Tag Archives: Alaska

Seafood from the Back of a Truck

Under typical circumstances, offers of seafood from a lone vehicle in a gas station parking lot would have sent up an immediate red flag.  But the brightly hand-painted signs promising Kodiak scallops and Alaskan shrimp propped up next to a pickup truck last week were surprisingly reassuring, as was the salesman, who identified the origin and method of harvest for each of his goods.  I walked away with 2 1/2 pounds of shrimp and almost 2 pounds of scallops which were local, had lived well, and were free of chemicals, pesticides and shelf-life stabilizers.

When I got my little gems home, I looked up a few different recipes, but ultimately decided to freestyle dinner.  First, I had to do something with the shrimp.  Most of my shrimp cooking experience has included a frozen bag of EZ peelers, but these mamas needed a bit more work.  They had been de-headed and de-veined, but still retained copious numbers of legs and eggs.

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After some experimentation, I ended up snipping down the back of each carapace with some kitchen scissors.  The meat came out easily after that, even if it was a bit labor intensive to cut a slit in each individual shrimp.

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I diced up some bacon and cooked it about half way on the stove, then added some sliced zucchini and green onions.  I threw in the shrimp and seasoned it all with sea salt, pepper, thyme and garlic.

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For the scallops, I heated up an empty pan.  I coated the scallops with avocado oil, and sprinkled them with sea salt and pepper.  There were so many scallops, I had to sear them in three batches, about 45 seconds on each side.

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I ended up with more scallops than I’ve ever seen at once!  I’ve never liked ordering shellfish in restaurants, because the quantity is always disappointing.  There was no skimping on shrimp and scallops at our house that night.

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I made up a basic risotto for a carby treat, and served us up!  Si wasn’t convinced that this meal was anything special, but John was impressed.  Restaurant shellfish lacks both quantity AND quality, it turns out.  The scallops were tender and moist, and the shrimp tasted so fresh.  There are certainly some perks that come with living at the source.

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2014 Checklist and New Year’s Day in Photos

We may be living in the last frontier, but we are still far removed from frontier living.  In lieu of resolutions for the new year, I instead made a checklist of things I’d like to accomplish in 2014, all centered around sustainable, local living:

1. Grow a garden – Last spring, John did some strategic Craigslisting, and traded a jackhammer he no longer needed for piles of redwood 2×12’s, which we made into planter boxes.  We lined the bottoms with gopher wire, filled them with dirt, and fertilized with worm castings.  I collected packets of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Spring just finished melting off the last of winter and…we decided to move to Alaska, so we had to scrap the whole project.  I’m looking forward to sweet redemption this year.

2. Shoot something and eat it – I grew up around hunting, but still have managed to know almost nothing about it.  Tags? Licenses? Permits?  I don’t even know where to start.  I’ve fired a 9mm and a .45 in a shooting range, and an M-16 with blanks, but that was about 10 years ago.  Despite the obstacles of ignorance and inexperience, I’m sure it can be done.  I should probably start making some local friends.

Once I navigate the legalities and subtleties of the hunting part, I’ll be thrilled to get on to the eating part.  I picked up a copy of “Cooking Alaskan” at a thrift store, and have perused such timeless recipes such as “Baked Seal Hindquarter”, “Moose Tongue Stew”, and “Ptarmigan and Dumplings”.  The only question now is which magical meat will end up in my pan?

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3. Catch more fish – This at least I have a start on, having caught my first Sockeye salmon last July.  I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of Alaskan fishing with those outings, however.  There is still charter fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing among other fishing venues that I continue to know next to nothing about.  Again, friends in the know would be quite a boon.

4. Can – This should easy if my garden is remotely successful.  Anything that can be done in the kitchen is well within my comfort zone.  I tried to make blackberry jam once, and it completely bombed, but I came up quite short of the recipe’s called for amount of blackberries.  I’ll call that one a fluke.

5. Make soap – I bought a book on soapmaking in high school, undoubtably linked to the timing of Fight Club coming out on VHS.  I’ve dragged the book with me everywhere.  It’s time to make that dream a reality.

6. Go berry picking – For this kind of expedition to be fruitful (terrible pun intended), I not only need to make friends, but make friends that really like me.  The locations of berry picking spots in Alaska aren’t something that can be Googled.  They seem to be filed less in the category of ‘public information” and more so in ‘highly classified’.

To add some check marks to my list, I’ll need to put in some concentrated effort on planning, learning, and networking. It’s a good thing I gave myself the whole year.  Meanwhile, here is a photo recap of our New Year’s Day.

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John and Silas enjoyed some more downhill action…

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while Skye and I explored 4 miles of trails.  Here is what we saw:Image

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Anchorage’s Perfect Playground

Snow, snow, everywhere and…plenty of things to do with it.  Around here, snow is in no way an excuse to stay in.  Bikes, running shoes, and hiking boots don’t get a winter break.  Playgrounds and dog parks aren’t shut down, and actually stay reasonably busy.    A sled hill in the middle of town yesterday was as packed as a summertime water park.

For our Sunday afternoon fun, we had our sights set on covering some snowy terrain right in the middle of Anchorage.  The Hilltop Ski Area and Hillside Trail System are right next to each other off Abbott Rd., which has major shopping centers and malls just a few miles down.  We weren’t interested in any of those conveniences yesterday, but the proximity to town makes the area super fast and easy to access.

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Hilltop is a tiny ski park and perfect for beginners, our 4 1/2 year old little grommet being a prime example.  Silas’s first ski season was last year at Mt. Shasta, and he really picked up a lot.  John went with him yesterday and reported that after a first warm up run, it all came back to little Si.  We are certainly pleased to be able to raise two little skiers in Alaska.  Olympics 2026?  Maybe 2030?

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While Silas and John were playing with gravity’s pull, Skye and I were literally across the street in the Hillside Trail System.  The trail system provides miles and miles of wooded dirt trails in summer and groomed and lighted nordic and multi-use trails in winter.  With Skye back in the carrier, we snowshoed for about an hour.  Times like these are some of Skye’s best naps.

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When they say Multi-Use, they really mean it.  In the short window of time we were out, I crossed paths with examples of 5 of the 6 listed users.  I saw several people hiking or walking their dogs in regular boots, one skijorer, a pair of fat-tire cyclists, multiple nordic skiers, both skate and classic, and one runner with a waist leash for his dog.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise; with temps above 20 and partly sunny skies, it was an amazing day to be out.

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Overall, as a family we found a place that meets all our needs for getting out on the weekends.  Close, cheap, beautiful, and acres and acres of snow!  I think we’ll be coming here every weekend, all winter…at least until Silas is ready for Alyeska.

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Willow Winter Solstice Race Recap

The single word that best sums up Saturday’s Willow Winter Solstice trail run is “pivotal”.  While my performance had nothing to do with that designation, time, place, and company were everything.  Some of the turning points from the run are:

Family

As the only declared “runner” in my little nuclear family unit, I’ve generally doomed myself to lonely race days.  I sometimes have my tiny fan club at the finish line, but I’ve taken myself to 5 of my last 6 races.  With small boys, and a sometimes long wait time between start and finish, it often makes more sense that way.

For this run, I was trying to figure out the logistics of racing in possibly finicky weather conditions as a nursing mama with a hungry infant waiting with a daddy who was also entertaining a preschooler.  Overall, the situation sounded pretty selfish of me.  Inspiration hit, and I emailed the race director.  She was prompt in her reply that the 5k was indeed a fun run, and my kiddos would be welcome on the course. I registered both John and myself for what would be a first 5k for 3 of the 4 of us.

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Alaska

Usually, my pre-race prep involves the following list: Shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Sports bra?  Check and done.  For this weekend, I wasn’t even certain where I should begin.  Do I even need my running shoes?  Can I use those with snowshoes, or just spikes?  Should I just wear snow boots?  How many clothing layers will be warm enough, but not too warm?

Last year, the run, which also hosts a half and full marathon, was held in -30* weather.  This year, the forecast predicted temps in the 20’s and some snowfall.  Since I planned on not actually running much, due to the dual tasks of coaxing a 4 year old through 3 miles of snow and simultaneous babywearing, I opted for slightly warmer layers.  I ended up with fleecy tights under ski pants, snow boots, an Icebreaker top, fleece, and light water-resistant shell.  John and Silas layered similarly.  I put Skye in fleecy onesie jammies and a plush bear-suit, with socks on both his hands and feet, and planned to fit him into a front-carrier with a fluffy blanket covering the whole assembly.

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Post-baby

Even though I’ve been going to the gym regularly since Skye was three weeks old, I’m not even close to being fit enough to actually run a 5k.  On the treadmill, I’m up to half a mile at a time, which is a joke compared to the effort it takes to run three miles in 8” of fresh snow.  The most liberating part was that none of that mattered.  Brushing all preconceived notions about racing aside, my biggest goal for the day was to have a memorable day with my family in the beautiful place we live.Image

Winter Solstice

The particular day of the year for the run represents the largest scale pivot point of the day.  The first true day of winter is really something to celebrate in Alaska, because from here on out, the days are just getting longer.  I’m pleased to say that the short days really haven’t been “that” bad.  Our sunrises have been around 10am, with sunsets at 4pm.  That leaves a modest portion of the day with sunlight.  It really only messes with my head on days I don’t work, when getting ready for the day with a cup of coffee mysteriously lasts until lunch.

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The Race Course

The race site was a little over an hour up the Parks Highway from home.  We left around 7am for the Willow Community Center.  The driving directions from the race website only said “Parks Highway, Mile 70”, which turned out to be completely adequate.  In the Community Center, I took the opportunity to see what the other runners were wearing.  Everyone was in running shoes, some with spikes or snow tires, and some with gaiters, some without.  Black running tights, presumably fleece lined, were the universal choice, with a variety of running jackets concealing whatever top layers were chosen. Everyone was topped with a headlamp, including us, as it was the only required equipment.  Start time was 9am, and still in the dark.

The three of us pinned on our race bibs, I situated the baby, and it was time to go!  John was feeling ambitious, and started out encouraging Silas to try to run, at least to hurry, but the attempt turned out to be futile, for a few reasons.  For one, the newer snow layer was soft and deep, turning every step into a trudge.  Mainly though, Si is 4.  “Sense of urgency” is not a factor in his MO.  He spent at least 2 miles of the 5k holding my hand and jabbering away.

The 5k course was easy enough to follow: out across a field, down a road, around a lake to the turnaround, then back.  Taking up the tail end made it even easier to navigate: in the hour before sunrise we only had to follow the twinkle of bobbing headlamps.

The three of us marched along over the snowy landscape, with the baby sleeping snuggly.  About 2/3 of the way to the turn around, it started getting lighter and we began crossing paths with the actual runners on their way back.  Every runner we passed appeared to be struggling with the resistance the snow was providing. Only one runner was in snowshoes, but that seemed like the smartest idea of all.  I really wished I had been in mine.  A few runners looked downright annoyed, and I had a hard time imagining signing up for 26.2 or even 13.1 miles of that abuse, though I may feel differently next year.

After passing the lake, which was indiscernible from a snowy meadow, we made a right to the turn around, which was a woman in a red jacket.  At the halfway point, John, who had been trying to maintain some dignity by at least hiking quickly, gave in to our casual plodding pace.  He even pulled out his e-cig, which is quite the epic sight during a 5k.

As the sun rose, we were able to take in our surroundings, which was nothing short of absolute serenity.  We trudged on, and the community center came into view.  During our final approach to the finish, cheering and shouting began, and we were surprised by  the little crowd that was waiting to usher us in, even though we had easily taken twice as long as the next runner before us.

Inside we were greeted with hot soup and the relief of no more slogging through the snow.  We stayed until 11, two hours after the gun, and no half marathoners had returned.  When the results posted two days later, I saw 2:20 (men’s) and 2:46 (women’s) were the 13.1 winning times, and the first marathoner came in at 4:36 (5:37 for women).  Winter events are certainly a different kind of racing in Alaska.

This run did turn out to be a meaningful way to celebrate the winter solstice.  Though we still have plenty of winter to go, potentially until May, the days are indeed getting longer, albeit quite slowly.  Because the idea of the longer races holds very little appeal at the present moment, I’m thinking the 5k would make an amazing family tradition.  Every year will present something new and unexpected: wildly different conditions to plan for and navigate through, as well as adapting to the changing and developing abilities of my two little boys.  It will take years, and plenty of practice, but we may even reach a point as a family that this 3.1 mile, first-day-of-winter race is, in fact, a run.

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Ground Zero and The Plan to Rebuild

Under normal circumstances, I can confidently refer to myself as “A Runner”. 5 miles? Piece of cake. 10 miles? Sounds like fun. 15 miles? Let me check my schedule, but I can probably fit it in.

These days, I’m not facing ‘normal circumstances’. On Monday, I ran 0.1 miles. And that was my highest mileage day in months. And what caused my little jaunt on the treadmill to end abruptly at one-tenth of a mile? Oh, just the feeling that my pelvic floor was going to fall out.  Yuck.

Recovery from baby #2 is definitely following a different timeline than baby #1. The first time, I started running with the jogger at three weeks postpartum. This time, at a month in, I’m barely able to plod along for 60 seconds, pushing nothing. Luckily, I was in super-good shape when I got pregnant last winter, or who knows the state I’d be in now.

The last race I ran was as a leg in the Redding Marathon relay in January. I thought I could squeeze in a couple more races even after I was pregnant, but that became not so much of a priority after the fact, and my 2013 race calendar was cleared. 2012 had been a pretty good running year for me.  I ran my first road marathon at the Carlsbad Marathon, had two solid 15k trail races (even won third in my age group!), and got a 50k PR at the Siskiyou Outback.

ImageI will never be this tan again. Thanks, Alaska. Siskiyou Outback 50k, July 2012.

Feeling ambitious, I filled out a 2014 race calendar online. I added in every Alaskan race I was even remotely interested in. Then I actually looked at it. And smacked myself.  My motivation was rooted in both in antsiness from taking the year off, and the novelty of the new and amazing selection of races available, but it was just stupid. I was looking at a half marathon on a Sunday, and a 24 mile trail race the following Saturday. Without seriously abbreviating my plans, I was sure to be a sad, quivering pile of injured mess by next fall.

Here’s what my edited, annotated (and still ambitious) calendar looks like:

  1. Willow Winter Solstice 5k, Willow, December 21, 2013. This is extremely tentative depending on if I feel ready.  If anything, it will probably be more of a 3 mile hike in snowshoes.
  2. No Canoe Loop 11-miler, Willow, March 8, 2014.  In the summer, this loop covers a long stretch of lakes. Paddle across one lake, hike your boat to the next, repeat.  In winter, no floating is required.
  3. Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run, 8.5k, Anchorage, May 22, 2014. Part of the Alaska Mountain Runners burly series.
  4. Red Shirt Lake Trail Run, 6 mi, Willow, May 31, 2014.  A nice looking trail race for after the snow season.  It looked like a fun reintroduction to running on actual dirt (read: muddy as hell!).
  5. Robert Spurr Memorial Hill Climb, 3 mi, Bird Ridge, June 15, 2014.  Another in the Alaska Mountain Runners series.
  6. Mount Marathon, 3 mi, Seward, July 4, 2014.  This one’s kind of a big deal.  It even has a Wikipedia page. It was created on a bar bet that no one could run up and down Mount Marathon in under an hour. The lottery opens January 1.  The drawing system is weighted by the number of times you’ve tried to get in.  Being my first time, I’m not counting on this one, but I’ve been known to be lucky.
  7. Crow Pass Crossing, 24 mi, Girdwood, July 26, 2014.  This is my ‘A’ race of the year.  Traveling from Girdwood to Eagle River by car is a 50 mile drive, because the highway circles all the way around the Chugach mountains.  This is only a 24 mile run from Girdwood to Eagle River because is shoots straight over the mountains.  The first 4 climb, and the last 20 descend.  Downhill running is not my strength, so I have my work cut out for me.
  8. Alyeska Classic Mountain Run, 2.5 mi, Girdwood, August 16, 2014. The final race in the Alaska Mountain Runners series.  May be passed up if my almost-kindergartener is ready to run a 2k in Anchorage the same day.  He’s already expressed interest, and his running interests will certainly trump mine.
  9. Lost Lake Run, 16 miles, Seward, August 23, 2014.  I’ve been advised that this run is amazingly beautiful.
  10. Kesugi Ridge Traverse Trail Run, 28 mi, Denali State Park, September 6, 2014.  6-9 hours of running with Denali as a backdrop?  Count me in.  Photos I’ve seen from this point-to-point trail are breathtaking.  Hopefully the weather will be such that views are available, but September can be quite squirrely and unpredictable.  This will be my toughest race ever.  

             Kesugi Ridge comes with a warning:

Please be aware: This is not a course for beginning trail runners. There are significant climbs and difficult terrain. If you have never traveled the course before, we strongly encourage you to do so. The trail will not be marked, so familiarity with it will be very important. Please do not over-estimate your abilities! The most common, recurring theme regarding weather descriptions reads “lousy weather, cold winds and poor visibility are common”. If you have never run a marathon or race of this distance, please reconsider signing up. If you have only run road marathons, but never tackled trail running, please reconsider signing up. Running the Crow Pass Crossing or Resurrection Pass 50 would be good personal pre-requisites.

             It’s also self-supported:

There will be no aid stations. There will be a race official at Ermine Hill and a trail sweep, but no refreshments out on the course. You will be responsible for your own food and water. Drink water along the course at your own risk. There are plenty of available streams. There is no mandatory gear BUT a few things are recommended: long sleeve tech shirt, wind jacket with hood, wind pants, stocking hat and enough water and food for 28ish miles, plus a trail map. If you choose to drink water along the course, a filter bottle is recommended. Reflective gear and a headlamp may help depending on weather and in case you get lost.

             Sign me up!

So my goals are in place. I’m not going for any speed records this year, just finishes. Crushing old times will be business for 2015. The only problem now is that there is a significant gap between running 28(ish) unsupported, rugged trail miles in possible inclement weather and plodding 0.1 miles on a treadmill. Fortunately, I have over 7 months until Crow Pass and almost 9 to get ready for Kesugi Ridge, and I’m already making progress.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been hitting up the gym Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. To start out, I walk on the treadmill for a mile, with intermittent attempts to slowly pick up the pace to something that resembles running. Not an exciting way to start my workout, but it’s already getting easier to accomplish the task.

After warming up, I throw in some weights. The first day back, I did some barbell dead lifts, dumbbell overhead presses, and lat pulldowns, with my little audience of Skye napping in his carseat nearby. The second day I started with barbell squats, but was interrupted by gym management. I was fully expecting the confrontation sooner or later, but hoped I would skate by without a liability lecture. Despite Skye being tucked in a corner far away from any [reckless and blind?!] weightlifters, other than myself, the possibility was too great that someone would walk by and drop a weight on him, so we were banished to the machine weight area.

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The past few days, I’ve been limited to machine leg curls, extensions, and presses, and the variety of push/pull upper body choices. I like, and benefit from, free weights much more, but machines will have do for now. I’m making the most of it.

To finish up my workout, I do some 100m and 500m rowing intervals. The whole workout is interspersed with breaks to tend to baby needs, so the process usually takes about 1 hr. 45 min. That works fine for Silas, who is never ready to leave the play area when I come to pick him up. The whole gym situation is a win-win for all three of us: workout time, nap time, and play time.

In the months to come, I’ll be adding in skate skiing (a trail quite literally goes through our backyard), trail running (as conditions permit: we’re mere miles from trailheads in the Chugach State Park), and track workouts (an all-weather track is about a mile from the house).  My current gym workouts are a far cry from where I hope to be in the near future, but they’re wildly effective. I’m back in most of my old clothes, my waist has shrunk an inch in the last week, and on Wednesday, I finally ran 0.25 miles.  Only 27.75(ish) to go.

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!