Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Trip to the Outside

Hello, readers! For those of you back home, I should mention that when locals leave Alaska, they call it "going outside".

We had an emergency "Outside" trip of our own to make this past week, when J's grandmother passed away.

I want to take a moment to say that I wish I had the opportunity to have met Alice (his grandmother). J and I never managed a trip to his hometown together, until now. After visiting the farm (where J grew up) and getting the opportunity to poke around the old farm house, I can see that Alice and I would have probably really enjoyed each other's company. She was definitely a "farmer's wife", and it looks as though we enjoyed many of the same activities. Her house is full of various sewing projects and quilts she made (all by hand, too!), crochet projects, and books. Oh, the books! She read all kinds of things, and several titles grabbed my interest, She was a big Laura Ingalls fan herself (truly a woman after my own heart!) and had quite a collection of other books and diaries of pioneering women. J's Aunt Charlotte was kind enough to let me take home a couple of books on pioneer women that particularly peaked my interest, and I am excited to have a moment to dig into them.

In spite of the circumstances, I had a good time being allowed to poke through the farm house and see many of Grandma's treasures... things that other people I'm sure have little interest in, but I pored over her quilts, stitchery, crochet doilies, and various other projects she had completed over the years. In my search, I also ran across a couple projects that she hadn't gotten a chance to finish before her passing, including one scrap quilt, ALMOST done.

J's aunt (in her 70s now) pointed out several of the fabrics in the quilt, telling me where each one had come from. Pieces from her "maternity outfit", scraps from children and grandchildren clothes Grandma had made over the years, various bits from a cousin or sister's graduation outfit, bits of jeans from the pants that were worn out from summers on the tractor. I was thrilled when J's aunt and I found a bag of scraps nearby, and Charlotte told me to bring the unfinished quilt and scraps home with me, to finish it.

Oh, I hope I can do that quilt justice!

Other than a few trips to the farm house where J spent a lot of time growing up, we visited with other family members in the area, and took many drives through the Grand Forks, North Dakota prairies.

I enjoyed finally meeting J's family, and spending time with people that strike a chord with my farming/prairie girl heart. The snow covered prairies and the many farms we passed along the way made me ache to have my hands in the soil, and had my mind filled with my silly notions of standing in acres of "amber waves of grain" while dreaming of tending to my own farm.

This is where I should add that I didn't realize how LITTLE my farming ideas are! I always thought I had vast plans, until I saw the acres and acres of land that J's uncle still farms (even well into his 70s!) We drove out to the farms that J's dad tended, and I realized that I shouldn't be surprised at all when J's uncle called my ideas of farming, "A little hobby farm".

Regardless, it had me aching to be back in the "States", and I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic to have to return to the frozen tundra of Alaska. Especially since while we were gone, our temps were in the negative 60s! And the amount of effort it takes to get "outside" and back... well. Let's just say that I can think of way more fun things to do than spend a night sleeping on an airport bench with a toddler.

This brings me back to my usual babbling about our crazy and hilarious life in Alaska.

The trip TO North Dakota was not so bad. The worst part was actually getting to the airport. It was 45 below zero when we headed out of town, and our late start (4 pm) meant that it was already dark when we began our travels. A quick stop for coffee (thank you Huff, for gift certificates) and we were on our way. Sort of.

Ice fog is something I'm new to. This is when ANY moisture in the air freezes, and in particularly damp areas (like next to the river that runs along Richardson Hwy) or "smoggy" areas (like where EVERYONE in Alaska is running their wood stoves to heat their houses), the fog is thick. There were times where visibility was less than 15 feet or so. That's a lot of fun, when you are driving through windy mountain roads.

Adding to our fun was another phenomenon of extreme cold. Though the van heater was running full blast, it never really got warm enough to take our coats off. Beans stayed bundled, and thankfully slept for most of the drive. Meanwhile, J and I watched the windows ice over, INSIDE the van. Apparently, the moisture from your breath with ice over when it hits the windshield. This made drinking hot coffee while driving especially perilous, as the steam from our coffee cups added to the window frost. The minivan groaned with every effort, and we puttered along to Fairbanks as fast as we could safely so, which was about 35 to 45 miles per hour. We eventually made it into town, ans since we had a 1:30 am flight, we had plenty of time to get some dinner, some travel supplies, and make it to the airport in plenty of time.

We met a pastor and his wife, travelling with SIX children, so I immediately stopped complaining about how difficult it is to get through security with a baby. That woman definitely won the award for Toughest Travelling Companions, though her kids (5 boys and one baby girl) were extremely well behaved and good spirited little tikes. They offered to share some snacks and a movie with Beans, and Beans was beside herself with all the attention from the doting boys.

The plane rides were uneventful. Beans was relatively cooperative, though she marathon nursed through most of our flights. J and I suffered more than she did, as we had a few delays, short layovers, and never did get a chance to get a decent breakfast or lunch before we got on the road from Minneapolis to Grand Forks. I say "on the road" because we drove the five hours. Another side effect of living in Alaska is the price (monetary) that you pay to get anywhere from here. Flying to Minneapolis on short notice cost $1500 per ticket. To fly direct to Grand Forks or into Fargo? $3000 per ticket. Yep. We drove. And all it cost us was about $500 for a rental car and a couple tense arguments about where to stop for food and how many times a pregnant lady needs to stop to pee on a 5 hour trip. Which, for the record is "As many times as she needs to, so get over it ans stop the (expletive) car!"

Well, as I mentioned before, we had a funeral to attend and family to visit. Circumstances aside, I was really thrilled to see my brother-in-law again. (He used to live with us, in Alabama.) And meeting the rest of J's family was pretty fun, too. I really enjoyed hanging out with the farming families (the ones that still farm, as well as the ones who grew up farming but have moved on to different things). I have to say that it was the first time that all my hair-brained ideas of wishing I were Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't sound too crazy, except to a few "city" relatives of J's. And for them, I had a good time freaking them out with stories of our life here in Alaska, complete with stories of how we really do eat moose and caribou, and have to travel 100 miles to the closest medical facility. The look on their shocked faces were priceless, especially when I mentioned that we really didn't have a Target within 500 miles of us.

OK, OK. I shouldn't tease them. And if they are reading, I should have also mentioned that I love to make fun of ALL my family. My husband, my kids, my parents, myself... no one is exempt from being mocked from time to time. Hopefully you aren't easily offended, and if you are, hopefully you get over it. *grin* And if not, well, really, when is the next time you are likely to see me?

ANYHOO... I digress.

I must admit that Alaska has really rubbed off on me. Grand Forks felt like a HUGE city, and I was overwhelmed by the traffic (an actual highway, with more than two lanes), the lights, the stores, the restaurants. I DID behave like a tourist in Target, completely and totally overwhelmed by all the choices of items to buy, and the ability to buy a cup of coffee at any number of coffee shops in town. We ate at various restaurants and "marvelled" at how good the tacos at Taco John's were (um, a fast food chain, for those wondering), and filled up on all kinds of "goodies" we won't be able to get now that we are back home. My Target shopping involved having to purchase an extra suitcase for the trip home, and I filled it with a few new clothes, and several items that we just can't find at home for a reasonable price. I'm sure the cashier wondered what planet I was from when I got incredibly excited about Target's brand of "Breathe Right Nasal Strips", especially when they only cost $6 a box. (Here, we pay $16 a box, and that's IF and when we can actually find them.) I bought a half dozen boxes and kept babbling about how we were going to have to come back and buy some more.

Moving right along... The return trip was HORRIBLE. Just so you know. We left Grand Forks (driving) at noon for our 9 pm flight from Minneapolis. And between the actual number of miles we had to drive and my pregnant bladder, we didn't get to the airport for 7 hours and four arguments later. Beans decided to do ALL her sleeping during those seven hours, so the first flight consisted of about 4 hours of solid nursing. Let me just say...ouch. We had a seven hour layover in Seattle. Seven hours. Also not fun. Ever try to sleep on an airport bench? Ever try to do that while you are six months pregnant? Once again, let me just say...ouch. I was exhausted, and sent J to walk the baby around the airport while I tried to snuggle under his coat and take a nap. The good news: we did manage to eat at somewhat regular intervals, and J DID manage to get Beans to take a couple naps in the airport. Um... that means that she didn't sleep on our next flight. 4 hours to Anchorage. About an hour into it, she got incredibly bored with playing peek-a-boo with the woman in the seat behind us. She also got bored with snacks, toys, and ANY possible distraction from the fact that we were stuck on a plane. She fell asleep thirty minutes prior to landing (great....) while once again, nursing. The final flight (Anchorage to Fairbanks) was short and sweet... a mere 45 minutes in the air, and exhausted, I decided that I no longer cared about anyone else's comfort but my own, and let her cry to sleep in my arms.

Oh, our travels don't end there, dear readers. Oh, no. Let's start with the fact that the airlines sent our luggage on a different flight into Fairbanks, and it wasn't expected to arrive until later that evening. That wouldn't have been so terrible, except that we really would have loved to go 100 miles home, AND we had checked the bag with our extra stash of diapers. Well, at least in Fairbanks, that was easy enough to fix with a quick trip to Walmart for diapers, right?

Except that when J started the van, it started spewing some kind of fluid. So before my appointment with the midwife (also scheduled for that afternoon), we had to go to the Toyota dealership. Um, apparently, spewing fluids are common in the Arctic. The guy gave us the "You're new around here, aren't you?" look and calmly but somewhat sarcastically told us that "Things just break in 60 below, especially when you park a car for a week." Oh. OK. Turns out that a rubber gasket decided that 60 below was just too cold, and broke. This part may sound crazy to people who live in warm climates (um, just about everyone), but the guy gave us a bottle of oil and told us to keep an eye on it, and make an appointment to have it fixed on another trip to town. Hmph. Where I come from, my mechanic, my dad, and every guy that knows anything about cars has told me that you don't drive around with a broken ANYTHING on your car, but apparently, the rules change in the arctic.

This meant we were free to go to the midwife's office. The update for family is good news:

Um, in our hurry to get out of town, I forgot to pack my progesterone, so we ended up going the whole week without, and hoping for the best. This made the midwife slightly nervous, and she sent me for yet another ultrasound. Well, the good news is that there were no changes, and the midwife decided that I didn't need to be on the progesterone at all, if we had gone a whole week without it already. Everything looked good, the baby is getting bigger, and this time SHE was definitely not shy about showing her gender.

With this good news, we headed into Fairbanks for a few items, some dinner, our luggage (finally!) then happily collapsed into a hotel room for some much needed sleep. After almost 36 hours of travelling, we were ready to STOP. A good night's sleep had everyone in a better mood, and after breakfast, we headed back to Delta Junction.

I would just like to add that 45 below zero really sucks, if anyone is interested in knowing that. I am glad to be home, and have no desire to leave my house until it is at least 20 below outside. The good news is that we expecting a warm-up this coming week, and may even see a few days above zero. Gosh, I don't know what to do above zero anymore! I would officially be able to spend a day or two not trying to cram my fat pregnant body into thermals AND clothes!

Meanwhile, I am back to trying to get little Beans on some sort of "normal", though truthfully, she never got off "Alaska Time" anyway, so we are finally back to bed at 7 or 8 pm, instead of 11 or 12 pm. Of course, this also means that we are back to her 5 am wake-up calls too. *sigh*

And speaking of routines, it's time to see if I can coerce Madame Fussy Britches into a nap, and then dose myself up with some coffee while I look over some quilting scraps and see if I can work some magic on that quilt of Grandma's. And if not "magic", then at least not screw it up. This may involve a call or two to my mom, who is definitely more the quilting expert than I am!

Meanwhile, I hope my readers "Outside" are enjoying your weather, no matter what it is. I guarantee, it's warmer where you are. Unless you are in Antarcica or Siberia or something. And for those of you in the Interior with me, I hope you are staying warm! I'll see you guys when the Ice Fog clears!

Until then,

Happy Moose Trails!