May your journey be your joy.
I LOVE WATCHING the serious faces of travelers as they emerge from a labyrinth of airline gates at the Anchorage International Airport, vacation-bound in the Last Frontier, determined, it seems, to have fun, or else. Sometimes I lurk around the baggage claim, watching them collect their super-charged fishing rods, extra-cool gear, and wonder, will these people laugh at least once during their trip?
The irony of being so serious about having fun on vacation does not escape me, especially in Alaska, where visitors break piggy banks and credit card limits to see as much of the 49th state they possibly can in a short amount of time. Expectations are high, almost as high as Disneyland, and I’ve seen the resulting sad faces when a bear didn’t appear, a whale didn’t breach, or a fish wasn’t caught. But, friends, joy is everywhere in Alaska!
How do you find it? Stop looking so hard, for one. Honestly, we spend so much time searching for big show-stoppers that we miss the intricate details right under our feet. Or noses and chins, as the case may be. See this photo of my husband and son?
Yeah, dorks. Both of them. But look at those faces - two happy campers for sure, and all they needed was a handful of lichen from the forest floor. Lesson learned.
We’ve also learned how to laugh when times are difficult. Flights are weathered in, cars break down (ahem), plans change. Travel in Alaska can be tough, really tough, but the ability to maintain a sense of humor regardless of the situation is a valuable attribute, indeed. Make a silly video on the smartphone and send it to a faraway relative. Make up a goofy story and write it down, encouraging the kids to draw a picture to go along with it (because you will, of course, have crayons and paper handy, right?). Tell jokes. Sing. Smile at the people sitting next to you.
Getting his WOW on
Joy is a concept many people feel should be reserved for those “WOW” moments in life. As far as we’re concerned, every moment is a “WOW” moment, and should be treated accordingly. That’s why we travel, to find it. Or, to rediscover that we never really lost it in the first place.
Where’s your “WOW”?
Erin Kirkland's family travel and outdoor recreation website AKontheGO.com has an all new look! She and her joyful family live in Anchorage.
WIT, HUMOR AND enjoying laughter were life assets that I had firmly in place before becoming a father. Then, when kids arrived, these assets became coping mechanisms for the odd, frustrating, rewarding and absurd world known as parenthood.
There have been countless times in my experience with children that I have felt helpless with no clue of what to do. Being silly and trying to create laughter for them and me has been my default - and savior. Laughter can erase uncomfortable moments, frustration and much more.
When in doubt: eat brownies and laugh
As soon as our firstborn was big enough to get out of the bath basin my partner and I would alternate talking baths with him. He had this dirty little trick he'd only play on me during bath time...he'd poop in the water. Apparently he was so relaxed and comfortable when we were in the water together that he just felt free to let it all out. The first time this happened I was scared and confused with how to deal with it and fortunately my partner came to the aid of my shrieks and removed the foreign objects. The next times that this happened, the shrieks softened into laughs that my partner and I would share together. Laughter took away the grossness and absurdity of sharing a bathtub with a baby and his freshly deposited poop.
Approx. 10 years from now: "Daaaaad, I can't believe you wrote about bathtub poop on your blog! The innerweb is forever!"
Then there's traveling with kids. Our travel without our children would have not been possible without laughter. At 18 months we traveled with our first son to China. After about 12 hours of flight between North America and China we arrived at customs tired, excited and with a child wearing a vomit-saturated outfit. The country we were entering was on high-alert for carriers of a virus with vomiting being one of the key symptoms. We shared smiles and laughs when our passports were returned, we were welcomed into the country, and endless coos, smiles, and giggles were given to our child. My partner and I laughed often on this 4-hour layover as our son scrambled around the airport often followed by curious onlookers in his secondary outfit. It dulled the tiredness and challenge of the experience so much that that is one of my few memories of this moment in time.
Alaskan babies fly for the halibut
Our second son seems to be more measured with his laughter. His smiles are free but his laughter must be earned. My partner and I have briefly talked about this and realize this is just who he is. As a family we actively try to promote his laughter as much as possible because we all know the benefits and how good it makes us feel.
Playing Angry Birds is always good for a laugh
If laughter is not a priority in your home find ways to make it so. Silliness is a great gateway to this emotion. It is as simple as a silly face, a funny noise, a blanket over your head, a crazy story, hypothesizing what the family animals or thinking about the actions of the family, etc. Yes, there may be scientific evidence of the positive effects of laughter and many other advantages but the simple feeling of relief and release is enough to keep my family and me laughing. It just feels great.
Yep, food and laughter - why family dinnertime is great!
I am a room all in white with no windows and no doors.
Inside, I hold the sun.
What am I?
WHY AN EGG, of course! In honor of solstice, here is a recipe featuring those little nuggets of sun - Hollandaise Sauce. This is one of the "Mother Sauces" in French Cuisine and can be used as a base for a number of other sauces - Béarnaise, Maltaise, etc.
Warm, rich and buttery with just a light hint of citrus, Hollandaise is wonderful on vegetables like asparagus, but it is probably most famous for its starring role in Eggs Benedict. It is not a difficult sauce to make, but it does take time and a steady hand, so grab your whisk and get ready to impress your diners with this little paragon of haute cuisine.
In a small sauce pan, place the egg yolks and water. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove the outermost layers of the lemon's skin in large strips while avoiding the deeper, white layers of the skin, which are bitter. You want only the yellow part of the peel that contains little cells of lemon oil to give just the right amount of citrus flavor. Drop the strips into the pan with the yolks and water.
Cut the cold butter into 1/2" pieces. It is important that the butter be unsalted. Salted butter has too much salt for this recipe and will overwhelm all the other subtle flavors. Turn the stove to as low a temperature as possible and add 4-5 pieces of butter to the pan. With a whisk, stir constantly and gently to emulsify the melting butter and egg yolks. Add a few more chunks of butter as the first ones melt and keep stirring. After you have added about half of the butter pieces, add the pinches of sugar, salt and cayenne. It is important to keep the temperature of the mixture only warm enough to melt the butter. If it is too hot, you will not get a smooth sauce but a chunky mess as the egg cooks in the heat. (You may even need to take the pan on and off the eye to regulate the temperature if your stove does not have a sufficiently low setting.)
Once all of the butter has been added and melted, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, then remove the pieces of lemon peel. Your sauce should be a beautiful smooth yellow when you are done. Serve it immediately over poached eggs, ham and toast for eggs benedict or over your favorite vegetables.
Leftover sauce can be stored for later use. I recommend storing it in glass not plastic as reheating it is a delicate process. To reheat the sauce, place the container in warm but not hot water and stir it gently as it softens to keep it smooth. Heating it too much will cause it to separate and become and oily mess. Be gentle with this delicate and beautiful sauce and enjoy under the midnight sun or anytime!
Love eggs benedict but find poaching them to be too tricky? Then try this super simple eggs poaching method.
GIVEN ANY FORM of transportation, I still like driving the most. A sense of independence envelopes me as frost-heaved sections of Alaskan blacktop weave crazily beneath the tires in a road-trippy spiritual connection that causes spontaneous singing to music by Blondie and the B 52’s (don’t judge, I’ll bet you have a funky selection of travel tunes, too).
This is my car:
It's never a guten Tag when the car breaks
down in the middle of a trip
I desperately wanted to write about my beloved Volkswagen Jetta for this post, since it’s been a few days - weeks, really, since I’ve seen it. Alas, my little blue VW ceased to function since arriving in Homer sometime in early June, and I have yet to get it back (sob).
Summer is traveling time in Alaska - for fun, for work, and for the sheer joy of driving around corners and over mountains other people pay a fortune to see from the air. But driving Alaska’s roadways can prove challenging when, god forbid, something goes wrong. In the guise of confronting the difficult topic of “detours” this week, I thought I’d provide a tool kit for savvy Alaskan road trippers. As we all know, stuff can and does happen, but having stuff happen in the middle of nowhere can ultimately prove uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. Being prepared is not just for boy scouts, so pay attention, make a list, and embrace the wide-open Alaska road.
1. Communicate. Hand off an itinerary to someone; neighbor, family member, or friend. Be sure to include phone numbers, dates of travel, spare keys, etc. Just in case.
Be sure to leave a seat or two free for souvenirs!
2. Pack wisely. Leave room in your car for emergency supplies, including extra water, non-perishable foods, flashlights or headlamps (even in the summer!), cash, car jacks for recharging phones, duct tape, sleeping bags, trash bags, a small tool kit, your car’s manual (you’d be amazed how many people forget this), jumper cables, flares, and toilet paper. Parents should also consider adding some small toys, books, and/or activities. Trundle all this gear into a waterproof container or duffel, making sure it is easily accessible.
3. Have a plan, and review with kids. I love to plan, just ask anyone who works or lives with me. For all their teasing about plans A, B, and just in case, C, I know everyone in my family has a handle on what to do in the event of a fire, flood, tornado, or insect plague (okay, maybe not that last one). Do rehearse a “breakdown” plan with your kids. Who will stay behind? What tasks should be accomplished? Review the safety considerations; no one goes outside the vehicle without an adult, never open the car door to a stranger, even one flashing a badge. If you’re traveling by yourself with a child, stay together at all costs until help arrives (and it will).
4. Know your route. Even familiar roadways can quickly become unfamiliar during inclement weather or construction season. Check up on the latest road conditions with Alaska 511, a super website managed by the Alaska Department of Transportation, with up-to-the-minute updates for Alaska’s major roadways. Also consider purchasing a Milepost, a great mile-by-mile book for each of the highways and many side roads of our state. Known as “the bible” of northcountry travel since the late 1940’s, the Milepost can also be downloaded as an iPhone or Android app.
Travel wise, travel safe, and don’t forget the tunes. That’s how we roll, up here.
Erin Kirkland publishes AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She is currently working on a guidebook for vacationing families in Alaska.
MY FIRST EXPERIENCE with a Summer Solstice celebration was my first summer in Alaska in 1999. As a young man just out of college and open to a wide breadth of experiences my first three solstice events were embraced with vigor. In the spirit of celebration there were always wonderful culinary creations, libations, with many planned - and unplanned! - antics that would occur during these events.
Although I’ve not been to every state during a solstice, I still feel confident in stating that Alaska is one of the top locations in the United States to be for Summer Solstice, even though I haven’t officially celebrated it since becoming a father.
Camping in the front yard - a common activity among busy Alaskan families
This bums me out because I know of the zest that I once had for this day of the year and the endless opportunities for celebration . After last year’s solstice arrived and went without any fanfare in our family I made a commitment with my partner that this year we would find a way to celebrate the longest day of the year in a memorable way. We had two objectives: 1) relive feelings of past celebrations and excitement, and 2) began to instill this event as a need to celebrate in the lives of our boys.
My motivation has been thwarted by this unseasonal gray and cool weather that has been present so far in this season of late spring and our neverending family schedule. Along with my motivation being washed away there is the persistent fear that is shared by many people in our town: “Are we going to have any summer and if not how am I going to survive?” I am not alone in this funk.
(Right now, I feel fortunate that my sons do not have the ability to read my blogs because my partner and I have been putting-on our happy-we-can-do-it-no-matter-what-the-weather-brings personas in front of them.)
Dad must really like gray weather, he seems so happy!
Speaking of powering through despite unfavorable weather: This past Father’s Day one of my partner’s gifts to me was the set up and take down of our tent in the yard so our firstborn and I could have a campout. My initial response was: “Seriously, look at the weather!” This was met with a firm: “It is summer and we can’t let this weather stop us.” She was right and we had a fun event and stayed dry.
At least there's sunshine inside the tent!
The longer we live in Alaska the less I feel like celebrating the event that signals diminishing light. This year we will be very lucky to see the clouds go somewhere else and be able to experience the full duration of sunlight on solstice. But I still feel like we are missing something by not celebrating this year. Again my best intentions have been road blocked. Ah well, this is the reality of parenthood, frequent detours.
Happy Solstice Alaska and I sincerely hope you have the time and motivation to celebrate. We will next year.
LAST NIGHT I did something that I hadn’t done in more than three years. I rode a bike! Shocking, isn’t it, that I, an athletic advocate of climbing mountains and playing sports, would forget about the beautiful rigors of cycling?! I think my story is the same with a lot of kids my age - get a driver's license, ditch the bike. Freshman year, I rode my bike almost everywhere, getting fit and getting where I wanted to go without the help of a parent. That all changed when I got my license. Why would I ride my bike somewhere when I could leave later, be more comfortable and, most importantly, arrive in style, thanks to the Subaru’s massive amount of street cred.
Awesomeness on four wheels
So my two-wheeled friend was relegated to the garage... until yesterday. After hearing so much great publicity about the new Kincaid single tracks, I figured now was the perfect time to break out the bike again. [Read more : 9 miles of singletrack bike trail going into Kincaid Park, ADN.com)
A couple of cyclists ride the new single tracks last fall at Kincaid Park in Anchorage (via EngineRoomAK /YouTube)
I let my friend go first (I needed to get used to my bike again, plus he had helped build them. I wasn’t using him as a potential human shield, no way!) The trails are perfect in my opinion, well, as perfect as they can be. There are some places where the roots to make the trail a bit too extreme, the bugs are very quick to find you if you stop, and you’re always a bit worried about meeting a moose, or a biker going the other way. But these things all fall by the wayside as you race through the banked hairpin turns. The trails are really well designed and it never feels like you’re going up as much as you’re going down. I’m sure I’d have the same thought if I did my run again, just backwards.
As I rolled over the humps and around the bends, I found myself having a great time. There’s something great about having to dodge devil’s club or low hanging trees. It makes you feel like you’re an offroad racer. After last night, I feel bad I’ve neglected my bike for so long and I’m definitely going to ride on the single tracks again. I just hope I don’t get hit by a moose (or vice versa)!
WHEN I WAS growing up, there was an asparagus farm a couple of towns over where my mom and her sisters would go and buy many pounds of the green spears to freeze for winter. I remember standing at the register, an open till on a rickety old table, while Mom or Aunt Polly paid. I stood staring at the surrounding fields full of what looked like giant green Q-tips sticking up in rows out of the dusty soil. That was the best asparagus I ever had.
Refrigerate asparagus upright with bases immersed in water until ready to use
It's is a spring crop, so this is the time of year to find good asparagus in the stores. I recently found some lovely big spears to marinated for the grill. Once they're marinating, they can wait in a refrigerator or cooler (for cooking over the fire grate on your camping trip) for a day.
Wash the asparagus and break of the bottoms. It is important to break off the bottoms rather than cut them because asparagus has a tough, woody base, and each spear will break at the point where it begins to be more tender. Use a vegetable peeler, gently remove just a little of the skin of the lower half of each spear.
Put the spears in a gallon zip-top bag along with the oil. Finely mince the garlic cloves and add them to the bag along with the salt. I recommend using kosher salt because it has a nice consistency for this recipe. If you are using a finer grind of salt, you may want to use a little less.
Leaving some air in the bag, zip it closed and gently toss the contents so that the spears get covered in the oil, salt and garlic. When they are well coated, remove the air from the bag and allow the spears to sit for at least an hour. The spears should cook on a grill or fire that is not too hot. (We waited until after the meat had cooked to put the spears on the grill.)
Turn them every 1-2 minutes, allowing them to cook until they turn a brighter green and get just the tiniest bit flexible in texture. Watch the tips. They are the most delicate (and yummiest) part and can burn easily.
Serve them immediately and enjoy!
It is a wise father that knows his own child.
- William Shakespeare
STANDING ALONG THE fringe of a decidedly warmer Pacific ocean than the one we had left behind 24 hours earlier, my husband and son stood hip-to-shoulder, surveying the sandy shoreline and topaz water. We had arrived on the Hawaiian island of Oahu after a nearly catastrophic year of accidents and illness, and we figured we deserved this 10-day respite of surf, sunshine, and family rejuvenation.
The decision to visit Hawaii together had been a plot hatched by my dynamic duo - the older (dad) had promised the younger (son) a trip somewhere warm after dad's arm and body had healed sufficiently from an accident that nearly claimed his life and left us flattened and battered like the bicycle laying on its side in the backyard shed. Hawaii, they believed, was the Promised Land of togetherness after 12 months of physical pain and emotional separation.
Sometimes, the mere act of packing up and moving on, however briefly, is all it takes to return roses to cheeks and light to a pair of eyes. I saw a slow but steady progression of both as days began and ended with sweet tropical scents, pounding waves and side-by-side footprints in the sand. The ocean, with its warm breath and peaceful color became a welcome ally, and we splashed within its coral-circled arms from dawn to dusk.
Our son, a timid swimmer in Alaska, made headlong rushes into the waves with his dad, wiry arms akimbo, shouting praises to no one in particular as he danced among the foamy crests. I watched their banter from the security of my grass mat, pretending to read a novel but more interested in the relationship rebuilding before my eyes. This was the missing piece, the part I had swept under the pillow with my nightly tears and daily medication lists and therapy appointments. I wasn’t about to let it fall by the wayside like I had so many other aspects of our life.
The remaining days were full of bold explorations and tentative moments of insight; my husband’s first overhand strokes 50 yards offshore in a triumphant return to ocean swimming, our son’s impressive dolphin kick while adorned with fins and snorkel mask, drinking out of a coconut, watching a rainbow form over our mountainside bungalow.
“Should we try to encourage him to talk about your accident?” I had asked my husband one night shortly after his return from the hospital.
“I don’t know,” he replied thoughtfully, curling the still-swollen fingers of his casted arm. “I think we’ll just have to watch carefully and show him everything’s going to get back to normal soon.”
I thought about that statement a lot during the course of our trip, and how, in his quiet way, my husband had indeed demonstrated courage and love and fatherhood to a seven year-old boy who, hopefully someday, will be able to return the favor to his own children.
My husband and I had hoped a trip to Hawaii would provide a needed diversion at best, and perhaps enable us to return home a stronger, more confident family. I’m glad it worked out that way.
Erin Kirkland is the author of AKontheGO.com, an Alaska family travel website and blog.
AS A FATHER I understand the need for recognition - it's great to be thanked for the effort us dads expend on behalf of our families. So this Father's Day I though I'd make some suggestions for thoughtful ways to recognize the dads in your life.
Let's put aside the usual coffee mugs, ties and sports jerseys for a moment (unless dad really likes that stuff, of course) and discuss a different kind of present - a meaningful gift that shows that you are thinking about his interests and what he enjoys is easier to give than you might think. In our home we attempt to give gifts of experience as opposed to giving stuff. Here is a list of some gifts I have received for past Father’s Days or wish to receive for Father’s Days of the future. My hope is that it may spark some imagination in how you recognize your father on this day and remaining days until the next Father’s Day.
1. Make something. As I type this post I can see a handmade card with my son’s face smiling at me. This was a recognition that was given to me two years ago and still makes me feel good today.
2. Give dad a break. I know that I never have enough time to do the things that I want to do. Give your dad some time to fish his favorite stream, take a run, or go and hike with buddies he rarely sees - not necessarily on Father's Day, but at a later date.
Hangin' with some dad friends
3. Give dad some of your time. Most dads have a weekly and one-time project lists. Offer to do some of these projects for him.
4. Ask dad what he wants for dinner. Our family menu seems to revolve around two people under the age of five. I am grateful, however, that everyone in my home seems to appreciate ribs, chicken wings and steak so I often get to enjoy my favorite meals. Your father may not be so lucky.
5. Take dad out to lunch. This is what I am doing for my father this year. My father rarely eats out and much of our time spent together is focused on his grandchildren and projects that I need help with. One-on-one time is a luxury and a gift.
5.5 Let dad ride in the wheely chair...
6. Send dad flowers. Yes, really. Some father’s may cringe at the idea of having a bouquet of flowers on their workbench at their workplace but you know your dad and if this would be a good idea. I enjoy receiving flowers and you may be surprised how many fathers would enjoy this too.
7. Give dad updated, framed photos. My father recently moved into a new work space. Within the first weeks I took him framed photos of his grandchildren and he beamed with pride. Updated photographs are always appreciated by fathers.
8. Recognize dad's hobby. Chances are your father has at least one favorite pasttime, so buy him something for his hobby. For a past Father’s Day I received an ID bracelet for when I go running. I wear it almost every run and I am reminded how much my family cares about me.
9. Give dad a date with mom. I need to spend more time with my partner. Our children are not old enough now to know this but when they are I would be very grateful for a date with my partner as a Father’s Day gift.
Yes, any gift and a card to recognize your father will be accepted and appreciated. Recognizing your father in unique ways or giving a thoughtful gift will truly show how much you appreciate and value him.
Happy Father’s Day fellow dads!
WE EMERGED OVER the canyon rim, looking like we hadn't been in society for weeks. We were out of place among the day hikers, our 30-pound packs dwarfing their backpacks clearly separating us from them. Our legs were blotched red from the knee down, not because of sunburn, but because of caked-on dirt mixing with the sweat and sunscreen. We had been hiking for almost seven hours straight, but spying the top I felt an extra boost of adrenaline. We had just finished overnighting in the Grand Canyon.
My family and I had started our trek at five in the morning the day before. As we descended down the trail past thousands of years of history with every step, the sun was just about to peek out over the horizon. Even after hiking in Alaska, I couldn't get over how picturesque the scene was. To the east, a fine mist blanketed the rocks, partially obscuring the countless crevasses and canyon spurs jutting out from the mighty Colorado River. As the sun started to rise, the west became sharper and when we reached "Ooh-Ah Point" less than an hour into the hike, the canyon opened up for our viewing pleasure. The beauty of the canyon filled my vision, from one peripheral to the other. The morning sky was a light blue, it reminded me of Alaska, also how it was only 50 degrees in the sun. But I knew that would soon change, only I had no idea how drastic that change would be when it did.
The Walgren clan about to descend into the Canyon...
The hours ticked by, and with each step down, the temperature rose. We encountered a frustrating paradox while hiking. We wanted to look around at the scenery, but as soon as we'd lift our heads up off the trail ahead, our foot would hit a rock and our heartbeats would soar from 80 to 180 in the span of a second as we envisioned how one more misstep could speed up our descent drastically.
Sadly, as the hike dragged on and the temperature climbed faster than the sun, the Grand Canyon started to lose its charm. I was still trying to appreciate it, but that was now a secondary goal. The primary one was simple - get to the bottom of this hole.
We accomplished that after around eight hours of hiking when we reached the base of the canyon where we set up camp. It was the early afternoon so for the rest of the day our only itinerary was to avoid the heat. The temperature topped out at 115 that day, but conveniently there was a creek next to the campground. Water had never felt so refreshing.
We woke up the next morning around 4:30, and I was surprised to see that we were among the last to get going. Everyone had the same idea - get out of this pit as early as possible to beat the heat. The ascent wasn't as bad, heat-wise because the higher we climbed, the lower the temperature became. By the time we saw the lodges on the rim, the temperature was in the 80's, a stark contrast to riverside.
And, back to the top again...
I'm really glad I got to hike the canyon as a kid. Now I'll always have fond memories of it, even though at times, going down into it, it felt like a deathmarch. But I can say now that, "I know what it's REALLY like," to be down inside the Grand Canyon, something those who never leave the rim get to experience.