Category Archives: Life in Alaska

Barefoot at the Beach in Alaska

Ahhhh – Finally the weather is warming up!   Of course, it might not stay warmed up.  The last couple summers have been unpleasantly gray and chilly with temperatures in the 40’s, but in the Right Now, things are wonderfully fantastic and we live in a phenomenal place.

This morning I took the kids down to the beach to play with a friend.  Our kiddos have never really been to the beach.  I mean, they HAVE, but not as Big kids which they are now at 33 months and 20 months.  The sun was out.  The wind was non-existent.  Small pieces of sea ice floated lazily in the tide.  What could be better!

At first they didn’t really know what to do which makes sense, but after checking out some rocks and having a little snack, they relaxed right into the morning.  Little boy took some time out from his conversation with the other kids to talk on his rock cell phone.  It makes me smile and laugh at how all important the cell phone is in their lives.  Everything becomes a phone and the funny thing is that we don’t really role model that.  Something about phones is just Very Grown Up and Fun – even at the beach.

Little girl did lots of digging, first with a trowel her friend brought, and then with the end of the dog leash.  She was caught up in the sweet world of just being in the moment.

A gloriously nice morning, followed by a lunch out with friends, a nap in a cool quiet bedroom and more time outdoors.  It was a good day.

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Camping in Alaska (With Kids)

My memories of camping take me back to the Virginia woods which were dark and damp.  The tents would be covered in daddy-longlegs spiders and the girls in my girl scout group would be awed by their sheer numbers and size but were not daunted by their spiderness.  What did daunt us was The Latrine (an outhouse). We would go there ALWAYS with a partner and we would shine our flashlights all around the inside including the toilet seat and just beneath the toilet seat to check for the non daddy-longlegs variety of spiders and/or dead bodies or dead body parts.

This was an activity of great drama and tension and fear and exhilaration – all the best of modern tv in our own real lives.

We performed this activity with squeals and screams and giggles and also outrage when our partner closed the door on us or turned off the flashlight.  Camping in Virginia was nothing like camping in Alaska.

In Alaska, you don’t need a flashlight at all during the summer.  When you leave your tent in the middle of the night, you can clearly see if there are spiders or bears or rattlesnakes or other scary creatures.  Even better, there aren’t very many spiders (up where we live) and there are no snakes that I know of.   There are, however, a lot of mosquitoes and there is the true chance of an encounter with a non-friendly bear, but somehow, in the light, things aren’t so ominous as those dark summer woods of my youth.

Except that now I have kids.

We took them camping this weekend for the first time.  We expected it to be an “Intro to Camping” kind of thing, and along with our newly realized awareness that we need to Adjust the Expectations, we went into the outdoors feeling pretty much like we could embrace any and all glitches.

We forgot about the light.

Our kids did great hauling stuff from the car.  They did great helping to set up the tent and unroll their sleeping bag.  They ate their dinner, explored the area and we went on an evening walk.  The weather was phenomenal and the mosquitoes were few and soon it was 9:00 and very much our kids’ bed time.  We got them into their pj’s and read them books and tucked them into the sleeping bags and all was good.

They lay in their bags and looked quietly at books.

But they didn’t nod off.

We double curtain their windows at home to make a semi-dark bedroom at night.  The tent doesn’t have that ability.  Nine thirty it might have been, but inside that tent, it was as good as five.  Our kids did not fall asleep.  And the longer they did not fall asleep, the tireder they became and the more difficult it became for them to fall asleep.  It was a nasty little spiral of a catch-22 and little boy’s eyes became wider and wider in their frantic wide-awake-exhaustion of not being able to relax.

Of course, it was not just the light that was the problem.  Sleeping in a tent in a new sleeping bag is exciting stuff and also very new stuff – definitely not the cozy warm routine of home, but boy, last night, I remember looking at the tent walls and just wishing they would darken up some and help out this process.  (The birds did not help out either.  I don’t think they every even considered going to sleep.)

Around midnight both kids finally did fall asleep and all was relatively good until 4 am when (still light outside) little boy woke up and nothing felt right.  He was oh-so-tired and oh-so-distressed and I was thankful there were no other people camping nearby.  Nobody was camping nearby because it’s still FREEZING (literally) out at night and while little boy was not freezing himself, he was not toasty roasty warm and everything just felt wrong.

But finally, after almost an hour of trying songs and stories and cuddling, he climbed into my mummy bag and asked to sleep on top of my tummy.  So he did, just like when he was a baby and it was sweet and we both warmed right up, but let me tell you – sleeping on my back with my little big boy on my stomach and chest does not make for a comfortable sleep!

Eventually we rolled to the side and he slept in till nine.  We did too.  It was a successful night.

And the next best part was that as we dressed and stretched and felt the warmth of the new day, our friends opened up their back door (for we were on their property out of town) and said that coffee was ready.   We all smiled and went inside for a great breakfast of pancakes with tundra blueberries from last season and plenty of Kona coffee brewed in a French Press.

And after that, we went back to our tent, dressed in our rain pants and boots and trekked down to the river before picnicking on salami and cheese and attempting naps.

Little girl fell right asleep in the now-very-warm tent.

Little boy fell asleep TWO hours later.

It was a long two hours trying to get him to relax and fall asleep.  He had trouble falling asleep as a baby and we got to re-witness that again.  But we knew that if he did take a nap, he’d have an easier time doing it again in the future so we stuck to our guns and just kept hanging out.

And now we are home with pizza for dinner and a very proud little boy and little girl who think they did a marvelous job camping and seem to be open to going out again next weekend if the weather allows.

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Adjusting the Expectations For Success

We live in Alaska, and this year we experienced a record cold snap.  I took the kids outside almost every day, but usually it was bundled up in jackets and snow pants in the stroller to go run errands or play at the gym.   A while back I read a post that referenced the idea that kids should be playing an hour a day outside.  That thought gnawed at me.

It gnawed at me because I agree with it.  I loved playing outside as a kid.  Of course, I think our kids were getting lots of great play time inside and were not deprived of opportunities to climb, move things, dance, flop, jump and explore.  But there is something special about being outside and learning to turn pine cones into people or build trails for ants or….

However, when we took our kids outside, it was always a disappointment.

Last year on a beautiful winter day we took our kids sledding.  Sledding.  Very fun outdoor activity.  The baby girl put up with it.  The toddler boy (then one and a half) liked it for about one sled ride and then was Done.  His hands were cold.  The wind was cold.  He wanted no more of it.   That was fine because we knew that learning to love the outdoors would take lots of positive experiences over time.  We packed our kids back into the car to discover our car didn’t start.

Some nice friendly guys in a truck said they’d tow us back to town with a rope.  That’s the kind of thing that you do here in Alaska.  We agreed, but it was a scary experience for me imagining our power steering brakes not working fast enough and us crashing or going over a ditch pulling the truck backwards with us.  (We got home just fine.)

But, what we learned, was that every time we went outside, what we expected from our foray into the wilderness just didn’t come to fruition.

We pictured glorious blue sky days.  We got them.  Along with freezing cold winds.  We pictured children playing in the snow.  We got that too, for all of five minutes.  We pictured skiing.  Our boy skied about ten feet (maybe twenty if we’re telling long tales).  Everything we did was hit with a major dose of reality.

So we adjusted our expectations.  Instead of taking the kids out for a hike, we began taking them out for outdoor time to do nothing.  Last weekend my husband and I each went out for a run in the morning.  In the afternoon we took the kids on a “hike”.  We drove to the local mountain, parked the car and began walking up.  We expected to just hang out by the car while the kids played on the dirt road, but the kids took off up the hill!  We followed.  We threw snowballs.  We poked at Musk Ox poop.  We walked through puddles.  We spent a good twenty minutes going UP and near the turn around point, my husband said, “I’m glad I ran this morning because I don’t feel like I need to hike or get exercise for me.”  It was exactly how I felt too.

And in the past month as the weather has finally gotten near the unfreezing point, we have taken our kids out more and more frequently to just PLAY in the outside.  It’s still hard because the puddles and streams are icy cold, the snow on the ground is still there, the mud is sticky and scares my little girl when it pulls at her boot.  The winds are still chilly, but more and more our kids are “feeling their oats” and having fun in the great old outdoors.

Today, we hiked on the tundra and sat in the sweet lemony smell of the Aiyu (Labrador Tea) and ate salami and cheese and listened to the birds and found some old bones and saw some arctic flowers beginning to bloom.  Both the kids wore their backpacks and traipsed over the soft cushioning wet ground just like true big kid hikers!

(But was I ever thankful that we weren’t THAT far from the stroller when we began our slow trek back)

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Pursuing the Horizon

Sticks and Ernie - What else is needed!

Yesterday and the day before and heck, almost every day since I stopped going to work and began staying home with my kiddos, I’ve been feeling behind. I don’t quite know how the heck I fit it all in before, because I sure as heck am not fitting it all in now.

I also really want to take advantage of being able to be home with our kids which, for me, means getting order into our home and creating a rich warm fun environment for our kids.

Instead, I feel further behind than every before.

“Leave the dishes. Don’t worry about the mess. Focus on your children for they will only be this age once.” These are the messages I hear and I agree with, but…

Can’t I have it all? I was reminded of this poem last night:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.
                      – Stephen Crane

I’m not great at keeping the house clean. A trail of mess appears in my wake. My husband and children are not any better.

I love new ideas and the prospect of new projects, but it’s difficult to carry things out with two curious kiddos.

I love getting involved in projects with my kids and having fun exploring the world with them and trying new things which sometimes brings more mess into the home.

I feel better when my home is picked up and clean (not super sterile clean, just looking clean). I’m more creative when things feel more spacious. I took to heart Maria Montessori’s messages about beautiful environments when I was a student in a Montessori school and loved every second of it.

I know my children are only going to be this wonderful delightful age just once, but can’t I still have it all?

April is coming to an end mighty darn fast. I’ve managed to accomplish a few of the goals I set out for myself like “spend lots of time outside” and “read a book”, but I also managed to forget the ones that irk me the most.

IF ONLY I could get five solid hours to work on the paper tasks that need to get done and the Christmas cards (from December 2011) that I want to finish. IF ONLY!

But the weather has been so beautiful and friends have been so bountiful and kids have been so fun that the month has just flown by. Ay ay ay – This week, though I have big hopes and plans. Big Hopes. Alas…

The weather is sunny.

The puddles are fun.

The roads are clear for walking.

The tundra is starting to show.

But I still keep thinking that I’ll fit it all in. I’ll whip the house into shape bright and early and then take the kids out and then somehow fit all the rest into the day in the afternoon and evening while my kids laugh and play around me.

It hasn’t worked out yet.

But I still have hopes. One week left of April. I’m focused. I’m gonna try to do it all!

Transporting Animals

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Racing into Spring

This is our dog racing over the frozen Bering Sea.  Taking him for a walk where he can run always feels good and is a wonderful tonic for a bad mood.  He doesn’t grumble or stumble or talk of achy bones or the ills of the world.  He just runs full force with a big goofy happy smile on his face.

If you lift up your arms like the starter at a drag car race, he’ll come flying towards you and past you as fast as he can.  He knows we think he’s super amazing for being so speedy.

We went for a walk today while the kids napped at home.  It’s not too often that I can go out for a walk with just him and it felt a bit like “old times”.  While on the ice on this gray overcast day, I remembered a post on blogher by Victoria’s_View where she took photos of a glacier near her.  I took out my iphone and snapped photos of the sea ice.

They didn’t come out anything like the real deal.  In fact, they came out looking like a dingy version of a 1000 piece white on white jigsaw puzzle.  I trashed them.

But then walking back onto land, we noticed that there is the start of The Beach.  Actual sand is starting to appear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a block away, we spied a raven’s nest on the side of an old building.  A raven’s nest!  I love ravens.  They stay here in the winter and play in the wind and somehow manage to survive the crazy cold.  I read a study that ravens can remember people’s faces and I like to think that they recognize me and the kids when we’re walking around town.  We always say hi to them and I always wish we had something to feed to them, but mainly we just send them good cheer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was gray out today, but it didn’t dampen my hopes for a gorgeous spring and summer.  I have such big plans to take the kids out onto the tundra to look for musk ox fur and berries and dirt and out on the beach to look for sea glass and old bones.  Last summer was just gray and cold.  Today was gray and cold, but still held such promise!!!

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The Outhouse

We have running water at our house. The majority of people do here in town, but outside of town there are those who do not. They use outhouses in the summer. Very good friends with an infant daughter live out of town and have running water, but no flush toilets.

I lived once in a cabin outside of Anchorage where I had an outhouse. It was rather wonderful to go traipsing down the trail with my dog to the outhouse. I sat with the door open and looked down the wooded hillside. My dog, a golden retriever, loved those moments because she got lots of ball fetching time. I’d sit and throw the ball and she’d race further down the hill and then come racing back up in seconds flat. Once she had a bit of a run in with a porcupine so she didn’t come back in seconds flat.

That was a stressful afternoon. I was scared she’d been eaten by a bear or gone running out to the road. But an hour or so after she disappeared she came hobbling up the hill, tennis ball in mouth and with a painful grin. I think as unpleasant experience as it was, it was also a bit thrilling.

I spent the rest of the evening extracting quills and she spent the evening sometimes gently mouthing me to say it hurt but she understood.

When the porcupine came to visit the cabin, she greeted him with glee. I put her inside.

We did have a bear come to visit once and that was a scary thing. The cabin had a door, but the window on the door was missing and any bear who wanted to could certainly get inside. I recalled the messages from the billboards at the nature trails and stood tall in the doorway of the cabin with my arms stretching out to the frame, used a deep voice, made myself as large as possible and said, “Bear. You are not welcome here. Please move on.” (I really did say please)

The billboards don’t actually suggest those words. They say don’t run and shriek.

The bear, a two year old (as if I really can gauge these things!) looked at me and then quickly turned and lumbered down the trail to the outhouse where he slowed down. I banged a pot to get him to keep going but he ignored me and hung out exploring the outhouse for quite a while. I think he might have known that I wasn’t really as gruff and threatening as I seemed.

So it was nice to have a dog go with me when I went to the outhouse.

Living in one of the rural communities in Alaska, I had running water and toilets except when the pipes broke or things froze up. And then we used honey buckets which are plastic five gallon buckets with toilet seats on them conveniently placed outside of your main living space. Many people use them. And there’s some etiquette involved.

If I had to just go to the bathroom, I might use the honey bucket at a good friend’s house. But if I had to GO, then I’d run home and use my own. In the village this is easy because everyone lives really close. We don’t live in the village anymore, and are now in a full fledged town.

A couple weeks ago we went to visit some friends who live outside of town who don’t have toilets. They have an outhouse they use during the summer and a honey bucket for the winter. They had a number of guests over and of course, if one has to GO they can’t just run home because they are a good 25 minute drive from town so in those cases, it’s okay to GO in their honey bucket.

Well, I had to GO. And I just felt awkward using their amenities so I put on my boots and decided to trek out through the snow to their outhouse. It was no easy task let me tell you!

It’s also not something I’d do without a dog, nor in the dark. There were moose tracks everywhere and moose, as cute as they are, are not to be reckoned with or startled. They’re big creatures with a bit of a kick. There was also a lot of snow.

It’s springtime so there wasn’t too much snow to get there, but there was enough for me to be thigh deep in places. I did get there, only to discover that the door was snowed in so I had to kick and shove and kick some more, but I got the door open and finally all was good.

No mosquitoes. Fresh air. My dog romping merrily around. Privacy and the joy of being outside on a gorgeous Alaskan day.

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Spring Time and Snow Boots

  One week ago, we got a phone call from a friend asking if the community Easter Egg hunt was still on.  It’s Alaska and regardless of the weather, we assumed it was, though things did look a bit blustery outside our window and we had already decided to forgo our family outing to the frozen ocean for a walk.

The temperatures were in the 20’s, but the wind was brisk.  There was snow coming down and the wind was blowing it back up making it hard to see.  It is Alaska and the Easter Egg hunt was not canceled.

We bundled up the kids and made sure they had on face masks and walked down to the local park.  Kids ages 0-2 are allowed to have parents helping.  I helped my little boy and my husband helped our little girl.  Both of our kids did great!  Of course, it’s not about doing great or not doing great, but it’s nice when you’re a wee one to understand what you’re doing and to have fun doing it.  They both did.

Little girl couldn’t always pick up the eggs with her awkwardly mitted hands, but she tried and sometimes was successful.  We still have a large bowl of hard boiled eggs in our fridge from their collection efforts.

And now, only one week later, it’s still below freezing in the mornings, but by early afternoon, the frozen streets are covered with puddles and rivers and ponds flowing down the drains that the city crews have been working on de-icing.

This morning we bundled the kids up in snow pants, snow boots, fleece jackets and outer jackets and went for a walk and a picnic down near the frozen sea.  This afternoon our kids only needed rubber boots and simple jackets to play in the water that lined the streets.

The snow in our back yard that went higher than our 6 foot fence (conveniently allowing our dog to walk over the fence) has receded a couple of feet in just a couple days.  The evaporation of the snow leaves the snow empty and hollow looking and a horrible drag to attempt to walk through as it collapses beneath your feet.

It’s still chilly, but the sun is bright and wide awake at seven am and still up at 11 pm and its warmth is stunningly powerful upon your skin.

Last night at 3 am when I got up briefly, I looked out the window and saw the stars and wished them well.  They’re like special friends that we won’t be seeing until the Fall.

Tomorrow morning we will again dress up in our winter gear to meet the 14 degree temperatures, but afternoon will be a whole different story.  Spring is possibly on the way.

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The More the Merrier

I’m an only child who enjoyed being an only child. I enjoyed my friends and playing outside for hours upon hours, but I also enjoyed the time I had by myself. On top of that, I was fairly shy and introverted so I valued my privacy.

When I moved to rural Alaska I was faced with the exact opposite. Many houses are very small and filled with people. When relatives come to visit they know they are welcome crashing on the sofa or sharing a bed. Siblings share sofas and mattresses and sometimes even floor space. When sitting on the sofa, teenagers pile right up next to me and younger kids sprawl on our laps. When traveling with kids for school trips, one sleeps on the same classroom floor as them – or in the same hotel room if traveling to the city. I remember being amazed that students actually know what their teacher’s pj’s look like. It never occurred to me growing up in cities that my teachers even had homes, or lives outside of school, let alone pj’s and specific flavors of toothpaste. It’s nice.

It’s different at first, but there’s a coziness and friendliness and acceptingness that I really have come to embrace.

Yet, I haven’t made any strides to change things in my own day to day life. I’m more open about saying, “come on by”, but I’m also happy when people call ahead so that I can prepare a bit. I like the idea of our house being filled with guests and visitors, but I also really like our quiet space as we get ready to go to bed. I’m torn with images of friendly vibrant busy homes and the quiet peaceful easiness of our own where our time is our own.

And amidst this ongoing conflict, I notice the messages I send to my kids.

Tonight I was lying on the sofa (still am) plum tired with only one eye managing to stay open at any time. Little girl was sitting in my lap and I was reading a book with her. Little boy ran up and asked if he could join in and as he climbed up to also sit on my lap, I heard myself saying some words I’d been saying quite a bit…”The More the Merrier”.

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Very Hot or Very Cold?

Writing Prompt: Would you rather have it be very hot or very cold outside?

A number of years ago I went to Italy during the month of July with a couple of friends. July is a pretty hot month in Italy and the place we stayed had no air conditioner. I can’t recall the heat, but I remember how we’d shut the shutters to keep the cooler air trapped in the apartment and we’d lounge in the chairs with our arms and legs splayed. I remember drinking gobs upon gobs of Coca-Cola to quench my thirst. I’m not sure why I wasn’t drinking water. Perhaps I was, but I remember that Coke was like nothing I’d ever had before.

It was so hot that it was just hard to get up and do things and get things done.

I remember the first time I experienced the heat of southern california. It was a dry heat and I discovered I LOVED to sit in the hot car after I’d been inside an air conditioned store and the car had been sitting out in the parking lot. It’s like an amazingly warm hot wrap.

I also remember how much fun I had running in the heat. Hmmm. I wonder if that’s the case. I do, though, remember the sensation of the sweat cooling me off when I ran quickly and enjoying that.

I love sitting next to the heater at night when I’m cold.

The heat can be a nice thing, but it can also just be too hot.

The cold, on the other hand is refreshing. If you dress appropriately then it’s a fantastic feeling to be outside with the chill of the air brushing against your exposed skin. It’s invigorating and full of energy.

I remember returning to Alaska after the summer in Italy and breathing in the cold chill of the early Fall and zipping up my jacket, loving every moment of my jeans and light wool hat.

I also remember a time when I was driving in California over a mountain pass in the winter and had to get out and put on chains. My hands got so cold they just hurt. I didn’t want to give up, but I really sometimes wonder if my hands are not as tough as other peoples’. The cold can be cold.

And when you’re sick or tired, the cold just seeps into your entire being and threatens to dampen the tiny flame of your core energy that is barely making it.

So which would I prefer? The very hot or the very cold?

I live in Alaska. I like a good storm. I love the energy of the Fall. But I’m tempted to say I’d prefer the heat.

Can I have the heat with plenty of clean cool water and no biting insects?
Can I have the cold with no concerns about heating sources?

Oh, I want to say the heat, but I think that’s because I’m tired of the cold. We have yet another round of cold windy weather here where I live. If I had to live outside in the heat or in the cold, then I’d pick the heat without a doubt (if there was clean water and few biting insects.

If it came down to living inside, then I’d pick the cold because the cold is fun to venture out in as long as there is a good safe place to return.

And that will be my final answer for the moment.

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Funerals and Potlucks

So many thoughts today
But I am tired and the alarm is set to go off early
Went to a funeral at the Catholic Church followed by a potluck filled with traditional Eskimo food and then an Eskimo dance
Cried and cried some more
Loved the feast
Loved the music
Missed his voice and seeing him singing
Saw his family dance
And his friends dance
And elders dance
Saw people laugh and people cry and everybody pass babies around from arm to arm
Thought many thoughts
How funerals bring communities together in their grief
How funerals can be both empty and filling
How the swells of emotion are exhausting but cleansing
So many thoughts and feelings
And I’m just going to go to bed

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