Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Living in the midnight sun

Last summer was technically our first here in Alaska, however we were so busy moving, unpacking, getting our house set up and preparing for our first school year that we didn't get to experience all of the fun that Alaska has to offer in the summer.

This year we have taken full advantage of this beautiful place. We kicked off the summer by hosting a work team from Arizona who came to help do some upkeep and maintenance on campus, getting it ready for our new students in the fall. We had a great time showing them around the area, and enjoyed spending time with old friends.

While the college students and the dads worked on campus chopping wood and building awnings the kids and moms worked across the street, providing a VBS week for our church. It was a huge success! Our church in AZ was very generous and sent up all the materials we needed to put on a great VBS.

After each long day of work we took the work team around the peninsula. These pics were from a fun trip to Homer, AK.

The wood that the work team chopped served two purposes. First, it helped clear some of the extra trees on campus, reducing our fire danger. Second, it will provide fuel for many Alaskan homes which are heated solely by a wood stove. We gave all of the wood to an organization that distributes it to Alaskan's in need.

One of the highlights of the week was taking the work team to hike Russian River Trail. We weren't able to leave for the hike until they completed their whole day of work, so we hiked from about 8pm-12pm. One of the benefits of round-the-clock light is that you can be active outdoors at any time of day.

Throughout the entire summer Noah has been learning how to play hockey. This has been a really fun experience! He has been playing 3x3 which resembles half-court basketball. Starting in October he will be able to join a local team and play "full ice."

Our family loves to camp, but in Alaska camping comes with some higher risks than we were previously used to. Although people do tent camp here, most opt to go in a camper for that extra layer of "bear protection." I imagine a bunch of people in a tent might resemble a burrito to a bear. :)  We had the chance to go camping down in Homer-right on the Spit (the piece of land that juts out into Kachemak Bay.) We stayed in a camper with some of our friends. The kids had a blast playing on the beach, flying kites, and exploring. The adults enjoyed the close proximity to the coffee shop on the Spit!

This park is right down the street from our house, and we have spent many hours watching the kids play there. One creative Alaskan mom rigged up an ice cream truck with a booster seat in the back for her toddler and spends the summer driving around with her kids selling ice cream. Stopping at the park she struck gold on this warm day!

There are many hiking trails of all difficulty levels right in our area. Most are somewhere between where we live and Anchorage. Steve has been wanting to hike Skyline for some time now, so we decided to attempt it one afternoon. We had heard that it was a more difficult trail- but we had no idea just how difficult it would be, especially with two younger kids.

We managed to reach the summit, but I am pretty sure that was due to shear will power and not any ability on the kids (or my) part! Once they heard that there was a box at the top they could sign they were hooked. At several points you pretty much have to rock climb up sections so it got interesting to say the least. We won't be attempting it again with kids for a few years- and we will probably bring some rope the next time we do. Fortunately there are many less intense hikes to practice on until then.

Steve and his friends enjoy "running" skyline which to me is just craziness. They can do it in about 1 1/2 hours. It took our family 6.

Signing their names at the summit

The day after hiking skyline (and with a new appreciation for steep mountains) we went to watch the annual Fourth of July Mt. Marathon race in Seward. This race started as a bar bet between two guys almost 50 years ago. Now hundreds of lucky individuals (you have to win a lottery to qualify) race up and down the mountain each year. It is not really a marathon- that's just the name of the mountain. It is more like a 5k...a very vertical 5k. This year the weather was beautiful, but it is not uncommon for the racers to be slipping and sliding down muddy slush as they make their (controlled fall) descent.

Of course Steve is hoping to enter the lottery next year.

The whole first part of the summer Steve was working on three intensive courses for his Master's in Mathematics program. After working with the work teams, or hiking with the family he would stay up all night doing very complicated math. He is the best! He has never sacrificed family time for his schooling, and this degree is the same. He should finish the degree next summer. This degree allows him to meet the accreditation requirements as the department head of General Studies at ACC. 

Other than his math courses, Steve has spent the summer finishing his Syriac Grammar textbook and developing an online statistics course for Kenai Peninsula College- the school next door to ACC. While he slaved away I took the kids to visit my family in Colorado and Wyoming.

Noah and Grandpa Jim on the Alpine Slide

When asked what the one thing he would like to do in Colorado was, Noah said, "Ride the Light Rail!" So, ride the light rail we did! We took it into downtown Denver and walked around for the day, having a picnic in front of the capital.

After a few days in Colorado we drove up to Wyoming where we spent time with my Grandma, Aunt, and a brief day with my mom, my step-dad, and the kid's cousins.

Concert in the park

Enjoying the Frontier Day parade with Maureen, Grandma, Aunt Erin and Dad

The Wyoming Capital

Celebrating Grace's birthday with family

We got back from Colorado/Wyoming the night before Grace's 8th bday. For her birthday, Grace requested that we go dip-netting. Dip-netting is a form of subsistence living that is available to Alaska residents exclusively. Basically you take a giant (5 ft diameter) net attached to a 12-20ft pole and walk out into the river or the inlet. Eventually (usually) a large salmon swims into your net at which point you flip it over and drag it in, trying not to slip on the way. Then, you bonk the fish on the head with a club. I struggled with the idea of this until I realized its probably less painful than getting hooked and slowly suffocating. We didn't have much luck on her bday, but over the month-long season we caught around 40 lbs of fish. Plenty to get us through until next summer.

After fishing we spent Grace's bday having her new favorite dinner (thanks to Grandma Terry)-Shepard's Pie. We had several close friends over to celebrate with us. The kids did a great job decorating the cake!

The final thing our summer has consisted of is swimming. Grace has continued to swim on the Peninsula swim team all summer. Noah has been taking daily lessons in hopes of joining the swim team this fall. For the lessons and swim team the kids swim in the local high school pool, but for a fun treat the other day they got to go swimming in a local lake.

It was a pretty cold day but that didn't stop them from jumping right in. Steve and I stayed huddled on the shore under their towels while they explored the lake, swimming, playing, and catching minnows.

Noah with his minnow friend

In just two weeks we will be heading back to our regularly-scheduled program. It is bittersweet to watch summer come to a close, but we are excited for what this new school year will bring.

We will have the largest class ever at ACC- almost 60 students. I will be moving into a new work position there- more to come on that next month, while continuing to teach my English course at ACC. Steve will be teaching 3 math courses and a Bible course as well as continuing his administrative duties for ACC. He is also teaching a couple of math courses at KPC (for some extra income and experience.)

Grace will be starting 3rd grade and Noah will be starting 1st grade at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, right across the street from ACC.

In a few short weeks the light will start noticeably fading and hints of cold weather will begin. For some this can be a sad time, but with everything we have to look forward to in our work, ministry, and family life, Winter is just a new adventure waiting to be experienced.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Only in Alaska

I can't believe that we are nearing the end of summer! In just a few weeks our kids will be heading back to school, and we will be heading back to work. It has been such a blessing that Steve has been able to work primarily from home over the summer. We have been able to spend some great time making memories with our kiddos and each other.  I am going to do a separate post on some of our summer adventures. :)

June 4th marked our official "one year in Alaska" anniversary. I was reflecting with some friends a few days ago on how much this place can change you. There were so many things that seemed very foreign to us when we first arrived that we now take for granted. I thought it might be fun to make a list of my top "Only in Alaska" discoveries. It is a work in progress- I am sure much will be added to it over the next year.

Only in Alaska...

* is meat considered a great gift. The first day in our new house a year ago a neighbor knocked on our door and said, "here, I killed this fish for you." His housewarming gift was thoughtful, and very Alaskan. Our friends gave us some Halibut the other day and I was thrilled. As I thought about it I realized that over the past year we have been given pounds and pounds of Halibut, Salmon, Moose, Caribou, and even Beef. I don't think that prior to moving to Alaska we had ever been gifted with meat. We probably wouldn't have appreciated it the way we do now.

*is the appearance of a flower cause to be depressed. Late summer in Alaska means that the countryside is dotted with bright pinkish purplish flowers called Fireweed. This beautiful flower signals the beginning of the end of summer. The flower blooms, starting at the bottom of the stem and moving its way up to the tip by the end of the season. When the top of the flower blooms the first snow is only weeks (or days) away.

* are lawn tractors an accepted form of transportation. I have seen three or four people in the last few days alone driving down major streets on their lawn mowers. Were their cars broken? Did their four wheelers fail them? I may never know... but I have learned not to ask too many questions.

*are waders considered appropriate dress for going out. At the store, eating out, driving around town: wherever you go during the Alaskan summer you will see people of all ages dressed in chest waders and boots. I myself am guilty of this one- my friend and I went to grab a quick bite to eat after dip netting and I realized I could either wear my waders, or the long underwear I had on underneath the waders. Mine were paired with the classic ski sock under Teva sandal combo. No one in the restaurant even gave me a second glance.

*is it common for your kids to ask you if it is day or night at random times throughout the day/night.  My poor kiddos really need to wear a watch because they simply cannot tell what time of day it is by looking out the window. Many times they have asked me if it is night when it is around noon. Sometimes they will try to clarify if we are eating lunch or dinner. This problem persists year-round unfortunately, as the land of the midnight sun turns into the land of the midday moon. Melatonin supplements and sleep masks are our friends!
Both kids have gotten used to sleeping with sleep masks

*are wildlife a part of daily life. From seeing bald eagles out my bedroom window as they soar over the cliff, to having moose friends visit our front yard looking for some tasty roses, wild animals are part and parcel with living in Alaska. As long as you are respectful and cautious they can be a great bonus to living in this place.
Just a guy... walking his reindeer at the marathon

*are your parking spot options limited only by your vehicle's ability to traverse the terrain. On the sidewalk, in the yard, on the playground, on the beach- all valid parking options. No defined parking space? No problem. If your car can drive there, you can park there. This becomes especially true in the winter when the snow and ice make it impossible to see where the parking spots are supposed to be. I think some Alaskan's see this as a fun challenge- how many crazy places can you possibly park your car?

*are you guaranteed to know at least one (but most likely more) person/people anywhere you go. This includes any reality tv show about Alaska you watch. There just aren't that many people here in Alaska. Only 731,441 people live in the entire state, which is 1/3 the size of our entire nation. 56,900 of us are crowded here on the peninsula. That's 3.5 people per square mile here on the peninsula. Since many of the reality shows take place either in Anchorage or around here, it is not surprising that we often see familiar faces (and make fun of them accordingly!)

Our friend Rueben (Noah's best friend's dad) showed up on "Buying Alaska" on HGTV. Steve was the first to recognize him :)
* does 60 degree weather mean it's time to go swimming outside. Actually this picture was taken when it was 57 but we figured that was close enough. ;)

Also: only in Alaska do you swim where sea planes dock (check out the one in the background)

Other "only's" include:
* Only one issue on the ballot
* Plugs  attached to block heaters hanging out of every car
* "The fish were running" as a valid excuse for missing/being late to anything
* Bogs/Snow boots paired with dress clothes
* Roadkill as a great source of organic/free range meat
* Friendly, real people who put relationships and serving each other over personal comfort and gain. (This one might not be exclusive to Alaska, but it sure has been true of our community here!)