Saturday, April 21, 2012

Big Top Circus Party for My Girls

 First, they wanted Pinkalicious...then it HAD to be Candyland...until they finally got crazy excited about the circus.  So circus it is.  The girls' birthdays are one week apart, and naturally, for any $$ saving mother, a joint party is a must.  The thing with joint parties, though, it needs to be special. Here is my attempt at special:

In keeping with the circus theme, a foodie feast was out of the agenda.  Instead, simple fare was had: corn dogs, french fries, popcorn, cotton candy, cupcakes, and assorted drinks! MIL and FIL's suggestion was genius! Why not just purchase the cupcakes and replace with my preferred cupcake liners? Total time saver!

I tried to get a variety of colors, to coincide with the soda bottle labels I purchased. Barker's Brew = Stewart's Root Beer, Strong Man Super Soda = Izze Sparkling Clementine Juice, Carnival Cider = Fruit Punch (found in international food aisle).

The girls each had their side of the serving table.

As thank you favors, a box of animal crackers!

Don't mind the corn dogs that haven't been put in their places yet.  heehee

The Mister and I decided to keep away from the circus slash carnival theme parties with a dozen midway game booths because we simply didn't have enough manpower to supervise all of them. Instead, we wanted more of the three-ring circus performance stuff.

Who knew that a PVC pipe, a pool noodle, a wooden board, and colored duct tape could transform into this "bongo" balance board? Super cute and super fun for the kids!

 Circus "high wire" made of a two by four, duck tape, and two bricks.

Balancing barrel fun!

We also had a photo "booth" with clown noses, silly hats, and giant bow ties for the kids to goof off in front of the camera.
(Liv and her friend...and yes, they are the same age. LOL)
 This little boy was a ham, trying on the different masks and demanding a picture each time! Too stink in' cute!

My eight year old and her friends from school.

 We only had a couple of games since they were occupied with the activity stations in the room.

 The egg relay race

classic pin the tail on the donkey

I was running around and prepping for this party for months, but still frantic until the very end.  Special kudos to my dear friend Jessi for saving the day and coming early to help me keep my wits about me.  The girls had a fantastic time, and seeing as how everybody else had a smile on their face, their guests as well.  Thank you to all our guests for coming and making my girls' day with your presence and your generous gifts.  Until next year!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Summer Adventure Plans

 I've gotta admit...watching the snow slowly recede from the sidewalks has hit me with a great case of spring fever! I want out of this house!!! Unfortunately, although those of you in the lower 48 and warmer locales are probably in shirts and shorts right about now, April and May are still considered shoulder season.  At this time, only wilderness and glacier cruises are up and running.  And considering Mister D and Soph are prone to seasickness, they're not really an option.  Good thing about this time, gives me the opportunity to plan and book and schedule for the summer months!

We've learned our lesson from last year. In Alaska, if you want to reserve something, last-minute planning will NOT work out for you.  Everyone else has the same idea and the same identical case of spring fever. NOW is the time to plan!

This is what we have so far:

The fam paid a short visit here last summer, only long enough to skip rocks and run along the shore. This time, it'll be a much bigger adventure. Imagine waking up to that in the morning!

 Three miles from the trailhead of the 12 mile lakeside trail is this public-use cabin:
With many many bears in the area, I am still way too nervous to try tent camping in AK.  I would sleep more soundly with solid walls between us and humongous meaty claws.  Yuditna Cabin, one of the two public-use cabins available for rental on the lake is a great option for us.  It sits lakeside, next to Yuditna Creek, which flows into the lake. 

The awesome thing about this? We can only reach this cabin by hiking, biking, ATV'ing, or kayaking.  I can't imagine lugging everyone's gear plus food three miles while the girls whined about how tired their mini legs are. So, we will be trying out our bikes plus a special attachment for Liv (more on that in a later post) and lug gear in a bike trailer to get there.  

The next day, we'll hike and possibly try our hands at kayaking. (Hoping it's not too windy)

 For Mister D's 14th birthday, we are taking our very first RV trip to Denali National Park!!!

We have reserved a spot in the Riley Creek campground and tickets for the Eielson shuttle bus into the park.  (8 hrs roundtrip is probably the limit of the girls' tolerance level). It's looking to be a wondrous four night adventure of hiking, bicycling, and exploring. Crossing our fingers McKinley gives us great photo ops!

Smaller goals for the summer:

We will bike the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and hopefully other ones in the Anchorage area.

We also want to hike more.  Hatcher's Pass and our favorite Winner Creek Trail.

Perhaps, this time, I'll have enough guts to cross the gorge on this hand tram. Eeeek.

The Mister and I have pledged to explore the outdoors more this summer.  We are not fond of the idea that our kids are being raised with too much television and video game exposure.  This is the perfect way to promote a healthy active lifestyle and enjoy the best things AK has to offer. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt at the Alaska Museum of Natural History

Easter is an annual event that is both a joyous and infuriating one for me.  Joyous, because as a Catholic, I believe it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Church service is always a happy occasion on Easter, especially when my youngest is in front of the congregation singing with the preschool choir (separate post). But what flips me over to the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is the egg hunts! You know, alongside the true reason for the holiday, others have sidled giant furry bunnies and dyed eggs as part of the celebration.

Really, though, how many of you parents are sick and tired of uber aggressive parents mowing other little ones over in the hopes of filling their own spoiled munchkins' baskets first? I, for one, am done with that. I often found myself filled with humility and hope, fresh out of Easter mass, suddenly balling up my fists ready to go postal on this dumb chick who shoved my baby over because they HAD to get the golden egg. 

This year, we took the mellow option of a scavenger hunt at the Alaska Museum of Natural History.  Total win-win.  The kids are nuts about dinosaurs and animals. They were able to go on a hunting adventure without the gaggle of other brats running around. And Momma Bear didn't feel the urge to punch someone in the mouth. Yay!

Kids admission was free.  Military discount available for adults.
Each child is handed a dry-erase marker and a clipboard with a laminated grid of 24 numbered blocks, with the instructions to find all 24 eggs, leave them be, and simply cross off the numbers they have found.

The Mister and I were merely chaperones as the girls' keen senses were far sharper than ours.

Sophie convinced Dylan to go with her as she was eager to get her list done before her little sister.

All in all, the search took about thirty minutes.  The placement of the eggs encouraged the kids to stay the surrounding exhibits. There were plenty of instances in which the girls got distracted from the lure of the egg hunt because of some cool dinosaur bone or stuffed mountain lion.

Now this place isn't of the Smithsonian level. Let's just get that out there.  It's fairly small. But admission is only several bucks. To the rear of the building, there is a children's play area complete with "digging" sites of rubber mulch that hid small "toy" dinosaurs.

I've already received numerous requests to return. It's looking to become a place to visit during the summer break. You AK locals should check it out as well!


Friday, April 6, 2012

A Place for Everything...Important Documents

I don't know how many times I've read of some type of disaster in the news: a house fire, a tornado, a flood.  The survivors cry, "We've lost everything. All of our pictures, our memories..."  The thought of losing my family's pictures filled me with an overwhelming wave of dread.  I needed to protect our memories!

And so this is how this one desire to keep cherished family pictures protected blossomed into a full-on document safekeeping/organization project.

Major purchase numero uno:

Sentry Safe Water and Fire Proof Safe

It cost less than forty bucks (small investment) and required the hubby's muscle to carry it to and from the car. 

First, I backed up every single picture into my external hard drive and popped it in the safe. Whew! Pictures safe!

Then I thought, well, I have all this space in there.  I DO have other important documents that need to be protected or at least in one location.

I grabbed the flimsy accordion file folder that held our family files (birth certificates, vehicle titles, transcripts, etc), labeled file folders, and got organizing.


Passports and social security cards fit nicely into this cute zip pouch I found for a dollar at Target. Note the little black external hard drive (the sole reason for the purchase of this safe) relegated to the lid. LOL

All important documents filed, checkbooks and deposit slips in another zip pouch, and frequent flyer cards slipped into an extra passport cover...tada!!!

Everything in its place. No rummaging around numerous file boxes, trying to find the ONE document you need NOW.  And they are safe. 

Oh, and to give you a dose of overkill, our emergency evacuation kit has a thumb drive with copies of these documents plus a bonus with our pictures as well.

How do you file your important documents?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Place for Everything...Suitcase Closet

 A suitcase closet? What??? Really, when you think about it, there ARE five members in this family and we DO travel quite a bit.

We have this small closet at the top of the stairs...lacking in shelves or even a simple hanging rod.  The Mister and I had originally planned on installing shelves in there, but since all the studs were in awkward places and we didn't really want to put wall anchors in yet again, we ended up nixing the idea.  Then we cleaned up the garage and we had one extra freestanding shelf with nowhere to put it.

Before this, our suitcases were jammed under the crawl space of the stairs.  We had to squeeze in there somehow and lug out the pieces we needed when a trip was in the books. Wouldn't it be nice to just open a door and see every piece of luggage you have and simply pull it out when you want it?

And the suitcase closet came to be!

Frankly, there's not much to explain here. The hubby's deployment bags are consolidated on the top shelf. Carry-ons, the girls' Trunki's and their backpack booster seats, full-size pieces, overnight bags, garment bag, even Roxy's carry-on pet carrier are all plain view...easily accessible.

Whoever said there's not enough storage space in base housing?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Snowmachining + Remote Cabin + Melting Lake = Another Great Alaska Adventure!

Hopping on a snowmobile (snowmachine in Alaska terms) never made it to my bucket list even when we discovered we would be moving up here.  Why? Well, for one, snowmobile tours up here require a minimum age of 8 years old to ride with a parent. Second, the average cost per rider runs up to $200 for a couple-hour joyride. Eeeek.

Well, the beautiful thing about the military and honorary AF commanders is that they provide opportunities for a great time we normally wouldn't even consider. In this case, our gracious and generous honorary CC invited the squadron on a snow machining jaunt to his private cabin on Red Shirt Lake in the vast Nancy Lake State Recreation Area in Willow.

Now, let me explain why this is just the coolest thing.  In the summertime, this cabin is completely inaccessible unless by floatplane into the lake. In the winter, it is a 30 minute snow machine ride from the Nancy Lake Park public parking lot, through wooded trails and over three or four other small lakes and across Red Shirt. Food and beverages are provided by our host. And the use of the snow machines pooled together by fellow sq members and the host were free of charge. How could we say no?

Miss Liv outiftted in her face mask and goggles (thank you REI dividend and seasonal clearance sale!), ready to rock and roll!

We were prepared to hold them in front of us on these skidoos until this wonder came along...

This is genius!!! My nightmares of a munchkin flying from my grasp dissolved into thin air! This pod seats two little ones on a padded bench seat, seat belts, and a bit of cargo space towards the front.

The big BearCat snowmobile pulled this along, the Mister driving, with me in the backseat.

Dylan partnered up with an experienced rider, although he did drive the first five miles. When we got here at Bald  Lake (?) to regroup, they switched off and he was more than happy to just ride in the back when driving across frozen bodies of water.

The scenery was gorgeous. There were many many times I was tempted to pull my phone out and take some pictures or video, but knowing my luck, we'd jump a bump in the process and my white-cased phone would be lost forever. :-(

Riding across the lakes was a bit unnerving, considering that this IS springtime and it was only a matter of weeks...days even, before the park closes the trail we were on because of melting ice.

We got to the cabin, a well-appointed one by backcountry standards (electricity and heat but with a vault toilet outhouse).

This is Red Shirt Lake. The mountains off in the distance? That's where we rode in from. 

Snowman making and snowball fights took up the majority of the day.

Another great view from the upstairs cabin deck.

It was all fun and games with hot dogs on the grill and beef and turkey chili later in the afternoon.
Many of us hopped on the machines and went for a spin around.

And then after a warm, sunny, glorious day, more telltale signs of spring decided to make things interesting:

See the slushy parts? Yep, that's the lake. 
We were in clear danger of not making it out of there that night. When the drivers came back from one of the last departure legs, they also informed us the park rangers already pulled the trail markers from the middle of the lake.  Meaning....we were on that lake the very very last day it was safe to be on it. LOL (all of you know I laugh when I'm nervous). The guys who frequent this area just shrugged and said that we simply need to gun it across, as slowing down will mean a cold watery death that night. Hahaha funny. NOT.

As the last leg out, we screeched out of there at quarter to nine, going as fast as we could without joggling the girls' noggins too much.  Big big sigh of relief once we were on terra firma. We got to the parking lot at dusk, with just enough daylight to load the machines on their trailers.

On the drive home, the big discussion was if the viewing of the Aurora still topped our Alaska adventure list.  Seeing something so beautiful, I never once thought it would lose its place as THE number one Alaska experience. Funny enough, a day trip that we almost decided not to participate in won hands down.