Monday, February 28, 2011

What in the Heck is a Fur Rondy?

One of the most anticipated events at this corner of the world, the Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy as locals call it, started in 1935 as a three-day sports tournament that coincided when fur trappers and miners congregated in Anchorage to conduct their business.

Today, the original three days have been stretched out into a two-week activity-filled festival including dog sled races, outhouse races (see below), ice sculpture contests, cultural expos, and even a little carnival for the munchkins.

The Fam bravely ventured out into the cold (with much preparation of course!) to get a feel for it.  The main agenda, though, was to witness the infamous Outhouse Races. Teams construct an "outhouse" complete with toilet that must be raced down the snowy course (a city block) to turn around and race back.  Military squadrons participate every year, as well as the local restaurants on 4th (Humpy's, RumRunners, etc.). Many others enter to race, even one who was running for local office.

Before the races begin, each team gets announced and they parade down the block, tossing beads and candy to the spectators. Then they group like teams...i.e., military teams, restaurant their respective heats.  Winners of each heat advance to the final rounds.

We decided to cheer for the folks in the flight suits.  (I love flight suits, or should I say, men looking the way they do in flight suits. teeeheehee)

  The girls in a train ride at the carnival a block down from the races.  Note the happiness on my babies' faces. Of course, as most of you know, the older one was the exact opposite thirty minutes later. More on the endangered toes fiasco HERE.

We don't plan on returning until next weekend.  We will be watching the Running of the Reindeer (yep, just like the bull version in Spain, but not as dangerous), hopping on a dog sled ride or two, and maybe even a helicopter ride.

Doesn't it make you just want to come on over and visit? :-)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Bite of Alaska: Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria

When the Mister checked us in to temporary lodging, the well-intentioned man behind the desk slipped a list of local restaurants over to him, pointed to a "Sicily's Pizza," and gave the trust-me-I've-been-here-awhile look, " You'll be calling this often."

Now, either that guy has a stomach of steel and deadened taste buds or he was just a simple @ssh0le playing cruel pranks on newcomers...but that place was downright sh!tty. Again, Google came to the rescue. (Oh, my beloved search engine, how do I love thee?)

 Moose's Tooth, on 33rd and Seward, is the type of pizzeria we were looking for.  All sizes, even the small pizzas can be ordered half and half (yay, for my girls' teeny tiny stomachs).  The menu is loaded with tons of choices, it was so hard to settle on one.  We finally came to this consensus:  Half Greek Gyro(deconstructed gyro--lamb/tzaziki sauce/feta)/Half Chipotle Steak and Half Popeye(spinach/red bell peppers/feta/mozzarella/mushrooms)/Half Blackened Rockfish (yes, folks, Sophie loves anything seafood).  All were deeelish. 

Dylan, our bottomless pit of a son, of course was the only one who had room for dessert, and he opted for the Glacier Bear Cheesecake.  It is a frozen honey cheesecake, topped with cinnamon, with a praline graham cracker crust.  Wow!

All beers, including the root sort, are drafted in-house, and can even be taken home in jugs.  As we were currently burdened blessed with the company of little ones, the Mister and I only guzzled sampled the root beer. Loved it!

We plan on many returns for both family and big kid dates. Count on coming here if any of you decide to visit!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blue Little Toesies

  And here is the intro to Fam Och's first arctic emergency of sorts.  First off, I'll remind you of Miss Sophie's serious aversion to socks....anyone see where this is going? We spent the last three days visiting and re-visiting the local sporting goods stores building up our cold weather wardrobes in preparation of Fur Rondy (post on that later). We were all equipped with what we needed to survive hours outside in 12 degree weather.

So this morning, after putting base layer, turtleneck, performance fleece, down jacket, shell, and snowpants on her, I handed Sophie her wool socks.  She wrinkled her nose, but I gave her the I-put-you-into-this-world... look and she begrudgingly put them and her boots on.

Fast forward four hours later...we had been enjoying the Fur Rondy festivities during this period, interspersed with periodic forays into souvenir stores and tour guide offices to warm up.  We were at the carnival, the temps had plunged down another 5 degrees and the wind started picking up. The Mister and I agreed to call it a day once D stepped off the ride he was on, when Sophia planted herself in front of me, tears streaming down her face.

She was cold, she said, and her feet hurt.

Okay, we're headed to the parking garage right now, anyway.  Get in the stroller, and Dad will just carry Liv.

Walking through the parking garage, I immediately felt the relief of shelter and the warmth flooding back into my extremities.  But Sophie's cries intensified. You know those alarm bells instilled in every mother? Well, yeah, they made their presence known, loudly.  Instead of strapping her in her seat, I plopped her down on the passenger seat and grabbed a hold of her boot...

Despite the obvious pain she was in, guilt flooded her eyes, and she said, "Sorry."

Right then, without taking a look, I just freakin' knew.  I pulled her boot off and confirmed that my disobedient monster did NOT have any socks on. Her foot looked yellow and waxy shiny. Not good. Along the speedy way to the emergency room, out came the tearful confession of sneaking off to remove them and hide the key to keeping her feet attached to her body under the couch.

Visions of my amputee daughter ran through my panic.

Thankfully, her toes did NOT turn blue or black...but pink...but not until after a lukewarm foot bath administered by the ER angels. Another hour out there could have resulted differently. The doc officially diagnosed it as "chill blains"? a form of pre-frostbite. She received numerous lectures from him, the Mister and I, and even D (he was scared for her). 

Fam Och will still continue on our arctic adventures, but apparently it must include frequent sock checks. Boo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bite of Alaska: The Cake Studio

When we asked a fellow to guide us to some good eats in the area, he clearly didn't realize our, let's say, developed taste in food when he pointed us to Longhorn Steakhouse (of all places).  Fam Och isn't interested in restaurant chains serving up the same tired menu.  Local mom and pop hole-in-the-walls, or trendy little boutique eateries...anything really that strays from the norm...that's what we want!

So, of course, I turn to a more reliable source...Google! Go figure, and here I thought conversing with those who have lived here longer would help. Thanks to my beloved search engine, Discovery Fave #1 was found.  The Cake Studio (click here to visit) sits on 4th Ave, a block away from the Visitor's Center in downtown Anchorage.  Boy, oh, boy, the delectable treasures that beckoned to us!

There are two display cases, the first full of chocolate confections, with the bottom shelf presenting blocks of specialty chocolate stacked atop each other.  If you can tear yourself away from the siren song of handmade candies and fudge, the second display case holds pastries and mini-cakes, all beautifully prepared.  The one that caught my eye:  Bacon Cheesecake.  Yep, folks, bacon!

Gosh, and how do you describe it? The Mister and D both wrinkled their noses at it, but at least they tried. I, on the other hand, thought it was glorious! The soft dark chocolate crust, the creamy smooth cheesecake, and the generous bits of bacon all melded together in a sweet, salty, creamy harmony followed by a smoky aftertaste. Nom nom nom. 

In addition to their bites of heaven, they offer quality cooking chocolate, tea tins, genuine muscovado sugar, and even those long taper birthday candles! Check this place out if you're a local, or plan on me taking you there when you come to visit!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Club Organizer!

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.
A. A. Milne

You all know my organizer obsession. Well, here's a cute find I discovered while browsing Uwajimaya in downtown Seattle. Just had to share for those participating in a book club!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We have Landed!

The Fam has arrived in Alaska!

Here are my first impressions of our new home:

1) As much as I hyped it up to anybody and everybody who would listen, I was still taken aback by the temperature.  Yeah, Utah faced similar temps while we were there, but we always knew it would only last a week at most.  I suppose it's knowing this degree of cold is constant nine months out of the year that makes it feel much much colder.
Lessons learned: 

--Do not step out without a head covering.  Doing so is much akin to slurping a mega-sized Icee non-stop, without the yummy sweet taste in your mouth.

--When the wind blows towards you, inhale short breaths just enough to keep you oxygenated.  Breathing in deeply actually takes your breath away (do you think it's because the air temporarily freezes your lungs?).

2) Driving is gonna be a bitch! Utah has somewhat prepared me....somewhat...It seems the roadways are covered with ice.  Not the patches you find here or there in UT.  They are a constant presence, lining 80% of the roads...along the sides, in the middle, especially on curves. Lovely. Parking lots have a perpetual snow/ice pack across its entirety.  Pick a space, any space, just as long as you fit and make a somewhat straight line, it's a spot! And, you might even want to leave your car running while you run in (as I've seen quite a few). This is going to be the greatest challenge, I predict.  I am an Asian woman, people! Watch the eff out!

Lessons learned:

--If you can't see the lane markers, (two-three-four lanes? hmmm?) just drive on the left or right most lane and pray it's not a turning one.

--Just because you are on the brink of a panic attack behind the wheel on a highway does not mean everyone else will coddle you and ease up on the gas while driving by. These Alaskans are seasoned drivers and it just does not do any good to your current state of mind to get your feelings hurt when they shoot you a dirty look (or finger) when they whizz on by.

3) This place is beautiful. And we haven't even explored past ten miles around the base. Mountains to the east, the bay to the west (like UT) but with much more trees.  I can't even imagine the splendor this place holds outside of what I've seen.

Lesson learned:

--Change is always a constant. There will be numerous things that seem strange or difficult or annoying...and it's always good to acknowledge them. But overcoming these new challenges will be much easier when you keep a positive mind. So, smile, take in the beauty, and look forward to the gift of new memories this place holds.

With love, from Alaska,

Monday, February 14, 2011

Orlando Vacation Part I

Since we were vacationing with another family (of four), we figured the best way for us to spend time together outside of park hopping was to opt for a vacation rental.  We were not disappointed, as this particular unit, in the Windsor Hills gated community just a ten minute drive from the parks, was spectacular.

The place was beautifully decorated and every little detail considered.  Flat screen HDTVs in each bedroom with an XBox 360 and a Nintendo Wii.  Sleeps twelve!!! Two master suites plus three additional bedrooms upstairs and another bedroom downstairs.

 We had our own private pool with a spa.  I appreciated the child safety enclosure, and the price of the rental included pool heating (it was mighty chilly while we were there).

This was the girls' bedroom.  There were even Disney princess costumes hanging in their closets to play with.

  The eat-in kitchen with the family room.  The appliances were all new.  Folks with babies have a crib, high chair, baby monitor, bottle sterilizer at their disposal.  There is a full sized washer and dryer, and a Harley Davidson themed game room with pool and foostable in the garage. Family board games, books, and Blu-ray DVDs were also there for our use. 

No detail was spared and we will stay no where else should Fam Och visit Orlando again!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Let New Adventures Begin!

As Utah settled into a deep windy freeze, Fam Och and the trusty Explorer loaded to the brim with suitcases drove up and away into the first leg of the journey. First destination:  Hood River, Oregon...not exactly a midway point to say the least, but it seemed a nice little place to settle in after ten hours of road tripping.

The kids were great, complaining only during the last thirty minutes of the trek about stiff legs and boredom.  We checked into the Comfort Suites of Hood River exhausted and relieved. The place was nice enough with two queens and a pull out sofa sleeper, free continental breakfast, and an indoor swimming pool (we were way too tired to even consider that amenity).  Only complaint: bathroom was uber tiny, only one person can stand in it.

Anyway, the next day involved a much shorter drive from Hood River to Seattle and so we decided to do a little sightseeing along the way.  First stop: Multnomah Falls.

Look familiar? What movie was this falls featured in?

From Hood River, driving west, we exited onto the Columbia River Highway, the historic road that runs parallel to I-84. There were three other falls we drove past, one with search and rescue teams and a news crew (umm, we'll stay away from that one), but our main goal was to see Multnomah. We had driven past this place two years ago from a beach vacation on the Oregon coast, but the kids were asleep in the car then so all we could do was pull over at the exit and take pics from the parking lot. We are so glad we went in for a closer look this time.

We didn't realize the first tier of the waterfalls was the only thing visible from the roadway.  From a closer vantage point, we could see not only the first tier and the bridge, but also a lower second tier. It was a chilly chilly morning that day, but the sight was well worth the momentary blue pallor we all acquired from standing out there.

 Next came a short drive into Portland to what is known as the Grotto, or The Sanctuary of the Sorrowful Mother. Story goes a mother lay dying after giving birth to a baby daughter.  Her young son ran off into the woods and tearfully prayed for God to save her, promising to dedicate his life in His service.  The mother survived, the boy became a priest, and built this place to further honor his promise.  The grounds are located on a wooded cliffside with a chapel and a trail with stations of the cross sculptures along it.  Most famous,
though, is the grotto carved into the cliff wall with a replica of Michelangelo's Pieta.  In the summer, Sunday mass is held in this area. Visitors may also purchase elevator tokens to ride to the top of the cliff where an extensive botanical garden sits.

This was an excellent way to further teach Sophia about our faith. She has been expressing her own curiosity, reading her children's Bible out of her own accord, and asking questions. I think she was able to grasp what this place symbolized.

Next up, the 2.5 hr drive to Seattle. We checked into Hyatt Place, two blocks from the Space Needle. We quickly unloaded the luggage in the room, and headed over to...

...where else do you go when you first get to Seattle? The Space Needle, of course! What luck we had! I've been to the O deck several times before...and each and every stinkin' time, all you saw was a dull gray haze AND it was drizzling.  Well, this time, thank goodness, it was a calm, clear sky.  You can even see Mt. Rainier in the back! Miracle of all Seattle miracles!

While the Mister and I loved the view from the outer deck, the kiddos were a little nervous about how high we were. They mostly enjoyed the interactive exhibits in the inner deck, zooming the cameras into the downtown neighborhoods, identifying the big pink elephant car wash near our hotel.

It was definitely a full day. We purchased a CityPass but we can't redeem the rest of the tickets until Friday since Thursday was spent picking up a rental car and driving to Tacoma to process the Explorer for shipment to Alaska.  More to report...coming soon!