The Redford family adventure in Alaska.

Froze My Ice Off

Alaska had a cold front move in just in time for spring break. The high was in the teens all week in Anchorage so what better way to escape slightly-above zero temperatures than to head north to Fairbanks to enjoy some negative double digit temperatures. The 6.5 hour drive to Fairbanks is spectacular! The highway hugs the Chugach Mountain Range up to Wasilla and then follows a section of the Alaska Range, including Mt. McKinley/Denali, up to Fairbanks. We were extremely lucky in that both days coming and going, the sky was perfectly clear without a cloud to be seen. Denali was out in her full glory both days. Although the drive was long, I scarcely opened a book because the mountains looming on both sides kept me mesmerized and entertained. I didn’t want to miss any of it! The road took us through Denali State Park and Denali National Park and Preserve.


Mt. McKinely/Denali, the tallest mountain in the U.S. but technically the tallest in the world when measured base to summit.

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The kids loved the glamorous Fairbanks Marriott. Although we only stayed two nights, the kids took full advantage of the pool and hot tub. I am so grateful that I live in this modern age– swimming in a warm pool while -25 degree temps rage outside is a beautiful luxury.

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We packed a lot in to our one day in Fairbanks. We headed over to the World Ice Art Championship and Kids Park. We dressed in a lot of layers complete with hand and foot warmers to ward off the cold. Archie kind of reminded me of Randy, Ralphie’s little brother, from “A Christmas Story” when he can barely move in his snow suit. It was so ridiculously cold, we only lasted just over an hour. One can’t really comprehend that kind of cold until one experiences it. Just our luck, Fairbanks warmed up 50 degrees two days after we left.

The ice sculptures were amazing and incredibly detailed! The kids park was super fun with a bunch of sculptures the kids could climb on with lots of slides. We went back later that night to see everything all lit up! It was awesome and really worth the drive to see them.

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Cool little ice cup that spins around!

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This pirate ship was so cool! And the slides were fast and fun!


One of my favorites! Giant squid sinking a pirate ship.


Life-size superheroes in ice! One of our favorites.


Carved from a single block!

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After the ice festival in the morning, we headed over to North Pole, Alaska for lunch and to check out Santa’s house. Now we can say we have actually been to the North Pole. The street lights had red striping on them like candy canes and the streets had Christmas names like Santa Claus Lane, St. Nicholas St, etc. Santa is in Hawaii until May so just the gift shop was open. It wasn’t that cool. Even the kids weren’t impressed but it’s something fun to see once. I’m guessing it’s more fun in the summer when Santa is there and the reindeer park is open.

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After North Pole, we drove an hour through forest to a natural hot springs, Chena Hot Springs. Adam’s boss and his family were there with us which made it a lot more fun for the kids. I doubt we would have stayed as long (3 hours) if the kids didn’t have friends to play with. There’s a big indoor pool with two hot tubs and then outside had a large hot tub and the natural hotspring itself. It was fun to sit in the hot tub and pool outside and watch everyone’s hair get frosty. Some people had an inch or more of frost on their hair and beards.


This is the natural pool. Only adults are allowed in this pool.

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We drove back to Fairbanks, ate a quick dinner and headed back to the ice festival. Needless to say, the kids slept pretty well that night.

The summation of spring break in Alaska this year:

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The minute spring break ended, the temperatures jumped up to a spring-like 45 degrees! Come on spring, don’t let us down!!


Long Night’s Journey into Day

It’s been a long, long, long dark winter but I finally started to notice the days growing longer as we entered February. Spring definitely feels like it’s on it’s way. I’ve noticed significantly more birds around, the thick ice on the road in front of our house has finally melted, we’ve spotted quite a few bald eagles around Anchorage, and the daylight feels back to lower-48-normal (10 hours-ish). We also saw some pretty warm temperatures last week (for Anchorage, at least) in the low 40s. A cold front just moved in yesterday, however, making spring break a bit brisk with highs in the teens. With the increase of daylight, my winter blues have faded and it feels like my body is waking up again.

The last couple of months have been pretty dull with a few highlights worth mentioning. In January, Adam and I were able to go to San Diego over a weekend with my company. Two of our good friends were able to help with our kids while we were gone. It was a really fun trip but far too short. The weather was so warm and the city so beautiful and nice. The best part was being able to spend time with one of my best friends and other good friends from Idaho and Boston. Our last night in San Diego, my company rented out the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier from WWII that has now been turned into a naval aviation museum. We had a catered dinner aboard ship and Adam took a turn in the flight simulator, we danced, and the night ended with fireworks off the bow. It was really nice to get away for a couple of days. It was so short, it felt like a beautiful dream.

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Meanwhile, back in the frozen tundra of Anchorage. Some photos of the kids and I checking out some ice sculptures in the heart of downtown Anchorage.

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We had a fun Valentine’s Day, complete with a package full of candy and toys from Grandma Ogden!

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About a month ago, we drove about an hour outside Anchorage to Byron Glacier near Portage. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining on the tops of the mountains while a scoop of clouds filled the little snow-laden valley beneath. We trudged through a mile of snow to get to the glacier and Adam pulled Archie on his little sled. It was peaceful and quiet with only the crunch of snow and occasional passing of fellow trail walkers or skiers.

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A few weeks ago, James participated in the school spelling bee. He made it to the third round with grades 3-6 participating. I could never be a pageant mom (for a variety of reasons) because I got so nervous every time it was his turn.

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We headed downtown a few weekends ago to watch the Flyin’ Iron Freestyle Show. Basically, snowmobiles doing flips and tricks in the air. It was pretty cool to watch for a bit and it gave us a reason to get out of the house. It was a free event held on one of the main streets downtown. The kids got bored with it after awhile.

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Ruby had oral surgery a couple of weeks ago to remove to extra front teeth in her palate that were impeding the descent of permanent teeth. It was maybe a 2 minute surgery. She was put out with IV sedation and she did great. She ate lots of ice cream and popsicles for few days.

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Last weekend, we joined in the Fur Rondy festivities. The Fur Rendezvous Festival (usually called Fur Rendezvous, Fur Rondy, or simply Rondy) is an annual winter festival held in Anchorage, Alaska in late February. The self-styled “largest winter festival in North America”, Fur Rendezvous is highly anticipated by many Anchorage-area residents as marking the beginning of the end of a long winter and the approach of spring. In 2012, Fur Rendezvous was selected as the number one winter carnival in the world by the National Geographic Traveler. Rondy lasts just over a week with all kinds of crazy events like the porta-potty race, the running of the reindeer, the ceremonial start of the annual Iditarod sled dog race, (to name a few), and of course, a carnival. Last Saturday, we went downtown to check out the porta-potty race. One noble steed/potty was named the “Poop Mobile.” The announcer had all kinds of ‘potty’ and excrement jokes. It was the perfect event for an eight year old boy. We watched the races for a while and when we got bored we walked over to the carnival. The rides were ridiculously expensive (like everything else in Alaska) but I told Adam that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ride carnival rides in freezing temperatures with snow coming down. I was right, it was unforgettable. And we were frozen by the time we left.


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Potty races

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The Fur Rondy Queens

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The kids had no school on Friday which officially launched us into spring break. So, on Friday we decided to check out the Fur Rondy snow sculpture competition downtown. The sculptures were looking a bit mushy due to the rain and warmer temperatures but they were still cool and worth checking out.

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We are so ready for spring. It’s been cold for so long that I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to go outside without it being a big production with coats, boots, gloves, snow skirts, and hats. I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my body and the kids keep asking me how long winter will last. It feels like forever.

Speaking of snow skirts, I had never even heard of a snow skirt prior to our move to Alaska. Now, both Ruby and I have one and I love it! It keeps my legs toasty warm with the convenience of sliding a skirt on/off as opposed to snow pants. Best invention ever! Here’s a photo of Ruby wearing her’s on a winter hike.

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Today, we spent part of the afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese with a bunch of friends from church. Then, we headed out to one of our favorite spots by the ocean to hike around and play in the ice and water.

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And just to round it all off, a picture of a cute harbor seal from the zoo this past weekend who kept playfully putting his nose up to the glass.

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May the Merry Bells Keep Ringing

December seemed to fly by, thanks to holiday preparations (why don’t I ever start earlier?!), although it was marked with dogged depression, loneliness, and isolation. December was the darkest month literally and figuratively. No one really understands what it’s like to live in the dark until one experiences it firsthand. Many people who live here don’t seem to have a problem with the darkness and it probably wouldn’t affect me as much if I hadn’t already been feeling sad, forgotten, and alone. I really hope our time is almost done here.

This winter has been strange. We’ve only had one snowfall which happened before Thanksgiving so, to compound the cabin fever, there’s nothing for the kids to play in outside. Everything is covered in a thick layer of ice from the original snow and subsequent freezing rain. I have to have pretty decent momentum just to make it up our driveway with the car. The other day, it took me three tries and the car even slid back down on the second attempt. Our driveway is a hazard as it has a pretty good slope to it. Last week, our garbage can sat outside for several days because I could not get it back up the driveway and it was pretty dang scary getting it down the driveway to begin with.

Since Anchorage itself is a dump with very limited venues for indoor play (unless you have unlimited funds), I took the kids to as many free community holiday events as I could. Adam was out of town a lot or working 12-15 hour days before the holidays so the kids and I were basically on our own.

We went to the Winter Solstice celebration (5 hours 28 minutes of “daylight”) where we went on a free horse-drawn sleigh ride and ice skated on the adjacent pond. It was a fun activity and it was nice to have a reason to get out of the house. I also took the kids to see the annual gingerbread house village downtown. We enjoyed a nice ward Christmas party, visited Santa’s workshop at the BassPro Shop, made Santa trains at Lowe’s, and some other stuff. We made a ton of cookies and treats for neighbors and friends and we enjoyed providing presents for a family in need. We had a very nice Christmas but we were all pretty homesick.

We went to a late-afternoon movie on Christmas Eve as a family (Alexander and the terrible… Day) and we all loved it! And this was the first Christmas where I really felt like I nailed the gifts for each of the kids; everyone was really excited and happy with their gifts and, of course, they were spoiled by their grandparents and cousins. We’ve been very blessed. It’s a wonderful feeling to be in a position where we can help other families in need at Christmas time because there were several years when unknown and known hands blessed our family and children with gifts and money. It’s humbling to be on the receiving end and it’s equally humbling to be able to be the giver. We have loved making that a family tradition. I love to see my children pick out presents and wrap them for other children and they giggle with anticipation of our anonymous deposit. We had a great Christmas!

We didn’t really do much on New Year’s Eve. We went downtown for the fireworks at 8pm, came home and put Archie and Ruby to bed but James insisted on staying up til midnight. It was a pretty lame party for him; we’ll make up for it next year. Honestly, I was just trying to get through each day of darkness, barely hanging on knowing that I should have been popping Prozac like candy but not wanting to deal with the side effects. This place will suck a person’s will to live and, no, SAD lights don’t work.

Fortunately, I’ve just started noticing within the last few days a hint of light still in the sky at 5:00pm. Mind you, it’s still practically pitch black, but there’s a very light at 5:00 so I know it’s gradually, slowly getting lighter. I think I saw the first glimmer of light this morning at 9:00am. It is a dark hell. And yet, it’s really an amazingly beautiful, wonderful place in the summer. I try to be really careful about expressing any negativity in front of the kids but even they get sick of it. Ruby has asked me several times, “Mommy, why is winter so loooong here?” and “Mommy, why is it dark all the time here? I wish it was summer. I wish we were in Hawaii.” You and me both, sister. I really think the winter takes it’s toll on a lot of people here; it’s just so dang long and dark.

Adam and I went to San Diego last weekend with my company, EF, and it was astounding how bright it was outside despite it being overcast most of the time. The sun was up at like 7:30 and it was high in the sky and way brighter than anything I had seen all winter even though it was behind the clouds. I think I had also forgotten what the outside world is really like. Flying in over the city, Adam and I both kept commenting on how NICE everything looked– the buildings, the streets, the people, the sidewalks, the houses– everything about the city was so beautiful compared to the city of Anchorage. Everything is so old and rundown in Anchorage, it’s dirty, sidewalks are rare, and the shopping is terrible. And I realized that I would welcome Seattle in a heartbeat. I had this sense of dread when we had to fly back to Alaska and leave beautiful San Diego behind. And now, of course, Adam is back in California for a few days. He’s lucky that he gets to escape quite often. Last week he was in Phoenix.

Anyway, that’s my long, ranting, winter post for the year. Hopefully, we’re on our way out soon!!

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Archie Turns 3

Our little Archie man turned three the week before Thanksgiving. He is such a good-natured, fun, easy-going, happy, social, friendly, playful little guy. All three of our children have vastly different personalities and Archie serves as our comic relief. It’s refreshing to have a child who’s amiable, smiles and waves to everyone, outgoing, and easily makes new friends. I decided to have a small friend party for him with his little friends from church while the older kids were at school. Since Archie really likes Batman and superheroes currently, I decided to make t-shirt capes for each of the party attendees. The kids played and we ate a light lunch and, of course, had cupcakes. Everyone brought gifts (despite my imploring not to) and we all had a nice time. We are very lucky to have so many wonderful people in our lives.

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The next day, we celebrated Archie’s birthday as a family. We splurged and went to Chuck E. Cheese and ordered the bare-minimum party package. The kids were so excited to go in the ticketblaster but Ruby is so shy all she did was stand there while the tickets swirled around her. At one point, the 1000-ticket paper was cradled in her arm while we were all screaming at her from the outside to grab it and she just watched it float away. It was pretty funny. Our personal ‘party attendant’ held up a single candle for Archie to blow out as Chuck E. sang “Happy Birthday” to him. She noted that it “had happened before” when we asked if other people had not brought/bought a cake for their kid. Pretty sure she thought we were weirdo cheapos… which we are. We went home and Archie opened presents. Grandma Connie sent him a really cool Batman sweatshirt which he loves! He’s a a cuddly ball of joy.

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We hit our one year Alaska anniversary on October 6th and we happened to be taking a walk in the exact area where we posed for our first picture in Anchorage. I can’t believe we have been here a year. It feels so much longer and yet, in some ways, it feels like we just landed. We’ve had extreme highs and abysmal  lows.

With the onset of snow and winter in October, our pace has slowed down quite a bit. Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to this past month.

Ruby and I were invited to a mother-daughter activity at our church. It was a Hawaiian theme. We had dinner and the moms did an ice cream sandwich eating contest. I lost by a lot. I’m one of the slowest eaters on earth and knew I didn’t stand a chance. Ruby really enjoyed having me all to herself that night.

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Archie wore his old cop costume a lot last month. He insisted on wearing it to bed. He’s such a little character– very social and fun-loving and always dressing up and wrestling with James and Ruby.

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Our first snow came on a Sunday night a couple of weeks before Halloween. Fortunately, we got out and enjoyed the mountains the day before and the day of before the snow hit. Adam and James went mountain biking on Powerline Pass Trail and were lucky enough to observe two big brown bears chowing down on a moose. James was so excited to finally see his first bear in the wild! Ruby was quite upset that she wasn’t there. I was at the head of the trail with Ruby and Arch, enjoying one of the last snow-free days in the mountains. There were a ton of paragliders out that day as well. They are always fun to watch gliding and soaring above the mountains.

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The following day, Sunday, we drove up a different road and enjoyed an afternoon walk. It was a beautiful fall day.

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Mt. O’Malley seen from our yard. I love that peak.

And then the snow came. The kids were so excited!

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We participated in several Halloween events. Downtown Anchorage does free trick or treating at downtown businesses, including the mall, the Saturday before Halloween. The kids got a lot of candy and some friends joined us too. It’s one of the best community events offered here. Later that night, we were invited to go to a dutch oven club. A man in our ward is a master dutch oven chef and since Adam is getting into dutch oven cooking himself, we were invited to the club. Some amazing food including trash can turkey, shrimp gumbo, stuffing, lasagna, rolls, cobbler, cinnamon rolls, and more. It was delicious. Then we headed straight over to the kids’ school Halloween carnival. They ended up with so much candy! James had 5 lbs! On Halloween, he got 15lbs MORE of candy. It was totally out of control but so fun.

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Archie’s playgroup Halloween party. The little ones loved it!

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The love I have for this place in the summer equals my loathing for it in the winter. We talk frequently about coming back to enjoy the Alaskan summers in the coming years. This state is one gigantic playground and summer is paradise here. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, put Alaska on your must-see list!

On the other hand, I really, really struggle with the cold and dark. With the time change, it’s dark now by 5:00. I crave sunshine and warmth and natural vitamin D. I frequently dream that I’m in warm sunny places.

As difficult as it has been at times, we are very grateful to be here and have this opportunity for Adam to start a career. We try to keep that in perspective on the really tough days and remember the dead-end situation we were stuck in back home. We are immensely grateful that Adam’s boss decided to give Adam a chance despite not having any industry experience. We know many people would be thrilled to be in our position and we know that this is just training ground for the next position. At this point, Adam is able to take a job in another state; he’s put in his time and proved his work ethic. We are checking his company’s job postings daily, sometimes multiple times a day, waiting and watching for a good position to open up so we can move on. We wouldn’t be quite so anxious to move if a salary change hadn’t been implemented last month which has added to our stress. We know it will all work out for the best and so we are trying to be patient. We have been blessed with wonderful, supportive friends, a few of which share our same sentiments and struggles. I’m very grateful for friends who are always willing and able to give service and help out. A lot of us are transplants from out of state and don’t have family close by so it’s a huge blessing to have a support system.

And now we are gearing up for our second Thanksgiving and Christmas in Alaska.

And I still have some things left on my Alaska Bucket List!

Camera Play

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy playing with our new camera? I take way too many photos but this camera makes it’s so easy to get nice shots. On Saturday we headed up the mountain by our house to the Powerline Pass Trail (yes, again). Anchorage skies were overcast but the tops of the mountains were completely enveloped in clouds. The top third of the mountains were pretty much covered with snow and James kept hounding us to go hiking so he could check out the snow. How quickly kids forget that we will be knee deep in snow for 6 months straight. Nevertheless, we had nothing else better to do so we went for a little hike. It’s been pretty chilly the last few days with highs in the upper 30s and lower 40s. Brrrr. I am so not ready for the cold and snow but I know it’s coming.

Just as we started down the trail, we spotted a big bull moose sitting in the tall grass just off the side of the trail. He didn’t seem bothered by us so we carried on. It was so foggy that I could barely make out a cow sitting behind him. On our way back, the moose had moved and it turned out to be a little family– bull, cow and baby. The bull stood on one side of the trail and the cow and calf stood on the other. There was a pair of hikers in front of us who stopped us and said the bull was getting agitated so we had to wait for a few minutes for the moose to regroup and step a few paces off the trail. Pretty cool to be up close but also a little scary as they are very territorial and we had all of our kids.

We’ve had so many moose in our neighborhood lately. I passed a cow and her two calves just this morning on the way to the kids’ school. There have been several moose in our yard the last few days and I passed a bull moose on the same way to the kids’ school the other day. The kids love it and get so excited whenever they spot a moose.

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Fall 2014

Autumn arrives early in the great north and Alaska has been in her full fall glory for weeks now. Alaska is awe-inspiring any time of year, although I prefer the seasons that feature more than just the color white. We had several straight rainy days for awhile but it finally cleared up and we have been enjoying gorgeous sunny fall weather with temps in the low 50s. There is definitely a nip in the air and we’re slowly integrating warmer gear. Today, the kids pulled out their gloves for the first time.

The days are getting shorter as well with the sun setting before 8pm. As much as I hate to see it getting darker, I have actually enjoyed seeing the colorful sunrises and sunsets again.

The kids are busy with school and it’s been an interesting change with just me and Archie at home now. It’s kind of lonely, honestly, and Archie really misses having Ruby around to play with.

Our neighborhood park was revamped over the summer and finally reopened just a few weeks ago. The kids love the zipline!

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Much to Adam’s dismay, we trekked out to Palmer to take part in a harvest festival at large farm. The festival had various games, hayrides, pumpkin patch, etc, etc. It would have been fun had the entire state of Alaska not been there. Iit was ridiculously busy. The kids did only a couple of activities and then we left. It was a total waste of money and pretty disappointing. We have been spoiled with all of the harvest activities available in Idaho, many of them free. There’s only one here and I really wish we hadn’t gone. But, the drive out there was really amazing with all of the trees so that made it not quite as disappointing.

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A couple of Sundays ago, we took an evening walk as a family in the mountains above our house along Powerline Pass Trail. It was, of course, lovely and Mt. McKinely towered clear and bright in the background.

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James decided to join the month-long Cross Country club at school. He stayed for an hour after school twice a week to run his heart out. Last Saturday, there was a city-wide cross country fun run for all of the elementary schools in Anchorage. It was really fun to watch James run in his first race. He had a good time. It was a great event with a local DJ blasting some tunes and medals given to the racers.

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I took advantage of my alone time with Archie last week and went on a bike ride along Powerline Pass Trail. It’s a lot more work with an extra 40 pounds to lug up the hills. I would like to go back and try it without my little sidekick.

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On another afternoon, Archie and I drove up Turnagain Arm to one of our favorite spots, McHugh Creek. We wandered some trails, threw some rocks, checked out a herd of mountain goats, and Archie “rock climbed.” He literally climbed a 2 ft high boulder, turned around to face the ocean and said, “It’s ‘mazing! It’s bufful! Wow!” Guess he’s heard us admiring the view a few times on our hikes.

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On Sunday, Ruby came down with strep throat and the boys were feeling cooped up after church so I took them over to a nature preserve by our house. There were still a few large silver salmon hanging around and two of them were obviously together. The female kept flipping over on her back and hitting the bottom with her tail so she could drop her eggs. The male was hovering close by ready for his chance to fertilize those eggs. James was ecstatic! He had just been on a field trip to a local fish hatchery where he had learned all about spawning. There was a small group gathered around watching this salmon couple and James kept saying over and over quite loudly, “Live action spawning with James Redford! They’re mating!” Okay, okay, we get the picture. I started to get a little uncomfortable.  Fall2014 040 Fall2014 026 Fall2014 041

The moose seem more active lately. We’ve been seeing them everywhere including our front yard and street. There was a huge bull moose at the house across from us. It’s still exciting for all of us whenever we see these wild animals wandering around.

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Some of those sunsets I mentioned earlier.

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We drove out to Girdwood yesterday to enjoy some time at the skate park.

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In other news, we decorated for Halloween on Sunday. Can’t believe it’s October already. We are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of our move to Alaska!Today was also PFD day for Alaskan residents! $1884 per person was ‘delivered’ today. Sadly, not for us though. We haven’t been here yet for one full calendar year and we probably won’t be here for next year’s payout. Pretty exciting for everyone else though.

‘Termination Dust’ came this week. That’s what Alaskans call the first dusting of snow on the mountains. Soon enough, we will be knee deep in that stuff. Another month down. We will enjoy the beautiful, sunny, clear weather while we can!

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End of Summer

The last few weeks have been busy with the end of summer, the commencement of the new school year, and a visit from my parents, and as much outdoor time as possible. The days are getting shorter and it’s very sad to me that the sun is now setting by 9:30, a foreshadowing of things to come– winter, the dreaded beast. Oh, how I despise thee! Many of the trees and plants have started to turn to shades of yellow and red, transforming the landscape into a myriad of colors. It’s beautiful!

We had a beautifully warm, sunny Saturday a few weeks ago so we decided to take a drive (too long!) up to Matanuska Glacier. In hindsight, we wish we had chosen to go somewhere else. Not a lot to do in that neck of the woods and we were in the car for like 5 hours. The kids are really good about being in the car now. We have spent a lot of time driving and the kids are great. Everything is so spread out in Alaska and the state is massive (twice the size of Texas) that we don’t mind driving a ways to get somewhere, whereas prior to our move we would have balked at a 1+ hour drive to the mountains. I don’t think we’ll have distance issues anymore.

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James and Ruby started school– 3rd and kindergarten, respectively. It was a bit of a rough go as the kids adjusted to the loss of their freedom. James had some outright tantrums after school for a week so that was fun. First day pics are below. Archie didn’t want to be left out. He’s had a lonely time without his best friend Ruby to play with all day. Poor boy is stuck with just his mom.

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Ruby turned six the day after kindergarten started. It was really the best decision to have her wait a year before starting kindergarten. What a huge difference a year makes! We had a quiet family birthday party at home and then went to Red Robin (her choice) for dinner. Her little neighbor friend joined us for cake and presents. It was a nice, low-key affair. She is our tender-hearted, emotional, sensitive child, full of whimsy and imagination.

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The next evening, my parents arrived to visit for a week! We covered a lot of ground while they were here! We watched pods of beluga whales, spotted bald eagles perched in the trees, watched dark red salmon swim upstream, saw moose, and golden eagles and a host of other sights. We all thoroughly enjoyed having them here and the weather was spectacular! It was nice to have them here and sad to see them go. We are glad they had an excuse to visit the great state of Alaska.

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We had to take them to the Independence Mine in Hatcher Pass. The views are unparallelled!

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We also had to take in the view from Glen Alps that overlooks Anchorage and Turnagain Arm.

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On Monday, we drove my parents to Whittier on Prince William Sound for their glacier cruise. We hung around the Whittier area for the day and hiked the Portage Pass trail. It’s an amazing area with a view of several glaciers and the sound. We hiked about 3.5 miles and the kids were great until the last mile when Ruby cried most of the way. It’s a steep climb up for a  mile and then we explored quite a bit before heading back down. It’s one of our absolute favorite areas.

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Oh, it’s just the kids playing on a massive 1000 foot cliff! I don’t usually get nervous but that really freaked me out.

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Where’s James?

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The most excitement from my dad was when I took him to the Bass Pro Shop. He was almost giddy.

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I picked up the kids early from school one day and drove out the Wildlife Conservation Center. Finally! My parents got to see a bear and some of the other native Alaska animals. Lucky for us, the prize vegetables from the State Fair had just been delivered for the animals to enjoy. They veggies are all donated to the center immediately following the fair. We were all pretty excited to see in person some of the monstrous vegetables we had been reading about. Sadly, the 1200+ pound pumpkins hadn’t been delivered yet. I’m guessing they would need a flatbead truck for those freakshows.

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Baby moose. So cute!

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After the wildlife center, we headed over to the ski resort for dessert at the the upscale Seven Glaciers restaurant. We rode the tram to the top of the mountain and endured a rather awkward and embarrassing treat. At one point, James was doing somersaults as I was checking in with the maitre d and then he told our server he needed a barf bag at the end. So glad it wasn’t busy. Our kids wouldn’t last a day in France– we would be banned and ostracized.

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I love this picture! There were swarms of these flies and they were attacking us. One flew in my mom’s ear and she was freaking out but we had to get a shot with that gorgeous background.

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After dessert, we stopped and played at this sweet little park. Seriously, Alaska has spoiled us with all of the amazing parks and playgrounds!

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For their last day, my mom really wanted to drive up to Denali National Park (4+ hours away). We left dreary, rainy Anchorage and headed north. The entire sky all the way up was a dark, expansive gray except for the sun shining brilliantly on the white, snow covered mountains on the horizon. Mt. McKinley (Denali) was clear and we were going to be lucky enough to see it. We made it just shy of the national park and stopped at a pullout to get a close-up view of Denali. We waited for a few minutes as the clouds cleared and then she showed herself for about 30 awesome seconds. Wow! What a peak!! Although it is not technically the tallest mountain in the world, it is the mountain with the tallest base to peak showing above ground because it’s base is closer to sea level. That means, standing looking at Denali it would appear to rise higher in the sky than standing and looking at Everest. It’s an impressive sight!

We made a detour to the tiny pioneer/hippie town of Talkeetna for lunch and then made it back to Anchorage in 2 hours flat. My parents had enough time to hang out and relax before heading out on their 12:30am flight. So much fun having them here and I hope that we can move closer to home sometime very SOON! We’re checking job postings every day, multiple times a day. Just waiting for the right opportunity to come our way.

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The camera didn’t capture the peak in the background. But it’s the faint white slope that extends up into the clouds.

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Hiking Adventures

The weather has already been changing. I’m sensing winter approaching like a death shroud ready to fall into place. The temperatures have cooled slightly and it’s been rainy and cloudy more often than sunny and warm. I noticed just today a few leaves that have transitioned to yellow and red. I had a nightmare last night that I woke up to snow and I’m not speaking in hyperbole when I use the word nightmare. I woke up in a hot sweat and ran to the window; that’s how real it felt. So, with that sense of impending doom, we have been spending almost every moment outside.

We’ve been doing a bit of hiking over the last couple of weeks. There is an abundance of trails within minutes and hours of Anchorage and all of them offer unparalleled scenic views. The kids really enjoy hiking and we try to keep the distance to under five miles round trip with them depending on the elevation gain.Wild berries grow rampantly here and we have enjoyed finding and picking fresh blueberries, raspberries and salmonberries during our hikes.

Over a week ago, while Adam was working, the kids and I drove up with some friends from our ward and did a fun little hike that was only 2 miles round trip called Portage Pass trail. It was a pretty steady climb up with swarms of flies that would land on us and actually bit me a few times. It was nasty but the view was incredible and probably one of my favorite trails! The kids loved it too. From the top of the pass, there was an amazing overlook of Prince William Sound and on the other side of the pass there was an equally beautiful view of Portage Lake and glacier. We could see it all in one glorious 360 degree circle.

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We’ve also gone fishing a few times as the silver and pink salmon have been running. One of our favorite fishing spots (along with the rest of Anchorage) is a creek that runs right into the ocean called Bird Creek. I actually don’t get to fish because I still don’t have a license. But it’s relaxing just sitting and watching the kids and Adam fish. Ok, let’s be honest here– in reality Adam doesn’t get a ton of fishing done when the kids are involved.

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Hard to see with the reflection but there’s a bunch of salmon in there.

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And one of our favorite hikes is a mere 15 minute drive from our house! I would guess it’s one of Anchorage’s best known and most traveled trail and it’s easy to understand why. It’s a fairly easy climb and offers panoramic views of Anchorage and the surrounding area, including Mt. McKinley (if there’s no cloud cover), and Turnagain Arm. We love it!

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Today we decided to head to Alyeska Ski Resort in the tiny town of Girdwood. First we stopped and hiked a very short .2 mile hike to 15 ft high Virgin Falls flowing through a rainforest. Beautiful! And very muddy due to the rain.

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There’s a cool mountain tram that will take passengers to the top of one of the mountains where one can dine at a very expensive restaurant or simply take in the views and then ride the tram back down. The tram is a hefty price at $20 a person BUT if you hike to the top you get to ride the tram down for free. That was our destination today. It was chilly and raining and the trail sounded pretty rigorous from what I read online. I stopped a tour guide/outdoorsy fellow at the resort and asked him if he thought we could do it with our little kids. He just shook his head and said, “No way. It’s 2.2 miles with a 2000 feet elevation gain.” I thought, “Well, he doesn’t know my kids and what else are we going to do?” Plus, the kids were really disappointed when we told them we weren’t going to do the hike. So, what the heck! We did it anyway and we are really glad we did. Ruby’s one motivation was she wanted to prove that guy wrong. She was so proud of herself and I was pretty darn proud of them too. Adam carried Archie the entire way on his shoulders! We stopped and ate HUGE red salmonberries along the trail which was a nice treat.

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I really loved this recent article about the benefits of hiking

James starts school this Wednesday and Ruby starts the following Wednesday. Sadly, our summer is winding down but we had a lot of fun while it lasted! In Alaska, summer is the best day of the year!

In Summer

Despite the amount of pictures featured in this post, this last week was actually fairly low-key for us, mainly due to a few rainy days. We are already sensing the end of summer is nigh and with that we feel a great sense of urgency to see and do all that we can. Another type of change is in the forecast for us as well but when that change will occur and where it will lead us is still to be determined and so I will leave that for another post.

Last Saturday afternoon, we drove about 45 minutes away to the Portage area and walked about a mile in to Byron Glacier. The trail was easy and flat and the scenery was striking. We have found that our children are happiest and best behaved when they are surrounded by nature. Admittedly, it is therapeutic for me as well. We really loved this little hike, climbing on the glacier, and scaling a small hill of broken boulders for a fantastic view of Portage Lake in the distance. This mini-valley felt like standing at the bottom of a bowl with large, towering mountains on all sides and within close proximity.

The wildflowers are also in full splendor right now as fireweed (the tall pink flowers) blankets the countryside, along with daisies, and other flowers in a variety of yellows, purples, and blues. They sprout up just about any and everywhere, creating a charming setting even transforming dumpy shacks and junky yards. I’ve never seen such prolific wildflowers anywhere else in my life.

And then there are the mountains themselves which seem to change from day to day. Although I have driven the same roads many times and passed the same mountains countless times, those living peaks and slopes seem to take on moods and personalities of their own. Depending on the position of the sun, the amount of clouds and whether they be wispy, thunderous, or tall and fluffy, the mountains appear to be moody, gray-blue, sullen, threatening, and dangerous. Still at other times they shine an emerald green, happy, inviting, and comforting. It’s astounding that a form that has remained unchanged for millennia can appear to be so variable in its appearance. I love these mountains and will miss them when we are gone.

I love the experiences our children are gaining here. I love that they have fallen in love with the mountains and natural elements. They love to explore and test their strength and skills. They love to observe all of the little (and big) creatures, the small sounds, the smells, and colors. Our walks are usually much longer than they could be because they are constantly stopping to check out an insect or smell a flower or throw a rock but we are never in much of a hurry. They are perfecting the art of play and they are most creative when enveloped by works of the ultimate Creator.

For this particular hike, James insisted on bringing his BB gun to “help protect the family from bears.” He reminds me of Ralphie from the classic film “A Christmas Story.” We didn’t meet any bears today nor any day for that matter (yet), although there have been several newsworthy bear incidences as of late. So, we always make sure we are packing our bear spray and bear bell, not that we need a bell with our crazy kids; they generate more than enough noise to scare away any animal within a ten mile radius of us. But I digress. James wanted me to take a bunch of pictures of him posing with his gun which was pretty entertaining.

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The kids love playing outside in our neighborhood.

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I took the kids to The Reindeer Farm in the Palmer area. I didn’t think it was terribly exciting but the kids loved it! They were able to handle and hold rabbits and chickens, and feed the reindeer and elk. And the farm is situated in a beautiful location in the shadow of Pioneer Peak. Interesting facts about reindeer: they lose their antlers and grow new ones every year; they can lower their body temperature in their legs to 33 degrees making them the only deer able to survive in the arctic. Plus, they’re pretty cute.

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James attended scout day camp all last week. I had the opportunity to spend one of the days with the boys as a chaperone. It’s a really cool camp and very beautiful nestled right next to the mountains. The mosquitoes were pretty bad, though. Many of the boys’ necks were riddled with bites but they hardly seemed to notice. One of the cabooses was set up as a little snack shop. Opposite the train cars was a nice little playground. The kids got to try out their canoeing skills, shoot bb guns and arrows, hike, and of course all of the other traditional scouting activities. It was a great camp and well worth the cost!

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Yesterday, we spent part of the day at Elmendorf Air Force Base for the biennial air show. It was pretty fun. The kids enjoyed checking out the inside of some of the planes and of course the Thunderbirds put on a great show. It was the perfect day for standing on a tarmac– sunny and a cool 65 degrees. We’re hoping and keeping our fingers crossed that the weather stays nice through the end of summer and into fall because more adventures await!

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