Friday, August 28, 2009

Alaska Versus Olympic Peninsula

After being away from the Olympic Peninsula almost five years, and up in Alaska for almost four, we notice certain aspects of both places that give us pause.

For example, we spent yesterday at a friends mini-forest-farm in Sequim, enjoying their expansive yard, chicken coops, and home-brewed beer. Yukon went bike riding with Mr. Friend and Bear and I hung out in the sunshine with Mrs. Friend (they are going to get all over me for calling them that).

Anyhow, Bear was outside in the yard with a friend and as I watched him run all over the yard I thought how nice it was to not worry about keeping a sharp eye out for critters. Had we been in Alaska, I would be wary about allowing him outdoors, in the woods, without adult supervision and perhaps a can of Counter Assault bear spray in my hand. Even without any bears around, I would have had to warn him to make lots of noise and watch for moose browsing in the bushes. As it was yesterday, about the only thing I needed to watch out for was the occasional bee.

I also became quite excited about the fact that Mrs. Friend placed her garbage, which consisted of some Dungeness crab shells, in the trash OUTSIDE. Wow. Right there, on the deck, no lock on it or anything.

Perhaps there is something to be said for civilization. Perhaps.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is Home?

Here we are, taking an extra week of vacation in our former home of Port Angeles, Washington. Wolf and I moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Februrary 1999, settling first in Sequim, then moving to "PA" in the winter of 2001. It is, for all intents and purposes, Home.

Wolf loves Port Angeles. It is where his first and best friend lives, where we met Yukon, and where he has felt most at peace. He and I made the move from Seattle when he was Bear's age, and he began school not far from the assisted living facility I managed.

It is strange bringing our younger son back here at the same age Wolf was when we made the cross-sound journey to a new and certainly better lifestyle. I see kids that were in kindergarten with Wolf now playing football, making college plans, and finishing up summer jobs. We've driven past our old house and Wolf's former elementary school, and I wonder how things might have played out had we stayed. I listen to the incredibly compassionate support from our friends and lament that Wolf is not here to feel their empathy for our family's journey.

Yukon and I are making tentative investigations into the possibiity of Wolf's return to Port Angeles for college, and our potential retirement here. It would be a nice step for him to be back where he is comfortable and secure with the circle of support of friends who could assist where necessary.

It is nice to think about, this coming Home. When talking to Wolf on the phone, I asked him where "Home" was. He told me Port Angeles. It would be nice to give that to him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ack, What Day Is It????

Well, we are not on a boat any longer. Nor are we in Alaska. We are currently spending a quiet morning in Port Angeles, Washington, our former home and really, our favorite home.

Little Bear is enjoying his new pseudo-grandparents at their lovely and spacious home on a hill overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Last night we joined their neighbors (and friends of ours) for a lovely gorgonzola/pasta/crab delight and some playtime with their little daughter, 3.

I have finally reached accessible internet and now can catch up on posts of information and photography for all those who are wondering if we are still alive.

Here are some additional photos of our family cruise on Holland America's Veendam. Would I recommend this trip? Absolutely. Would I take Bear again? Yep. Any takers for our next one???

Friday, August 21, 2009

Holland America and AK Fam

Day Five, Six? Who knows and Who Cares?

We’re back underway after a day in Alaska’s capital, Juneau. Other passengers, upon discovering that we were from the 49th state, were surprised that our family had not yet visited Juneau. AK Dad explained that with Juneau’s famous foggy, stormy weather coupled with the lack of any cross-state road system connecting the capital to the rest of Alaska, visiting the city is not the easiest thing to accomplish.

I liked Juneau. For northwesterners who are accustomed to low-hanging clouds and the smell of alder and spruce in the air, the city and its landscape struck a long-missed chord of familiarity. A small but dynamic place, Juneau seemed to hold close the partnership between environment and modernity; coffee shops, trendy clothing stores, and tourist traps all wound around the ever-present monoliths of State government, all crammed in between two craggy peaks.

Allen Marine provided AK Fam with a splendid tour of the Juneau area, including famous Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest, and Auke Bay, from whence we took a whale-watching excursion and were provided a classy lunch of grilled salmon, corn, coleslaw and carrot cake on Colt Island.

It was our first official “shore excursion” and as Alaskans we were a bit skeptical of the quality of a guided tour that had definite time constraints. AK Kid was the only child under twelve on the tour; I had crammed our backpack full of amusements for him should the day prove too much. No worries, he was a trooper and enjoyed watching the whales breach, wave, and dive using is own personal pair of binoculars. At Orca Lodge, our lunch stop, he ate his lunch (I did provide that) and then ran about on the beach and visited the Lodge’s tank of sea creatures while waiting to get back on the St. Maria, our boat. I was highly impressed by the professionalism and knowledge of Allen Marine’s staff and would recommend this trip to anyone who wants to skip the shopping and get out in Wild Alaska.

We’re at sea now; steaming towards an afternoon port in Ketchikan and a visit to Saxman Native Village, a Tlingit site, and a lumberjack show. AK Grandpa requested we attend to see if “things have changed much” since his logging days in the 1950’s and 60’s. Roger.

Only two more days on this ship/home we have come to love. Last night was the Formal Farewell Dinner, during which time AK Dad and I had cocktails with the Captain, James Russell-Dunford. Quite delightful and quite European in flavor, the cocktail hour was a first for us. We managed not to commit any dreadful blunders and were regaled by Captain Dunford’s tales of a holiday in Alaska last summer.

Going to pick up AK Kid from Club Hal; they are having “Music Morning” today, and Game Night tonight so he needs some down time before that.

Check back later next week for photos; the internet is very spotty on board and pictures do not upload well....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Holland America and AK Fam

Let's be clear about one thing. Whatever I may have said in the past regarding cruises as a form of Alaskan vacationing, I take it all back. As a parent, this rocks.

Bear is busy, Yukon is busy, I am busy. And we are all happy. Counts for a lot. Not too much internet time for me, given the high cost and the allowed number of minutes Holland America provided for me, so this will be brief.

For a complete update, visit AKontheGO. I've created a sort of diary that I'll update every few days. Photos are also a downloadable problem, so bear with us!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is it Time, Yet?

Ever seen that Disneyland commercial where the kids are laying in bed so extremely excited to be leaving for the Magic Kingdom that they are beyond control? Yeah, that's about where we are. Or, at least one of us.

Bear is about to pop something, he's so beside himself. I spent the day organizing, packing, and in some cases repacking, gear for two weeks of hopeful vacation bliss in lovely Southeast Alaska and the homey Pacific Northwest.

We're ready, we're willing, and hopefully by tomorrow morning, we'll be able. Yukon spent most of the day at his office tidying up some big projects that thankfully will now not dominate his thinking for the next fourteen days. Bear spent his day reorganizing my sofa so that the cushions now resemble a fort, and watching White Christmas. Don't ask me why.

The only one not so excited by all this preparing and packing is the dog, who has been in a deep depression since the luggage made an appearance. Fortunately the Southern Neighbors will take good care of him and provide more than enough attention and cookies.

We'll be blogging our way South, we hope, but one never knows about such things as wireless internet on a floating city. So, bear with us.

Bon Voyage!

Friday, August 14, 2009

When Our Ship Comes In

According to Bear's fingers, we have only two more days until we leave on our Holland America cruise from Seward to Vancouver,BC. He uses his hand as a fairly accurate calendar towards our departure, as it is always available for him during the day to announce to anyone and everyone when we leave. He is sort of right...

The length of this vacation is longer than any other we have taken as a family, save for the road trip to South Carolina in 2004, and I can personally attest that was NO vacation. Our ship has come in, and we are going to be on it.

Of course August in Alaska leaves much to be desired in the weather department. Since we are generally a month or two ahead of the Lower 48 in terms of seasonal shift, the rains and cooler temperature have appeared and there is clearly going to be some chilly days aboard the Veendam. For our family, it matters not, as we expect, if not welcome, the fall weather, and will go prepared with everything from wool gloves to hats to Bear's Grunden rain pants. I only hope our fellow passengers have been taking notice of the weather reports.

Today is my day to wind up some work, do the last of the laundry, and clear out food that has been hanging around the refrigerator longer than two weeks. None of this sounds particularly appealing, so thankfully I have a meeting to break up the monotony. Bear gets to go to a friend's house, which will break up the constant referral to his "hand calendar", at least for a while.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Peace, or Power?

Someday I'm going to write down all the little gems of wisdom from the various assorted people who come into my life. It should be quite a volumnous sort of creation and will for sure provide needed energy to a brain-tired mom.

Yesterday was Wolf's monthly care plan review, during which time all the staff involved in his care sit in a conference room, me on speakerphone, Wolf at the head of the table, and discuss every aspect of Wolf's life.

Nutrition, education, medication, behavior, recreational activities, social skills; it's all there, transparent and ripe for the picking. Wolf, understandably, hates these meetings, mostly because he is required to be a participant and talk at length about all of the above. He also hates them, however, because there is no room for argument.

His therapist, B. jokes that in the dictionary, next to the word 'argue', is a full-color photograph of Guess Who. Yep, the boy does love to debate. Perhaps we should turn him loose at a rally for healthcare and we'll see who is still standing at the end of the day...

Interestingly enough, his ability to argue has little do to with the reason he finds it necessary to pursue someone until the must turn their back or run screaming the other direction. He wants desperately to be right, when so much is wrong.

At our early morning meeting today, B. was searching his mind for a phrase that would give Wolf some 'thinking time' before retorting back with some obnoxious comment and getting his teeth knocked out. He found a winner. "Peace, or Power?"

Wolf wants power over people because he has so little over himself. He feels better when he wins an argument, it provides him with power. And to a kid with Asperger's, power over something, even that which to us might seem innane, is everything.

But, as B. pointed out, gaining power over someone by incessently pushing viewpoints in their face will only succeed in losing friends and influence among other people. And creating peace; agreeing to disagree and feeling the calm that comes from knowing one accomplished it without blows or bellows, can be far more powerful.

I wonder if the individuals shouting insults and hateful comments on street corners, all for the sake of trying to change others' minds, know of the Peace or Power Principle? Perhaps we could all do with a look inward today...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Alaska Changes and So Do We

Oh but it's been an exciting week here in the Kirkland household. Wolf has had a great week and is still riding the positive tide of a visit by the Highland Rugby team from Salt Lake. A friend commented today that it is so great he is doing well; indeed, we are happy he is happy, and for now, that is enough. More than enough.
Wolf is looking ahead to an outing in a few weeks with his therapist to Target, a big day for sure.

Bear, too, has reached another milestone in his young life; one that every Alaskan child must reach if he or she is ever to become a true Sourdough someday. He caught his first fish in a little city-owned, Fish and Game-stocked lake with our good friend, Mr. T.(Ha, he'll love that). Yukon packed him up early Saturday morning with a dozen doughnuts as incentive, and spent a special few hours down by the water teaching our most anxious four-year-old how to cast, jig, reel, and who knows what else. Very serious, as Bear often is about things involving skill, he followed directions well and was rewarded at the very last minute with his special rainbow trout. He showed it to everyone and anyone he came in contact with yesterday, from the neighbor to a church intern, to the babysitter (who ultimately helped him clean it and earned double pay from me).

Today we spent one more afternoon at Arctic Valley picking crowberries before our upcoming vacation. The difference in landscape over seven days was definitely noticable in the march towards autumn in fireweed, grass, and even a few leaves that have dressed early for the fall dance.

We are entering my favorite time of year, when I start organizing the wood pile out back, making jelly and syrup, and generally surveying the status of the landscape, wondering, once again, how long it will be before we see a dusting of white on the mountaintops.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: "Kia Kaha"

Wolf called us last night on the highest of clouds. He has a hero, and for once, it not a fictional character from a movie. While I pay the highest homage myself to Frodo and Luke Skywalker, my son's ability to find real-life, bona fide heroes among the human population is rare.

It seems that CHYC, through an arrangement with their Clinical Director and CEO brought in some members of the Highland Rugby Team, a group of young men who, under the guidance of their coach, Larry Gelwix, have inspired and aspired to take life and run with it.

A movie made in 2008 about the team's success called Forever Strong was shown to the kids last weekend. Like Wolf, so many students were all fired up about the main character's rise from self-serving bully to self-less leader thanks to Coach Gelwix, that CHYC tracked down the team and asked them for a bit of their time.

They got it, all right. A visit and lunch with past and current players and a few coaches, plus a chance to sample rugby at its finest. Wolf enjoyed handling the rugby ball and kicking it across the field. He relished asking questions like "what is the best part about playing for Highland?" and "What does Forever Strong mean?" (hence the "Kia Kaha", and "What is your record?" (390 wins, 9 losses over 34 years).

The best part for Wolf? Watching the members do the Haka, a traditional Maori dance meant to celebrate the spirit of competition, the meshing of body and soul. Quite inspiring, it obviously inspired my son, because the most powerful moment for me came from his memorization of the coach's mantra.

"We're here to turn out championship boys, not championship teams....through values, commitment, and hard work."

Nice. I wonder how Coach Gelwix would feel about a CHYC Team?

Monday, August 3, 2009


When evening temperatures fall into the mid-40's, it's time to start thinking about berries. Not just any berries, mind you, but Alaskan blue and crowberries.

I was turned on to the sport of berrying my first summer in Alaska. Different from any other berry picking adventures I had ever had (I grew up in Issaquah, WA, where an annual pilgrimage to the strawberry farms in Carnation were hot, boring, and took too long), Alaskan berry picking means spending a day frolicking in the forest amid the laughter and chatter of one's own family.

Our favorite place to induldge is Arctic Valley, a high-alpine ski area/military installation a mere 11 miles from Anchorage. We can see the chairlifts and old NIKE missle site from our front windows and I watch every year to see when the time is right to head on up.

Yesterday was our day; the crummy weather seemed but a distant memory, we had no agenda for the afternoon, and I needed to get up there before our next vacation in a few weeks. I was poised and ready with my berry picking apparatus (a little shovel thingie with tines), buckets, snacks, and camera.

One of my favorite things about venturing up to the Valley is the appearance of so manhy other families. Kids, dogs, grandmas and grandpas; everyone is out for a fun day of playing in the midst of sweet-smelling shrubbery and a view to die for.

This year the biggest advantage was Bear's ability to run up and down the trails between Yukon and I. We attached a bear bell to his shoe so we could hear his comings and goings, and I relished the gentle clanking sound as he explored the terrain at his own leisure. He also spent considerable time eating berries, as was evidenced by the purple face and hands.

Four quarts of berries later, we were hungry, tired, and ready to head down the hill. Sun-soaked and happy and toting a good start to our winter berry supply.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


That would be Bruin Evasion And Resistance; describing in a nutshell Yukon's fishing trip on the Russian River today with his good buddy.

After a 4 a.m. departure from our little hacienda in Anchorage Yukon and D. arrived at the Russian River, down near the beginnings of the Kenai Peninsula, famous for salmon fishing and notorious for big brown bears who love nothing more than convincing their human nemesis to give up a catch. Such was the case for our fellas.

At a prime fishing hole near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers, the two fished for a few hours without the distraction of other fishin folks or fishin bears. But sometime around noon the call came from upriver. "BEAR!"
It happened to be at the same time D. just hooked into a good one. What's a man to do when faced with danger and a sockeye at the same time?

You reel, hard. And hope that your buddy Yukon can manage to scoop big red in the net and backtrack to the stairs at the same time. I knew Yukon's dance lessons would pay off some day, because my darling was able to do just that, with the hook still in the fish's mouth and D. still holding the pole. The two slid backwards to the stairway and up, all while being followed by a young brown bear who appeared very intent on getting that fish.

For those who may not be aware of the rules governing fishing and bears in Alaska, if a bear comes after your fish string, you are supposed to give it to him. Duh. Apparently this is not so simple, however, for the conditioning of a bear takes but a few fish easily obtained, and then the bear goes rogue, and well, we all know what happens when people, er, bears, go rogue....

So D. and Yukon are at the top of the stairs, unwilling to relinquish the fish, and the bear is rapidly ascending said stairs, unwilling to let the matter drop already. Like something out of a comedy movie, bear's head pops up from the stairwell, Yukon and D. rapidly descend another set of stairs (still holding on to the net, the fish, their stuff, and by now probably each other) and head downstream.

According to them, the bear gazed after them for a while, shook his head this way and that, and then went off to go bother some other guys.

I will always wonder if that is indeed the end of it or if there is more....
With these two, there usually is.