We’re Legit!

John has already been in Alaska for more than six months, and I’ve been here for almost five.  I feel we have finally reached a few milestones that elevate us in status to a point slightly over “tourist”, perhaps even above “extended transient”.

1. We now have a kid with an Alaska birth certificate.

Certainly, the most exciting development is the small addition to our nuclear family.  Skye was born November 5th via flawless home water-birth.   Born in the same fashion as his big brother, Skye’s birth certificate is also pretty unique, citing a city of birth that has no L & D department. I was hoping this birth would go as well as my first, and it did, with the only surprises being a) the lightning-fast 3 hour labor and b) Skye’s robust weight of 9 lbs. 3 oz.

By now, nearly four weeks later, I feel almost 100% physically recovered, with the exception of a complete inability to run.  I discovered this temporary disability on the treadmill at the gym on Monday, but I was at least able to row myself into a sweaty frenzy as an alternative.  But enough about me…here’s Skye!

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Skye is now one of the few people I know in Alaska who was actually born here.  Meeting someone new usually involves an exchange of names, other relevant information pertaining to the conversation, and a mention of where each person lived originally.  I have yet to hear someone say, “Oh, I moved to Anchorage from Fairbanks five years ago.”  It’s usually, “Georgia”, “Minnesota”, “Colorado”, etc. I think that explains why all Alaskans love Alaska; everyone is here by choice. I hope Skye, and Silas, of course, will love Alaska as much as John and I do already.

2. The DMV knows we’re here.

For the past several months, I’ve felt increasingly self-conscious about the “California” plates on my car.  In my paranoid imagination, they drew nothing but scornful, eye-rolling looks from fellow commuters every day.  I even had a coworker take notice and advise me about driving in the snow, to which I had to reply, “I’m not from THAT part of California”, (though I have lived there).

Thankfully, that episode is over.  In the days John stayed home with me after Skye was born, he generously braved the DMV for me and picked up my new Alaska plates.  About a week later, I was able to face the DMV myself to trade in my California license for an Alaska one.

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3. We’ve had a holiday that involved a moose tragedy.

Halloween was a whole new game this year.  I didn’t expect the non-stop stream of trick-or-treaters, and ran out of candy.  A neighbor estimated she had 70 kids stop by, which may serve as evidence of how most couples pass time in the dark winter months.   I wasn’t surprised by the moose patronizing the neighbors’ yard, as I had been notified that they are particularly fond of munching on jack-o-lanterns.

What did surprise me was the over-zealous neighbor who took it upon himself to defend the throng of local children from our placid ungulate visitor.  Moose are not amused by human challengers, and humans with loaded handguns are not amused by moose who stand up for themselves.  The standoff ended with the moose in an injured heap, waiting for law enforcement to arrive, finish the job, and end his misery.

I couldn’t help thinking that the whole episode added up to an unnecessary waste with respect to the moose, as well as precautionary overkill with respect to carrying a loaded firearm to go trick-or-treating, but chalked it up to my California-style sensibilities.  In relating the story to others, however, I found my reaction was pretty universally shared, and I was being neither too soft nor too liberal.

4. Our family holiday photo shoot took place in 15 degrees.

My only additional comments are 1) They look amazing, and 2) At least it was above zero.

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5. This plug:

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An indicator that you are observing a vehicle that is not parked in a heated garage and has an owner who would prefer the engine not freeze to a point that keeps them stranded at home all winter.

Everything is New…Again

As we approach the four-month mark in Alaska, our life bares virtually no resemblance to what it looked like in July.  This, however, is mostly good news.  We’ve relocated (again), and are back towards Anchorage.  The commute from Wasilla was beautiful, but not worth an additional $400 per month in fuel.  I did my best to try to arrange some kind of carpool situation, but everything fell through.  Our newest residence is smallish, but cute and clean, and promises to serve us well for the duration of our lease, and maybe even longer.  John has moved on to his third employer, which is also good news.  Both the fit and the long-term outlook are excellent.  Though my employment has been consistent since August, and will continue to be, my day-to-day activities are about to be far removed from those of the past months.  The nature of said upcoming activities, I think, is clearly illustrated here:

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The last several weeks, my motivation to be an active participant in all the wonder Alaska has to offer has severely waned.  I’ve felt somewhat guilty and lazy about that situation, but it’s only temporary, and also forgivable.   We did, nevertheless, manage to get out a few beautiful weekends in September.

Reflection Lake – A short but very pretty hiking loop took Si and I around Reflection Lake in the Mat-Su Valley, about 10 miles south of Wasilla.  I can’t imagine a nicer time than fall to visit the lake.

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Talkeetna – About an hour and a half north of Wasilla on the Parks Hwy is Talkeetna, a ridiculously cute little touristy town with incredible views of Denali.

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ImageDenali!

Autumn in Alaska

While California is still sweltering in 90 degree heat, fall has descended on Alaska.  I’ve been informed many, many times over that we moved during the most unusual and spectacular summer the 49th state has seen in a long time, so I assume the summer/fall contrast isn’t so obvious every year.  But for this year, the mostly sunny days have given way to almost two solid weeks of cloudy skies and rain.  Fortunately, autumn is my favorite season, so I’m not particularly heartbroken to have to throw on another layer for the days that only see temperatures in the 50s.

The strangest part has been getting back into the school year with the feel of summer entirely evaporated.  Every other year, as both a student and a teacher, the first few weeks to a month or so of school have always been accompanied by reminders that it’s still technically the summer season.  I have no complaints, though. This perpetual drizzle reminds me that I may as well be inside, attempting to enrich the lives of youth, rather than being teased by the typical sunshine out of my classroom window, suggesting that there are more invigorating things to be accomplished instead.  Luckily, there have been a few breaks in the weather that we’ve taken full advantage of.

ImageClouds still loomed, but John found some respite from the rain outside of Seward last week.

ImageNot bad for a Monday. Rock fish, halibut, and coho.

ImageSure wish we could claim all these halibut, but alas… Our freezer got heavier that day nonetheless.

ImageA nice break from the rain last Friday.  The full rainbow was too big for my camera.

ImageNot certain that these will give you super powers.  Found on a hike outside of Palmer.

ImageTime for this kid to get some camo.

ImageMy berry ID skills are about one step above “Everything Is Poisonous!”

ImageCaught in his natural state: Moving.

ImagePleased that green is the overwhelming late-summer color.

ImageThese stairs went on for about a quarter mile.  Calves were quivering by the time we made it back down.

ImageLast rose in a field of rose hips.

ImageOn top of the world!

ImageFelt very confident about eating these…

Image…not so much about these, though they do look delicious.

ImageForaging for a well deserved snack.  This little hiker trooped on for 3 miles without so much as a whimper.

ImageYellow with purple polka dots. Impressive.

ImageThe sun is out!…and our hike is over.  Ah, Murphy, your laws rule my life.

ImageJust another beautiful day in Alaska.

Alaskan Idealism: Project Progress

Now that we’ve been in Alaska for almost 6 weeks, the regular, annoying, logistical issues involved in relocating are starting to iron themselves out.  Settling into our new residence, finding our way around, and getting started working are mostly concerns of the past.  It’s been a busy time, so really exploring what Alaska has to offer in our immediate area hasn’t been as much of a priority as I’d hoped, especially considering that summer here is almost over, and it sounds like “autumn” as I’ve known it may not exactly exist.

The necessities of day-to-day living have most certainly intruded on my vision of Alaskan living.  We’ve run into two separate couples (one pair including the fabulous Vanessa Runs) who, each knowing their time in Alaska was limited, were really able to live it up, visiting Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Seward, and Homer among other destinations.  If we make it to all of those places in the next year, I’ll consider myself fulfilled.

Fishing

Despite the reality check, John and I have made some positive progress.  Two weekends in a row took us down to the Kenai Peninsula for fishing during the Sockeye salmon run.  The first weekend was my first legitimate attempt at fishing of any kind, and did not end up successfully.  John, however, came home with 9 salmon.  Our freezer and bellies are very happy and full.

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The next weekend was a small haul by seasoned Alaskan standards, but I couldn’t have been more excited.  John caught a Sockeye and a trout, and I came home with two Sockeyes.  Standing out in the Kenai River in my waders, I felt that first real tug on my line, started backing up to the shore, and immediately tripped and fell over into the river, mostly defeating the purpose of my waders.  I hung on to my pole though, and after satisfyingly long struggle, with the assistance of John and our net, got my first catch up to the shore.

ImageSince then, we’ve had grilled salmon, baked salmon, pan-fried salmon, smoked salmon, salmon roe, and salmon-head soup.  Lunch today was Chipotle Salmon Wraps with Bacon.  Are we salmoned-out?  Nope.  But I’m certainly not disappointed about John’s charter fishing trip coming up tomorrow that could yield halibut, rock fish, yellow-eye, and…more salmon.  But Coho this time.

Car Repairs

A new and unexpected project that was recently created for us is the issue of vehicle maintenance.

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More appropriate mugs would say, “I Drove the Alaska Hiway…and lived!  My car…not so much.”

So far our tally is as follows:

John’s truck:

New clutch – $$$

Replaced fan clutch – $$

My SUV:

Rear brake pads and resurfaced rotors – $$

Four spark plugs and coils – $$

Squeaking front brakes – TBD

Boat trailer:

Lost brake/turn light cover and wires – TBD

Broken winch in need of welding – TBD

Moral of the story: the cost of driving to Alaska includes more than gas.

Knitting

My Central Park Hoodie was not finished before crossing the border into Alaska.  But it’s done now!

ImageSince finishing, I’ve done a really cute baby hat, and am 2/3 of the way through a sweater for Si.  Turns out knitting projects do not need to take multiple years each.

Settling

Since moving to Alaska, we’ve already moved. We readjusted to our new surroundings over the first month with relatives in Anchorage (thanks Scott and Jaime!), but have since set out on our own.  We headed out of town to Wasilla, because, after all, we didn’t move to Alaska to live in the city.  The commute is significant, but on my way to work I have views of glaciers and mountain ranges, cross two big rivers (the Knik and the Matanuska), and have to keep my eye out for moose (6 have been hit since July 1st).  It’s not unpleasant.  And after living in San Diego County, there is zero traffic by comparison.

Overall, Alaskan life is moving along nicely.  Next up: first day of school with students, preparing for winter, the DMV, and getting ready for baby #2.

ImageWaiting for our table at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage, which never has no wait. Not never.

 

The Drive – Part 3

On Tuesday, July 9th, we rose with the mission of finding a shower and washing some clothes.  We drove for a few hours through some incredibly beautiful and scenic territory.  The highway wound back and forth between British Columbia and Yukon Territory, so we were welcomed to both provinces in a morning.

After coming around a wide, sweeping turn, one of the most picturesque and charming views of the trip opened up.  Teslin Lake below us, so long the distant shores were invisible, was crossed by a megalithic bridge that lead to Teslin Village, a sweet little town where we didn’t at all mind spending the rest of our morning and early afternoon.  We pulled in to a lodge and RV park, and had all of our needs fulfilled.  Showers, laundry, pecan sweet rolls, and a couple of souvenir mugs we’ve used every day since.

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I went in to the little laundromat hoping for the best.  Everywhere we had been so far accepted American cash, but I assumed Canadian coin-op washing machines would be less than impressed with George Washington.  Luckily, I had $8 Canadian that had been change from our camp fee at Big Creek.  I needed some coins, and was grateful someone was in the office.  I handed him my $5, and felt remarkably the same as when I was a kindergartener buying something at the store.  “Here’s all the money I have…is it enough?”

“The machines take two quarters and two loonies,” the office manager explained.

Two what?!  I poked around at the coins in my hand.  Ah-ha!  The $1 coins had loons on the back.  Feeling like I’d just succeeded in interpreting hieroglyphics, I got our laundry started.

After naps for us all, feeling freshly showered, and with stacks of clean, folded laundry, we took off from Teslin and headed for our last campsite before crossing into Alaska.  Ready to not disrupt our low mileage day with too much driving, we settled in to Wolf Creek campground in the late afternoon.  This southern end of the Yukon is still far enough north that the daylight hours stretched very late into the evening, giving us plenty of reason to set up our slackline, take a walk to the camp playground, and take our time with our steaks and corn-on-the-cob.

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Wednesday, July 10th, we knew, was our Alaska day.   There would be no stopping for the night until we were securely in the 49th state.  Our first stop of the day was in Whitehorse, Yukon, for gas.  Whitehorse is now my quintessential BFE.  It was a busy little city, with things happening and going on, and looked like a fun place to visit, but it felt like it was on Mars, completely isolated from everything and anything else in the world.

Right outside of Whitehorse, we picked up our first and only hitchhiker of the trip.  John and I had discussed other potential hitchhikers, via walkie talkie, along the way, but Lucas was the lucky one.  We continued on through Otter Falls Cutoff, where we picked up some mugs and a bumper sticker declaring our success in navigating the Alaska Hiway, to Haines Junction.  We parted ways with Lucas there, as he was going into Alaska at the panhandle, headed to Haines.  The road turned northward and followed along a stretch of mountains whose profile matched what I’ve seen in every Alaska snowboarding video.  This seemed pretty reasonable, since they’re always going to Haines to ride.

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A gas and bathroom stop in Destruction Bay marked a significant transition in the road, and made us realize that the mugs and bumper sticker were purchased prematurely.  Imagine the worst road you’ve ever driven on, blow it up with dynamite, drive on what’s left, and you have an idea.  My understanding is that the expansion and contraction of the permafrost over the seasons makes the road impossible to keep smooth.  We were so rattled, shaken, and generally agitated, that we crossed the border back onto American soil and into Alaska completely unceremoniously, without even pausing for the photo-op at the Welcome to Alaska monument.

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Going through the border check here was quite a different experience than crossing into Canada had been.  After handing over our passport cards, the following inquisition ensued:

“Buy anything other than food and gas in Canada?”

“A few mugs.”

“Have a nice day!”

Nothing has ever made me feel more patriotic.  There’s something very comforting about returning “home”, being treated like an insider, even in a place I’ve never been.  The speed limits were posted in mph again; even though I had no problem with kph (as a trail runner, I’m acutely aware of just what 50k means, having done it on foot), I was more than happy to return to my default setting.

The next landmark was the city of Tok, but since it was getting late in the day and we were the most tired from driving as we had been any day, we turned left for Anchorage and our last campground of the trip.  The Porcupine Creek campground was barely our host; we stayed only long enough to sleep.

Thursday, July 11th was our final day, and we didn’t want to waste any time.  After breakfast in Glenallen, we made our final push down the Glenn Highway, and through the most spectacular views of the entire drive.  The highway followed along the northern border of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and we were treated with the sight of mountain peaks and glaciers the entire way.  At one point I was impressed with a range of tall, snowy mountains, cloaked in clouds, until I realized the clouds were actually a range of taller, snowier mountains.  We hadn’t made much of a habit out of pulling over to take pictures during the trip, but we made up for it along this stretch.  Every time we thought we’d seen the most breathtaking sight, the next bend would produce a greater one.  One summit that was in the backdrop for a great portion of the day, Mt. Sanford, which loomed at an impressive 16,237 ft, was quite possibly the tallest mountain I’ve ever seen in person, and I’d never even heard of it.

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We made it into Anchorage by mid-afternoon.  The city felt like any other: traffic, Targets, and stoplights, with the exception of the ragged Chugach Mountains dominating the skyline instead of buildings.  The contrast neatly sums up our vision, our goals, and our purpose for the whole trip: the sacrifice of urban living to support and allow for our dream life in the mountains.

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Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict

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Last weekend, we came home from the Kenai River with 9 Sockeye salmon, all thanks to John’s newly acquired fishing skills.  Several of them were processed with my newly acquired filleting skills.  We froze the fillets, then grilled half and smoked half of the bellies.

Smoked Salmon

We marinated the pieces of salmon belly in salt, brown sugar, and Yoshida’s for about 24 hours, then smoked it over maple chips for 2 hours.

Eggs Benedict

For the breakfast, I stacked a Romaine lettuce leaf, a good chunk of smoked salmon, and a poached egg, then smothered it in Hollandaise sauce (using this recipe), and topped with a sprinkle of paprika.

I love this recipe because a) it’s delicious, b) it’s pretty simple, and c) it looks fancy.

(Paleo/primal disclaimer: I realize the marinade for the smoked salmon has a lot of sugar and even HFCS.  As I become more experienced and confident in the process of smoking salmon, I’ll start working on more Paleo-friendly recipes.)

The Drive – Part 2

A fitful night of sleep had me up at 4:30am on Sunday, July 7th, reconsulting The Milepost.  After a high mileage input the day before, we were interested in having a bit of an off-day.  Only 60 miles down the road was an RV park which promised shower and laundry services, amenities we hadn’t accessed in four days and that, for me, held glorious appeal.

After a breakfast of pale eggs at Sasquatch Crossing (where I’d hoped to find some awesome commemorative mugs since I’d sold all of ours; no dice), we moved on down the road, looking for inviting respite from the drive.  We didn’t end up with showers that day, but found some peace and serenity at Buckinghorse Creek Provincial Park.  We even had opportunities to indulge in our individual hobbies: I made some small progress on my knitting, John had a few beers, and Silas analyzed the local terrestrial composition by caking himself in creek mud.

Feeling refreshed for Monday morning, we departed the campground with the intent of crossing the border into Yukon Territory and embarked on, in my opinion, our most epic driving day of the whole trip.  Up to this point, I was somewhat disappointed in the scenery British Columbia provided.  It wasn’t bad, to be sure, and gave me my fill of lush and green, with black spruce-covered rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  We had even seen a few moose at dusk on Saturday night.  But I had expected Whistler.  Majestic, jagged, snow capped peaks, dramatic valleys, thundering waterfalls, abundant wildlife.  What we saw was more tame and serene.  To be fair, we stuck mainly on the highway, and highways are generally placed on the path of least resistance, which is usually not compatible with “majestic, jagged peaks”.

As we approached the Yukon, though, things began to change.  We started to climb, and so did the mountain summits.  Finally, we saw some snow.  We stopped to grill some sausages for lunch at Summit Lake, and I finally felt like we’d reached somewhere wild, somewhere far enough north that we’d escaped the gravity of mainstream civilization.  After packing up the grill, we passed by Muncho Lake, which was such a radiant blue we has to stop and soak in the view.  After that, the wildlife started.  John narrowly missed a bellowing caribou and a Stone sheep and lamb.  Four bears and several herds of wood bison also crossed our paths. We crossed the border into Yukon Territory, and everything just got bigger.  I had a sneaking suspicion that Big Creek Campground, our planned destination for the night, was going to resemble a California river more than a creek, and it certainly did.  We didn’t even need to convince Pepper to stay out of it, and that dog is nothing if not a water dog.

ImageSummit Lake

ImageMore Summit Lake

ImageMuncho Lake

ImageBison crossing?! Yeah, whatever…

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Image“Yukon: Larger Than Life”. Sign speaks the truth.

The Drive – Part 1

After 3 weeks of casual packing and 2 days of frantic packing, we left California on a Wednesday, the afternoon of July 3rd. The sum of our remaining possessions fit within the confines of our truck, boat, SUV, and trailer, with plenty of room to spare.  Our little caravan made its first overnight stop in Grants Pass, OR, with my mom, before heading for the international border and trying to leave the US, ironically, on the 4th of July. We drove the fairly straight line up I-5, seeing both Portland and Seattle as only a blur from behind camera lenses.

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Portland blur.

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Seattle blur.

Both John and I underestimated the gap between Seattle and the US-Canadian border, assuming they were a casual 30-minutes or so apart.  Seeing the “Vancouver, BC – 150 miles” sign going through Seattle gave us a bit of a reality check.  We were at least entertained along the way with almost 3 hours of holiday fireworks as we followed the sunset north.  We barely made it through the Abbotsford border crossing on our planned day after arriving there at 11:30 pm.  Additional delays, including having our boat and trailer inspected by dogs (we seem to put out the gun-toting vibe, despite never having owned a single firearm between the two of us), set us up for trying to navigate a new, international country, pulling trailers, at 2 am.

Our other underestimation was how different Canada would feel.  We expected “North Washington”, but it, in fact, felt like a foreign country.  All indications of culture and humanity, road signs, stores, were just a little off from from the usual, but a multitude of  small differences can lead to a large feeling of bewilderment.  Driving around outside of Chilliwack, BC, in the dark, without a decided destination, only that it be a place to sleep, ended miraculously in that we were never driving into oncoming traffic and we eventually found a not-illegal looking place to park on the side of the road for the night.

The next day, Friday July 5th, went much better.  We had breakfast at a Husky’s in Hope, and discovered that Canadian egg yolks are weirdly pale.  I found this to be true throughout our trip, regardless of the source of the eggs, restaurant or store-bought.  After breakfast, we headed north, hoping to find a nice place to camp for the night.  I noticed then that it wasn’t just the human-made aspects of Canada that felt different, but even the shape of the mountains and the trees weren’t quite what I was used to.  We traveled along a winding river road that made quite a few tunnel passes, and left the aforementioned trees and mountains behind.  We stopped for lunch in Cache Creek and experienced another culinary idiosyncrasy.  Our fried chicken pieces came with one bottle of ketchup and one of…vinegar?  The flavors made sense, but I couldn’t figure out how to apply a squirt of white vinegar to my chicken without having a soggy mess.

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We finally decided during lunch to begin consulting with our copy of The Milepost, the definitive source for all Alaska-bound travelers and their every need.  The great tome informed us that we weren’t far off from Green Lake, which promised campsites, outhouses, a water pump, and swimming, all for $16.  Also convenient was that the denomination could be either Canadian or American dollars.  Most places where we tried to pay with American cash happily accepted it straight across, though I’m pretty sure they got the better end of the exchange rate.

Green Lake Provincial Park proved to be a great choice for our first night of Canadian camping. The area was lush and green, and the lake was crisp and refreshing with a smooth, sandy bottom.  We threw some steaks on the grill, liberally applied our DEET, and chatted with some other campers, amusing ourselves with their Canadian accents.  When asked where we were coming from, John mentioned California, and was surprised at the reply of, “Oh!  I thought I detected a southern accent.”  Wow!  We have an accent!

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After a propane grilled bacon and egg breakfast, we began a planned high mileage day.  We totaled over 550 miles, but at the expense of having the worst Chinese food ever, our boat backed into a ditch, no camping spaces, and an eventual surrender to the day by sleeping at a rest stop.  You win some, you lose some.

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Yuck.  Not advised when in Chetwynd, BC.

Cooking: The Post-Project

Cooking, for me, is one domain that has managed to move beyond project stage and into the realm of lifestyle.  This is probably true for many people, since after all, there is a fundamental physiological need to eat.  Even so, I remember when cooking was a project: baking cookies as a kid, attempting Eggs Benedict in high school, preparing a $2 lobster that I bought at the Asian farmer’s market under the freeway in college.

My last big cooking project happened two years ago when I came home with Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso.  It didn’t take long before I was sold and, with that, cooking made its final transformation from string-of-projects into lifestyle.  (I don’t want to waste any effort trying to convince anyone to eat the way I eat; either you’re interested or you’re not.  But I think it’s worth mentioning, as an aside, that today, at almost five months pregnant, all of my pre-Paleo clothes fit great, and my husband doesn’t complain about headaches any longer.  Unless he has pizza.  Or beer.)  Again, necessity plays a role.  Food doesn’t come out of a box in my kitchen, which means if I want to eat, I generally have to turn on the stove or take out a knife.  Fortunately, I really like to cook.  I’m certainly not a chef, but I can follow a recipe and get creative with flavors on my own.

Even though cooking as a whole is part of my day to day living, I can still make sub-projects out of it.  I’m expecting, and hoping, that Alaska will present a host of new culinary experiences.  On the wishlist is an afternoon spent skiing under the Northern Lights, then coming home to grill up a pile of moose hamburgers and enjoying salmon sashimi with a side of wild-picked blackberries after a day on the river.  I know there are much more exotic and daring cooking opportunities awaiting me, much like that lobster from under the freeway.

Currently, my cooking looks as follows:

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Lamb Burgers with Cucumber & Mint Yogurt Sauce

Bacon and Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Dressing

Watermelon

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Chicken Liver Paté

I’ll admit, I considered this a project.  It turned out pretty well, seeing as I have developed no taste for liver.  I used the recipe from Balanced Bites and ate it on sliced cucumber, bell peppers, and grass-fed cheese.

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Orange Salmon on White Rice – I tweaked the recipe found at The CrossFit Way by adding more orange juice to make it saucier.

Green Beans with Cashews

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Dry Rubbed, Slow Cooked Pork Ribs

Homemade BBQ Sauce – I used Sarah Fragoso’s recipe in Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook.

Steamed Broccoli and Cauliflower with Grass-Fed Butter

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Veggie, Sausage, and Egg Stack

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Grilled Turkey Burgers with Mustard on Coleslaw (cabbage, carrot, celery, apple, pecan, cucumber, red bell pepper, and dressed with homemade mayo whisked with apple juice)

 

Alaskan Idealism

I love a good project. I love to learn what tools, skills, and materials I need to start and finish the project, be it making, building, or learning something new.  I love to marvel at how my life will be improved upon completion of the project.  

 “I’ll never have to buy eggs again after I build a chicken coop!”

 “My feet will always be warm after I knit this sock pattern!”

 “My life will be complete when I learn to churn my own butter!”

 The only problem lies in the disconnect between the idea of the project and the actual completion of the project, which is best expressed by this illustration from Dirk’s Big Bunny Blog:

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Most of my projects live out their lives in the realm of my perpetual thought bubble.  Fortunately, I know this situation is not hopeless.  I have many projects that have come to fruition over the years, it’s just that my ratio of planned to completed is not very good.  Alaska, though, seems like the perfect venue for improving that ratio and honing my follow-thru skills.  I expect that exceptionally well developed DIY skills could be quite the boon in Alaska.  Hungry?  Go catch a fish.  Chilly?  Knit up some mittens.  Bored?  Play some guitar, make some soap, or put a new addition on the house.

 In true “me” style, I already have quite the list of Alaska projects living and thriving in my thought bubble.  

 Knitting

Knitting is one area where I’ve, at least, already acquired some essential skills.  At several points, I’ve even sold some of my projects.  Most of my knitting has consisted of small projects, mainly hats and beanies.  I’m particularly proud of an almost-finished sweater.  I followed the Central Park Hoodie pattern, and used the exact yarn from the model photo because I loved it so much.  The only hang-up with this sweater is that I started it back in March…of 2010.  I’m now publicly committing to completing it before crossing the border into Alaska.

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So close. 

It appears that other knitters have been able to finish the same sweater in a few weeks to a month.  I’m hoping the finished product will give me the confidence and drive to start having my knitting turn over as quickly.  I’ve been on Ravelry an unhealthy amount of time lately, and my knitting queue now has 20 different projects, including more sweaters, a few baby things, and couple choices for my holy grail of knitting projects: a man sweater that will actually be worn.  If long Alaskan winter nights are any assistance to my knitting ambitions, churning out one per month seems reasonable, and gives me almost two years of happily busy fingers.  My current rate of 3+ years per item puts me knitting into the grave.  The former option sounds much more pleasant.

 Playing Guitar

I’ve ambitiously owned a guitar, an antique that belonged to my grandmother, for 13 years.  Once I was able to recognizably strum out the first few bars of “Under the Bridge”, but that’s about it.  The aforementioned Alaskan winter nights, ideally, will prompt a quicker ascent on my learning curve, particularly since we’ve decided to not turn on cable.   

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Decorative wallhanging no more.

General Homesteading

Even though we’re, truth be told, probably going to be living in the ‘burbs, I still can’t shake the image of Alaskan frontier living.  Canning, soap making, eating seasonally, tending chickens and pigs, milking my own goat, and ample hunting and fishing to stock the freezer are all fairly essential elements to my Alaskan dream.  My experience in those areas ranges from “Some” to “Zero”, but I’m working on it bit by bit.  Yesterday I whipped up a fabulous batch of mayo, and Sunday I’m planning on butchering a chicken.  I make no prediction on the outcome of the chicken; it might walk away unscathed.  However, I do feel it’s a certain rite of passage in omnivore-hood.  I’m hoping that certain conditions in Alaska will make my homesteading plans morph from whimsy to mandatory.  If tomatoes in January cost $12 a pound, all the better.

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 Dinner.

Running

One of my most pivotal ideas that became victimized by project-block was running a marathon.  I had at least three false starts, where I picked a race, started a training plan, and then completely derailed after a couple weeks.  I can’t pinpoint the cause of those failures, because I was indeed finally successful in running 26.2 miles when I raced in a 50k, which is over 30 miles.  After that, I ran a marathon a few months later “just for fun”.

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I suppose the ideal running conditions that come with living in San Diego at the time had plenty to do with it, as well as being a bit older, somewhat more disciplined, and having actual responsibilities that were a pleasure to get away from for just a little while.  Regardless, running long is in me now, but I know year-round living in Alaska will certainly present some challenges.  I will likely have to invest in both a treadmill (the horror!) and these beauties to keep up with 50k’s, move on to 50 milers, 100k’s, and beyond, in what promises to be the most amazing terrain and trails I can imagine. 

 Last Thoughts on Thought Bubbles

I realize that my particular situation in Alaska will not mandate that I actually complete any of these.  I’m certainly not, in the near future, going to starve without a self-caught and filleted salmon, or freeze without a homemade quilt.  But Alaskan living adds a certain quality to self-sufficiency.  Day to day responsibilities, having a job, taking care of a family, and not a small sprinkling of flat out procrastination have made the back burners of my life much more crowded than the front.  The time is now to address all of those pots, add seasoning, and bring them to a boil.