Where are you Mr. Sunshine?

Well, the days are getting shorter, and shorter, and shorter. Yesterday we had 3 hours and 50 minutes of light. We are only four days away from the darkest day of the year, winter solstice. But yesterday at least the sun came out from behind the clouds, and I stood at the window, like a turtle on a log, trying to soak in as much light as possible.

On the bright side, it is also our last day of really dark. This afternoon we will board a plane for Pennsylvania. We will be traveling for, holy crap, 23 hours and arrive in a place without snow, 40 degree weather, and way more daylight. I imagine it will look a little like tiny moles coming out of a hole and blinking into the sunlight. Is it weird that I am not even taking a winter coat? 40 degrees sounds like spring to me!

When we get back to Alaska in January, the sun will be gaining ground each day. We will be on the up swing of darkness. But as I find myself saying often, I am glad we experienced it. And really it wasn’t as shocking to me as the super cold. It just made me appreciate sun in a new kind of way.

To document our last days of really, really dark, Lucas took a series of pictures documenting the light (or lack of light.) He time stamped most of the pictures (military time), see bottom right corner, to give you an idea of what you are looking at in terms of the day as a whole. The first picture, with no time stamp, is from 9AM. He took the pictures from the back of the clinic, also where our apartment is located.

What I find most interesting is that the sun never really rises. It just hoovers on the horizon, peaking up, then disappearing again. The light is always a little like sunset.


Christmas in Ice: North Pole, Alaska

I love telling people we live in North Pole, Alaska because it always causes an interesting response. People say, No way, or That’s hilarious, or Have you met Santa yet? If nothing else our little town is a conversation starter, especially with folks who live outside Alaska.

North Pole is, without a doubt, tiny. I think the most happening place here is the post office (letters to Santa!); it is always jammed. At first it felt a little too small, but I have come to appreciate that part of it as well.  And who doesn’t love a candy cane striped light pole? It is a quirky little place where people are friendly, helpful, and perfectly comfortable with being a little Christmas-cheesy year round.

So as the holidays approached my husband and I expected nothing less than full on Christmas cheer. Lights and outdoor decorations appear early here, not because someone is trying to sell you a sweater from Macy’s, but for the more practical reason of weather. But what I like most are the ice sculptures. There are two roundabouts at the center of town and in November big blocks of ice materialized around the outsides of the circles. Soon we had ice versions of Santa and his elves. And as we moved into December, more ice sculptures began popping up around town. There are even ice sculptures in front of McDonald’s.

The ice sculptures help kick off Christmas in Ice. The month long Christmas celebration in North Pole. The first weekend in December is when things really heated up, with a fireworks display, and the being of an ice sculpting competition at the Santa Claus House, an iconic local store dedicated to everything Christmas. The Santa Claus House is also where kids (or Lucas and I) can meet Santa, where a group of real reindeer live, and is home to the tallest Santa statue in the world.

Last weekend, Lucas and I went to see the ice sculpting competition entries. Our favorite was a sculpture that shows Santa surfing, it was called something like Santa’s Day Off. But my absolute favorite part of the ice park was the slides. There were five or six varying-sized ice slides for kids. I wish I had been wearing snow pants, because one of the slides was particularly long, and looked like so much fun! It was a hot spot, packed with kids in crazy hats, and scarfs, so bundled up it was tough to see their faces. You couldn’t help but smile.

So even thought it is a little early, wishing you a very Happy Holiday from North Pole, Alaska!

And the next stop is … Alaska!

When we started this year-long traveling journey I didn’t know what to expect. And that was part of the draw. It was a new frontier for us (especially starting in Alaska), and really, it still is. Over the last several weeks, we have been debating what the next stage should be and finally decided: Alaska. Give us more Alaska.

So after a nice holiday break in the Midwest with our families, we will be coming back to North Pole, Alaska. Although we won’t be traveling to several different places like we originally intended, Alaska is a big enough place to keep us busy all on its own. We have already made a huge list of things we still haven’t done or seen yet, and things that were so good we want to go back and do again (here we come Denali National and State Parks!).

We will also have to find a new place to live, since our current apartment won’t be available anymore after January. So everything still feels pretty non-permanent. Even though our year won’t be quite as nomadic as I first guessed, I think it still earns the title of the blog.

Here are a few pictures from our travels over the last four months that remind me how lucky we are to have more time to explore wild Alaska:

Am I a nomad yet?

I have been really thinking about this question as we try and figure out what we will do next. I think the strangest part of being “non-permanent” is the unknown. I literally have no idea where we will be living in January. Okay, I have a little bit of an idea, but I can’t start making plans or thinking about what comes next until everything is decided. This is a strange land for me. I am a planner. I like lists and calendars and knowing what is around the next corner. I am ready to start planning!

It makes me wonder if this is how real nomads feel? I imagine it isn’t. From my limited understanding of nomadic culture most groups move based on need. Their way of life depends on movement, just like animals that migrate in order to feed themselves with changing seasons. It seems like a rhythm or a tide, part of the normal flow of life.

From what I understand, nomads usually fall into three categories: hunter-gathers, herders, or craftspeople (skilled in certain trades). Movement for a nomad equals sustainability. I suppose we fall into the skilled craftspeople category, but although we can move with my husbands job, it certainly isn’t required. We are choosing to be nomadic.

But maybe any life, even when you are raised in it, is a choice at a certain level? I am straying a little from my point, but I am profoundly interested in choices. How we become who we are. And I think this is all an important part of our adventure.

So am I a nomad? It depends on your definition. But here are the things I can check off so far:

  • No permanent address (You would be surprised how often this becomes a problem- driver’s license, insurance, voting, etc.)
  • Travel with only what we can carry, i.e. limited “stuff” (this one I don’t really mind except I miss our bed…and our kitchen supplies; what I wouldn’t give for a good knife!)
  • Encountering new landscapes, people, food, and weather (check, check, check, and check. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling)
  • Feeling connected (I am surprised by how quickly I felt rooted in Alaska. I feel at home here. Strange how so many places in the world can feel like home. I like that.)

Fingers crossed I will be able to share our next “home” soon. Until then, cheers from Alaska!

Gray Days = Homemade Soft Pretzels

I miss the sun. For the last four days, I have been watching out the windows by my desk searching for the pale light but so far, nothing. It isn’t just that the days are getting shorter, which they are, but on top of that, our few hours of daylight aren’t really light at all. It’s just gray. Dust pan gray.

The encroaching darkness of an Alaskan winter didn’t really bothered me until the gray set in. Today, December 7th, the sun was supposed to rise at 10:35AM, but it never broke through the clouds. And it will set, behind a wall of clouds I’m sure, at 2:49PM. Our day will only last 4 hours and 13 minutes. This kind of darkness is a little disorienting. You look outside at 3:30PM and think it is 8:30PM, but you haven’t even had dinner yet. Strangely, I can deal with short days as long as day feels like day. Sun. Give me sun.

My answer to gray is bake goods. If I can’t make it cheerful outside, I can at least make our apartment smell warm and yummy. I have always had a special place in my heart for soft pretzels. Who doesn’t? So this seemed the prefect food to lift us out of the haze of gray.

I started making soft pretzels last year when I came across a recipe on the internet. For the life of me I can’t remember where I actually found it, but I’m so glad I did. It is remarkably easy, and Lucas and I love the results. I must admit, we are pretzel people. A trip to Pittsburgh, PA would not be complete without a visit to one of our favorite South Side spots, The Pretzel Shop. But even if you aren’t as pretzel crazed as we are, this is a recipe worth trying. My day feels brighter already.

Soft Pretzels

What You Need:

2 3/4 cups flour

1 envelope instant yeast

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup and 1 tablespoon hot water

1/3 cup baking soda

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg white

Coarse sea salt, or flaky salt

To Make:

Combine the bread flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the food processor,* pulse. While the food processor is running, gradually add hot water until elastic dough forms, about 5 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic. Allow dough to double in volume, about 30-60 minutes.

*Normally, I use a food processor, but in Alaska we don’t have one, so I kneaded the dough by hand. This is doable, but I recommend using a food processor if it is available.

Next, punch down the dough on a floured work surface. Divide it into 8 pieces. At this point, you can either make pretzel rolls (less shaping and good for sandwiches) or the traditional pretzel shape. If you want rolls, simply shape a round bun and slash a small ‘X’ on each using a serrated knife. If you want the traditional shape, roll a log with tapered ends. Cross the two ends and twist once to form the middle fork of the pretzel shape. The two tapered ends should be secured to the outside of the pretzel with light pressure, and if needed, a little water. Then cover the shaped dough with a towel and let it rise until it has doubled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a baking sheet. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add sugar and baking soda (the baking soda will make the water bubble, so add it gradually). Boil each roll for 30 seconds, then flip, and cook for another 30 seconds. Place boiled pretzels on prepared baking sheet, brush with egg white, and sprinkle with salt. Bake until brown, about 20 minutes.


I spy with my little eye … the Northern Lights

Each day before my husband leaves for work, as I am still sleepy-eyed, he gives me the morning updates. He tells me what is on the news, what is happening in the world of sports, other tidbits of information, and, most importantly, what the Geophysical Institute’s aurora forecast is for the day. Translation: will we be able to see the Northern Lights tonight?

On Monday, the forecast was a four, moderate. But this is good. Normally, the forecast moves between one and two, so we have a policy to get outside and look if it is three or above. The scale is 1-10. That night we bundled up, packed a thermos of hot chocolate (my new winter go-to), and drove to Chena Lakes Recreation Area, the closest place to get a good view of the lights.

After about 15 minutes, we could see the lights forming on the horizon and from there it only got better. One of my favorite parts about the Northern Lights are how they change. They move across the sky, shifting both in shape and intensity of color.

This is the third time we have seen the lights since arriving in Alaska and each time I get caught up in their spell. It’s almost magical, like a little wizard is standing someplace out in the snow painting his wand across the sky, green waves of pixie dust.

My husband is our Northern Lights photographer. I am more of a point-and-shoot kind of girl. To me, composition is important, landscapes, people, animals, etc. I am interested in how they fit in the window of the shot, but when I get down to the business of actually taking the picture, I want the camera to do the work. So it is a good thing Lucas likes to  play around with the settings and read the instructions. He is mastering the night shot.

This also has two additional advantages for me: I can hop in the car to warm up more often (it’s still cold here!), and I get to just look. There is something special about just taking it all in. Alaska continues to make me marvel at the natural world.

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