IT HAPPENS EVERY year at our house. Jubilant, excessive, and somewhat frenetic holiday spirit abounds from Thanksgiving until December 25, when presents are unwrapped, roast beasts are consumed, and goodwill toward our fellow relatives means lots of kissed cheeks and long-distance phone calls. Children fall into bed content, if not downright giddy, and parents clink glasses in front of the fireplace as snow softly falls outside.
Then everyone wakes up the next morning to two solid weeks of vacation. Or, as my husband likes to call it, “Sixteen Days and Nights on the Good Ship Crankypants.” With kids released from school December 21, and not returning to the higher halls of learning until January 7, there are indeed a large number of days needing to be filled with family adventure, especially if you are not planning to spend the academic break on the beaches of Hawaii (and if you are, stop reading this immediately).
It’s not often that a school break falls so perfectly within the bounds of a major holiday, and many Alaska tourism businesses are responding with excellent opportunities for family fun.
Santa is always glad to lend a knee to good girls & boys.
Fairbanks is, of course, next to North Pole, and everybody knows who lives there. Santa Claus House has been the headquarters for Christmas fun since the 1950’s, and starting this weekend, the Big Guy will be occupying his favorite chair and listening to Christmas Lists. Full of cheer and charm, Santa Claus House is by far the kitchiest place to celebrate the holidays, and with most of Santa’s reindeer outside in a nearby paddock, it really does complete the perfect package.
image via Jim Lee March
Just taking the reindeer out for a walk, kids, be back soon!
Looking for more than a quick adoring gaze at Santa’s main source of transportation? Give a call to the Running Reindeer Ranch in the Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks and take a few of these ungulates for a little stroll through a snowy forest. Rapidly becoming one of the most desired tours in the Interior, the Reindeer Ranch is a delightful journey of understanding the biology, science, and history of reindeer (and it’s not really about Santa at all!). Kids will be intrigued by the personalities of each resident reindeer, while owner Jane knows how to engage young visitors. Note: Bring your camera; this is a wonderful family photo op.
Anchorage residents know that Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is the spot to head for a little holiday fun. With a penchant for treating kids just right, Alyeska consistently delivers classic, affordable family luxury just 45 minutes from Anchorage. This winter, the resort is unveiling its newest special, aptly called the “Sweet Dreams Family Package”. Featuring a one-night stay, cookies and milk, a family game bundle, and $50 in resort credit, I can easily imagine moms and dads scrambling to snuggle underneath those oh-so-heavenly Hotel Alyeska comforters with a vintage edition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This package starts at $299/night, double occupancy, making it a pretty affordable option for the high winter season. Don’t forget, too, that Hotel Alyeska offers one of the best indoor swimming pools in the state, with an excellent mountain view to boot. And the skiing? Always epic, especially with the grand opening of the resort’s new high-speed quad, Ted’s Express, ready to whisk you and your little skiers to the top in record time.
Make this winter break a joy-full experience by exploring Alaska, together!
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She lives with her family in Anchorage.
HALLOWEEN FALLS ON a Wednesday this year, so many organizations are holding celebrations this weekend rather than fight a school-night schedule. With crisp temperatures (okay, downright freezing), and clear skies forecast for Saturday and Sunday in southcentral Alaska, this might be the perfect Halloween for a little outside time with your young princess or hardy Avenger.
• Saturday & Sunday in Eagle River: Eagle River Nature Center is hosting its annual weekend o’ spirited activities for both younger and older kids. The Enchanted Forest involves a daylight, non-spooky walk to the Classroom Yurt for stories, snacks, and games with a very friendly
witch naturalist. Perfect for pre-schoolers, this activity is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 27.
Big kids will convene at the nature center Saturday at 2 p.m. for an Old Hallow’s Eve hike down the Rodak Trail (3/4 mi) to the Halloween Yurt for games, tricks, and treats.
Both Saturday events require reservations and tickets, so call 907-694-2108 and secure your spot. Old Hallow’s Eve will repeat on Sunday, October 28 at 3 p.m. due to high demand by the adoring public. Each event is $5/pp, $20/family.
Exploring at the ERNC...
Sunday also brings the Witch and Her Owl to ERNC, with volunteer Ginamaria Smith speaking to kids and parents with her Great Horned Owl, who is always thrilled to be the center of attention. Psst: he loves it when kids come in costume, by the way.
• Saturday in Fairbanks: Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks welcomes all kids and parents to Creepy Critters on Saturday, October 27, from 12-4 p.m. Stop by the Farmhouse Visitor Center for crafts, snacks, and activities around the theme of Strange and Creepy Ice Age Animals. Ewwwww. Don’t forget to encourage costume-wearing, of course. Free.
• Anywhere outside: While your family is hiking around this weekend, see if kids can spot the following spooky items, in honor of this wonderful holiday:
Erin Kirkland is owner and author of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family-friendly travel and outdoor recreation. She and her family live in Anchorage. Visit the AKontheGO calendar of events for more Halloween-themed family fun.
IN MY HUMBLE opinion there are three things kids should be able to make with a sheet of paper. Why should kids be able to make anything from a sheet of paper? Simply put: self amusement. We expect our kids to amuse themselves to a certain extent and we don’t do video games or TV, so paper it is. Folding paper is a great way to keep busy and amuse yourself, amaze your friends, make new friends, practice motor skills, discover why precision matters and it keeps you coming back again and again. The more your kids practice the better they'll get and then they'll be teaching all their friends. It's a GREAT way to empty that office paper recycling bin too!
1. The Humble Paper Airplane. Seems so simple and easy right? Yeah, not so much, one wrong fold and your plane continually dives to the right or smashes nose first into the ground. The website Simple Paper Planes has great, easy to follow tutorials. Your kids will fold everything they can find into paper airplanes, so hide your bank statements and the deed to your house. The great part of making paper airplanes is that you can make a game out of it, like flying into a laundry basket, making micro flyers, launching them from a swing while swinging or having distance or loop-the-loop competitions. The fun never stops in our house when paper planes are en vogue.
2. Cootie Catcher aka Fortune Teller. Where would fourth graders all over the world be without their all-knowing fortune tellers? I mean seriously these things are the best! Simple folds, kind fortunes and it's good for hours of fun telling your friends' fortunes again and again.
I mention kind fortunes because if it starts as a rule that the fortunes must be nice then nasty mean things just don't enter the equation. The website Enchanted Learning has, hands down, the best tutorial I’ve found yet.
3. The Paper Boat. A bit more on the difficult side for folding BUT really super simple once you figure it out. Our 7-year old has been known to fold the entire recycling bin into paper boats and float them on all the puddles in the driveway. Yes, he grudgingly cleaned them up too. The paper boat lends itself well to playing science, too. Can you sink it? Will it sail. How long will it last? Can you put a cannon on it and make it fire? (Ok, the last one we never tried but it has been much lobbied for and firmly denied.) We have even used paper boat folding at birthday parties as an activity, then sinking with a slingshot for sport. After searching I found that this site which has a great tutorial - superclean and easy to read.
So there you go; how your kids will be entertained with paper! Next thing you know they’ll be churning butter and walking to school uphill both ways in the snow, they’re so old fashioned!
IT WAS A chilly morning last March when our family hauled bags of food from the car, shouldered skis and snowshoes, and trudged across the Alaska Railroad Depot parking lot to a snaking series of passenger cars, bound for paradise. Anxiously waiting for this day since the previous October, it was finally time to ride the Ski Train!
A signature event since 1972, the Ski Train is part vacation, part outdoor adventure, and a whole lot of fun. Organized by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, and meant simply to transport skiers and snowshoers with a serious case of the winter blahs to a remote destination for a few hours of breaking trail. Back then, the Ski Train cost a mere $5, and gradually grew into a standing-room-only wintertime event that attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. For the past two years, we have joined the circle of intrepid backcountry explorers for a day in historic Curry, 110 miles from Anchorage near the boundary of Denali National Park.
It’s decidedly cool, this trip. Worried slightly about our son’s ability to ski through untracked, ungroomed spring snow with little or no assistance, we were still confident enough to purchase our $100 tickets on October first, as members of NSAA (non-members pay $140 and must wait until November to purchase their tickets). Departing Anchorage at 7 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m., the Ski Train is indeed a long, exhausting day for most kids. However, the excitement of a four-hour train ride coupled with a rousing ompah band and 600 or so other excited souls eating and drinking and singing, more than made up for mild crankiness caused by a lot of exercise, food, and sun.
Kids are always welcome to participate, but for those wondering if the hefty ticket price is worth the effort, check out the NSAA Ski Train page on the organization’s website. Full of “need to know” stuff like a seating chart, timeline for the day, and suggestions for activities, this is a great guideline to follow in determining your family’s plan for take off on Saturday, March 23, 2013. You’ll also need to consider the following points, as well:
Bring food. Unlike many AKRR trains, there is little food for sale on board the train, so plan on bringing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We filled soft-sided coolers with wraps, smoked salmon, gourmet cheeses, sandwiches, and hearty muffins. Don’t forget water, either.
Bring the good gear. The Ski Train itself usually remains in Curry for the duration, allowing access to bathroom breaks and warm-ups. The sun shone brightly in 2012, but I do not expect such luxury in 2013, so pack hand-warmers, extra socks, mittens, and layers. Also bring extra clothes for the ride home, and a blanket or pillow for tired kiddos.
Know your family’s abilities. The great thing about the Ski Train, we’ve learned, is the access to all sorts of outdoor fun, not just Nordic skiing. This is ungroomed skiing, so consider snowshoeing or sledding, or just playing in the snow for a few hours if ability is an issue.
Ask questions, and buy online! Beginning October first, NSAA members will be able to purchase Ski Train tickets online eliminating the long lines and confusing paperwork. Go this route and pick your seats, too. Questions? Call the NSAA office at 907-276-7609.
Erin Kirkland is the owner and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son.
SUMMER IS GONE, dear reader, and while I hate to be a bearer of bad news, whether you like it or not our short little fall season is almost gone, too. A few more weeks is all you get to enjoy life without ice and snow and hat head. So why not revel in the those last few precious weeks and enjoy whats left of this warmer weather?
1. Bike It! The bike trails are clear and mostly clean right now, get out for one or two more bike rides before the snow flies and the sun goes away. [Bike Trails in Alaska]
2. Hike It! Most of the local hiking trails are still incredibly clear and perfect for hiking. Look for snow and ice at higher elevations, but lower climbs and hikes will be open and clear. Plus, you can't beat that gorgeous, glorious foliage right now.
3. Walk It! Lets face it lots of us have kids that just don't hike yet but they can walk! So hit up your local parks for all kinds of walking trails just right for any age kids, even stroller babies. [5 Stroller-Friendly Hikes in Alaska]
4. Park It! The local playgrounds are wonderful this time of year and just waiting for a gaggle of kids to fill them up. Hit your local playground before the snow renders them un-fun and dangerous.
5. Farm it! Check out your local farms for picking. Sure it's late in the season but the apple orchard next door JUST opened for its U-Pick business - guess where we are headed this week? [PickYourOwn.org/AK]
6. Pet it! Check out your local farms for fun. The Reindeer Farm out in the Butte has October family fun days with all sorts of FUN family ideas. What a great way to get out and enjoy one last glorious day.
7. Pick It! High bush cranberry picking is in full swing. See if you can pick enough to make cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving day! Simply follow any pectin package recipe for cranberries or even currants, the recipe will make a fine addition to your Thanksgiving table.
8. Gather It! Pick a few of each kind of leaf colorful leaf you find and tuck between the pages of a heavy book. Lay another book on top and press for a few weeks. The results? Lovely dried leaves that will look great gracing your Thanksgiving table. In a few weeks I'll be showing what you can make with all those dried leaves so make sure you gather them now!
How many mushroom fairy rings can you find outside?
9. Shroom It! Grab a few kids and head out to inspect mushrooms growing in the moist fall weather. This does not mean EAT them simply see what's out there! Hit up the local librabry and grab a copy of a mushroom book and learn to identify them. You may even know a local shroomer who will guide you through identification. Never eat any mushroom without proper research and identification!
10. Catch It! Our favorite fall game is what we call "Catch Leaf". Simply wait for a windy day and get out there and catch leaves. Thta's it! It's so much fun and the kids will love trying to beat mom and dad.
So while the sun is still shining on green grass why not get out and do something outdoors? In the middle of winter you'll remember these golden-leaved, crisp days fondly.
CRAZY WEATHER, EH? I don't know about you but the storms this past week have really kept us inside and cooped up for the day. And with winter coming, we'll have quite a few more days cooped up inside. Don't despair though! I have a list of fun things to keep a family happily busy inside for a day!
1. Plan It! Whenever bad weather holds us inside or cancels school the first thing we do is to get ready for the survival possibilities - like not having any water so we fill a pitcher, or the possibility of no toilet, so we fill the tub with water to use for flushing the toilet. My kids love to plan for inclement weather and being ready settles them. So set those busy beavers to collecting candles, filling water jugs and finding flashlights. Meanwhile make yourself another pot of coffee, you're going to need it.
2. Don't Forget the Animals. While the kids are busily preparing for the worst also remind them that the best needs preparing for, too. Of course I'm talking about any animals you have, indoors and out. Older kids can definitely head out to care for outdoor animals, but even the smaller ones can fill the cat's bowl and the dog's water dish.
3. Get Beany With It. It wouldn't be a stormy day with beans in our house. My kids marvel at how different beans turn out after cooking all day. Why not put them to work sorting beans and washing them to prep for a rainy day meal? Boil the beans for one minute, turn off the heat and soak for one hour. They can simmer the day away on the stove, filling your house with the delicious scent of dinner cooking all day long. If you're not sure what exactly to do with dried beans, check out my blog, Hey What's for Dinner Mom? for a whole bunch of recipe ideas. Be sure to save a few dried beans to compare to the cooked beans at dinner time.
4. Chores a Go-Go. A stormy day is definitely different than most but it's no reason NOT to do your daily chores. So while you nurse a second cup of coffee the kids can be sent off to do their chores. Beds still need making and if school's canceled why not send them in with the vacuum cleaner while they’re at it? Of course this is an age-appropriate chore, but my 8-year old loves to run the vacuum and I feel confident letting him do it all he wants.
5. Baking the Day Away. If you happen to have kids like mine, they crave making things and they need to be busy and, of course it has to be meaningful busy-ness. So on a day when you're cooped up why not make a few batches of cookies or muffins? I know you may not want them around because they are so munchable, but what if you had kids wrap them and freeze them for school lunches? How perfect would it be to have a bunch of lunch stuff put up in the freezer?? Brilliant.
6. Game Time. A day of inclement weather does not pass us by without someone wanting to play RISK or Battlemasters, all-out all-day games. Of course, if you have little ones, shorter and less intense games may be just what you need. They can also be included as appropriate in the bigger longer games, say for rolling dice or passing cards.
7. Movie Marathon. Sometimes you just need a good movie saga. Star Wars? Indiana Jones? Lord of the Rings? Pixar-a-thon? Whip up some popcorn and settle in for some serious screen time.
Make your own play dough with what's in the pantry!
8. Make your Fun. If you have littles why not whip them up a batch of play dough (here's a great recipe)? Really, the whole family can have a lot of fun making and playing with this sweet smelling, squishy mushy dough. Best part is it will keep for a while in the fridge so the fun can go on and on.
9. Forts and More Forts. It always seems that bad weather days bring out the fort-making in my kids. Maybe it's because by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I'm just plain tired and forts are easy - grab your biggest blankets and some chairs and you're all set. Make a fort, if it causes trouble between squabbling kids make another fort. Repeat as necessary until the warring factions realize it's MORE fun to have ONE BIG fort that a bazillion little ones. Once built, cuddle up and read for a while and snacks in forts are a definite MUST. Before you know it, the day has passed and it's time for dinner and bed.
10. Get Out In It. Just cause the weather's raging doesn't mean you can't go outside! Put on your windbreakers or snowpants and brave the elements. It's always great to feel the power of the natural elements, but, of course, be sure to take care out there.
Snow storms bring a whole different list of possibilities!
Bad weather certainly doesn't mean bad time, it can be challenging though. Keeping busy and squabble free will make your day so much easier. What do you on those kinds of days?
Laura Sampson is mom to three boys. She lives, loves and writes in the Mat-Su Valley. Find more great ideas for stormy days at her blog, Hey What's For Dinner Mom?
ELMO AND DORA are adorable and fun, no arguement here, but they are brands, too. Brands designed to get your kids hooked, keep you buying them and make corporations money. A few years ago our family decided to step away from branding for a couple reasons. The number one reason was economical - we simply wanted to save money. The other being that we wanted our family to be free to choose the things we like rather than the things corporations would like us to like. Well, it's easier preached than done, of course, as any parent knows who has also made a decision to drop something they felt was unhealthy for the family - plastics, sugar, television...
Who's up for a tree climbing party?
So, I thought that the hardest thing about being mostly un-branded would be kids parties because 99% of the party stuff available at the store is thoroughly branded. Our first un-branded party with other kids invited was a little nerve-wracking but we lived through it, and it was spectacularly fun! We've been hard at it ever since and throwing fabulous parties.
Here are few tips for throwing fun, fabulous and unbranded kids' birthday parties!
1. Theme Time. What are your kids into? Sit down a few weeks before the party to brainstorm ideas, coming up with themes like knights, race cars, karate, tea party, make-and-take, bake-and-take, movie night, holiday themes, farming and so on. You'll be surprised at what your kids will say, trust me I am the mother of a boy who asked for a Titanic party. Luckily we were able to agree on a different - more buoyant - theme.
2. Let Them Eat Cake. Skipping a bakery cake will save you big bucks and help sidestep around that branded cake with a printed picture. Older kids will be happy to pick out a cake mix, help make it and certainly proud to serve their friends. There are tons of good ideas for cakes out there to choose from and hundreds of specialty cake pans you could have fun with. Jello poke cakes are fun, castles can be made with ice cream cones, a loaf pan shaped cake can be a treasure chest, the ideas go on and on. We once had a Mad Scientist party with a Baked Alaska cake as the grand finale, FUN!
Make a treasure chest cake in a loaf pan, perfect for pirate-theme parties!
3. Decor and More. Simply put - less is more. Once we have a theme picked we decide what colors to use for balloons and streamers. Sometimes we also buy matching colors for plates and utensils, sometimes we use our plates from home. Decorate with color, it's simple and effective at creative a festive mood and there is so much you can do with a simple sleeve of tissue paper.
Image via ohhappyday.com
4. Fun's in the Bag. If you plan to have treats for kids to take home plain colored bags are readily available in a variety of colors. If you have a little or a LOT of goodies for kids make sure you provide a proper sized receptacle. We've handed out bags and markers as a party activity before, so kids can decorate their OWN bag and make it theirs. We've also used plastic cups, sand buckets, brown bags and paper popcorn style buckets for treat holders.
5. The Takeaway Treats. So you've side stepped a LOT of branded things so far but looking at party favors can be a mind boggling branded affair. Take a deep breath and turn around, the unbranded items are usually on the other side to the shopping aisle! WHEW! What you need depends on how you plan to give them out. You may simply want to hand them out at the end of your party, award as game prizes, have a treasure hunt or any other fun inventive way. Once we did the white elephant approach; I read a book and every time I read a certain word the kids got to pick a prize from a pile of thrifted goodies on the table, that was fun!
6. Game On! Whether you play traditional games or other activities this is an easy area to keep unbranded. Games can be as simple as pin the tail on the donkey to more fun, romping adventures like capture the flag. If you are doing a make-and-take crafting party you may not even need games. One thing’s for sure, kids will need to get up and run for a bit, so make sure to work that in somewhere or you will regret it. We usually begin with 20 minutes of free play and then do a quiet activity and then a raucous activity and keep that rhythm throughout the party.
Simple, imagination-filled parties can be yours! Kids may grumble a bit at first but once their imagination takes hold they will be sold and you will be, too!
Olympic athletes occupy an international stage and it's a great platform for them to not only bring recognition to their country and their sport, but also to deserving causes. Here are a few athletes who use their talents to help kids in need...
1. Abby Wambach - this forward on the US women's soccer team lends her star power to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, a group that works to support those dealing with Type 1 diabetes. photo via fifa.com
4. Hunter Kemper, this 4-time Olympic triathlete and Ironman supports the work of the A-T Children's Project, a group that works towards a cure for Ataxia-Telangiectasia, a disease that affects kids' muscle control and immune systems. photo via atos.net
5. Kimberly Rhode, five-time Olympian medalist in shooting is the spokesperson for Kids & Clays Foundation, a group of shooting sports enthusiasts who raise money for Ronald McDonald Houses. photo via wikipedia
6. Missy Franklin, this young Olympic swimming star stands tall for the Excelsior Youth Center, a safe place where young women 11-18 with emotional and behavioral issues can heal and succeed. photo via usaswimming.org
7. Rebecca Soni, gold medalist breaststroker, supports GirlUp, a group of the United Nations Foundation that works to support the rights of girls in vulnerable areas of the world. photo via usatoday.com
THINK OF HIKING in Alaska and steep treks up craggy mountains come to mind, maintaining careful footing on ridges and days-long journeys in untouched backcountry. Whoa - settle down! Alaska's trails aren't all meant for Denali climbers in training. Because sometimes you want to push a stroller in nature, here are five Alaskan hikes to do for the scenery, exercise and fresh air...
1. In Juneau, try the flat-out beautiful Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei trail.
"A wheelchair-accessible trail that follows the Mendenhall River greenbelt area, starting at Brotherhood Bridge off Glacier Highway. The name is Tlingit for "going back clearwater trail." Expect a lot of traffic, including some bikes and horses, on this zero-elevation-gain hike. The trail features access to fishing holes in Montana Creek, vivid wildflowers including Siberian Irises, and scenic overlooks." (Source)
2. Great scenery outside Anchorage at Thunderbird Falls Trail.
At mile 25 of the Glenn Highway, take the Thunderbird Falls exit to access an easy, 1-mile hike much of which takes place on a boardwalk. "Birch forest on steep hillside overhanging Eklutna Canyon. Views of 200 foot high Thunderbird Falls." (Source)
3. Urban Anchorage's Coastal Trail offers 10+ miles of paved strolling.
For gorgeous views of Knik Arm, Cook Inlet, Westchester Lagoon, Sleeping Lady and guaranteed bird sightings, get on the Coastal Trail with your stroller or bike trailer. All paved, you can hop on this trail from three points - from the South access descend from Kincaid Park to the coast, from the North access start downtown on 2nd Avenue, or start in the Middle at the Point Woronzof overlook where you can spy both gorgeous sunsets and spot low-flying planes. (Source)
4. The Eagle River Nature Trail makes for a great day trip.
At the end of 12-mile Eagle River Road (about 40 miles from Anchorage), you'll come to the log cabin visitor center at the Eagle River Nature Center. A number of trails start behind the building - try the easy 3/4-mile Rodak Nature Trail that leads to a beaver and salmon viewing deck, or opt for a longer stroll on the 3-mile Albert Loop trail if it's not too muddy. (Source)
5. Calypso Orchid Nature Trail near UAF is for botany lovers.
This exotic-sounding loop near UAF campus, Creamer's Field and Georgeson Botanical Gardens gets its name from the orchids that bloom along the trail in spring. Just under a mile, take it slow to read all the interpretive signs. If you want more trail afterward - check out the Vireck Nature trail on the UAF campus. (Source)
Have fun and as always, be Bear Aware!
C'mon, you know you can't help laughing along with a baby! KTD blogger, Steve Sue Wing, shared this video of his youngest son, Atlas, laughing at his brother.