Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas

Christmas felt absolutely perfect this year. Just full of that unique joy and peace and excitement and love and fun that is Christmas. I was a little dubious Christmas Eve morning, when my mom called to ask for a recipe and I teared up thinking about how EVERYBODY (except Morgan and wife) were together there in Colorado and we were missing out completely. But as any grown woman does, I dried my tears and got busy cleaning and baking and preparing for our own Christmas Eve Celebration. As I’ve mentioned, I love my traditions, so I invited two families over to our Christmas Eve dinner and program--that way I get to be in charge, and I feel in my element.

Although it seemed that the Ruiz family was doomed not to make it, with lost keys (which they found over an hour later in the dumpster!) and a car that wouldn’t start once they finally did find the keys, the evening bounced back once they arrived and the party really started. Since I babysit their kids, it wasn’t too hard to get them prepped in advance for the Nativity program.

For weeks they had been excited about their roles, and whenever we sang a Christmas carol that mentioned an angel or a shepherd, they would say, “Alex, that’s you,” or “Elodie—the angel, you’re the angel!” And little three-year-old Lanna would have to add that she and Hazel were going to be the sheep! Xander was at school for most of this excitement, but Joseph doesn’t actually have any lines to memorize, so xander seemed willing to fill the role. Until it came time to put on the costume. I don’t know if he took issue with the fact that it resembled a dress or just wasn’t in the mood to be in front of a crowd, but he was not feeling the role of Joseph. At all. After a little conversation about how silly it would look if I had to play Joseph with my big belly and reminding him that sometimes, we do things not because we want to but because it makes other people happy, namely me, the show went on. Luckily, the donkey was hilarious and helped Xander snap out of his funk and into the giggles pretty quickly. That and Hazel the sheep who just wanted to grab the “Baby!” (her favorite and best-enunciated word) right out of his manger, causing Joseph and Mary to switch seamlessly from their role as adoring new parents to vigilant manger guards. Everyone had a great time with it and I don’t think I was the only one who felt the resounding peace and joy as we read the real story of Christmas from the scriptures.

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After regaining our strength by heavily sampling the treat platter, it was chime time. Ah, it felt like home. Did I mention how much I appreciated Aaron’s Christmas present this year? I love seeing the excitement on the chimers faces as the tune is really coming together and we finish the song and they just want to do it again! Christmas music is the best!

We ended the night by reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and leaving Santa his plate of cookies before saying goodbye to our friends and tucking the little ones all snug in their beds. I just love how excited our kids get! For me, the anticipation of Christmas morning is about as much fun as the real thing!

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I think that’s why the Christmas morning breakfast in the bedroom before discovering the stockings and presents is a must for me. It draws out the anticipation of the morning! This year, we enjoyed Alaskan-grown, Alaskan-made reindeer sausage in addition to our usual fare of orange rolls and hash brown breakfast bake. Do you think eating reindeer for Christmas is festively fitting or atrociously appalling? Xander and Elodie were obviously savoring every bite!

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The anticipation of lining up on the stairs…

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I am so glad that Xander hasn’t grown out of his excitement. His reaction was perfect—“Ahh! Toy Story Train Lego Set—this is what I wanted all year!”

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Elodie’s gratitude and excitement were equally endearing. Man, is there anything better than watching your kids enjoy Christmas morning so thoroughly?

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Hazel enjoyed her cell phone from Santa and opening presents, too, but not as much as she enjoyed the contents of Xander’s stocking that he left on the floor! I loved watching Xander and Elodie open the presents they had gotten for each other. “Wow, a tank, I love it!” “I thought you would like it!” “Elodie, you are the best sister. I really wanted this!!” “It’s beautiful, Xander! I wanted a ring just like this!” And so on. Aw, absolutely adorable. In every way, it was just what Christmas morning should be.

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Then we all put on our Christmas best and headed to Church. A young man who had just returned from a mission to South Africa spoke, and then we had a wonderful Christmas program. Perhaps it felt especially wonderful because I was up singing with the choir while Gine Kirk juggled Hazel and the other two! The chapel was packed, and as I looked out over the crowd, I just felt such love for the wonderful members of the branch up here. After sacrament meeting was over, it was like no one wanted to leave yet, even though we were only having the one hour of Church (and it had gone over by at least a half an hour). Everyone just milled around, exchanging Christmas greetings and presents and cards and treats. I felt so at home and so loved. Aaron’s home teaching companion, who is about to leave on a mission, has been like an uncle to the kids and brought each of them the perfect present. I think he gave Xander his 7th Lego set of the day, and he was no less grateful than with the first. He had that Toy Story Army guy jeep built before our dinner guests even arrived. The Davis family, with their 6 children, 4 of them Lego-loving boys, spent the afternoon with us. The kids played and played and we munched appetizers and prepped dinner and chatted and everyone enjoyed a perfect Christmas afternoon. We are so grateful for the friends we’ve made in Alaska and for this, the most wonderful time of year.

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Chime TIme

I love Christmas traditions. More specifically, I love our family’s Christmas traditions—a lovely blend of Dahle and Fillmore traditions, a bit heavy on the Fillmore. It’s not just ‘cause I’m the pushy one, my family really did have some pretty awesome Christmas traditions growing up. Many years ago, I don’t really remember when, my Uncle Steve sent our family pretty much the best Christmas present ever—a set of homemade chimes. 18 pieces of metal pipe cut to just the right lengths to become a musical instrument. Everyone comes together on Christmas Eve, grabs a butter knife and a chime, and follows along to turn the cryptic number sequences into Christmas carols. Aaron first experienced it Christmas 2004 and has loved it as much as I do ever since. It’s just simple good times. Chime time. This year, we would be off on our own for the Christmas celebrations. Away from my family, away from the chimes. So back in November, I left Aaron a rather non-subtle note on his pillow, with printed directions on chime-making from Uncle Steve himself and a note that said, “Hint, hint: This is all I want for Christmas this year.” (I found earlier in our marriage that subtlety doesn’t work very well on my dear husband.) For Aaron and me, the whole project of making Chime time happen turned out to be one of the highlights of Christmas Season 2011. We had been hoping not to have to make a run to Fairbanks for supplies in the winter, but getting the materials for chime-making was a good enough reason to make the trek, so we headed up one Saturday. Home we came with very sturdy steel electrical conduit, a pipe-cutter, and hundreds of dollars of Sam’s Club and Walmart stock-up stuff to make the trip even more worth it.

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Aaron was so excited that he got to work that very night, despite the long day in Fairbanks and the long drive home. Per Uncle Steve’s wonderfully specific instructions, he cut that first pipe to 13 and 19/32 inches, drilled a hole in it, strung a string through, and hit that baby with a butter knife. It was supposed to be an A. But using our keyboard and our untrained ears, we determined that it was about a B. For experimental purposes, he cut what was supposed to be Chime Number 2, an A#, and it came out as something close to a C. Both chimes sounded a touch off, but with our untrained ears, we couldn’t quite tell if it was slightly sharp or slightly flat. We knew just enough to know that we were going to need some help with tuning and calculating new lengths since Uncle Steve’s electrical conduit must have been a bit different than the kind we found up here in Alaska. We surfed around a bit and came across two excellent websites. We couldn’t have completed the chimes project without them! On the first, I found a beautiful formula for calculating chime length based on one reference note and a table of note frequencies. I simply copied the frequencies table into Excel, put in the formula just like Milan taught me, and POOF, I had the lengths we needed for our specific pipe type. Being the math nerd that I am, it was SO SO fun for me to take the square root of the reference frequency times the squared reference length divided by the desired frequency and find the desired length in millimeters which are so much easier to measure than 29/32nds of an inch. Aaron found an online tuner, which could determine the frequency of sounds it received through our computer’s microphone (on our webcam, thanks again, Milan!). It told you exactly how many “cents” sharp or flat you were of the note, which allowed Aaron to grind that B, which had gratefully been slightly flat, into near perfection. Aaron cut the next chime based on our calculations and we celebrated when the online tuner showed that the formula worked! We went to bed tired and very happy with our first night of chime production.

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Aaron spent the next 3 weeks measuring and cutting and grinding and fine-tuning in whatever spare time he could find. When he wasn’t on call or at Church meetings or taking Xander to hockey, he was my chime factory. I love that guy!!

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It was definitely a labor of love, and I felt the love! Our excitement built as we saw the chime sets grow. We were having so much fun with the project that we decided to make a set for Milan and Rachael since we had their family for Christmas this year. Aaron was so overflowing with excitement about the chimes project that he couldn’t help but show it off when we Skyped with my family one Sunday. I was afraid that would ruin the surprise, but Aaron thought it would just increase their anticipation and excitement wondering, what if they make one for us? At least it did confirm our suspicions that Milan would like a set, since he admitted that he is a chimes fan himself.

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Every time I saw Aaron slaving over those chimes, his face covered in metal shards, I just got that holiday feelin’.

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Besides the calculations, tuning support, and eye protection purchasing, my main job was to sew the chimes case. I was having no luck with finding durable Christmasy fabric around here, so I dropped the Christmasy requirement and just went with durable. And free! I was excited when I found this random thing in my material bin. It was the fabric from a broken patio table umbrella that Aaron had scavenged years ago. Not the most attractive shade, but sturdy.

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What a sense of accomplishment we both felt looking at the finished product!

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We painted some packing paper to turn it into wrapping paper and packaged it all up to ship it on down to Colorado. I was doubly happy when I got it to fit in a flat rate box, making it less than $15 to ship the 17-pound package instead of $48! I left the post office with a smile on my face and a great feeling of DONE! We were happy to hear that a little over a week later, the package had arrived at its destination. We set up a time for them to open it via Skype so we could see their reaction. And we wanted to see the condition of the package because they told us there was a note on it that said it had been retaped in Denver. Hmmm. That was the first red flag. The second was when we were skyping happily and saw Milan lift up the package so easily. We commented on how heavy it was—17 pounds—and Milan said it didn’t feel heavy at all. Uh oh. So as Milan was taking out the plethora of pictures and cards and notes and pipe cleaner creations that the kids had made for their beloved Uncle Milan and Aunt Rachael, Aaron was sweating bullets wondering if the chimes he slaved over had made the journey safely. Then Milan pulled out the remnants of the wrapping paper, in which the chimes had formerly been wrapped. Oh no. Milan, What else is in the box? Just some broken shards of toffee, scattered around the bottom. No big heavy bag of chimes that looks kinda like this?

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He moved the webcam to show us the pathetic contents of the box. One set of chimes MIA. Aaron freaked out internally a bit before reminding us of what President Uchtdorf had said in the recent Christmas devotional—that when you think Christmas is ruined, remember, Christmas is not that fragile. Apparently, if there’s one thing the Grinch hates, it’s all that noise, noise, noise, NOISE from those blasted chimes! So we sang Dabudore and began hoping and praying for a Christmas miracle. Oh post office, please find those missing chimes!

As for us here in Alaska, we had a wonderful time with our chimes. The Christmas Eve program was complete! I was impressed that both Xander and Elodie can chime without assistance this year! I was so proud when neither of them wanted to stop chiming after we had done every song in our new huge chimes book, which was at least 8 songs! May the Chime Time tradition continue through generations to come! Aaron, thanks for the best Christmas present ever!

Note: If anyone would like the specific instructions on how to make your own set of chimes, let me know and I’ll email them to you, including the Excel spreadsheet! We added our tips to Uncle Steve’s wonderful directions so they should work for anyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What did I do today?

You mean besides make 2 batches of toffee, take four kiddos to library story time, bake 7 loaves of cinnamon swirl bread and 2 loaves of regular bread, whip up some Shepherd’s pie for dinner, check math homework and take advantage of the opportunity to introduce the concept of multiplication, get Xander geared up for hockey, throw together one pan of magic cookie bars, watch the original Miracle on 34th Street, stir up a batch of Mexican wedding cakes, sing peaceful Christmas songs to tuck exhausted kiddos in bed, dip a sheet of buckeyes, and cover snowflake Ritz in mint-chocolate? Not much in the way of housework, that’s for sure. You can imagine what my kitchen looks like, but I think I’ll save that till morning! Ahhh, I love Christmas. I promise you I know that Christmas is not ALL about the treats…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Talkin’ ‘Bout the Weather

This is the highway right by us. In Alaska, it seems like every route is the scenic route. I saw a view almost identical to this one last week (although I was not the one to capture it; some other local did and it was the photo of the day on our local web news). wintry alaska

The sun rises at about 10:00am these days and sets just before 3:00pm. But being so far north, it takes the sun an hour to rise and set, so we have daylight from about 9:00am to 4:00pm. It’s really not too bad, and in less than three weeks, the days will start getting longer again. Although the dark mornings do kind of mess with my brain. Getting out of my cozy bed has never taken more will power! Saturday morning, I heard Hazel wake up and I peeked my eyes open; it felt like it was really early, maybe 5 or 6. I thought, “maybe if I change her diaper and give her a bottle, she’ll go back to sleep.” Then I looked at the clock. It was 8:52! Nah, I don’t think I’ll try to get Hazel to go back to sleep—she’d been in bed over 13 hours! Wow, nice weekend sleep-in for me! Thank you, Hazel, for also being affected by the darkness!

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve had a day where we set a new record for the coldest that day has ever been and now yesterday, a record for the warmest December 4th has ever been. I think meteorology is really interesting—in Junior High, I wanted to be a weather woman when I grew up. Instead, I settled for taking one Meteorology class in college when I needed a brain break from all of the humanities classes required for my major. So I think it’s kind of cool to look at what the actual temps were for the previous day and to see that the record high was set in 2011.

Sunday morning, we heard some really fierce winds when we woke up. The data says the gusts were up to 72 mph! So when I saw that the temp was 50 degrees in the morning before the sun rose, I remembered the Chinook wind phenomenon I read about on Wikipedia back in March when we were scoping out Delta Junction. “There are usually several days in the winter when the temperature is in the range of -40° (C or F) when a wind (known as a Chinook wind) begins to blow. A few minutes later, the temperature climbs to above +32 °F. When the wind stops, the temperature returns to its colder value.” With that in mind, it was pretty interesting to look over the hourly data and see that when the winds were gusting from the south yesterday morning, it was in the 40s and 50s. Around noon the direction and intensity of the wind started to change, to go back to normal, and the temperature started to drop again—10 degrees in one hour.

This interesting phenomenon made for some nasty roads. Snow packed roads have great traction when the temps are near zero and colder. But when the temps climb to the freezing point and above, that packed snow starts to melt, and it gets pretty slippery. The Stake President asked all the units to inform members of the icy, dangerous road conditions and to advise people not to come in to church if they felt the roads were too bad. So church wasn’t cancelled, but attendance was officially optional! It was a bit tricky just to drive out of our garage because the snow had melted off of our roof and plopped in a big hill around our house. But the BEAST made it without having to shovel through the hill. We determined that the roads were passable, with Aaron’s experience and the Beast’s beastliness, as well as a good measure of caution. On our way to church, it was crazy to see how the beautiful white winter wonderland I’d seen the night before driving home at 9pm was now interrupted by ugly brown patches of grass and dirty puddles. The roads were slippery, but in most places, they were more wet than icy. The worst part of the whole drive was the church parking lot, which was just a thick sheet of wet ice. Elodie took 2 steps on her own, slipped, and had to endure the trauma of a wet dress. During Church, the temps dropped again and it started to drizzle, then sleet, and then snow. A lot. Throughout the night, it accumulated to 5 or 6 inches. The beautiful winter wonderland is back; those brown patches and puddles didn’t even last a day! As for the roads, underneath the pristine blanket of snow, that wet sheen and puddles refroze into sheets of ice, making the roads even more treacherous this morning. In all of the weather talk we engaged in yesterday, none of the locals seemed to think that a balmy 50 degree day was a good thing. Their experience told them it meant nastier roads the rest of the winter. But it was kind of nice to go outside without bundling to the hilt! Ah, the adventure of the Chinook!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Introducing…

My new hockey man!

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Xander is starting his first team sport. He has his tough guy gear and is excited to get on the ice tomorrow! We’re starting to feel like real Alaskans!

You Know It’s Cold When…

You open the dryer and feel an icy draft. I had never thought about it, but it makes sense—that duct is connected directly to outside.

Your microwave feels like the refrigerator. And when you cook on the stove below it, frost forms around the vents on the underside. (This only happens when we have a fire going—something to do with the pull of air.)

You have to go get your son from the bus stop, which is at the main road just after the neighbor’s house, not far at all. You bundle up to the hilt—long underwear, winter clothes, wool socks, snow pants, two coats, hat, scarf, snorkel parka hood—the works. You step out and think, wow, I bundled up well, I’m feeling nice and warm! And by the time you get halfway to the bus stop, you’re freezing! (It was 27 below at the time.)

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You’ve got THIS forming inside your doors and windows, despite Arctic-rated double-pane windows.

When you turn the heat up from 60 to 70 in the morning, it takes 3 hours and it’s still not quite 68 degrees in your house.

Xander doesn’t have outside recess for over a week. They stay inside if it’s below 20 below, and his recess is right after lunch, the warmest part of the day.

Steam is billowing off of the partially frozen river. It is quite an impressive phenomenon to behold.

Your heating oil bill is bigger than your grocery bill (and your grocery bill is three times what it was in Colorado—ouch).

You get all excited when you see that it’s supposed to get up to 22 degrees tomorrow! Woohoo! That’s over 50 degrees warmer than last week; let’s go out and play!

School is cancelled. OK, that hasn’t happened yet, luckily! But when it does, then I’ll really know it’s cold. They cancel school when it’s colder than 55 below. Whoa!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Our Pattern Continues

A Darling Baby Boybaby xander

A Beautiful Baby Girlbaby elodie

A Darling Baby Boyfav of Dex

A Beautiful Baby Girl005

Hmmm, what comes next???

Yep, you guessed it! Thanks to the generosity of Aaron’s wonderful coworkers at the clinic, our whole family got to go up to Fairbanks for an ultrasound yesterday. Xander and Elodie were so mesmerized—they could actually see their little brother moving around in there! “Mom, he just moved, could you feel that?” Yep, another BOY--we are all so excited. Especially Xander—he’s been feeling a bit outnumbered around here!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Poofy Halloween

My kids are so tough. Real Alaskans already, I’d say. Yes, it was only 7 degrees while we were trick-or-treating. And yes, Xander had managed to lose one glove in the car on the way to Ft. Greeley where we took advantage of the fact that they don’t have 2-acre yards. And Elodie completely forgot her mittens at home somehow. But we heard not one single word of complaint about cold. Even when we asked if their hands were chilly, they bravely replied, “no, I’m fine.” Besides the under-protected hands, they were pretty decked out in snow gear.

We managed to squeeze Xander’s Dash costume on top of all of his snow gear, resulting in a very poofy superhero. He decided he was Mr. Incredible rather than Dash since he was so “muscular.” Plus, when he watched The Incredibles in his costume Friday afternoon after his school Halloween party and before the church festivities, we noticed that Mirage calls Mr. Incredible, “The Fat One.” So he was the fat Mr. Incredible.

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Elodie was a poofy princess. We tried to get that dress on over the coat, but the sleeves were too narrow for the bulk! She was a little disappointed to totally cover her dress with a coat, so she left her coat unzipped (she had a couple layers underneath) and was warm enough, according to her. I tell ya what, either she’s brave about cold or really motivated by looking good and sugar. Or maybe that whole theory about keeping your head and feet warm really is true. She had a hat and a hood on her head and wool socks and good snow boots on her feet.

ice princess

And Hazel was a poofy, pooped pig. She almost fell asleep in Dad’s arms. I was glad that I had my long underwear, wool socks, and snuggly, ear-covering fleece hat on. Aaron was wishing I had remembered to grab gloves for him before we picked him up from work!

chilly piggy

At least he had the sweet, thoughtful generosity of his daughter to warm him up. Right after receiving treats at one house, Elodie noticed that she’d gotten some of Mom and Dad’s favorites—immediately, she handed Dad a Reese’s cup and me a Kit Kat. Such a sweetie!

trick or treat gang

Hazel thought that the candy sorting was pretty fun, even though we guided her to playing with those things that she couldn’t open. I did let her have half of a whopper on the drive home. That seemed to improve her past-bedtime mood quite a bit! The kids had a blast and Aaron and I enjoyed watching the kids revel in the fun that is Halloween.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Halfway

Wow, I can’t believe we’re already to the halfway point. I still don’t quite believe that baby #5 is really coming. Number 5 is a really important one; I’m M5, after all.

Since my darling sister in law posted her profile at 20 weeks, I thought I would, too, for comparison. But sorry, brothers, no girth measurement this time around.

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Hopefully, by the time March rolls around, I’ll actually believe this is real. Was I really that dependent on the visual confirmation of an ultrasound to let the reality sink in? Maybe so. This old-fashioned pregnancy experience is a new one for me. Yes, I could drive 2 hours each way and pay out of pocket for an ultrasound, but my handsome healthcare provider and I agree that it’s not necessary. Nice, but not necessary. We’ll see how long I can hold out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A White Birthday

"I'm dreaming of a white birthday! Just like the ones I used to know!"

I used to have a fall birthday. Always did. But apparently, up here, my birthday is the first day of winter! At least this year! Yesterday we had some light snow that kinda tried to accumulate. We even made snowflakes during table time to celebrate the first snow. But the accumulation never got past a very light dusting when we went to bed. This morning, I woke up to a beautiful white birthday!
Here's Elodie with her preschool buds, Alex and Lanna. When I was thinking of what I wanted to do for Elodie for preschool in this last year she has before kindergarten, I decided I really wanted to keep her home and teach her myself. She's already a pretty good little reader so she obviously didn't need to go learn her letters, numbers, and colors, but I knew she needed kids her age to play with to hone those social skills. And to help mom, because when Xander went to school last year, she really missed her play buddy and mom often got to fill in.

I thought it would be perfect if I could find a couple other kids her age to join with her for "preschool" at our house. Having more kids helps motivate me to stay on a good schedule and actually do academic and crafty activities on a consistent basis. I started praying for the opportunity to come about. Lo and behold, a lady that Aaron works with told me that her babysitter arrangement had just fallen through for the school year. I met her kids and we decided that this would work out. She has a 9-year-old, a 4 1/2-year-old, and a 3-year-old. The oldest was being home schooled, which was kind of interesting since her mom had gone back to work, but I agreed to try it out. I helped her get caught up with math and writing, but felt like I couldn't afford to invest the time I would need to do a really good job of it, so we talked about it and just this week, she started back at public school. Now she comes home on the bus with Xander and I think the whole arrangement is better for all of us!

So that answers the question of what is going to keep us busy through the long Alaskan winter! Last night, as I was going to a Relief Society Meeting at 7:oo, it was already starting to get dark. (Today: Sunrise 8:22 am, Sunset 6:37 pm.) Yep, winter has begun! As I look out the window, the snow is still coming down and I feel a very strong urge to turn on some Christmas music. Melayna wouldn't fight the urge. Should I?

Happy Fall Y'all!

The first signs of fall were in the air around the middle of August. Patches of gold started to appear in the trees and the ground cover started to turn a beautiful, fiery red. I realized why the gorgeous fuschia flower that grows everywhere around here is called "Fireweed." The mornings had a certain fall chill, as well. I wasn't quite ready to say good-bye to "warmer" weather, but if you can't change it, embrace it, right? So we made sugar cookies spelling out "Happy Fall Y'all" to give to the neighbors and declared that even if the rest of the US was still basking in the summer sun, in Alaska, it was fall. Mid-August was also when school started, nearly completing that end-of-summer feel. The only thing that didn't quite feel like fall was that the sun still didn't set until about 10:00, and it wasn't really dark until about 11:00.

I took this picture of our backyard on September 8, when fall colors were pretty much at their peak.
By the first official day of fall, September 23, this is what our backyard looked like.

Although it kinda looked like fall was over, we still invited some friends over and had a Fun Fall Festival.
I couldn't remember the last time I had bobbed for apples, so I figured it was high time. Aaron was a bit hesitant about the pathology of a bunch of kids slobbering in a tub of water one after the other, but when I washed each apple, the tub, and put in fresh water, he was willing to get in on the fun, too.
And who wouldn't love eating a donut on a string right before dinner?

I really wanted to make a stuffed pumpkin for dinner like we did back in Colorado when we had a thriving pumpkin patch, but I didn't realize how hard it would be to get a hold of a pumpkin in rural Alaska. Instead, we had stuffed spaghetti squash for dinner, followed by apple pie ala mode. Quite autumnal. Whether it was a celebration of the beginning or the end of fall, we had a great time!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bou Stew

Another way Aaron has been hoping to prepare for winter was by filling the deep freeze with wild game. Unfortunately, since we are not yet official residents, the tag for hunting a moose or caribou would be $500 on top of a $100+ hunting license, as opposed to a resident's $25 yearly hunting license and FREE tags. So I obviously had to kabash any hunting trips this season. But the executive secretary of the branch presidency, of which Aaron is the 2nd counselor, happens to hunt more caribou than their family can eat. He offered to give a caribou to anyone who would cut it up and eat it. So a couple weekends ago, Aaron got a call that Scott had a caribou ready for him if he wanted to go pick it up. Off Xander and Aaron went, happily anticipating a winter of delicious meat. They returned after a few minutes with an entire caribou carcass wrapped in a tarp in the back of the Beast. Xander declared that the drive back smelled terrible. Why do you think Aaron is pushing to get a pick-up so bad? :)

Aaron spent the next several hours butchering. It happened to be almost 60 degrees outside that day (much warmer than it had been in a while or has been since), so Aaron declared that it had to get in the freezer ASAP so as to not waste any of it. Thus, I was enlisted to put it in all in ziploc bags. Ugh. I literally dreamt about countertops covered in raw meat all night. Be grateful that I didn't take any pictures of the carcass or the process! I wish I hadn't seen it!! But, we got the job done and now have enough caribou to enjoy throughout the winter. We are very grateful since food is SO much more expensive around here.
We enjoyed a nice pot of Bou Stew on Sunday and have Caribou fajitas on the menu for later this week. Bou Chili and Bou Tacos were pretty tasty, too. I'm looking forward to trying some Thai Bou recipes, too. I bet Chinese Bou 'n' Broccoli will be as good as the Elk and Broccoli we enjoyed last winter. It'll be a tasty and filling winter. And I hear that eating meat keeps you warmer. Maybe that's why a certain vegetarian sister of mine is always so cold... :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hazel is One!


Hazel's first birthday party was just perfect. We invited some people over to stand in for grandparents and aunt/uncle/cousins, which definitely helped boost the fun level. You can't really ask a one-year-old what she wants for her birthday dinner, but potatoes and milk seem to be her favorites, so I made a creamy potato/broccoli/cauliflower soup and she loved it. Of course, what she was really looking forward to was the cake. When she saw her cake on the counter throughout the day, she would both sign "more" and say, "ma!" and occasionally really try to sweeten it up by rubbing a "please" on her chest. So when it was finally time to eat it, and we put the teddy bear's head on her tray, she was so excited she was bouncing around! She is so adorable!Xander and Elodie thoroughly enjoyed watching Hazel have her way with her cake.
Her face dive was their favorite part. You can enjoy watching it, too, right here! As you can see, Hazel LOVED the attention!
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Almost Ready for Winter

TWC says it's supposed to snow this week. The trees have been bare for a week or two now, and you can feel that snow is in the air...soon. When we went to Anchorage last week, we made sure to stop and pick up 25 pounds of hot cocoa mix. And I picked up some nice XL purple girls' snow pants with suspenders that should work with a growing belly. I'm hoping that the men's military parka I just bought will fit over my belly the whole winter, too. Any of you who have seen me pregnant know I get pretty HUGE. It may not be ultra feminine, but I don't think there's much of a market for adorable maternity parkas, so we're going with super warm and not gonna break the bank. Elodie tells me she's a tough Alaska girl when I remind her to put a jacket on to go outside and she doesn't want to. I guess her mom should look like a tough Alaskan woman. Ya think I'll look as tough as this guy?


We've got the cocoa, the coats, the face masks, the wool socks. We're ready. Bring it on!

Update: We've had a couple of VERY BRIEF snow flurries, but no accumulation yet (as of Oct. 10). I am pleasantly surprised that Colorado got snow before us! Who would have thought?

We are even more ready for winter now. My parka came in the mail. While I do get huge when I'm pregnant, this parka is mega huge, and I probably could have gone with the men's size small rather than medium, but at least I will not be limited in the number of layers I can wear under the parka! I got pretty HOT just in the couple minutes it took to try on the parka and take pictures! I think it's a keeper! (And I'm pretty sure I look tougher than that guy, even with Girls' purple snow pants on.)

Aaron bought some wood from someone who was moving and got it all chopped up, with the help of his new friend the chainsaw. Then he got some free wood that I'm sure he'll chop up soon, being the man of action that he is. We have some stacked outside, but since we have a two-car garage and only one car, it seemed like a good idea to keep a bunch of the wood nice and dry and ready in the garage. Won't that be nice to not have to go all the way out into the weather to make a fire? Someday, when we again enjoy the luxury of being a two-car family, we won't have this luxury! At least not for such a big stash!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Epic Roadtrip

We have always loved roadtrips. A few years ago, we took a mega road trip from Colorado to North Carolina and down to Alabama and Texas, seeing all the family and friends we could squeeze in along the way. Our total for that trip was 63 hours of driving time. This road trip up to Alaska would be almost 60 hours one way. That's what Aaron calls "epic."

Our first two days felt like a pretty normal road trip--driving all day and stopping to enjoy the hospitality of family. Monday we went into new roadtrip territory--leaving the country.

Monday, June 20
220 miles, 5 hours
After stopping at one of our old favorite stores, WinCo, to buy some roadtrip and camping food, and then stopping in the last town in the US to find a thrift store where we could get Aaron a couple shirts to wear to work since we had accidentally packed them all in the moving truck, we decided that a good goal for the day would be to just get through Canadian customs, drive past Vancouver, and find a lovely spot to camp.

Getting through customs proved to be quite an ordeal. Since my husband is a hunter with very strong protective instincts we'll just say, he could not fathom camping in the Canadian wilderness without some form of protection from bears. Of course he declared this at customs, which apparently made them concerned that he was stashing other things in there, so they did a full search of the vehicle. Meaning they take everything out and you have to pack it all back in.

At least the kids got a break from the car while we tried to get them to sit respectably in the customs waiting area with only the Canadian News to divert their attention. We couldn't even use the bathroom without express permission from the officer handling our family, and since he was busy, we got to wait.

Once in Canada, we soon discovered that it is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, Washington was lovely, too, but things seemed to get more stunning as we drove further north. I was really impressed with the city of Vancouver. It is a HUGE city that just had a really cool feel. Something about it reminded me of the city of Luzern, Switzerland. I liked it a lot. Note to self: when we have more time and money, go back and take a vacation in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Our trusty roadtrip guide, the Milepost, described the awesome scenic route called the Sea to Sky highway. The views were stunning, with mountains jutting right out of the sea.

These sea to sky views also reminded me of some places in the Alps.
We saw an awesome campsite right on the water, but it was full. Just a mile or two up the road, there was another campsite. It was definitely dinnertime and we were ready to get our campstove cooking and set up camp for the night.
This campground was on the other side of the road, so it drew the mountain climbing bunch rather than the seafaring crowd. This mountain face, Stawamus Chief, is apparently the second largest granite monolith in the world. It seemed to be some sort of granola mecca. I don't know if I've ever seen so many dreadlocks in one place. The surrounding view was awesome, but the campsites were basically a gravel spot for your car another spot about the same size for your tent, right next to the next campers. Not much place for the kids to roam free, but luckily Xander and Elodie were great at exploring close by. I just had to hold Hazel until she was ready for bed.
We fired up our sweet propane stove and whipped up some cheesy rice with broccoli and cauliflower in no time. Delicious food, gorgeous view, the best people in the world--needless to say, we all had a great time! Aaron set up the tent for him and Xander and Elodie. We decided it would help more people sleep if I just slept in the car with Hazel.

Tuesday, June 21
300 miles, 7 hours

A little past William's Lake, we were ready to cook some dinner and enjoy the evening. We found a quaint little country campsite behind a mom and pop general store where there was plenty of grass for the kids to run around. I've never been a huge fan of hot dogs, so I whipped up some spinach soup concoction that Aaron affectionately called "Skunk Soup." Yes, I did throw in the rest of the road trip carrot sticks that had been sitting in a cooler since we left Denver (my father passed on his complete inability to waste food, even if it may be on the verge of rotten), but I was very careful not to put in the "skunky" ones, as Aaron dubbed them when he unexpectedly bit into one earlier that day on the road. Skunk Soup was actually pretty tasty, but with a name like that, Xander and Elodie weren't too keen on trying it, so the rest of the fam enjoyed their fire-roasted dogs and left all the nutrients for me to enjoy!
Hazel LOVED the chance to stretch.
She was ecstatic to have room to roll.
Wednesday, June 22
600 miles, 13 hours

We didn't really mean to drive so far on Wednesday. We made it to Prince George around lunchtime and found an awesome park. The town had a great, family-friendly feel. I found myself really falling in love with British Columbia! The kids would have liked to stay at that park the rest of the day, but we managed to get them back in the confines of the car. They are really amazing travelers. After two nights of camping, it seemed like we had earned a shower and a night in a real bed. Plus, our Milepost warned that there were a lot of bears in the area, and Aaron didn't particularly want to risk camping with bears on the prowl. So when we got to Hazelton and a cluster of towns at the junction, we started looking for a Bed and Breakfast. After two nights of sleeping in the car with Hazel (trying to sleep, that is), I was really hoping for a place with an adjoining room or somewhere we could tuck Hazel where I was not in her line of sight. We discovered that our trusty Milepost didn't list every B&B, so we were just trying to keep our eyes peeled. We passed one--it was too late to make the turn, so we blew past. Not wanting to turn back, we decided we'd wait for the next. Whoops, we passed another one, I think. But there were still some more towns coming soon, according to the book, and we were all still feeling good, so we kept driving. Those towns had no B&B's, so we kept going, hoping to find just the perfect place. We got onto the Cassiar Highway, which turns out to be the most isolated stretch of road we encountered our whole trip. Mile after mile after mile there were gorgeous mountain views and amazing forests and not a sign of civilization beyond the paved road. No lodging for us. At nearly 10:00, we came to the Bell 2 Lodge. Not the quaint B&B I had been hoping for, but a very nice-looking, new lodge with lots of cute little cabins. It did not look cheap, but since it was the only lodging we'd seen in 2 hours, we didn't have much room for bargain hunting. There was only one room left, and they were about to close for the night. The lady said she thought there was another place about 1 1/2 further down the road. So yes, they could charge us whatever they wanted. And we paid it, grateful for a safe, comfortable place to sleep!
Once again, Hazel was so excited to have room to MOVE!
The lodge was really nice and the beds were super comfy. While there was only one room (it was a 4-plex cabin type thing), the bathroom was large enough for Hazel to sleep in, so we got a pretty good night's rest. The fact that it was still broad daylight when we arrived at nearly 10:00 sure helped make the extended drive that day very doable. And the blackout curtains did their job nicely.
Thursday, June 23
460 miles, 11 hours

Not too far from Bell 2 Lodge, we saw this little guy. When we stopped to get a picture, he came right up to our car. I guess Elodie wanted a better view, so she started rolling down her window. Aaron kinda freaked out 'cause the bear was right by her window and started to try to put its nose in the car. Aaron got her window up in a flash and took away her roll-down power. Then the bear mosied around to the back and tried to climb on the tailgate hitch haul thing, so Aaron decided it was time to drive outta there.
For lunch, we stopped by a beautiful river and cooked up the most delicious Ramen noodles and leftover hot dogs ever. We must have been really hungry. Or maybe it had just been too long since our last hot meal. Breakfast was not included at the lodge, and I couldn't bring myself to spend $40 on breakfast after what we'd just dumped on lodging, so we shook up some powdered milk and had cold cereal for breakfast. And with the late arrival the night before, we had eaten roadtrip munchies for dinner.
I wanted to cook up some tasty tortilla soup, but it started raining right after we stopped to cook. Too hungry to be deterred, we opted for the much faster Ramen noodles. Ramen has never tasted better. And gratefully, it was just a quick mountain thunderstorm, so it was over before the food was ready. Again, what a gorgeous, peaceful setting. These leisurely meal breaks were some of the highlights of our trip.
Later that day, after making it to a new territory, the Yukon, and a new Highway, the Alaska Highway, Xander got to learn what a Totem Pole is.
In all of our days on the road, we had not yet stopped at any type of restaurant to eat. After seeing the bear, Aaron had determined that he did not want to cook dinner at the same place we camped, and we had already stopped to cook lunch, so it seemed like the perfect time to go out for dinner. Here's the classy joint we ended up with--Wolf It Down. Yes, that is the name of the restaurant. The food was overpriced and mediocre. Aaron and I agreed that the Ramen noodles at lunch tasted better. Ah well.
The day had been long and the night short, so in no time, Xander was asleep and Elodie ahd to go to the bathroom.
This was the next rest stop, complete with portapotty and informative signs about the native peoples of the area. of course the view in person was far more spectacular than my pathetic photography can capture.
The bear had made Aaron hesitant about camping in a tent that night, and the price of lodging made me hesitant about that option, so Aaron had the bright idea that we could lay down the seats in the Beast and all camp in the car. What fun! Well, if we were going to sleep in the car, there was no sense in stopping. The kids would be sleeping in the car either way. It was still daylight and we were still feeling chipper, so why stop? At around 11:00, we found a campsite and pulled in. Aaron rearranged the car and we all tried to sleep. Xander and Elodie thought it was pretty fun at first. Too fun. How are you supposed to just fall asleep when it's still light and you're all squished in there like a party? It was really hard for everyone to be quiet enough for Hazel to fall asleep. And it was super hot and stuffy with all of us breathing and the sun shining in, but the cloud of mosquitos outside prevented us from opening the windows. Did I mention that it was a little squishy? Somehow, Elodie fell asleep and said she slept great, but Aaron, Xander and I kept rolling into each other. And hazel kept waking up, of course. By 5:00 in the morning, we were done trying to sleep. There was nothing to do but get back on the road. We had planned 8 days to make the epic drive so we could take it easy and just enjoy it, but we somehow accidentally kept doing 11 hour days.

Friday, June 24
450 miles, 10 1/2 hours

Our stop at Kluane Lake was the highlight of the day. We stopped for lunch and cooked ourselves up a nice pot of spaghetti with green beans on the side. I tell you what, with the help of that camp kitchen set-up you see above, we ate well on this trip!
Fearless Xander did not care that this gigantic lake is in the Yukon and thus FREEZING. He had a lovely little wade.
The kids totally loved the beach time. While we were enjoying our leisurely lunch break, a tour bus from Alaska stopped there and we got to chat with a bunch of retired couples who were on a sea and land tour of Alaska, doing a tour bus loop from Anchorage, up to Fairbanks, down through the Yukon and back to Alaska at Skagway, and then on a cruise ship back up to Anchorage. Something like that anyway. It sounded pretty cool. And they got to enjoy our darling children and our unusual antics of cooking spaghetti on the side of the road.
Since we had gotten such an early start on the day and those summer days are so very long, Aaron just couldn't wait to get into Alaska itself. We danced and sang around this sign. It felt like victory! Alaska or bust? We'll take Alaska, thanks. No busting for us! Oh yeah!
We could have made it to Delta Junction that night, but we had no where to stay there since we had told our landlords we'd meet them early Saturday afternoon, not late Friday night. I kinda wanted to get our family a cleaned up a bit before making our first impression on our new landlords, and we definitely needed a good night's rest after the car camping attempt, so we found a B&B in Tok (where Aaron will sometimes be filling in the gaps at the clinic, about 2 hours from Delta) that had a 2 bedroom cabin available. Xander and Elodie got to sleep in the loft room, which they found pretty cool. And Hazel had the family room all to herself for the night. We had a bed and a door so Hazel couldn't see me. Wow. It was luxurious. And since it was a B&B, we had an amazing home-cooked breakfast of blueberry pancakes and eggs and reindeer sausage and fruit. Fantastic. Cheap? Not so much. But it's all relative--at least it was less than Bell 2 Lodge!
Saturday, June 25
100 miles, 2 hours
Yes, it was the end of June and this river was just thawing! Welcome to Alaska, right?

May I just add that my amazing husband drove the ENTIRE way. I just got to sit back and enjoy the ride. And entertain three darling children. :)