Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alaska vs. Connecticut

...or most of the rest of the Lower 48, for that matter.

We have now lived in Alaska for going on six weeks, which is plenty of time to have formed some observations on the sometimes vast differences in the way things are done here.  Here are a few thoughts.

-It's dirty in Alaska.  And I don't mean gross, run-down dirty.  Just good-old-dirt dirty.  Many roads aren't paved, and the unpaved roads are gray and rocky.  The sand at the beach is black.  Our own unpaved driveway can be a dust bowl on a dry, windy day.  We now understand the Alaskan custom to remove your shoes before entering a home.  Two pair of shoes- one for inside and one for outside- are on the school supplies list for kindergarten.  Some businesses even have signs on the door requesting muddy footwear to be left outside.  Even with keeping all of our shoes in the garage, I could vacuum every day.  Another contributing factor to that, though, may also be the fact that we have a very dark wood floor and a very light-haired dog...plus kids who spill crumbs at every meal.  I don't mind the dirt, but I sure am glad I splurged on the Dyson with this year's tax return.

-Alaskan time is similar to island time.  When someone says a gathering starts at 6, chances are that if you arrive at 6:30 you could be the first one there.  We learned this one the hard way a few weeks ago when going to a function held by someone from the ship.  We arrived on time and thought we were in the wrong place.  When the host didn't answer their phone to help us confirm the location, we started home.  The LT dropped us off and headed back after checking the directions in his email and was still the first person there.

-Alaska gives a whole new meaning to having a 4-wheel drive vehicle.  We bought an SUV with 4-wheel-drive while in Connecticut for driving in winter but never really needed it since everything shut down in snow storms.  In Alaska, we have already had occasion to use the 4-wheel-drive lock feature twice...to drive on the beach!  Many beaches here allow vehicle traffic.  The place we go clamming in Ninilchik is one of them, but you are on your own to know the tides and capability of your vehicle.  If you go too close to high tide, you may very well get your truck flooded.  The sand can be very soft and the rocky beach deep, so 4-wheel-drive is a must if you have any hope to getting back out the way you came.  The last time we went clamming we toted a few extra guys in the back of the Pilot whose cars would not make it on the beach...and nearly succeeded in burying the back wheels with all the extra weight.  I got a chance to bring the car back while the men walked with the clams, and it was actually almost fun...like driving in deep, fluffy snow without the fear of sliding on ice.  Hopefully there won't be much of that kind of driving this winter!

-Hitchhiking is a valid means of transportation.  There are hitchhikers everywhere.  Our neighbor, who has a perfectly good vehicle, even does it for fun sometimes.  Coming from a place with "It is illegal to pick up hitchhikers" signs on the side of the road, I am used to avoiding eye contact with the hitchhikers while I pass by.  Now I feel a little guilty passing them by in my half-empty SUV, but you still won't ever find this mama of two ever stopping to pick one up.

-If you buy something used, it doesn't necessarily mean you couldn't afford to buy it new.  In a small town with limited shopping options, people are constantly playing the buy/sell/trade game to get what they want or need without driving 80-250 miles to a store where they could buy new.  In addition to classified ads in the local newspaper, the internet has opened up a whole new market for used things.  There is a Facebook group for buying or selling "stuff" (which is actually how we found the house we are renting), as well as separate groups for clothing, vehicles and tools, and even one for trading gardening supplies and advice.  Current listings include everything from horses to snowblowers.

-I was spoiled by trash pickup and mail delivery.  It's the little things...There is no curbside trash pickup in Homer.  We have to take our trash and recycling to the dump.  Loading up trash into the back of the new car makes me cringe, especially when it includes the remnants of cleaned clams.  Visiting the landfill has made us even more conscious than we already were of what we can recycle, because it's a shame to see a landfill with burning trash piles on a bluff overlooking the bay.  As for mail delivery, we now have a Post Office Box.  Apparently we could purchase a mailbox for our house and put it out at the main road with a line of other boxes for our neighborhood, but for somewhere that we are living temporarily we will just make do without one.

-Homemade is better than store-bought.  When groceries are arriving by ship, they just aren't fresh.  Milk typically has about a week left until the expiration date, as do yogurt and eggs.  The bread is a little flat and on its way to stale.  I now bake my own bread (and homemade bread is always better than store-bought anyway).  We are also growing lettuce in our garden, along with tomatoes and zucchini.  Doesn't get fresher than that!  We plan our meals better and actually use our leftovers instead of letting them linger for a week in the fridge.  That also has a little to do with the expense of groceries, but now that we are getting the hang of what good sale prices are and stocking up when we can, it's not so bad.

-Hibernation doesn't sound like such a bad idea.  We are, after all, in the land of the midnight sun.  And that is no joke.  The sun currently sets sometime after 11 pm, but it just barely dips below the horizon.  There is about an hour or so of mostly-darkness around 2am (which I know from the past few nights of getting up with kids who may be missing their dad).  It is really hard to go to bed before midnight.  The sunset colors and the rise of the moon over over the mountains make it tough to close the blinds at night.  The kids wake up before 7 most days because it has been daylight since 4am.  I think I will be catching up on sleep this winter when there are only 6 hours of daylight.

Taken from my bedroom window after 11pm

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Alaskan Independence Day...Happy Clamming!

We have decided that while we are living in Alaska, we are going to take advantage of every opportunity offered to us, even if it's not something we would not usually try on our own.  So when The LT's new boss invited us to spend our Indendence Day clamming, we readily agreed.  After publishing our plan for the day on Facebook, one of my college roommates wondered, "Is that just what ya do up there... kinda like going to the park?!"  Yes, Annette, I suppose it is!  When you're in Alaska...

A little aside about celebrating the 4th in Alaska: There are no fireworks.  It doesn't get dark!  It is even illegal to do your own fireworks on the Kenai Peninsula.  I think it may have something to do with fire conditions.  Homer does have a town parade, but we are too wiped out from our day to venture down there.  Maybe next year.

All we knew about clamming was to be prepared to get muddy.  The LT is a fan of clams, but I am not big on shellfish.  I figured worst-case that we would have a ton of fun on the beach with the kids and give away our catch.  But the neighbors will be lucky to eek more than than a few strips out of our kitchen after we have learned how fantastic fresh Pacific Razor Clams taste!

We ventured to a busy beach in Ninilchik, about 40 miles from Homer.  Today's low tide was negative 3.5 feet, meaning that it was one of the best low tides of the year.  The beach around here can go from 15 feet to half a mile wide on such a low tide.  The Pilot was put to the test, because you just drive your vehicle right out onto the rocky/sandy beach.  The LT said it was like driving in soft, fresh snow...you just let the truck take you in the general direction that you want to go and follow the path made by other vehicles.

Once the tide went out enough and the sand started to dry, you could see the little dimples made by burrowing clams everywhere.  After getting started, it was hard to stop digging them up.  The LT and I did the recovery work, and the kids came around with their beach buckets to collect our catch.  After an hour, we had more than enough for several meals.  The current limit is 60 per person!  Between the 4 adults who were collecting, I don't think we came close to that number.  I was feeling bad on Saturday about having to pay $145 for a non-resident fishing license good for a year, but a few more clamming trips will make it worthwhile.  Looking forward to next year when I can pay the resident rate (and also active-duty military rate) of $24.

What was considered a snow plow in CT is now a clam digger in AK.

Cleaning the clams took about as long as catching them.  The LT's boss gave us a crash course, and we made quick work of the job with a couple pairs of scissors.  A glass of wine and some clam strips sure was a nice way to end a long weekend!  Looking forward to next weekend already.  Maybe a little camping and salmon fishing?