Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Never Bored With Board Games!

I'm so glad that Adam likes to play games as much as I do, (although he likes to win a little more!). It's nice to know that we can have fun outside - hiking, biking, etc. - and also inside.  I know there will be a lot of long, cold days ahead when we'll be grateful that we have things to do.  

We went exploring one afternoon and stopped in a store called Value Village. I'd never been in one of these stores before, but it was very big and reminded me of other thrift stores, like Goodwill or Salvation Army.  There were lots of household items, clothes, books, and electronics.  I wandered to the back of the store and was pleasantly surprised to see an entire wall of games and puzzles.  There was PayDay, and Connect Four! I grabbed one, then another, then another.  Before long I was trying to peer over a stack of board games.  I thought Adam would laugh at me when he finally found me behind my pile of fun, but to my surprise (and joy) he started piling more games on top!  Each game cost under $4.  Brand new, the games retail between $20 and $40 and some aren't even available anymore.  I figure that we saved at least $56.  

So far, the games have been a big hit.  Jenni observed after one of our Sunday dinners that we were having "family game night" - which warmed my heart.  This past weekend we played Cribbage. So far, the boys have been the overall winners - although Jenni & I are the best sports.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tanana Valley Farmers Market

Adam & I have been having lots of fun visiting the Tanana Valley Farmers Market every weekend.  It's a nice, reasonably sized, market with fresh produce and handmade crafts.  Many of the farms are from the Fairbanks area, although people travel from long distances to sell their wares here.  (The Tanana Valley is about the size of the state of Indiana.)

The market is open twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May through September.  So our last trip to the market was this past Saturday...and we were kinda sad that it's over for the season. It was a fun way to start the weekend.  

It's impressive how many different types of produce flourish in Alaska.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I certainly didn't expect this variety at this latitude.  It's those long summer hours that support the growth (I've learned).  Even though it is a short growing season (April - September) having such extended growing hours seem to make up for it.  We saw blueberries, lingonberries, beets, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, apples, onions, leeks, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, peas, and more! There were booths of local honey, herbs and oils, organic smoothies, jams & preserves, cheeses, baked goods, plants.  You could also buy all sorts of ethnic foods - Chinese food, Mexican food, Crepes.  There were artists of all sorts - painters, photographers, woodworkers, candle-makers, fiber artists, jewelry arts.  It's so much to look at that you have to wander around at least two or three times.   

So far the reigning favorites at the market have been, the Honey Bakery where we discovered delicious corn meal cookies.  They are light and crispy and a bag of five of them seems to disappear very quickly!  The other favorite, particularly Brandon's, is the sugar corn...which I'm assuming is the same as kettle corn.  It seems that everyone in town stops there on Saturday to get a bag.  It smells very good, that's for sure!

It's so nice to know that visiting the farmers market is fairly commonplace for most Fairbanks-area residents.  It certainly made a difference for Adam & I.  We planned our meals around what vegetables we wanted to get at the market.  I only wish there was an indoor facility so that it could continue longer into the fall season.  I know that there is snow expected, but it's been so sunny it's hard to really believe it.

Adam and I have strong views about eating locally, not only is it good for you, but it is good for the environment and good for the local economy.  We like to support our farmers.  When shopping, we tried to patronize different booths.  If we bought beets from one family, we got cheese curd from another.  It felt good and tasted good!  And it lasts longer because it's fresher - so it's a better value! Some of our local grocery stores do use "Alaska Grown" produce, and I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for those signs!  Meantime, I'll be anxiously awaiting the return of the market!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Salmon Bake

On Friday the 3rd, Adam, Jenni, Brandon & I went to the Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park in downtown Fairbanks.  This is, as the advertisements promise, a "true Alaskan experience".  It was a gorgeous afternoon and we went with empty bellies knowing there was tons of food (and good food at that) waiting for us.  

At the Salmon Bake there is fresh Alaskan cod, halibut, and salmon every evening in addition to prime rib.  The food is cooked in front of you on a wood fire pit.  For a short time (and actually it is not available anymore) they were also offering Snow Crab on Fridays.  This is also ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT.  They have a salad bar and dessert and beverages.  You eat in a park-like setting, surrounded by vintage Alaskan mining machinery.  It was the perfect temperature and a great introduction to Fairbanks for Brandon & Jenni.  

Normally I'm not the best person to take to an all-you-can-eat buffet, they certainly make money on me, but I tried my best.  I had at least two plates and the snow crab was delicious! I think Adam would have liked me to eat some more...but I was stuffed!  It was a good thing that there's a whole park to explore because we needed to walk it off.  After we did a little shopping at the Pick 'n Poke, of course.  We found a t-shirt for Adam, a sweatshirt for me and a beautiful little marble isbjørn (polar bear). 

Pioneer Park has many attractions in addition to the Salmon Bake.  It is billed as "Alaska's Only Historic Theme Park", which translates to a smaller, kitschier version of Mystic Seaport.  It was developed for Alaska's centennial celebration in 1967 (celebrating the 100th anniversary of Alaska's purchase from Russia). 
It has a 'recreation' of a Gold Rush town, which includes a number of original log cabins that were moved from downtown Fairbanks and the surrounding area.  It also has a Pioneer Museum, a Native Museum, a Railroad Museum and an Air Museum.  The museums are very small, but look like they have some nice displays.  (We did not tour any except the Railroad Museum.) 
There is also the Riverboat Nenana which, once we learned more about it, was really cool!  It's a National Landmark and is the largest stern-wheeler ever built west of the Mississippi and the second largest wooden vessel in existence.  Inside it are many tiny dioramas of life in rural Alaska (300' of them).  

There is a train that takes you on a tour around the park.  It loops twice while a docent gives you interesting information about the artifacts and Alaska.  There is another steam locomotive - which we did not get to ride - which is the oldest gold rush artifact in Fairbanks (1899).  We had great views of the Chena River and of the sun setting across the park. We continued our stroll as the park emptied out.  

It was then that we saw a pair of moose horns lying on the ground...and Adam couldn't resist "trying them on".  I have to admit, he looked pretty fantastic.  It was a wonderful night out!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Not-so-Solitary Cyclist

Today I took my first ride on my brand new, beautiful, blue bicycle.  It is so pretty that I was almost sad to think it might get dirty...but I'm not falling for that again.  I will elaborate...

Once upon a time, in a far away land called Glenview in a magical place known as True Value I fell in love - with a pretty pink bicycle.  My dad had taught me how to ride a bicycle the way most dad's do I suppose.  He ran along behind me, holding the seat for a while.  I managed to stay upright as long as I didn't turn around and notice that he'd let go.  This was in the mid-west, where things are nice and flat, and we were able to bike to church, the library, the playground or grandma & grandpa's house.  It was great.  Anyway, I digress...  I learned to ride on a nice second-hand red Schwinn, with a Snoopy horn, streamers and a basket.  But once I saw the display in the True Value, I only had eyes for the pink bike.  My parents got me the pink bike, but I was so worried about how nice it was that I wouldn't ride it.  I would only ride the red bike.  Finally they gave me an ultimatum, ride the pink bike or it goes back to the store.  I chose the good old red Schwinn after all.  I guess sometimes you just don't know what a good thing you have.  Anyway, (one of the) moral(s) of the story is that if you buy toys you should use them...not just keep them for lookin' at. 

So today was the day I kept the blue bike from turning into the pink bike.  I bought it last week at the Post Exchange.  I'd had my eye on it since my last trip.  It is a Kent bicycle and the model is Shogun Safari.  It's a little heavy for me to carry in and out of the apartment building, but it's just the right height and very comfortable.  It has seven speeds and an easy-to-use twist gear shift. 

I've got a Schwinn helmet (for old time's sake) and it is also very comfortable.  Although there is no helmet law for bicycles (or motorcycles for that matter) in Alaska, the army has rules about such things.  It's a $60 fine if you are caught riding on post without a reflective strip and a helmet!  I've found that it's easiest to put my hair in pigtails so that it works with my helmet straps, but I did notice that it makes me look like an over-sized 11 year old while riding.  Oh well.

This part of Alaska has fantastic bike paths; throughout North Pole and Fairbanks.  Almost every road has an accompanying path.  They're clean and well-paved, (better than some of the roads back home!).  From what I've been able to find, Fairbanks has 248 miles of bike trails and their latest Bike Plan is to increase that to more than 500 miles as the city hopes to continue to encourage the use of bicycles for transportation.  It's a very bike-friendly city.  They even had a "Bike To Work Fairbanks" week this past spring.  Look at the results: 180 Participants, 566 Total Round Trips, 6952 Total Miles, 12.3 mile Average Trip Length, 6952 Pounds of CO2 Avoided, $1,185.31 Saved!  That's so cool!!

On top of that, the Western Interior region of Alaska is very flat.  I think that with some practice I may be able to ride to Fort Wainwright and back again.  Today, since I was trying out the bike for the first time and practicing shifting, I only went in a loop in North Pole (a little less than five miles).  It was AWESOME.  I was so happy to whoosh along, to hear the click-click-click-click as I coasted, to feel the sunshine and the breeze on my face.  As I came back along one of the paths I passed two or three other cyclists and several walkers - it did my heart good to see it...and to DO it.

Fairbanks Cycle Club - Winter Sunday Rides
I plan to get as many days of cycling in here in September.  The weekend forecast is good, and I know that sunny & warm days are going to be hard to come by - and soon!  The Fairbanks Cycle Club does bike year-round though - with studded tires and all.  Maybe I'll find I'm made of hearty stuff and I'll be able to bike in mild snow, but for now I'm focusing on an autumn full of bike rides!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rockwell Kent

Artist Rockwell Kent seems to be everywhere I turn lately.  Not only is he one of Adam's favorite artists (he sent me a postcard of some of Kent's work once), but a program about his life and work has been running and re-running on television, and he has ties to Alaska.  How is it that this artist who was relatively unknown to me is suddenly omnipresent in my world?!  I think it's time to learn more about him.  Rockwell Kent is an American artist from the Northeast who traveled extensively and was one of the most visible artists of his time.  He was also an activist who received a lot of criticism for his leftist/socialist politics.  His work is very interesting and embodies much of the realist spirit, with the minimalist lines of his paintings often reminiscent of his skillful woodblock prints.  I adore the clean, "athletic" nature of his lithographs - one of my favorite art forms.
Some of Kent's most famous illustrations were for Herman Melville's 1930 publication of Moby Dick.  Take a look at the beautiful movement and combination of strength and fragility in  the illustration of the whale breaching...stunning!!  Perhaps in this book you can see some of Kent's love for the sea.  He spent a lot of time on Monhegan Island (Maine) where he was impressed by nature, and especially the ocean.  This speaks to me, because I also have a love of the ocean and of the wilderness.  In addition to the three volume edition (later compressed to one volume) of Moby Dick, Kent illustrated and wrote other books with nautical themes including A Treasury of Sea Stories edited by Gordon C. Aymar.  He wrote and illustrated N by E, and Voyaging, which were about his sailing experiences. He was also influenced by the transcendentalist writings of Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman - whose works also impress and influence me...especially Whitman.  

Listen to this passage from N by E : “Twilight, the ocean, eight o-clock have come; I take the helm on my watch. The wind has risen, the horizon is dark against a livid sky. It’s cold. Never again for months to come do my thoughts run to nakedness. Nor do I see green fields, nor thriving homesteads, nor people long enough except to part from them; nor—though it’s June—the summer; not for a thousand miles. And as it darkens and the stars come out, and the black sea appears unbroken everywhere save for the restless turbulence of its own plain, as the lights are extinguished in the cabin—then I am suddenly alone. And almost terror grips me for I now feel the solitude; under the keel and overhead the depths,—and me, enveloped in immensity. How strange to be here in a little boat!—and not by accident....”

Rockwell Kent also wrote about Alaska and other extreme climates that he visited - New Foundland, Greenland, Tierra del Fuego, and more...  His book about Alaska is called Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska.  His imagery of the solitude and stillness of the Alaskan winter landscape is breathtaking and excites me about the beauty of the winter-to-come.  In his paintings you really notice how perfectly everything is structured; the idyllic quality of the scene.  They are truly lovely.

Perhaps the reason that I haven't heard as much about this Rockwell as another Rockwell (whom I love) is because of his activities outside of the art world.  Rockwell Kent spent a lot of time championing social causes, supporting strikes and exhibiting left-leaning politics in a climate that was highly suspicious of such "activity".  Kent was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1939 and although he testified that he was not a member of the Communist Party the government kept a close watch on him and eventually revoked his passport in 1950.  He sued for its reinstatement and won in a landmark Supreme Court case in 1958.  
Resurrection Bay, Alaska c. 1919

Kent's politics, viewed with a new perspective, do not seem as radical as they may have originally seemed.  Kent protested the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti; during the 1930s he received many commissions from the United States government even though he was a member of the IWO; and in the 1940s he traveled in Europe to attend meetings to promote world peace.  His association with Communism meant that he became very unpopular in the United States and he fell out of favor with American galleries. 
He was the first American artist to have work exhibited in the Soviet Union (1957), for which he earned the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967.

 Mural for the GE Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, “Man’s Liberation Through Electricity.”
Although his work lacked public support later in his life, and he eventually wrote about his "confrontations" with the United States government, some of his most striking pieces are the murals he did for various government departments.  They are full of symbolism and elegance and, although for a time some were covered up, have recently been restored as significant pieces of American art and markers of the time. 

I'm glad to have been introduced to this artist.  Thank you Adam.  Thank you Biography channel.  Thank you Alaska!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Jenni, Brandon and I went to LARS - the Large Animal Research Station - last Wednesday.  It was another beautiful day in Fairbanks and rather than go on another campus orientation tour, we decided to make one of our own.  It's a good thing that we did because apparently the school was supposed to take Biology majors to see LARS, but canceled and Monday, September 6th is the last day the farm has public hours.  So we squeaked in under the proverbial musk ox wire!

LARS is an interesting place.  It started from the donation of a farm to the university by a fellow named Mike Yankovich.  They have, "Greenlandic muskoxen from Nunivak Island in western Alaska, Siberian reindeer from western Alaska and barren ground caribou from central Alaska. Research at LARS has focused on the different ways arctic herbivores use their food and conserve their body stores, to survive, grow, and produce young despite the harsh conditions of a long winter and the brief respite of a northern summer."

At LARS they collect the underwool of the muskox which is called "qiviut" (pronounced KIV-ee-yoot).  It is incredibly soft and extremely fine.  For a knitter especially, it is a very special fiber!  I got some for my mother this summer (in the color Lingonberry of course) and it felt very nice.  The LARS gift shop carries it in several varieties - as 100% qiviut or a blend with merino and other wools.  I am excited to see how it knits up.  By all accounts it gets warmer as you use it and it does not shrink.  Sounds great!  At LARS they work with Oomingmak, which is the Alaskan co-operative that has brought exquisite Qiviut items to you as a unique northern gift since 1969. It is owned by approximately 250 Native Alaskan women from remote coastal villages of Alaska who knit each item by hand.  They work with other family-operated mills as well, and all the yarn comes with information about the animal that provided the wool.  All the yarn they sell comes from their own muskoxen.

The muskoxen themselves are funny animals.  They move very slowly around the pasture and liked resting and snacking in the shade of the boreal forest.  Their hair hangs down around their legs so it looks a little bit like a skirt.  They have skinny legs and big hooves.  I get the feeling that they are mostly wool.  However, they have BIG horns that are parted in the middle of their head.  They look a little bit like they have an Alfalfa hair-cut. But make no mistake!  Those horns can do a lot of damage.  As peaceful as the muskoxen look, they apparently get riled up.

Take a look at this gate that they've left on display to show the damage a muskox can cause!  This gate was dented by a muskox named Albert one day - which Jenni is kindly re-enacting.  That must have given him some headache!

We walked the perimeter of LARS to catch a glimpse or two of the muskoxen lounging in the shade and then went looking for reindeer.  They were far off, at the rear of the pasture - too far for a good look.  We could hear thunder in the distance and saw heavy black clouds rolling in, so we decided to hedge our bets and went to the Experiment Farm at UAF to look at reindeer up close.  I'm not sure what kind of experiments go on at the farm, but the reindeer looked very happy.  We even saw some baby reindeer...which were too cute! Although, the baby muskoxen are pretty cute...

Since we were in the neighborhood, we visited the Georgeson Botanical Garden.  Brandon and Jenni hadn't been there yet and we also found the gardens were much more extensive than Adam and I had thought.  There were more vegetable gardens, more shade plants and a whole children's garden which we hadn't seen!  We saw many volunteers and that's a good thing - the budget has been drastically cut and the future of the garden is insecure.  This is the northern-most public garden in the United States and they're doing a lot of good things.  It would be a real shame if they were forced to close. 

Brandon and Jenni took some spectacular photos of flowers and they were almost as impressed with the cabbage as Adam.  We enjoyed the Babula Children's garden.  There were tiny log cabins and interesting garden tunnel mazes.  We could have spent hours playing, but the skies continued to look ominous, so we took a vote and decided that ice cream was next on the agenda.  So we took one last look around, hopped in the Blazer and headed down to Cold Stone.

Alaska has amazing weather.  You can see it coming from an amazing distance. The sky often presents two totally different scenes.  Here [photo above] we saw storm clouds rolling in and decided to head out, and when we turned around, we were greeted by glorious sunshine [photo below]!  But we played it safe and left.
After Cold Stone, we went over to Fort Wainwright to pick up Adam.  It was fun to give a brief tour of the post.  Adam showed Jenni & Brandon around his building and explained what he does.  We went over to the motor pool and looked at all the stryker vehicles.  We drove past the airfield and the hospital and I think that I learned more on this tour than I had on the first one!  I just want Brandon & Jenni to be comfortable with being on post.

What a fantastic Wednesday!  I had so much fun!  It's nice to have two such amiable people to tour Fairbanks with.

On a separate note, I'm sorry that this took so long to post.  I was having some trouble with Blogger and uploading my photos, but I think I've fixed the problem.  Expect to hear lots more over the next few days!  I have a list of things to share and lots of photos!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Moose Season/Mouse Season

Today is the beginning of Moose Season in Alaska.  It's been the topic of conversation in almost every spot we've stopped - restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores.  It's something that's on everyone's mind.  For myself, it's a whole new subject. 

In Connecticut, the largest game I'm used to seeing is the whitetail deer that plague my parents' garden.  My mother and father have become expert at pinging them with their Daisy Red Ryder Western Carbine Air Rifle...and thankfully nobody's shot their eye out yet.  But this hardly equates to the type of game (or hunting) that is in Alaska.  Here there are ten species of big game - Bison, Caribou, Elk, Musk Ox, Black Bear, Brown/Grizzly bear, Dall Sheep, Deer, Mountain Goat and Moose.  And while I have seen moose in our back yard and in nearby streams [pictured above] I'm not having to shoo musk ox away from the marigolds, or keep caribou from snacking on the cone flowers. Most of this game is spread out over the state, moving seasonally to find vegetation.

It's hard to really wrap your mind around the immensity of Alaska.  These animals move across an area of 365,000,000 (for those of you who blur zeros together that's 365 Million!) acres.  That is one-fifth the size of the entire United States. Here's another perspective - that's more than 100 times the size of Connecticut (which is the 48th ranked state for size at 3,211,520 acres).  The weather can be uncertain and so can the movement of the animals.  It's little wonder that hunting in Alaska is a challenge!

Most hunters in Alaska, because of the difficulty involved, save up money and vacation time and plan intensive, multi-day hunts.  The soldiers here at Fort Wainwright have a four day weekend coming up just because of moose season.  Many families depend on the meat that they get to last them through the winter.  Hunting is (at least for the people that I've talked to) partly about the expertise and skill required and partly about subsistence.  And I'm really okay with that.  Alaskans and nonresidents annually harvest approximately 6,000 to 8,000 moose, some 3.5 million pounds of meat!  Hunters can donate meat they are not going to use to shelters. 

The more I read about moose (naturally) the more interesting I find them.  I didn't know that moose have actually benefited from the timber industry and from forest fires.  Apparently this creates news areas of young timber which is "good moose food".  Moose have high reproduction rates/potential and can easily overpopulate ranges.  Mostly the population is kept in check by predation.  Not only are they hunted by people, but they are hunted by wolves and bears.  Cows can frequently give birth to twins and sometimes triplets! ;)  Although these newborns weigh from 28 - 35 pounds and in their first five months they will gain more than ten times their birth mass - weighing around 500 pounds!

Today I am joining the hunting season - but for mouse!  This morning I was awoken by the mouse scampering along the top of the mattress behind my head.  Uff da!  After I wrenched the bed away from the wall and removed all the space-bagged linens from beneath it, I adjourned to the living room.  Apparently the mouse thought this was a good idea too.  As I sat here typing the mouse leapt  from the ottoman onto the arm of the loveseat.  He does not respect me at all!  I saw him hide inside the rolled-up rugs that were stored behind this loveseat.  I pulled out all the rugs and unrolled them, spreading them around the apartment.  Aha! The mousey secret stash of one dried macaroni noodle, a corn chip and some other crumbs was revealed!  I callously destroyed this accumulation of goodies.  Mouse season has begun!!
And yes, mama, I did feel like Henry's Awful Mistake