Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Alaska Calendar

I have to give a plug here for a great calendar by a great Alaskan photographer. I purchased a calendar last year (ok, I purchased SEVERAL calendars) from an Alaskan photographer who can be found here. All of the pictures are taken by the photographer, in different places throughout Alaska, and believe me, she gets around Alaska.

If you are looking for a wonderful calendar full of pictures only of things few very lucky people get to ever see in the state of Alaska, definately contact her and order one.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 Denali Road Lottery Results

The results are in... and I won again this year for Monday, September 15. Unfortunately, I can't take work off that day, and the kids have school.... sooooooo, if anyone won for a different day, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and would like to trade for my Monday, drop me a comment with your email address and let me know. If not, I'll be giving the winner's slip to another to enjoy the park for me.


Summer ????

It's been quite a while since I last wrote. My last blog was about making spruce tip jelly. By the way, it turned out WONDERFUL! I'll give a quick blurb, then get on with my summer goings-ons.

I picked all the spruce tips from the spruce trees in my own backyard. Since we are surrounded by spruce trees, I didn't need to go any further, or search for them the way I have to search for berries in the fall. I picked about 6 full cups of young, freshly "bloomed" spruce tips. Since this was my first time picking them, or making spruce tip jelly, I read a lot about what to look for, what to avoid, and when to pick before I started. After getting the tips, I placed them in a food processor and finely chopped them. Then, I covered them with water and boiled them for about 30 minutes and let them steep overnight. After straining the juice through a jelly bag, I put it back on the oven, added 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 package of powdered pectin, and then added 3/4 a cup of sugar for every cup of liquid.

It took about 3 weeks in the cupboard for it to set correctly, but man, is it tasty. It smells like Christmas, but tastes like heaven! I was very surprised at the taste. When I was picking the tips, and when I brought them into the house, they smelled very much like evergreen trees. However, once I chopped them, the kitchen was pervaded with a citrus smell. Even my boy asked me how much lemon I'd cut up, and I hadn't cut any lemons yet. I'm definitely making the jelly again next year. It's DIVINE on English muffins.

Since May, we've been WAITING for summer to start. Now, in August, we are still waiting... This has been a very odd "summer." The entire summer was overcast, we didn't have very many purely sunny days, and the temperature only hit 70 degrees perhaps 4 times all summer. During the "waiting" for summer, summer somehow slipped by, and now it's mid August and fall is about to start.

I didn't do many hikes this summer. In fact, I didn't do much of anything this summer. I didn't fish much, I didn't CATCH anything, I went camping only once, and all of my grand desires for summer that I had during last winter never came to fruition.

OH, I DID get married though! That will be my favorite summer memory of 2008. We, along with 9 of our friends, went to Girdwood, AK, and hiked to Glacier Creek for the vows. In true Alaskan style, we wore shorts and t shirts and hiking shoes. My impromptu flower girls carried fiddle head ferns we found on the forest floor because we couldn't find any flowers

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bounties of Summer

There is one thing we have in abundance right now: budding plantlife. The spruce trees in my back yard are bursting with new, green budding ends. The hillsides are awash with purples, pinks, and more yellow than imaginable. I love walking outside and looking down the mountainside every day, being greeted with a new color or a new plant. This time last month, the hillside was covered with newly fallen snow and we wondered if winter would ever end. Now, with the prolonged hours of sunlight, the hillside is alive once again.

I've decided to try my hand at making dandelion jelly and spruce tip jelly this year. Last year, I made crowberry jelly (didn't set right, but that won't stop me from trying again this year), red currant jelly (my son's new favorite), blueberry jam (tip: don't blend the fruit in a blender before jarring, it ends up a wonderful syrup, but not anywhere close to jelly or jam), strawberry/rhubarb jam (rhubarb plants love Alaska... they literally grow like weeds) fireweed jelly (amazingly delicious and light), and highbush cranberry jelly (this didn't set well either, and just a warning, it smells horrible when you are boiling the berries).

While I'm waiting for August when the prime berry season begins, I'll take what the season is bountifully giving at the moment, and head to the trees and weeds and see what I can make of them. Wish me luck! I'll post back after I've jarred the goodies and can share my "wares."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mission McKinley

Time: 5:15 am
Date: Saturday, June 17, 2008

The mission (because we are both nuts and have wandering spirits) that we had chosen to accept: a day trip to Mount McKinley ***DENALI***
After synchronizing our watches the night before, Ang and I agreed that she'd pick me up at 5:15 am and we'd hit the Glenn Highway heading north for an all day adventure. The itinerary was to drive to Denali Park, slowly make our way to mile 30 inside the park, then head home. The 17th was the last Saturday we'd be able to drive into the park before they opened it for the official start of the tourist season. After last weekend, the only vehicles allowed on the road are the tour buses that run visitors to the park back to Wonder Lake, the end of the road of Denali Park.

While Ang had her hopes set on seeing the Big 5 of the park (bear, moose, Dahl sheep, wolf and caribou) and a lynx she'd heard tales of others sighting, I was excited just to be in the park again. The only time I'd been there before was the trip Alex and I made when we won the road lottery last year in September (the same trip we got engaged in the park on).

If there is one thing I could tell tourists about going to Denali, it's this: don't get so caught up in the big game you hope to see around the next bend that you miss the little things that are right beside you. We saw an abundance of snow hare and ptarmigan (you've got to hear them give their warning sqawk, it's hilarious to listen to). We were lucky enough to see a red fox and catch him in the process of marking his boundary. We saw ground squirrel, which I'd never seen before. We did see plenty of caribou and even a moose and calf eating their fill of freshly greening buds. The surprise and excitement of the trip came in the form of a round porcupine crossing the road in front of the car on our way home. Ang was so excited to get a pic that she pulled over, made her way through calf deep, half melted snowbanks, followed the prickly fellow into a glade of trees (one of which he promptly climbed to get away from his pursuer), and managed to get a few pictures of Mr. Quills through the tree branches. It really was about the little things on this trip.

Our itinerary was changed, as it often is on the Cristine/Ang road trips. We took a side trip to Nenana, a village a little more than an hour north of Denali Park, to a restaurant called Monderosa. Ang had been told that they claimed to have the best burgers in Alaska. I don't know if they do have the best burgers in ALL of Alaska or not, but they were pretty good, and very large. We both left very full, and she was all for my suggestion to go through the park one more time before we headed home.

On the second trip through the park, we experienced every form of weather pattern Alaska has to offer. For the first 10 minutes, it rained. From mile 15 to about mile 17, it snowed. From mile 17 to about mile 21, it sleeted. From mile 21 to mile 25, it hailed (bb gun sized pellets that made me feel as if the angels in heaven were using the car for target practice). When we got to mile 30 and turned around, we drove back through cloudy skies that turned to sunny skies. A rainbow even greeted us half way back to the park entrance. I kept joking with Ang about something good being at the end of the rainbow, and I'll be darned if there wasn't a group of caribou at that rainbow's end!

We didn't get home until after 1, but we had the moon to enjoy on the trip home. We drove for 21 hours, but it was well worth the 700+ miles Ang put on her car's odometer and the exhaustion I felt the next morning when it was time to get up and head down the Seward Highway to start a hike that Ang had planned on Sunday.

We've decided to book a camping spot at Savage Campgrounds for the July 4th weekend. We are going to take the bus to Wonder Lake (we act like total tourists, and have no shame about it) not once, but two times that weekend. Hopefully, Ang will get to see her Big 5, and I'll get to once again enjoy the ever changing beauty that Denali Park has to offer every time I go.

Just a side note.... I found out when I got home that 10 separate teams of climbers were in the process of beginning the climb to the summit of Denali when we were in the park. All I can say about that is WOW... I'm going to check on their progress.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Girls Just Want to Have Fun!

I have been living life, and enjoying my winter, even if I haven't written about it. Now that spring is near, the time of rebirth and moving on from winter, cold, and darkness, I find myself wanting to write again.

Winter is on it's way out, whether Jack Frost is willing to let it go quietly is another story. Last Friday, we had about 16 inches of snow fall in Eagle River. Jack is weaving his way across our April pulling pranks about once a week. Week before last, we had 8 inches, the snow melted (Mother Nature is trying to give us a spring to enjoy, Jack just isn't cooperating!), then Jack came a dancin' through the skies once more and bringing the crystaline flakes with him. I swear I heard his laughter outside my window last Friday.

Before the Jack Frost/Mother Nature power play began, I went to Big Lake with a few girlfriends for a much needed girl's weekend in early March. A friend's family has a cabin on Flat Lake, so 6 of us headed out for a man free, kid free, responsibility free weekend. We drove across a wide expanse of frozen lake (Big Lake) to Flat Lake where the cabin was located. I have to admit to being a little leary at first of driving across frozen water in a heavy vehicle, but my friend assured me that the ice was thick enough to handle the weight, even if it was crystal clear and I swore at times I saw fish swimming below us. When the gang go there, we sledded, we snow machined, we played games and laughed, drank our share of wine and Framboise, and enjoyed 3 days of nothing. It was wonderful. It was exactly what I needed. Nothing like a good game of Apples to Apples to find out what your friends are made of, what they are thinking, and what (or whom) they have tied up in their basement!
I have more updating to do, including neighborhood moose sightings, Fur Rondezvous pics and stories, and wedding updates.
I didn't realize it was so late! With the sun staying in the sky later and later, my time perception is already screwy. I (once again) don't feel I made the best use of my winter time, so I need to make sure I get my spring/summer/fall plans set in stone so I don't end up wasting these prolonged days of sweet sunshine!
Early to rise, late to bed... sleeping is for winter.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Saying Goodbye, Sean Raymond Auchinachie

Saying goodbye is never an easy or enjoyable thing to do.

I was born in Alaska. My parents came here the summer before I was born to help friends start a Mexican restaurant in Anchorage. After I was born, my grandfather died. My parents returned to Utah where my grandmother and the rest of my family were living, and never returned to Alaska. Shortly after my fifth birthday, my parents divorced. I never saw my father again. I didn't hate my father for leaving. I remember how it was when he was with the family, and I always knew that things were better without him there and that my life would have turned out much differently if he had been in my life growing up. He never tried to contact my younger sister or me after he left. We didn't know where he was or what he was doing.

Just before I turned 21, I found out through my father's uncle that my father was alive and well and had been living in southern Utah most of my life, and that I had a younger brother, Sean, who was 14 years my junior. My sister, who was still living in Utah until 1995, went to visit them just before she moved to Virginia. After her visit, she never heard from our father again and she lost touch with our brother, who was only 11 at the time.
We did try to look for our brother. However, never finding a phone number or address, no matter how hard we looked, we'd just about given up hope of finding him. The fates that be had other plans for us. In November, my niece found my brother on MySpace.

Since November, I've talked to my brother weekly. The conversations lasted for hours, and hours. I got to know Sean during those chat sessions. He was funny, passionate, and full of piss and vinegar (just like me). He always thought that my sister and I didn't care about him, but he found that we certainly did, and that we just didn't know how to find him. We were looking forward to building a great relationship and had already begun to build that brother/sister bond. He talked of coming to Alaska some day, as our father had talked about this place often. I was planning to go to Utah to visit. He teased his nieces about their boyfriends and their web pages on MySpace. He was enjoying being an uncle. I also discovered that I have a nephew, Sean's son, Weston. I found out so much about his life in such a short time and looked forward to every phone call, even if he did tend to make them at midnight and insisted on talking so long.

I found out by talking to him that our father had died of a heart attack summer of last year. Since I never got to talk to our father, Sean showed me our father through his eyes. Our father was Sean's hero. The man was far from perfect, but he always made time for Sean, taking him camping, fishing, tossing the ball around in the yard, barbecueing for Sean and his friends, and giving Sean advice that he respected. Sean didn't have an easy childhood, but he loved our father very much. Seeing him through Sean's eyes gave me a new picture of him, and let me know him in a different way than I'd remembered.

In December, Sean went in for surgery and found out that he had a rare type of non Hodgkins lymphoma. They caught it early, and he had a 90% chance of cure with chemotherapy. He went in for chemo last Monday. He was supposed to be in the hospital for a week. However, the doctor gave the medication incorrectly, administering the full dose, undiluted, into my brother's shunt, straight into his system with no buffer. Within hours, my brother was paralized. He was diagnosed as brain dead with no brain activity within days. This morning, they took him off of life support.

My brother was only 23 and wasn't supposed to die. He had just come into my life again, just to be taken away. I will miss our phone calls. I will miss talking to him. I am forever thankful that I got to have him in my life for the time that I did and that he showed me a part of our father that I never knew.

I found out through Sean that I also have another sister who just turned 11. I don't understand why I lost Sean, but I gained a father, a brother, a sister and a nephew when I found Sean again. I also gained people in his life who knew and loved him whom I will continue to get to know Sean through, through their memories of him.

Thank you, Sean, for being a part of my life the time that you were. You brought more to my life in the short time you were in it than you will ever know. I will miss you. I love you.

Sean Auchinachie
March 9, 1984 - February 6, 2008

Sean is survived in death by his son, Weston Auchinachie; his mother, Laura Auchinachie; his sisters, Cristine Auchinachie, Cynthia Robb, and Shannon Auchinachie; his nieces, Mariah Auchinachie, Kaylee Ann Jeffreys and Dezirae Auchinachie; and, by his family and friends throughout Utah and the US. Sean was preceded in death by his father, Harry Raymond Auchinachie, and by his much loved grandparents, John and Beverly Stock.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Live Big

In April of 2005, I was in a "going nowhere painfully slow" relationship that I'd been mired in for over 4 years. Sitting in front of the computer, wondering how long I was going to continue the path of my life the way it was, wondering what I was going to do with my life after I turned 35, and pondering my life up to that moment, I decided to look at prices for tickets to Anchorage for the following October. With credit card in hand, and totally on a whim, I offered $350 on Priceline for a ticket from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to Anchorage, Alaska. Fate smiled on me, and the price was accepted. I could stop here and say "the rest is history," but that would ruin the story, wouldn't it!

After I booked the ticket, there was no toning down my excitement or enthusiasm. I began to think about the things I wanted to do for the 10 days I would be in Alaska over my birthday. I began looking for places to stay, things to do, places to go, and fantasizing about how wonderful Alaska was going to be and what a life altering trip I was going to have. I wanted to see the hospital I was born in (Providence Hospital in Anchorage.) I wanted to see the home my parents lived on when I was born (off of Nelchina Street in Anchorage.) I wanted to take the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, a 10 hour train ride that would show me not only the coast, but the landscape changes from Anchorage north.

I spent all of my free time (ok, and some of my work day too) from the day I booked my ticket to the day I left for Anchorage researching what activities were available after tourist season ended. I found that all of the marine tours closed at the end of September, so no marine tour would be taken on my trip. I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to see whales, marine life, calving glaciers and the normal things that tourists look forward to seeing when they come to Alaska during the summer months. However, coming in October gave me the opportunity to see and do other things that tourists who come in the colder months get to do. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to act like I would if I lived in Anchorage, instead of acting like a total tourist. Because money was tight, I booked stays at youth hostels in Anchorage and Fairbanks. I bought tickets ahead of time for a play at Cyrano's Playhouse on 4th Avenue in Anchorage. I printed out all the bus routes I'd be using on the People Mover. I planned a day to visit the Anchorage Museum. I purchased my train tickets for the flagstop train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and decided to fly back from Fairbanks instead of taking the train so that I'd be able to spend additional time in Anchorage. I checked the tourism and travel website for Anchorage daily from April to October to see what was going on during all the months I wasn't there, and for the activities happening during the time I'd be there. I even read the Anchorage Daily News on a daily basis just to keep up on what was happening in Anchorage! I planned everything down to the minute, including time it would take me to drive places in my rental car, and how long I'd stay at the Museum of the North in Fairbanks. I drove all my friends nuts before my trip by talking about it non stop. My heart was firmly rooted in Alaska before my body was, and I didn't have any room in it for the "go nowhere relationship" I'd been participating in. The relationship finally ended for good a mere few weeks before the beginning of my trip. So, when I got on the plane to go to Alaska, I was open and ready for any and all opportunities and experiences I would have on my trip.

I had everything planned out: travel routes, time schedules, I'd even planned on attending a job fair when I was here, just to see what the job market was like. The thing I found though, is that life never really goes according to plan. My mother says that I'm a master of "planned spontaneity," and this trip was no exception. Yes, I had it all planned, but on the train ride, I met a lawyer and his new wife who told me something I will never forget. I was sitting there with my itinerary, and he said to me, "Cristine, sometimes you have to throw your itinerary out the window and take hold of random opportunities that afford themselves to you. More often than not, those small opportunities end up allowing you to have experiences you would have never dreamed of. To live big, you have to take big risks." Up to that point, I'd followed my plans to the letter. When I got to Fairbanks, I took that lawyer's words to heart and opened myself up to the Spirit of Alaska and let me take it where it led.

I met a wonderful Tlinkit Indian man at the youth hostel in Fairbanks. He was there for the Alaska Federation of Natives conference. He asked me to go to a place north of Fairbanks called Chena Hot Springs. Big city girl that I was, I imagined being taken by a man I didn't know into the wilderness of Alaska and being killed and buried where no one could find me. However, I had a dream that night that an eagle landed on my back, wrapped its wings around me, and just said the word "trust." The next morning, when Jeff came down the stairs wearing a sweatshirt with a native American symbol of an eagle on the front of it, I took that as a sign that going to Chena with him was the right thing, and what I was supposed to do.

Chena was amazing. I didn't even know that a place like that existed in Alaska, or that I'd meet someone as amazing as Jeff. He told me about the native peoples of Alaska, gave me an appreciation for their culture, their heritage, their humanity, their art, and their love of the land. He treated me better in 2 days than the man that I'd dated for almost 5 years, and he didn't want anything from me but my friendship. I didn't see the Northern Lights that night, but I was so happy, and my heart was so full, that if I had seen the lights that night, I think my heart would have burst from the joy.

The next day was my birthday, and as I headed back to Anchorage on the plane, I was still open for anything that came. When I got back to the youth hostel in Anchorage, I was invited by some new friends to go out of the night. After going to the Peanut Farm for dinner and to watch a game, we headed back to the youth hostel. Sue, the gal driving, looked up in the sky and said, "I think the Northern Lights are going to come out soon." All I saw was a cloud. She pointed out that it wasn't a cloud, as clouds don't "glow green." What followed was nothing less than a symphony of color across the black sky above. With every loop and twirl of color in the blackness above, I felt that this display was my invitation and welcome home to Alaska. It was the best birthday present that I've ever gotten.

We decided to go to Seward the next day. We stayed at the Hotel Seward, with all of us sharing a room on the floor where we shared a bathroom with the staff. I spent the day we were there walking around Seward and going to the Sealife Museum. On the way back to Anchorage so that I could catch my flight, we took a side trip to Exit Glacier, just outside of Seward. I watched my last sunset over the Cook Inlet, and it was time for me to head home.

I never did make it to the job fair or the Museum of the North. My trip the the Anchorage Museum was informative and insightful. The play at Cyrano's was so much fun and the environment was inviting and friendly. The flagstop train ride was such a blast. We stopped along the way to pick up travelers literally in the middle of nowhere, just to drop them, their dogs and their generators off in front of cabins just north of nowhere. In those 10 days during 2005, I felt more at home and more at peace and more grounded than I ever had in my life. I knew that I had to live in Alaska. The spirit of this place, when I opened myself to it, poured in and filled every cell of my being. Leaving Alaska and flying back to Virginia Beach, I felt my heart being ripped out of my chest. I was crying before the plane even taxied to the runway! The entire plane ride back to Virginia, I was making plans to move to Alaska. By my next birthday, I was living in Anchorage.

Now, two years after my initial trip, my life has changed in more ways that I could have ever imagined. I'm still in touch with some of the people I met at the youth hostels I stayed at here, and I will never forget the others I met that left their mark on my life during those 10 days. They will never know how much their kindness, friendship and advice changed my life and helped me become the person I am today, and who I will be in the future.

Walking boldly into 2008 with my arms open wide to all that life has to offer me, I'm excited about my life, excited about the friendships I will make this year, and the ones I will continue nurturing this coming year. I find myself more in love with Alaska than I thought possible and love it more every day. I've lived, truly lived, more in the past year and a half that I've been here than during my 35 years before my first trip here.

Alaska isn't just a place, it's an experience, a spirit, a way of life. Alaska is my heart.