Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alaska: Day 10--Tour in Denali

The sun was up before us on Friday, August 15th, but in the summer in Alaska it's impossible to beat the sun. It's up practically all night. Regardless, we were up pretty early to get ready for our 6 1/2 hour bus tour into the park. Jared and I had tent camped with Karcyn and Calvin. Jake slept with Grandma and Grandpa Lee in their tent and Cooper bunked with Grandpa Hough in the camper bed, while Grandma Hough took the bed that converted to a couch. I was a little stiff after sleeping in cramped quarters trying very hard not to suffocate my 3 month old. Karcyn tossed and turned some and not wanting to wake up the entire campground, Jared had her sleep on his stomach. She slept soundly after that. Jared not so much. He was a little uncomfortable but other than that, it was a good night. And when we woke up, it was dry outside!

We had reservations for the 9:30 park service shuttle that would take us to Toklat River about 3 hours in, before turning around. I forget how far Toklat is from the park entrance, but it's not that far. It takes a while to reach your destination because the buses are only going about 20-25 miles an hour, at most. And you have to add in stopping time for wildlife sightings.

It didn't take us long and someone spotted a black bear and a moose on the ridge of a hill. They were too far to get pictures. Then we saw some female moose on the opposite hillside. Male moose (bulls) have the big antler racks and so if you didn't know any better, one might think these moose were actually horses eating the vegetation.

We came to a stopping point where the bus driver said was the best spot to view Mt. McKinley (or Denail) on the tour. The clouds were just a little low and too hazy, but...if you squint really hard, you can see a very bright white outline in the middle of this picture. That's the peak of Mt. McKinley. Not real spectacular, I know, and for those of you who weren't there in person, it probably just looks like clouds. But we got a teensy glimpse of her. Ironically, Mt. McKinley is easier to see from Anchorage and looks different on the park side surrounded by all the other mountains. I forget the statistics, but because Mt. McKinley creates its own weather, there are only 40-60 days (if that) out of the entire year that the mountain is seen in the clear. So we weren't banking on being able to see Denali in all her majestic glory anyway. But you can always hope.

Here is an arctic ground squirrel. The park pays him to pose for tourists. Just kidding. He is cute though.

There is a very important rule of this park: "Do not approach the wildlife." Apparently this young lady didn't get the memo. And where are her parents?? Poor squirrel.

Oh wait...her mom was in the bathroom! Her father was probably watching and laughing while her grandpa took the picture. Good thing they didn't kick us off the bus. That would have been one loooong walk back to the campground.

A little further down the road and we got to view a group of the Alaskan state bird...the ptarmigan. (The 'p' is silent). I learned this is the only bird that stays in Alaska year round and their feathers actually turn white in the winter. Legend has it that when the townspeople of a small area up north got together to name their town for post office purposes, they wanted to name it "Ptarmigan". But many citizens were fearful no one would know how to spell it. Someone said that ptarmigan tastes just like chicken and suggested they name the town that....and thus was born the town of Chicken, Alaska.

We came to our first rest stop at Teklanika. There was just barely enough time to go to the bathroom, but out across the river was a grizzly bear (yes, the brown dot in the middle of the picture--you can click on the picture to make it bigger)--so we got to hangout a couple minutes longer to watch it digging around for roots. The boys were pretty excited about that. Our bus driver, who was on her sixth season of driving into the park, said this was the first time she'd ever seen both a black and brown bear on the same day. That made us feel pretty blessed.

Speaking of blessings--as we slowly drove along the dusty road, I couldn't help but notice low dark clouds looming to the north on one side of the bus and sunshine poking through blue skies to the south. My heart swelled with gratitude for my Heavenly Father's love for me and my family as I acknowledged that Jared's heartfelt prayer from the day before had been answered. It never rained on us. The bus driver even commented on the dust from the road, apologizing for it when we slid our windows down to take pictures. Yet she said the dust was better than mud. If it had rained, the roads would have been muddy and splashed up on our windows making it difficult to see out of them, something we had never considered. Say what you want. Call it a coincidence, call it luck that there was no rain on our bus tour. But I don't believe in coincidences--haven't since I was 16. I call it a sweet answer to a humble prayer. Those black clouds were just begging to release rain and threatened to the entire bus ride in and back. But they never did. Only the powers of heaven can make that happen.

We finally made it to our turnaround point at Toklat River around 1pm and had 20 minutes to explore the area. The land is so beautiful and far-reaching, you can hardly take it all in.

And then it was time to head back to our starting point. Another 2 1/2 hours or so to go. But there was more wildlife to look for. We were having quite the wildlife sightings, which, much like trying to see Denali, is no guarantee. The summer Jared and I got married, we went with my family all the way to Wonder Lake--the furthest in you can go on a park service bus. It was an 8 hour drive--one way--and all we saw were moose, on both bus rides. So this was Jared's first time seeing more than that. And it was a great day for his parents.

Our next viewing: I'm proud to say my very own dad spotted what he calls a "trophy caribou" on the hillside before anyone else saw it. He's got a good eye at finding animals such as these and was chomping at the bit, wishing he had his rifle, that it was hunting season and that we weren't in a national park and preserve! It was a nice looking beast. Tastes good, too!

Shortly after spotting the caribou, we saw some grizzly bears not far from the road. They were doing what our driver calls the "berry bob" scrounging up roots and soap berries. These bears are very blond in color. The grizzlies vary in all different shades of "brown" from a butter color to a deep russet. Black bears, however, are just black.

On the park shuttle passes we purchased, we could have told the driver "stop" at any time and gotten off to hike in the back country. Because of this possibility we were instructed in wildlife safety. First, it's best to make lots of noise to let the animals know you're coming. If you're not in the habit of singing loudly nonstop, you can always get a bear bell to put on your pack. If you get charged by a bear (black or brown), curl up in a fetal position, using your hands and arms to protect your head and neck, and play dead until the animal has lost interest in you and leaves the area. These next two tips were news to me. If the bear starts biting or chewing on you, then you want to start to fighting back. And hopefully you win. If a moose looks like it's going to charge, you actually high tail it in another direction. I never was sure what to do during a moose encounter. We actually picked up some adventurous backpackers and dropped some off as well, who would jump on another park service bus when they were done hiking. It's daunting enough, for me, being on a bus in that park. I can't imagine traipsing around on foot. It's soooo vast and raw and wild.

We got back to the visitor's center around 4pm, tired but feeling very fulfilled from our bus tour through a teensy bit of the park and preserve. We were so pleased at our wildlife sightings that not seeing the mountain was hardly a second thought.

Once we made it back to our campground, it was soon time for a hot dog roast followed by s'mores before retiring to bed and saying goodnight to Denali. Karcyn loved roasting her own marshmallow. Who doesn't??

Friday, August 29, 2008

Perked Up

That's right, Folks. My ears and senses have perked up significantly with today's announcement of McCain's Veep pick...Sarah Palin. Believe it or not, I didn't even know who she was until I looked her up on the Internet and can I just say, I like what I see. Not because she's a woman and not because she's from Alaska, but because of her values and ethics. She's shaken up politics in Alaska by doing what's right.

I called my parents today to get their 2 cents worth (as did my sister in GA. Everyone wanted her to call her momma to find out about this Palin person :). Obviously Palin is well loved in Alaska and the largest state in the union is all a-buzz today. My parents are currently in Seward and the people down there are saying how down to earth Palin is. FYI: I just heard Fox News say Palin has a sky high 80% approval rating as governor.

I just love that she's got 5 children, her oldest in the military, her youngest just a month older than Calvin and has Down Syndrome. Clearly, she's against abortion and I'm happy to see opposes same-sex marriage as well. She's a self-proclaimed hockey mom, eats moose burgers, hunts and ice fishes. She's confident and has spunk. (Maybe NOW we can start drilling in ANWR!)

So yes, this presidential election has finally caught my interest and I feel a glimmer of hope. Palin has a tough road ahead of her in these next couple of months with speeches and debating with Biden. But right now, I like what I see. I think McCain made a very good choice. Only time will tell.

If nothing else, Jenn's finally paying attention.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Alaska: Day 9--Dinner in Denali

Thursday, August 14th we headed north (about 240ish miles from Anchorage) on the Parks Highway to Denali. "Denali" is an Athabaskan Indian word which means "The High or Great One" and refers to Mt. McKinley the highest peak (at 20, 320 feet) in North America. This park was established in 1917 with 2 million acres and back then was called Mt. McKinley National Park. In 1980 it was renamed Denali National Park and Preserve and expanded to over 6 million acres. Just to give a comparison, that's about the same size as the state of New Hampshire. It would take a person 16 years to hike the entire park if they covered 1,000 acres every day. Whoa! That simply boggles my mind.

Around lunchtime we stopped along the Big Susitna River for a rest stop and sandwiches.

It rained on us significantly on our way up to the park. We knew the chances of getting rained on at any point in our trip to Alaska was high. It has rained all summer long. But what a bummer when we were going to be tent camping and on a bus tour into the park the next day. At one of our earlier stops, in the van with our kids, Jared offered a heartfelt prayer asking Heavenly Father that the weather would hold--mainly so his parents would have an enjoyable trip to Denali--their once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the park. We had the faith that if this was the Father's will, it would come to pass. There wasn't anything else we could do but go ahead with our plans and make the best of whatever came our way. And even if it did rain, we knew it wasn't because we lacked the faith.

We arrived in the Denali area around 5pm to find it was sunny and dry. The first thing we needed to do was check in at Riley Creek near the park entrance to get our campground assignments. We were hoping to set up camp before our dinner theater reservations at 5:30. Unfortunately, we got stuck in some construction traffic along the way and with a few additional stops, it took us longer to get up there than we had anticipated.
Jared and my dad went into the check post and the rest of us sat and waited while time ticked loudly away. There's nothing I hate more than being LATE for something. After about 10 minutes, my mom went to find out what was taking so long. Apparently, when it was Jared's turn to speak to a ranger, it was time for a shift change. Of course. So they had to wait for that to take place. Then someone goofed and gave us 2 campsites where you actually have to HIKE into the park to get to them. Not good. That clearly wouldn't work for us not to mention it isn't what we reserved. I know this was a Park Service mistake because Jared specifically told them when he made the reservation months ago that we would have a camper/truck and van to park in those spots. Regardless, the ranger told my dad and Jared they'd be lucky to make the 5:30 dinner because it would take some time to cancel the wrong reservation and find campsites to rebook us. Fabulous.

With this new information, Mom and I decided to divide and conquer. She and I (with the kids) would go get our dinner tickets and wait in line, so we'd at least have more than half our party there. The rest of the group would just have to meet us at dinner, hopefully not too horribly late.
When I got our tickets at 5:15, I was somewhat relieved to discover the doors don't even open til 5:30. I've been to this dinner theater before, but it's been over a decade. I was thinking it was first come, first served for seating and that you wanted to get in line early, but I noticed on the tickets that we were given table assignments, so we didn't have to rush for that either. My mom and I both breathed a couple sighs of relief as we unloaded the kids to wait for the shuttle.
Amazingly, the guys and Karole pulled up right as we were getting out of the van and we all made it to the dinner entrance together. Talk about a miracle. Jared informed us the Park Service was actually able to get us two adjoining campsites and fixed our reservation. Double "phew". We literally made it to dinner by the hair on our chinny, chin, chins and would no longer have to hike to bed.

If you are ever in the Denali National Park area (even if you're doing backcountry hiking and camping), I highly recommend, hands down, that you make reservations for the Cabin Nite Dinner Theater. I won't lie to you, it's expensive...VERY expensive (like $60 per adult and $30 per child--yeah, I know, I had to choke down the cost of this over the course of a couple of weeks), but it was soooooooooo worth it. I had been to this with my mom before I got married and it was fun then, but it was a blast with the kids.
It's a very close and personal interactive show--you're eating dinner in Fanny Quigley's 1930s Roadhouse and learn about what brought people to the park/Alaska and what it was like back then. 95% of the people attending these shows are people with either gray hair or no hair...senior citizens touring the park. So our kids got a LOT of attention! And they LOVED every minute of it. They were totally engrossed. Oh, and the food was incredible...all-you-can-eat sweet glazed salmon, seasoned red potatoes, corn on the cob, baked beans, biscuits, BBQ pork ribs, salad, and blueberry cobbler. De-lish.

We were assigned to table F. If I recall, there are tables up to Q and each table seats 12 people. We were escorted to the very front right table by the piano player and stage left. We couldn't believe our luck! Cooper sat on the end of the table closest to the stage, so he got a front row seat. Jake was right next to him, facing towards the stage.

Each actor was the server of a table (and several more) and while we ate, they took turns singing songs to the crowd, acknowledging birthdays and anniversaries and having us sing songs with them. Karcyn loved the singing and music. It totally held her attention.

There were two girls in the performance that started to show a real preference for our boys. We were right up front, so I'm sure, being that this was an interactive show, that had a lot to do with it, too. One girl was named "Amber", in a red dress, with curly hair. She waved to Cooper a couple times and he just sat there, like a lump on a log. I guess he wasn't sure what to do. We told him it was okay to wave back her.

Then the girl in the yellow flowery dress, named "Mary" came over to our table and serenaded Cooper first, then Jake. This was Cooper's response to the attention:

And this was Jake's:

The lady working the bar in the back was named "Kitty". She introduced herself and showed a playful preference for the men in the Roadhouse. Her character was very flirtatious. She said for $1 she'd kiss any gentleman on the cheek. You were supposed to dangle the dollar bill over the head of the man and call "Here, Kitty, Kitty" and she'd come.

Jared suggested we do that to Jake. Sounded like fun to me. I don't know where he got the dollar from, my parents or his, but when we were done eating, I dangled the dollar over poor unsuspecting Jake. He even helped us call "Here, Kitty, Kitty" having no idea what we were calling her for!

Kitty came over to Jake, put on a fresh coat of lipstick and then laid a big 'ol kiss on his cheek.

And then he was left all in a daze! What a good sport!

During the show, Amber (whom you haven't seen yet who is also in a red dress) would every once in a while throw Cooper a wink and a smile or a little wave. She and Mary wanted to give him a little kiss on the cheek. But he wouldn't do it. At one point, Amber actually came down, as part of the show, and sat with Cooper on his bench. Then during her dance with another guy, they all stopped, including the piano. She looked at Cooper and yelled from middle stage, "Hey Cooper, stop winking at me!" I thought that was so cute that she'd involve him in her act.
After the show, Amber came down and tried to convince him to give her a kiss. And he said: "No touchy!" as he ducked away from her--which is kind of ironic because he's kissed a girl in his primary class several times once before. Maybe he prefers women his own age.

Coop finally agreed to give Mary a small peck. She felt so privileged.

As we were getting up from our table, Amber came over and told us, somewhat impressed, "Cooper was totally winking at me during the entire show." We were stunned. I didn't know he knew how to wink. So we asked Coop, "Do you know how to wink?"

Apparently he does. Future lady killer at work.

We asked Amber and Mary if we could get a picture of them with the kids. They said they'd love to and I didn't catch it, but Amber stole her kiss from Cooper when we were getting them in place.

As we were walking out of the cabin, the young girl who was the pianist named R.J. stopped my mom. She asked if we were LDS. Mom said yes. R.J. told her that when she saw us walk into the cabin she said to herself, "I bet they're LDS." Then she saw Cooper's BYU sweatshirt and that cinched it for her. She's also a member and I thought that was pretty cool.
This was, without a doubt, not only worth every penny, but one of the major highlights of our trip. It will be a dinner that's hard to forget!
And to our great joy and relief, we left Cabin Nite and were greeted by the sun. The weather remained dry so at least we wouldn't be setting up our tents in the rain.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Alaska: Day 8--Pictures

Wednesday morning, August 13th, we got to play with our breakfast. We made our own individual omelets in Ziploc baggies and boiling water. It's the coolest thing. If you're like Cooper, you're a purest and would have an egg-only omelet.

But if you're like the rest of us, you'd add a little bit of bacon, onion, sweet peppers, mushrooms and cheese (no butter needed). Make sure your name is written visibly in permanent marker on the outside of the baggie, close the baggie, then smoosh all your omelet fixin's together. Pop it in a pan with boiling water for exactly 13 minutes. And viola! Carefully take the bag out with tongs and open it up and put your magic omelet on a plate. Top with salsa and accompany with buttered toast. The technique worked splendidly! This is actually a recipe we were going to do camping, but decided with our now large crew of 10, we'd do it at home instead.

I should probably preface this next section by saying that any formal pictures, especially with the family, stress me out, whether we're dressed casually or in our Sunday best. I find such attempts to get pictures as a necessary evil. I don't like having to keep everyone looking as perfect as possible. Some of my children don't know how to naturally smile, so capturing an expression that doesn't make them look constipated or freaked out is always a crap shoot. Not to mention that if I'm going to all the trouble to get pictures taken, chances are I'm going to buy something--so money is always at stake.

Before getting to my parents' house, Jared and I had planned to get our family pictures taken on this day. It was a recovery day where there was less to do getting ready for a camping trip, than coming home from one. I'll admit it. We're cheap-Os and go to Wal-Mart for our portraits. They've done good work for us in the past and there's a Wal-Mart VERY close by here in Anchorage. We got our family pictures taken in Anchorage 2 years ago and decided to do them again since Calvin has joined us.

With the craziness that surrounded Jared's parents' arrival we kept Wednesday open as a possible fishing option for Doc and Jared. In my mind, I had already figured we weren't getting pictures done. But Tuesday, before Jared left the Kenai, there was talk that there was a big gale force wind moving in with 12 foot seas for Wednesday, so they couldn't fish on Wednesday after all.

So after breakfast on Wednesday I asked Jared if he thought we could swing pictures sometime that day. He said yes, so I called the portrait studio and they could get us in at 1pm....a couple hours away. That worked great with our schedule so we took the slot.

Two years ago we were dressed in Pacific University garb and this year we decided to do our Sunday best, with Jared and Jacob both in suits. We looked pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself. I even asked my mom if she could come just to help tweak hair as necessary, help people smile, give a second opinion, etc.

We were a few minutes early and sat in the lobby waiting our turn. Karcyn ran up to the gal (whose name I've already forgotten) and she gave her a big hug. Good 'ol Karcyn. Friendly with everyone. We picked our backdrop, I finished nursing Calvin and we walked back to the studio. We were all laughing and I was thinking 'it's going to be okay', when suddenly, the photographer did the unthinkable. She lowered our backdrop!! The noise freaked out Karcyn and she sreamed at the top of her lungs and started running in place trying to be picked up. The backdrop was down, but the damage was done. Karcyn was in rare form. She was completely inconsolable. Trying to make the best of the situation, we got in position for our family picture, hoping she'd calm down, but her body was totally rigid. We could not force her body to bend to sit with Jared. She just hid her face and kept screaming. I'm sure Wal-Mart shoppers were wondering what was going on back here.

So then I suggested doing the boys' individual pictures first and maybe she'd see there was nothing to worry about. Jacob, Cooper, and Calvin all smiled beautifully just when they needed to. My mom was holding Karcyn who had calmed down to just the post-crying hiccups. Too bad her cute hair was all messed up. She was actually pacified by a bright red plastic crayon taller than her that she had clutched in her grip. While I eyed the toy, I thought of our navy blue, purple and green color motif we had going on and groaned at the thought of a tacky, bright red plastic crayon joining our picture. *sigh* I guess that's what memories are made of.

Karcyn freaked out when we tried doing her individual picture--the one kid that really needs it. She was barely a year old when she got her last picture taken. We noticed she calmed down a little faster this time, so we tried doing our family picture standing up. What a joke. Karcyn was looking away, screaming; Cooper had a forced smile on his face and was looking off to the side at the monitor where the picture is displayed; I was leaning and breaking out in a sweat; Jared was trying to look as normal as possible while holding a 2 1/2 year old having a completely inappropriate fit; Jake's hand position and smile were awkward; and my mom and the photographer were chanting baby talk to get us to all smile. Whatever! I had had it. No more.

I was so disappointed the pictures were a bust. Petty though it may be, I wasn't speaking to Karcyn anytime soon either. I went ahead and purchased the individual pics of the boys. Calvin needed his 3 month old pictures anyway. But argh!! Karcyn's changed the most out of all of us.

After getting back to my parents' house and finishing packing for our camping trip in Denali over the next couple of days, we went out to eat at the Sourdough Mining Company. We were celebrating Jared's mom, Karole's 60th birthday. I had forgiven Karcyn by that point.

When dinner was over, Calvin and the girls went across the street to the Alaska Wildberry Company to buy some Alaskan gifts and postcards. The guys took Jake, Coop and Karcyn to go see the reindeer.

Karcyn being brave. ( she's brave. How can a photo backdrop be scarier than a beast with big furry antlers?)

Hmmm, now that I think about it...I don't see Cooper in any of these pictures. That's interesting because when we came here two years ago he was actually kicked out of the reindeer pen for chasing around the poor animals. Yup, that's our Coop.

Alaska: Day 7--H2Oasis

Tuesday, August 12 was the second day of fishing for the guys so Mom and I planned to take the kids to the indoor water park a couple miles from my parents' house called H2Oasis. This was constructed just a few years ago, so we were eager to check it out. We had to go right when it opened at 10, though because Mom would need to pick up Jared's parents from the airport at 2:30...barring any more volcanic eruptions or the like.

Early that morning, however, the guys called to tell us that they wouldn't be fishing that day. They were on their way to the boat when the Captain of their charter from Monday approached them. The Captain's son, Garrett (the Captain of the Tuesday charter for Jared and Dad) was having chest pain. The dad Captain knew Jared was a physician's assistant so he came to take Jared to his 19 year-old-son. Dutifully, Jared went to examine him and what started out as pain in his chest was fortunately nothing more serious than a debilitating back spasm. Which also meant there was no way he'd be skippering a fishing charter that day. It's a very physical job. So Jared announced they were on their way back to Anchorage and would be able to pick up his parents. That took some time pressure off of us gals with the kids and we were able to mosey on over to the water park at our leisure.

You know you're in Alaska when you read on the entrance door at the water park, located in the valley part of the Hillside: WARNING: Bears have been spotted recently in this vicinity. At least 5 bears (2 adult, 3 cubs). Alrighty then. Good to know.

The first thing I noticed when we walked in was the hot, humid air. That was good news. There's nothing worse than playing at an indoor aquatic center and freezing every time you get the wet parts of your body exposed to the air.

We got changed, put our stuff in a locker, and headed to a beach chair centrally located so that we could park Mr. Calvin in the stroller (who slept and was an angel the whole time!) Karcyn found the Pirate ship that had slides about her size that ended in the water. She had her life jacket on, but I decided to go down with her, not knowing how she'd do. She loves slides, but these were WATER slides. She loves water too, so I'm not sure what I was apprehensive about. I guess I just felt like it was a motherly duty to go with her first. Fortunately, the slides are padded for the first couple of feet at the bottom and I didn't scrape my bottumus along the floor of the pool area, like I was thinking I might. Karcyn was in 2 year-old-heaven. I went down with her one more time before setting her loose. The Pirate ship slides became her favorite thing. She'd still be going down them if we let her.
Jake went down with her a couple times for fun.

What a good big brother!

Grandma took the boys to go down the green, enclosed body slide. I waited and waited for them to come out, camera in hand, because the slide dumped them in a pool of water 3 feet deep right by our beach chair. Then I saw my mom and Cooper walking down the stairs towards me. She said he was too afraid to go. That was certainly okay. The lifeguard at the entry wouldn't let him wear his life jacket and sadly, my boys don't know how to swim yet (hopefully this winter will change that). So he bailed out, but Jake was in and I finally saw the slide spit him out. My mom went back up to try it and it spit her out, too. So then I had to try it. Mom watched the kids while I went. Holy Schnikey! That thing was DARK and FAST, throwing you every which way around this curve and that, which of course you couldn't anticipate and to top it off I got water shoved up my nose when I was dumped at the end to the point of burning my nasal passageways. Ugh. I told Cooper he was NOT missing anything.

Later on, Mom took Cooper up to the Master Blaster, a big water slide that traveled the entire length of the building. It required two people on an inner tube and life jackets were allowed. This water slide was more like a water-coaster. You were plunged down a dip at an angle that made your tummy flutter, then it pushed you back up and around and down some more dips. It went fast too, but at least you could see where you were going. Cooper enjoyed that one. We all did actually.
I asked Jake if he wanted me to take him on the Master Blaster. He said, "No, I'd rather go with Grandma. She's more experienced." I couldn't dispute that. After Jake went with Grandma, I went down separately with each boy. And let me tell you what--to get to the entrance of the Master Blaster, you had to climb up several flights of stairs to the tippy top of the building. It wasn't the height of the building that got me, but the stairs--they were soo steep. I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top. I thought I was conditioning myself by running. Guess not. In the end, the workout was worth it. That ride really is a blast.
When I joined my mom and the rest of the kids again, my mom told me to watch what Karcyn started doing. She walked over to the wave pool (which wasn't working that day) where it would gradually get deeper and deeper. She plowed into the water with no fear and just kept walking. She was almost to the point where she couldn't touch and I started to panic and ran after her (which isn't easy to do with water up to your shins or higher). That little stinker walked to the point of no return for her, where her life jacket picked her up and she would just float on her back. Seriously, no fear. What a funny girl. I hope this means she'll be a good little swimmer.
We ended the outing a few hours later with a pizza lunch upstairs in the balcony area and Grandma treated us to Dippin' Dots. Yummy! I don't care much for ice cream, except when it's in the milkshake form, but I sure dig those Dippin' Dots--especially banana split! I wonder if any local grocery store carries them...
We had a great afternoon doing what we think might have to be another family tradition when we go to Alaska. H2Oasis--what a catchy name.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Alaska: Day 6--Fishing

Here are a few pictures from Jared's fishing charter. I have yet to go halibut fishing. I always have a baby when we go to Alaska. Maybe next time. Looks like fun...

Nice fish, Honey!

Apparently the guys caught their limit within the hour and just did catch & release the rest of the day. "Unfortunately" (say the men) the fish weren't huge, even though what they did catch made their muscles sore. But--they did get fish and that's all I care about.

We actually ended up bringing home 100 lbs. of halibut--50 lbs. of meat for us and another 50 lbs. from Dad to keep in our freezer. Way to go, Fishermen!
P.S. Anyone have any great halibut recipes? :)

Alaska: Day 6--the Zoo

On Monday, August 11th, Jared and my dad left bright and early for their halibut charter on the Kenai Peninsula. We received good news: The captain of the boat Jared and our dads were booked on graciously said he would not hold Jared's dad responsible for payment for his portion of the charter, since he was stranded in Seattle. Even nicer, in this case, no deposit was taken, so Doc didn't lose money on this portion of the trip that didn't pan out.

Mom and I had planned to take the kidlets to the Alaska Zoo while the guys were fishing. It was a cool, but clear day. We went around 11:30am which turned out to be a great time to be there because it was feeding time for the animals and they were all out.

We saw beautiful bald and golden eagles. One bald eagle was older than me--35 years old! Apparently they can live to be 50 years old in captivity. We also learned that all the birds at the zoo had been injured in the wild. They were rescued, nursed back to health, then given a new home at the zoo since they are no longer able to fly.

We saw polar bears, wolves, black bears, a red fox, yaks, llamas, dall sheep, wolverines, snow leopards, tigers, porcupines and big ol' grizzly bears.

Karcyn was mostly interested in the gravel rocks under our feet. To each their own, I guess.

We especially enjoyed watching the river otters swimming around. Jake was so mesmerized he kept bumping his forehead, hard, into the outer pane of glass while he watched the otters.

After a successful tour around the zoo, Mom took us out to Gallo's for a yummy Mexican lunch. And then we bummed around and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

Earlier that evening, Jake and Grandma went for a mile walk up the road, collecting wildflowers for--you guessed it--a requirement towards Jake's Wolf badge. They ended up at a nearby elementary school and called to see if Calvin was done napping. He was, so we joined them on the playground for some sunshine and expending of energy. Calvin was the keeper of the wildflowers.

On the way home, I took a picture of the mountains (part of the Chugach range, I believe). We were about a mile from my parents' house. The "peak" in the middle of the picture is called Flattop for obvious reasons. We like to climb it, but didn't get a chance to this trip. Maybe next time.

We learned later that Doc and Karole didn't just bum around their hotel while waiting to fly out on Tuesday afternoon. They actually took a bus tour around Seattle and saw things that I was hoping we could see! Plus Karole went and got a pedicure. It's nice to know they made the best of their crazy situation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alaska: Day 5--Poor Doc and Karole

Sunday was interesting to say the least. We went to my parents' ward...the one I attended in high school. Speaking of high school, that's where church was. I had totally forgotten that my parents' chapel (the one that shares the parking lot with the Anchorage Temple) caught on fire a year ago last March. It's still being worked on. Apparently, if they tore it down and rebuilt it, they'd have to rebuild it smaller because of building codes, since it shares the parking lot with the temple. So they are slowly rebuilding it from the inside out. I would have thought they'd be done by now....since I've known temples to go up faster than that, but I also forget that their construction season isn't quite as long up here.

So...there are now four wards meeting at the new South Anchorage High School. I would have attended this school had it been built. It's only 4 years old. Sacrament meeting was held in the auditorium. The podium was on the stage and the congregation sat in the bleachers. It was loud and creaky. I couldn't just sneak out with rowdy kids. But the Spirit was there nonetheless.

After church we were anticipating the arrival of Jared's parents. They were due to fly in around 9:30pm. Jared said he hoped that their visit in Alaska would be a nice change for them on this vacation. This is why:

His parents have been on a Grandchildren Tour. They're from Illinois and prior to going to Alaska, they would be in CA blessing Jared's sister's baby. So they decided to see Jared's brother's family in Utah as well.

First stop: Lehi, UT on Saturday, Aug. 2nd. The two younger kids (out of six) were just getting over the stomach flu.

On Sunday, Aug. 3rd, three older kids stayed home from church because they had the stomach flu.

Monday, Aug. 4th, Jared's brother Kevin got the flu and stayed home from work.

Tuesday, Aug. 5th, Jared's mom, Karole got sick. Sheesh, some visit. What a bummer on all accounts.

On Wed., Aug. 6th, Doc and Karole left Utah. They changed planes in Vegas, heading for Sacramento, CA to see Jared's sister, Nicole. Doc had a window seat, Karole was in the middle and another lady sat in the aisle seat. For some reason, the plane was stuck on the tarmac. It was during this time that Karole started feeling faint and she passed out. And then without warning, still out cold, she threw up all over their row. All over her, the seats, Doc and the poor unsuspecting lady in the aisle seat. In the words of my father-in-law, he said it was like something out of the Exorcist. He wouldn't have been surprised if Karole's head started spinning 360 degrees. Needless to say, the lady in the aisle changed seats. Fortunately for Karole she had a change of clothes in her carry on...her jammies. Ewww. What a mess. How awful for everyone!

Thursday, Aug. 7th, Doc came down with the flu. Fortunately, they were staying in a hotel and didn't pass the disease on to Jared's sister's family. But that's where the quarantine was.

Friday, Aug. 8th, Doc was hotel bound.

Saturday, Aug. 9th, they were going to get together with Karole's brothers and wives, but they had to cancel due to their being sick.

Sunday, Aug. 10th, they were both well enough to bless grandbaby #11 and then jumped on a plane from Sacramento to Seattle, changed planes in Seattle and got on board Alaska Airlines flight 95 bound for Anchorage. Where, hopefully, they could enjoy some of their vacation without being sick or having to cancel plans.

Around 9pm at my parents' house, before leaving to pick up Doc and Karole from the airport, my dad, like the good retired pilot that he is, got online to check on the arrival time. He reported to us that flight 95 had been cancelled. My dad likes to joke and I thought he was kidding, but he said he wasn't. It didn't make sense. Doc and Karole never called to tell us it was cancelled and their flight left over 2 1/2 hours ago. The online status information referred us to the comments section below. It indicated that flight 95 from Seattle to Anchorage was cancelled. Then it showed flight 95 from Seattle to Seattle was due to arrive at 11:02pm. More confusion. My dad looked at the flight tracker and it showed the plane 2/3 of the way to Anchorage. As we mulled this over, we could only conclude that the plane was turned around mid-flight and for who knows what reason.

I decided not to get all wound up in knots with speculation and phoned Alaska Airlines for more information. The automated system told me only what I already knew...the flight was cancelled, so I just sat and waited while it repeated this information 2 more times. I was finally connected with a human, though getting information from her was like pulling teeth. Her answers were very short and crisp.
"Hi, I'm calling about flight 95."
"Is that your flight?"
"No, but my in-laws are on it."
"That flight's been cancelled."
"Yes, I see that, but according to the flight tracker, they were already en route."
"They had to turn the plane around."
"They did? Can you tell me why?"
"Because there are three volcanoes that erupted and the winds are blowing the ash across their flight path."
"Ohhh. So when will they get to Anchorage?"
"I don't know. Maybe tomorrow. Probably not until Tuesday." (Inward groan. Jared, his dad and my dad were scheduled for those halibut charters Monday and Tuesday. This was the highlight of the trip for both Jared and his dad).
"Will the airline put them up for the night?"
"I don't know." (Another groan.)
"Alright, thank you for your help."

So volcanic activity was now the vacation culprit for Doc and Karole. Dad said the airline wasn't obligated to put them up in a hotel for the night because the eruptions are "an act of God." Of course.

To say Jared was completely disappointed would be an understatement. Doc's fishing trip on Monday was down the drain for sure. We might be able to salvage Tuesday. Mom and I convinced Jared and Dad to go ahead with their fishing plans because they had given the captain their word. There wasn't anything they could do here in town anyway. Ironically, when Dad made the reservation for these charters, no deposit was taken, which is very unusual. This is big money for these guys and they need guarantees. But Dad has fished with them before so we figured his word was good enough.

Mom said that if Doc and Karole caught a flight on Monday, she'd drive Doc the three hours down to Ninilchik so he could be there for the charter on Tuesday. And then all we could do was hope.

We had to wait for them to call once they got back to Seattle. They did. We told them we knew what was going on and then they had the fun task of rebooking their flight. Easier said than done. Their flight was the first one to be cancelled while they were in the air. No one was coming or going to Alaska. So all the passengers of other cancelled flights who were already at the airport got first dibs on rebooking. (According to the Anchorage Daily News, 23 flights were cancelled on Sunday and another 13 for Monday morning). By the time Doc and Karole got to the terminal, the line for rebooking was 2 blocks long. We felt soooooo bad for them. I mean really...haven't they been through enough?

The way things were going, I figured they'd never want to see any of their kids or grandkids least in the same trip. I even told Jared to tell them when they spoke briefly, that we would totally understand if they just wanted to go home. I know I would. But they were able to get a flight on Tuesday at noon, which meant, sadly, that halibut fishing was completely out of the question for Doc. We did reassure him he'd have halibut to take home, but it just isn't the same.

Once Doc and Karole were here, I asked Karole to tell me about the events surrounding their flight from Seattle and back to Seattle. She said that the captain came on the intercom and told the passengers he was sorry, but they had to return to Seattle. He had received word that there had been some volcanic activity in the area (in the Aleutian Islands several hundred miles to the west, actually) and he didn't know how high or how far around they would have to fly to avoid the plume and that meant not knowing if they had enough fuel. I wondered why they didn't just fly UNDER the ash, but my dad taught me that when you fly lower, you actually burn more fuel.

Karole just sat their thinking, "You're kidding! This is an Alaskan joke, right?"
Then the captain came back on and explained to the passengers the effects the ash could have on the engines. Ash is molten glass and could clog the engines causing engine failure. So then Karole decided going back to Seattle wasn't such a bad idea after all. How horribly inconvenient and frustrating, though! To make matters worse, they wouldn't have access to any of their checked bags either while the spent 1 day and 2 nights in Seattle.

Talk about "a cherry on top" of their already "memorable" vacation. I did tell Karole though, that at least it was volcanoes that turned them around and not a cracked windshield or faulty light. Who would've thought? Good grief. I couldn't make this up even if I tried.

Alaska: Day 4

On Saturday after breakfast, we broke down camp, jump started the van's dead battery and left Loon Lake around 10:30am. About 10 minutes down the road, it started raining. Perfect timing. I just smiled. It rained all the way home.

When we got back to my parents' house, we had a lot to do. First we had to unload the camper and van, then we had to bathe the kids and ourselves before tackling several loads of laundry. Jared and Dad had to get a few more camping items for when Jared's parents joined us later in the week. Not to mention we had to get the camper restocked and ready for Jared and our dads to go to Ninilchik (on the Kenai) for their halibut charters on Monday and Tuesday. They'd be leaving bright and early Monday morning and so that meant having to be prepared and ready to go on Saturday. It was a whirlwind, but we got it all done.

Saturday was supposed to be another running day for me, but I was just plum tuckered out. It was the first day I've missed since I started. I was hoping it wouldn't happen, but Jared assured me my body wouldn't forget how to run 5 miles.

I forgot to mention this, but I did run a couple miles on Wednesday, our first night here. It was about 9:30pm and there was plenty of daylight. I wasn't the least bit worried about being assaulted by a human being. However, about a mile from home as I was running past some heavily wooded areas, I realized that it wasn't people I should worry about, but the animals! I began to be keenly aware of the fact that I could very possibly startle a moose or a bear which have been known to roam these parts. There's been a lot of bear maulings, too this summer. So I left the sidewalk and ran in the street to put more distance between me and the woods. Then it occurred to me that my heavy breathing and wheezing was probably adequate enough to scare off any wild beast. That's your best defense from ever running into a moose or bear...make lots of noise.

Alaska: Day 3--Camping

I was fully prepared to tent camp at Loon Lake, but the tent we brought was only big enough for Jared and the two boys. So I slept on the make-shift bed in the camper, with Karcyn and Calvin. I definitely didn't get cold. However, with one baby on either side of me, with one that thrashes more than the other, it wasn't the most restful night of sleep, but hey--that's camping for ya. At least these two were well rested. (Karcyn looks like she knows something I don't.)

That morning, as they were getting dressed in the tent, Jared told the boys to take off their dirty underwear and put a clean pair on. Jacob informed Jared he wasn't wearing underwear. Jared peered at him suspiciously and asked, "What do you mean you don't have underwear on?" Well, I guess Jake had remembered something Jared said earlier. When you're camping, if you take off your socks at night, your feet will stay warmer because they are usually wet with sweat from during the day and they won't get as cold. Apparently Jake had made his own personal application and decided if he took off his underwear he wouldn't be as cold down there. According to Jake, he was plenty warm enough!
Friday was a nice, lazy day around the campfire, where we enjoyed yet another beautiful day, each other, and the nature around us.

We were thrilled to discover that there were several requirements that Jake could pass off working towards his Wolf badge in Cub Scouts while in Alaska. Grandpa was the perfect Akela for teaching Jake how to tie knots. It didn't take Jake long before he was roping things and people with his newly acquired knowledge. When we went to say goodnight to the boys, Jake had tied Cooper's hands together and strung the rope up through the top of the tent and down the side, holding his brother hostage. I'm not sure that's what the Boy Scout program had in mind for using this new skill.
During the course of the day:

*Karcyn sat on Grandma's lap and brushed up on her current events, Jake read about birds in Alaska, Jared read his book, Grandpa messed with the fire, Cooper battled fake enemies with stick sabers and I attempted a crossword puzzle and failed.

*We played "I'm Going on a Picnic" (a Lee family tradition). Amazingly, Cooper had one of the better memories, too.

*We all played cards. Calvin was on Grandpa's team. Amazingly, Jared won the spelling game. Now how did that happen? I edit all his papers!

*Another scouting requirement is to prepare and cook an outdoor meal. So Jake made hobo dinners for us. He sliced the carrots and potatoes, seasoned the meat, assembled the meals and wrapped them in foil before putting them around the hot coals.
*While dinner cooked, the boys made good use of their time and went fishing in the canoe.

*Karcyn learned there's time-out...even on vacation...even in the woods on tree stumps.

*We had the best cooked-over-the-fire camping meal ever. Kudos to you, Jake!

*Calvin roasted his own marshmallow (with a little help from Mom).

*And we had to end the day with a family picture taken around 9pm.