Monday, July 30, 2012

Our lovely dresser-top decor...

I have a few websites that I follow.  Daily.  I really like them.  Sometime I'll compile a list for you.  For today I just wanted to let you know about  They're an offshoot of, which I was too interested in when organizing our wedding.  I belonged to their social network.  I stalked the website so I could devour each new post as soon as it was there...  Ah, memories...

Anyway, one of the features on OffBeatHome is "Monday Moments".  According to Megan Finley, "Moments are little places of special cohesive design that make you feel happy. They can be specially decorated corners of your home, altars set up just so, a bathroom wall, or a neat combination of objects."  

And so now, I present to you, my moment...

I put together this little happy area a few months ago using only items we already had - mostly from wedding decorations.  My mom made the fabric runners for the tables, we had little H's around for our last name, I put a bird on it  (without knowing that was a thing) with some adorable birdie figurines, and I made organza flowers which we put into cylinders & vases that Tina & I covered in lace.  I bought that frame for super cheap when Borders was going out of business, and the rose was given to me by Jeff on our third date.  I need to research the possibility of preserving that - maybe dipping in lacquer?  Hanging on the wall are the LOVE hanging that I bought for wedding decor, the faith frame which was given to us by a couple from church, and a funky mirror that came in a set of 3 for $9 from Kirkland's many many moons ago.  I did all this one afternoon when Jeff & Rhy were out and about running errands.  

What's even better is that on Saturday my wonderful husband cleaned up all the crap that had accumulated there leaving behind this wonderful Moment.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mmm, birthday fondue...

My honey brought me to The Melting Pot for my birthday.  We skipped the entree so we could have room for chocolate!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

As for the rest of our time in Fairbanks...

We spent 4 nights in Fairbanks, but that may have been too much time.  Really, there's not a whole lot to it.  And it's definitely not on my "Places To Live" list.  It's just not an attractive place.  Up in the cold winters in Alaska they don't spread salt on the roads; it doesn't get warm enough for the salt to do its job.  What do they put down instead?  Gravel.  Yep, gravel.  And it ain't pretty.  We were there the end of June, and the roads had not yet been cleaned.  Buh.

So why go to Fairbanks?  It's a jumping off point.  North to the Arctic Circle, and East to North Pole.
Yes, North Pole.  Guess who we saw there...
Santa had a bit of a Jersey accent...
Yep, we met Santa at North Pole.  Nice guy.

Fun fact from my childhood: 
Where we lived when I was a kid there was a long hallway from the living room to Mom & Dad's bedroom.  From the head of their bed Mom could see all the way to the couch and end table.  One Christmas - I was probably 4 or 5 years old - I snuck out of my room on Christmas Eve and hid under the end table.  I hid so I could get to see Santa!  But Mom saw me from her bedroom and told me to go back to bed.  *Sad*  All I wanted to do was meet Santa!  But Mean Ol' Mom (you know that's what MOM stands for, right?) sent me back to bed.  I had to travel all the way to North Pole, Alaska, just to meet Santa.  True story.

However, I have overcome adversity.  Finally I have met Santa Claus!  But I looked horrible so you will never see photographic proof...

The Santa Claus House is really cool, if you like Christmas, which I do!  So many ornaments and decorations!  It's really cool.  If you ever get up to North Pole, go to the Santa Claus House.  Santa is there until 6 daily.  Tell him Kristin sent you.

Just watch out for the polar bear...
once again, Jeff narrowly escapes bear attack in Alaska...
Then go for dinner at the Pagoda.  Best Chinese food I've ever had.  EVER.  Not kidding.  I'm not usually a big fan of Chinese food, but someone said to get Chinese food in North Pole (me: "What's the name of it?"; them: "It's North Pole; there's only one."  BTW - there are at least two Chinese restaurants in North Pole) and we ended up there.  It's also the restaurant that Guy Fieri went to on "Diners, Drive Ins, & Dives".  I've never watched his show, but yes, it was excellent food.

Speaking of, we went to The Cookie Jar in Fairbanks, another restaurant featured on that show.  Again, good food.  I think if Jeff had to chose between me and the dinner role, he would have spent quite some time thinking about his decision.  He loved those dinner roles!

Hmmm, what else did we do?  We went to Pioneer Park
which was a big bust (totally not worth the time we spent there), but Jeff did get to have some Korean food and he drove a dog sled
(not really).

We easily found the WELS Lutheran Church, which looked really cool.  Too bad we weren't there for Sunday Service.  Jeff's pastor knows their pastor.
Fairbanks Alaska WELS Lutheran Church
The wonderful owners of The Aurora Express let us check in early after our overnight to the Arctic Circle!  Everyone give her some love!  We were only there two nights, but slept three times  :-)  and if we ever went back we would most definitely stay there again.  I felt really tired after the long trip North and the hot days in Fairbanks, so I didn't get too many pictures of the place, but here, enjoy!

We stayed in the caboose of a train!  It's on tracks and everything.  As you can see, they've refurbished the place.  No air conditioning, but it was out in the country and we slept with the door open, plus the windows in the upstairs observation deck were always open.  We went up there both evenings and just chilled out.
It was barely out of town, up on a hill, and the view, to the East, was...
Not bad, huh?

As we wasted time until we turned in the rental vehicle, we went downtown and Jeff wanted to make sure we got pictures of the Inuit Statue.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was glad to be leaving Fairbanks.  But was I ready to spend 12 hours on a train to Anchorage?

See the full itinerary here...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our first trip on the Alaska Railroad and Driving the Dalton!

All Aboard!  We took the train from Denali to Fairbanks.  If felt like a very long trip at times, but we were up on the side of the mountain for part of it, so, yes, it was slow tracks.  I will spare you the details of the train ride because, well, it was part of that Gray Line tour package, and suffice it to say, the train ride was a large part of why we didn't like the package tour.  Also, when you're on a train ride with a lot of your family and even more strangers, please don't blast your cultural music.  And if you're a tour guide, please don't let a rude family ruin everyone else's expensive train ride...

And now, the reason we're all here...  Pictures!
When leaving Denali Natl Park, the train travels along the Nenana River.  You can see the area where the train travels halfway up the bank on the right.

We stayed at the Westmark in Fairbanks.  There are two parts to the hotel; we were in the new part.  Nice looking room, but weird layout.  Let's just say that we had to move some furniture b/c the layout was wonky.

The next day we did one of the coolest things of the whole two weeks...

So, do you watch "Ice Road Truckers"?  You know the one, where they have semi truck drivers driving way up north during the winter, driving on winter roads and frozen bodies of water.

Yep, they're crazy.

But if you've seen it, you know what the Dalton Highway is.  The Haul Road.

We totally drove the Haul Road.  Awesome, I know.  We went to the Arctic Circle for the summer solstice.  Most rental vehicle companies won't let you take their vehicles off the highway.  We rented from Arctic Outfitters, and our s.u.v. had 2 full-size spare tires, big ol' mudflaps, and a C.B. radio!

We left Fairbanks around 2 pm.  We stopped at this place at Joy, AK and used the (ew!) outhouses.  I do not recommend it.  I can now say with all certainty that I will never willingly use an outhouse again.  I'd rather squat on the side of the road.

Jeff's dad always had a Milepost when they would travel in Alaska.  It's an annual book about road conditions and tells you, by the mile-marker, about the road, changes in grade, curves, pull offs, scenic views, dangerous areas, etc.  Jeff made sure we had one for our trip.  As the navigator, my job was to watch for mile-markers and let Jeff know what was coming.  I probably should have chilled out a little, but I was so darned scared that we'd end up in the ditch or something, I took my job very seriously.  And just FYI, even though it's called a highway, it's not like those of us from the Lower 48 would think of a highway.  It's mostly gravel.  Like a country road.  Not a fan.

The trip was well worth it.  It took about 6 hours to get from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle, not including the time we spent at the Yukon River Camp.  We stopped there for lunch and fuel.  It looks like a dump, but lets think about the weather up there most of the year and we can all understand why it looks run down.  I was so happy they had a real toilet that I didn't care how not-nice it was - at least it wasn't an outhouse.  The guy who waited on us on turned on the gas pump was really nice.  If you're headed to the Arctic Circle, stop at the Yukon River Camp.
Drunken Forrest
In the tundra the ground doesn't thaw evenly.  It can cause trees to tip to one side or the other.  They're just fine, and the next year they may end up upright or leaning to the other side, but they do look drunk.  Hence the name Drunken Forrest.  They're all over up in the North.
Alaskan Oil Pipeline
The Dalton was built in order to allow workers to service the Pipeline.  But you can't always see it.  In fact, sometimes it passes beneath the road.

worth it for the views

Jeff put his toes in the Yukon River, and so did I

bridge over the Yukon River

Across from the Yukon River Camp is a rest area.  You drive under the pipeline to get to it.  Beware mosquitoes.

Hmmm...  is the road wide enough for both of us?

Finger Mountain

12:01 AM at the Arctic Circle.  Notice the sun has not yet set.  Yes, it says 59 degrees, but that's not accurate.  We didn't have 3G access, so our temps were always wrong on our phones.  According to the Escape, it was 76 degrees out.  At midnight.  At the Arctic Circle.  Huh?
3:36 AM
We got back to Fairbanks around 4:30 AM and we slept in the Escape in the WalMart parking lot.  Closest to camping I ever want to get...

See the full itinerary here...

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We've since moved to Alaska!  Read about Our Alaska Life here...

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Happy graduation party!

Today was Kiaj & Ale's graduation party.  We are so proud of Kiaj, already in college, out on her own.  Congratulations Kiaj!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I love me some good deals!

Monday will be my birthday.  Today I had a free sandwich at the Glass Nickel.  Woo hoo!  Free lunch!  How did I manage that?  I signed up for their PizzaMail!  And Glass Nickel sent me an e-mail for a buy-one-get-one-free.  My coworker bought her BLT, and I got mine free.  Yum!

I can also get free noodles at Noodle & Co, free ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, a free stir fry at FlatTop Grill, free dessert at BWW, and a free shake from Arby's for my birthday.  Yes, I do feel spoiled?

Do you want to be spoiled for your birthday too?  Just go to the websites of your favorite restaurants, and even stores, and join their "club"*.  And then wait for the birthday freebies to show up in your inbox!

*you may want to set up an e-mail specifically for internet sign ups, if you don't already have one, because you know your info will get sold...

My top 3 birthday freebie favorites:

What are your favorite birthday freebies?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

2 for 1! Create-A-Craft and Around-The-House!

Welcome to a new segment on the old "And all the other stuff..." blog.


Hmmm, I'll work on that logo more for next time.

Anyway, remember how in my first entry I wanted to share some craft projects with you?  Well, here's the first!

I went to Alaska wanting to get some nice magnets.  Seems like that's what I've bought on vacations - you always have them displayed, they're useful, they don't cost much, and they don't take up much space in your suitcase - so I wanted to get some from our Alaskan Honeymoon.  The crazy part is, well, they didn't have a whole lot of ones that I liked.  Or that weren't cheapy.  What to do???

I had read a travel blog to check out the "Alaska" section at Wal*Mart - same souvenirs for a smaller price tag.  It was true!  And I found some nice ornaments.  And one of them was just the magnet that I had been looking for...  Luckily, it had a flat back.

How to turn a Christmas Ornament into a Refridgerator Magnet

Here's what you need:
  • Magnets
  • Super Glue (or your preferred strong-holding glue)
  • Ornament of your choice
First, you have to take off whatever the ornament hangs from.  This one had a little bitty screw hanger that I was able to use needle-nose pliers to take out.  So add "needle-nose pliers" to your ingredient list; they're also helpful for opening an O-ring or cutting off whatever.  

Next, figure out where you will place the magnets, and how many - you want to make sure it has a strong hold and won't fall off of your refrigerator, hitting your toe and making you cuss, because if the wrong people are around, that could be very embarrassing.

Next, use your glue - however the instructions tell you - on the magnet and then place glue-side-down on the ornament.  If you use too much glue, it will come out from between the ornament and the magnet.  For this reason, you may want to use a protective surface so you don't ruin your nice wooden table.  I chose the ever-popular Plastic Tote Lid.
photo credit goes to Rhy
Let the glue dry for the appropriate amount of time and viola
a really cute Alaska magnet!  Probably made in China...  Do you have any Christmas ornaments that you love so much you want to keep them out all year long?  Turn them into a magnet!  Then send me a picture!

I also have a wooden puffin key chain that I want to turn into a magnet, but it's rounded on all sides.  I'ma gonna need to get my hands on a sander or something to make that work.

(notice how I didn't try for cuteness there?  I'll spare you until I actually make a logo)

We have a small place for 3 people to live, which causes clutter to really pile up.  That and I'm really not so good at the housekeeping-type chores.  Really not big on cleaning at all.  But the living room always needs to be cleaned up, and darn it!  I'm proud that I actually did it!



Not a huge change, but noteworthy.  Notice how there is a "Before" and a "During" but no "After"?  That's because I'm not done.  We have pictures all framed and ready to go up on the wall.  I got 5 of them up, but have some more wall-decorating to do before the big reveal.  Stay tuned (in a few weeks probably) for the Final After reveal!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fox and caribou and wolves - oh my!

6AM on June 19th and we were boarding the bus to head out of Kantishna, out of Denali National Park.  This time we knew what side of the bus would give us the best view *happy face* and since we were traveling in the morning, there was more animal activity.

Two hours in and we arrived at Eielson again.  It really is a beautiful place.  Mt. McKinley was still a bit hidden, but it was a nice day. 
view from Eielson Visitor Center

We tried to get pictures of the park road, and how it was pretty much straight down about a foot outside the bus.
yeah, that's straight down...
The pictures just don't do the road justice.  Twisty turny halfway up a mountain...  We were told that they selected the path of the road for the view, not ease of use.  And man, the view was wonderful.

We did get to a place where we could still see Mt. McKinley, and it was (mostly) clear!
Mt. McKinley is the white one...

And now, what you all came here to see - animals!

this fox was a mix - silver and red.  his tail looked like a red panda's tail.
This little guy was just off the side of the road.  He didn't care that we were there, he just sat and paid attention to his surroundings.  He was keeping an eye on a little varmint somewhere off the road, and we moved on once he went after it.  Jeff saw on the park's facebook page that he did have his meal...

So many caribou.  Do you know the difference between caribou and reindeer?  Reindeer can fly!  But scientists say that they are identical in DNA.  While watching the caribou on the snow, we got word that were were wolves up ahead in the creek bed!  So off we went...

do you see all three?
At first I couldn't see the wolves.  They were so far away and blended in with the landscape you had to watch for movement.  We traveled the same direction as the wolves for quite a while, and were eventually close enough to get some decent photos.

Bears in different parts of the state eat different things.  Bears at Denali eat a lot of plants.  They dig up roots.  Sometimes they catch a ground squirrel.  It's the different food that makes their fur a lighter color than Kodiak bears, for example.

Our time at the Backcountry Lodge was really great.  That fact became more and more apparent once we got out of the park and dumped into a big ball of tourists.  As we were surrounded by people at the hotel (McKinley Chalet - never ever go there), at restaurants, on the train, I kept wishing I was back in that big vast area of nature.  Next time, more than 2 nights...

Oh, one more thing - Jeff got attacked by a bear...

but don't worry, he's okay.

Up next, driving the Haul Road and sleeping in a caboose!

See the full itinerary here...

Miss you.

Grampa was born on 7-17-1917.  That's a cool birthday.  Grampa had 94 of them.  Today would have been 95.  He passed away this spring. 

I joined since I find history to be quite interesting, and even though I'm not going to keep my subscription, I learned some things that I didn't know.  For example, Grampa was a store clerk.  It says so on his WWII Army Enlistment Record.  His grandfather lived with them when Grampa was a 13, according to the 1930 census.  I also know how tall he was as a young man, you know, before life made him even shorter.  :-)

Speaking of draft card, Grampa served in WWII in the European Theater in the US Army.  The story I heard was that they were marching, and he saw a truck of guys drive past them.  He asked who they were, and when he got the answer "The cooks," he decided he wanted to be a cook in the army.  He once asked one of our German exchange students if they have popcorn in Germany, because when he was over there he showed popcorn to an old woman who had never seen it before.

Grampa met Grama after returning from the war.  They look so darn happy in the photo from their wedding day.  About 13 months later, Dad was born.  Four years later, they added a daughter.

They farmed, had animals, and survived & celebrated life, just like everyone else.  In the grand scheme of things, he won't be remembered by the world.  He won't end up in a history book.  He wasn't an inventor or a politician.  But he was important:  He was my Grampa, he is loved, he is missed, and he'll be remembered by his family.
Grampa & my sister

Monday, July 16, 2012

I spotted a moose! Also - check out that rack!

We had a two night stay at the Backcountry Lodge.  I think it was a great choice, but I didn't know how good of a choice until we had left.  This lodge is in the middle of nowhere.  Every day when a bus of guests arrives, it brings food and supplies.  They can't just run to the store - it's either a 6 hour trip to the entrance of the park or an expensive charter flight.  We are talking remote.

There was the main lodge where we ate and could relax.  The upstairs was a couple of large living room areas with couches, chairs, books, games, etc.  There is no TV out there.  There is no cell phone service out there.  We were off the grid.

Why was this great?  Because we weren't surrounded by people.  We weren't surrounded by souvenir stores.  We were surrounded by nature.  Now, I am by no means an outside girl.  Sure, I was raised by farmers, but it doesn't mean that I liked it.  Jeff & I don't go hiking.  I don't hunt/fish/camp.  But at the Backcountry Lodge, that's okay.  If you want to go off and hike all day - great!  They'll pack you a lunch.  If you want to get a ride to Wonder Lake - hop in!  And that's what we did.

And on the way to Wonder Lake I *finally* spotted some wildlife!

We were up on the road, which is basically a ridge, and there he was, down in the little crik that is a natural mineral lick for the moose.  The driver was great.  They're not supposed to stop just anywhere on the road, and definitely not supposed to let people out, but he did both.  I could not have gotten this shot from a moving vehicle!

Wonder Lake was so pretty.  Jeff used to camp there as a kid, before they put restrictions on driving into the park.  He took a fishing pole, just to see if he could be any luckier than when he was a kid.  Nope.  Still the most you can catch at Wonder Lake is mosquitoes.  And some pretty great pictures...
Wonder Lake - Mt. McKinley is hiding in the clouds.

across the park road from Wonder Lake
the river running through the lodge grounds, where we panned for gold

In fact, here's how our full day at the Backcountry Lodge went:

  • Notice we could see our breath while walking to breakfast on June 18th
  • Breakfast
  • Nap
  • Wonder Lake
  • Lunch
  • Nap
  • Pan for gold
  • Checkers
  • Happy Hour
  • Dinner
  • Wander around
  • Bedtime

So relaxing!  Being out in all that fresh air was exhausting though.  But it was really nice to know that we could do what we wanted...  so we did!

Next up - the drive out of the park, and more wildlife photos!  Stay tuned...

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We've since moved to Alaska!  Read about Our Alaska Life here...

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