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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My Little Girl

Little girl snuggled in behind me under the down comforter and I could her her quiet breathing. She’d woken up too early due to a wet diaper and wet pj’s and after I changed her, I decided to bring her into bed with me where I thought she’d have a better chance of falling back asleep, and thus allowing me to fall back asleep.

She snuggled in closer to my back and I began to relax. I heard her breathing start to change and then I let myself begin to doze off to sleep.

And then I heard her whisper, “Kick”.

I froze and held my breath and at the same time tried to keep my breathing as steady and slow as possible so that she would mimic my deep relaxation and slumber off herself. It was to no avail.

I heard her whisper, “Kick” again and this time it was accompanied by a little flutter of her feet kicking my back under the covers. Sleep was not in the cards.

I rolled over and placed my hands under my cheeks and looked into her eyes just inches away looking at me with her head on my pillow and her hands under her cheeks. The binky was in her mouth at a cockeyed angle so she could speak. “Kick.”

My little girl is nineteen months and she understands gobs of things, but only says a handful of words and those handful of words are not yet very clear, but this word was very clear.

“Are you remembering the other day when we went swimming at the pool?” She smiled and kicked her feet.

And so there, lying almost nose to nose, nice and cozy, under the warm morning blankets she and I shared a wonderful magical conversation about our day at the pool.

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Creating Art

 My boy announced he wanted to make an art project and use his new scissors. His sister was asleep so it was a perfect time for him to work quietly on something and I pointed him in the direction of the box of scraps.  I went into the kitchen to do some dishes and when I returned I found he had taken out the Elmer’s glue, opened it and begun a very intense and special project.

He glued a picture onto a plain piece of paper (it’s always good to have a backing) and then glued something else onto that and something else onto that. Each thing was covered by the new thing. And then with great delight he glued on part of our Christmas card and proceeded to ooze glue onto the pictures of our smiling family.

My internal reaction was to say, “Wait – no – don’t cover all the cool things!” But I didn’t because somewhere in his beautiful head of artistic creation, the art is That Much More Special because it is layered. I don’t quite get it, but I love that it is so. And then it makes me think of how our lives are made up of layers upon layers and there is something beautiful about the whole of it and the knowing what is inside that makes it okay to not display every wonderful detail.

Minutes after I pondered all this, the smiling faces of our family were covered with an animal from a magazine and then another animal that starts with the letter J and then a very nice piece of cardboard.

Soon after he explored a new media and glued on colored tissue paper. This was a first. In fact, this entire project was a first. Little girl was also doing a lot of firsts. Today was the first day she peeled stickers off all by herself and didn’t remove them from her project after putting them down. She also used the glue after carefully watching her brother and then tried out many scraps before settling on two things that could remain glued down.

Previous to today, the art projects have been primarily based off of a prescribed model via an art kit or the craft activities for toddlers at the library.

I don’t love these activities which seem to say there is a Right way to do things and which require so much help from adults, but my kids love them so we proudly display every single thing they make on our walls and I revel in the small parts such as upside down tusks and spots too close and scribbles that hint of my children branching out on their own.

I do appreciate that the activities we have done up till now have given them the opportunity to practice with glue, have given me an idea of what works and what doesn’t, and has allowed them to make things to share and refer to during conversation, but they are not the ART projects that I envision are manifested from truly creative focused energy.

And today my little boy, and my little girl, both made ART.

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My Smart Little Cookie

“Do you have a poopy?” I asked my boy as he made his way into my room again when he was supposed to be in bed.  I detected an odor and was pretty certain he’d respond with a “yes”.  He did not respond affirmatively, but my nose was pretty certain of what was going on so I asked again, using the more serious voice and the eyebrows.  He said he did have one.

And as I changed my little boy, he looked up at me and chatted away with a smile about the time outs he had yesterday.  “I had two time outs,” he said.  “I had one for taking food from sister and eating it and I had the other for a poopy.”  I questioned him about the poopy time out because we don’t give time outs for pooping and I wanted to really make sure he had the full story behind the time out.

“I said I did not have a poopy and that was a lie.”  Ha – he does get it!  Yesterday, he clearly told me TWICE that he did not have a poopy and I even asked if that was the truth or a lie and he said it was the truth.  But some things are not so easy to hide.  So we changed his diaper and he had a two minute time out and then later a talk about telling the truth and it’s always better and we tell the truth in our house and so on and so on.

Yesterday had its challenges.  Notice that his other time out was for taking food from his sister and eating it.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if he took something off her plate without any warnings, but he took it straight from her hand (after already having a warning) and popped it in his mouth super fast.  He’s clever he is.

So today I’m changing him and we’re reflecting on the time outs from yesterday and making good choices even after we mess up and then he goes and rehashes EVERYTHING in great detail, including the part of the day where, “I ignored you and then went to the stairs and then you said…”

Wow.  He really really gets it.  And as I listened to him tell me about yesterday in great detail, I realized just how much my little boy has got the system figured out.  He knows exactly how many times he can sucker me into tucking him into bed and at what point he’s on his own.  He remembers what the consequences are for certain actions and he can predict what they might be.

We were at the frozen ocean playing the other day and I asked him to climb down the snow hill so I could have him closer to me and his sister.  He dilly dallied.  I said there would be a consequence and the little guy said, “I will stay on the snow hill and when we get home I will have a time out.”

Gasp – he is calculating the consequences!  And with such self-assuredness! .  And then in a touch of sas, I responded, “Oh no it won’t be that simple young man”.  And before digging things in any deeper, I repeated my reason for having him come down the hill and I traipsed through the snow in my tennis shoes and scooped him off the hill while he climbed down to meet me.

He’s a sharp little cookie.

And he knows we think he’s adorable.

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Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution

Little boy’s spoon fell to the floor while he was eating his breakfast.  He looked at me and asked if I’d pick it up.  “No way, Jose” I replied.  He asked me again using a please and a “will you” and sweet little voice.  I laughed and again said I would not and then demonstrated that he was much closer than I was to the spoon by reaching forward from my spot on the sofa.  He laughed.

But he still did not get his spoon.

He whined that he needed help and then turned to his dad.  His dad pretty much did everything I did, adding something to the effect, “Oh, I know this is something you can do”.

Is there any doubt at all that our sharp little boy can get off his chair and pick up his spoon and get back in his chair?  Ummmm.  No.

So dad and I proceeded on with our conversation and then Dad began putting on his jacket to head out.  Little boy was now whining and oh-so-weak-and-unable.  He sat in his chair facing his cereal bowl refusing to get the spoon himself.  When we did say anything, he quietly said, “I don’t want to”.

“I don’t want to.”

How the heck does one teach a kid that sometimes we want to do things more than we don’t want to do them?  I did not want to do the dishes last night, but I did and really they did not take that long and it was SO Much Better once they were done.  I said something to little boy about maybe he wants to get the spoon to eat more than he wants to not get the spoon.

No reaction other than another whine and slump of the body.

Husband put on his hat and little boy pumped up the volume of his distress with a much louder, “I don’t want to.”

Husband and I exchanged looks – this could be a long morning for those at home (me).

I smiled at little boy and said, “I understand you don’t want to.  Seems like you can sit there and be miserable or solve the problem.  Which do you want to do?” fully excepting more whines and cries of distress.

“Solve the problem” he said is a quiet little voice.

Husband and I stopped breathing and exchanged very subtle eye contact and smiles of shock from across the room as little boy got off his chair, picked up his spoon, got back in his chair and resumed eating.

Wow.

If only all problems could be solved so easily.

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My Son’s Future Leading Retreats Into the Desert

“Friend is a giraffe. Sister is a puppy dog. I am a turtle.”

My son and I walked to the local store this morning to buy a birthday present for a friend turning three. My son knew a week ago that he wanted his friend to have a bulldozer. It’s a fitting present I think and I was impressed once again with my boy’s ability to identify an appropriate gift. This morning on the way to the store, I again questioned my boy and he again said he wanted to get his friend a bulldozer.

The local store had a bulldozer so we picked it up, grabbed some wrapping paper and ribbon and then began walking to the register when I spotted some simple foam hats.

We already had two foam monkey hats that my mom had sent us several months ago. They’re simple very inexpensive visors made somewhere far away and the kids love them. They wear them while they push chairs around the house pretending to go on trips. They wear them as part of dress up and part of non dress up. So I asked my kid if he’d like to get some more.

He said he wanted to get one for his friend and when I asked which one, thinking the tiger was quite cool, or the jaguar, he responded “the giraffe”. “Are you sure? Check out this bear?” My boy was certain that his friend was a giraffe. I didn’t see it, but I also didn’t not see it. And I also did not spend an evening with the kid a couple weeks ago like my boy did. Perhaps my boy just “knows” something.

And then I asked my son if he and his sister would like hats and he promptly chose hats, which again were not the ones I was aiming for, but were quite right. The puppy dog for his sister was fitting somehow and the turtle he picked for himself was also fitting, but really – a turtle? Next to the turtle there were such more splashier snazzier looking hats, but he wanted the turtle.

Later when my husband and I were talking about our kids and sharing observations of things we’d seen them doing, this came up. I know that I don’t want to prescribe what path our kids take in life, but I do have some secret hopes. I hope they don’t become huge football fans or football players because I really just don’t “get” the sport. I also hope they don’t become dog mushers because it seems like a lot of work and a struggle to make ends meet and find the time to care for dogs and family. Other than that, I’m pretty open.

And as we spoke we had a vision of our son in a future role leading people on retreats into the desert to identify their spirit animal. What if this seemingly innocent ability to quickly pick hats for himself and his friends is really an uncanny ability to see something the rest of us miss – I love that idea even if it involves all sorts of things that make me uncomfortable. But then, maybe he just knows that sometimes anything is absolutely the right thing.

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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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Respiratory Virus and a Miracle

This morning my father in law asked me at what point we take our little boy to the doctor.  Little boy was oozing snot and coughing consistently a dry barky (but not toooo barky) cough all morning.  I responded with all the knowledge I’d gleaned from my two and a half years of taking care of this little boy who seems to get respiratory infections easily that we probably wouldn’t take him to the doctor unless he had labored breathing.

We’ve got ibuprofen.

We have an albuterol inhaler prescribed for him.

We have a humidifier and plenty of liquids and room for him to “take it easy and rest”.

We’ve taken little boy to the doctor plenty of times for me to know the spiel and luckily, we have pretty much everything on hand that we would need.  It’s just hard knowing exactly WHEN is too sick to really worry.

My little guy had RSV last year which is a pretty common, but very nasty respiratory virus.  It can do a real number on little ones and it did a number on him, but he recovered.  Viruses seem to settle into his chest a bit more easily than they do our little girl and he’s had some bouts that have been a bit worrisome.

The worst was a time I picked him from daycare and brought him home.  I could see he didn’t feel well.  I could hear his cough.  I knew he had a little temperature.  I put him on the sofa where he fell asleep and I spent the next hour cleaning up and paying bills.

But then I started thinking that his breathing looked funny.  It was weird how his cute little belly was moving up and down and I pondered how odd it was that I’d never noticed it before.  His breathing was quiet and slower than earlier when he’d first come home coughing and teary.  It seemed like he just needed a really hearty nap.

But the tummy thing was odd.  And it was bothering me.

And then I looked at the clock and thought about the day of the week (Friday, of course) and decided I’d err on the side of caution and take him up to the walk in clinic.

“Err on the side of caution?”  HA!

I was so lucky that I did take him in.  Turns out he had bacterial pnuemonia which progresses really quickly.  In the hour that he’d napped on the sofa, he’d gone from a little boy that just looked sick to a boy that was beginning to really struggle to breathe.

At the clinic, they took one look at him – and they looked for things like flaring of his nostrils and his ribs pulling in when he inhaled – and immediately gave him a breathing treatment of albuterol.  And then another one.  And then after a few tests, he was given a shot of an antibiotic, prednisone and then a discussion ensued about whether he should be admitted or not.

We did take him home, but that night I almost wished we hadn’t.  His breathing was SO mechanical and his chest moved up and down like it was attached to a respirator.  It was scary to watch and I couldn’t sleep because I wanted to keep an eye on him.

He ended up being just fine.  We administered everything exactly as we should and we kept a watchful eye on him and throughout it, his body responded valiantly, working very hard to do the needed work to breathe while his body worked on recovering from the infection.

It was scary.

And so now, whenever he gets sick, I google to remind myself of the symptoms and I look for the signs of labored breathing and I check on him frequently throughout the night and I look at the day of the week.

It’s Thursday and little boy is sick.  He has a fever and a cough that got worse and worse.  His breathing got quick and fast, but slowed down once the ibuprofen set in.  It was past bedtime and he was so tired but couldn’t fall asleep because of the cough and so I googled and found “a miracle cure”.

Vicks Vapo-Rub on the soles of the feet?  Really?  I was skeptical, but I’ve used Vicks on myself in the past and remembered thinking my cough was looser.  The directions said ages two and up so I slathered some on his chest and back and soles of his feet (heck, why not) while he brushed his teeth (he’s so dang sweet – who the heck thinks to brush their teeth when they feel like crap) and took him up to bed. 

Within fifteen minutes he had stopped coughing enough to fall asleep.  Or perhaps he fell asleep and stopped coughing?  I rather think it was the first scenario.

Every once in a while he coughs and it’s still dry, but I think a little looser sounding.  I expect that it might be a long night, but I’m also feeling a bit hopeful that there might be some good stretches of sleep for him and for us.

Ibuprofen at one am if needed and another little Vicks Rub as well.  Humidifier pumping away like always.  Gallons of water sloshing around in his body.

Wish us well!  And everyone else out there with the sick kiddos in the middle of the night, we wish you well.

 

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