Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas in Ice


We decided to stop by the North Pole to see what Santa was up to this Christmas season. We saw Santas of all sizes—there’s this one that’s almost as tall as the trees that you see from the highway; Hazel really liked the one that was just her size.


And Xander still did not like the friendly one whose lap kids are supposed to sit on to tell him what you want for Christmas. He has never been brave enough to go say hi to Santa in all of his years of Christmases. Usually we don’t push it. But this year we were in the North Pole, after all, and we thought asking him to be a good example for his little siblings by smiling for a picture wasn’t too much to ask. You don’t have to talk to the guy or sit on his lap, but can you please try not to teach your younger siblings that Santa is scary? I guess not.


The kids definitely preferred the reindeer to Santa.


Especially Hazel, who didn’t seem to mind the cold if she could just stay and watch those reindeer.


If only we had been a bit more prepared for the cold. The forecast (which is usually at least 10 or 15 degrees warmer than what it actually turns out to be) predicted temps around 0, which seemed lovely since it’s been hovering around 40 below for the last week or so. As we were arriving in North Pole, a bank sign just off the highway said it was –14. Hey, that’s decent; kids still go out to recess at that temperature. But when we were looking at those reindeer, it felt a lot colder. If only I had realized how much of the fun was outdoors, I would have taken the time to put my snowpants, which I had brought with me just in case, on. And how could I have forgotten Hazel’s snowpants and long underwear? Or neglected to remind Elodie to bring her thick snow mittens instead of her fleece gloves. What a terrible Alaskan mother. Because visiting oversized stuffed arctic animals and browsing the Christmas gift shop is only fun for so long.



Luckily, I have great, tough Alaskan children. Elodie is super tough about the cold, but before she could even get one of the sleds down the ice slide at Christmas in Ice, she was in tears because her hands were freezing.


Poor little Hazel was so tough about the cold as we dragged her around looking at ice sculptures. She didn’t complain a bit until we got back to the car. I think it took her 2 hours for her poor little legs to warm up! (Oh man, I feel even worse when I look at this picture and see a little bare ankle on this poor skinny toddler!!) When we got back to the car, I checked the weather app on my phone and it said that the current temp in North Pole was –29!! Good thing we thought it was –14 or we might have been smart and missed out on a LOT of fun. We really did have a blast. IMG_0066

I can’t believe this picture was taken just before lunch. It really does seem lighter in person. Isn’t it crazy that this is as about as high as the sun gets on a winter day?!


We spent some time in the warm-up tent where they had beautifully-frosted cookies and hot cocoa. As well as hot dogs and chips. All for free! We totally scored that it happened to be free day at Christmas in Ice! That made it all the more enjoyable for a tight-wad like me!


The warm up tent was nice, but gratefully Aaron came up with a solution for Elodie’s hands of ice that allowed us to continue to enjoy the wonder of the many sculptures of ice. She just needed to stick her hands in her armpits and lose the use of her arms!


It was so fun to enjoy the Christmas season as a family in this uniquely Alaskan way!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Extreme Enough

Wow, the cold got so bitter that they actually canceled school! I can hardly believe it! If only I had checked and discovered that fact before I yanked my kids from their cozy beds and sent them off to the bus that wasn't coming, we could have had a really cozy, relaxing morning. I did check our thermometer, and it was at -42, as it was all day yesterday, so school being cancelled didn't occur to me. They cancel at -50 around here. Apparently the official temp in town was cold enough, if only I had heard the message the assistant superintendent left at 5:50 this morning. Gratefully I didn't walk the kids to the bus as I've done every other day. That would have been seriously dangerous! Aaron is usually at work by the time we leave, but he was catching a few extra minutes of sleep to make sure he'd knocked out the virus that kept him home yesterday, so he took the kids to the bus on his way to work. And waited and waited, making him later and later for work, until a friend drove by down the highway and told him the news. I tell ya, yesterday while I was waiting for almost 10 minutes for the bus after school at -42, getting utterly chilled to the bone, I was wondering why the cancellation cutoff wasn't 40 below! So hooray for a day to snuggle by the fire!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Back in the Arctic Groove

It seems that for the first time since Max joined our family, we're starting to get back into a family routine. I'm loving it! We get the kids off to school and then we get to enjoy the quiet of some little kid time with just Hazel and Max. Hazel really seems to be thriving with the extra attention that entails. Max has gotten back on a baby-friendly schedule and is a good sleeper again. He's even making some progress in the eating mush department.

Walking the kids to the bus stop at 33 below, however, does still feel a bit more like an ordeal than routine. I think even that is on its way to feeling like just another normal day in the arctic. (OK, subarctic, but close enough!) Wearing long underwear? Routine. Bundling to the hilt to go anywhere? Routine. Checking the wood stove to see if I need to shove in another log? Pretty routine. Going outside to get more wood when our stash gets low? Ordeal. I guess life as a frontierswoman is not quite routine yet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Max on the Move

While we were in Colorado, Max moved beyond rolling as his means of locomotion. He developed a unique technique that Uncle Morgan coined “the corkscrew.” I believe Grandma was the first to witness it. When Aaron (finally) got back from training and saw it, he said it was similar to Army “mad drills” (OK, I stand corrected, he just informed me that they’re actually called “mat drills” because they’re done on a mat, but I thought he said “mad drills” and I think that has a nice ring to it so I’m sticking to it) in which you twitch across the floor using core muscles and not your limbs. Max’s “corkscrew” involved lunging towards an object, doing a 3/4 roll, lunging in the opposite direction, rolling, and thereby somehow propelling himself forward. It involves plenty of face-planting on the carpet.

(Imagine that my internet is actually capable of uploading a cute video of him doing this.)

Shortly after arriving in Alaska, Max moved on to the Army crawl and occasional bear crawl, soon followed by the standard hands and knees crawl, which he has now mastered quite nicely.


He is especially good at noticing wood debris consistently dropped on the floor from hauling wood inside and chucking it in the wood stove. (This picture was taken just before we got the wood stove installed so the poor baby had to wear a hat inside to keep warm. We are far cozier now.) Aaron even has to saw wood inside sometimes--family time and warmth are both at a premium—so wood particles abound! Good thing vacuuming is my favorite form of housework!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Army Man

To make a long story short (which is not my natural tendency),
We moved to Alaska.
Army guys from Church recruited Aaron.
He joined the Alaska Army National Guard.
He signed orders for full-time active duty deployed status at Ft. Greeley.
They shipped him south to Texas for Medical Officer Training School for 3 months.
We flew south to Colorado while he's gone.
Saying good-bye was super hard.
I am gaining a real, personal appreciation for the sacrifice of the armed forces and their families.
 November 7th can't come soon enough!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sisterly Love

She still can't get enough of her little brother.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

This is Where We Live

Melayna arrived in Alaska on her birthday, barely. There was only an hour left of her day to celebrate with her, so we headed to the Chena River in Fairbanks, where the airport is, and enjoyed some Raspberry Delight and the Midnight Sun. This picture was taken between 11:30 and midnight, just to give you an idea of the daylight we enjoy around here.
We spent the next few days showing Melayna how we live here in Delta. This is a pretty good view of our new "cabin." From the outside, the corrugated metal may give it more of a shack feel than a cabin feel, but the wood and angled ceilings inside give it an Alaskan cabin ambiance. We liked that. And we really liked the fact that rent was almost half the cost of our other place, so we moved just a couple weeks before Melayna arrived.
Of course we had to show Melayna our new-found skills of authentic ravioli making.

We enjoyed the gorgeous, drawn-out sunsets just after midnight. Then there's a really light dusk/dawn for a couple hours before the drawn-out sunrise. The light in the summer is just surreal. I'm still not used to it and do a terrible job of getting my kids to bed at any kind of reasonable hour in the summer.

Clearwater Creek is a beautiful spot in Delta, especially when the wild roses are blooming.

Hazel insisted on hiking the path next to the creek herself. It was more of a stroll than a hike, so we went at a toddler's pace.

After a gorgeous sunny day, we headed to Donnelly Dome just south of town for a hike, at which point it began to rain. Gratefully we brought the hiking backpack (and Aaron) along for this hike. When we arrived and weren't sure which dirt turnout was the best for hiking, Melayna accused it of not being a real mountain or a real hike, just because it didn't have signs and official trails and real parking lots. Yeah, this is just a hike for locals, I think, not tourists!

Being novices to this trail, we unknowingly took the more difficult, nearly-straight-up-the-incline path. When wet rocks were sliding beneath our feet, we decided that it was a hike not well-suited to a 3-month-old hanging out on the front, so we sent the little mountain goats ahead and waited. Just after we stopped, the "trail" was even steeper so they wisely chose to return to us.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed a beautiful view and the rain passed and we were all happy hikers. The next evening at baseball practice, which happened to be summer solstice day, we were chatting about Donnelly and how to get to the more family friendly trail when we discovered that the Delta tradition is to hike Donnelly on summer solstice and to get to the top around sunset (at 12:22, I believe). Next year.

Here's our yard, covered in the rare wildflower known as dandelions. Just behind that forested area is a path cleared over the buried Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It's a cool spot and a great place for walks.

The Buffalo Center Drive-In is our only fast food restaurant in town, and it is only open in the summer. Yes, you can eat buffalo there, raised on local buffalo farms. We also have a heard of wild buffalo that roam in our vicinity, I've heard tell, but never seen 'em with my own eyes.

And here's where Aaron has been spending most of his time since moving to Delta.

Xander LOVED playing little league baseball, coach pitch. He is hands down the most enthusiastic kid out there, and it makes him so fun to watch. He is also a really consistent batter, even as one of the youngest on the team. He made us proud!

Our new place is just a couple miles from Quartz Lake, so we headed over for a picnic one evening. We were running a bit late for dinner and didn't even leave the house until 8:30. I tell ya, the midnight sun messes with my mind.

Yes, Xnader is holding a fish head and skeleton, but don't worry, he assured me he wasn't actually toughing it, just the line that was connected to it. Ugh. Dontcha love the kids mud boots? An Alaskan must, I tell ya.

We were moving on Aaron's birthday, so I wasn't able to make his standing birthday request then, especially since we haven't been able to find Gyoza wrappers in Alaska. We had to whip out our pasta cranker and make our own wrappers, adding another step to an already labor-intensive cooking project. With Melayna and Xander to help, we were able to crank out a mean batch of potstickers sometime between sunset and sunrise.

Those are some of our favorite things to do in and around our little town. Wanna come visit?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Denali: The Journey

Good thing Melayna came to see us. We needed a reason to take an explore-the-Last-Frontier vacation. Our first destination was Denali National Park. We decided to take "the scenic route" (as if every route in Alaska isn't scenic) along the Denali highway, 130ish miles of mostly dirt and gravel. The whole region is gorgeous, so we stopped plenty along the way to enjoy the journey. Aaron wanted to show us Rainbow Mountain where he had enjoyed a campout and hike with the scouts. Unfortunately, the hike was a bit longer than we'd bargained for on a pitstop, so we didn't actually make it to rainbow mountain.
But we had a great time finding cool rocks, some small enough to collect and others big enough to lounge on.
Just at the end of the pavement on the Denali Highway are The Tangled Lakes. Again, we barely dipped our toes into that vicinity and we're excited to come back and explore it more thoroughly someday.
Wanna come visit next summer so we'll have a good reason to do the Tangle Lakes justice? Don't forget your mud boots. They are a must around here. I was wishing I had a pair. (Now I do!)
The views from the highway were breathtaking and impossible to capture in a snapshot.
We stopped to whip out the trusty camp stove and cook up some Bou Stew when a little rain came our way. Good thing Max is a real Alaskan. Arguably the only true Alaskan among us.
Xander, Melayna, and Elodie enjoyed skipping rocks on the raging Clearwater River. And I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that no one fell in! Whew!
Back in the car, we wre entertained by cute faces in the back seats. He was smiling when Melayna took this picture; oh, the camera delay. She swears she never saw him make this face, but I'm glad she caught it. It's a real winner.
Whoops, it looks like she also caught a certain young man bopping his dear sister on the head. Good thing she's being a good sport about it! Really, they are best friends and I am so glad they have each other.
Look, Hazel can do it, too!
Then, we camped at this gorgeous place called Brushkana Campground near another raging river and had delicious food and excellent company plus THOUSANDS, possibly MILLIONS of mosquitos which apparently prevented all picture taking. None of us had ever seen such SWARMS of mosquitos in our whole lives, and most in our company decided to lock themselves in their tents for the duration. But we learned from our experience and Aaron went wild the next day buying mosquito tennis racket zappers, more deep woods bug spray, repellant candles, and (eventually) a mosquito net for his head. Here's a view of Denali National Park right by the entrance.
My favorite part was hiking together as a family. It was so funny to be hiking there after living in the interior. A lot of our hike through the subarctic taiga looked like hiking at home, except with real, labeled, well-maintained trails and lots of people from lots of different countries. And we crossed train tracks and heard trains--come on, that's pretty civilized, right?
I found it kind of odd that Denali National Park, which has the reputation for being such a remote wilderness, felt so much more civilized than hiking back home in Delta. Aaron wasn't nearly as worried about "bear protection" because there were people everywhere! Of course we were on the family friendly hikes right at the entrance to the park, not backpacking deep into the unknown. Speaking of family-friendly, check out this real man. What a dad! One of the best parts of vacation was getting to all that time with this guy, relaxed and in his element.

I am so impressed with these hikers. Yeah, they occasionally need a dum-dum (lovingly selected at the store by Hazel who managed to open the bag and eat one while I was distracted) to find their happy hiker selves again, but overall, when the terrain is interesting and tough, they are go-go-go way ahead of the "grown-ups," as Elodie was wont to call us. "OK, grown-ups, watch out, the path is kind of steep right here." The hardest part was often getting them to wait for us!
Oh yeah, just check out The Denali Dahle's. We are at least as tough as we look.
The hike down to horseshoe lake was great. Then at the bottom, we get an added bonus: there was a really cool beaver dam to explore. We didn't see any beavers though, so Xander filled in for us. Although as we were walking back up the trail away from the lake, we thought we saw a beaaver way down below in the water, but it turned out to be a moose's head.
Such a fun group!
I'm pretty sure hiking is my favorite form of exercise.
That night, we opted for more sleep by renting two of these cute little cabins.

This moose mama and her baby were kind enough to pose for a photo shoot. We were kinda hoping to see a bear, while we were in the car, but I'm glad we never did because then maybe we would have felt more hesitant about getting out of the car.

Max was such a trooper, just hanging out on another hike.
The kids love hikes that end in water. Elodie loved searching for skipping rocks and Xander and Aaron loved throwing them. I was pretty impressed with their skipping skills, sometimes even skipping over a gravel bar into the next channel of the Savage River.
Melayna got a little taste of mushing. Hazel LOVED the dogs. Hands down her favorite part of Denali. "Ma doddies, ma doddies!" (Translation: more doggies!)
Lava was not a nice dog. After fighting with his partner when he was teamed up, I was trying to catch a picture of his evil stare, but he whipped out with this rude little stunt. Yikes, don't cross him!
We felt like we did everything we wanted to in Denali, except see Denali! Blasted localized cloud cover. Denali is the "real" name of Mt. McKinley. You'd think it's be easy to see a mountain that big, like you couldn't miss it. Oh, we missed it, and we tried diligently. Well, we didn't take the 12 hour bus ride to Wonder Lake down the 90 mile road that requires all children and infants remain in carseats the whole time. There is no look apologetic enough to give all the retired couples trying to enjoy the journey of a lifetime as you traipse onto the bus with four wee ones in tow. We're going to enter the lottery some year for the privilege of driving our own vehicle all the way down the park road. Oh yeah, you know you wanna come visit that fall!
I'd like to give a final thanks to The Beast for making this trip possible! We love our Alaskan Adventure Mobile!