Friday, July 30, 2010

What a Week

It's been a tough few days in Alaska. On Wednesday evening a C-17 cargo plane crashed on Elmdendorf Air Force Base, not three miles from our house. Yukon and I heard the place come roaring over the rooftop as we sat chatting before dinner. The house shook as the plane, ever lower, flew over us, heading north. We knew something was up. About five minutes later, reports started coming in that the plane went down.

Alaska, Anchorage in particular, has a close relationship with the military. Just about every branch is represented and we know how crucial their presence is to the state's sustainability. An accident of this magnitude hits swift and hard, and we will never be the same for witnessing its tragic power.

Other stuff just doesn't seem as important, you know?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Aristotle's Anger Theory

"Anyone can become angry-that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not easy." Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

No problem.

I think I screw up the process of getting angry every day; the person who brings bad news at the wrong time, getting angry because my internet is down, showing my anger by slamming the phone down or screaming at somebody. Yep. Been there, done that all right. So how could I possibly be telling my own teenaged son, who's impulse towards anger is all-too frequent and all-to inappropriate, that I know best?

This quote from Aristotle comes from the book "Emotional Intelligence" and is a textbook chosen by Yukon for his Introduction to Public Management class at the University of Alaska this fall. He will be teaching students in the Master of Public Administration program how to better understand the processes of human emotions as part of our overall intelligence, instead of simply relying on the "smarts" of an individual.

Our Wolf cannot distinguish between being angry for the right reason and just being angry. His temper flies if someone merely looks at him askance, when his brain overrides the the processing step and jumps right into reaction. Thinking in the typical Asperger way, he is either Angry or Not Angry, with no middle ground for being "a bit ticked off". There is one or the other, and convincing him there are more ways has so far been futile.

Think of other ways we can describe anger: frustration, exasperation, irritation, annoyance, my thesaurus is full of words. But to my kid, it's all or nothing.

Knowing about and working towards productive anger is yet another skill Wolf needs to tackle and master, and it is becoming more important, even, than his algebra or English homework. We can always go back to academics, we cannot always return to emotions if they hold him hostage as an adult.

Back to basics, back to looking deep into himself, watching a lot of Star Wars and listening to Yoda as he walks Luke Skywalker through the Dark Side of anger-leads-to-fear-leads-to-agression stuff. This Wolf understands. This may be his only hope, Obi Wan Kenobi.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


We're home on a Saturday afternoon, rare in our case. Returning from a four-day trip south to the area known as Turnagain Pass, we are catching up and catching our breath after a whirlwind month of July.

A trip to a friend's fishing lodge on Lake Clark unfortunately couldn't materialize, so with a few free days we packed up and decided to head to the Pass for an in-depth study of the area, oft-driven by but never explored, at least by us.

We stayed at Summit Lake Lodge, a quaint motel and restaurant nestled at the foot of the Chugach Range and Summit Lake. Reminding us of our beautiful Cascade Mountains in Washington, the lodge and lake was a perfect spot to truly "rest and recreate", even though the premise was two or three stories I am working on. No matter, rest we did, and Yukon and I even had the chance to catch up on conversation.

Rafting trip, hikes, museum stops, a little fishing, Seward Sea Life Center; we did it all without feeling compromised for time or energy. It was really, really nice, especially so when Yukon told me that our house refinance came through and we were now really, truly, residents for the present, and possibly future.

Those of you who know us know that Alaska was not initially a permanent stop for us. We are and always will be somewhat nomadic, loving the world and everything in it, thanks to the United States Government's employment system. Seven years was our marker; after that we would stop, evaluate the family and our goals, and decide how to proceed from there.
Since we just refinanced, I'm guessing we'll be here for at least five more. Things are going really well for all of us, Bear is due to start school and before long Wolf will be ending it, so we'd like to have the knowledge of stability, at least for a while.

Plus we've done all the work on the house. I promised myself I would never, ever sell a house again until I had the chance to live with any renovations. Guess we're no longer Cheechakos but Sourdoughs, going on five winters in Alaska. Feels pretty good, too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Football Family

It was enough. Just smelling the wet, muddy fields at Jade Park in Anchorage sent my memories askew; way, way back to another field in another place.

Bear has been playing soccer on a U-6 team this summer, and I have been accompanying him in more ways than one.

A tomboy is the truest sense of the word, soccer for me was more than a game that rose in popularity during my 1970's childhood. It was Life. Growing up in a neighborhood full of boys, joining the local soccer club and donning my Adidas cleats, shin guards (those sock-sort of things that really didn't protect anything but looked really cool), and reversible purple-yellow jersey was probably the most exciting moment of my childhood. Ask my mother. Our team was the Pebbles, a group of girls who stayed together until we entered Middle School, when some of us drifted off into the Select (Comp) world. The Pebbles' team name would change, too, morphing into the Bionic Babes (Oy, hated that) then the Issy (Issaquah) Kicks.

The best day ever was Saturday, when I got out of bed, put on my soccer clothes and watched Saturday Morning Cartoons, waiting until it was time to leave for the field. Mecca to me was 60 Acres, a huge swath of former slough transformed into acres and acres of soccer fields, white goalposts standing bare until nets were put up each week. When it rained, and it rained often, the ball would get stuck in the mud and we would kick and slide and laugh and revel in our dirtiness. We played full-field back then. Pop-up goals hadn't been invented and even if they had we would have laughed at them. We were playing soccer, for crying out loud. Goals needed to be big, and scary, and full of chaos.

Halftime was simple. We were happy to drink icy water from Dixie cups and suck on orange slices while our coach told us what we ought to be doing. No juice boxes, no string cheese or fruit snacks. We got little and liked it. If we were lucky at the end of the season, usually sometime around November, we got a party at Pizza and Pipes in Bellevue and free soda. Trophies? Medals? Forget it. Not even the championship team got that.

I stood around in an absolute downpour last night watching my son dance his way around the tiny field, neither knowing or caring what he was supposed to be doing. I smelled the rotting stink of decomposing grass and felt drops of rain collecting down my collar and thought that if I closed my eyes for just a minute I'd be back in 1976, squishing mud between my own cleats and chasing down the Number 4 soccer ball, avoiding the Blue Angel defender who somehow always managed to pull my stringy hair out of sight of the Referee. I'd taste the tang of both the orange quarter and the autumn air as I shivered in anticipation of the Official's whistle to signal the start of the second half.

It is soccer, it is football, and it is a part of me again. I've missed it, but I don't know if it will ever be like it was then; sweet, sour, and bitter, all three.
But good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Fish-Frenzy

This is the time of year when most Alaskans cannot concentrate. It's called The Run. From early June to the end of August, and even into September, Run becomes a verb and a noun, sort of like Barbecue.

The Run refers, of course, to fish; salmon to be exact, and right now the Run for Reds has just about everybody coming or going from the Kenai Peninsula, the place to be for fish. While Yukon would still advocate for his novice-stature as far as fisherman go, he nonetheless is one of the most trainable fisherman ever to haul on a pair of waders, much to the delight of our fishing friends. Right now he and his buddy D. are standing under a tree in one of the many Soldotna city campgrounds, gutting fish and drinking, um, beverages not normally consumed at 10 a.m. unless one is fishing. I know this because he told me so over a scratchy cell phone call a minute or so ago.

But back to the Run. Salmon, in case you don't know , return back to their native waters each year to spawn, dropping eggs in little hollows of creeks or rivers (Issaquah, WA, natives, pay attention, you of all people should know this) and then die a slow and stinky death along the shoreline. There are two important reasons for this activity: 1. So bears, particularly those in Alaska, have something to eat before hibernation, and 2. So fishermen and women can spend thousands of dollars within the travel and tourism industry to catch the biggest and best salmon known on this earth. Ha. My Wildlife Biology friends are probably cringing as they read. Sorry, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Salmon also come in various forms, and this is crucial information to know should you ever want to hang out with Real Alaskans. Kings (Chinook) are indeed Royalty among fish and are the first to arrive. Big, meaty, and sometimes elusive, these are the ones people pay big bucks to catch. Reds (Sockeye) come next, and in such a rushing crowd that crowds of humans collect like flies each summer to dipnet their abundant numbers (an Alaska resident thing; once we live here 360 days we are eligible for "subsistence" fishing and can collect 50-ish fish for personal use). Silvers (Coho) are third in the lineup. They are lovely, shiny, and active fish, making them oh, so fun to catch as they leap and jump on the line. Kids dig catching them, and many a fishing outfit touts the joy of taking kids fishing for Silvers. Pinks and Chum are at the back of the line. They get a bad rap as dog food, but hey, we smoke the Pinks and they aren't half bad, especially in the middle of winter when we crave seafood in any form. And it's salmon, for heaven's sake.

The Red Run is now. People are stampeding to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers to net and/or hook as many as they can before the Run slows down and we have to wait for the next one. It's sort of crazy; for as soon as the AK Department of Fish and Game signals the start, the Run is On and wowsers, every car or truck in the state is headed down the two-lane Seward and Sterling Highways for fish.

Yukon caught his limit on a line, finishing up this morning, so stinky Carhartts and all, he'll be home tonight. He was to be dip-netting from a boat today, but his other buddy's boat (it pays to know people with campers and boats here) has some mechanical problems so the day was significantly shortened.

But this is Alaska during fishing season; he'll be back next weekend as AK Fam does a trip that direction.

Let the Run continue. And don't let the fishing hook snag you in the behind on your way down.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Boredom or Something Else?

Parents have an amazing ability to decipher meaning behind words, based on behaviors and personalities and everything in between.

Wolf has an amazing ability to know who has the above skill, and who doesn't. Darn him.

He has long since discovered that lying to his mother is the most futile exercise in manipulation ever attempted by a teenager. Not only can I tell in an instant when he is telling less than the truth, I can also call him on it and receive utter astonishment for my abilities from my son, thus tempering his eventual meltdown at being 'found out'. And isn't that something to be proud of.

I have also found out that for some reason nobody else has this skill, not even Yukon, who prides himself on truth-seeking, so when Wolf was reading his quarterly grade reports to us over the phone during yesterday's Power Hour, my lie-radar jumped.

English, it seems, is not a fav subject (ironic, since the boy spends most of his free time writing movie scripts in true Asperger fashion; this appears to be his obsession these days). When asked about the low grade, the response was typical. "It's boring."

Ah, boring. The catch-all, meaningless term to which Wolf assigns everything not connected with what interests him. Another tricky aspect of AS; kids with the disorder tune out anything that is not associated with their area of interest, making school, church, work, etc. more than challenging.

What was the grade? That's the untruth part. He first tried to tell us that it was a C, then when prompted added a minus to that, then truth won out when I kept saying "and, and, and" until we discovered he really hadn't been going to class at all, pretending to have one or the other issues of health or behavior so he wouldn't have to go. I needed to do my own intervention with new Therapist B. (old Therapist B got a promotion to director of Wolf's unit, good/bad for us) to remind them of Wolf's propensity for figuring out ways to not do things.

Smart enough to figure out a way to avoid that which is 'boring', but not possessing the foresight to predict an eventual bad outcome. There it is, folks. The awful reality of social disability. And it's right there, staring at us.

Sidenote: Wolf will be watched a bit closer to ensure he attends class, although no one can make him pay attention. He will have to discover, on his own, that graduation from high school could, and probably will, be much later than he thinks. But he has to own that fact before he can change it. And right now, he's not willing to.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Extended Family Travel and the Effects Upon Children

The Harrison family is still at our home, preparing for the final leg of their 7,000-mile journey across the U.S. on their quint bicycle. If all goes well, tomorrow morning Yukon and Bear will escort them through the winding bike trails of Anchorage to the Glenn Highway, where they'll head towards the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and then north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

The more time we spend with this family, the more we are learning about them and their style of parenting and simple living. I have asked them how others respond to their trip and the questions and/or comments, both positive and negative, they have received. Since we, too, are involved in family travel as a lifestyle rather than an occasional occurrence, I was curious to hear what people say to and about them.
Comments apparently range from overwhelmingly positive to desparingly negative. Not surprising, of course, but surely hurtful to parents who truly believe they are doing right by their children in offering them an opportunity to pioneer their way across America. People have accused them of abuse, neglect, and false pretenses.

The question of "Why are you doing this?" has followed them from Kentucky, hanging over their heads like a little gray cloud that just won't go away, and people consistently want to know why in the name of heaven would you take three little girls, plop them on a bike, and take them away from their home and security for more than a year. I will admit I, too, first looked for a "cause" when I first heard about the Harrisons; after all, people just don't hop on a funny-looking bicycle without a mission to change the world, right?

Here's the answer: Because they can. And that's all.

I have discovered, these past five years in Alaska, that life is unbelieveably and remarkably short. Travel as a family is our way to connect with each other and our environment in a most intimate way, separate from the daily flux and fuss of everyday activities, jobs, and other distractions that while necessary, manage to take away some of the meaning behind "family time."

Yes, this family is tired. Yes, the girls get on each other's nerves and might need some adjustment time upon arrival in Fairbanks to regroup after their family's 12-month nomadic lifestyle. But is it harmful? I don't think so. On the contrary, I think it is the most valuable experience a child could have, and one of the best gifts a parent could offer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sharing the Road, and our Home, with Some New Friends

It's not often we run into people these days whose philosophy of family travel meshes with ours. The Harrison family, originally from Kentucky, is now settled into our basement with mom, dad, and three daughters on the final leg of their 7,000 mile journey to Fairbanks. On a bicycle. One bicycle.
I picked them up yesterday in the midst of a stormy, blowy, and rainy morning that made me wonder why anyone, much less a family of five, would want to come to Alaska at all. It was that bad. But with the help of a travel buddy from Salmonberry Tours (thanks again, Candice), we were able to load up that big yellow bike and schlep everyone from Whittier to Anchorage, where the sun came out and everyone and everything had a chance to dry out.

The media showed up at about the time the little girls were getting settled and starting to play with Bear's toys, and were not at all thrilled to be talking with more reporters. Tired, out of sorts, and emotionally spent after two solid days on the ferry, shrieks and shouts accompanied the interview, which of course made the evening news. Oops.

Reporters also asked the family 'why'. Why are you doing this? Who are you supporting? What cause are you championing? Turns out, none. They are just doing it to do it. To experience the world, learn some stuff about people, and have some quality family time.

That answer seemed to stump the reporters. Not me. That's why we travel. Just because we like it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wolf Den Update: So Proud of Little Brother

I always wonder just how much Bear understands about Wolf and his issues. He is a sensitive little boy, taking lifes in stride but digesting certain things until much, much later. It has been a source of concern for all of us to make sure Bear has the opportunity to say what is on his mind. I think we were privy to some of that tonight.

Yukon took Bear to soccer practice tonight for the weekly cat-herding exercise in futility that is U-6 football. They were a bit early, so Yukon allowed a bit of playground time before hitting the pitch. A little girl around Bear's age was at the teeter-totter, swinging her legs and watching Bear as he navigated the seat a bit. Here is the dialogue as reported to me:

Girl: "See that boy over there? He's my brother and I hate him. I don't want him here to play with me because he's always getting in my way."

(Blanch by Yukon, stern look by Bear; I mean, what do you say to that?)

Bear: "Well, my brother is 16 and I don't hate him. I love him a lot. And he needs me."

We need to give our little siblings more credit, I think, when watching and engaging; wondering how much they can take during our daily dealingings with children and their special needs. This kid knows how much his brother means to him, and that is the most important piece of the puzzle.

He knows. We should, too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Family Fun in the 49th State

Whew, has it really been so long since I put up a post? Yikes, sorry everyone. With so many people running around here things got a little crazy.

We had a super time having the fam come up and visit from Seattle, and a definite highlight was watching the cousins interact with each other. I'm in love with my niece and wasn't quite ready to give her up at the airport this morning.

Homer was our main destination for all things fun, and we indeed had a blast, walking on the beach, taking a fast ferry to the little town of Seldovia (rain and all), and simply hanging out in our little beach cottages. My brother and sister-in-law were able to go halibut fishing and brought back plenty of fish for their freezer at home. Can't go to Homer and not go fishing.

Bear is exhausted, though, and is just now waking up. Yukon, too, is a bit slow this a.m. and is sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Our weather leaves a bit to be desired; rainy, windy, and generally not too fun, so today will be a "catch-up" day.

Here's some photos of our fun times.