Some More Firsts

I experienced another Alaska first last night.  The television was on and that familiar and irritating warning signal went off.  I was in another part of the house, so I went to see what the warning was regarding, expecting it to be a test signal.  Turns out it was a real warning….for a tsunami!  Luckily for us, the warning was well south of Anchorage.  The warning system is for the entire state of Alaska so we heard it as well.  A 7.7 earthquake had occurred off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.  The tsunami warning was issued for British Columbia and southern Alaska.  All in all, it was a sobering reminder that we live along the Ring of Fire and to expect the unexpected.  I’m also grateful for my home on the Hillside, well out of the way of a tsunami.

On a much, much lighter note, I had another first ten days ago or so.  The Christmas lights are up on our house.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We have Christmas lights up and functioning in the middle of October.  Now I’m normally a person that takes one holiday at a time.  I don’t like to rush through Thanksgiving to get to Christmas.  But here’s the reality of living in Anchorage – you have to get the Christmas lights up before there’s too much snow on your roof.   Our days have gotten considerably shorter now that we’re well into fall.  The Christmas lights provide a little more light during the long nights and seem to make everything a tad more cheerful.  The Christmas lights will stay up and on through February, possibly into March.  I’ve been told some people like to leave their lights up until the Red Lantern award has been given at the Iditarod.  The Red Lantern is given to the last musher into Nome.  I like that idea.  When the Iditarod is over, the days are finally getting longer and though it’s still bitterly cold, spring is only a short time away.

Random Observations #2

1.  Using the term “y’all” in conversation automatically labels you an outsider.

Me:  Are y’all going to take down that tree or is another crew going to come do that?

Workman:  Y’all?  You’re not from here are you?

2.  Women in Alaska don’t refer to each other as “honey”.

Me:  Oh, honey, I made that entire cake from scratch.  Icing and everything.

Friend:  Did you just call me honey?

Me:  Um, yeah.  Do they not do that here?

3.  There seems to be an abundance of redheads in Anchorage.  I’m not sure why.  My theory is a lot of people have families that migrated from Minnesota and Wisconsin and thus brought Nordic genes with them.  Not sure if that is even slightly correct, but it’s the answer I’m going with.

4.  Keeping a chicken coop seems to be a bad idea.  In the past two days, two brown bears have broken in to chicken coops to try and get one last good meal before hibernating.  Unfortunately, both bears were shot.  One incident occured out on Kodiak Island and the other only two minutes from my house!

5.  October 22nd is way too early to have temperatures in the teens.

Here We Go Again

In my last post I described the windstorm we had here in SouthCentral Alaska last week.  Well guess what?  We are predicted to have another one this weekend.  Winds are predicted to be 40 miles an hour with gusts to 65 mph on the Lower Hillside and 75 with gusts to 100 mph on the Upper Hillside and Turnagain Arm.  Fun.

We were quite fortunate last week as we suffered very little damage and did not lose our power for an extended period of time.  Our friends and neighbors were not so lucky.  We’ll take all the prayers you can send this way that the storm damage is minimal, as many people are still cleaning up from last week.

And now guess what I’m doing this evening?  That’s right.  Checking the flashlights and lanterns.  Putting anything that can become a missile in the garage.  Charging the phones.  Doing laundry so we all have clean clothes and checking the pantry.

An Alaskan Hurricane

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast.  Hurricanes and tropical storms are just a part of summer.  Many childhood summer memories revolve around tracking storms to see where they might hit.  My godfather and his wife had a magnetic map with longitude/latitude lines where you placed red magnets along the path of the storm.  Sounds very low tech doesn’t it?  As a kid I thought it was pretty cool.  Please remember this was the 1980s and before the internet, but I digress….Bringing lawn furniture into the garage, checking the batteries in your flashlights and lanterns, taping or boarding up your windows and making sure you had enough water and non-perishable food was part of the summer ritual.

I didn’t ever consider that those skills might come in handy up here in the Last Frontier.  They did.  Last Tuesday night and Wednesday morning we had an Alaskan windstorm.  Overnight winds were tropical storm and hurricane strength.  My understanding is these storms can be common in the fall here, but this storm came early in the season and was particularly bad.  Downtown had winds in the 40 mph range, though looking at some of the pictures in the paper of storm damage I think it could have been higher.  As you moved up what’s called the Hillside (closer to and up into the Chugach mountains) the winds were stronger.  We live mid-Hillside and we had winds in the 60-70 mph range.  Even higher up winds were over 100 mph.  So in other words, we had a hurricane minus the flooding and storm surge.

I really didn’t sleep well that night; the wind was so loud and I was concerned with what I was going to find the next morning.  We were lucky.  We kept our power, though we did have many power surges.  We had no major damage and only one small tree at the back of the property was down.  Our neighbors weren’t so lucky.  One of them had three large trees down.  Others had at least one tree down.  School was cancelled all over town on Wednesday due to power outages and trees down over the roads.  Many homes didn’t get power back until this weekend.

Lessons learned:  put away all lawn furniture, make sure you have enough water and non-perishable food, check the batteries in your lanterns and flashlights, consider purchasing a generator. I think some of my hurricane preparedness training will come in handy.

Tree down in the neighborhood

The End of Summer

It’s been quite awhile since my last post.  It was never my intent to go so long without posting.  Life, specifically, summer seemed to get in the way.  We had our family vacation in June.  The girls had a couple of nature camps they attended in July.  Then family came in town at the end of July and the beginning of August.  We camped, we fished, we rafted and then what do you know?  It was time for the kids to go back to school.

This summer has been really long.  No, really.  The school year here is about two weeks shorter than our school year back in Texas.  By the middle of July, the kids had already been out of school for two months and I was on the edge of insanity thinking what am I going to do with them for another month?!  Luckily, grandparents came to town just in the nick of time!  It hasn’t helped that this summer has been rather rainy and cold.  There were several times when I really had to bite my tongue when people would ask how I was enjoying my summer.  “Summer, what summer?  It’s 62 degrees and raining all the time.  That’s not summer!!”  I will admit I couldn’t always keep my disappointment in check.  I mean, isn’t that supposed to be part of the beauty of Alaska?  Its summer.  I found myself disappointed and craving warmth.   In all fairness, the 8 -12 pretty days we had were absolutely fabulous.  I just wish there had been more of them.

Then from the other perspective, the summer flew by.  Don’t you hate how that happens?  There were so many things I planned to do and somehow they just never happened.  I wanted to hike more.  There were projects in the house I wanted to get to and never seemed to.  I finally made the girls sit and write their thank you notes for their birthday presents (Their birthdays were in May and June.  I know, I know.  All the good, Southern girls out there are shaking their heads at me.  I went way past the 2 week timeline to meet proper etiquette.)

And now September is here.  Leaves on the trees in our yard have started turning from green to yellow.  The last several days have been very windy and are blowing those yellow leaves off the trees.  I’m having the kids try on their heavy coats and snow pants and see who needs new things.  I need to get Jack new snow boots.  I’ve googled Halloween costumes.  The other night as I was walking the dogs, I looked up at the sky and wondered what the light was shining through the trees.  It was the moon.  The days have finally gotten shorter.  Night has returned.  And so it seems we’re heading into fall.

The Reluctant Outdoorsman

My father loved the outdoors.  He hunted, fished, hiked part of the Appalachian Trail.  He raised a small herd of cattle – for fun.  He gave my mother really practical gifts – like a horse.  He loved anything outside and I loved doing any of those things with him.  Unfortunately, my father died unexpectedly when I was almost eight years old.  My mother was then busy trying to keep our little family going.  Except for the occasional Girl Scout camping trip, outdoor hobbies fell by the wayside.

My husband loves the outdoors as well.  He hunts, fishes, hikes, backpacks.  I love tagging along with him.  When we lived in Texas, our hiking opportunities were limited to our vacations.  All of those trips were day hikes.  I’ve never backpacked.  That’s not to say I haven’t gone on long hikes.  I once blew out a knee going 12 miles on our first day of hiking in Banff.  Apparently my knee (which had suffered previous injuries when I danced on the high school drill team) thought 10 miles was plenty.  So all that to say, although I really like the idea of being outdoorsy, I’m very much a novice that really likes to sleep in her own comfy bed at night.

Then we move to Alaska.  We buy a pop-up camper.  My husband buys a raft.  A really, really big, blue, inflatable raft.  We don’t have a trailer for the raft, so we have to disassemble it to transport it.  The raft is deflated and rolled up and put in the back of Todd’s SUV.  The frame is put on top of his SUV.  The camper is pulled behind the SUV.  We look like the Beverly Hillbillies going down the road.

I find myself slightly irritated.  I have to get three kids plus myself packed for camping and rafting.  In Alaska, you don’t just throw on your swimsuit and life jacket to raft.  You have to have many layers of warm clothes and rain gear and boots.  Then I have to shop for the camping trip, figuring out what we’re going to feed our family on the trip.  In other words, it’s a lot of work for me.

But here’s the thing, our kids ADORE camping and rafting.  They squeal with delight when we tell them we’re going.  We’re building family memories that they can look back on long after Todd and I are gone.  And if I’m honest, once we’re out there, I love it too.

Say What?!

We’ve been experiencing some, in my opinion, depressing weather here in Anchorage.  It’s been cloudy and rainy with highs only in the 50s.  This morning the front page of the newspaper reported it’s the coldest July on record so far.  Now I understand most of the country is experiencing record heat, drought and storms.  I imagine many people would love a little bit of our weather.  Believe me, if we could some how trade a bit of our weather for the Lower 48 and make life a little more bearable for us all, I would!

So this morning when the sun made a semi-appearance, the kids and I headed to a nearby park for an hour or so.  We then came home to have lunch.  We decided to sit out on our deck enjoying the sunshine that had fully arrived.  After finishing their lunch 2 out of 3 kids told me they were hot and going inside.  Ok, fine by me, I’m going to sit out here and absorb every possible sun ray.  When I finished my lunch, I went inside, looked at the weather on my phone and saw that it was 61 degrees F!  Yes, my friends, apparently that is now too hot for some of my children.  Funny, none of them had any problem going out and riding their bikes later.  I’m sure that’s because it was cloudy again by then.

Thoughts While I’m Outside

The “Outside” is the term used in Alaska for anyplace other than Alaska, particularly the Lower 48. The kids and I have made our first trip “Outside”. I’ve made a few more observations about our life in Alaska.

1. When people ask me where I’m from, I answer Anchorage, Alaska, but I clarify that I’ve only lived there 6 months and I’m really from Texas. I can’t seem to help myself. I guess you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the girl. I really need to get out of this habit though. People find me much more interesting when I’m from Alaska. They sort of lose interest once they hear Texas.

2. I have become so accustomed to really cold temperatures that now 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit feels amazing and 75 feels almost hot! I just might pass out if the temperature gauge reaches anything over 90.

3. My kids and I have had pants, long sleeves and a coat on for six months now. What does that mean when you’re on vacation and wearing shorts, skirts and short sleeves? It means you’re really white. Our skin almost glows in the dark. Add the sunscreen with the zinc oxide that I put on all our arms and their faces and you might mistake us for Casper the ghost. We’re enjoying the warm weather though – such a pleasant change.

Random Observations

1. Never trust the weather forecast here. Seriously, don’t even bother to look. Just assume it will be cloudy and chilly most of the day. Dress in layers. Be prepared for rain. Pray you get lucky and the sun decides to show itself. When the sun does come out, drop everything and get outside.

2. Roundabouts are awesome. So much better than a traffic light. They’re much more efficient. South Anchorage has several roundabouts and I love them.

3. Nothing smells better than Alaska after a rain. It has to be one of the best smells on earth. Something about the rain makes the cedar smell stand out and it is heavenly. It’s clean and fresh smelling. Just amazing really. I want my whole house to smell that way.

4. Driveway update – all snow disappeared from our driveway Memorial Day Weekend. All snow disappeared from our yard the first weekend of June! No lie! Crazy!