Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's summer until the fireweed is at the top!

It's good to be back home. When we were in Fairbanks the fireweed had gone to seed and the leaves were already starting to turn color. I am not yet ready for fall. Back home the fireweed is not yet at the top so we still have a little summer left. The weather forecast predicts the next four days will be sunny. I am hoping to take advantage of this time to complete some home improvement projects.

Our biggest project this summer is what I call "the rock quarry". We are replacing the rocks under our deck which are there for drainage and weed control. But they have been there for over 20 years and so much dirt has settled among the rocks that they were growing strawberries and weeds. Tomorrow a dump truck will arrive with a new batch of drainage rock which we will put over the existing rocks, one wheelbarrow at a time. I have also been trying to simplify my flower beds and the plan is to cover the ground between my plants with weed blocker and mulch so the beds are more manageable.

While we were in Fairbanks the chickweed went crazy in my vegetable garden. My radishes should have been harvested already and now they are the size of racquetballs! Some of the broccoli has flowered and a few of the rainbow chards are going to seed! I need to start harvesting my kale and chard and freezing what we cannot eat right now.

The rest of the week is devoted to getting ready for school. We picked up school supplies today. Part of getting ready for school also included getting all three children their second Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine. I had all summer to do it but waited until the 11th hour. So at 5pm we headed to town for the mass dispensing of the varicella vaccine clinic. The public health nurses anticipated there would be so many of us last minute parents that the clinic was held at our local Elk's Lodge.

The Elks Lodge is a multipurpose facility that hosts everything from spaghetti feed fundraisers to the high school prom. So when I told the boys we were going to the Elk's Lodge for their shots, Riley asked if it was going to be a party. I said it will be a chicken pox vaccine sort of party. Then Chris asked if there would be food there. I said I didn't think so and he was rather peeved.

When we arrived there was no where to park and a long line had already formed outside the door. It was a rather festive atmosphere, waving to friends we had not seen lately. Some children appeared somewhat apprehensive but overall, it was pretty laid back. Inside there were stations set up for registration, screening, administering the shot and checking out. Every public health nurse, school nurse and retired nurse had showed up to volunteer. There were other community members and even volunteer firefighters and EMTs there!

At first I was upset because I could not find the boys' vaccine records. Then I was irritated with myself for not having made an appointment for shots earlier in the summer so I wouldn't have to stand in this long line with all the other procrastinators. Then I felt guilty because I did not think to volunteer to help with the mass dispensing. I had planned to give the kids shots myself but our clinic's freezer broke down and we had to return all the vaccines to the state. Therefor, the public health clinic was the only place the kids could get their vaccines. But there were so many volunteers and the whole thing was so well organized that everyone left in good spirits.

I think having it done that way may have decreased anxiety for many children. There was very little crying going on. Most of the boys wanted to appear tough and pretended that it didn't hurt. Chris was still irked that there was no food. Riley suggested that next time they have someone walking around making balloon animals. But not a clown. We both agreed that clowns are kind of creepy. I had bribed my kids with candy and noticed another child in line clutching a brand new car still in it's box. Afterwards Riley asked if Bradley could spend the night. First I said "No, we have to get on a school schedule". Two seconds later I said "Oh sure, you all just got shots!". Bradley's mom said "Boy, you sure caved in fast!". Like I said, I'm not quite ready for summer to be over.

It's not over until the fireweed is at the top.

Boys with giant jaw breakers, Maya with the World's Longest Candy Necklace

I found a garden fairy!

The best way to get children to eat vegetables is to plant a garden (and have plenty of ranch dressing!)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

North Pole Disneyland

Yesterday we took the kids to North Pole to visit our friends Ken and Kirsten. They have two boys: Kevin, age 11, and Ryan, age 8. Ken is really into hunting and fishing. He has a house, two cabins, multiple 4 wheelers and tons of other rigs, much to Kirsten's dismay. Ken is the ultimate Alaskan Redneck. I told them I would be doing an expose on North Pole Rednecks on my blog. I promised Kirsten anonimity, so you will not see any pictures of her, just everything else.

In Kirsten's defense, I do want to make sure I include the fact that Kirsten has tried her hardest to balance the boy's upbringing with lots of educational toys, art and creativity. She home schools the boys using a modified Waldorf curriculum. There is a play structure in the back yard with a swing on a zip line. Kirsten has a really cool collapsible clothes line. She fed us a delicious moose-vegetable soup, salad and homemade bread. She subscribes to Mother Earth Jones and recyles.

But my kids don't care about any of that. They were only interested in the 4 wheelers and Ken's rusty rigs in the yard. They were in boy heaven. Kevin, who is a very responsible 11 year old, took the boys for rides on his 4 wheeler. Maya happily played inside with all their toys. I had to drag my kids away kicking and screaming. I made the boys exchange email addresses, phone numbers and promise to write. Riley, Chris and Bradley now have two new pen pals. And a good time was had by all.

Hockey camp: that's Riley shooting on Bradley.

Chena hot springs. The kids were not allowed in the man-made lake just beyond this hot tub. They enjoyed the pool and 3 different hot tubs. Matt and I took turns sitting in the hot lake and watching the kids. The last 30 minutes, Nanna sat with the kids so we could go in the hot lake together.

This is Roxie, one of their two rescued Basinjis, a breed of "barkless" dogs.

Kevin takes Chris for a ride.

Boys on the bear rig.

Maya even found a three wheeler her own size (don't worry, it doesn't work anymore).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Nanna's 70th Birthday

Yesterday was Nanna's birthday. She wanted to take the younger children to Pioneer Park. So we let her. They went on the merry-go-round. Then they played on the playground. When the big boys were done with hockey camp, they joined us for miniature golf.

For dinner Kathleen made us salmon, rice and salad. Nanna picked out a chocolate cake with blueberry ice cream from Hot Licks. Then we watched Weekend at Bernie's. Tonight Nanna is off having fun with her friends.

This morning Chris and Maya went with Nanna to North Pole. She took them to Santa Land where they met with the big guy in the red suit. He asked Maya what her name is. She told him "Tinkerbell". He said "Oh, I've always wanted to meet Tinkerbell". She has been telling us that is her name for the past 3 days. She also insists Matt is Daddy Tinkerbell and I am Mommy Tinkerbell.

This morning I enjoyed walking around at the Botanical Garden at UAF by myself. Then I took Bradley and Riley to Old Navy for some back to school shopping. Tomorrow we are going to Chena Hot Springs!

Megan and Maya

The S.S. Nenana

The Merry-go-round.

Miniature golf.
See no evil, hear no evil, do no evil.
Does anyone know what kind of flowers these are?
Heather on the left, Megan on the right, with her new haircut.

Appetizers: tomatoes/mozzarella and basil, bread, olives, purple carrots.

Kathleen' s wine aerator.

Kathleen's wine cellar.

I was in charge of roasting the peppers. This is what happens when you drink two glasses of wine before dinner.
Nanna's birthday cake.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tanana Valley Fair

Last night we went to the Tanana Valley Fair and blew our budget for the whole week. I wish there was a way to just see the farm animals and giant cabbages without having to go past the games and rides. The thing that irks me the most is the rows and rows of tents hawking their wares that have nothing to do with a county fair. Okay, I can understand how this may be a big money maker for people who make pet ID tags for a living, but do we really need Mermaid Imports at the fair? What do things made in China have anything to do with a county fair?

If I was in charge of the world, county fairs would not allow anything not grown or made locally by hand to be sold at a county fair. Heavy equipment would be limited to farm equipment or environmentally friendly machinery that uses renewable sources of energy, like windmills. No hot tubs (cedar built saunas okay), no four-wheelers, no Army tanks. Just rows and rows of honey, goat cheese, wool hats and mittens, jams, pickles, birch bowls, wooden toys, handmade musical instruments, kites, fleece clothing and backpacks made out of recycled plastic water bottles, and organic fruits and vegetables for sale. How about a race track with cars that run on recycled vegetable oil. There would be a steady supply from the food booths. What if each car, instead of being decorated with decals advertising Home Depot, Lowe's, and Old Spice, each car had decals of the stand where the oil came from: Elephant Ears, deep fried zuchini and beer batter halibut.

And another thing: do we really need deep fried Twinkies? Does any other country on Earth take a nasty, artificially flavored snack pumped full of chemical preservatives and dip it in hot grease? 'nuff said.

The annual farm fair family photo.

The giant cabbages. This year's blue ribbon is 46 pounds. The record is 66 pounds.

Maya's new fairy dress with attached wings.

Petting goats

Petting chickens

Monday, August 10, 2009

Driving to Fairbanks

So here we are in Fairbanks. Riley and his friend Bradley are attending a hockey camp. We haven't been to Fairbanks since Christmas, 1999. It was a bit epic just getting here. There have been massive wildfires in the area that have cast heavy smoke over Fairbanks and closed the Parks Hwy at times. We were not sure we would be able to drive up. The Fairbanks Airport was closed so flying was not an option.

When we were getting ready to fly to Arizona in May, we were not sure if planes would be flying due to the volcano erupting. Funny how we move here for the natural beauty, then are surprised when our lives are inconvenienced by natural disasters. I should speak for myself, Matt's family is not surprised at all. Kathleen tried to prepare me all week for the smoke and haze. Fortunately, there was heavy rain Saturday night that opened the highway and left the air clean.

The drive up was not bad at all. We drove 5 hours to Palmer on Saturday, stopping several times. First, we stopped in Anchor Point to drop Trevor off at Lynn and Darwin's doggie daycare. Then we stopped in Soldotna for lunch. Then we stopped in Anchorage to pick up two more wireless headphones for the DVD player in my Toyota Sienna 7 passenger van. This was a critical key to the peaceful drive to Fairbanks on Sunday (thanks to my brilliant husband!).

We arrived at Jill's house around dinner time. Jill is the friend that graciously put us up during the state hockey tournament in April. She once again opened her home to us and we are ever so grateful. Sunday morning we stopped at Kristin's on the way out of town to visit her giant malamutes, Lupine and Gus. Riley had never seen Kristin's dinosaur egg so I had to get a picture for the blog. It is a truly amazing artifact as you can see from the photo below. Kristin and Gary found it while hiking.

Then we drove 309 miles to Fairbanks. We only stopped once, for lunch at the entrance to Denali Park. We smelled a hint of smoke but nothing like the heavy haze they had been experiencing for a week. Wildfires are common in the interior, but this year was particularly extreme. I'm trying to get an update on the total number of acres burned but haven't been able to come up with the most recent data. The kids were really good on the drive. They only started losing it during the last 30 miles. Matt was trying to nap in the car. They were really good the rest of the trip when I was napping. I am legendary for my carcolepsy. You've heard of narcolepsy? That's when people fall asleep mid-sentence. I cannot stay awake more than 15 minutes in a moving vehicle unless I have a giant bag of jalapeno flavored sunflower seeds and a Coca Cola. Oh well, it's payback time. They usually sleep on the flights Matt has them and fight on the flights I sit next to them.

We arrived in Fairbanks at dinner time. Kathleen made an incredible dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Kathleen's friend Kathy and her son Alex came over for dinner. The kids jumped on the trampoline, found a fugitive bunny, picked raspberries, played soccer, and groomed Wenonah, the ancient kitty. After dinner Alex treated us to a violin recital. At bedtime they got to watch Ratatouille before bed (We are just a little obsessed with food). Tonight we are headed to the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds to hear Alex play his violin, see the giant cabbages and, yep! you guessed it, consume large amounts of fairground food!

This is Uncle Jack, one of my mom's brothers.

We had to take turns being in the photo. Matt was on call in the ER.

Dropping Trevor off at Lynn and Darwin's doggie daycare. That's their new puppy, Sadie.

Under Jill's apple tree.

Dinner with Jill and Kristin: salmon with dill pesto, wild rice pilaf and salad.

Maya took this photo of the boys with Gus.

Maya took this photo of Lupine giving me a kiss.

Kristin and Gary found this fossil that looks like a dinosaur egg.

The spruce trees in the interior of Alaska are stunted by permafrost.

We stopped for lunch at the entrance to Denali Park.

Maya poses on this very decorative cache. A cache is for storing food where bears cannot get it.

Heritage tomatoes, mozzarella and basil sprinkled with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

The boys caught the bunny that has been living under Kathleen's shed. We think it was someone's pet who escaped. His ears are all chewed up from frost bite last winter.

Kathleen's 18 year old cat, Wenonah.

Alex plays violin for us. Maya is dancing along.

Sarah and Ryan in Alaska

Sarah visited us for 3 weeks. Ryan came up for the last 10 days. It was cloudy, raining or foggy most of the time. I think Ryan had 2 sunny days. The first sunny day they tried to go disc golfing. We found a private disc golf course in Homer on Diamond Ridge. I kept saying to Sarah, oh it's going to be so pretty up there with all the fireweed in bloom. I forgot about the part where you have to FIND your disc in all that fireweed!

Sarah and Ryan went fishing with Matt's sister Kathleen and Steve one day. They caught halibut and cod but no salmon. They went fishing with Matt one day, got one small cod and several "ugly fish" or Irish Lords. They tried their luck one last time with a friend of Sarah's. Mike put down a crab pot and got 5 Tanner crabs that were keepers.

Most of the time, we just hung around the house, shooting hoop, playing catch, eating massive family dinners. While Ryan and Sarah were here, so were Kathleen and Steve. Then we had visits from out of state friends like Vic Varrick, his son Chad, and grandson Trent. Then our last interim pastor, Richard Gilbert from Wyoming came to visit with his two grandsons from New Mexico. Finally, my uncle Jack visited from New Jersey. That gets us all caught up to where we are now, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Sarah in the fireweed.

Ryan and Maya

Sarah looking good in rubber overalls.

Chris and Riley take Flat Stanley disc golfing.

Now where did that disc go? And where is the next basket?

Trevor enjoying some one on one time with Sarah.
Tanner crab doing pull-ups. By the way, this is what dust mites look like under the microscope, Ewwww, YUCK!