Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Having spent the bulk of my childhood in the 80's, I was the proud owner of a few Cabbage Patch Kids. Of course the first one came in the year that everyone's did, the year that people were attacking each other at Christmastime in the stores to get the beloved scrunchy-faced doll for their kids. My parents are lovers, not fighters, so they did what normal people do and ordered one through the Sears catalog to be shipped when stock was replenished. It was an awesome spring evening when my sister and I arrived at the dinner table to find our new babies in an extra chair next to our own.

My baby was like so many other firstborns - highly anticipated, so special and well-loved - but I didn't love her name. What kind of name is Aurora?! I considered officially renaming her but life kept moving and I fell in love with her just the way she was. I dressed her, talked to her and tucked her in with me every night. She made me so happy. But like so many things in childhood, she eventually fell by the wayside as my attention was bestowed upon other things. But now, thirty-some years later I find myself wondering if that first doll was meant to teach me that any Aurora is always worth the wait.

These nights I find myself checking on Aurora again before bed; I always hope she's out if only to give me a little bit of excitement as I tuck in for the night. She's elusive, but sometimes she'll come out of hiding for my camera. Only a couple of times has she been so out in the open at bedtime that I feel compelled to go outside and say hello. A few nights ago she rewarded me with a brief show that made me as excited as a little girl with a new toy.

She was sweet enough to take a selfie with me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


We are enjoying our first (non)winter in the great (not) white north. We've had so little snow that I can see grass in our yard and, while it's making me love Alaska a little bit more, it's apparently ruining good winter fun. My kids wouldn't know; they're too busy learning to be little skiers on the man-made stuff. They joined the on-base downhill team as never-evers the week after Christmas and last week they participated in their first race. I'm humbled every week by their enthusiasm and bravery to just get out there and get after it. With snow on the horizon and two more Alaskan winters to come, I'm pretty excited to see their skills by the time we move back to the lower 48!

My little racers:

Monday, October 13, 2014

As Seen on TV

There's a hotly contested battle going on here in Alaska for a US Senate seat. On the right, we have Dan Sullivan and on the left, we have Mark Begich. Like all *great* politicians, they've been throwing each other under the proverbial bus for weeks. Because everything you hear on tv is true,  my kids have been able to educate themselves on the candidates. Unfortunately, we are apparently a house divided as evidenced by this conversation right after the latest "he's no good" ad aired:

W: Yeah, I'm definitely voting for Begich.
N: Not me! I'm for the other guy.
W: Why? What's wrong with Mark Begich, Natalie?
N: Wellllll, he works for Obama.
W: They all do, Nat.
N: Yeah, but he lied about it.

My kids, the future voters of 'merica. We're in good hands.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Second Grade Science

I loved second grade. I had a fantastic teacher (shout out to Scot Buxton) who made it a great year for me when he went above and beyond to foster my love of science, specifically roly poly's. He did that by making a special appointment for me to visit his buddy who was an entomology professor at KU and helping me learn so much more about the bugs. What? I didn't say I was cool in second grade, just that I loved that aspect of it.

I suspect Wyatt's feelings will be similar about his second grade year here since this is the year that the students study the life cycle of salmon. The hands-on portion began today with a field trip the Alaksa Fish and Game Fish Hatchery and I was 'lucky' enough to 'get' to ride the bus as a chaperone. The day started off with a bang, or sway, as the area felt a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. The kids were unbothered by it but the adults were a little concerned we'd be herding fifty kids out the emergency exits in case of aftershocks. As it turned out, we didn't feel any and the tour went on as planned. It was a really cool facility where they raise salmon, Arctic Char, Arctic Grayling and Rainbow Trout to stock area lakes and rivers.

two classes of second graders, lined up and listening

one of the rooms of tanks - each one of those had approximately
30,000 Rainbow Trout.

One of the trucks they use to haul fish to local waterways

reviewing the life cycle of the salmon from egg to spawning adult

the donor fish for this group's eggs

donor male - skinnier belly and hooked nose

donor female - fatter belly and a great example of how beat up
these fish are as by the time they spawn. Their noses are torn because they
try to swim straight upriver and just ram into anything in their way.

harvesting the eggs from the female, these two "lucky" kids were chosen to help.
They sliced her open and the eggs came flying out. The ADF&G guy pulled out the
remaining skeins of eggs and as he did, a girl in the crowd asked if he could also pull
out the fish's heart. She's ready for dissection day!

Collecting the milt from the male. Again, two "fortunate" helpers.

Learned that fertilization can't happen without water, so they added that and stirred.
And that's the recipe for baby salmon.

This is a super-zoom of the eggs about ten minutes after they were mixed
and already a few of them are visibly fertilized (the ones with the white spots toward the bottom).
In 45 minutes, the eggs go from being soft and gelatinous to having a harder, protective exterior.

Wyatt reports that all the eggs were safely transferred into the class tank and are well on their way to becoming fry. Hopefully some will actually make it and the kids will be able to return them to ADF&G during their spring field trip to release fry into the river. Between now and then, they'll be dissecting a salmon in class, too. I hope they do that on a day I'm in the classroom helping!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

So Here We Are

Does anyone have any idea what happened to summer? I mean, I would have sworn Wyatt just finished school a few weeks ago. As I looked forward from May in this new place with no outdoor pools, summer seemed to stretch endlessly before us, but instead we had a whirlwind, amazing summer. We have had such a fun few months - lots of blogging to catch up on - but first, this: how are my kids both in school all day?! I have been looking forward to this day for a while, but now that it's here I'm sad. Glad for them and all that lies ahead, but... I mean, I've had a fairly constant companion for eight years and now I'm supposed to get through thirty-five hours a week by myself. Millie isn't even great company anymore.

I have some projects in mind, mostly those things that never get fully executed with a move (organizing closets, anyone?) and that are hard to accomplish with kids here (purging toys, anyone?) but it seems like maybe those will be finished soon. Certainly I hope to find stuff for my own mental health (baking, building, volunteering, regular blogging - could it be?) but I have a feeling things will seem out of balance for a while. I'm already committed to some time at their school, which I love because I get that behind-the-scenes view, but I still find myself thinking, "now what?" and creating mental lists of things that might never happen.

On the bright side, the two products of my last eight years' work are good kids, bringing home good behavior reports and seemingly well-adjusted. In other good news, Wyatt really is the big brother I suspected he is when we're not looking. He's been incredibly encouraging to Natalie about 'real school' and has even been known to wait for her on the playground and to sit with her on the bus. There are still the standard bickerfests, but we can't expect magic, now can we? Natalie is still adjusting to the pace of all day, every day school but I think she'll find her balance soon and she seems excited that homework started for her this week.

Better late than never, my kids on their first days of school:

Incidentally, proof that Fall arrives in one fell swoop here is in the above pictures taken exactly one week apart in our yard. Wyatt started school at the end of summer when it was still warm enough for shorts and Natalie began a week later at the start of Fall. This place is pretty amazing!

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.