Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Final Wager: Snow?

For those just itching to know who chose what date for our annual Snow Wager, here you go...

Mom: October 12 (I figure when we are out of town is a perfect time to have it snow)

Dad: October 17 (traitor, he stole my birthday)

Bear: October 15

Wolf: October 4

Wolf's Therapist: October 6 (he couldn't resist; he wants dinner and a movie, too, plus it's his birthday)

It's anybody's guess at this point, although over the weekend it was looking like those Utah guys were going to win!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tire Changeover is Over, Unger...Roger.

D-d-d-dear C-c-costco:

There must be a better way. I am home now at 10:30 a.m. after spending two semi-frigid hours shivering at the door to your Tire Shop, waiting in line to assure my spot for the annual tire changeover drill. I could only type this letter after my fingertips were soothed by hot water bottles left over from equally hardy Alaskan pioneers.

My little soldier son agreed to accompany me on this mission if I adequately supplied him with everything necessary for a comfortable wait. The DVD player (pictured above) was a very nice touch to what could have been "standing in line hell"; worse, even, than standing in line at the post office. It's a good thing he didn't refuse to come with me and that his fleece jammies have feet in them, or you'd be in trouble.

I was properly attired in goose-down jacket,long underwear, wool gloves, socks, and hat, and still I shivered. My coffee retained its warmth for a while but rapidly cooled toward the 10:00 hour as your Tire Shop door remained tighly sealed against the scourge of studded-tire-angst.

It only took a 30 minute shower to regain the feeling in my feet and speech to my mouth. But that's okay, because Costco prides itself on customer service and I could be paying $120 for this $40 warehouse price, right?

Too bad my tongue is still stuck to my cheek, however.

Thanks, and next time I'll bring the sleeping bag and camp stove.

Yours Forever and Ever (or until I turn into a Abominable SnowPerson),

Mrs. Kirkland

(PS Yes, I'm THAT Mrs. Kirkland; don't look too hard for your Christmas bonus this year)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Update from the Wolf Den: What's Next

Yukon has returned from his week visiting Wolf at CHYC and attending a VA training in Salt Lake. He deserved, and received, a big welcome home from us.

Honestly, I was not sure how this visit would go; sending dads to take care of detail-oriented things like clothes shopping, meeting with teachers, etc. and managing a week of training for his own career does not always mean success for either. But my darling Yukon did it, and did it well, nagivating this new phase of Wolf's life at CHYC with the right amount of support and love. There was no one better for the job.

Some of the updates provided by Yukon are thus: Wolf has moved to a new unit better equipped to both manage Wolf's behaviors and support his therapy to overcome them. This is a crucial element to Wolf's future success. While it means that we approach this move as if he was just entering CHYC, we are truly thankful (once more) for insightful and caring staff of the school who recognized current therapies were not proving successful, and took steps for Wolf's benefit. Wolf will be in this particular unit for a long time. Perhaps until his 18th birthday, during which time we will cross the rickety bridge to adulthood and a whole new realm of life skills and independence. Or not. It all depends on him.

Yukon brought back a bunch of Wolf's belongings that he has either grown out of or are not considered optimal for his progression at school. While it is painful to look at some of these items, I think it is more important to look beyond the "stuff" and view the bigger picture of who he was when he left Anchorage, and who is being given the opportunity to become.

I would not change either.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Challenge For the Champ

It's been a rock-em-sock-em kind of day in Anchorage with parents all over the city collapsing in exhaustion after a gazillion hours spent at the Great Alaskan Martial Arts Festival and Tournament.

Our first experience in any sort of martial arts event other then the usual quarterly Color Belt promotion tests, Bear and I were introduced to the finer points of what amounts to a Korean love-fest for their national sport.

Master Yu, god bless him, is a true professional when it comes to his marketing and public relations strategies. Today we had, seated at our VIP table, dignitaries from the Anchorage Police Department, the ARC of Anchorage (a non profit dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities; we, btw, find them to be very helpful), and even the guys who are building the new Champ Taekwondo building. Nice touch. We watched teams from all over Anchorage and environs parade in, as well as a team from South Korea, one from Kentucky, and one from Washington, D.C.

Normally I am not big on the competition side of things for a four-year-old. Bear does not like loud noises (swimming pools and gymnasiums being the worst), so it took two tries to get him to agree to compete today. I am also not usually a fan of the "trophies for everyone" mindset, believing that sometimes we win and sometimes the other guy does, and life is not about being victorious all the time. However, given the measure of courage AND patience displayed by our Bear Cub as we waited and waited and waited for his turn to compete, by gumbo, the little bugger deserved each of his awards, as well as the trip to McDonalds post-competition.

Mommy was awarded a beer when we got home. A big, tall, cold one.


Friday, September 25, 2009

War Is Hell

It began this morning, early, before the gray skies and dripping trees were even visible. A daddy stepped off his front porch, entered a waiting vehicle, and hearts began to break.

This particular daddy is the father of Bear's Best Girlie and her two brothers. He is also married to my good friend J. We met him the first week they, and we, were in Anchorage, having all moved to the state at the same time; they for a new Associate Pastorate at a local church, and we for our newest adventure. We talked, we bonded, the guys fished, our children were inseparable. Now he is gone, departed for a 12-month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq as Chaplain of a Army National Guard unit from Wisconsin.

J and T knew of this deployment for some time; they began to prepare both themselves and their children with seriousness and humor, covering everything from Cub Scouts to birthdays to learning to drive the travel trailer. But nothing could have prepared them for these last few days.

How does one, really, get ready to say goodbye? What is there to say? I often wonder about those last evenings of military families and the exhaustion they must feel of the days prior to deployment. Do you fill the day with activity or spend those last hours huddled together, hands and hearts intertwined so that not a moment is wasted?

I can only imagine the scenario this morning. How many wives have stood at the door, desperately memorizing their loved one's face, smell, and feel as they held on just one more time? How many husbands have had to reach up and unclasp the hands of a partner's from around their neck, aching to keep them there but knowing he could not, before turning and walking down the driveway, alone?

Godspeed to all of you. May your road home be a smooth one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Keeping Busy While Dad is Away

Amazing, Dad is gone most of the day, most days, and yet when he is out of town Bear and I find it difficult to fill the same span of time....hmmm, the Daddy aura is missing.

With Yukon still in SLC at his VA training and visiting Wolf, Bear and I have accomplished no small amount of tasks, however. This morning we switched out the summer and winter gear from our "Outdoor Closet" downstairs. Now we are truly prepared for the snow that we know is forthcoming. The temperature is a chilly 34 right now at 11 a.m. and the clouds up on the Chugach range are glowering at us.

With such weather we felt it necessary to have our customary "Crummy Day" breakfast of pancakes, shaped like gingerbread men. Always a hit, especially when Dad's away.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

'Falling' Too Fast...


Welcome to our world. Today was the first offical day of Autumn, and we greeted it with temperatures in the upper 30's, wind, rain, and a lot more snow appearing on the mountains outside our window.

Yikes. I know I said I was ready for winter, but sheesh, this is all a little sudden, isn't it? I feel like I'm entering into a fast track relationship; yes, no, yes, no? Oh, NO...

The photo was taken around 7:30 tonight, as Bear and I were finishing up dinner after a great run with our Tuesday Night Race group. The combination of snow, clouds, and sunset provided some stunning colors to which the camera could not do justice.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dad Visits the Wolf Den

"You wouldn't believe what this kid has created" were the first words out of Yukon's mouth tonight. Transmitted via cell phone from CHYC in Utah, where Yukon is taking a week to dually work/visit Wolf, this was a rather startling comment, especially given the past few weeks of angst.

My answer was of course "No, I probably wouldn't; what is it?" remembering some of Wolf's other "creations" in the past. I was thankful the "thing" did not, coincidentially, have anything remotely inappropriate associated with "it". For a change. What "it" is, apparently, looks like a Star Trek manual worthy of Star Fleet Command, much to my Trekkie husband's delight.

History proves life is always good when Yukon and Wolf get together. Cut from the same weave of fabric in many ways, the two have always managed to meld where Wolf and I cannot. There is no better person to visit Wolf right now as he struggles with a difficult transition at school and an even more difficult check to the reality of his world.

Yukon went into this weeklong visit with his eyes wide open. Not laying his eyes upon the young man since his swift delivery of Wolf in May of 2008, he did have some expectation of a "wow" moment when they spied each other. But I don't think either one of them expected the flood of emotion that followed.

In a burst of uncharacteristic glee, Yukon said, Wolf wrapped his long, lanky arms around his dad and hugged him. Hugged him tight and grinned; as wide a smile as we have ever seen. Yukon was thrilled to see the skinny youth he left behind had grown to face him eye-to-eye and man-to-man, finally; both on the same plane of physical existence, both looking at life, and hopefully each other, a little differently.

Whether or not Yukon's visit will leave Wolf with long-term effects remains to be seen; his disability and choices in behavior lately leave us no choice but to be a bit wary. But today is a good day for all of us to reflect and rejoice over a child reunited with one person who will always, and forever, love him as a father should.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Urgent! Help Me Win the Bet for 2009!

It is once again time for the annual Kirkland Family First Day of Snow wager. Even though daytime temperatures are hovering around the 65 degree mark, and any signs of the white stuff are nonexistent upon even the highest of Alaskan slopes, I have nonetheless opened the betting for the 2009 contest. The National Weather Service predicts snow/rain in the higher mountains of Anchorage mid-week; this is enough to spur me to action.

I have checked the forecasts, spun the weather wheel, consulted with the heavens, and am ready to begin my decision-making...after the guys do.

Bear chooses his birthday every year; normally by default due to his tender age. This year he has chosen it on purpose, so October 23 is taken. Yukon is trying to fool me by saying he hasn't decided yet, but it won't work. Not after last year's fluke win with 4 inches of snow the first week of October. (see photo above)

I am taking any and all suggestions. The rules are simple: snow must cover the grass (not necessarily the street). Winner receives dinner and a movie of his or her choice. This year I am also adding cockatils for the adult victor...

Last year it was indeed 'The Guns of Navarone' and Five Alarm Chili. At least Harrison Ford was in the movie.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Caught Red-Handed

Or is that red-hoof-ed?

Monday morning brought a lovely sunrise and the appearance of my garden-poachers, who, I found out, were double trouble. Mama and calf did the circuit of the neighborhood, catching my attention just as I was going out to retrieve the morning paper.

They wandered through Neighbor's yard, where Neighbor and son were also moose-gazing, then went back to the garden to catch a few bites of anything they may have missed last week.

Mama and company spent about an hour in various yards before making tracks towards the park. Bear and I saw them again yesterday morning at the kids' bus stop. Maybe they were headed to school?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: Thank You Peter, Paul, and Mary

This is a rather unorthodox Update From the Wolf Den, but nonetheless an appropriate one, as my focus lately seems to be all the peripheral things that appear out of the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. Not just for our son, but all the sons and daughters in the United States and across the world, and their parents, as they struggle through a life of being "different".

Mary Travers died yesterday. She was better known as the 'Mary' in the 1960's folk group 'Peter, Paul, and Mary', adding her rich voice to that of her partners'. Like many kids of the 1960's and 70's, I grew up with their music. 'Puff the Magic Dragon', 'If I Had a Hammer', and many, many others. We all knew the words and sang with all our might at church retreats and summer camp, and along with the record player in our bedrooms. It was the ultimate in sing-along cool to know all of their tunes.

Yukon, during one of his searches late at night, as he is wont to do in the wintertime, came across a "Best of" album that features not only PP&M's early versions of famous tunes, but also added an extra at the end. I listened to it once. Then again. And again.

Here is the chorus...

"Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me"

This song is now part of the American Camping Association's fixed list of sing-along songs at their summer camps.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Whittier: Gateway to Someplace

I try to keep an open mind when it comes to visiting recommended venues on behalf of AKontheGO. Alaska is, after all, unique in that what looks good to us might not look so good to those from Outside. So when we were invited to attend the Whittier Small Fry Salmon Derby last weekend, I put my personal perspective in my pocket and tried to look at things from a Lower 48 viewpoint.

It was raining on Saturday. Not just raining, but pouring in torrents that drenched us as we prepared ourselves for a day of "fishing". We had along with us Nephew and Girlfriend, who are very hardy and were certainly up for an afternoon of plugging along a shoreline in search of fish.

Whittier is 60 miles from Anchorage, along the Western edge of Prince William Sound, and was the site of the original port for weapons and other materials of importance prior to WWII, in case Alaska, then a territory, was captured or otherwise attacked and we needed a port of entry/exit.

One must get to Whittier through the Rabbit Hole, I mean Tunnel. A 2.5 mile-long wormhole in solid rock that spits one out at the end, blinded by the sudden light. Autos share the space with the train, and must each wait their respective turn. Which makes me remember the days of the Washington State Ferry system: wait, drive, wait, drive.

We arrived in town to see a Princess Line ship waiting to engage travelers on their wet seven-day cruise through the foggy fjords of Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage, poor souls. Passengers were slogging through town with umbrellas and raincoats, unsure of what to do while they waited for sailing time. Most of the town is closed up for winter; Labor Day is past and these folks are outta here.

Long story short: no fish run, we hiked briefly along a creek to see some brave souls who were fishing, drove around town looking at the Begich Towers, where almost all of the 150 full-time residents live, had some coffee, then left.

I can see potential in Whittier; Bear loved to see the boats, trains, trucks, and barges around the town, and they do have a lovely set of trails to hike in better weather. It remains to be seen what Whittier does with their tourist planning.

For our part, we're glad we don't live there...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Going On Our Fourth Winter

Yukon and I looked at the calendar today and realized that come December we will have been in Alaska four years. Wow. Four winters in the Last Frontier, and today we celebrated by heading outside to prepare.

Non-Winter has been so delightful this year I almost hesitate to call it such; right up until yesterday we had mild temperatures, mostly blue-ish skies, and lovely leaves turning bright colors.

But yesterday we woke up to clouds, rain, and chilly temps that had me scrambling for raingear, mittens, and hats as we traveled to Whittier for a sort-of attempt at fishing in a kids' salmon derby. More on that later.

This afternoon our friends invited us to visit the Fort Richardson woodlot for some preparatory wood cutting before the weather turns bitter. We packed up kid, tools, nephew and girlfriend, and headed out. The rain thankfully stopped when we arrived and afforded us the occasional view of surrounding mountains.

Bear and his Best Girlie had a ball prowling around in the brush and sliding down muddy hillsides. I eventually got the lot of them (four kids in all) to help me pile slash for small animal habitat (Grandpa would be so proud), and we had a contest to see who could make the tallest winter shelter for critters.

The wood was stacked under the back deck to season until next winter, as I had moved all of last year's wood into the shed for use in the next few months. We arrived home, started the inagural fire in the woodstove, and proceeded to settle in as we have the last three years, for winter's first blow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den: How About Mom and Dad?

"Character-the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life-is the source from which self-respect springs" Joan Didion, author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem
At a point where we, Yukon and Mom, are facing a whirlwind of decision-making for now and later concerning our oldest child, and looking at both the inherent "character" and ability to gain some self-respect of said child, this quote from Ms. Didion seems acutely appropriate.

There is no mistaking the suffering many families, including ours, have endured during their time living with, caring for, and loving on a child with disabilities, be they physical, emotional, social, or otherwise. There have been days fraught with anxiety, as a new diagnosis or care strategy plays out; times when Yukon might very well have tossed me in the looney bin had he not been a different sort of man. There rarely seems to be a moment when we parents can let our proverbial guard down. Something may happen that needs our immediate attention, a decision might need to be made, a signature might be required, a phone conference between child and staff and parents might need to be conducted.

We learned long ago to turn this sort of "foxhole living", where we just sit and wait for the bombs to fall and then fight back, into a more productive mode of caring for both ourselves and our kids. When Wolf was in sixth grade and just beginning to struggle socially and academically, and we were in the midst of a move from South Carolina to Alaska, I took all the anxiety of everyone else (and perhaps more), and moved it to me. I wasted away physically and emotionally, snapping at everyone and lacking an outlet for my frustration over a child who obviously was struggling and the stress of moving. Poor Yukon took the brunt but was the Star of this show, managing us all with his calm ways in the midst of crazy times but eventually allowed me to see that he was far, far more effective in his calmness than I ever was in my anxiety.

The foxhole became deepest just before Wolf left, as our lives were lived in defense as opposed to personal, positive offense. One of our most valuable discoveries in our weekly family therapy has been our ability to discern that anxiety and channel it into something productive. CHYC has asked if we would facilitate an Alaskan family support group, if I would help them create a workable discharge packet for moms and dads to better be re-acquainted with these kids of ours as they transition home.

Like Wolf, we parents have to spend a fair amount of time evaluating our own level of character in the midst of a life that might not be what we planned for initially. We must, as must those hundreds of thousands of other parents around the world whose children are not like everyone else's. It starts with the self-respect of a human doing the best they can, all day, every day. And being okay with it. Character, don't waste it in a foxhole.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Camping in Alaska: Who Brought the Space Heater?

A goodly amount of time passing since my last true camping experience, with tent and Therma-rest and lantern and all that, I appear to have forgotten what sleeping on the ground in early September means.

It means that my 40-year-old body protests mightily when forced to recline on uneven ground punctuated by sharp stones that seem to zero in on sensitive areas. It means that one must be in tune with the clock and have appropriate lighting apparatus available to go to the pit toilet, get ready for bed, and find the child's stuffed animal.

Camping in Alaska in early September also means that one must remember the temperature gradient is vastly different from that of camping in the Lower 48 during the same time frame. As one who is historically chilly no matter the season (the only place I was not cold during a camping trip was in South Carolina in May, when I was too hot, and complained about the same amount), I am privy to the Ultra-Warm-Below 40-Keep-Em-Toasty sleeping bag, appropriating it from Yukon who manages to sleep in his skivvy's even while snow piles up around the tent (I know this because of reports from Boy Scouts).

This past Labor Day weekend was unusually warm during the day, with sunny, bluebird skies fooling us all into thinking it was August, not September. Only the yellow birch trees peeking out from behind the spruce forests reminded us otherwise. We were all attired in shirtsleeves and sunglasses during a hike up Exit Glacier near Seward, and lounged the afternoon away in camp, drinking adult beverages and watching the kids ride their bikes around the campground.

Huh, the sun went behind the mountain. How did the temperature manage to fall from 65 to 45 in a matter of seconds?? Where the hell is my fleece? Why is that child not putting a hat on? Why is the dog shivering uncontrollably? Get the whiskey!

Thankfully, after remedying all of the above, the Kirkland family and their friends spent two lovely, albeit chilly nights enjoying the last gasp of Alaskan late summer/early fall. Even a downpour upon our departure did little to squelch our spirit of adventure in the tradition of thousands of sourdoughs before us.

I was just darned glad that Safeway had a Starbucks.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Seen My Garden?

I must be in the wrong house. This is not my garden. My garden is a lovely swath of dirt with splendid growth of brussel sprouts, cabbages, and rows of multi-colored beets that would be the envy of the 'Victory Garden' cookbooks.

Above are two photos. One shows a helpful Bear working dilligently with me yesterday to weed, thin, and prepare the last of the garden produce for harvest; including those lovely, lush, and plentiful brussel sprouts. The other photo shows the same garden this morning, after a very naughty creature spent the night feasting on what must have been a delightful salad of said vegetables.

We were awakened around 2 a.m. by the growls and barks of Jasper, who normally sleeps through fire trucks, earthquakes, and crying children. This time, though, he would not settle down, even after I walked through the house peering out windows and doors to see if indeed some intruder was stalking the property. Didn't see anything, so I declined to let the dog out and instead took us both back to bed, where occasional growls still rumbled for another hour.

Yukon was firm in his belief that a moose had been in the yard, based upon recent sightings in the Anchorage area now that autumn is here. Like clockwork, the moose seem to know that now is the time to move into the neighborhoods, where they will survive the winter on the fruits of our labor.

Taking Bear to preschool this morning I was momentarily sidetracked by the skeletal remains of my brussel sprout plants. It was not until after lunch that Bear and I took a closer look at how much he/she really did eat. The other cabbage, every single brussel sprout leaf, most of the kale in the garden and front yard, and all but three of my beets. Nadafinga.

We spent about an hour plucking the baby brussels off the stalks, trimming the three beets and gathering up the rest of the rubbage for tonight's Moose Dinner Impossible, since I am sure he/she will be back.

This time, though, I'm releasing the hound, who, despite his own shortcomings today, (he ate half a loaf of blueberry bread and trod upon my clean white floor with muddy paws, does deserve some credit for trying to warn us.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Update From the Wolf Den

We're trying to unravel the mystery of Wolf's difficulty achieving a Level high enough to maintain privileges and feel a sense of satisfaction for a job well done. After 15 months, a pattern has developed; rise to high Level, stay a week or so, do something to jeapordize, fall to bottom Level, become frustrated, rinse, repeat. It is frustrating enough for the adults in his life, but it must be horribly so for Wolf.

The CHYC Level System, as a review, is based on blocks of time during a student's day, during which time their every action, word choice, or activity is monitored, from accomplishing personal hygiene tasks to interacting with peers and staff. Stars are awarded for positive behavior throughout the day, with an overall star at the end of the day. Thus the student sees clearly it is his or her responsibility, and no one else's, that will cause the rise and fall of a certain Level.

Higher level kids get all sorts of goodies; trips to Target, the museum, even river rafting, skiing, and swimming outings. The incentive program works well, for most. But Wolf still struggles.

What we all have noticed is that when a big event occurs (we visit, the Super Level approacheth, holidays, etc.) Wolf seems to panic, becoming nervous and anxious as to his ability to hold on to himself enough to make it to, or through, said event. A small infraction occurs, not enough to cause a level drop, but enough to make him believe it is forthcoming, and Boom, down he falls, figuring, as he said yesterday "I blew it so it doesn't matter anyway". Not true, but he believes it, and the slide backward is so dramatic that everyone now holds their breath.

So what do we do? A planning meeting is commencing at school to see if Wolf can be allotted smaller chunks of time with more reward during the day, allowing for his self-esteem to build gradually in a constructive way. He went out to breakfast with Unit Director and Director of Care (a very hip guy who wishes he could pack up and move to Alaska, a decision I would wholeheartedly support); taking time with people who care so much about him that they would spend time with a kid who believes, deep down, that he is not worth much.

Yukon is traveling down in a few weeks on a part work-part play mission. Wolf is beside himself with excitement, and staff have promised, knowing the relationship the two have, that there will be plenty of opportunity for fun. It will be a good opportunity to see how the new plan is working and make adjustments. I'm crossing fingers, toes, and whatever else I can that it works.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I'm an Idiot

Well, perhaps not in the literal sense, but I must look like one to anybody who happens to go past my house and sees me wandering aimlessly around, trying to decide what to do first. I am the Queen of Indecision today.

We arrived home around 10 p.m. last night after a seamless trip from Port Angeles to Seattle to Anchorage, where our good friend picked us up. A good omen, the flight was a quick 3 hrs and Bear did not have a meltdown despite being up at 7 a.m. and not napping on any legs of travel. Of course, he is still asleep at this moment, but that is a given after being away from his own bed for two weeks.

Yukon had to go to work early this morning, the poor dear (can't you just feel my sympathy?) so I at least was able to read the paper (and a few back issue papers), drink my coffee, and listen to the rain fall against the windows.

Now I am trying to figure out what to tackle next. My garden needs inspecting, I am waiting for a care conference with Wolf's school via telephone, the luggage is sitting in the living room like a herd of elephants, and my kitchen floor has dog prints on it from the past few weeks of into/outgo fun with the neighbors (don't worry, Neigbors, all good). Writing needs to be caught up on, too. Oy. I have much to finish/create and the muse is definitely not here yet. Perhaps if I put in my contact lenses. And get dressed. And have more coffee.

Isn't the first day after vacation a freebie?