Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Settling In

We have been in our new house for going on 3 weeks now, and it is starting to feel like home.  After 2 weeks of sleeping on air mattresses, we are relieved to report that our household goods arrived last Friday.  It took them exactly one month to travel from our old house to Homer, which isn't bad considering that the moving company allowed themselves until the beginning of August to get them to us.  We got right to work unpacking, and there are no boxes left inside the house.  The garage is another story, but that should be taken care of this weekend.

We have loved downsizing from our extra-large CT house to the just-right one here.  Coming from a Colonial-style house that was very chopped up, it is wonderful to have a great-room setup so we can easily keep track of what everyone is doing.  I wasn't sure how I would feel about not having a downstairs play area for the kids, but so far we love that, too.  They each have all of their toys in their own rooms, and they spend lots of time upstairs playing.

We also really like having neighbors with kids right next door, but it is taking the little man some time to adjust to sharing not only a wall with the new friends but also all of his toys.  He was happy to play with their things that they graciously shared with us while we were awaiting the arrival of our own things, but now that our favorite dump trucks are back he is having trouble reciprocating.  I get the fun job of playing referee each time he goes outside to play...maybe a striped shirt and whistle would come in handy.

We are all happy with how easily we have settled into the pace of life in Homer.  The LT has been putting in long days at work (much longer/busier than he is used to) and the kids and I are enjoying the slow pace of a small town.  We aren't in a hurry anymore to get out of the house in the mornings to make it to the gym before it is too crowded (thanks mostly to our new in-home gym).  Most days we don't leave the house before 10am, when we head out for a walk before the "daybreeze" picks up (around 11am nearly every day).  We must be adjusting to our new version of summer because I caught myself with the window down in the car today when the temperature only registered in at 53 degrees.  Summer up here seems to be just starting, if the wildflowers blooming is any indication.  I don't miss the 90-degree humid summer days, but a few days of 65 and sunny would be nice before fall!

Learning about buoys with Dad 

The USCGC Hickory working out in the bay

We also don't miss all the driving we did while living in CT.  Every time we left our house it was at least a 20-mile round trip.  Here, we can make it 2 weeks on one tank of gas in the Pilot, and the LT may be able to make it an entire month driving the CR-V to and from work!  Kinda makes up for the current gas price of $4.32/gallon.

This weekend we are planning to go to the "city" about an hour and a half away to treat the kids to "Cars 2" and gather a lengthy list of supplies from Wal-Mart.  We are also going to check out a potential camping spot.  That's right, camping, like in a tent.  It seems to be what people here do for fun on the weekends.  We also have a little girl who has been begging us to take her fishing, so we need to get our licenses and figure out where to do that does not require ownership of a boat.

Off to register the kids for summer soccer, which starts next week, and then go tend to our flourishing garden.  Alaska gardening trivia: you can't grow tomatoes outside here!  We have a tomaoto "tree" in our front window.  I am contemplating taking the Alaska Master Gardener course online through the university this fall, so next summer we will be expert food growers.

Beluga Slough, one of our favorite walking spots

The lupine is in full bloom this week

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our First Week in Homer

We have been in Homer for a week now.  Here are some of our first impressions and reflections:

-The people here are just as friendly and helpful in person as they have been online.  Our landlords are fantastic, and our neighbors (who happen to be the landlord's son and family) are very easygoing.  The neighbors are a couple of years younger than us and have 3 kids with one more on the way.  Our kids fit in pretty easily with theirs, and they are generous with sharing their backyard playground equipment and toys.  We have also had a great welcome from several local business owners and residents who we have come in contact with this week, from the local coffee roaster chatting about his family's sea-faring history back in Mystic to a local ranch owner offering composted cow manure (I know, yuck) for our newly-built garden.

-The mountain views here are even better than we remembered...when we can see them, that is.  About half of the days we have been here, we have woken up to a light drizzle and clouds obscuring the mountains.  We have learned to prefer those mornings to the sunny, more clear ones, because those generally come with a very chilly wind.

-For some strange reason, the kids are sleeping in later here than they ever have anywhere else.  On Saturday, we didn't get out of bed until 8:15!  Those of you who know our kids know that is amazing.  It's made even more strange by the fact that we haven't actually seen a dark night since somewhere back in Yellowstone.

-It's a good thing we like coffee, because is a local specialty.  There are at least two coffee roasters in town, and well over 10 coffee houses and cafes.  For a town of only 5,000 people, that seems excessive, but they all have a steady stream of business.  Must be due to that cold wind!  We haven't decided yet which coffee we prefer. Will it be K-Bay or Captain's Coffee?  Stay tuned...I'm sure that will be a blog post of its own sometime soon.  I can see our Keurig taking a sabbatical while in Homer.

-We can't stay away from Two Sisters Bakery.  We just can't.  Uggg!  I was entering receipts in the check register today and had 5 from the bakery.  For 7 days.  It doesn't help that it is only a mile from the house.  But really, everything in town is only a mile or two away.  That leads us to my next tidbit:

-I broke down and bought a used treadmill.  I have been running right from our house this week (mainly to combat the pastries from Two Sisters, and also because I signed up to run the Homer Spit Run 10K next Saturday, even though I haven't run more than 4 miles at a time since the half-marathon back in April!).  While it is really nice to be able to go for a run without having to drive anywhere first, I have "run" into a couple of issues:  This is a very hilly town, and no matter what way I go, I must run the last mile back home uphill.  While I am perfectly capable of running hills (Thanks, soundRunner girls!), doing it all the time is hard on the toes.  I can avoid the hills by running through the neighborhoods rather than the town, but there are the moose.  Yes, moose.  We have seen several mama moose with babies wandering the empty lots and even yards in town, including our own.  I had a close run-in with a few moose the other day while on a quest for a flatter route, causing me to add some extra distance in order to avoid the mama chasing me down.  There is a gym in town, but at $50/month plus $3.25/hour for child care I thought I'd give the home gym a try first.

-We have visited the grocery store just as many times as we have visited the bakery, not only for groceries but also because it also serves as the pharmacy and drug store.  It is just as expensive as we thought it would be, unless we really pay attention to the sales (which of course we do...that explains the 6 jars of pasta sauce and 5 boxes of assorted pasta shapes in my pantry right now!).  If you have any coupon inserts from your Sunday papers that you are willing to mail to us from time to time, it would be appreciated!
Our mailing address is PO Box 2838, Homer, AK 99603

The LT heads to work tomorrow for his first official day on the ship.  The kids and I are hoping to find something fun to occupy us since we are still without our furniture and toys.  Our household goods are in Anchorage already, but the moving company will not have them until Tuesday afternoon.  Only then can we call to schedule the delivery.  So close, yet so far away!  It's tough to stay inside when there is not much to do but wrestle with your sibling and hide in your new empty closet "cave."

Sunday, June 12, 2011


These two photos sum up our day...the view from the kitchen and living room of our new house and The LT triumphantly removing the roof box. We have arrived!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day #15: Anchorage

We made it to Anchorage today with plenty of time to pick up the car that we shipped from New Jersey.  The car actually arrived here 9 days ago, which really surprised us.  We are greatful that we don't have to make the 8-hour round trip drive back here from Homer to pick it up later, and also happy to have the extra room to stock up on some supplies here where they are less expensive before heading out tomorrow.

This afternoon we officially became members of REI and got new hiking shoes for everyone.  After that 6-miler in Jasper we know we are all capable of going on half-day hikes together.  That will probably become our Saturday morning tradition in Homer. We enjoyed dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse and are now happily spending our LAST night in a hotel for what we hope will be a very long while.

It will be so nice to unpack the cars tomorrow knowing that we don't have to re-load them again the following morning.  Even the dog knows we're close to the end of the journey.  He will probably avoid riding in the car for awhile if he can!

We have enjoyed writing about our adventures and thank everyone for following along with us. It's nice to be able to share it with you all!  It may take us a few days to get internet set up at our new home, so we will be back when we can to let you know how it is-and show you what Homer looks like!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day #14: Alaska Highway Part 3

Traveled Yukon Territory and ALASKA!!

High temp: 55         Low temp: 39        rain and clouds

We are so excited to report that we have made it to Alaska!!  Our day today was much better than yesterday.  Everyone was in good spirits and we were on the road with baked goods in hand (mmm, whole-wheat cranberry coconut scone!) by 7:45.  There was a bit of construction along the way and way more than just a bit of road that really needs construction.  We felt like we were on an old-fashined rollercoaster at times, with the occasional "Wheee!" coming from the third row seat.

We intended to get a family photo by the "Welcome to Alaska" sign, but both kids were asleep when we got to it, and it was raining.  Of course the kids both woke up at the Customs station 10 minutes down the road.  It feels great to be back in the US.  Our cell phones are usable again, and we even get 3G internet service on them tonight.  We are in Tok at the Caribou Cabins.  There is a whirlpool tub and a loft for the kids to sleep in.  The dog and kids have been enjoying the grounds, which are well off the main road.

Tomorrow we are off to Anchorage to pick up the CR-V (yay for an extra car- that means some shopping before heading to Homer!) and eat at the Glacier Brewhouse before heading home on Saturday.  The end is in sight!

Day #13: Alaska Highway, Part 2

Traveled through British Columbia and Yukon Territory
High temp: 66     Low temp: 47             Partly cloudy

Today we made the drive from Muncho Lake to Whitehorse, YT.  While it wasn't the longest in mileage, it sure felt long in hours.  We were on the road by 7am- you can tell we are getting excited about approaching the end of our journey!  It's a good thing we did, too, because the going was very slow at times.  On the Alaksa Highway, all of the road maintenance has to be done in the short summer months.  We came upon stretches that were closed completely due to road work.  Every 20 minutes or so they took a break to let the traffic through.  We didn't end our day of driving until about 4pm.  We are still on Pacific time and haven't seen darkness in days...the sun is out when we go to bed and when we wake up.

Muncho Lake, BC 

Float plane at the Northern Rockies Lodge (where we stayed)

The Wonderdog got a well-deserved swim last night!

The scenery has been beautiful- lots of mountains and rivers.  Today, since we got on the road so early, we also had an impromptu wildlife safari.  We started a tally of what we have seen that we will share at the end of our trip.  Today we saw several black bears and bison, as well as some soaring bald eagles.

Contrary to what you may believe, the Alaska Highway itself is not all too exciting. Other than the occasional run-down lodge/gas staion/RV park combo, there's not much to do other than enjoy the lack of civilization.  That can get old after awhile.  We are SO ready to be back in the US tomorrow night.  Canada has treated us well, but it just doesn't feel like home.  We are stopping just over the border in Tok tomorrow, and then it's just two days til Homer!  Just in time, because we are just about ready for this journey to be complete.  There are only so many nights eating dinner out in restaurants and sleeping in hotels that one can take with two kids!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day #12: Alaska Highway Part 1

This is just a quick note to let everyone know that we made it safely to Muncho Lake.  No time for detail of  our day as the internet access is in the main lodge and we are staying in a cabin.  I will post photos tomorrow evening instead.  We had a great day and are now off to "unplug" and enjoy our evening in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day #11: Another Day, Another Mishap...but nothing we can't handle!

Traveled Alberta and British Columbia
Weather: High temp: 68        Low Temp: 53       mostly sunny with a thunderstorm in BC this evening

Today's drive was all on a 2-lane road through logging areas of Alberta.  It seemed endless, even though it was one of our shorter days in the car.  We did see bighorn sheep before getting too far from Jasper.  They were licking hte salt off of the road, so it was a good thing that on oncoming car warned us to slow down by flashing their headlights!

A few hours into the drive, a passing big rig threw a large rock right at the side of our windshield.  It caused quite a bit of damage, with the cracks growing longer as we drove.  Luckily, our car insurance is with USAA and they are fantastic.  Within minutes of calling them, they were able to arrange for the local glass shop in Homer to order a windshield (it will take 4 days to arrive) and make an appointment to have it repaired after we get there.  In true Alaskan fashion, we could have the repair made on Monday, but it is the owner's birthday so he isn't working- Tuesday it is!  The shop owner also told me to tape up the cracks to keep them from getting larger and to keep the water if you see the Pilot with the packing tape all over the windshield, that's us!

We arrived in Dawson Creek much earlier than expected, partially due to crossing another time zone.  We are now on Pacific Time...only one zone ahead of Alaska!  We walked a bit in town, found the historical Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway, and had dinner.  Tomorrow it's on to another of our favorite stops- Muncho Lake!

This describes our trip perfectly!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day #10: Adventures in Jasper

We spent the day exploring more of Jasper, AB.  This is a great little mountain resort town, with lots of shops, restaurants, and hotels.  Our day is not over yet, but the kids have crashed after a little too much fun this morning. Now is a good time to update in order to keep my eyes from closing, too!

We planned to go on a 2.5 mile hike this morning in a place just inside the gates of Jasper National Park called Valley of the Five Lakes.  The park office was closed when we set out, so we didn't have a map with us.  I took a photo of the map board at the trailhead just in case, but we didn't think we'd need it. Wrong!!  After taking our time making our way through the forest and valley, we came upon a huge lake when we were actually expecting to see three small lakes instead.  We consulted the photo of the trail map (thank goodness for digital cameras!) and found that we missed the turn we had intended to take, and would be going the long way around.  It was too late to turn back- the hike would have been just as long.  So instead of going 2.5 miles, we did over 6!  We had no idea that the kids were capable of more than a mile or two.  Unicorn Girl (as she often refers to herself!) walked the entire way, and the Little Man made it over 3 miles before we had to give him a ride.  The LT and I each carried him for well over a mile, so we will be extra sore tomorrow.  Midas the Wonderdog was very excited when we set out, as he hasn't been on a hike in quite awhile, but even he was dragging along by the end.

Treasures found along the way

This is Fifth Lake, which we never would have seen had we not taken the wrong turn.  We didn't realize at this point that we would be going alllllll the way down to the end and back around.

Under normal wrong-turn, long-hike circumstances, we would have taken our time getting back to our starting point.  Today, we had already pre-paid for our afternoon rafting adventure.  We walked as quickly as we could, and made it back to the hotel with only 20 minutes to spare to get everyone a quick lunch before heading back out again.

We were so excited to find a rafting company here that will take children of all ages out on the river.  They have specially-designed rafts with extra-high sides.  The ride was about an hour long with six sets of Class II rapids- enough to get our pants wet.  The view from the river was very peaceful.

The adverture family

View from the river

So, we learned a couple of lessons today:

1. Our kids are easily capable of a 3-mile hike.  This is an exciting discovery...we have been waiting for them to be old enough to go on longer hikes and had no idea that they are ready.  We will be buying them both hiking shoes ASAP in Alaska- they earned them!

2. Bring water on all hikes, even if they are only supposed to last 45 minutes. Oops.

Tomorrow we are back to driving, thank goodness, because we will all want a rest after today.  Our destination is Dawson Creek, BC- The start of the Alaska Highway!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day # 9: Icefields Parkway

Traveled in British Columbia
Weather:   High temp: 70      Low temp: 36              Cloudy to partly cloudy

We had a great day traveling across the Icefields Parkway.  Our first stop was the Columbia Icefield, where we had some lunch and then went for a short hike.  We brought the dog with us (he was so happy to finally be allowed to go somewhere with us!) and climed a steep, snowy hill up to the base of the glacier.  Along the way, there were markers showing how much further down the mountain the base of the glacier was in years past.  In 1844, it was all the way across the street at the visitor's center!

After the glacier adventure, we visited several waterfalls before settling into our hotel.  We are staying here for two nights and are happy to have a room with a separate sleeping area for the kids, a kitchen (we cooked dinner in tonight!) and a view of the mountains right out our front window.  We plan to explore the town of Jasper tomorrow afternoon.  In the morning, we are going to hike somewhere nearby.  After lunch we have a rafting expedition planned on the Athabasca River.  It was really great to find a company that offers rafting for all ages!

I will only post a couple of photos today, for a couple of reasons.
1.  Our internet isn't very fast again.
2.  The mountains, lakes, and rivers here are so massive that a photo doesn't do them justice.  There is no way to capture their beauty or enormity! If there is one place in Canada that I would say to visit, this is it.  They call it the most beautiful highway in the world.

Athabasca Falls

Glacier in Columbia Icefield

Day #8: North to Alaska (in a few days, that is) Plus Yellowstone Photos

States Traveled: MT, Alberta, BC

Weather: High temp: 61       Low temp: 31
Flurries, Snow storm, rain, sun, more rain

Today was our second-longest day mileage-wise, but by far our longest day spent in the car.  We left Yellowstone at 7am and ran into trouble right away when the GPS gave us a route to Calgary that was 150 miles and 3 hours longer than the route we had pre-printed from Google Maps.  We should have known something was amiss then, but wanting to take the fastest route, we followed our Google directions until the GPS caught up.  We soon discovered why Mandy (the GPS- called so because that is the Tom-tom name of her pre-programmed voice) insisted on us taking the long route.  About 75 miles into our day, we were on a 2-lane winding road through the Montana prairie.  Then it started raining, and the winding road was now slick, causing us to slow down.  Soon after, the rain turned to big, wet snowflakes.  Then we started picking up elevation and realized we were climbing into the mountains.  The snow started to stick to the trees, and minutes later the road was starting to get coated, too.  At the top of the mountain, which ended up being the Showdown Ski Area, the snow was coming down so fast that there were actually plows clearing the roads.  In June.  Ugg.  While it was beautiful to see the pines coated in fresh snow, the drive was harrowing.  The Nana was at the wheel, and being a Floridian, she had never driven in a snow storm before.  She did a great job!  Thankfully, we began our descent shortly after and the snow turned back to rain.  Maybe next time we will listen when Mandy tells us to "turn around when possible."

It actually rained on us most of the day.  We crossed into British Columbia around 2pm and ran into another snag in Lethbridge after stopping for gas.  We sat in a stationary line of traffic on a 2-lane city road for over a half hour for what turned out to be a huge line at a gas station.  They must have been doing some sort of free/cheap gas promotion.  We were in the car for 11 hours by the time we finally made it to Calgary.  Thank goodness tomorrow is a play day for us.  We will be headed to the Icefields Parkway, which we have only driven through without time for stopping in the past.  We are spending 2 nights at Jasper National Park and plan to explore the glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs, and maybe even take a rafting trip while we're there.

As promised, here are a few of my best shots from Yellowstone:
Picnic spot by the river that we found before going into the park

View of Mammoth Hot Springs terraces right from our cabin porch

We had a squirrel the 1950s touches!

Bull know I had a zoom lens to get this shot!  No way would I get this close!

Terraces at Mammoth

Lower Falls as seen from Artist Point. This is with my telephoto lens, zoomed in as far as it goes.  The falls are HUGE!

We loved the textures and colors of the thermal pools

Old Faithful, which was much more impressive this time than it was back in 2005.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day #7: Yellowstone, day 2

Weather: high temp 46    low temp 32   sun, wind, and snow!

We had an awesome day exploring the park today. We got up early, as we do most days due to a certain little man, and got on the road by 7am. Our mission was to see as much of the park as we could, and boy did we! Water falls, mud volcanoes, geysers, and even a snow flurry that turned into a pretty heavy storm while we were out exploring along Yellowstone Lake.  The flurries followed us for the rest of the day, all the way back to our cabin. Here are a few photos that I remembered to take with my phone. I will do another blog post tomorrow with better pics.  Our next stop is Calgary...wonder if the kids will get their first passport stamp.

Just a reminder, we will have our phones turned off while in Canada, which will be for the next several days. We will have wifi at night and will update then.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day #6: Yellowstone!

States traveled: WY, MT, WY
Weather: high temp 76     low temp 50,  sunny enough that I managed to get a sun burn!

I will do short post now from my phone and one with our photos when we get to Calgary as we have wifi but it is too slow to load images from my camera.

Today we had to take the long route to the north entrance of Yellowstone as the closer one is closed due to unstable snow. We found a beautiful picnic spot for lunch outside of the park on the Yellowstone River, and spent the afternoon exploring the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. Tomorrow we are going to wander the rest of the park. The weather is expected to be much cooler and rainy with the possibility of a little snow. The park is strangely empty for the beginning of summer because of the unusually wet weather they have been having. All the better for us!

We have already seen lots of wildlife: vision, antelope, sheep, a bull snake, and tons of elk.  We even witnessed an angry mama elk trying to protect a baby that she had hidden away. The park rangers shut off the parking area at the hour springs and took the time to explain the habits of elk cows to us.  The kids learned how the mama always protects her young, and also to not feed wild animals (which apparently is what started the incident).

More later! Off to enjoy the mountain sunset from the porch of our cabin.