Tuesday, August 23, 2016

If you heard a loud surge of air from the north, it was Becky and Chris exhaling as Henry's Kindergarten destination finally sorted itself out. We had known for quite a few months that our lottery choices washed out, so we were only left with St Elizabeth's and testing into Rogers Park.


After Henry's birthday in July he was able to take the test, which ended up being 4 sessions after the dust settled. He did great and off to Rogers Park he goes. We couldn't be prouder and now everyone is excited about bus schedules, hot lunches, and classrooms.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

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The trip had been circled on the calendar for quite a few months, starting back when snow was still on the ground. The public use cabins in Alaska on summer weekends fill up pretty fast, so I wisely booked early.

The cabin we chose is on Red Shirt Lake in the Willow area, and is reached by canoe after backpacking 3 miles to the canoe launch. Henry asserted repeatedly that he was up for the 3 mile forest hike and that he would happily carry his John Deere backpack. I knew I could carry the majority of our gear in my large multi-day pack, along with the oars and fishing poles in my hands. I quietly prepared for tacking on the John Deere pack in the middle of the hike if need be.

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I needn't have worried. Henry mowed down the 3 miles like a champion. He certainly began noting how sore his feet were getting in that last mile, but he never asked to stop and rest. He bought into the plan to just keep ticking forward, and was clearly exciting about the canoe part of the trip. Most of the hike out to Red Shirt Lake was soundtracked by Henry repeatedly identifying the devil's club plants. It was tedious at times, but it kept his mind distracted while his feet clicked along. As we reached the final half mile he started to drag, but I quickly sent him off with questions about Legos and what big thing he could build next.

In our travels around the lake we found a tiny island, and scavenged it for blueberries and firewood. Looking at the picture above, you'll see that we stumbled onto a geocache. Henry promptly wrote his name in it and we safely placed it back where we found it.

As expected, there was a certain degree of jumping in the air when the lake and canoe racks came into view. With canoes loaded, we began our 15 minute paddle to our cabin. Once we hit the open water the wind began pushing us around more than I had expected, and we needed to regroup before pushing hard into the wind, tucking behind a small island, and then plowing broadside into the whitecaps, ultimately spinning towards our destination. It was real work for one adult, but we found our solution. For the rest of that evening through the next morning, that strong wind blew whitecaps. Even the loons took the night off.

Thankfully the afternoon of day two brought calm waters as the Hamel girls and their Dad came to join us.

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The picture above has Henry and the Hamel girls pointing at the scene of the weekend's most dramatic moment. On the quiet side of the island, far from the cabin, is a small trail leading to a smooth piece of dirt from which you can easily cast and fish. Henry and I fished from that point together much of the previous day, and even sat there a few times while we filtered water. It's a peaceful spot and out of the wind.

While dinner was being prepared, Henry and I walked to our peaceful spot with Nalgene bottle and water purifier in hand. Henry loves pumping the device and I'm happy to hold it. Down we sat on the shore, our feet dangling in the shallow water. I pinched the bottle between my things, guided the hose into it, and then propped the pump on my knee, while Henry hammered down on the pump. I believe we filled a quarter of the bottle before the first bees appeared. I noticed a few yellow jackets buzzing around my legs, then one near Henry's moving hand. By the time I looked up fully there were four near Henry's face, another four near his chest, and more than a few around me. Henry had no doubts about what was happening.

Up he jumped and out came the screams. He spun immediately and began running up the small incline, but his feet couldn't gain any traction. I yelled for him to run and he yelled that he could not. I placed my palm squarely on his bottom and shoved him solidly up the hill. His boots caught and soon he was twenty feet down the trail, standing  and crying. In helping him I missed my opportunity to shoo away the bees, and took two stings to my arm.

Once I made it up the hill and verified that he had not been stung and that the bees had not followed us up, Henry was able to start to calm down. It's a flat out miracle he didn't take a hit. It was definitely an intense few minutes, compounded by our awkward squatting. We looked down gingerly at the shore and saw the bees cruising in and out of the nest right at ground level. We had plopped ourselves right on top of it.

Thirty minutes later Henry had decided that the bees had only wanted to check him out, were much more upset with Daddy, and that Maggie and Ann needed to be carefully taken to the spot so they knew where to avoid.

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Full set of photos here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

It's genuinely difficult to believe, but Henry turned 5 a few weeks ago. Becky and I remember vividly when he was first born, came home, and first started crawling around the house. Now we're staring down the first day of kindergarten.

On his birthday we ate his beloved Subway sandwiches, opened gifts with Grandpa Barnes, and assembled Legos while Henry and Piper slurped ice cream with sprinkles.

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The following Saturday was the larger, proper party at a local park here in Anchorage. The kids ran through the woods, fought invisible bad guys, became very dusty, and eventually sat still long enough to devour cupcakes and watch Henry tear open his gifts. Piper cruised around the playground, giggling loudly each trip down the large slide.

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As friends and toddlers drifted away to the rest of their Saturday, we lazily cleaned up, watching Henry and Piper bounced around the playground. A man passed through walking his dog and mentioned that he had just come across a black bear and two cubs in the woods behind us. After thanking him for the information, we loaded a fair amount faster and called it a day. The weather and company were perfect, and we were wise enough to understand that bears stomping around within fifty yards means it's time to call it a day.

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Full set of birthday photos.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I feel like I'm back there in Wisconsin, even while sitting at my desk here in Anchorage. The pictures and texts come in, sometimes prefaced by questions for directions and best routes.

The Appleton museum looks like a complete hit. The batch of pictures had nothing but smiles.


I was able to put together some directions when it came to visiting the zoo in Madison.

"When you're on Park Street keep going. Try not to stop."

"Vilas Park is a nest of one ways. Wrap around to the west side before turning in."

I try to be helpful and suspect that I am. However, I kept following rabbit trails into the past.

"You'll pass the place I played hockey every night."

"On your right is the entrance to the arboretum. I pedaled through there every day. No, you don't need to turn there. I'm just sayin'."


Safe in the yard in Coloma. Man, Piper and Henry sure look like siblings.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hoping to avoid Chicago at any cost, we targeted Minneapolis as the airport for this summer's Midwestern visit. After a late evening arrival, some tooling around the Mall of America, and visiting family in the twin cities, we found ourselves quickly zipping into Wisconsin, smiling happily at the lack of traffic and urban annoyances. I suspect Minneapolis has plenty of congested city moments, but we surely didn't encounter them on the weekend we were there. After a stop in Baldwin, WI for Culver's, Piper dozed off and we smiled as the car glided along with the cruise set at 77.


After some time rambling around the Northwoods (when the photos are fully downloaded I'll have more to say about that), we pointed the car toward Coloma where we happily tucked it in its parking spot, content to stay out of the car for a few days.

Piper is big enough to climb all over the playground at the Coloma park, and climb she did. She's probably braver than she should be, but she's also more agile and steady than she should be, so it works out nicely.

Each kid climbs and slides, dangles and jumps, and eventually sprints off towards another challenge.


Grandpa's 90th birthday celebration was a hit, and I'll certainly have more to say about that as well when the camera gets uploaded.


Like missives from the front, the texts and photos pour in. The Madison Zoo, Culver's, splash park at Stevens Point, the new park in Hancock, Culver's...

Being back in Alaska a bachelor for 3 weeks has me busy in my own right, but certainly not as much as those two kids tearing up central Wisconsin.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pre-school is over. Done. Finito.

Becky attended the Mother's Day Tea and watched Henry and his classmates perform a handful of songs. As sure as the turning of the earth, Henry stood politely on the riser with the group and kept completely quiet during the entire performance. He did correctly move his arms around during the visual parts of the songs, but it was clear that was all Mommy was getting.

Fair enough. We used it as an opportunity to tell Henry that in life you don't have to like everything you do, but you do often need to stand politely.


The final week at school had a small carnival with a bucking salmon and a small petting zoo. Piper loved riding the salmon, though ended up terrified of the goats and ducks. She was initially very excited to see the animals, but when it became clear that they were her height (if not slightly taller), the event took a turn toward sadness. She did seem to really enjoy standing outside the pen though.


Henry's always been a reliable fountain of questions, but lately it's been kicking into high gear.

"What happens when you finish medical school?"
"What's inside a MRI machine?"
"How do they take bone marrow samples?"
"What if there were no plants?"
"I'm not going to get a brain tumor because I eat blueberries."


Full set of photos here.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The pre-school year is winding down and the trees in Anchorage finally have small, green leaves. Most free days will find Becky and the kids running around a park, or just goofing around on the bikes near home. Camping trips for the summer are being planned, kindergarten is getting closer, and all the snow pants and boots are locked away.

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Piper is able to run around anywhere she pleases and dig into whatever grabs her attention. As you might guess, she mimics the activity all around her. Our most recent chuckles come when we are kneeling somewhere (usually cleaning something up on the floor or helping Henry build something). She will quickly swoop in and pull down our pants, giggling the whole time. The rule is simple - if you 're going to peak in my diaper to check the status, expect the same for yourself.