Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winter Wardrobe

Winter preparedness.  I think Nathanial has probably written a manual on the topic at work.  But it also happens to be the biggest stressor for me while we live in Alaska.  I get asked if I'm ready for winter pretty often.  My answer - um no?  How will I ever be ready for winter IN ALASKA?  I'm from Texas.  Texas - where we get ice once or twice a season and work is closed for the day. (Except for hospitals in the Med Center but that's a different subject.)  Last Thanksgiving, I wore shorts. Snow? I've seen snow less than 10 times in my life and most of those times I wasn't in Texas. Oh hey Oklahoma. Thanks for the memories.  

I thought I'd be able to ease into winter here but that didn't happen.  One day the weather was crisp and there were beautiful red leaves and the next Jack Frost arrived along with several inches of snow that hasn't melted. I've had to get adjusted quickly and figure out how to dress here.  That meant investing in a new wardrobe as pretty much nothing from my Texas life prepared me. I hate wearing dress pants and closed toe shoes so I'm starting basically at square one.

The first thing I knew I would need is new shoes.  My cowboy boots have been my go-to shoes since we moved but they are hard to get off which is problematic because of Alaskan customs.

I got a pair of Ugg boots which are great when I'm running out the door and want some extra warmth.  I wear them with jeans which is a departure from my Nike short wearing college days.

I also got a pair of brown riding boots.  They are perfect for when I want a complete and cute outfit. 

Both boots have decent traction and I'm able to wear them without problems. When the snow really sets in though, I'm told I'll need some actual snow boots.

I'm going to order these but haven't been able to pull the trigger on them yet.  I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that winter clothes aren't supposed to be cute.

I'm told that layering is the best way to keep warm. I've been picking up sweaters and long sleeved shirts. I also have a new found affinity for vests and scarves.

Chambray and a burlap like scarf. Who am I?

This is my most Alaskan outfit. A plaid shirt, tweed puffer vest and a knit headband.  Don't let the picture fool you, I felt ridiculous wearing that headband. I haven't worn it since even though it kept my head really warm.

I also purchased a white down jacket. It keeps me toasty but I can't get over the faux fur hood and feeling like a snowman (woman).

When my mother-in-law was in town we went to REI to buy the snow boots shown above. They didn't have the color I wanted in stock (because black is really unique ;) ) so we decided to walk around a bit.  It was at this point that I realized despite my recent shopping trips, I was in no way prepared for winter.

The first thing we noticed in the clothing section was a sleeping bag skirt.  Not kidding.

What is that? And why would I wear it?  Luckily my MIL is braver than I and grabbed a sales associate to answer that very question.  It's a Skhoop; an insulated down skirt. Made in both long and short versions and assorted colors.  This my friends, is apparently how you wear a cute outfit but still stay warm.  The Skhoop goes over your clothes and then zips off when you arrive at your destination.  Whoa.  

I also got an education on the best way to layer - wool under layer, fleece with windbreak middle layer and down outer layer.  I learned that mittens are better than gloves and that to enjoy Alaska, I have to be active in the Winter.

REI has about a billion choices for achieving all of these purposes so I walked away without buying anything. I decided future Michelle could deal with the cold (that's a How I Met Your Mother reference). Too bad that was a few weeks ago and the somewhat cold has made way for the really cold temperatures so the future is now. Donations for the winter wardrobe fund are now being accepted.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Because in Alaska

We are famous.  Because in Alaska you can show up a few minutes before the start of a gubernatorial debate and still get seats close to the front.  Our smiling faces were featured heavily in the local news broadcast of the event.

Is my face saying highly concerned citizen or did he really just say that?  Please note the potty mouth guy leaning in behind me.  Nathanial asked him to watch his language at least twice during the debate - not that he listened or anything.  I'd also like to point out my red jacket. N asked me several times during the evening if I wanted to take it off. I said no; it completed my outfit and helped me look the part of a good Republican.  :)

The debate was really interesting and not just because the male moderator had enough rings on his hands to make Charming Charlie jealous.  Both candidates are Republican.  The incumbent has been the governor for the last 5 years, taking over during Sarah Palin's VP run and then winning his own term.  His opponent was a member of the Republican party until deciding to run on an Independent ticket in September.  The lieutenant governor running on the opposing ticket actually won the Democratic primary election before the party opted to slot him on a fusion ticket with the ex-Republican.

Unbeknownst to us, we were sitting on the incumbent side.  We figured that out pretty quickly with the "4 more years" chants that kept erupting from the crowd.  We were handed campaign buttons before we even had a chance to sit down.  I kept mine on my lap because I wasn't ready to commit until listening to the debate.

Aside from being famous, the weekend was really good.  Several things happened that I decided were unique to Alaska.

  •  I was really distracted in our Sunday evening Bible study
Because in Alaska, two large flocks of geese may land in the green space directly across the street from the room you're in.

  • Stoplights can be exciting
Because in Alaska, a HUGE bald eagle may fly right over the car while you're stopped.  This happened Saturday but I wasn't able to get my phone in time for a picture.

  • Fall decor loses its appeal
Because in Alaska,your pumpkin on the porch will get covered in snow.

  • I learned to be intentional about shoe selection
Because in Alaska, you are expected to remove your shoes as soon as you get through the door which makes cowboy boots a little tricky.

  • I decided Costco isn't that great
Because in Alaska, the entire state shows up there on Sundays. And you might have to return twice the next day to get your snow tires installed.  Which might involved a three hour wait.  Thank goodness for good book recommendations.

  • I hope people leave comments
Because in Alaska, boredom may lead to excessive blog viewership tracking. My blog has received over 1,000 views but only 2 comments.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Flashback Friday : Weekend Update Edition

I know Friday is a weird day for a weekend update but my posts have been scarce lately.

Two Weekends Ago: A Visit from Home
Nathanial's mom arrived in Anchorage Friday afternoon.  We took her to an Italian restaurant in town for dinner.  Houston spoiled us by have so  many wonderful choices for places to eat and we're having a hard time finding places around town that we want to frequent.  This Italian place was no different; mediocre food with high end prices.  When we find restaurants we like, we hang on to them, so I'll probably post about the same places over and over (i.e. Double Musky.)   She was worn out from the time difference and a long day of traveling and encouraged Nathanial and me to attend our Sunday School class game night.  We were so glad we did.  We played two games we hadn't played before - HeadBandz and Game of Things.  I haven't laughed that long in a while.  My face hurt from all the chuckling.

Saturday morning we took her to Gwennie's (a local old greasy spoon) for breakfast.

Leaving breakfast we passed the Fur Exchange and decided to stop in.  That was an experience to say the least.

Fur rose anyone?

Animal pelts everywhere

The rest of the weekend was pretty low key (nothing could really be more unique than the Fur Exchange).

I take that back! I almost forgot about the most exciting thing of all.  I finally saw the elusive Alaskan moose!

 We've been hearing about moose running all over town since we moved. I had yet to see one for myself. I was beginning to think a moose was the Alaskan version of the unicorn.

On Monday, Pam and I went to REI before she headed back to Oklahoma. I was hoping to stock up on some winter gear but left feeling really overwhelmed. I plan on doing a post soon about my winter wardrobe and sleeping bag skirts.

Last Weekend: Hockey Fights and Mashed Potatoes

Last Friday, my sweet husband planned a surprise date. It was exactly what we both needed after a long week.  We went to the season opener of the Alaska Aces hockey team. 
I was pleased with the first attempt of this picture.  That NEVER happens.
The crowd was rowdy and there was a fight on the ice within the first minute of the game.  It was such a fun night!  Next time we go, we want to have the obligatory cowbell with us so we can make noise with the best of them.

My tweet made it on the screen!

The starting line up.  Our seats were right behind the penalty box. So awesome!

The best concession stand idea; a caramel apple bar.  Mine was topped with Oreos and coconut.
Saturday was dedicated to football. Sadly both of our teams lost.

I made the Spiced Pumpkin Bread from Williams Sonoma.  It was the perfect fall breakfast for a day of football.
Saturday evening Nathanial attended the men's wild game dinner at our church. Since he didn't have any moose or bear to contribute he volunteered me to make mashed potatoes.

Making enough mashed potatoes for 30 people means 3 batches and 15 pounds of potatoes.

Nathanial got to the dinner at 7. Only to find out the dinner started an hour earlier...

Thank goodness for friends with kids who were happy to get the potatoes - all 15 pounds.

It was a great weekend; the kind that both relaxes and reenergizes you. Good thing, because Monday morning we woke up to:

Three inches of snow in our front yard.  I've been around snow before but never in that quantity and never in October.  I was surprised at how soft the snow was. 

I had "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from Frozen in my head ALL day, so as soon as N got home from work, we went outside.

We worked with what we had to build a snowman.  I know to keep carrots in our fridge from now on.

Then we threw snowballs and even had a jumping contest.  Being married to your best friend is pretty fun. :)

Boot prints in the snow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Care Packages & Tex Mex

I've gotten much better about checking the mail since we've been in Alaska. Good thing since I've been getting some awesome care packages.

My Dad has been sending hilarious postcards and photos from their recent visit.  Eventually I'll finish recapping their trip.

My friends and I have a slight (ok, large) bacon obsession. I loved getting this from them.

Yesterday I got the cutest Happy Fall box all the way from Oklahoma. N's stepmom, Jannette, gets me.  She sent an adorable pumpkin loaf pan with pumpkin pecan bread mix, and all kinds of other fall goodies.  She also sent some cans of Rotel which was perfect. I already used a can to make some guacamole. Delicious!

I've been trying my best to recreate Tex Mex at home since we've all but given up on the Mexican restaurants here. Nathanial's mom, Pam, was here over the weekend for a great visit and surprised N by bringing a canteen of his favorite queso from home. Sunday evening we planned a meal around it and I made some salsa for our taco salads.

Today in an effort to use up some of the remaining salsa (there's so much!) I made my own version of chicken fajitas.  It was easy to make and really delicious so I thought I would share the recipe.

Fajita Rub

Mix together the following:

1/4 c Chili Powder
2 TBS Sea Salt
2 TBS Paprika
1 TBS Onion Powder
1 TBS Garlic Powder
1 TBS Ground Cumin

I rubbed the seasoning on both sides of a chicken breast and threw it in a skillet with some olive oil.  I cooked for several minutes on each side and then cut into strips and cooked a few more minutes.

I topped with salsa and rolled in a tortilla. Perfection.

I still have a good amount of the rub left so I poured it in a Ziploc baggy for future use.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fireplace View

I'm currently sitting in front of my fireplace wearing Ugg boats and my heaviest sweater.  We skipped over fall the last few days and right into winter. This morning I met a friend from church for a much needed mani/pedi.  Our appointment was at 10 and I failed to consider the weather.  I was a few minutes late on account of the ice scraping I had to do before leaving.  It was 22 degrees on my way to the salon.  That's really cold even with the new down jacket I bought last week.

This afternoon I headed to my daily chiropractor appointment. N and I have both been going since we were rear ended last week.  On my way home it started snowing. The Texan in me wants to me excited that it's snowing outside but now that I live in Alaska snow just seems like a chore. I've already experienced bad drivers and am scared to think about what snow will do. It doesn't help with feeling cold either.

Nathanial has been really busy at work this week with lots of folks in town for a safety forum.  I attended the reception last night and was extremely impressed with how well the event turned out.  Their keynote speakers were mushers from the Iditarod and the entire day was designed around a "Pulling Together" theme. The favors were engraved dog tags and even the refreshments fit the theme. It was fascinating to learn more about the race.  The dogs were significantly smaller than I expected.  We spoke with one of the mushers who explained they race with Alaskan Huskies not the traditional Siberian Husky most people think of because of the speed the smaller dogs get.  Those dogs are much less notable in appearance and reminded me more of the greyhound breed. The musher also told us how they trained their dogs using a tapered approach much like a marathon training schedule. Right now they take the dogs out on four wheelers for short five mile runs and will continue to build until reaching 200 miles before the race.  I am looking forward to the actual race in March!

Because I can't stand posts without pictures, here's what our living room looks like (minus a lit fireplace.)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Guinea Pig Tourists

My parents were the first guests to visit  in Alaska and as such served as the guinea pigs for all things touristy.  The first full day they were in town we decided to explore some local attractions; some were repeatable and some experiences only need to be had once. We were at a slight disadvantage with the timing as most seasonal attractions had already shut down for the season.

We started out the day at the Alaska Zoo.  It was a chilly morning so we had the zoo to ourselves.

It was the smallest zoo I've visited which explained why the zoo maps were one-sided laminated sheets  to be returned at the conclusion of the visit.  The exhibits and the number of animals represented was extremely disappointing compared to other small zoos we've visited.  However, we did enjoy the seal and polar bear exhibits and even got to see a trainer working with the seals.

The zoo boasted an interesting memorial to the elephant who lived at the zoo for nearly 30 years before dying of an infection in 1997.

After the zoo, we went to the Anchorage Museum downtown.  They were working on an installation so the only open exhibits were the children's area and native tribes of Alaska.The main collection was compiled by the Smithsonian Institute and although well done didn't take much time to explore.  The children's area was neat but we felt pretty out of place.

We grabbed lunch after leaving the museum and then headed to Alaska Wild Berry Chocolate Factory.  It was the highlight of the day. The huge store has windows into the kitchens where you can watch candy and jam being made. The large chocolate fountain in the middle of the shop is pretty awesome too.

We tried samples of several of the homemade candies including scrumptious Key Lime Fudge and even tried chocolate covered bacon. Despite my bacon obsession - it wasn't my favorite. 

Next we went to the Ulu Factory.  The Ulu Knife has a curved shape and is made from a steel base and wooden handle. It was used by the native tribes of Alaska to skin game but now is more widely used in homes for a variety of cooking tasks. You utilize the knife in a rocking motion to easily chop vegetables.

Here's a video I found on YouTube. I recommend only watching the first minute.

The factory mostly just assembles the knives as they have found it is more cost efficient to have the parts manufactured by outside suppliers.

Getting ready for the Iditarod outside the Ulu Factory
We rounded out the day with a movie at the best theater in town.  You preselect seats before arriving which takes away the worry of where to sit.  We really love it though because the seats are huge (they call them King size) recliners.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Shake, Rattle and Roll - Thursday, Sept. 25

Well I survived my first earthquake. Actually my first and second.  Last Thursday was an exciting day as my parents were set to arrive in Alaska after a trip to Canada. True to form I was running around trying to complete some last minute tasks right until I needed to leave for the airport to pick them up.  I was in the middle of installing the cabinet doors I spent countless hours staining when the house started shaking.  An earthquake is an extremely weird sensation if you've never felt one.  This particular 'quake was really minor and was nearly complete before I realized what was happening. Our swinging light fixtures and hanging plant were good clues as was Nathanial calling to say "Did you feel that?"

My parents and I left the airport after waiting for some time for my mom's bag which never arrived.  The airline stated a glitch in the system at Seattle meant her bag hadn't been loaded onto the plane but would arrive later in the afternoon. My dad joked that her bag fell out of the plane on the descent which is what caused the earthquake. Post airport, I took them to their first Alaskan dining experience - a local burger joint called Arctic Roadrunner. The food there is good but it's the experience I love.  The whole place has a lodge like feel and the walls are covered with life stories of loyal customers.  It was the perfect welcome to town meal. 

After lunch, we headed back to the house and spent time chatting until Nathanial got home from work.  From there we went to a small town an hour south of Anchorage called Girdwood. The drive down that portion of Highway 1 (yes, the only highway in Alaska) is absolutely breathtaking and Girdwood is home to our favorite restaurant - The Double Musky.

The Double Musky boasts Cajun influence with Alaskan charm.  The food is wonderful (a fact which is backed up by the long lines each day before the restaurant opens.) My Dad is a professed pepper steak aficionado and even he can't stop raving about how good his order was.