon as the thing goes away. At least I get to read books all day with no interruptions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frank, Frank, Frank...

In my research for this week's piece for Working Mother magazine's online scoop for the 2008 Palin/McCain election campaign, I came across some very interesting tidbits of information on our former Governor, Frank Murkowski.

Did you know that...

Frank's appointment of daughter Lisa to fill his fat Senate seat in 2002 led to a 2004 ballot measure stripping governors of appointing senators, only one of 3 states to do so.

Toward the end of Frank's term, he brokered a gas line deal that was never considered by the legislature in its final form, and only a lawsuit by legislators kept him from signing it w/out their approval?

Frank tried to get the Dept. of Homeland Security to underwrite the cost of the now infamous Jet? Needed it to keep his state safe, don't you know?

My friend J. in Homer told me a funny story about the first time she went to Juneau for a business trip. She noticed a bunch of little yellow flags with Murkowski's mug on them, stuck in the ground here and there with no apparent pattern. She asked a client what they all meant, and received this reply.

"They are there to mark all the dog poop spots in the grass."

The piece for Working Mother should be up by the end of the week.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Huckleberries and Heaven

Yep, that's where we are. In heaven, eating huckleberries. The red ones, foreign to most Alaskans. Bear, Grandma, Yukon and myself spent quality time outside in the yard surrounding the cabin yesterday picking a little bit of my childhood.

Bear found that by bending the bush over (huckleberry bushes in Oregon and Washington tend to grow pretty tall) he could just stick the branch in his mouth and get at least four or five at a time. The berries are huge; nothing I have seen down here before, and we are going back for more today.

Yukon and I are having a breakaway down at the Log Lodge, utilizing internet service and eating HUGE huckleberry pancakes. Not too bad for a Sunday morning. It is about 80 degrees already, with a slight breeze, and the plan for today is to head up to Timberline Lodge for some alpine hiking.

For those who care, the next post to Working Mother will surface on Wednesday. In the meantime, we are enjoying a little Mt. Hood hospitality among the hemlocks and huckleberries.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Update From the Wolf Den

The family, minus Wolf, is headed down to Portland tomorrow for a part work/part play visit. This will be the first full-family vacation without him; the first time there will be three instead of four.
We are okay with this, but then, we have been living this way for almost five months now. A difficult thing about so geographically distant from the rest of our family members is the natural progression of discussion towards Wolf and his progress when we do get together.
Family is a crucial part to Wolf's success or failure at school; so many of the students at CHYC have no one. We are blessed with a large and supportive network of family to help support us. But sometimes we just want to not talk so much about it. We are not being rude, or stand-offish; we just need some space from something that consumes our lives, even with Wolf's absence. And there are so many people who want information, (hence the updates on this blog), that we ask forgiveness if someone misses out on an update given over the phone or in person.
It is a delicate balance, but of all the problems we could be experiencing, this is a "good" one to have.
For now, bring on the Cabin, the River, and the Wood Farm. And the Baby Shower,
91st Birthday, and Trolley Ride.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"You Run Fast, Bear. Yes, I know"

Glad he's so modest. The three of us have been participating in Anchorage Parks and Rec's Tuesday Night Race Series. Designed to get everybody in town up and running no matter the ability level, the Race Series is held at a different local park every Tuesday through the end of October. While we know the park location, the actual course is kept secret until we are all lined up and ready to take off.

Little Bear is quite taken with the "run through the woods" concept, in true Alaskan-child form. Tonight the 'Munchkin League' ran through Russian Jack Springs Park and slogged through 1.2 miles of muddy, root-laden trail to the finish line in the middle of a soccer field. The little bugger ran the entire way without stopping, and even passed some grown-ups.

Right now he is wearing his Superman costume. Right now, we think he's pretty super, too. A note for my fellow Anchorage-ites; this is one of the best family events I have attended since moving here. Great people, good organization, and the right message; working out is fun, and even more fun when the whole family participates.

Sorry the action shot is so blurry, but it's hard to shoot and run to keep up with these guys.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Palin Chronicles

I have tried to stay away from the buzz surrounding our Governor, Sarah Palin, and her partnership with John McCain in a bid for the White House. But an invitation last week from Working Mother Magazine's online affiliate has me immersed in the Palin-ista world.

Working Mother does not particularly want, nor do I wish to do, a "roving reporter" type of column. What I will do is state the facts about Alaska, what we know of Palin from our contacts with her as constituents and as business people, and talk with locals about the hoopla that seems to be consuming our state.

Details of when and how this column will appear are still being created, but I have to have something to them this week, so we'll see what transpires. This is outside the realm of my usual assignments, so staring at my laptop screen waiting for a catchy opening phrase to magically appear is becoming more common. Funny how we can think we know everything until we have to present that knowledge to the world. My father liked to tell us growing up that it is fine to say what you want about somebody, but you'd better be right.

At any rate, until the columns/posts are officially up and running, you can go to Working Mother and read the few posts for MomBlog I have written, and the subsequent comments, which make for very interesting reading. Working mothers can be very sensitive about the whole balancing act of parenting vs. job, and this site is a perfect example.

Friday, September 5, 2008

September 6, 2003 and September 6, 2008 (almost)

"The water is wide, I cannot cross o'er

And neither have I wings to fly

Build me a boat that can carry two

And we shall sail, my love and I"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Update From the Wolf Den

Roadblocks to success. The boulders, gates, whatever-you-want-to-call-them that prevent people from accomplishing something difficult. They exist in our minds as real as a barbed wire fence, and are just as painful to crawl through.

Power and Control over people or situations

Fear of our emotions

The innate Need to be Right

Wolf is standing today about two feet from that fence, and can't decide whether or not he wants to go through. As the folks who are waiting on the other side, Yukon and I are becoming a teensy bit impatient and frustrated with this pacing and posturing that doesn't get anybody anywhere. But then, it isn't about us.

Asperger Syndrome forces children to utilize unorthodox defense mechanisms as a measure of protection. Even the most benign teasing, to a child with AS, means confusion and a rush to defend themselves. Then, when other people begin to notice that he or she is easily set off by such comments, those roadblocks go up, and stay up. Having control over something, anything, even in a negative way means the AS kid can survive, however tenuous this may seem to the rest of us. Emotions are "useless" to someone with Asperger's; they get in the way because they are hard to manage. At least, according to Wolf.

There is the merest whisper of change in the air. Calls home are less about trivial things and more about status at school. Levels of anger are rising, at peers, at staff, at himself, leading us to believe that perhaps, just perhaps, the Ah-Ha is coming.

We can just pray that he carefully navigates that barbed wire instead of crashing through it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Real Pre-School, Mommy"

There is just nothing like the first day of school; new clothes, new lunchbox, new attitude. Little Bear, not so little anymore, took his first day of "real pre-school" in glorious stride. He had attended the little, one-room Lutheran preschool last year, but only since Januray, so today was indeed a milestone.

Very proud of his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack and fire truck lunchbox (not necessary for 2 1/2 hours of school, but obviously very important), Bear talked up school to our houseguests and marched into the classroom with all the confidence of one much older.

Yukon had the day off and was able to witness this display of independence, whereby we were dismissed with a "I don't need anyone to sit with me right now" statement.

So we grownups went to breakfast at our favorite weekday joint, the Snow City Cafe, where we drank coffee, ate breakfast burritos and generally enjoyed a slower morning than usual.

The air smells like back-to-school; crisp and leaf-y. Bear's new Keen hiking shoes will undoubtably be scuffed by next week from using his toes as brakes on the scooters, but they will be as comfortable as he is in his "real school" experience.

As for me, I finally can get back into a writing routine that was disrupted by so much over the summer. A welcome feeling.