It’s so cold… so, so, cold

I feel a little like I am on repeat. When people call, they ask, “How’s Alaska?” And I find myself continuously saying, “It’s cold. Like, really cold.” Over and over and over. So I am not surprised when Lucas tells me that this winter has been the 5th coldest in the history of Fairbanks. And the coldest in the last 40 years. Record breaking cold.

This weekend was been no exception. Yesterday, it was -52 degrees. We had ice fog as thick as smog on Saturday and Sunday. It is the kind of weekend that lends itself to movie marathons and snuggling on the couch.

But in light of the cold, we decided to repeat an interesting “science experiment” that produces an almost magical result. This weekend was the perfect storm of conditions to try it again, very cold, dry air. To conduct this experiment, you simple boil water, take it outside, and toss it into the air. And poof: the water evaporates into a snowy cold of tiny ice droplets before it even touches the ground. It looks a little like the smoke from dry ice.

Below is a short video documenting the results. Enjoy! And keep your fingers crossed for us that it warms up a little next weekend so we can get out and play in the snow.


Tales of A Nomad: Our Car Arrives! (finally)

Sometimes I still forget just how far away we are from the rest of the United States. And then I think about plane rides and time zones. From Anchorage, an hour plane ride from where we live, it still takes around four hours to fly to Seattle. Four hours. That is about the same amount of time it takes to fly from Ohio to California. Crazy. And this morning when I woke up around eight, my friends and family in the Eastern Time Zone where already having lunch. Somehow even with the darkness and the snow and the cold, it still seems impossible that Alaska is so big and so far north. But it is.

The reason I have been thinking about this so much is our car. Yesterday, after three weeks, it finally arrived in North Pole. It seems funny, but the car has now joined our nomadic family. It was shipped from Ohio to Seattle, from there loaded on a barge that stopped at more coastal Alaskan towns than I have been to, and finally, shipped from Anchorage to North Pole. Our car traveled over 5,000 miles.

It arrived a little dirty and unprepared to handle this kind of cold, so after a quick jump start, it went directly to the mechanic. It will be fitted with a block heater, and the cord for plugging it in, and other mechanical things I don’t totally understand, all so we can start it in the cold. Our car will now have a permanent reminder of its months in Alaska!

It is exciting to have our own car back. No more rental cars with bad tires, and we can give back the truck we have been borrowing. Although, I think Lucas and I have both  come around to having a beastly truck, especially here. It makes driving in the snow a lot easier. And I am going to miss the remote starter like you wouldn’t believe.

But the double bonus of getting our car: the items that arrived in the car trunk. Our dehydrator, backpacking just got so much lighter, and our ice skates, here we come open skate. I am also looking forward to seeing what kind of looks we get driving around in a car with Pennsylvania license plates. You don’t see that everyday in Alaska!

Add one more experience to our nomadic repertoire, shipping cars cross country.

Hello, Chocolate Covered Doughnuts!

First, I will just put it out there, I’m not a doughnut person. I don’t crave them, and as much as I love sweets, I can live without doughnuts. Give me chocolate or ice cream. But my husband is another story. And last week, he kept talking about doughnuts. He was way in need of a doughnut breakfast, so I did a little digging and found a baked doughnut recipe that sounded tasty. And wow, was I impressed. I may have, for better or worse, turned the corner on doughnuts, at least homemade, baked, chocolate covered ones.

I found the recipe at Vegan Yum Yum, but I adapted it to use what we already had at home, so it includes egg, milk, and butter rather than the original substitutes. And, I can’t imagine why, but we don’t own a mini-doughnut pan, which the recipe calls for, so I made doughnut muffins, or as we started calling them Muffnuts. The words doughnut and muffin are awkward to combine. Although they didn’t look like doughnuts, they tasted spot on (better than the real thing, in my opinion).

They are knock-you-over sweet, especially for breakfast, but what a great treat. Lucas certainly got his doughnut fix this week!

Chocolate Covered Doughnuts

What You Need:
1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp (scant) Nutmeg
1 tiny pinch or shake Cinnamon
1/2 Cup milk
1/2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Egg
4 Tbs Butter

Topping: 6oz. chocolate (dark or milk)

To Make:

Preheat oven to 350º F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

In a small sauce pan, over low heat, combine wet ingredients and mix until butter is melted. This mixture should not get too hot, rather go for slightly warm.

Add wet to dry and gently mix. It should form a very soft dough.

Now, you can either scoop dough into your ungreased nonstick mini-doughnut pan or a regular size  muffin pan. Note: If you are making mini-doughnuts it will make about 20, if you are making regular size muffins, it will make 6 very full muffins or 10 more normal size muffins. Smooth out the top of the dough with your fingers.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Doughnuts should not be brown on top. Invert hot pan over a cutting board or cooling rack to release doughnuts. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Chocolate Topping

Melt 6 oz of chocolate either over low heat in a double boiler or in the microwave using short bursts, about 30 seconds, stirring in between. Stir until chocolate is smooth and barely warm to the touch.

Dip or pour chocolate over cool doughnuts. Allow most excess chocolate to drip off then place on a cooling rack with a plate or tray underneath to catch remaining chocolate drips. You could also use wax or parchment paper as an alternative. Briefly refrigerate to help chocolate set. After 15-20 minutes, or until chocolate is set, remove from the refrigerator and eat or place the doughnuts in a tupperware to keep fresh until you want to serve them.


Musher in Training: Part 1

I am sore today. Sore like I haven’t been in a long time. And I kinda like it. Okay, not kinda, I do like it. I love the way it makes me feel connected to my body and to the work I did that lead to this. The best part: I wasn’t at the gym. I didn’t go for a run or lift weights. Instead, I drove down a snowy road, past moose eating lunch (yes, another mama and baby!), to Paws for Adventure, my new home away from home, and I worked with the dogs. Good, old-fashion chores are what have me sore and smiling this morning.

In December, Lucas and I went to Mushing School at Paws (click here to read my post about this adventure), and I fell head over heels for dog sledding. So when we decided to come back to Alaska in January, I e-mailed the owner of Paws and ask, oh-so-politely, if she had any interest in an extra set of hands. As you might have guessed, she said yes, and I am now working/volunteering as a “musher in training.”

This means I get to learn all about the daily work of running a mushing kennel, working with the dogs, and of course, mushing. So far I have two days of “training” under my belt, one day last week and one day this week. I am now experienced at:

  • scooping poop. This, as you might imagine, is a daily chore. Each dog has a little wooden house and a short chain length of space that they call home. Everyday the poop needs to be removed from their space so it doesn’t pile up. This is relatively easy work. Take a large shovel, scoop the snow and frozen poop into a plastic sled, and when the sled fills up, drag it into the woods and dump it. Repeat until all 50 plus doggie yards are clean. (The repetition of this task contributes to my spaghetti arms feeling sore the next day.)
  • doggie house cleaning. This chore is done on an as needed basis and includes cleaning snow off the tops of each dog house and checking to make sure each house has plenty of straw inside to keep the dogs warm, especially now with the amount of -40 degree weather we have been having. The dogs like to stand on top of their houses and this is also where their food/water bowl is located. The funniest part of this job is how crazy the sound of the shovel scrapping across the roof makes them. The sprint around howling while I clean. During this chore, I also carry around a small hatchet to clean the ice away from the edges of their water/food bowls. They hate the hatchet, too. Except for the puppies, who where just moved into their own houses last week, they have no idea what any of this is about. They are like little kids, curious about everything.
  • feeding/watering. The dogs at Paws get feed twice a day, and if they go out on a run they get a salmon snack, that they love. The morning/lunch feeding is dog food plus fat, which is often chicken skins, all mixed together in hot water. Two ladles full for dogs, one for puppies. As soon as I walk out with the first bucket they go nuts. Running in circles, jumping up on their houses, it is like I get the equivalent of a dog standing ovation. The buckets are huge, and filled to the top (contributes to sore shoulders), so I walk slow, trying not to spill this gross mix on myself. The dogs are good, when I walk up they move out of way, panting, drooling, waiting for me to pour it into their bowl. They go particularly wild for the chicken skin. Eating it first in one or two bits. The dogs that are waiting and haven’t been feed yet start to cry and bark louder. But once the food comes it gets so quiet. Like people.
  • puppy walks. Best. Job. Ever. The puppies, who have just recently joined the routine of the other dogs, haven’t yet been trained on the sleds so they need to be walked for exercise. Yesterday, I took two puppies out for the first time. Tanana and Stubbs. They had never been on a leash before. When I first hooked them up, they didn’t want to go. They tried to sit down, dragging themselves across the snow, until we were a few yards away from the other dogs. Then they went nuts. Jumping, running into each other, getting so tangled up they couldn’t move. It was hilarious and a struggle. Once we made it across the field into the woods (out of eye shot of the other dogs), I let them off the leashes and this is when it got fun. They would sprint out in front of me, then run back to check in. We walked for about an hour through a quiet snow covered forest that looked like it was covered in white cake. They loved it. The path we walked on was matted down by sleds and snowmachines, but sometimes they would jump off the path into the deep snow and disappear until they struggled back onto the path, white-faced, tongues hanging out. I was in puppy love. On the way back, just before we came out of the woods, I hooked them back up to the leashes, and they walked like a little two-dog team, side my side, so good. When I dropped them off at their house with a little dog food snack, Tanana started to cry when I walked away. I think I made new friends.

Besides daily chores, I have also been mushing both times. The first week, I drove a sled behind the owner and a guest who had come to mushing school, but yesterday I took a team out all by myself. It was a little unnerving. Would I remember all the right turns to follow the correct trail? Would the dogs listen when it was just me?

I made it back safe and sound, loving every minute. My lead dogs, M&M and Nugget, were amazing. They know the trails better than I do. And my wheel dogs, Bud and D-1, were only a little lazy. It was so different to be out by myself. The dogs glancing back to make sure I am still in charge, the sun dipping into the horizon in deep reds and oranges, moose tracks crisscrossing the trail, snow piled in thick layers on the ground and the trees, frost forming a white halo on the hood around my face, my eyelashes heavy with white frost. I was mushing.

I still have more to learn, a whole list of things the owner wants to teach me, and eventually my team will grow to five and then six dogs, but for now, I am thrilled to be outside, playing in the snow.

Ice Fog

It has been cold here in North Pole, Alaska. Perhaps that is an understatement. It has been really cold. The last two nights it has been -50 or colder. Thus, we have had our first experience with ice fog. Yes, this is actually something real.

Ice fog is a phenomenon that can occur when it drops below -30. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geological Institute, “Ice fog is what happens when water vapor meets bitter cold air that can’t hold any more water.When water vapor exits a car tailpipe when it’s minus 40, for example, the water vapor temperature drops from about 250 degrees to minus 40 in less than 10 seconds. Water cooled that fast forms tiny ice particles, so small that ten of them could fit side by side on the finger-cutting edge of a piece of paper. Collectively, millions of these particles take form as ice fog, the cotton candy-like clouds that hand over our roads.”

In real life, it looks more like science-fiction. This weekend as Lucas and I drove around looking for new apartments, we experienced the magic/mystery/weirdness of ice fog first hand. You can only see about 50-75 yards in front of the car and headlights seem to appear out of nowhere as two fast moving bright dots. I kept thinking it looked like we were in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. I was waiting for Bigfoot or a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater to burst through the cloud of hazy ice. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. We had about two days of ice fog, then it lifted, back to normal cold weather.

I have to say, of all the Alaskan things we have experienced so far, ice fog might be my least favorite. It makes the world look gray and muffled. What I love about winter here is that it looks so clean and crisp and white. Pretty on pretty. But ice fog masks that and suddenly I just felt cold. Like I was breathing in ice, which ironically, I was. But as I have often said this winter: I am still glad to say that I experienced it.

Back in Alaska: Moose!

On Saturday we touched down at Fairbanks International Airport in the midst of a dark, snowy, semi-cold (only -14) evening, happy to be back. Weird right? But Alaska has become home (for now), and I couldn’t get over how winter-white and pretty it is here. Being in Alaska is a little like living inside a painting.

We had a great break, visiting with family and friends, soaking up as much sun as we could, and enjoying the fact that it was way warmer. But I have to say, going to the mall the week before Christmas was totally, completely, overwhelming. So many people and cars and stuff. And traffic..ahh. How quickly we have gotten used to the wide open, sparsely populated life of Alaska.

But the best thing about being back happened today, less than a half hour ago, right here in my own back yard. Moose! Mama and baby. Oh, yea. I was pulling in the driveway after a morning meeting, and I spotted a large, brown, over-sized horse-like animal right behind the building. It did not like the sound of our truck (a temporary loan from friends that makes me feel very Alaskan, and tiny behind the wheel, it even takes diesel) so the moose ran a few yards and out popped the baby from behind our building. I slowly made my way inside, ran to the windows in front of my desk, and watched them eat and play and lay down for about 30 minutes before they moved on.

I am feeling very lucky. How many people can say they have seen moose in their backyard?

It turns out they had been hanging out behind the building for a while, Lucas took pictures when they first arrived, and then I went crazy taking pictures when the baby stood right outside the window eating. Have you ever seen moose lips? About the cutest thing ever.

Long story short, I am a little moose obsessed today, and it makes me excited to get back to exploring this amazing state.