Seasonal Life

I like all the seasons and can't really decide which I like best. How does one choose when winter=snow, spring=flowers, summer=fun, autumn=leaves ? I love whichever I'm in but, equally, get excited about the next. The same goes for the Colorado and Alaska seasons. Colorado means family, friends, my local coffee shop, our neighborhood park, standing dinner dates, church family, and fresh flowers from the grocery store... in fact anything fresh from the grocery store almost as soon as I could imagine wanting it. Alaska means slower life pace, being outdoors, opportunity to know a small set of people more deeply, almost eternal sunlight, time as a family of three (plus "Eddie the Adventure Dog"), adventures without seeking them out, anticipation of grocery day (lusting after fresh groceries for days before they arrive), and doing the most fun jobs we could've dreamed up. They're both great and we're happy wherever we are. As Brian Regan says, ""Grape! I'm gonna get grape, or cherry. They're both favorites, so either one is good, but if they have both, I'll get grape, because grape is a little more favorite. But if they don't have grape it's like 'alright it's fine, cause cherry's favorite anyway.'" One of its biggest appeals is the opportunity to reset that we have three times annually. It's hard not to consider, January 1st, what I might select as a New Year's Resolution, if I were the "resolutionary" type. I get this again around May 20th as we head toward McCarthy, Alaska and again the days leading up to October 1st when we return to our Colorado home. These three dates are natural opportunities to assess habits and determine how I might live more intentionally.

Every time we come and go, we're reminded how great our friends are. Starting around April, our calendar gets full of dinners with friends who say, "we need to see you again before you leave." It's nice. When we arrive in McCarthy, it's the back-at-summer-camp feel when you're catching up with all your buddies you haven't seen in eight months. Dinners with pals last until late late evening because we all forget (or just don't mind) that the sun doesn't go down till midnight. As summer draws to a close, there's a scramble to meet up with so-and-so one last time before they leave town and before we know it, we're leaving too. Once back down South, we're greeted with hugs and dinner engagements all over again.

We follow the sun. Colorado is known for 300+ days of sunshine annually. This plus its dry climate means winters are awesome (whether you ski or not); much better (in my biased, unexperienced opinion) for us than a dark and cold winter in Alaska. Conversely, summers up North give temps at 40-80 degrees and are coupled with 20+ hours of sunlight daily. We stay not-too-warm in the summers and not-too-cold in the winters.

There's lots to love about this lifestyle but it's not all coconut cream pie. Sometimes we miss the birth of a niece. Or a sister's graduation. Or a friend's wedding. Or an uncle's death. Sometimes we (or "I" - Austin doesn't have much trouble with this one) feel forgotten by whomever lives in the other state. But then we remember that we chose this lifestyle. We like the "soulrest"  and family-of-three space we get in McCarthy and the time with our families that comes with living in Colorado in the 8 month "off-season". I'm excited for Linde Girl to learn to live in a neighborhood and off-the-grid, to live with easy access to anything she needs and also to wait and make due with what she has, to live in a large community in which she's less known and within a small town where her words and actions are known to all.

I hope this lasts for a long, long time.

Sunroom Funroom

My grandmother's table from the 50s. Art easel. Green-and-white-checked-sink-down-into-it chair. Three walls of windows. Painted green "rug". This is my space. When The Lind is awake we play, read, laugh, and I chase and say "oh look! You found another thing you shouldn't touch." When she's napping I get to retreat to this room and read or draw. It's best on sunny days when I can look out the windows and zone out while watching joggers, walkers, and other passersby. I love my girl. I'm learning that I'm a better mom when I spend a little time just sitting alone in silence. This is a great space for that.

Photo Jul 26, 3 45 31 PM
Photo Jul 26, 3 45 31 PM
DSC_0764a.jpg
DSC_0764a.jpg

Revitalization: blog and home

According to Linde's Baby calendar, a year ago today she "visited the beach for the first time. She didn't mind the water but didn't like the breeze". Now, she laughs at the wind and loves the water. A lot as happened over the past 12 months and I haven't written because I've just been enjoying them. I feel like I now have energy to enjoy life and write about it so I'll be reviving this blog across the upcoming months! We moved in to our house the day we brought Linde Jordan home from the hospital three days after her birth. (Thank you, sweet friends and family for moving us in!) By that time our Colorado home was livable (read as: plumbed, floored, and mostly painted) but certainly not finished. Since that time, we have completed many more projects… And added more to-do's to the list. Enough has been accomplished that I now have before and after photos to show!

Our 1924 Bungalow had been a rental for all of its recent history; there was much renovating to do. I loved the idea of restoring the home according to its original state. But, changes were made that makes it hard to guess elements of the home's original condition, our style isn't completely congruent with 1920s vogue, and there are elements of other decades that we enjoy. So, we're giving it new life by celebrating aspects of decades through which the house has survived. Having a mashup of the years yields a generally "old" feel; our house isn't trendy... and we're loving it!

BATHROOM

In fall 2015, when we began renovations, the tub was immediately to your left when you walk in the bathroom door. However, the water for the tub originated toward the middle of the room instead of next to the wall, where you would expect. The toilet was cockeyed two inches from the tub's end so it would fit between the bath and wall. The sink was inset in a vanity that dwarfed the room. There were countless hooks around the bathroom such that you could hang every towel in your possession before having to wash any.

Austin ripped up the tile floor and vanity and after removing the tub, toilet, and hooks, set to work at rerouting all plumbing. Our brother-in-law helped him with the new flooring: hexagon tiles! We painted, added bead board, re-positioned our refurbished pedestal tub (awesome Christmas gift, mom and dad!) and toilet, installed a new sink, and "Voila"! We love how clean the bathroom feels - the black, white, and gray allow for changing towel colors easily. I think it looks timeless.

LIVINGROOM 

We hated painting the untouched fireplace but it seemed that, over the years, tenants had tried to clean the smoke-stained blonde brick and left further bleach stains that we were unable to remove. Thus, painted brick. Austin suggested a charcoal color and he nailed it! After stripping, sanding, and oiling the bilateral builtins and mantel we installed a fireplace screen a friend welded. Our friend Ron refinished our hardwood floors. Walls, trim, and ceiling were changed from a yellowish hue to high-gloss white trim, flat canvas-white/cream walls, and flat white ceiling. Crown moulding was installed and dropped a bit so we can hang pictures museum-style (thanks for the tip, Thompson's!) so no holes penetrate our plaster walls. Austin installed an outlet in my builtin desk so I can work with a charged laptop. And DONE again!

It's swell finishing something. Completing a project gives me a feeling that, I suspect, is alike to that of a gambler. I just can't get enough and I suppose that's why our to-do list only grows. More to follow!

Our 1924 Thread on a Sweater Project

When I was a kiddo, my parents decided to do just a few house updates to our 1970s Texas home.  About a year later, the few projects had turned into major diy in multiple rooms.  They describe such house renos as pulling a thread on a sweater--it starts small but there's really no good place to stop. This past year, Austin and I purchased a 1924 home in our favorite neighborhood--near to a park, my parents' home, and the university.  It has rental property in the basement (our main motivator to sell the house we were in - as we could leave for Alaska and have our home still occupied with rent money coming in), hardwood floors throughout the main level, a wood-burning fireplace, charming old windows, south-facing sunroom, and large and mature trees.  However, it's the eyesore of the block.  Below is the image of our house I just found on Google's street view.  Note that the "hedge of protection", (what Austin lovingly calls the awful bushes) that completely obstruct the passerby's view of the home.  It's a bit scary.

HouseExterior

A little anecdote to demonstrate how scary this place looks... My parents were gone on Halloween but I ran by to grab some items I'd left there.  During the three minutes I was in the house several groups of trick-or-treaters rang the doorbell of their lovely home, though the porch light was not illuminated.  My parents live near a park but certainly not on a major through-street.  I then drove straight to our house and saw herds of children wandering our avenue.  Austin was busy working on the interior of our home and accidentally left on the porch light.  However, despite the masses of wandering children and universal "come on over and trick-or-treat" beacon aside our front door, none ventured past the bushes.  Perhaps they didn't see our house beyond the brush border?  Perhaps they were afraid of our house, itself?...

HouseExterior5

On the agenda for renovations...

Kitchen: Tear out cabinetry and install Ikea cabinets, rip out parquet floor and refinish hardwood floor or install black & white cafe-style vinyl tiles, install new back splash, move a pantry wall (and electric) one foot to accommodate the fridge, install plumbing and 220 wiring for washer and dryer, build a vent hood and vent through the attic, re-texture and paint the walls, install new lighting.

Living room, Office, Bedroom #1, Bedroom #2, and Hallway: repaint walls, ceiling, and trim, install picture rails/crown molding, refinish the floors, and paint fireplace.

Bathroom: Tear out floor to get to plumbing, reroute plumbing for a new fixture configuration, refinish old free-standing pedestal tub, install new sink, put down white hexagon tile flooring.

Photo Jul 26, 3 43 24 PM

Exterior: Repaint the house a colonial blue, paint the front door bright yellow and trim white, remove the ugly shrubs and replace them with others that cannot grow to such heights, take off the carpet on the front porch (and stain/paint the concrete?), build bench/railings along the edge of the porch, reroof the garage, build privacy fence.

HouseExterior4

And I think that's all.  I'd like to say we're like the cool people on TV that do all of the work ourselves...but we're not.  We'd like to move in before the kiddo is born and our pace has been pretty slow thus far.  We've had a number of friends and family aid in most of the processes and we've paid those who're professionals.  However, Austin has done a ton himself and I'm constantly amazed at what he knows.  Did he know how to rerun electric or plumbing before? I don't know.  Maybe he learned it on this house.  But I love that he tries and, so far, hasn't hit any big hurdles.

Our Alaska Wilderness Property and Coming-Soon Cabin

We did it! We purchased 11 acres just outside of McCarthy, Alaska and have begun construction on our new cabin. We've enjoyed our four-month summers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park for the past three years. We've rented three different cabins--never having seen each prior to the start of the summer. With a kiddo on the way, we figured it'd be nice to have a place we could call our own, set up especially for us, and to be able to leave some things there and not be so transient. Wrangell-St. Elias Ntl Park is unique in that it did not become federally preserved land until 1980, allowing for many private individuals to claim and purchase property within the Park's current boundaries. It is estimated that there are one million acres of privately owned land within the Park's 13.2 million acres. Needless to say, private land here has the added benefit of being forever closer to "wilderness" because of the Park's presence. We purchased the land at the end of the summer (September) and had to move quickly if we wanted to live on the property by end of May, 2016. The ground freezes in late fall and is too hard for prep-work digging in the spring. Fortunately, there is a family in McCarthy who specializes in construction and each family member enjoys his own niche in the business. One of the sons in this family had been taking flight lessons from Austin and, when he'd heard we'd bought land, offered to sell us logs. This young man had planned on building himself a 24'x26' shop a couple years ago and had his brother mill the logs for him. His interests had shifted (having just turned 16, he had his eye on a truck for his construction business) and now he had no use for the logs and was willing to sell them to us for less (and more quickly) than if we were to have logs milled today. Meanwhile, this young man's eldest brother stated that he had time this fall to begin construction and his father was willing to get the driveway and pad cleared. Before we knew it, everything was in place!

Our plans for the cabin: Logs are 3-sided in a "D" shape so that they lay flush atop each other, the inner wall is flat, and the exterior portion is the classic curved log look. The structure will be winter-able though we have no plans to live there year-round. We'll use a wood burning stove for heat. The home will be wired for electricity which we'll generate via a combination of solar, deep-cycle batteries, and a small back-up generator. No inside bathroom as we did not want to set up a septic system, so we'll utilize an outhouse (we are in the back woods, after all--and if you've read my previous posts, you know how I love a good outhouse) and an enclosed, outside shower. We will either get water from a well we'll have drilled in the spring or haul water from a creek into a large tank that will gravity-feed the kitchen and outdoor shower. We'll have a half-loft in which the walls will extend another two feet vertically before the slope of the roof begins; this is called a "stem wall" and allows for a bit more standing room (the roof is, essentially, elevated two extra feet at the loft base). There will also be a good-sized dormer that will further give more room in the loft. When at the edge of the loft, you'd be able to look down into the living room and dining room. Inner walls will be the smooth side of the D-logs, ceiling of tongue-and-groove, and floor will be floating laminate wood. The floor plan is a slight modification of the cabin my granddaddy had in Florida when I was a little girl; he loves Alaska and we love him and the memories we made in that place. However, we've decided to live in the cabin as a one-room home for the first summer to decide the size we'll want for each room. The cabin itself will be 24'x26', plus the loft footage, and a six-foot-deep covered front porch with a bit of a view.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: We are also in the process of renovating our 1924 home in Greeley, CO (more about that later) and successfully removed the kitchen cabinets from this old house and will take them up to McCarthy in the spring for reuse in the cabin. We'll also haul other furniture that will not fit in the 1924 house (it's smaller than our last one) to furnish our Alaska living (futon, bed, table, old farmhouse sink with metal cabinets).

Construction to-date: The driveway has been cleared, pad-site leveled, outhouse hole dug, concrete pillars poured (many houses in our area construct this way so there is a crawl space below for plumbing, etc. and the home is slightly elevated--ours will be about 3 feet above ground), ground filled back in, cardboard Sonotubes removed from the dried concrete, and subfloor is finished. At this point, we planned to cover the floor for the winter and resume construction of the walls and roof in the spring. However, our builder friend just informed us that they are having an "Indian summer" (which he described as "highs in the 40s and lows just below freezing"--not what I'd consider mild--especially as they had a couple snows in September) and he may be able to get the walls up and topped with the roof before winter hits. We are not counting our chickens before they hatch but are thrilled that this is even a remote possibility. Below, I'm placing a video of the footage we've captured so far, documenting the changes from the time of purchase (early September) to the time that Austin left Alaska to return home (end of September). Enjoy! [youtube=http://youtu.be/zfSKksdDYuI]

Dryas

Dryas. Is. Really. Stinkin'. Cool... Maybe my favorite plant. Reminds me of Belize, where you can gaze upward and find tiny explosions of green foliage clinging to crooks made by intersecting bridge beams thirty feet above your head, crooks that would otherwise exist forever unremarkable and unnoticed.

Here, in the Wrangell's, this unassuming plant is THE reason ANYthing grows. This incredible feature of the unbelievably intricate system that exists here will grow in pure rock. It doesn't need soil because it gets all the nutrients it needs from the air and the water, but it becomes soil for everything else that comes after. It grows like a carpet, and spreads like wildfire by shooting up seed pods, reminiscent of a dandelion, to be whisked along to the next clump of bare rock one valley over. Dryas is constantly dying, decomposing, and turning itself into dirt (which can be easily observed by lifting its leaves enough to see underneath the green). Allowed to continue, this process enables a host of flowers, brush, and eventually trees to also grow and die in the soil that is produced over time... So basically, given a few hundred years, this "simple" feature of the North, has been given the incredible ability to turn a gravel pile into a spruce forest :). Like I said, really stinkin' cool, eh!?

Here's the blanket of leaves, stalks with the puffball of seeds atop. What you can't see is the nutrient-rich decay just under the leafy layer on the ground.

First comes a single dryas plant, next a field of it, and then....

Dryas UNpaved the way for this boreal forest!

Picture Quilt

It seems fitting to write a quilt-themed blog post while here in the edge of Alaska--the last frontier.  I think about how a finished quilt represents  hard work, spans many sweet memories, and makes one feel warmth.  This collection of (most of the) Instagram photos I've taken this summer are my Alaska "quilt" that will, for years to come, remind me of the great times I've had here this summer and why this place so quickly has become a second home to me.  Quilts generally have themes or patterns they follow.  This photo quilt was not meant to follow a pattern but I see the theme of "enjoying the small things" emerging throughout.  I'll describe each photo/"block" below.

Flat Top. Anchorage.  Thank heavens for great friends!  Ruth Remple and her family have hosted me and my brothers countless times during our Alaska entrances and exits.  She has helped me with store decor, prepping food, selecting merchandise, and--as pictured here--my personal Anchorage tour guide.  She and her daughter Savannah took me to Flat Top Mountain where we had a beautiful view of Anchorage from above.  We observed about four moose up close during the drive back down the mountain.  In this picture I'm demonstrating that, even a month before summer solstice, shades were needed at 10:00pm.

Shaz vs. Porcupine.  (I'm "Shaz".  So named by my niece who couldn't yet say "Shannon".  I think it's a good, feisty, name--perfect for one who's battling a porcupine.)  I arrived in McCarthy a week or so before Austin or Eddie and independently moved our giant load of groceries down our overgrown four-wheeler trail and into our new cabin rental for the summer, a mile downhill from Kennecott and three-ish miles uphill from McCarthy.  I woke up one of my first mornings here to what sounded like someone sawing off the corner of our roof.  I grabbed my bearspray and cautiously walked outside to assess the situation.  A porcupine was gnawing on a low portion of the cabin (they love the glue in wood composite and treated lumber) and stopped when I yelled at it.  It turned around, showed me its nasty yellow teeth and I quickly retreated back inside (while, maybe, a slight yelp emerged) and I called a friend who grew up in this area to ask what one does to chase off such a critter.  I followed her recommendation and scooted him off the porch and into the woods with a broom.  It showed me its bristled backside but I kept sweeping and he didn't come back for a few days.  By then, however, Austin and my brother Jesse were here to take over.

Outhouse View.  I love using an outhouse.  Especially one that is large and has a beautiful view.  I really do miss outhousing it when I return to Colorado.  I don't think I can really explain the magic of an outie.  Maybe it's because I really like having a bit of time each day to myself.  Maybe because it feels rustic.  If you take care of the outhouse it really can have no smell (peeing in the woods and not putting toilet paper down the hatch or adding sawdust to absorb the smell/liquid).  But, I especially love this outhouse. The seat is perpendicular to the door and large corner windows provides a view of wildflowers and forest in the foreground with the glacier and Fireweed Mountain in the distance.  Sitting there, unrushed, in the mornings is a start to a beautiful day.

Running Water.  For the first time, we rented a cabin with running water!  The mother of the family we rent from came over before Austin arrived and showed me how to get the water running and how to troubleshoot at the creek if the intake became clogged with leaves.  I cannot express how excited I was when I took this picture.  It really was not a big deal to live in a dry cabin the past two summers (I imagine 10% of folks around here have running water come from their tap).  But, it did involve filling large 7 gallon buckets with spigots at a creek or having a kind neighbor with a well offer to top off our jugs every few days.  Running water means easy dish washing, teeth brushing, French press coffee making, cooking, the potential for hand washing laundry and showering etc.  We became spoiled very quickly. However, all good things come to an end.  Because this area (and much of Alaska) had very low snowfall this winter our creek of melted snow ran dry within one month.  So, for the remaining 2.5 months, we're back to hauling water.  We do have other conveniences at this cabin we've not before experienced, which softens the emotional hit of losing water, such as fridge, freezer, oven, and stove.  These amenities are, in my opinion (as the one who does not physically haul the water), bigger perks as they allow us to keep food for weeks and make dinner in our own cabin instead of traveling to McCarthy to cook each night.

Tony the Espresso Machine.  This beautiful espresso machine was born in Italy and reconfigured to reside on a cart that also houses a small fridge.  It eats propane and drinks water we haul from the lodge across the street.  It's name is Tony ("Antonio" since he's Italiano).  For espresso beans and other coffee supplies to get to Tony, they must be picked up in Anchorage.  Then the driver drives 6 hours to Chitina where the paved road ends.  The supplies then travel 60 miles on a dirt road until that road (the McCarthy Road - an old railway bed with most of the rails removed or set aside) dead ends at the Kennicott River.  Once the river is crossed (either via footbridge or private vehicle bridge if you've paid the several hundred dollars for a pass) the supplies are hauled five miles uphill to my store.  Once here, customers enjoy delicious Kaladi Brothers lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, etc. that Europeans routinely claim is the best they've had since they left X country.

Austin Arrives.  This was truly one of the best days of the summer.  I'd been in McCarthy for over a week prior to Austin's arrival.  He took off from Boulder, Colorado in a small plane (Citabria) that holds very little more than one pilot and one cramped co-pilot directly behind.  It's a tail wheel, or taildragger, plane which means that it has two larger tires up front and one very small wheel below the tail.  These are great planes for backcountry flying and off-airstrip landings.  The Citabria belongs to our friend, and Austin's fellow Wrangell Mountain Air pilot, Martin.  He brings it up each summer and puts it on floats so he can take it to lakes on days off.  Austin flew in with a student pilot who wanted tail wheel time and they landed on a Sunday afternoon just as we arrived back to McCarthy from church. Hungry, we all made a beeline for "the pizza bus" for pizza, espresso, and cokes.  It was so fun to show him around our new cabin and demonstrate my "tough girl" abilities in setting us up for the summer.

Walk to Work.  Eddie and I get to start our mornings by walking one mile slightly uphill to Kennecott.  We leave anywhere from 8:00 to 8:30 and leisurely stroll to Kennecott Trading Company.  We have been fortunate to not run in to any wildlife on these commutes which does surprise me as there have been many reports of a large black bear in the neighborhood along with occasional transient moose.

Ed's Adventures. Ed has been a real trooper this summer and has grown up quite a bit since last season. His highlights of this summer include swimming in the swimming hole, making countless running trips from Kennecott to McCarthy (while Austin and I ride on the dirt bike), exploring the glacier, treeing squirrels, and taking the "polar plunge" (jumping into icy, blue glacial pools on the Root Glacier) over and over til he shivers all over. He's proven himself to be great with kiddos--finding a nice quiet spot when he needs space but otherwise patiently enduring not-so-gentle petting and eyeball poking.

McCarthy Cuisine. Though we are remote and don't make it to the grocery stores very often we eat well. That is, if we eat out. There are about six restaurants between McCarthy and Kennecott (two to four open simultaneously at a given hour) and all boast incredible food. Options include burgers, pizza, fries, wraps, salads, French dip, prime rib sandwich, halibut, salmon, steak, soups and chowders, pastries, and fancy schmancy delicious creative morsels at "Fine Dining" in McCarthy. In this photo Austin enjoys a cold beer and take-out pizza from our local pizza bus.

Moscow Mule Mugs. One of the most fun and challenging aspects of managing the gift shop is identifying what tourists will want to purchase, knowing how much to spend, and the quantity to buy. Last season a few tourists asked for shot glasses. While these would likely sell, I didn't want to find cheapo shot glasses that only appeal to a few. So, I set about drawing a picture of our Mill Building and was fortunate to discover that a friend in Greeley has the capability to laser the drawing onto copper mugs. These have flown off the shelves. I'm happy that it reaches out to those who'd be interested in shot glasses while still appealing tourists who love the idea of buying a copper piece of art in Kennecott.

Riding the Red Thread. Our first summer in McCarthy, we invited one of Austin's old-time friends to come visit for a while. This friend is called "Wild Op" because he's generally up for anything even if it's unconventional and involves a bit of risk. Work was slow so he flew up planning on being up here for a "bit". Landing in Anchorage, he had to find a way to make the eight hour car trip to see us. So, he procured a dirt bike from Craigslist--pause--Wild Op is well over six feet tall with a large frame and this bike was made for someone my size many, many years ago and was in no way road legal--resume--and began his long journey to see us. Knowing there would eventually be a long stretch without fuel stations, he did what any resourceful young man with gumption would do and searched through some garbage til he found an empty kitty litter container that he could fill with gasoline and bungee to the bike behind him. Of note: he strapped his hiking backpack longways to create a shelf behind him and then had a place to hold two bags of groceries and the kitty litter fuel reserves. After a day and a half of driving at night (to avoid confrontation with the popo) he arrived in McCarthy tired and cold and with a bike that seemed to violently vomit oil. Wild Op ended up getting a job as a shuttle driver and stayed the remainder of the summer during which he and Austin spent countless hours nursing the Red Thread back to health. The "Red Thread", as it became known, continued to hang on to dear life by that thread and has served us well for the next two summers. Though we have often wonder to ourselves "is this its last trip up the hill?" Thank you, Wild Op for bequeathing to us such a fine riding machine. And thank you, Red Thread, for so faithfully serving us day after day with only a few rumbling complaints.

Summer Solstice. This photo was taken at midnight on Summer Solstice. People often ask me what I like about the Alaska-Colorado back-and-forth and one of the main benefits is that I get to follow the sun. They say that Colorado has 300 days of  sunshine each year. This, plus the dry climate, makes winters pretty easy and enjoyable. The summer daylight in Alaska, along with the mild temps (usually in the 70s), is a great compliment to our living in Colorado. Born in Florida and growing up in Texas, I've come to love me some vitamin D. The sunlight gives a great rhythm to the summer too.  Arriving in Alaska in June, the days are notably longer than in Colorado and it gets me excited to stay out with friends and catch up on life since the previous summer. As the summer continues and draws to a close, the sun sets earlier and prepares me for returning to Colorado.

Fireweed in the Rain. I love Fireweed. It's my second favorite plant that grows here (my favorite is "dryas"). I like the look of it, but mostly I like how dynamic this plant is. It is the first plant to grow after a wildfire and exhibits pink-fuschia colored blooms that begin on the bottom portion of the flower stalk and work their way upwards throughout the summer. It marks the changing and passing of time and presents ever-changing displays of beauty. Toward the end of the summer, when the blooms are all spent and the lower once-blooms have changed to pods that release cotton-like seedlings into the air, the entire plant becomes a vibrant, rich, and deep red that can cover an entire mountain side. This is a great compliment to the yellow-leafed birch and aspens here.

We're Havin' a Kid. This was our online social network baby announcement. We couldn't think of a way to spread the news and not be cheesy about it so we went all out. The caption read, "this glacier is getting smaller... But our family is getting bigger! Expecting baby Robel in January, 2016!" We are excited about this huge life shift but really don't know what to expect. We plan to continue our seasonal lifestyle and are excited about the benefits this can have on our "Sprout"... Learning to live and thrive in community in two very different cultures, gaining city-life skills in Greeley while also developing the ability to live in the wilderness, become flexible, love travel, etc. We are not going to find out the gender before the birth--I'm a huge fan of surprises and think it'll be nice to have that extra punch of excitement after hours of intense pain. One of the things I'm most looking forward to is seeing Austin become a dad. He's gonna be great!

Softball T-Shirts. Another huge success of the store this summer--though not my brain child--was thought up by a guide from the guiding service next door. They give tours of the historic town of Kennecott and, in these tours, talk about the old Kennecott Bearcats vs. McCarthy Tigers baseball games that were epic social events. Even today, most of the town collects at the baseball field (same place as in the old days, I believe) every Friday night and plays two back-to-back games. We made these throwback t-shirts to celebrate the history between these two towns, and it's been fun to watch almost exclusively locals purchase the McCarthy t while tourists almost always go for the Kennecott shirt. In this picture, some of the gal guides pose with their new shirts the day they came in and we had the doggies model the opposing team's jersey.

Ahhh Day Off. Days off work are lovely here. Whether you do nothing (as I did the day I took this picture) or use it to go hiking, these are the highlights of the summer. I began this post almost one month ago and have slowly chipped away at it during days off. It's a fun way to reflect on what has happened and what there still is to look forward to. Today, like many of my off-days, I slept late, caught a ride down to McCarthy, did a couple loads of laundry, ate an ice cream cone, said hello to the museum folks, and will eventually make my way back to the cabin for a late afternoon nap, reading, and yoga on the front deck. I just love life here.

Great Wall of China

So, this is obviously not about Alaska... but we started making plans to visit China while in Alaska so it's loosely related I suppose. We came during the Chinese New Year and today is our third day in Beijing. I just love it here! Day One was our visit to the Great Wall which was fabulous! I learned about, both! the Wall and Machu Picchu in the third grade and was fascinated by both and visiting the wall was just as magical as exploring the ancient city in Peru. Loved it! (Pictures Below!) Part of what made it so special is that we had our own tour guide, Alicia, who went to school with Austin and has since become my good buddy. She has lived in China for 7 years teaching English, learning Chinese, and setting up study abroad programs. She speaks the language fluently and knows all the touristy tricks, like which parts of the wall are least busy and most beautiful, when traffic will be slow in which parts of town, etc.

Day Two saw us visiting the local indoor market where you can purchase most anything you need for daily living. We ate lunch at a noodle shop--DEEEElicious--then spent the afternoon at the home of Alicia's friends who are the kind of folks with whom you immediately feel at home. Dinner this night will be a huge highlight of the trip. It was very upscale dining. There was no wait when we arrived, but if there had been our options while waiting would have included getting a manicure, helping ourselves to free snacks, and, for the kiddos, painting ceramic masks and pottery! Once steated, we selected meats and veggies to include in our "hot pot" (two boiling broths on the table) and created our own sauces in which to dip the items once they were cooked. The best part of this meal was the noodle man. He came out with a small strip of dough and, while dancing, slung it around like a lasso up and around and forward, nearly touching our faces and the floor and the walls.. until the dough had become one long, stretched out noodle which he then submerged in the hot pot! After the feast, we all went back tour friends' home and shared laughs and stories until today became tomorrow. (This jet lag is nothin'!) We returned, exhausted, to Alicia's place but turned in only after we set if some fireworks in the street at12:30am! Fireworks are sounding as I type this at 8:00am, too. I believe that, traditionally, the fireworks were set off frequently during the new year celebration to scare away bad spirits. There are stands all over the city selling the types of fireworks only professionals can light in America. These explosions can be heard anytime if day or night--good thing we're good sleepers!

Today, we're off for more adventures but til then, here are some fun pictures of our day exploring this great wonder if the world!...

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37 Below 0

I believe we flew very near to where we call "home" in the summers. Thousands of feet beneath me were the familiar forms of braided rivers. But all that is usually a murky brown, carrying glacial silt, had become pure white contrasting the dark grey peaks. In the magic light hour before dusk, a thin layer of coral colored clouds intermittently shrouded the landscape making me strangely homesick for the cold, lonely land below. image image image imageWhen we're in McCarthy, a portion of my heart wishes to enjoy moments of Colorado summer with friends and family. The reverse is true in winter, though what I miss in Alaska--the midnight sunshine, community, and vacation-feeling even while working--doesn't exist in the bleak winter. So for most of the year, I enjoy the go-go-go life of the lower 48 with a few interspersed weeks of beautifully slow-paced, winter-Alaska that serves as a distant reminder of my lovely summer "home" that will return in a few short months.

This is my third trip to work in the Denali Borough School District. I get to spend time with lovely children and a fantastic speech paraprofessional. I try to get as much paperwork done during my school hours so that evenings can be spent leisurely working on Kennecott store to-do's and, this week, updating a continuing education article I wrote a few years back.

I fly in and out of Fairbanks and make the two hour drive to the school at the beginning and end of the week. Along my route today, every tree glittered with white frost that turned baby blue in the premature onset of night. I became increasingly grateful for high beam lights as I, twice, observed two hulking cow moose lumbering along the side of the road in the pitch black night. When I made it safely to my lodging, I heeded the advice of the gal who'd handed me the rental car keys: "you'll want to plug it in on nights like this when it gets to -37 degrees."

I don't think I've ever felt cold like this--a deep inhalation almost chokes. Ted Lambert, a famous Alaskan painter recorded a memoire of his first year spent in Alaska (in the, now, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park area--where we live in the summers). In the book that resulted, Ted Lambert: The Man Behind the Paintings, he quoted a woman asking an old sourdough, "How on earth do you people living in the North endure the terrible cold?" To which the weathered, leathery Alaskan replied, "Madam, we have more sense than to attempt to endure the cold. We protect ourselves from it." So, I'm tucked away in my room for this week, thankful for a warm home-away-from-home.

Aviating over the Wrangells, Chugach, and Prince William Sound

Our friend Connor (the fuel-man for Wrangell Mountain Air this summer) worked, with Austin as his instructor, on obtaining his private pilot's license while here in the Wrangells. My little bro, Will, completed his month-long fishing job and we flew with Connor to drop him in Anchorage. Connor passed his private pilot exam yesterday (on his way back home after finishing his summer work here), so the following video is in honor of all Connors hard work! We miss him already!

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Adventures of a dog named Ed

We knew we had won. It was probably Jesse, the youngest of the siblings, who held the prize behind his back as we strode triumphantly through Jason's Deli to the table where my parents sat with a group of college students. They had just finished relating that our family had never owned a pet because, really, isn't it the pet who owns you? We stopped just short of the table and held out our new pet, George, the beta fish. The pet store was just down from the restaurant and we went to look at the animals and wonder at what it might be like to have one of our own, when we saw the sign, "get a red gumball, receive a free beta fish". After sneaking into the van and taking all the quarters we could find (as well as stuffing countless pieces of green, blue, and yellow gum balls into our drooly mouths), behold--a red gumball! Of course we hadn't considered the fish food, bowl, water sanitizer, rocks, etc that weren't "free". However, we were proud new pet owners and really enjoyed George for a good solid...week. He made a lap in the tiny bowl about once a day and took about 24 hours to recuperate from his exertion before he attempted the feat again. About 6 months after George's adoption into our family, we sat down for Saturday morning pancake breakfast. "Amen" we said, after thanking God for the meal, and our eyes lifted to see George belly up. Only one little pair of eyes shed tears--the other, less sympathetic, Morgans found humor in the scene. I don't recall if we continued eating with George as the centerpiece or immediately took a recess for the processional to the bathroom where my Daddy played "Taps" on the trumpet as George swirled toward Davy Jones' locker. My momma wrote an obituary and emailed it to those who were with us at Jason's Deli that fateful day. The George experience got the pet bug out of my system. I didn't want a pet after that because I didn't see the point. What's their purpose? They don't talk, require lots of care and maintenance, cost money, make messes you have to clean up, and they stink.

I'd only been in McCarthy about a week when I decided I wanted a dog. You get to know the dogs in McCarthy, often, before you know the owners. None have leashes, all are good to people, and they determine the pecking order early in the season so all summer each dog knows his place and behaves appropriately with very few uprises. I also loved freedom (or peace of mind) a dog provides here--I was quite nervous to explore by myself (see my post here from last summer about trying to ward off bears by singing Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken" so as not to sneak up on one accidentally). At least a dog would be more likely to know if a bear was around so I could act accordingy.

Not ever having a dog before, I had a lot of research to do. Austin grew up with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and all the other dog breeds I mentioned liking didn't compare, in his mind, to Chester--his childhood best friend. So, if I ever wanted a dog, I could see I had to be okay with a Chessie. When I proposed we get a Chessie, he came around. Online, I found a litter right along our flight path in Rawlins, Wyoming that would be just the right age as we were passing through. "Coco" who we renamed "Edison Mudhole Robel" or "Eddie" for short, joined us for the last hour of our trip from Anchorage to Greeley, Colorado.

From the start, Ed's been a great dog. I understand the "point" of having a pet now. It is so nice, on days when Austin works and I'm at home, to not be the only breathing thing in the house. He's a great running, biking, swimming, and hiking buddy. He's eager to please and quite calm for a puppy (unusual for the breed--we were lucky!). He is my shop dog now and is greeted by all who come in, out, or by Kennecott Trading Company. Ed has lots of time to lay in the sun on the store deck and snooze. However, he has been loaned to several friends as a running companion and gets more exercise as he swims in the swimming hole fetching sticks we throw, playing with the McCarthy dog pack, chasing birds, and running aside the four wheeler. What a life for a pup!

It's interesting how much easier it is to meet people when a dog is the icebreaker. I love the life of being an Ed-owner. Here are some clips of his summer adventures.

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