Thursday, December 30, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Elituq

"She is learning." That's what "elituq" means in the language of our Native Athabascan community, the most prolific group of Alaska's southcentral region.

It is almost beyond my comprehension that this blog has been a three year work in progress to share lives and emotions of one family trying to make sense of something that seems, on so many days, nonsensical. But as the Athabascans believed, life is indeed a journey designed to reflect learning, from the moment we are born until the moment our souls make the companionable walk in rejoin with the Great Spirit. Natives do not waste words; the very fact that "elituq" is in their vocabulary at all speaks volumes to its significance to a culture that holds spoken words as treasures, meant to be expressed only when absolutely necessary. Actions, in this case, do speak louder than words.

So, as 2010 sinks into an icy horizon and 2011 appears as a glimmer over the eastern mountains, I thought it appropriate to share my moments of "elituq". I believe, I truly do, that my story is for everyone who has ever stared through darkness so deep it hurts to look and yet managed to walk with confidence out the other side.

I learned the Wolf Den is not always a lonely place; in fact, its refuge can and does offer insights and opportunities far beyond its initial intent. Case in point? During our last family therapy session before the holiday break Therapist B was teasing Wolf about coming to CHYC and eating all the food prepared by the new (and fabulous) Chef. Wolf, without missing a beat, teased back "Oh no. You spend Christmas with your family, and I'll spend it with mine." That my son feels comfortable enough in his Den to express a feeling of family without his physical family present moved Yukon and I deeply. It felt good.

I discovered I cannot control Wolf's desires. Nor should I. The day Wolf was placed in a box of diagnoses and prognoses, I allowed myself to seal it as tight as possible, thus preventing his greatest wants from escaping. But he is he, and I am me. My desires are not his, and wrapping Wolf in duct tape will indeed protect his body, but not his spirit.

I learned to be shut up. To listen, acknowledge, and then release daily frustrations, challenges, and roadblocks that were, are, and will continue to be present as long as Wolf and I inhabit this same earth together. My kindergarten teacher taught me "Stop, Look, and Listen." A very wise and most trusted mentor taught me to "Be Still." 35 years span the two, but both are more relevant today than ever before.

I discovered I am not alone. Ever. If I wrote down every name of every person who has walked a single step of this journey with us, whether through reading this blog, listening to me prattle on via the radio waves, caring for our children, lighting a candle, saying a prayer, or laughing through tears; they would wrap our family in an endless tapestry of incredible, bright, and comforting compassion.

Thank you for urging me on as we enter this next phase of Wolf's life. Our lives. It matters.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More From Christmas in Alaska

While Yukon and Bear play Hot Wheels up and down the hallway (I knew replacing carpet with laminate flooring was a good idea), I am finally getting around to organizing my office and uploading photos of our lovely Alaska Family Christmas.

Note the angel playing the bongos, the cammo ski goggles coupled with a cammo robe, cammo watch, and cammo shirt. If the child gets any more we won't be able to find him.

A lovely day full of friendships and fun and family. Slept in late, ate great food, and explored the finer points of making our own ice buckets with only, well, ice. Truly one of the nicest Christmas holidays in a long time. Must be that Peace on (my) Earth thing. A favorite moment was when a flock of Red Poll birds came flying to the bird feeder where we had placed some Christmas goodies. Gorgeous red heads against the blue winter sky. Amazing.

Now if only that oldest son would decide to call....hmmmmm.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, From Our Alaskan Family

Before we share our photos from a wonderful Christmas Eve and morning, before I tell all the funny and serious tales of yet another joyous holiday, here is a video I want you to watch.

From a remote Alaskan Bush village, a Hallelujah chorus you won't forget.
It's perfect. Absolutely perfect. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From the Wolf Den: All is Calm. All is Bright.

I've received quite a lot of questions regarding my last Wolf Den post in which I express a desire for my son to understand the meaning of Christmas in the practical realm of "quality versus quantity".

Really, I can't rationalize to him. I know that. The same brain that prevents Wolf from conceptualizing the idea of Jesus as a real human being but made by God is the brain that also stops short from understanding that giving and getting are different terms for the same holiday. I have struggled with this ever since Wolf first started understanding the boxes under the Christmas tree contained his beloved "stuff".

But here's what I do understand: Christmas contains magic and wonder and joy, even for this child, or rather, especially for this child. I hear on the phone mounting excitement as boxes bearing Wolf's name are delivered to CHYC, and as he outlines Christmas morning for Yukon and I. Special wake-up by staff with Santa hats and candy canes, presents piled up outside doors, hot chocolate in their jammies while the cacophony of 10 boys (all who love stuff) builds and builds until, at last, all the shouting and showing and jumping around winds to a hum of satisfied glee.

Christmas Eve, Wolf will go to bed with anticipation for morning and sleep, undisturbed by nightmares. If I know my son, he will wake early, with joy in his heart and undeniable tranquility in his soul.

He will have peace. He will be happy. And if one single night and one single morning a year of pure childlike contentment brings peace to my child, this must be part of God's plan, thanks to His.

And surely, surely, Wolf, and I, will sleep in heavenly peace.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Solstice Parade...

A parade of people itching to see the sun again, that is. The shortest day of the year has arrived, and Alaskans everywhere are set to stay up late and usher in brighter days and the advent of spring. Well, not really, but we like to think it's all downhill from here to green grass and singing birds.

Yukon, Bear, and I took a brief getaway to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort last weekend, partly to shoot another segment for a local television station's "Kids in the Wild" thingie I do once in a while, and partly to unwind after a frenetic few weeks of pre-Christmas activity.

Alaska, Anchorage included, had been in the grips of a cold snap the likes of which had not been seen or felt in quite some time. While we were spared the worst of it with temperatures only dipping into the -20 degree range at night, some Interior Alaskan communities (Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and the like) saw -60 F. That's cold in the definition of cold. Icy. Frightening. Too Damn Cold, as one old-timer griped while we filled up our cars at the gas station one morning, hands feeling like wooden blocks as they gripped the pump handles.

At any rate, AK Fam left in good spirits Friday, and spent a pretty fine day Nordic skiing, relaxing, and eating good food. The resort hosted a festival for Winter Solstice, featuring a band called "Church of the Flaming Funk", best known for their pyrotechnic angle. Let's just say it was part circus side show, part 1960's James Bond movie, as women gyrated to grungy, hard-core rock music (that wasn't too bad, really) while twirling flaming hula hoops and sticking fire down their throats. Children were lined up in a chorus line of sorts, knees knocking to the tunes and mouths hanging open with either awe or lust; I'm not sure which. My own son included. But nobody cared.

I must insert here a little history to help those from Lower 48 communities understand the nature of Alaskans in the winter. Since the habitation of White Men and Women to the Last Frontier, there has been an incredible drive to do something, anything, that will relieve the winter doldrums. Imagine no television, little radio, and few modes of entertainment beyond that which a bottle of whiskey and a dance hall girl could provide. If you know what I mean. Parties, bonfires, and general merrymaking are as old as Alaska herself, and when the winter days stretch endlessly into one another, anything will help relieve the pain of darkness and cold. One cannot fathom the depths of such nights unless experiencing it firsthand, and now, after six winters in Alaska, I get it.

Winter is beautiful in the 49th state, but it is also brutally unforgiving. No other place has made me so aware of where I am, what I am doing, and how I am doing it. No other place requires one to be connected to every feeling and thought, for those may be the link to success or the broken chain of failure in the wilderness. We are teaching Bear these lessons. I know now why the Native Alaskans are so in tune with nature and each other. Too bad so many miners and trappers and traders missed the point.

There is no other way to survive here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From the Wolf Den: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Darn it.

It's the holiday season once again, and once again I, and many other parents like me, are gnashing teeth and wringing hands over one of the most stressful times of year.

Wolf and his cohorts at CHYC love Christmas, as they love birthday, Valentine's Day, and any holiday representing the accumulation of "stuff". Children with Asperger Syndrome love stuff; cheap stuff, expensive stuff, stuff from the vending machines at Wal Mart, doesn't matter, because it's STUFF.

I remember taking Wolf to Minnesota to visit my friend D. one summer. Even at four he had a nose for gift shops and collecting things, and we brought back a few trinkets (I established a rule early on that all things from tourist traps had to fit in my backpack) and a zipper bag full of sticks. Yes, sticks. At least they were cheap.

Now that Wolf is older and the stuff seems to be exponentially more expensive, Christmas and birthdays are something else, indeed. Yukon and I are beginning a new trend for we family here at home of reducing the amount of our own stuff, so Christmas this year is more about experiences than things (as a travel writer, too, I am practicing what I preach on a daily basis to my readers). But explaining this to my stuff-happy 16 year-old is not so simple. He knows the facts about Christmas, sort of cares about the Reason for the Season, but moves on to the loot faster than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. In this respect, he selfish, but through no fault of his own, and this is something Yukon and I struggle over. Do we try to teach compassion for Baby Jesus and the Star in the East even though we know it is almost futile? Do we hold back to try and keep Wolf involved in our family's intentions of giving more and receiving less? These are tough questions.

Wolf told us on the phone last week that his pile of presents last Christmas took up two chairs in the Common Room. Oh boy. I laid out the "quality as opposed to quantity" spiel and was immediately blown back by the forcefulness of the "WHAT???!!!" over the miles.

To many kids with AS, more is always definitely better, which worries us on many levels. But Therapist B was on the line, too, and heard this outburst of defiance for present-dom, and I believe will be working with all the boys to level out their expectations for Christmas.

Don't even get me started with the fact that Christmas break throws them all off their routines. Argh.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Just Another Winter's Day in Alaska

For some reason, December seems to be flying by faster than a Canada goose on its way south. Wasn't it just November last week?

Normally by this time I am fretting and fussing over the decrease in daylight; today, for example, the sun set at 3:30 p.m. and things were pretty well darkened up by four. Which means, for those of you in the Lower 48 regions, that kids in Alaska get up and go to school in the pitch darkness of morning, and return home again just as the sun sinks behind the Alaska Range.

Reflective tape, blinking lights on backpacks, and a whole lotta warm stuff encasing those little bodies makes for a more pleasant walk to the bus stop, or, in Bear's case, for standing in line outside of the school. See, our kids have returned to the good old days when parents walked three miles uphill in the snow barefoot to school. Perhaps ours are not as drastic as that, but schools in Alaska keep kids outside as much as possible, knowing, wisely, that too much indoor time makes for cranky children and teachers. So, out they go for recess and lineup times unless the temperatures are -10 F. I love it.

I try every day to get outside, myself. Not much running this week with the chilly temperatures, but a brisk hike through a snow-covered trail dressed in snow boots, two pairs of long underwear, Carhartt pants, and a down parka can make anyone break a sweat. The Dog accompanies me too, and it is quite something to watch his little whiskers freeze up after a few minutes frolicking outdoors. He has booties to wear when the temps drop below 10 above or so, dogs in Alaska get sore feet rather quickly with all the ice-melt, gravel, and dry snow mixing with their tender paws.

Today Dog and I went out from our house, south along the Fort Richardson boundary. Many in the neighborhood use these trails, including the resident moose population, so hiking around there requires the utmost in vigilance. Sun shining, snow squeaking beneath my feet and Dog sniffing everyplace for evidence of other living creatures, we headed out and up.

I thought I was watching; thought I was paying attention to the signals from Dog that something was lurking around in the willows. Certainly there was enough sign of the big ungulate beauties that hang around the trail, tracks and such; but I didn't see anybody. So I thought.

Walking through a shady section of the trail I happened to glance askance to my left. Out of the very corner of my eye, I saw her. A big cow, resting quietly in the snow and partially obscured by a few willow sticks. She was so close I could see hear breath and swear if I had reached out an arm, I would have touched her fuzzy ears. (I must state at this point that Dog still had not noticed her, duh.)

We stared at each other for a few seconds, she twitched an ear, I twitched an eye. "Oh, no," I breathed to myself (actually it was a different word).

As quietly as I could, I inched up the trail sideways, keeping one eye on Dog and one eye on Moose.

Then we went on our merry way.

Just another day in Alaska.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

From the Wolf Den: It's Not About Me

My lifelong friend D. wrote an interesting post on her blog (Sub)Urban Servant today, talking about all the ways parenting a child with behavioral disorders is not about her.

The lack of sleep, lack of private time, lack of ability to dress up and go out and be a "normal" wife and mother and woman. But it's not about that.

It's also not about putting our kids inside the typical box of proper appearance and behavior. How many times have I taken Wolf somewhere and done a double-triple check to see what he is wearing, if his face is clean, if his socks match, if he looks "good enough" to go out with me, forgetting that the wiring in his brain allow him to forego looks for comfort.

It's so easy to want our children to conform, to fit in, that for some it becomes a desperate effort. I wrote yesterday about Wolf wanting to be someone else, and in a way, I wonder if I might have fostered some of that by wishing and hoping and begging him to act/dress/look a certain way.

Something to chew on, tonight.

Monday, December 6, 2010

From the Wolf Den: "Who Am I?"

Wolf told us last week he wanted to be somebody else. Didn't matter who, he assured us, just somebody not afflicted or affected by the disabilities surrounding his own person like a black cloud. Teenagers, as I recall from my own moody years, is often full of doubts and despairs and little moments when kids wish they could have someone else's life. But probably not like Wolf.

One of the challenges Yukon and I face is addressing the backstories behind Wolf's behaviors, digging and digging until we see a glimmer of understanding. Past bullying from kids back here in Anchorage, either real or perceived (you must understand Wolf does not totally understand the concept of "bullying" when often he, too, could instigate an incident with the worst of them) weighs heavy on Wolf's mind.

We reflect with him, debrief, and then encourage a move out of the past and into the future, hoping that Wolf will see his progress at CHYC as a stepping stone to positive relationships with peers in the future. But with a penchant for not remembering or using the skills he has learned these past few years, it is no wonder Wolf sees himself as a pretty hopeless case.

This, as I understand it, is pretty common; for although kids with Asperger Syndrome see the world as not complying with their expectations and desires, they are still indeed children who are incredibly sensitive to treatment by other people, even if they do not understand those feelings. It is a paradox, and it is one of the most frustrating parts of AS.

The blank looks and muttered "yeah, yeah" when we try to explain drive us nuts. But I also must remind myself that the words I say probably drive Wolf nuts, too.

The happy medium must be out there, somewhere.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's All Part of the Experience

Winter in Alaska brings many things, not the least of which is varying illnesses that for some reason have been sweeping the fam this year.

Both Bear and I have been down with some nasty virus all week, and this morning is the first time in six days I have felt relatively human. Of course, now Yukon has it, and is due to fly out to Florida tomorrow night for a week of training in Orlando. He deserves it, then. Leaving his poor, sniffling family behind.

Anchorage had a big, wild, snowstorm last night that dumped four or five inches of fluffy white stuff all over the place and blew much of it threw the cracks and crevices of windows and doors. No kidding, we felt like we were living Little House on the Prairie, it was so blizzard-like. Kind of exciting until we wondered who was well enough to shovel this morning.

Thinks have calmed down, the sun is coming up (yes, it is 11 a.m., but remember where we live, people), and we are trying to motivate to head out to some friends' to watch the Oregon Duck/Oregon State Beaver game.

More later; an interesting discussion with Wolf this week; a radio interview; and siblings of children with disabilities.

But one thing at a time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All is Calm. All is Bright.

As a family travel writer, it is no secret our crew gets to head to some pretty terrific places. But now that winter has us hunkering down a bit more, AK Fam finds itself searching out a more local approach to family togetherness.

We've always been fans of zoos. Big zoos, little zoos, doesn't matter. We like 'em all. Helps that AK Auntie worked at the Woodland Park Zoo once upon a time and allowed Wolf and I to see and hear and experience many animals up close and personal. I learn much about a zoo's conservation and preservation efforts by getting to know staff, and luckily enough, Alaska happens to have such a place right in our backyard.

The Alaska Zoo is a 25-acre forest that happens to house animals who thrive in northern-type climates. Nestled in a suburban (for Alaska, anyway) area, its winding trails are the most kid-friendly, nonzoo-ish I've ever come across. No pavement, no hawkers selling popcorn and peanuts and no blaring speakers; the Alaska Zoo is a oasis for both animal and human, and they've thought up a way to cater to both this holiday season.

Taking a cue from Lower 48 zoos that put on light spectaculars each Christmas, AK Zoo folks thought they'd make up one of their own displays with a little help from local artists and businesses. Since the Development Director was a guest today on the Alaska Travelgram Show, I figured I'd best check out the lights so I'd know what I was talking about.

Off Yukon, Bear and I went last Saturday night, Zoo Lights-bound, not sure what to expect since this is a new deal. We walked in just as a few flakes of snow fluffed their way down from the heavens, and settled on the backs of a floating harbor seal nearby. With hardly any people on the grounds (we went early to beat crowds, smart mommy, aren't I?), the little gray seal looked steadily at us, with huge eyes, until a gasp from Bear sent him darting underneath the smooth water of his tank.

As we wandered among the canopies of twinkling lights in the forest, it became clear that we were privileged visitors. Animals who normally sleep during the day were up and about, feeding, and in the case of a rescued brown bear cub who looked like a big hedgehog, play-chasing Bear back and forth as we walked near his enclosure. So close we could hear his warm breath, the little guy placed one foot, then the other upon the bars and nosed his way toward our Bear. A keeper nearby said "Go ahead, run along the fence line, he loves to play." Bear did so, laughing as he and the cub entered one another's world as children, racing back and forth and back again before they both finally collapsed on the ground in their respective spots, heaving; their breath sending puffs of icy smoke into the otherwise crystalline night. A few more snowflakes fell upon both Bear and cub, and all was right with the world.

The lights were great. But the bright was better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks for....Haircuts?

"I give thanks for this perfect day. Miracle will follow miracle, and wonders will never cease." -Unknown

Yeah, it's crazy, being thankful for haircuts. But if I've learned anything from my AS child and his noticable absence these past 2+ years, it is to catch hold of anything that matters and give thanks for it. no matter how goofy.

It all started with Bear and his non-conformity. He came home from school and declared "I want teenager-long hair". Oh, really, and why is that? "So I can look cool." Ah. So began a month of hair-growing-out-to-look-cool. Except that it didn't look cool. It looked like a stack of straw stuck on top of a six year-old boy's head. Just like his brother's.

Just like his brother.

When we moved to Alaska, I tried and tried to find a haircut place that was close enough and cheap enough for me to justify schlepping a husband and kids to their hallowed chairs. Couldn't find one, and heard friends talking about their own home haircuts using clippers, so I bought myself some and learned the fine art of clipper haircuts. Worked fine for Wolf and Yukon, not so much for Bear, who at the time had toddler hair and a wiggly body. He and I got the Great Clips cut. There's a savings there, I'm sure of it. Two pay, two stay. Worked for me.

With Thanksgiving looming large and my straw-stick-headed son looking scragglier and scragglier by the minute, I took charge on Wednesday and declared Haircut Night for both Yukon and Bear.

I usually get a little sentimental around the holidays where Wolf is concerned, and understandably so, but I wasn't prepared for what happened that night when I sat his little brother up on the old stepladder that serves as our haircutting stool.

As Bear sat, shirt off, old towel wrapped around his neck, waiting sullenly for me to plug in the clippers and get the show on the road, my mind flashed back to another stick-haired, skinny-backed little boy sitting in that very same spot.

I turned the clippers on, listening to their reassuring hum and bent Bear's head down so I could begin, eyes blurring as I looked at a soft little neck with a birthmark at its nape, just like Wolf's, hairline ending in exctly the same spot, the strands feeling similarly fine under my fingertips. In a moment of precious familiarity, I almost forgot which child was sitting before me.

"Miracle will follow miracle, and wonders will never cease."

Even here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What's Up With THIS?

I think I've fallen down the rabbit hole, Alice. My friends and family in the Pacific Northwest are hunkering down under a blanket of snow, while we Kirklands up in Alaska are hunkered down under a 1/4" coating of ice and freezing rain.

Yes, something is terribly, terribly wrong here. My street looks as if a Zamboni hot-mopped the pavement, leaving behind a perfectly smooth rink just waiting for the hockey skates. Except that it's my street.

I'd put up a picture, but it's not even worth wasting file space. It is simply gray, gray, and grayer. Bear is out of school today, and I'll probably keep him home tomorrow given that Thursday is Thanksgiving and what the heck, I'd like another day to sleep in. I'm such a rebel.

Wolf called last night and said Salt Lake City was under a blizzard watch. He and his pals were rather excited about the prospect, and why not? They live in a cozy brick building with no reason to leave. Lucky them.

Bear has to go with me to the Alaska Travelgram show until Yukon can come pick him up. You can live stream his melodious little voice (if I can get him to talk) HERE at 2 p.m. Alaska Time (3 for those of you in the PNW; 4 if you are in the Mountain states).

On the upside, last Saturday, before the Icepocalypse, we went on a tour with my pal Candice from Salmon Berry Tours to work on my Coast Magazine column at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The bears were still awake, eating pumpkins, the bison were silent sentries in the far off pasture, and the elk were a nice touch of home.

The coolest part was this crazy, circular rainbow, created by ice crystals in the fog. Amazing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: Love and Limits

I'm reading (again) a great book by Lewis Smedes called "Love Within Limits". A friend lent it to me about a year ago and I've found great comfort in its practical approach to love.

Crazy concept, isn't it, needing to read a book to learn about loving my child? But parenting this kid who does so many unlovable things sometimes causes me to look upon the word "love" in a different light, perhaps, than others.

Wolf's behavior and the struggle of our family to maintain its sense of unity and hope within the storm of uncertainty is daunting. Sometimes I tell people I feel like two separate beings, each with a specific agenda and each possessing her own set of emotions specific to situations relating to Wolf. It is a survival tactic many parents of disabled children possess; we need it to carry on. So, clearly, loving Wolf is not so simple.

The book follows a passage read at umpteen weddings; the Corinthians love song that says "Love is patient, kind, etc. etc. Yes, you know it. But the part I read over and over and over again is the line that says "Love hopes all things."

I had hoped for years (and honestly, in some part of my brain probably still do) that Wolf would wake up one morning and decide to fly through CHYC's ladder of success, be discharged, come back to Alaska and head off to college, taking every part of his time away as a learning and growing experience. He'd be caring and empathetic to his parents and little brother and grandparents and the myriad of people who think about him every day. He would, in short, be all set for life.

That doesn't seem likely to happen. But hear me now, everyone, when I say that is okay. Wolf is who Wolf is, and will be, and ever could be. That kind of love frees us from expectations too high for him to meet, and frees him from feeling like a failure. That is the kind of love that hopes all things.

Smedes says in the book the paradox of love's power is that it sometimes gives new hope only as we let our fondest hopes go. And isn't our life with Wolf one paradoxical experience after another?

That's not always a bad thing. We can't replace what is not present, but we can work with what remains. So that's where we begin.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The New Header

Like the new photo header? Seasons change and so does Elituq: She is Learning.

I dig it, partly because it is the view from my home office, and partly because I like the perspective it offers.

Look close enough and you will see a delicate pattern of snowflakes upon the tree branches. Look beyond at the distant Chugach range and you can see a delicate shade of pink against the whiteness.

Gorgeous in a number of ways.

It's all in a point of view. There might be something to learn from that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Our Wonderful Weekend

Given our family's past seven days, it came as no surprise that a cancelled trip for AKontheGO brought sighs of relief rather than disappointment. With few weekends when we are not going someplace, the prospect of two days with no agenda felt just right.

Since Bear gets out of school early on Friday afternoons, a few friends and I have established a routine whereby we bring snacks, warm clothes, and in this case, sleds and skis, and take over a local trail or hill.

Temperatures hovered near 38 as we spent some time sledding on a blistering-fast hill at Russian Jack Springs Park in northeast Anchorage, a wooded, hilly golf course during the two summer months and one of my favorite running spots. The park turns into a hugely popular Nordic ski area and sledding area in the winter, with lighted trails and enough terrain for the whole family, and so we love Russian Jack for its proximity and warm chalet at the end of the day.

Bear and I took a rare mom-kid time out, sledding together and laughing hysterically at the grains of snow that shot, pellet-like, into our eyes and mouths as I desperately tried to keep us from running off the hill and into the wild rose-laden woods. Prickers, you know.

The kids decided at about the same time they wanted to ski, so off came snow boots and on went Nordic boots and the skinny skis. Bear took off almost immediately, showing off for the girls by climbing up and skiing down a nearby hill. We grownups didn't coach, didn't nag, didn't do anything, really, except watch and praise and comment to ourselves, "This is the way skiing ought to be; letting kids discover confidence all by themselves." Yep. Indeed, that was the case.

The Family K. slept in, went to a birthday party, and watched me shoot a promotional video for the Alaska Travelgram Show (I'll put it up later) out at Potter Marsh, where the light was lovely and the scene positively serene. Amazing.

We found out today that our temperatures will drop down to near zero tonight and for the next few days, meaning more work to stay warm when outside. How low can we go? We'll see.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It Was Indeed Quite a Day

I am now the proud owner of a MacBook Pro (15" for those of you who care). Yukon has said this is all mine and since he knows nothing about them, nor cares to, it is my responsibility to take the Mac Classes and figure this out myself.

Darn him.

A Day Off, and Alaska Welcomes Winter

Ahhhh. Hear it? That's the sound of a mommy who is relaxing in her basement, coffee cup in hand, Good Morning America on television.

Today is a federal holiday to honor all veterans, so Yukon is home. Well, actually, he is not at home, since Bear really really really wanted his dad to take him to school. Must be some father-son thing. So I packed Bear's lunch, made sure he was dressed (you have to do that with kindergarteners) and in his snow suit, and trundled them both out to the car after giving Yukon specific instructions on the proper Morning Drop Off procedure.

Winter has officially arrived, so departure times are altered a bit to allow for slipping and sliding traffic that creates a red snake of tail lights from here all the way to the front door of

Rilke Schule. Of course, that's if no moose decide to create "commutis-interruptis".

Our Hour of Power with Wolf this morning was, as you can imagine, peppered with all sorts of interesting commentary and explanations and lamentations. Yukon and I quite admirably held our cool while trying to get the message across that enough was enough. All the more reason to allow each of us to spend the morning with some downtime.

Monday, November 8, 2010

From the Wolf Den: The Part Where I Hit the Brakes

How does one title a blog post with something catchy and/or meaningful after a 24-hour period such as the one to which our oldest son has subjected us? I have considered "24 Hours and Bottle of Merlot", or "Panic in Salt Lake City" but they seemed inappropriately irreverant to our extremely un-funny situation. Sometimes parents, especially we parents who have children diagnosed with odd-sounding and even odder-appearing disabilities, need to throw caution into the wind and just say what's on our mind. True enough on any given day, but even truer when our kids do things that just make us want to shake our heads and then shake them. So I will commence.

It's a murky line we must walk each and every moment of our kids' lives, for we never, ever know what they will do or say or feel. Ever. Let me reiterate this; Never. Ever. Things can be jogging along, hunky-dory, beautiful-dreamer-style, and suddenly, Plunk. Kid totally throws the car into Park and everybody is left, sitting by the side of the road, feeling like a dope for letting him drive in the first place. Du-oh.

But, parents must allow the children to travel up and down the hills and valleys so they learn how it is in the Real World, yes, and Yukon and I attempt this with all our might. But must the child use us as the bag of sand in the trunk? I mean, seriously. What in the world of Heaven and Hell would drive my kid to take the high of a fabulous visit with his dad where he conducted himself in a manner worthy of admiration, and do something so incredibly stupid?

If there is one piece of wisdom I have gleaned from others in similar situations, it is this. Expect not only the Unexpected, but the Unfounded and the Unbelievable. Wolf did that (I will clarify, here, without relating the story, that no one was hurt in this incident, in any way). Now we as a collective group; CHYC staff, Yukon, me, and everybody that I sent to their knees in prayer and/or panic last night, must decide where he stands with us.

I'm thinking long and hard about that. This is a parenting crossroads, a clarity-moment, and one that will begin to define our future together. It is not easy, but it is the right place to be.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Thinking About Coming Home

To even entertain the concept of Wolf's discharge from CHYC means a certain level of stress. Filing of paperwork, thinking of details, preparing family and friends for a very different kid's return than the one who left two-plus years ago.

Yukon and I will be traveling to Fairbanks in the next few weeks to meet with staff at the step-down facility Wolf is slated to attend. Really, it is our only option for the results we seek. Beyond that our choices are limited, even in Anchorage, where ironically many agencies exist but funding does not.

But we are hopeful that Wolf will assimilate into Fairbanks' funky, college-town personality with not too much trouble, given of course his issues and challenges. We have friends there who have already committed themselves to helping whenever and wherever they might be needed. Ultimately, though, we know that only so much exists for us to do, the rest lies in preparation Wolf has received and the commitment he makes to himself.

But it's a start.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Turn the Page

I'm staring at a stack of papers taller than the Sunday edition of the New York Times but at the same time trying not to. When Yukon returned late Saturday from CHYC, he brought with him admission paperwork for one (of few) "step-down" homes in Alaska. The cover sheet alone was enough to make me want to run, screaming, to my bedroom and hide in a corner. Social Security card? Custody verification? Medical and behavioral history, again? I had forgotten about all this.

But here I am, searching in dusty files, copying information, and dutifully filling in blanks, crossing proverbial 't's' and dotting 'i's'. And we're not even sure when any discharge or admission is going to occur, so it feels strange on a number of levels, this daring to stick out our necks. I am unsettled.

A rather large gray area remains concerning Wolf's abilities, and I, realist to the end, would rather start low and gradually raise the bar ever higher rather than crash and burn with expectations set too high. We've been here before, you understand, and the psyches of my son and all people around him deserve preservation. This does not set well with some people, I have discovered. One friend of Yukon's said "Well, of course he'll go to college when he gets home, right?" and was dissatisfied with my response of "Maybe." Another acquaintance asked if I didn't think the facility we were considering in Fairbanks wouldn't be too "confining" for a kid like Wolf. Too confining? I'm worried it's not confining enough, but I didn't tell her that.

Turning pages to the next chapter is not easy. Wading through a sea of paperwork reminds me of this. I've had things, relatively speaking, easy these past few years. CHYC has handled nearly every aspect of Wolf's life, for better or worse, and my response has largely been in agreement or discord with civilized communication in between.

On a deeper level, I suppose, just facing the potential reality of my son's return to Alaska frightens me on a selfish plane. Nobody's lives will be the same, and a long view of what our personal and professional world will look like is murky at best.

I made a pledge to take those Baby Steps. I found copies of birth certificate, custody declaration, and passport. Three things checked off an endless list; and perhaps this afternoon I will actually flip over the cover page and take a long look at what's underneath.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Next to Christmas, I can't think of a worse day to be sick than Halloween; or, in this case, Halloween weekend. But that is exactly what our Bear faces as a double blast of illness has rendered this usually active six year-old to the consistency of pumpkin guts.

Dealing with strep throat and an ear infection, Bear has gone between our two couches and his bunk bed these last 24 hours in an attempt to get comfortable, occasionally wearing his Army Man outfit for posterity, or perhaps wishful thinking. Not eating, barely drinking, and hardly sleeping, we spent a feverish, shivery night waiting for the clock to register the time for me to call our pediatrician and (thankfully) make an appointment for the old tonsil-tickling test that would affirm my suspicions.

A quick trip to Target for a prescription of high-dose antibiotics and a big box of frozen fruit bars, a call to Yukon and Wolf to update them on our day, and back home jiggety-jig.
I made a deal with Bear that he could try trick-or-treating tomorrow night if he stays in bed all day today, sweetening the pot with the promise of as many fruit bars as his little stomach could hold. A flavor-sampling later (that would be four bars), he mustered enough energy to help carve our big pumpkin with "angry eyebrows" before returning to the couch downstairs for a Scooby Doo zombie movie.

The strangest part about all this is my expectancy. You see, each and every autumn of this child's life, he gets sick. Since right after his second birthday, when this very issue made Halloween a tenuous possibility, Bear has danced a fine line during the month of October. Last year, Swine Flu; year before that, ears; this year, ears and throat. I'm beginning to think his immune system has an automatic timer.

So, beyond my (nonetheless glorious) view from my eastern-facing windows, I have seen little of the outdoors this weekend. I did, however, capture this shot a few moments ago while watching clouds begin to move up from the south, blocking our last bit of sunshine. Nice. Peaceful.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Baby Steps?

Raise your hand if you've seen the movie "What About Bob"! Love it. Just love it. So do my guys, and right now, Yukon and Wolf are watching it.

After a few days of dad-dom, where all was good fun and shopping and fabulous food not provided by CHYC, today was a day of reality and baby steps. Just like Bob and his goldfish.

Yukon had a meeting sans Wolf yesterday, where he and Therapist B and Clinical Director R went down the list of questions I helped prepare. Questions like "When will Wolf be engaging in more social situations to prepare him for discharge?" and, oh, speaking of discharge, "What is your outlook for the near future in that respect?" and "Should we be meeting with our attorney now, or later?" I have a headache already.

These are difficult questions to answer given the State of Alaska's propensity for confusing Yukon, me, and CHYC; given the unstability Wolf still can possess; and given that we still are not 100% sure where he will go post-school.

I'm both thrilled and sobered by what we have learned these past 24 hours, I just hope Yukon and I are ready for the next few hundred. But, like Bob in the movie, we need to remind ourselves to be content with those baby steps, and thrill in the basic premises of life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Update From the Wolf Den: Dad is Prime Time

I'm sitting in front of the television tonight, sipping on a beer, eating Vermont Smokey Cheddar popcorn and marvelling at my calm. Funny how that always seems to happen when my husband is away.

Yukon flew down to visit Wolf early this morning, with little fanfare but high expectations. We've realized, after such a long, long time that building ourselves up for a letdown at CHYC upon arrival is not productive to any of us. So when Yukon hopped out of his rental car this afternoon, it was with mixed feelings. Trepidation, excitement, and a little bit of dread, all mashed up together with travel exhaustion.

But he told me on the phone that few things meant so much as when Wolf came through the doors and said "When do we leave?" Yep, that's right. The kid held on and kept going and was able to go out with his dad. O.U.T.

Where did they go? All the favorite places. Sonic Drive-In for a sour apple slushie and burger, Old Navy for some new clothes (and not with mom, what fun!), and the ultimate; Barnes and Noble.

Could have been rough, not having left school for months and possessing a typical Asperger-y love of books, but Wolf hung in there, even, Yukon noted, looking at books the rest of the family might like and not just those of his own interest. True story.

There could not be a better day for Wolf. Or Dad. This was a good idea.

Yukon and the two therapists most involved with Wolf meet tomorrow, with me on speakerphone. We need to begin to address the most frustrating of issues, what Wolf's future looks like, and when and where. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time Out!

Yes, even we need a time out some days. With Yukon ready to jet off to Utah tomorrow, Bear's birthday, my birthday, and still NO snow in Anchorage, we decided to take the day off yesterday and explore deeper into the depths of a favorite place.

Eagle River Nature Center is about 20 miles from our home in the town of, duh, Eagle River. The Nature Center is nestled in a beautiful but chilly valley perfect for a little pre-winter hiking. The sun came up, we packed the family Expedition (completely overhauled with brand new, uber cool winter truck tires) and drove off into the hazy autumn day.

At a good 10 degrees cooler than Anchorage, ERNC's trails were frozen like concrete and ice lipped along the shorelines of ponds and streams, making us shiver in our fuzzy socks. We hiked out 2 miles to Rapids Camp along Eagle River (the river) to check out a yurt we'll be renting in early December (yes, a yurt, as in the Mongolian dwelling). A great family destination, we wanted to be sure Bear's little legs could propell him come dry or snowy conditions before we embarked on such a potentially crazy adventure.

He did and we were assured his ability; made all the more positive by the sheer number of boulders to climb upon and jump off the entire way. So energized was Bear that he shed his coat somewhere along the way and left it for me to carry. How do kids manage to stay so warm while the rest of us are freezing our fannies off?

A nice end to a nice weekend, and a great way for Yukon and I to communicate in the company of our favorite environment. Some days we completely forget about looking after each other, we're so busy looking after everybody and everything else.

I took this great photo of our shadows on the return trip, when the sun finally warmed up the earth. It's pretty cool, don't you think?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bear

Upstairs, asleep in his Spider Man bunk bed, is a little boy. Not a toddler, no longer a preschooler, even, but a full-fledged, incredibly cute B.O.Y.

I am truly aghast at the speed by which life manages to age both my children and me. Six years ago tonight I was bouncing on a big old exercise ball while my husband and oldest son watched a rerun of Star Trek in anxious anticipation of the moment I said "It's time." Bear arrived in a hurry and still seems to be in a state of perpetual motion; jumping, climbing, twirling, and shouting his way through life. He's entertaining, exasperating, and exactly what this mom needs some days. Well, every day, actually.

Today was a special day indeed. Pumpkin muffins for a birthday snack at school, a special crown made by his beloved Frau Martin, and an award ceremony where he was presented with a certificate for academic achievement (which, of course, meant absolutely nothing to him; I was pretty happy, though).
For a lot of reasons.

Happy Day You Arrived, kiddo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When All Else Fails, Send 'Em To Bed

That's my solution.

Tuesday nights are always a bit out of sorts around here. Yukon accepted an adjunct teaching position at the University of Alaska Anchorage in their Master of Public Administration program, instructing 12 graduate-level students in the art of Introduction to Public Management.

As a result, he is off the family radar from Monday post-dinner to Tuesday post-bedtime, which is better than the first part of the semester, when he was on another planet altogether from Sunday morning through Tuesday night. Normally, Bear and I do pretty well, but tonight, oy.

Big OY. We hear that the 'flu is making its annual rounds through the schools of Anchorage, and if that is the reason for the wild behavior, I'll be glad to pin it on a microbe of illness. But after two days of defiant, tearful, obnoxious behavior emulating from my otherwise sweet and mild-mannered, albeit bossy kindergartener, I'm ready to blame it on anything.

It doesn't help that my brain is ready to emerge from my skull at any minute and I am in a writer's funk as deep as Davy Jones' locker. Part of me just wants to throw myself across my bed, sigh deeply, and moan, "What's the meannnning of it all?" The other part tells my psyche to suck it up and pour a glass of wine, already.

I did that, read Bear 'Georgie the Ghost to the Rescue', which through its nostalgic old-book smell and kind, gentle words returned some sense of sanity to my frazzled daddy-less world tonight.

Until Bear spit water all over the bathroom sink in a defiant gesture related to the brushing of his teeth.

He went to bed at 6:45 and was asleep by 7 p.m. and I'm not far behind. Maybe. There's still wine in the glass.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nobody Used to Have Birthdays in October!

When I was a little kid, sitting around at recess with my gal pals talking about everything from Dryer's horse statues to the age of our dads (funny how the oldest dad was always the wow factor, haha), the topic of birthdays inevitably came up.

Not only did I have a goofy name (a first name nobody in the 70's recognized, and a second everyone did), I had a goofy birthday. Somehow it appeared in my mind that girls should have birthdays in April, May, or June to be able to warrant the outdoor-themed party. Sunshine, flowers, and little butterflies flitting about gracefully; you get the picture.

Thank goodness my mother had the creativity and patience to plan and implement birthday parties that kept a gaggle of girls busy and happy, minus the sunshine and flowers.

These days I pray for snow on my birthday. Go figure. Matches my graying hair.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Do You Really Know a Word?

A mini-van passed me the other day on a busy Anchorage road. Mom (presumably) and kids were chugging along and eventually passed me on a hill as I became stuck behind a city bus.

As traffic cleared and dirty white van moved right in front of me, I noticed a bland, black-on-white sticker in the middle of the back door. "Tolerance is for those with no conviction."

I always think I know what words mean, yet these two, tolerance and conviction, combined in one sentence bugged me. Bugged me enough, in fact, that I went home and chewed on it before finally going to my big dictionary.

"Tolerance: Sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices conflicting with one's own. An allowable deviaion from a standard." I went one step further and looked up sympathy, even though Yukon and I refer to the term almost daily with respect to Wolf. "Feel loyalty, support, or sharing feelings of another's. Showing sensitivity to..."

Hmmm, so to be tolerant means sucking up one's own personal beliefs, understanding the feelings beneath another's, even if it conflicts mightily with ours? Heavy.

"Conviction: A strong persuasion or belief, in a state of being convicted, and compelled to admit the truth." Even heavier, man.

I was interviewed by PDX FM a few weeks ago and host Doug Zanger mentioned that my writing style is strongly formed through my convictions of raising a child such as Wolf. Truly I feel compelled to share a story not often revealed by most moms; a painful, gritty roadmap of the life as Erin Kirkland knows it, full of good and bad but ultimately real. In that respect I am convicted to admit the truth that in my heart I am not going to know it all.

But where does tolerance live? I need only to go to my last post to find that. As a follow up, btw, this morning little W. sat in the lobby of school, waiting while his parents met with the principal, nervously picking at his coat, arms resting on a too-big table. My mind drifted back to a similar scene almost 11 years ago when my own son sat waiting outside the school office while I negotiated his return to school after a "fight" that looked, I found out, exactly like the one involving my youngest son three days ago.

W. deserves tolerance, but also my conviction. Conviction to support, believing everybody deserves a chance given the right tools, and tolerance to help them achieve.

Am I weak for believing this? I know my analogy is not the meaning behind the bumper sticker I saw the other day, but it could be. I know politics and religion and morals and ethics take different forms depending upon one's beliefs, but in my opinion, starting with our own little stories of tolerance and conviction lead us toward the bigger ones.

And that, children, is how we are able to believe both. Of that I am convinced.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Maybe This is Why...

Yukon was part of the Federal contingent able to receive a Monday Freebie due to the Columbus Day holiday, so we enjoyed our all-too rare time together. Sleet and rain outside forced us to abandon our plans for a hike and instead we hunkered down at our favorite coffee shop, reading the New York Times and chatting about nothing in particular. You know those conversations, parents, ones that are about everything and nothing in that mature sort of way, offering opinions and insights that are near impossible with kids demanding every moment of attention.

It was clearly a day to be enjoyed. At least, until the phone rang and the principal's voice came over the line. Uh-oh. It seems our little kindergarten kinder got into a blow-by-blow knockout at recess and the principal wanted to let me know about it. Apparently, the other child had swung first, and Bear swung back. (Note to self: Do not allow husband to be around post-phone call, for his first words were "Where did he hit him?") Sheesh.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered who the other child was. I help in the classroom each week, and know the kids well, especially one in particular who we'll call W. Socially awkward, almost anti-so, hands groping and waving, speech difficult to understand, W. is the bane of kindergarten. He appears to be fixated on Bear, pushing and shoving not in an aggressive sort of way, but in a way I recognize all too clearly. I adore W.

This is my chance. I am now both the mom of W. and the mom of Bear, in a way, for I have been the mom on the other end of the phone call the principal made to W's, probably anticipating what was coming and yet wanting to defend her little boy at the same time. But I am the mother to Bear, too, with an opportunity to teach grace and compassion, even if it hurts.

Bear and Yukon had a man-to-man talk after school, and he understands as well as a five year-old could the need to use words instead of fists, caring instead of intolerance. Kindness is easy to give, Yukon explained. It's sometimes hard, as is the case with W., to receive.

A delicate moment. A precious lesson. One that, I don't think, was accidental.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Afraid, or Aware? The Choices of Family Travel

I've been asked by a few people my take on the recent State Department Travel Advisory for Europe. Rather than rehash what I already wrote this morning for AKontheGO, here is a link to the blog post.

For the record, since moving to Alaska five years ago, I am a much less fearful traveler. Read HERE to find out why...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Breakdown, or Breakthrough?

Our family's journey through Asperger Syndrome and the ancillary issues of our son have consisted of single steps into and out of agony and ecstacy. We are up, down, sideways and ass backwards by turn, wanting to know and yet not know what lies inside Wolf's head. Therapy has, after two years, accomplished little. And we didn't know why. Until Thursday.

Therapist B had taken a new tack with his kids, appointing them as chairmen of their own family therapy, hoping that the sense of control would lead to a greater opportunity for sharing information and/or communication. Why not? Nothing else had worked to this point, Yukon and I figured.

Ever heard the sound of silence over a phone line 3,000 miles away? Let me describe it to you. Crickets. Buzzing. Fingers drumming on the table. We were going nowhere. I gritted my teeth and sucked down some more coffee.
At five minutes to the hour, when Yukon had gone upstairs to ready Bear for school and I was pacing the room, phone on speaker, ready to open my mouth and let loose the receiving end of two years of not-too successful family therapy. I was tired, I was ticked, and I was ready to throw up my hands and say the almighty What.Ever.

With a swiftness I could hear in the air sucked into his lungs, Wolf yelled something that took the air out of mine. "AM I A MISTAKE?!" But it was not directed at me, or Yukon. It was directed at his father.

Apparently there have been conversations, discussions to which I have not been privy, between the two. Promises promised, statements made, and disclosures revealed that are not appropriate for a teenager with impulse control challenges whose relationship with the man who provided DNA has been tenuous at best since infancy. A man who, we now believe, has similar issues to Wolf but has denied responsibility.

The one hour turned into two as I answered questions as best I could during the emotional storm that followed, knowing full well the time had come to collaborate with CHYC staff on any future communication with Wolf's dad.

It was a beautifully tragic moment. Tragic that our child feels such painful awareness of the abandonment of his biological parent. But beautiful in that Yukon is there to pick up the pieces and bind them together with grace. He is, in fact, going to take my place on this upcoming visit. Wolf needs his forever dad. And as much as I would love to hold my own son in my arms, I know Yukon's are the ones he needs more right now.

Not a breakdown. On the contrary, a breakthrough. A big one. No mistake.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Have a Feeling...

Who read the "Little House on the Prairie" books? Remember the "Long Winter", where the family is held hostage by the most violent series of blizzards Minnesota had ever known up until that point in the 1890's? Good old Pa knew in his farmer bones that it was going to be a hard winter. He just had a feeling.

I have a feeling, too. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we woke up yesterday morning (that would be September 26th) to clouds, frost on the cars, and a suspicious icy fragrance in the air. Uh oh. Driving to church I thought I saw little things flying in the air, but since it was breezy, assumed it was just junk in the air. It was junk all right; the frozen, flaky kind.

Snow in September is not unheard of in Alaska; on the contrary, most sourdoughs I know were becoming worried that we had had little in the way of any precipitation, much less the white kind. But the way we arrived here was just just a bit drastic. Gorgeous, sunny, 55 degrees of wilderness Indian Summer to dark, windy, and snowy got to me.

Yukon and I chopped a bunch of wood yesterday, filled up the kindling bucket to the top, cleaned out the woodstove, bought new tires for the Expedition, cooked bean soup, switched summer/winter clothes in the closet, and had the insulation man come over to blow more whatcha-call-it into the attic so we don't freeze. I've got a feeling. I tell ya.

All seemed well today when I took some friends over to our beautiful Alaska Botanical Garden for a walk. We are babysitting a friend's little girl for a few days while they go fishing (yes, we still fish, right up to snowfall, mostly for catch-release steelhead and trout).

Such a gorgeous day, but chilly to the point where we had to wear hats and mittens. There's no denying, something's up. One day we're going to wake up to a white world, and I want to be ready. Like Pa Ingalls.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Some Stuff is Just Hard

Our wonderful, supportive, accepting church is in the middle of scheduling picture directory appointments for October. You remember those. The day you spiff up the kids and yourself in what is hopefully matching outfits, line everybody up and smile for the patronizing cameraman in the name of matching faces with names on Sunday.

Normally, it's a chance to score a free 8 X 10 and new clothes. But we're not so normal right now.
Somebody is missing.

My sense of logic tells me that in the real scheme of things, this is not a big deal. We all were together in June, and I did get photos of all four of us and some brotherly shots of the boys.
Family is defined less by what we see than what we experience, I tell myself over and over, as if this inner repetition will make me believe it.

The last time we had a formal, posed, tried-and-true family photo session though was five years ago. Wolf was skinny, gap-toothed, yet broadly smiling, almost unrecognizable to today's 6' 2" teenager. Bear was still a baby, held up by his big brother in the last photo we have before leaving South Carolina in 2005.

What I'd like to do is cut and paste a big red arrow next to me on our church photo, with Wolf's picture hovering overhead.

I just might.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We're On a Roll

Somehow the family travel bug has been passed around Alaska and AK Fam, i.e. Us, is right in the middle of all this information-gathering.

The web site has flourished after a summer of trips and treks around the 49th state, and now with winter poised for pouncing upon we unsuspecting Alaskans, everybody wants more.

Not knowing quite how to handle this attention, the AK Fam has had to do some scrubbing and polishing, to be sure. The AKontheGO web site has some new looks, a new calendar of events, and a way to finally listen to our radio broadcasts.

Yes, broadcasts, plural. AKontheGO is now partnering not only with the Alaska Travelgram each week, but with our local NPR station for a new show called Kids These Days. A welcome listening option for me as a parent, KTD is geared towards parents and caregivers of kids birth-18, and is a perfect fit for us to promote and encourage outdoor recreation with the whole fam-damily. So for those of you who have been bugging us for online access, there you go.

One more opportunity jumped out at me today, this time in the visual realm. Not my comfort zone, for sure, but KTUU television's travel web site really wanted to connect with Alaskan parents. After a day trip feature in June where Bear and I escorted a local anchor along one of our favorite trails, the station asked if AK Fam would be interested in a monthly segment on family travel.

I guess we were, because sometime in October we'll be jumping, and landing somewhere in Alaska for our first installation of GoToAK's AKFam. Or something like that.

Venture on over to the AKontheGO web site and let us know what you think. Besides the cute pictures, I mean. See if you don't want to buy a ticket today and come visit us.

Big time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

We're Waiting With Bated Breath...

It's a bit surreal. September 2010, I mean. This time last year I had the garden put to bed, scarecrows hammered firmly into the ground in anticipation of the first wind storm, and wood safely tucked into the shed, ready for a hard frost that signals the beginning of six months of Ice Age temperatures.

This year, I have not only passed by the date of my usual "wintertime prep" activities, I have ignored it, as sunflowers are ready to bloom, brussel sprouts have yet to brussel, and my firewood; well, let's just say that today was the day to finally take care of that chore. It's nutty, it's delightful, and it's just a bit nervewracking, to be perfectly honest.

One year ago, we were taking bets in the Kirkland Family Snow Date wager, and snow indeed fell the first week of October. Heck, I think it reached 65 today and Bear was clad only in his Carhartt overalls and hiking boots for most of our trek to the Ft. Richardson Woodlot for some hunting and gathering with our friends. I think the word "hot" passed more than one set of lips during the job, and my evening Jubelale tasted mighty fine with my grilled salmon out on the deck.

What the heck? Eating outside in September, in Alaska? I tell you, I'd make a killing as an end-of-season tour operator this year if I had the chance. Brilliant yellow colors mixed with bright sunshine and balmy temperatures make for a pretty fancy trip. Throw in a couple of rack-laden, rut-infused moose and this could be the trip of a lifetime for some Lower 48'er.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Been to AK, Lately?

Have you visited the AKontheGO page lately? We have some stunning photographs of our most recent trip to Valdez, Alaska. If I do say so, myself.

It's a wonderful time to visit, if you are so inclined next year. The majority of tourists have vacated, the summer-only attractions are closing down (so good deals can be found), and the scenery is at its most lovely. Really.
These photos are (from top): Sheep Mountain Lodge along the Glenn Highway, the view from our Stan Stephens Glacier Cruise in Valdez, and a particularly lovely birch tree along Thompson Pass, on the Richardson Highway.
Don't think you need to visit in the summer. Alaska has four seasons of beauty...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Disabilities and Fear

I've been talking mucho this week with one of my oldest friends, D. who happens to have 11 children. Many of these kiddos are in the same behavioral boat as Wolf, with issues such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Asperger's, and other physical and behavioral diagnoses. Given the past few weeks of ups, downs, and even bigger ups and downs, I needed to unload on someone who, without a doubt, has been there.

I've written before that I don't believe it is an accident the two of us are raising children with disabilities. Whether destiny or Mission From God, I can't think of another person to whom I would rather express my daily frustrations, ministrations, and fears. Especially the fear part.

Fear often takes center stage for many of us, and in varying forms. Fear for our children's physical well-being and the pain surrounding it; fear for their future; fear of their failure; fear for our sanity; fear for how they look to other people (yes, vanity plays a part).

It has been interesting to witness my own personal journey through fear, and its partner, anger. Yep, fight or flight has held a pretty strong grip upon my heart these past 16 years, and even before.

Face fear? Yes, we've all heard the stories, read the books, been to the seminars. Knowledge is Power and all that. But looking fear straight in the eye as it grips your psyche and soul and saying "I know you are there and I'll let you stay for a bit, but then you'll have to move on", as if fear were an animal stalking my every move. That's another story.

I can feel fearful, terrified, even. But that is the moment at which I have a choice. I can let fear dictate my next move, and every move thereafter, causing me to yell at physicians, teachers, and even those I love. I can even yell at God. "Why don't you save me/him/us from all this, damn it?" I've wasted a lot of time doing this. A lot.

Or I can listen to fear, learn from it, and quietly let it go. A day is made better, a month made easier, a year gone smoother.

Two years, actually.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sort of From the Wolf Den: The Teacher's Calling

24 hours later, and my blood pressure is back to normal.

Those of you with children who possess atypical behaviors, conditions, or disabilities that hinder their progress with all things education will understand in a heartbeat when I say the sound of the phone ringing once school has started brings nothing but personal angst.

Let's return, shall we, to the days of Wolf's kindergarten adventures, when his teacher would call with regularity, usually after I had arrived home, kicked off my shoes, and opened a glass of wine, which subsequently turned into the entire bottle. Oy.

I spent hours on the phone, in conferences, reading (and writing) notes, and begging with my son to "keep your hands to yourself", right up until 8th grade, so adding in preschool, I have been a shadowy presence in Wolf's education for almost 11 years. Hopefully one would be sympathetic to my unconscious reaction last night.

The phone rang around 8:30, after a long day post-vacation. Bear had told me, almost proudly, darn him, that he had received a "Red Card" for some of the day (Red, Yellow, Green is the process) but "ended up with Green, mommy". One thing I like about Rilke Schule is their subscription to the model "you are in charge of your own behavior" and rarely call parents. So when the phone rang, and Frau M.'s voice came over the line, I was worried indeed.

Hence the rapid rise in blood pressure.

And for all that, all my instant panic and pale-faced hand-wringing, all Frau M. wanted was me to come in and volunteer for the class. When my head cleared and I found my voice, I was able to answer in the affirmative, but I'm sure she thought me a bit odd.

Can't blame me, though, can you?


Monday, September 6, 2010

Final Big Trip Means Big Fun

We're on the final day of our six-day trip to Valdez, Alaska. We've not been here before, and I daresay I am kicking myself for not making the trip sooner.

I'm happy yet sad that we're heading home to plan 2011 trips and adventures for; I love to travel around the 49th state, but I also am quite anxious to settle some things around the hacienda before the snow flies. We saw the inevitable 'termination dust' on the way high peaks around Valdez yesterday, and it's only a matter of time before our little Chugach foothills show the same. Sigh.
Fine weather has prevailed, however, for most of this trip and for our anniversary today. We celebrated by taking a day-long cruise via Stan Stephens Wildlife and Glacier Cruises, to the tune of groaning icebergs, barking sea lions, and incredibly gorgeous, sunny skies. A great way to spend a day with my sweetie.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Painting, Alaska-Style

Yes, even painting the house means a different way of doing things in Alaska. Since our summers are short, so very, very short, most Alaskans try to cram every outdoor renovation and/or remodel into the June-August months, knowing, as we do, that every day past August 30 could mean the difference between success or despondent failure.

Which, ahem, brings us to our house, on August 30, 2010. That we started painting, this morning with the fabulous assistance (okay, total supervision of) Bill Harrison, aka Mr. Pedouin of the Biking Family fame. There is a special place in heaven for men like Bill who will hitch a ride from their cozy cabin in Fairbanks to spend a week or more hand-painting a behemoth of a 1970's split-level like our house, and knowing full-well that icy rain or bitter cold could make this whole project a miserable one, indeed.

We've been waiting for the perfect time to do this; three years, in fact. The paint chip had been taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet for that long, as I agonized over the process. At least we're doing it, now.

The color is "Dark Sage" and it looks just dandy with the brown trim we started with and of course lost in the garage, so Bill had to pull up a board and have me take it to the hardware store to have them match it. Yep, he's finding out just how un-handy we Kirklands are...

The photo above is from the tail end of the day. Bill, frustrated a the width of the ugly T-111 siding grooves, was just about done with the day, the paint, and the house. In the interest of the company we had coming over for dinner, however, he kindly decided to roll over the zebra stripes for my benefit. I didn't even ask.

What a guy. I just hopes he sticks around when Yukon tells him that he wants a second coat.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A New Discovery

I'm wearing an apron. This is a new phase of my housewife-dom, of which my friend snorted with laughter and said "If you're a housewife I'm doomed." I'm not sure what she meant, but I don't think it was good.

Anyway, I've discovered a lot of things over the past four days, things I didn't previously have time for. Things like dust covering the ceiling fan over our bed. No wonder we pop Benadryl like TicTacs. Things like a frozen package of waffles from 2008 (I'm not kidding). Things like my sense of peaceful tranquility that I even have time to discover those aforementioned Things.

I've also discovered useful tips. For those who have only recently become acquainted with me, you might not know I am an out-of-the-closet collector of old cookbooks describing the best in home arts, preferably between the early 1900's and 1960's. They are a hoot, as if anyone would have time to devote to sewing slipcovers for the davenport today. Anyhow, I love to browse thrift and antique stores looking for these gems, and found on last weekend.

It is from 1978, but that's okay. Lots of funny things in it, like the pictures of housewives looking like Carol Brady. I did find a tip for removing baked-on grime from pots and pans, though, and I tried it. The tip? Put a few drops of automatic diswashing liquid in the pan and fill with water. No kidding, it works like a charm and the dang skillet looks better than it ever has, which is quite something, indeed.