Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's a Profit Deal

The proverbial 'we' (i.e. the two small people) in this house are struggling with turning off lights, flushing toilets and picking up shoes. In a fit of total frustration a couple of weeks ago, I announced I'd be charging a quarter each time I had to do it for them. Wyatt is extremely motivated by cash and the plan is working well in keeping him motivated. Natalie only half cares about money, which really means that she has minimal understanding of what it can really do for her but she does like the shiny ones! By the way, that difference in their motivations could explain why yesterday's piggy bank counting shows Wyatt has his sister beat by $265, but I digress.

This week it has become apparent that Wyatt understands the concept of clearing his dishes but takes great delight in leaving them on the counter instead of putting them in the dishwasher. I'd love to give him the benefit of the doubt, but after watching him look for a reaction a few times when leaving them out instead of in the dishwasher, I can confidently say that he's just choosing to ignore the request to put them where they should be. Therefore, I decided that the quarter-per-infraction should be implemented for dishes, too. It's been a day and Wyatt is already reformed.

Natalie is a different story. She has been great about taking care of her dishes all along, so I was ill-prepared for what occurred tonight. Dinner just ended a bit ago and, as my parents and I were still sitting at the table chatting, Natalie asked to be excused and went straight upstairs. She reappeared in short order with a quarter, handed it to me and smiled. When I asked what it was for, she informed me she'd like for me to take care of her dishes and said it with a giant smile on her face. All three adults cracked up and it seems a whole lot like I'll need to work on a different plan for Natalie, or maybe just open a new bank account.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Becoming Alaskan

I got called out this weekend for saying that I don't intend to be an Alaskan forever, but we are all in for our time here so when we hadn't gotten a spot this weekend with the squadron at the Russian River Campground, we decided to take matters into our own hands and book a couple of nights down the road at the Kenai Princess RV Resort. It's a bit of a misnomer; to quote Jeff, "it's not to princessy," but it was an RV park with full hook-ups and availability, so it won. The Russian is packed this time of year because it's the start of the red salmon run up the river, but the Kenai River salmon run won't come until July so things are a little less crazy on the river. Originally we planned to go with another family, but they fell through at the last minute (it's the downside of military life; the schedule isn't actually our own) which wasn't a big deal except that Jeff and his buddy had already booked a learn-to-fish river expedition. That turned out in my favor since Kristen offered to watch our kids at the other campground so that Jeff and I could learn to fish together. It was awesome because this was my view for the morning.

We met our guide, Adam, at the Cooper River landing where he fitted us with waders and life jackets. We looked super-sporty. Then we headed downstream to do a little spinner-fishing and a few different kinds of fly-fishing. Jeff got the first catch of the day with a  Dolly Varden.

I had the next catch - a pretty Rainbow Trout. It jumped out of the water as I set the hook and both guys were excited about how big it looked. The glory was kind of lost on me as I have no idea how big a Rainbow Trout normally is. I can tell you that this one was a fighter and it was really fun to reel in. 

After that, we tried a little fly fishing which doesn't look nearly as graceful on me as it does in movies. Jeff stuck with that a little longer but my hand got really tired and cold, so I spent a while just hanging out. I'm a pretty easy fishing client, it turns out. But I did catch another little Rainbow and a little Dolly Varden, so it was successful.  Jeff caught a couple more as well, so it was a successful day. And for anyone who might be thinking I've totally changed my ways, it was catch and release fishing. I still don't have a desire to fry up any trout. 

We made it back to Kristen's campground just in time for Jeff to grab the Rife kids so Jerod could go salmon fishing and Kristen and I could go on a float trip down the Kenai with ten other wives. My life was not difficult on Saturday! It was essentially the same trip I'd taken down the river on Saturday morning, but with refreshments, female conversation and a longer trip. The Kenai and Russian Rivers converge, so we floated right through all the combat salmon fishing, so termed because people line the riverbank on both sides for a couple of miles, not more than five feet from one another, all attempting to snag their daily quota of three red salmon. I've never seen anything like it but sadly don't have a picture since my camera was in my sweatshirt pocket, which was under my fleece, under my rain jacket, under my waterproof rafting jacket, under my life vest. It was fun, but it wasn't a warm day!

After we parted ways with the Rife kids, we grabbed a little dinner and took our kids back down to the river so they could fish a little, too. It turns out we need some new fishing rods, but it was fun and Jeff was the big winner with another Dolly Varden. 

I think this was taken just about the time Natalie informed Jeff he was killing the poor fish. It was a little tricky to get the hook out of this one. Shortly after that, Natalie got bored and took up residence on a tuft of grass.

Seeing that we were losing our audience (it was 9:00 at night, after all) we headed back to the camper for a good night's sleep and plans to find a mountain lake the next day. As a Father's Day gift to Jeff, everyone slept in until 10:00. That NEVER happens! Wyatt was up for a little bit but crawled into bed with us, where he proceeded to go right back to sleep. I don't think any amount of shopping could have produced the same quality of gift for an overworked Jeff. We had some brunch and headed out to find Rainbow Lake, as recommended by our fishing guide for a cool place to take the kids.

After a twelve mile drive into the mountains, we found it. Alaska is not warm, it is not always sunny, but it is beautiful. 

family selfie - it's the only way to get a pic of all four of us in the middle of nowhere.

Wyatt at the trailhead.

Natalie in action. 

Wyatt getting a lesson on the big-guy spinner. 

Fisher boy - he totally got the hang of the reel without the easy casting button.
just a gratuitous Alaska scenery pic. It's amazing at every turn.

And if that wasn't enough excitement for one weekend, we caught a porcupine sitting in the road on the way down the mountain. I always thought porcupines were little, and maybe some are, but the ones here are huge! I only had my phone, but you can see that big brown blob on the right side of the road. As soon as it saw us, it lumbered off the road. 

Once it got into the woods, it was actually fairly agile getting into the underbrush and up the incline. You can see its brown and white striped back among the leaves in the picture below. 

Another adventure weekend in the books!

Living on the Edge

I keep saying I'll love Alaska as long as something doesn't kill me while I'm here. I've never lived someplace where a walk requires me to be armed for bear attacks and where 'cute' animals could attack (I'm talking about you, moose). But in the spirit of this quote I found online after we got this assignment:

I am attempting to wholeheartedly embrace these opportunities as they present themselves because I think that's going to be the key to loving life here. That attitude is how I ended up on an ATV for eight hours last Saturday. A bunch of wives went on an ATV trip last summer and said things like, "it was awesome!" and "definitely top three on my favorite things I've done here in the last four years" so I was in. We booked through Outdoor Rec and just had to show up with extra layers for warmth, lunch and water. They provided the ATV's, rain gear, helmets and guides. A dozen of us loaded into two vans and headed north to the Knik River for a day I'm sure I'll never forget!

When we arrived at the staging area, they taught us how to start our engines and told us to drive around to get a feel for how the throttle and brakes worked. Then we were off.

The trip began with a short drive along the river but we quickly found ourselves in the woods on narrow, rutted, muddy trails. There was nothing easy-going about launching ourselves down into a ditch at a forty-five degree angle with tree roots and rocks sticking out. We were about ten minutes into the woods when I gently rolled my ATV onto its side. I say gently because I had time to hop off and it was fairly easy to remedy (a friend wasn't so lucky and hers landed on top of her….twice). That was when I realized I truly had no idea what I was doing and that maybe a little more instruction at the beginning would have been good. We eventually emerged onto the wide beach along the river. The open flats were awesome - fast and easy to navigate. Through the day, we found ourselves alternating between wooded trails, water crossings and open stretches along the river.

Like everywhere else we go here, there were postcard-worthy vistas at every turn. In the center of the picture below, you can see the Knik Glacier - it's the light blue band above the river in the valley of the mountains and it was our goal to get there. This picture is from at least ten miles away.

Thankfully it was a fairly sunny day, but because it's been so dry lately there was a lot of dust. The riverbed is made of rocks and a fine, glacial silt which stirs into an impressive cloud when 12 ATV's roll through. I think it's safe to assume my lungs were coated with fine, glacial silt by the end of the day. For illustrative purposes, here's a selfie at the beginning of the day:
And here's one at the turnaround point:
Just a little dirty. By the time we rode all the way back, we were beyond filthy but it was worth it to see the Knik Glacier up close. There are actually two arms of the glacier feeding into Lake George. That shade of blue is impossible to accurately capture on an iPhone!

It was a long day full of craziness (lots of rolled ATV's, a couple of moose sightings, a few episodes of getting stuck in the mud) and it caused some massively sore muscles the next day, but was definitely an only-in-Alaska kind of experience. I don't need to ride an ATV every weekend, but you can bet that if there's another opportunity next summer, I'm in.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Opening Weekend

As many people already know, camping is a big thing here, so big that we own a travel trailer. It's not exactly a life event I would've seen coming. We had a great time camping our way across America to get here but promptly parked the mighty Passport at the storage lot on base within 24 hours of our arrival. However, you can tell it's spring in Alaska when all the driveways in the neighborhood start having RV's parked in them. Ours is no different since Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the unofficial-official Raptor camping season. It's kind of great the way it works: sometime in the dark of winter, a couple of Raptor reservists (read: longtime Alaska residents) set up a summer schedule and reserve bulk spaces at designated locations. They then release the schedule to all the pilots and anyone who wants to go just tells them which trips they want in on and voila - summer rolls around and we have pre-planned camping trips with masses of friends. 

Camping season traditionally commences with a trip to Homer, which is at the tip of the Kenai peninsula. Homer is famous for its halibut, the Homer spit (which prompted one of my kids to say, "I'll Homer spit!"; they're so darling, these kids of mine), cute stores, tide pools and a brewery but is infamous for its windy, cold weather. It's one of only camping locations that has a hotel associated with the campground, so Homer is traditionally a big push for those who don't own campers and this year there were more than thirty families in attendance, spread across two campgrounds and the hotel, all within a five-minute walk of each other. The kids stayed up way too late running in packs with other kids, the adults stayed up even later just hanging out. Despite wearing long-sleeve layers, fleece hats, gloves and coats, we had a great time exploring most of what Homer has to offer. We've been home 24 hours and Wyatt has already double-checked that Homer will be on our list next year, too. 

view from our spot
post-bike ride Saturday night, 10:30 pm
exploring the beach with friends Sunday morning,
notice how the beach looks at high tide
out on the spit
apparently halibut are sometimes bigger than my kids

the marina at the spit
if we saw one bald eagle, we saw a hundred
but it never gets old!

any Deadliest Catch fans out there? It's the Time Bandit!
I think that's the equivalent of an Alaskan celebrity sighting.
going to check out the tide pools Sunday evening
the beach an hour past low tide
have to get them used to pictures again - it's been too long
since I made them suffer through lots of "look at me's"
cool sand patterns
kelp grows on rocks
there's an anemone to the right of the white clam shell;
we found (and touched) lots of them hidden among the rocks

we found it pretty fascinating - also, the smallest
rocks you can see in the background are covered at
high tide
tide goes WAY out
searching for critters
dead crab - not too exciting

they love exploring!
the same beach at 'sunset', roughly 11:15 pm, with tide coming back in.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

So it Was Aggressive

I really thought I'd be a blogging machine, but hey! It's been weeks already. What's new… the weather is AMAZING. Yes, we're still in Alaska and no, it's not hot but seriously, it's great. We're in the mid-50s to 60s every day (the former me never would've believed those temps could feel warm), it's sunny and it rained one day this week so now - boom - everything's turning green. The explosion of leaves might also be helped by the insanely long days that are only getting longer. It's 11pm and there's still a sunset sky out there. We're still totally off our normal schedule (or perhaps it should be known as our previous, lower 48, schedule) and routinely eat dinner sometime around 7:30. I believe it's a result of many factors: Wyatt gets home from school an hour later than he used to, Jeff gets home from work late every night and it just doesn't look like it's time to fix dinner until at least 6:30 or 7. We've had another moose sighting, this time in the front yard, and reports abound that the bears have woken up for the season so we're all about making extra noise while we're outside. Speaking of noise and outside, I didn't predict how annoying chirping birds would be at midnight. Extra daylight seems to mess with every species equally.

Natalie and I have found our happy place of doing-not-much-and-being-okay-with-it but Wyatt continues to miss his teacher and friends from South Carolina. Moving is not for the weak. I will say that I think my kids play better with each other than they did pre-move, so maybe there are upsides, too. Slowly but surely, we're getting settled.

Other random things sucking up my very limited attention span:
1. our house in Virginia will be up for rent again this summer and we're learning how to turn it over/handle that when we're not there. We've been lucky to have great renters in it since we left, so this is uncharted territory. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan.

2. Alaska doesn't have smog, but we do get to enjoy the crud that blows in from Asia. Thank you so much, China and Korea, for giving us days of hazy skies. Gross. Thank goodness for the rain that washed it away.

3. There's currently a couple of inches of water in the crawl space under our house. It's not supposed to be there and it only destroyed the boxes we save for our high value electronics (totally a military thing, I think?) but it's just there and I'm not really sure our landlord understands that there's quite so much of it.

4. We're heading out Saturday morning for our first 'real' Alaska adventure - whale watching near Seward. The weather's supposed to be great, we're going with friends and it should be fun. Maybe I'll even share some pictures on here, better yet maybe I'll do it by the end of May!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Amendment

In my back-to-blogging post a few days ago, the number one thing on my list was basically that a city is a city is a city. Well, I stand corrected. Last night as we sat at the table chatting after dinner, I uttered the following phrase, "Holy moose in our backyard!" because - you guessed it - moose (2!) in the backyard. WELCOME TO ALASKA!

Let me clarify a couple things about our yard:
1. It's not big. It's a nice wooden deck that ends where the foresty part starts, the forest runs another 15-20 feet back and then it drops off at a pretty steep angle. There's not a lot of yard to speak of.

2. These moose just appeared out of nowhere. Apparently they can scale pretty steep angles without issue because they ate off our trees, wandered toward the neighbors and disappeared right back down that slope. No big deal if you're a moose.

Now for proof:

Baby on the left, Mom is in the center of the picture but a little harder to see.
There's no zoom on this picture.

This the view from Natalie's room upstairs. Again, no zoom. Just a moose, eating our tree.

Off they go...

It would be a ridiculous lie to tell you I was calm. I was nothing of the sort because a few things were going through my mind,  namely that a mama moose with a baby is dangerous and that Natalie had spent at least 30 minutes out there playing in what's left of the snow yesterday afternoon. I just kept an eye on her from inside, but I wasn't out there with her. Needless to say we've now had a few conversations about moose safety and what to do if they show up again. It also reaffirmed my fear that if I ever see a bear in nature, it will eat me because I'll be passed out on the ground. Now who wants to come visit?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Clear as Mud

During dinner tonight, Jeff and I were chatting about whether we could have a zip line or slack line in our backyard. Wyatt told us that he thought it would be awesome if it go from that tree to that one to that one (we have no idea where he was suggesting, exactly) and Natalie piped in with some description of a toy (we think?) that she saw that involved zip lines, ninjas, bad guys and walls that break down. She told us about it with her normal Natalie fervor, hand gestures, big eyes and excited face. I didn't know how to respond but Jeff hit the nail on the head by simply asking, "What is a ninja?"

So she took a deep breath, sighed, and said in all seriousness, "Well, Daddy, they're frogs. That can ninja." Then she just smiled and basked in the glory of being a five-year old whose got it all figured out.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Back to Business

I kind of doubt my absence has really bothered anyone but me, so I've made a pledge to myself (incidentally, at about 2:15 am when I was struggling to go back to sleep) to write more. About whatever. That's my way of warning anyone who's stumbled across this that you might not get much that's interesting. I kind of feel like there's a lot of 'whatever' to cover and someday maybe I'll be glad I didn't completely forsake the blog.

So today it's a list, and at some point I might choose to elaborate on any of these things. Or not…we'll just have to see. In no particular order:

1. We live in Alaska now and it's kind of awesome. It's also strangely like living anywhere else, which, after all these moves shouldn't surprise me but somehow does. I ran errands yesterday (kid-free - hallelujah!) in Anchorage which is all of twelve miles from my house. It's just a city, but after being someplace that only existed in my mind it's kind of weird to see that it's like so many other places with its mega-stores. It's just that I keep my eyes peeled for moose and think the mountains are pretty great.

2. Today's April 7th and it snowed all morning. And I'm not bothered by it in the least. Yes, I see all of my Facebook friends talking about the 80 degree sunshine and I see pictures of people enjoying the beach, but I'm content. Quite honestly, that surprises me. I love warm weather, I love the beach. I know that if we were still in South Carolina, we'd be wearing shorts, grilling out, riding bikes, enjoying flowers and leaves on trees, etc. But we're not. Instead we're glad we can at least see the grass that's still brown and I'm a little nervous because the bears are going to wake up in the near future. My house is cozy, the sun is warm (and already stays up almost later than I do) and the people here are nice, so I'm content.

3. We're back in a squadron and after three years away, it feels amazing. I haven't even been to an official function yet (unless you count a ladies' crud tournament) and it still feels like coming home. Ite doesn't hurt to have so many old friends and acquaintances here. Some of our favorite people live here and we seem to finally be reaping the benefits of being the old people in the squadron. 

4. Millie is getting so old and, even worse, really showing it. It's the bell-curve of life, I suppose, but she's up multiple times every night to go outside. I think she aches all the time, her back is shot, we know she has arthritis in her hip and now she seems to be favoring a front paw, too. It's not a good time for us to be living in a two-story house because it seems to be really hard on her. It's so annoying to wake up so much but it's also so sad to think that I can't remember the last time she sprinted across a yard or chased down a frisbee. 

5. Natalie has suffered the brunt of this move. She's not enrolled in school up here for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that there was so much other stuff to figure out and preschool fell by the wayside and the options are few. Therefore, she's stuck with me all day every day. We're making the best of it, but a five-year old really shouldn't be having to help unpack a house. I feel kind of cruddy about it, but it is what it is. The house is close to being settled-ish so hopefully we can make up for lost time with some fun outings pretty soon.

6. Speaking of Natalie being five, she's been pretty funny since her birthday. She woke up that morning and asked if she looked bigger, she's told me that there are words she didn't know when she was four but now she does and she truly believes that she was instantly bigger, smarter, funnier, etc. on March 15th. I wholly support that notion because, why not? It also marked the first time ever that I had to buy my kid's birthday cake. We'd been in Alaska for 36 hours when her birthday rolled around, so no baking was happening. She was upset until we went to the store and I let her get the one that was completely coated with sprinkles. To quote her, it had at least a thousand hundred sprinkles on it and was awesome.

7. Wyatt is kind of awesome, too. We yanked him out of a class he loved in a school we all loved and dropped him off in a brand new place with brand new people and a different way of doing things and he has flourished. I think the first few days were hard on him but he kept a (very) stiff upper lip until he really felt good about his new school. I'm not sure I would've been brave enough at his age to do what we asked of him and I'm really proud of how he's handled it. 

8. Moving is hard. We've moved three times in as many years and for the first time this one has kind of kicked my tail physically. It doesn't help that something about the ferry seems to have triggered a serious round of migraines that I can't quite shake, but I almost feel like I'm getting too old for this. I'm really hoping Alaska turns out to be a three-year assignment as promised because we all need some time to actually settle in. 

9. South Carolina was the first assignment I was ever mad about. It wasn't a place we wanted to go, it wasn't a job Jeff wanted to have and (surely you know where this is going) it was so good. I'm slow to learn! It's always the people that make a place, and Sumter was no different. It stretched us in new ways, specifically teaching us how to put ourselves out there a little more to make friends since we didn't have a squadron, and it was just so good. I don't necessarily miss the place, but I sure do miss the people.

10. America is amazing. Not as in 'America is the best country in the world' but it is, geographically, amazing. Our driving adventure through 13 states was a huge bonus to us. Rest assured, we realize that we're lucky to be afforded the opportunity to spend nearly three weeks traveling and we made the best of it. I hope the kids remember some of it but moreover I hope we're raising them to appreciate the diversity of our country and its people. All four of us are already plotting the return trip to the lower 48. So as much as this lifestyle is challenging and, at times, exhausting, it is also full of unique opportunities that I never would've imagined for myself.

11. This is the first time we've rented a house sight-unseen. It's also the first time we've moved someplace without having visited first. It's worked just fine, which is great. What's even better is that our landlord gave us permission to paint the kitchen. I know some of you enjoy red walls but I never have and probably never will. It's just not me. It's even less me when the adjoining walls are verging on mustard. With exception of having our entire house painted in Virginia, it's the first time Jeff has suggested hiring a painter. I'm delighted to say that a funny little gentleman named Mark is hard at work in my kitchen, eradicating two red walls and two mustard walls while I'm going about my day.

12.  Like a mullet, our house is business in the front (normal neighborhood) and a party in the back - a forest that quickly drops to the river. I love the sense of living in the wilderness but I'm a little sad we can't have bird feeders because of the bears. I'm also a little paranoid that I'm going to look out and see a moose on the deck, but until then it's good. It's also a little ironic, because as I was unpacking our pictures I came across the woodblock print from Japan that my parents bought me for my 30th birthday and it looks strikingly like the view out my current back door. Maybe I was subconsciously choosing this for myself way back when.

13. It's been nearly a decade since we moved to Japan. How can that be? I'm plotting a return visit courtesy of space-a travel and the assignment gods who've placed a handful of good friends in Okinawa for the next few years. Wyatt is pretty excited to see his first home, too, and to visit said friends. I really hope we can make it happen.

14. I saw this quote by Gabrielle Zevin last summer and it summarizes my life, and my kids' lives, so well. It's so perfect I might have to redesign the blog header.
They should tell you when you're born: have a suitcase heart. Be ready to travel.