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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Update on Back To School

This is what a day might look like for a mommy such as me who is now faced with an ENTIRE day to herself:

Deliver child to school and make it home in a record 15 minutes. Ahem.

Reheat coffee and drink, making note of the silence in and around the house.

Write an article, start to finish, without interruptions to wipe noses or other anatomical parts, fix the Lego police helicopter, or butter the toast.

Go to Costco without a small child draped in, across, underneath, or on top of the shopping cart. High five the receipt-checker at the door, because he knew why I was smiling so much.

Eat lunch on my deck with a favorite book, listening to NPR. Wish I had a glass of wine to go with the lunch.

Take the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, purposely NOT running because now I have time for a leisurely stroll instead of a mad dash because I have to be somewhere to pick up somebody.

Talk to my husband without hearing "MommmmmYYYY!" or "I WANNNNNT you NOW!" in the background.

I don't like it at all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the Road Towards Higher Learning: The First Day of School

I had philosphized the first day of Kindergarten blog post for a long time. I was going to emote, extoll and embellish my feelings of both joy and sorrow at depositing my second and final child into the wonderful world of Kindergarten. It would be bittersweet, sincere, and meaningful as my little boy left my arms and entered those of the Anchorage School District.

It was sort of a non-event, this first day of school, if you leave out the falling asleep at 10 p.m. and up and 6:30 a.m. part, due to a teensy bit of excitement on the student's part. But going to school? Eh, no problem.

I guess I expected something different, having sent one child to school still clinging to my leg like a bug some 10 years ago. Bear? His grand entrance consisted of both Yukon and I (dutifully carrying the camera) escorting him to Rilke Schule, a German immersion charter school we've been anticipating since it opened three years ago. Calm and eyeing his new classmates with the practiced eye of one who knows what he likes and likes what he sees, Bear was more than willing to sit at the "Grune" table with three other girls (how do teachers always know that girls really dig him?) and start right into his morning work, coloring a tugboat in great detail.

When Yukon and I lingered, chatting with Frau Judith and dropping school supplies into their respective bins, he casually mentioned over his shoulder, "You can go, now."

Oh. Right. Kindergarten isn't for parents.

Yukon returned after lunch to witness the presentation of the "Schuletuten", a paper cone filled with school supplies and treats and given to all German children when they begin school for the first time. It is very exciting and a rite of passage for the kids. You can see Bear with Frau Judith, his German teacher, in the last photo. She is wonderful and will be a good fit, for sure.
Tuesday being Alaska Travelgram Day, I could not attend the assembly, but shuttled home ASAP after a short phone conversation post-show. "Mommy!" my little-big-man shouted over the cell phone. "I LOVED my first day of Kindergarten!"

Oh, you have simply no idea how grateful I was to hear those words.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Last Frontier

As the many people who arrived on Wednesday for former Senator Ted Stevens' funeral found out, there is no easy way to get to Alaska. Flights here, there, and everywhere, all of them long, are required for access to the 49th State. Conversely, the same is true for Alaskans trying to go South for important occasions.

My sweet aunt passed away yesterday due to complications from Alzheimer's disease. Expected yet ultimately surprising in its swift arrival, her death placed our family in the realm of so many other Alaskans who need to get Outside (anyplace other than here) within a certain span of time.

Schedules seem to take on a completely different meaning up here; our lives are defined by flight times of airlines that frequently end almost constant service to the Lower 48 mid-August. That my aunt would pass away on the day Alaska Airlines suspended summerime schedules was a reminder that we do, indeed live thousands of miles away from our families. I am reminded of this every three months as I wearily climb aboard a red-eye flight to Salt Lake City to visit my son.

I talked to a mother yesterday whose husband had just accompanied their freshman son to Washington State University. Airfares were too expensive for both parents to settle he and his gear into his dorm and attend all the parent orientation sessions; plus, their other kids were beginning school back in Anchorage and the thought of trying to navigate such a schedule was, understandably, frightfully overwhelming.

While talking to my parents, my uncle, and even the mortuary in Santa Rosa, California, people were more than understanding my inability to fly down in time for my aunt's service on Tuesday morning. "After all," the owner of the Parent-Sorensen Mortuary told me, "Alaska is not an easy place to get out of."

In this age of email, companion fares, and Skype, I know I am in better communication shape than the sourdoughs who would go months without any mail, not knowing if family members were alive, dead, or somewhere in between. I cannot imagine the sorrow of reading via an outdated letter the death of a loved one. I forget, sometimes, where we are. I love it. But sometimes the miles on the map seem not-to-scale.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Taking It

So, knowing how to start explaining a situation we've been in before is more difficult tonight. Difficult, because we've been down this road many, many times in two years. Difficult, because of the nature of the situation. Difficult, because we all are wearying in every humanly way of riding highs that always, always seem to end in deep lows.

The details are complex and not the point of this story tonight, and I don't want to go there, but those close to me know something is up. Yukon is unaware of the latest situation; he is in the middle of the Yakama Nation's Camp Chaparral for wounded Native American Veterans and totally off the grid. I have thought about calling him, but then, he cannot do anything from where he is. It is strange, though, to be back in a situation where I do not have a partner to lean on.

At any rate, the whole point of this post is to talk about how we, the parents of children with severe emotional and/or behavioral disabilities, Take It. Because we have to.
Yes, yes, there are support groups and online chats and reams of printed material outlining the strategies for taking care of the caregiver. But when the end of the day comes, and we've done our venting and written our rants and shared our triumphs, we still ultimately, simply Take It.

The world goes on whether or not our children have hurt someone else, or themselves, whether we have not slept in two days or whether our non-disabled children are needy, too. The newspaper still falls on our front porches with a thump and the coffeemakers still grind out strong brew whether or not our kids have a good day or a bad one. We still drive our other kids to school and cub scouts and Sunday School, switching between the regular schedules of Life and the confusing system that is therapy, medication, and treatment reviews. Rock on. We'll do our best to rock along with you. Because we Take It.

One day, one hour; hell, even one minute at a time. Some days it's the best we can do.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Part of Alaska's Soul

Bear and I stood on a damp and drizzly street corner tonight, waiting for our chance to say goodbye to the essence of Alaska. I didn't always agree with former Senator Ted Stevens, but as an Alaskan I, and everyone who lives here, owes a heck of a lot to him.

Alaska was created by people like him, for people like us.

Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade preceded the hearse, and Bear was quite awed at the sight of flashing lights and sirens and important people.

He asked, "Should I put my hand over my heart?"

I told him that would be nice.
Grace can be amazing at times like these.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bear Time in the Berries

Our lives have been so here-and-there lately I worried we wouldn't get a chance to pick any berries this year. Going on our fifth autumn, berry picking is a late-summer ritual I am not willing to give up no matter how busy life appears. Yukon is off to Washington for a week, and in a burst of inspiration this morning, I took Bear.

Weather has affected our berry timeline, too. Officially the rainiest, gloomies, dreariest Anchorage summer on record, nobody has felt much like picking berries in drippy conditions. But yesterday dawned without rain and with a tiny bit of sun, so Bear and I hurredly dropped off Dad at the airport, came home to grab the berry picker and buckets, filled up the backpack with lunch, and drove off.

Arctic Valley is our favorite spot, still. I always enjoy the alpine feel of things that high, where autumn comes quickly and views are endless. We pick crowberries, mostly. Their juice is dark, dense, and extremely yummy in syrup form. So that is what Bear and I were after yesterday as we climbed up the hill to our secret berry place.

It was kind of nice, just the two of us. I'd pick, Bear would create hiding places for his two-headed dragon, and we talked. Kindergarten begins next week, and while he is excited, there is apprehension, too, and as I found out with his older brother, talking to boys is easier when at least one of us is doing something else. I want to establish a rapport for serious discussions now, before he decides I am totally uncool, and the side of a mountain seemed a good place to begin.

Bear has become a good help, too. No longer just a spectator, he applies the berry picker with occasional vigor and is also a good scout for the best patches. Two hours later, we had a full bucket. Bear led the way back, across a little stream he had discovered during his free-range roaming (another advantage of Arctic Valley; I can let him explore safely), up a hill and through some brush. By the time we reached the car the parking lot was exploding with would-be pickers anxious to get started.

I'm glad we began early. All of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Climbing the Rock

When Wolf called early Thursday morning for the Hour of Power, we could tell something was different. Relaxed, casual, it seemed almost as if another kid had taken over his body and we were talking to a typical teenager.

He did it, everyone. He made it all the way through a two-day camping trip in the woods of Utah with a collection of his peers and staff, and did not receive any warnings. Not one. And, he told us, he was one of only three kids to make it to the top of the rock they were climbing.

Who is this, again? I'm not sure we know him.

Still at Level 5 after two weeks, Wolf is now entering what staff consider one of the most powerful and most tenuous places in his schooling. Staying where he is. The rock has been attempted, failed, and attempted again, over and over and over, and now he sits at the top of its slippery flank, supporting himself with only his own fortitude.

There is room only for Wolf on this rock, for it is he that has clawed the route from the bottom. But hopefully he can see over the tops of the trees, toward the valleys and rivers and sunsets that await him.

Yukon, staff, and I are realistic, knowing how hard this will be for Wolf. We told him repeatedly that we were rooting for his success because we knew it was possible. New Therapist B. says he has begun to intersperse various life skills into Wolf's daily routine to see how he handles it. There is talk, real talk now, about his homecoming.

Homecoming. Coming. Home.

We all might be ready, this time.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alaska Travelgram and AK Fam

A few have asked, so we will provide.

Each Tuesday, I get to play radio for a local travel program called the Alaska Travelgram, 2-3 p.m. AST on KUDO AM 1080. You can find a link to the station HERE.

It's always interesting, always fun, and every week is a new experience for Alaskan travel and tourism. We've met a lot of interesting people and hope to meet many more.

So, if you want to give a listen on Tuesdays, you'll hear me, along with my co-host Scott, as we navigate the fascinating world of Alaskan adventures.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our Love Affair With Rural Alaska

With the final confirmation of the death of Former Senator Ted Stevens (R), Alaska's 60-year servant to the state and most recently one of its most controversial, Alaska is currently swinging between disbelief and shock.

Like him or not, "Uncle Ted" at the very least placed Alaska on the map in more ways than one. At the most, he helped make us what we are today.

Stevens and eight others were aboard a plane owned by GCI Communications, and was on his way to a fishing lodge in the Dillingham, Alaska area, along Lake Nerka near the Nushagak River. This was not an unusual activity for Stevens nor his compaanions, including former NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe, who survived. Visiting rural Alaska is as much a part of life up here as breathing, especially during fishing season. We travel by boat and small plane often, reaching areas with no road access, most especially in the area of the crash.

Yukon and I have been to Dillingham, a small community in western Alaska where five species of Pacific Salmon make their way up nearby rivers, an area so pristine that you would question its very existence if never able to stand on its sandy beaches or see its endless forests.

We don't think, much, about what might happen, because we know as Alaskans it could happen. At any time. One in five residents of Alaska is a licensed pilot, and, live here long enough, we will know someone who perishes while flying, including another former legislator, Nicholas Begich, whose son Mark won Steven's seat two years ago. This is the second person we have known.

The tenuous balance between life and death in Alaska is fragile and constant, and a vital part of our existence. We chose it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

From the Wolf Den: Climbing Up

Just wanted to update my readership on our big son, Wolf, who has now, as of today, achieved a stellar ONE WEEK on Level 5, the highest level at CHYC. .

He called to tell Yukon last night that he was still "on Level", as the kids refer to it, and was able to go on a few outings without incident last week. Therapists B&B (as I call them now) also have begun a series of trips with Wolf to stores like Wal-Mart, prime ground for misbehavior. These trips are designed to foster a sense of self in a chaotic environment (and isn't Wal Mart just perfect for that). Wolf is given an objective he must reach by the end of the outing, as well as a list of things he needs to "buy". This week it was milk, eggs, shampoo, and the like; showing him the basics of budgeting and money management. It's about time.

I just got off the phone with Therapist B. and he had in his hand a permission slip. Not just for a day outing, but for a camping/rock climbing overnight into Cottonwood Canyon. I couldn't say 'Yes' fast enough.

It's time to let him go. Struggle, yes, maybe even fall, but know that somebody is below to belay him to safety. Perfect.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So This is What It Will Be Like....

Kindergarten starts in 21 days. With a six-hour, four-day-a-week (school is out early on Fridays) time void staring at me from my Mom-Calendar, I'm torn between doing the Happy Dance of Freedom at putting my second and last child into the halls of higher learning and bursting into tears.

I got a taste of a school day today, when three meetings beginning at 9 a.m. forced me to wake up the Almost-Kindergartener by 7:45 (let me tell you those tears I mentioned in the above paragraph could also be due to the difficulty I had in doing that). I thought I was organized and ready; breakfast, juice, clothes, and backpack all waiting in their appropriate areas, dog fed, I was dressed. Off to a good start. Only trouble is the child wouldn't wake up. Ended up throwing the stuff in the car, the dog into the kennel, and the kid into his booster seat because someone refused to get out of bed. Life is tough, sometimes. Whew.

Once down the road a block or so things evened out and we were one our way to a friends' house where Bear spent the day enjoying his buddies and not eating lunch. Can't have everything.

I, on the other hand, returned home after Meeting #1 and found myself with three free hours of uninterrupted anything-I-wanted. Coffee? Check. Loud music? Double Check. Hey, wait, I can walk the dog; no, I can take the dog for a run, in the middle of the day without an accompanying bicyclist who makes me push him up the hills. Now this is living.

I appeared a the radio station by 2 p.m. relaxed and smiling, causing my co-host to wonder what had happened to have placed such a cheery demeanor upon my mug. I told him I had a day to myself and he said, "Ah, must be the sun."

Or maybe it was the son. I think I can hold out on those tears for a little longer, but ask me in 20 days and 2 1/2 hours...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who's Been Snacking on My Antlers?

Since Yukon is away fishing this weekend (that is another story entirely, one which I can assure you will be published as soon as I can tell the story with a straight face), I endeavored to mow the lawn on one of the few non-rainy days this summer.

Yukon had trimmed the yard last weekend, and did a good job getting around the trees, shrubs, and flower beds. So when I came outside with the lawn mower and saw the caribou antlers in the front yard all askew, I assumed he had forgotten to replace them to their original location when trimming. So I went to put them back where they usually reside atop an old cottonwood stump.

It was then I noticed the gnaw marks and coarse, black hair on some of the top prongs. I looked closer and saw chips from the top scattered on the ground, not 10 feet from my front deck. Ruh-ro, Scooby. We have had company of the bruin kind. Again.

Two years ago, when we had an equally crappy summer (I can say crappy, this is my blog) the neighborhood had trouble with bears. Even though fish were plentiful, berries and such were not because to ripen, we need sun. And that was/is in short supply. So they went in search of other suitable nutrients. The little black bear that eventually was seen by us had chawed into my other caribou antlers then, too. I'm not sure who is doing it this year, or why they find it so yummy; the things are at least six years old and must be a bit dry.

At any rate, he or she is having an antler-fest at my house, and none of us have seen any other sign other than the occasional grumble from the dog in the middle of the night, but that is not unusual. He talks in his sleep.

I made a special effort to make sure the garbage cans were in the garage and that my own Bear had not tossed a chocolate milk carton in the yard waste can, which would not help matters.

We'll just have to see who/what shows up. Bigfoot, maybe?