Friday, May 29, 2009

Alaskan Grub Equals Happy Campers

It's still raining in Alaska; go out to eat. Here is AKontheGO's first listing of some family-friendly spots to try. Please Anchorage friends, add your

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It WAS Summer

Blech, blech, blah.

Anchorage-ites are quaking in their Xtra Tuffs after waking up this morning to another day of rain. Not just any rain, mind you, but the drippy, messy, foggy rain that clouds the brain as much as it does the landscape.

And, this is the worst part; it snowed in the mountains most of the morning. Argh.

I have just returned to my desk after putting another log in the wood stove. Yes, that's right, I built a fire because I needed something to cheer up this dismal day.

Bear was allowed to remain PJ-clad until almost 10 a.m. this morning, playing constructively in his room for quite a while with a Canadian flag, a few plastic coins, and a Happy Meal box he wore on his head. I'm not sure exactly what was going on in the Land of Bear, but it obviously was very important.

Anything that amuses a restless little boy on a rainy day is welcome.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dinosaurs Equal Cool Factor

Nothing brings out the "Awesome" in kids like a big dinosaur skeleton. Unless it is, of course, the prehistoric scorpion that could kill said dinosaur. Oh my, guess we'll be visiting a lot this summer....

AKontheGO loves the Alaska Museum of Natural History, because, put quite simply, they get it when it comes to kids. And we like that. Check out our visit last week. Bear even got to dig for bones!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Day, What A Day...

Ever have one of those? A day where from start to finish, everything seems to go as planned, with no one getting lost, or hurt, or cranky? Yep, had one.

Granted, the appearance of our summer intern greatly influenced Bear into behaving at his tour guide best; he showed Miss E., from their shared backseat, everything from the snowplow train at Potter Section House to the myriad waterfalls along the road to Girdwood.

Our surprise for our mechanically-minded child was a trip up the Tram at Alyeska Resort. The best way to reach the top of the mountain any time of year, the Tram ride is a two-minute, 30 second view of the world. At least as it exists from Glacier Valley.

Miss E. was glued to her window, taking photos from every direction. At the top we had about a half-hour to walk around in the snow and see the newly renovated Roundhouse Museum, which features outstanding exhibits of Girdwood history and a very friendly host to answer our questions. E. was particularly intrigued by the ash left on the snowy slopes due to Mt. Redoubt; it ended the summer ski camps because there is no way to get rid of it.

Yukon and I treated our charges to lunch at Chair 5 Restaurant in Girdwood, a funky, deliciously-ambiant place with super halibut tacos. I guess the rest of the menu is outstanding as well, but I have never ordered a single other item, I like my tacos so much.

Miss E. had to be home for a meeting, so we made it home in time for a short nap while E. and Bear watched Bolt together. A nap, whod've thunk I could take a NAP?!

Yukon and Bear are outside at 8:45 enjoying a perfectly tranquil evening game of soccer in the back yard while the dog chases swallows. I am sitting with all the windows wide open, and can smell the cottonwood trees over at the park, their sweet spicy fragrance reminding me of a long, long time ago.

A perfect ending.

Memorial Weekend Packed With Action

You know it is a good weekend when you are too busy to sit down to the computer for more than five minutes.

Fam has been on the go with events and people this weekend. We have an intern staying with us until August, Miss E. She is from Arizona, a senior in college, and will be living and learning the Alaskan life with us (oh poor thing) while working at our church in the youth and young adult programs.

Today we are taking her to Girdwood for a little taste of funky. We'll investigate this little ski town, have some lunch, and take a trip on the tram, a popular tourist site that takes visitors to the top of the ski run.

I love showing people Alaska; the only trouble is finding enough hours in the day.

More later with some pics. For now, the road is calling!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Free-Form Beards On Parade

Gee, I think Yukon has a ways to go before he can claim such status as this competitor in the World Beard and Moustache Championships, going on this weekend in Anchorage.

Fortunate enough to be welcomed by the South Central Beard and Moustache Club as author of the Participant Guide, Yukon, Bear, and I attended the kick off event at Kincaid Park Wednesday evening.

Foreign languages floated around us as we stood in line for free beer and food (a guaranteed success in my book), gazing upon moustaches and beards the likes of which we had never seen before. With competitors coming from as far away as Australia, folks were certainly in an adventurous spirit, willing to chat with everybody. We were no different. I talked with some folks from our hometown of Port Angeles, WA, a nice gentleman from South Carolina, which made me eternally glad I do not live in that scorching state anymore, and a group from Berlin, Germany, who were surprised that I had visited the city in 1986 while part of a bicycle trip in High School.

Small world got even smaller...

Yukon and I are attending the big bruhaha tonight downtown as the Australian band, The Beards (of course) plays for hundreds of competitors and guests. I have a feeling we'll be exhausted tomorrow. Beer and Europeans and music are a recipe for extreme fun.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hirsute Happenings This Weekend

No plans this Memorial Weekend? Try heading to downtown Anchorage for the World Beard and Moustache Championships. AKontheGO fam will be there; with competitors from Germany, Sweden, Australia, and our own United States, this ought to be quite the sight. And a good party...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: It's a New Normal

Wolf and I decided to take it easy today, spending our last day together doing "things that are fun".

In the tradition of my father, who if given a map would explore every inch of a new city, Wolf and I drove east towards the suburb of Sandy, in search of the Living Planet Aquarium.

Small, but surprisingly full of fascinating information, the aquarium suited Wolf perfectly. Not too terribly busy or chaotic (important to an already anxious kid), staffed by kind folks who enjoyed talking sea creatures and crawling things with my teenager, the Aquarium was a nice respite from our emotional weekend.

If you look carefully at the photo of Wolf and the Electric Eel, you can see his face, smiling a genuinely happy smile. It is a glimpse of the kid we know to be there.

We wound up the day at the hotel pool, watching the movie Bolt, and snacking on sour candy. Wolf was exhausted by the time I dropped him off with an armload of stuff and a hug. He just wanted to go to bed. Mission accomplished, I believe.

AKontheGO Sets Sail!

A big shout out to AKontheGO's family trip down South this summer! We've been selected to blog our way from Seward to Vancouver in August; big fun for a group whose closest thing to a cruise has been the Washington State Ferry system.

Stay tuned to AKontheGO
for ongoing updates. There is a lot more to cruising than I ever thought...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: The Greatest Burden

Asperger's hurts from the inside out. Like most parents raising a kid with AS, I know Wolf has been treated unkindly by others. I have tried with only minimal success to keep him from such torment, but as he grew and demanded his own independence, Wolf entered the bitterly cruel world of social networking in the most real sense. And I only knew the half of it.

What I will share tonight is a broad brush description of incidents that have occurred over the course of Wolf's school years. I won't go into details; what actually happened isn't nearly as important as the pain embedded into my son's very soul, and thus, mine.

Therapist B. and I have long suspected Wolf endured experiences that have lodged themselves into his mind. Kids, as we all know, can be cruel. I think I've heard that phrase at least a thousand times since Wolf started Kindergarten, but never before has its meaning seared itself so sharply into my consciousness.

In a session this morning that took my breath away with its poignancy and nearly knocked me to my knees with guilt, our son breathed but a whisper of the reality of being different.

We as parents like to think we are our children's best advocates; Asperger's provides a cruel irony to childhood bullying in that we sometimes need to over-advocate in order to get teachers and parents to understand without a doubt what disorder we are dealing with and how to manage it successfully in a school setting. Clearly, based upon Wolf's experiences, somebody failed. Miserably.

Kicked in the head "accidentally" during soccer games, snapped with wet towels in the locker room while being teased insufferably for a skinny body, chased with icy snowballs, humiliated by peers who led my son to believe they were his "friends". And ignored, as if he did not exist at all, merely a shadow in the hallway.

B. asked Wolf to think of his worst day at school and describe it. Without missing a beat, my son raised his head, looked directly at the therapist, and broke both of our hearts with his definitive response.

"Every day."

To the boy who I used to tease in grade school, the one who used to try to win friends by bringing stickers from his dad's vacuum shop, who we used to tease until his face was red and tears made his glasses fog up:

I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry. In the name of my own son who now holds these memories so tightly against his heart, forgive me.

Forgive all of us.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wolf in the World

Finally earning a visit pass after much hard work on everyone's part, Wolf joined me "in the world" this afternoon.

I wish I could have captured the visible joy in his voice as we walked through the double doors of CHYC and across the grass to the car. "I'm out here, I'm out here!"

We so carefully crafted this outing, Wolf's therapist, Unit Director, and I. Aware that anxiety would probably threaten to take over and sabatoge Wolf's afternoon, we had a huddle pre-departure to talk over with Wolf just what would be expected of him.

I was a bit apprehensive, too. It's been a year since we stared at each other face to face across the table at a restaurant, or sat next to each other in a car, or went shopping for shoes. Strange that I was so worried about how to communicate with my kid; stranger still such a thought even entered my head.

To our surprise, the afternoon flew by with little fanfare. We lunched at Applebee's, shopped for shoes and clothes, and ended up at Target so Wolf could spend a little of his cash on some Matchbox cars. With about an hour to spare, Wolf and I retreated to a local park for some lounging.

We lay on the grass, enjoying the feel of the late afternoon breeze. Time turned backwards to another place and another time. "You have no idea how good this feels," Wolf said.

Yeah, I think I do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: On Site

My nerves are frayed and my body tired this evening after travel that started shortly after 4 a.m. this morning.

Fortunately flights were on time, even early in one circumstance, and I had a chance to eat at my favorite Japanese restaurant in the SeaTac airport. Bourbon Chicken, vegetables, and rice. All by myself.

It appears that everyone who is anyone is in Salt Lake City this weekend. Lines were long at the car rental, on the freeway, and even in Sonic, the drive-in where I stopped to rustle up some "real food" for Wolf. He requested a burger and fries with a root beer. Food, good.

CHYC has been all spiffed up since my visit in February; new paint, furniture, and carpets that set a whole new tone of professionalism. With a new wing under construction for the Asperger's Program, the place is going great guns. Like it a whole lot.

Wolf was one happy camper to see me and his dinner. We played some cards, read some mail, and talked to Unit Director for a while as the day wound down.

Tomorrow Wolf and I are going to venture out of the building for his first outing in a long, long time. We need to buy more clothes and some new shoes. Nice that Old Navy seems to coincide their sales with my visits.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Just Who is Strange, Here?

Countdown two days....As is becoming status quo before a trip down to Utah, I am sorting clothing, packing shoes (I like shoes), and stuffing interesting photos, books, and newspaper clippings into a folder for Wolf to read. And I have a long way to go.

Perhaps I am less enthusiastic about this trip because I am learning that there is much chaos accompanying such journeys. Yukon was to have joined me, but some leave and travel arrangement snafus left us looking at $700 one way for airline tickets. I decided for both of us; no way. So I go solo, which should turn out fine, but I will miss my added bonus person.

We always give the neighbors a heads up when one of us goes out of town; it is an added bonus living in a place where people care about who is going where and why. One particular neighbor over the North fence always asks about Wolf in a peculiar sort of way that is detached but still interested. But I don't tell everybody everything, so in fairness some of that detachment is probably due to not having all the information...

At any rate, our conversation took an interesting turn when he said, shaking his head "Yes, he's a nice kid, but always so strange..."

Speechless, I leaned my arms on the fence and thought about how to respond to this statement of my son's reality. The definition of strange is "departing from what is ordinary, usual, or expected".

But wait a second! Aren't we encouraged to be individuals, out-of-the-box, unique? "Expect the unexpected", "Step over the line", yada yada...

My neighbor and I stared at each other for a beat. Then I fired back.

"You know, I bet he thinks we are pretty boring, being so ordinary."

My neighbor hooked his thumbs into the straps of his overalls, leaned back, and scratched his bristly chin. Then he smiled and went back to raking up dead grass.

With a thoughtful expression.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ice Age Descendants Reside in Palmer, Alaska!

AKontheGO Fam took a trip to the Palmer Musk Ox farm for a very lovely Mother's Day party.
What's a Mother's day without cuddling some babies? Even if they are walking mops.

A reminder to all those who are enjoying our little corner of Alaska through these posts; you can subscribe to receive them when I post them. How about that?

Check out the 'subscribe' box at the top right of the AKontheGO blog page.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Day to Celebrate

Dear Friends, Family, and Interested Parties:

This day is one that brings a fair amount of perspective into this adventure we call motherhood. I mentioned in a Facebook Note, during the craze of "25 Things About Me" that I spend a portion of every day working on the meaning of the word "grace".

Ironic, perhaps, that my church homegroup is now reading Philip Yancey's book "What's So Amazing About Grace?", and even more ironic that Yukon and I are leading the group and I must actually study ahead.

Before I give you my thoughts on both grace and motherhood, I must take a second to wipe a child's behind and move the Bionicle from where it landed in my chicken broth...

<4 minutes later>

Motherhood and Grace in the Kirkland Family

1. I simply adore my children even though they have put things down the toilet that don't belong there, broken all their toys to see how they work, and various other boy things I won't mention.

2. I showed exquisite grace by hugging my surly 'tween at school, even when he pretended I didn't exist and introduced me to his friends as "Mumble-Mumble".

3. Somehow I managed the departure of a teenager down a dark and frightening path, figuratively and literally, knowing that my arms will still be there to hold and comfort when that child returns.

4. The dining room table has not an empty place, just a reserved one.

5. As Philip Yancey said, to paraphrase and replace me w/ God (sorry God) "There is nothing my children could do to make me love them more, and there is nothing they could do to make me love them less."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Year of the Wolf: Who Learned More?

It's Saturday morning. Sunny, peaceful; my favorite time of day because no one else is awake and I am not tired. Not yet, anyway.

I am sitting in the room that used to be my son's one year after a flurry of events resulted in his departure for CHYC in Utah. Ironic that as I ponder our lives in retrospect, I am curiously comfortable with he there, me here and we both are fine. In a still-at-school-probably-for-a-while kind of fine.

While Mother's Day is tomorrow and deserves its own post, I would, I think, be remiss not to recognize the things I have learned about myself, my son, the world in general, and this disorder called Asperger's that seems to follow us around no matter where we go. And, of course, since this blog is titled "She is Learning", I suppose I'd better list something educational that might be of assistance to someone else.


I now know that Asperger Syndrome is neither his fault nor mine. It simply is.

My son is an engaging, funny, but kind of strange kid. So is half the population of this planet. Get over it, people.

I have learned that people are much more tolerant of someone who looks different on the outside than of those who act different from the inside.

My husband is a saint.

My youngest son will, in all probability, be responsible for his older brother someday.

I know that the world, despite Jenny McCarthy, Larry King, and all the other famous people who promote Autism awareness, still doesn't get it most of the time.

I learned that I am blessedly human, and cannot, should not, and will not be able to fix everything with respect to my children. So there.

Autism does not define our children, ourselves, or our marriages. Each is separate, beautiful, and essential to the whole package deal.

Asperger Syndrome = Grace.

For other mothers who may be facing their own Autism giants; a big whoop-whoop to you. I know what you do, why you do it, and what it is costing you. Even if you can't see it yet.

But we will all be okay. God willing, even our kids.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Arctic Playgroundz; A Place to Refuel!

This coffee-loving mom is thrilled with the opening of Arctic Playgroundz in Anchorage, and felt it worthy of an AKontheGO post to celebrate...

My local mom-friends; You.Must.Go.Here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den

Today is a big day for Wolf. As part of the social skills component, he and his cool therapist, B. are heading out for an afternoon at the local book store.

For those of you who know my son, you will know that a trip to Mecca would pale in comparison to the option of spending an hour in Barnes and Noble. Even more so for a kid whose last visit there was actually here, a year ago.

While Wolf has been making great strides in his overall behavior, the underlying issues still remain, although now they are taking center stage as opposed to second fiddle (hmm, such musical analogy today, it must be the music I am listening to).
A large part of the work CHYC does with their kids is in the area of social skill building.

Imagine loving reading so much that if you could, you would read all hours of the day or night, and holding the books you own so close to you that the thought of giving them away makes you sick. Now imagine having a few dollars and a trip to the book superstore on the horizon after a dry spell of having to borrow books from a tiny library that doesn't really have anything you like, but you go there anyway because at least it has books.

Imagine entering the book store and standing in awe at the view in front of you. Books, all for the taking (er, buying). Those five dollars would never be enough to purchase them all. So you ask to borrow some money. You are amazingly convincing, even charming. Oops.

Where previously, Wolf would be able to bribe, cajole, beg, or plead for a few bucks from family or friends, he is in for a rude awakening with B.

This careful execution of Reality in the Book Store is courtesy of Unit Director, who wants to make sure Wolf has at least a cursory understanding of how things will go when Yukon and I visit in a few weeks. This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of Wolf's management of Asperger Syndrome, and the one that simply drives me nuts. I am thankful they are paving the way for me...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Sweet Deal

We're ramping up the AKontheGO quest for family fun in the 49th state with another option...Salmon Berry Tours. Customized, classy, and comfortable. Read about Candice and her pack of adventures for kids 0-99!

Monday, May 4, 2009

He Wants to Ride His Bicycle

What is it, exactly, this fascination with learning to ride a bicycle?

Bear, who is a bit timid when approached with new activities, was not too terribly thrilled with his "new" bicycle at first. Perhaps it was the size; this bike is a bit big and will last him a number of Alaskan summers and was appropriated from some friends.

Yukon, Mr. Bicycle, spent a good part of the afternoon yesterday (accompanied by well-meaning and interested neighbor children) cleaning, greasing, and attaching training wheels to the "Big Boy Bike". BBB is indeed very cool, and Bear, despite his initial reticence, found himself drawn to the process. Mostly, I think, because his buddy was watching and he doesn't have a Big Boy Bike.

Armed with my camera to document the second and last of my children to learn the mechanics of pedaling, braking, and steering what will be his mode of transportation until he moves out of my house, I watched as Yukon patiently explained to our now-impatient child the art of the two-wheeler.

Carefully, slowly, the apprentice took a few tentative pedals, concentration etched on his sunburned face. Then he left.

I hope he comes back in time for Kindergarten.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's Beach Weather

Here in Alaska, it is anyway. Whereas most Lower 48 folks would still be wearing fleece at 65 degrees, most, if not all of Anchorage was outside from the get go today.

I will echo the sentiments of nearly everyone when I say that in the last seven days we have had more nice weather than in all of June-August 2008. And I say that with certainty.

Yukon and I persuaded the nice RN teaching our CPR class this morning to forego the video and crank through the material, thus finishing a four-hour class in a little more than an hour and a half. She forever is in our debt, as we were able to stop by REI to get Bear some Keen sandals and return home to a lovely lunch and beer in the backyard.

Bear spent his day with his best buddy and her brothers in their backyard, exploring the nuances of sprinkler running and the classic Slip 'N Slide. He is in bed now after almost falling asleep in the bathtub, red-skinned and weary.

I went to a lovely tea for a local organization that supports premature babies and their families, then came home and took Jasper for a much-needed run through the woods. But don't tell Yukon, who thinks I ran through the neighborhood.

So this is what summer is supposed to look like...