Mr. President

Posted on

Election season came early to our household, but fortunately student council candidates aren’t allowed to make robo calls.  Instead, they spend copious hours designing posters, writing speeches, and begging for button making machines.  Sam ran for President, and Maggie for Sergeant at Arms.

We are so proud of them both!  Maggie didn’t make it to the final round this time, but her disappointment didn’t dampen the support and encouragement she showed her brother.  She even offered to color his campaign posters as she listened to him rehearse his speech.  Her sportsmanship and devotion warmed my heart!

Sam wrote his speech himself, and delivered it with confidence in front of the entire student body:

The next morning he learned that his campaign was successful, and he was all smiles.

sam campaign poster

Congratulations, Mr. President!  We trust you will be an excellent leader and role model in the coming year.  You have a wise, kind soul… and that’s a good start.  We could not be more proud!!


Amazing Race 11th Birthday Party

Posted on

Sam had a hard time picking a party theme for this year’s birthday, and I worried he might be getting too old for that sort of thing.  Luckily a quick Google search for 11-year-old “tween” birthday parties saved the day.  Two ideas came to the top of his list:  Minute-to-Win-It Games or an Amazing Race scavenger hunt.  He picked the Amazing Race (despite never watching the show) and it turned out to be an amazingly fun choice!

Whether or not kids are familiar with the show, the concept of a timed scavenger hunt gets them excited.

First and foremost I must give credit to Mom of 6, a blog where I found 90% of the ideas and inspiration for Sam’s party.  I highly recommend you visit her blog and see all the wonderful templates and ideas she offers for the Amazing Race theme!  (I can’t say how grateful this Mom of Two is to Mom of 6 for sharing her party ideas!)

First up was creating the invitation.  I downloaded the Microgramma font to match the Amazing Race logo as closely as possible:

amazing race birthday invitation

Instead of a traditional birthday cake, Sam requested his grandma’s chocolate cupcakes with fudge frosting.  We did our best to make the cupcakes fit the theme by adding Amazing Race flags and using bright yellow cupcake liners.  Sam organized the flags and was proud of the finished product, which is all that matters.


Before the race we gave each team a roll of streamers that matched their team color and let them decorate each other.  It was a great way to build the anticipation!

IMG_0421 IMG_0423

I’m so glad we took group and team photos before the race:


IMG_0431 IMG_0430 IMG_0428

The bulk of my Amazing Race party planning was spent designing the “race course.”  What would the kids do?  Where would they go?  What choices would be made?  What would they build?

Our course is listed below, but the possibilities are truly endless.  I created the race cards by modifying the templates that Mom Of 6 posted on her blog.

Fullscreen capture 692015 125118 AM.bmp

Fullscreen capture 692015 125154 AM.bmp

Fullscreen capture 692015 125210 AM.bmpFullscreen capture 692015 125219 AM.bmp

Our race cards can be downloaded here:  PDF / DOC

The Morse Code joke for the Detour card can be downloaded here.  (It reads:  Why did the boy put candles on the toilet?  He wanted to have a birthday potty!)

I placed the cards in numbered, color coded envelopes.  All teams received the same clues, but the order was random to prevent log jams.  The different colors helped us keep everything straight throughout the race.

image image

The “Shoe Patrol” was the starting point for all teams.  If the party attendees vary in age, you can scatter the older kids’ in more difficult places to find.

IMG_0443 IMG_0438

I do have one piece of advice for the Shoe Patrol:  make sure your puppy doesn’t think she’s part of the game!


Building the marshmallow shooter was much harder than we realized (even for adults) so we were pretty lenient about how close the bucket needed to be to the shooter.  As long as you have consistent rules for each team, it’s fine to wing it as you go.

IMG_0502 IMG_0454

The nature scavenger hunt was a favorite, but the boys had a heck of a time finding an insect!  First they tried to sneak in a spider, but our savvy judges were too smart for that.  Dejected, the boys headed out again, only to return with little white dots they claimed were fly eggs.  Rejected again!  Finally they came back with a beetle, and were granted their next clue!


It was especially fun to watch the teams navigate the Detour card.  The baby food was disgusting, but they could get it done fast.  The Morse Code took much longer, but spared them the gross factor.  All of the teams initially opted for baby food, but Sam nearly puked after one bite of green beans so his team had to switch to Morse Code!

IMG_0511 IMG_0512 IMG_0516 IMG_0519

We kept it very low key and tried to avoid too much competition, instead focusing on the pride of completing each task.  It was fun to hear the teams compare their experiences, since they all got tripped up at different spots along the way.

Everyone’s post-race prize was the same:  spaghetti and cupcakes.  Racers need carbs, right?!


Sam kept his guest list small, which made this theme manageable.  We hosted a sleepover and the next morning the kids were still giggling about their Amazing Race escapades.  Best of all, our birthday boy had a smile on is face the entire night.

Happy 11th Birthday to our amazing son Sam!



Boat Log 9: Boxlers on Board!

Posted on

We took a day trip with the Boxlers on a gloriously calm, sunny Sunday.  We hit the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier, along with many other people.  There were long lines at the launch!  We were also surprised that all the fee stations now took credit cards instead of cash envelopes.  It’s still $20 to launch/retrieve.

We headed to the rookerie to look at birds before dropping shrimp pots in Shotgun Cove.  We saw a leaping minky whale in Passage Canal.

We planned to sightsee our way to Hobo Bay, but the beach was occupied by a large group of campers and kayakers.  We headed near Harrison Lagoon instead.  The shore was nice and there was lots of driftwood for the kids to explore.  They also waded in the ocean to cool off since it was nearly 80 degrees!


image image

The tide went out rapidly and before we knew it we were anchored in uncomfortably shallow water, so we bolted out of there quickly.  Once we were in deeper water we motored slowly and ate a late lunch.  We saw a humpback whale and two porpoise.


We fished at Pigot Point and brought up around 20 fish:  little Pacific Cod, kelp greenling, rockfish, and an Irish Lord.  Lots of bottom fish, but no keepers.

When the kids were done fishing we pulled the shrimp pots – we had 73 in the few hours they soaked, so not bad.



We trolled for salmon on the way back to Whittier but didn’t have any luck.

The retrieval went well, especially since a teenage boy took the lines and helped us land.

We left Whittier through the 10 PM tunnel.  The drive back to Anchorage was incredibly scenic with crazy pink skies.  We would later learn that the stunning sunset was the result of smoke from the Sockeye wildfire, which started near Willow at 1 PM that same day.


It was a memorable day on the water, and fun to share the boating experience with friends!


I Heart Chugach: Rabbit Lakes

Posted on

Last week was all about hiking, and the grand finale was an 8.8 round trip hike to Rabbit Lakes.  The more I explore new trails in the Chugach National Forest, the more I understand why so many people slap “I Heart Chugach” bumper stickers on their Subarus.

Summers like this make me wonder why the entire planet isn’t migrating to Alaska. There is an infinite amount of daylight to hike an infinite number of trails, and this year we are blessed with the time to get out and do it.

Here are some snapshots from the Rabbit Lake excursion with three tired dogs, three energetic kids, and two proud adults:

IMG_0010 IMG_0012 IMG_0014 IMG_0015 IMG_0029 IMG_0036 IMG_0045 IMG_0048 IMG_0053 IMG_0070 IMG_0075 IMG_0126


We Have a Tweenager!

Posted on

Somehow these birthdays just keep coming!  I haven’t even posted about Sam’s 10th birthday party yet, and here we are celebrating number 11.  It was hard enough last year when he hit double digits, but 11 sounds so old.  I remember the day he was born so vividly that it surely can’t be over a decade ago!

On the morning of his 11th birthday I dug out an old family scrapbook that included his birth story, and he enjoyed reading all the gory details.


I’m not sure what’s more baffling to me:  how big his foot has grown in 11 years, or that I actually used to make family scrapbooks!  (I figure I can catch up when the kids go to college, right?)


Now that he’s 11, he asked to bake his own birthday cupcakes.  Let the independence begin!image

Clearly supervision is still required:


All he wanted for his birthday was a family golf outing and dinner at Romano’s, a local Italian restaurant we all love.  He was certainly surprised when he opened his own set of golf clubs at the course!


But wait!  There’s more!  Tess got him a box of balls and tees, and Maggie got him a perfect golf shirt:

IMG_0359 IMG_0362

It took a few hours for all four of us to play nine holes at Russian Jack (golfers we are not), but it was a nice evening and no one was in a hurry.

IMG_0365 IMG_0368 IMG_0377 IMG_0379

Watching him turn 11 feels monumental.  Something has shifted.  I think he’s officially a tweenager now?  It’s time to buckle up and bring our A Game to this parenting scene.  Are we ready for the ride?

We can fill his head and heart with our family’s values, but before long he’ll be the one in the driver’s seat.  I hope he always senses our presence, like faithful guides riding next to him in the passenger seat.  I hope he knows he can steer his own course, but that we’ll always be here to welcome him when the road turns back home.

So here we go.  Let the journey begin!



Boat Log 8

Posted on


May 24-25, 2015

How crazy that we headed out for the first trip of Season 2 on our boat exactly one year from our maiden voyage .

We live about two miles up a curvy mountain road, so pulling the boat up and down is no easy feat.  We made it halfway down when Clark realized he had forgotten his wallet.  Should we go back for it – which most likely meant we would miss the tunnel?  Or should we push forward without it?  In the end we decided it wasn’t worth the risk of boating without a driver’s license, so we headed back up the hill for his wallet.

On the way back down we saw two beautiful black bears – talk about lucky timing!  I decided karma was on our side for this trip!


Because of the wallet delay, we didn’t expect to make the 2:30 tunnel.  (It’s a one lane tunnel open for 15 minutes at the top of each hour out of Whittier, and then 15 minutes at the bottom of each hour into Whittier.)  We rolled through the toll booth at 2:46… one minute late… but they let us through!  Let the good karma continue!

The kids saw some classmates coming into the harbor just as we headed out.  It was a busy Memorial Day weekend, and we had waited until Saturday to hit the water.  The weather was rainy and foggy, which might explain why so many people were heading off the water.


Because of the fog, we motored slowly out of the harbor.  We didn’t get far before Clark stepped off the motor entirely.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing.  Coast Guard!” he announced.

Suddenly a huge silver boat with a bright orange bumper was approaching our boat, and before I knew what was happening a couple of cute 20-something Coast Guard officials hopped on board with us.


The first thing they asked for was Clark’s driver’s license and the boat registration.  PHEW!  So glad we went back for that license!

We passed the inspection with flying colors.  We had the horn, fire extinguishers, flotation devices, paperwork, flares, and everything else required for safety at sea.  The guys were great with the kids – asked their names, answered their questions, and raved about a career in the Coast Guard!

Because of the fog we decided not to go far.  We popped into Shotgun Cove to check out camping opportunities.  We were enjoying the honks and snorts of some sea lions when a co-worker of Clark’s pulled up nearby.  Candy and her family were on their maiden voyage and having a great time.


We chatted a bit and then dropped our shrimp pots at the entrance to Shotgun Cove around 6:30.

It was rainy, foggy, and in the upper 40’s.  We dropped anchor for the night and took the dingy to shore.  Clark, Tess, and the kids went first.


When Clark oared back to get me, Tess finally proved that she can swim.  She didn’t like it, but she doggie paddled along the dingy.  Maybe she’s a Labrador after all!  Bottom line: That dog doesn’t like to be separated from her peeps!

When we were all back on the boat I heated up some soup and chili while the kids played catch and release with little Pacific Cod.  After dinner we played Apples to Apples and an incredibly biased trivia game called Beat the Parents.  The kids creamed us.

Clark was a hero and took Tess to shore one more time before bed – careful not to let her swim and get completely drenched this time – while the kids and I geared up the cabin for bed.  It was a rainy night and we were grateful for the dry cabin, despite the wet dog smell.  We even broke out Mr. Buddy to help stay warm!

The kids slept great, but Tess was a mess.  She is used to cuddling up with the kids at home and didn’t take kindly to being restricted to the floor.  She was wet, stinky, and miserable!


The next morning we woke to thicker fog and initially planned to head back early, but the skies cleared and we went exploring instead.  We left Shotgun Cove and drove through new territory – part of Culross Passage to Long Bay.  There were some narrow passages and it’s really best that I stayed down in the cabin, because I would have been a nervous wreck (okay, more of a nervous wreck) had I seen the charts in live time!


We saw some seals in Long Bay – one was perched on a rock like a giant white smiley face.  Probably happy to see the sun!

Clark and the kids went to shore to explore some waterfalls in Long Bay.  Tess ate a fish and lots of grass, and before they knew it she had vomited 13 times.  Clark thinks it happened too fast to be from the fish, so we are hoping it wasn’t sea sickness.  She threw up two more times on the boat deck and it was almost entirely grass.  We hope this was a one time fluke!


On the way back to our shrimp pots at Shotgun Cove we saw a few porpoise!  They were our first.  They didn’t play in our wake, but hopefully next time!

Around this time the Coast Guard approached us again, but we showed our copy of the safety inspection and they waved us away.  They yelled, “Hi again, Sam!” as they drove away.  Crazy that they remembered his name!

The kids helped a lot – and were very excited – when we pulled up 82 shrimp!  Clark bought us all new gloves that made both pot pulling and shrimp counting easier.

IMG_0325 IMG_0323 IMG_0328 IMG_0339

From Shotgun we trolled at 2 MPH with the kicker back towards Whittier.  We all dreamed of catching a king salmon, but no luck.

While trolling we spent a considerable amount of time planning a new strategy for landing the boat.  Instead of me jumping off the bow (which didn’t work so well last year!) Clark now asked that I simply ride up there as we cruised into the harbor, and then lasso us to the deck with the bow line.  We gave Sam the stern line and he was eager to help – he’s almost 11-years-old so it’s time to learn!

IT WORKED!  For once we safely and securely (without incident) landed our big giant boat all by ourselves.  I was so relieved that I burst into tears!  A redemption trip!

Unfortunately, the elation didn’t last.  Clark’s truck wouldn’t start at the parking lot:  dead battery.  But he got a jump-start and we made the 7 PM tunnel out of Whittier.  Phew… the trip was a success after all!



Our Little Angels

Posted on

It’s baseball season again, and this year Sam and Maggie are on the same team.  Boy does that make life easier!


Last year we hardly ever got to attend games as a family, since we were always split between two different fields.  This year it’s so nice to cheer them on at the same time!  Here are some pictures with Sam on 2nd base, and Maggie on 1st.



Sam climbed onto the pitcher’s mound again this season and is doing great:

IMG_0531 IMG_0474

Maggie can most often be found crouching behind home plate as the catcher:

IMG_0532 IMG_0481

Best of all, Clark can be found all over the field as the team’s coach!

IMG_0551 IMG_0545

It’s a great group of kids and parents, and the season is off to a fun start.  Baseball in the sunshine is a glorious thing!  Go Angels!

IMG_0513 IMG_0522


Homer Sea Week: Round 2

Posted on

Homer Sea Week is a biennial tradition our kids’ school, and this was our family’s second time participating.


Two years ago the kids were in 1st and 3rd grades and we stalked them most every minute.  (Flashback post can be found here.)

Now they are two years older – 3rd and 5th grade – so we let them roam the beach more independently, but we weren’t above spying and eavesdropping as necessary.

Luckily they aren’t too embarrassed of their dorky parents yet, and we took some nice family walks along the beach.

IMG_0101 IMG_0130 IMG_0154 IMG_0152 IMG_0216 IMG_0125 IMG_0230 IMG_0270

IMG_0197     IMG_0206

We saved starfish, counted crabs and observed anemones on Bishop’s Beach.  There was plenty of good bird watching as well, from eagles to crows and LBJ’s.

IMG_0135 IMG_0127 IMG_0244 IMG_0263

This year we rented an RV, which was waaaay more fun and shockingly more affordable than the hotel.


Tess loved romping on the beach, lounging by the RV, and (for some reason) eating barnacles…

IMG_0121 IMG_0070 IMG_0129  IMG_0279

I can’t think of a better way to spend Mother’s Day… Homer is a special place!IMG_0210


Mockingbirds and Meano

Posted on

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
~Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve been home sick a few days this week.  The first night I was worthless, shivering under the covers with a high fever and sleeping for nearly 16 straight hours.  But now that the worst has (hopefully) passed I’ve been binge reading.  Yesterday I finished re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I rarely re-read books, but with Harper Lee’s new novel coming out this summer it seemed like a good idea.  I don’t remember exactly when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, but this second reading was a profoundly different experience.

I still cried for Tom Robinson, but I cried almost everywhere else too.  I was misty-eyed and tingly-nosed through the whole damn book!  From Scout getting that beating she just didn’t deserve to Jem refusing to leave his father’s side at the jail… I was a blubbery mess.

I still marveled at Atticus Finch’s courage and convictions, but this time I just thought he was a really good dad.  When I finished the book, I wanted to be that kind of  parent.  I felt inspired.

Wouldn’t you know at dinner that night I got my very first chance?

The kids were talking about Nemo, a giant bully of a dog who lives down the road.  They actually call him “Meano” and it’s not entirely unwarranted.  The first run-in with this animal was admittedly our fault, but traumatic none-the-less.  The kids were bopping down the road with their new puppy, Tess, last fall.  She noticed Nemo lying in his yard and thought he looked like a big, fluffy playmate.  She tugged, the kids dropped her leash, and before they knew it Tess was bolting up Nemo’s driveway.  Let’s just say Nemo didn’t like that too much.  He grabbed her by the neck, dragged her into the ditch, and (in Nemo’s owner’s words) “immobilized” her.

Sam and Maggie’s shrieks could have brought the bears straight out of hibernation.  Tess was immobilized by Nemo, but my children were in the middle of the road immobilized by fear.  I flew out the front door and watched in horror as Nemo’s owner pulled his dog off our puppy and trotted away without a word.

Thankfully Tess was fine, but Sam and Maggie were still hysterically shrieking.  I was trying to calm them when Nemo’s owner came back – with his brutus dog on leash this time.  “I feel terrible that your children were so scared,” he said.  He wanted the kids to pet Nemo, but this dog clearly did not want to be touched.  He told us about Nemo:  his breed, his training, and explained that he is very protective.  (Ya think?!)  He claimed Nemo would never bite, but is only trained to immobilize.  He kept giving Nemo commands in German, followed by “NOT ASKING!” whenever Nemo resisted.  Nemo was lunging at Tess the entire time, so I thanked him for coming by and got into the safety of our house as quickly as possible.

Since then, that dog tries to attack Tess every time we walk down the road.  He has broken his line to chase after her, even when we are on the opposite side of the street.  It’s gotten to the point where if Nemo is outside, the kids are not allowed to walk past the house.  Trust me, this isn’t a rule I worry about them breaking.

Before we went on vacation this winter, Sam and Maggie warned the dog sitter about “Meano.”  They launched into the entire saga, and she listened patiently.  Sure enough, when we were in Hawaii I got a worrisome text from her:

“So I was walking Tess, and the big dog your kids call Meano pulled his stake out of the ground and came for her.  It was terrifying.  I think the only reason it didn’t go for her was because I kept standing in the way.  He kept lunging for Tess tho, snapping at her.  It was scary.  The owner heard me shouting and just slooowwwly walked out to get his bully of a dog.  Ugh.  I’m just shaking, I thought he was going to go for her.”

So fast forward to dinner last night.  Maggie was mad.  Every day after school half the neighborhood comes over and all the kids play outside.  Tess is like one of the children, chasing bikes and running after soccer balls.  Well, yesterday Tess couldn’t play part of the time because Nemo was off leash in his yard.  We didn’t want to risk a brawl, so we brought her inside for a while.

“I’d like to kill that dog!!” Maggie fumed.

So there it was, my moment to respond.  Should I validate her anger, or admonish her vengeance?  What would Atticus do?

There were plenty of challenging neighbors in To Kill a Mockingbird, and that nasty old Mrs. Dubose came to mind.  “Plain hell” is how Scout described her.  She’d scream at Jem and Scout every time they walked by, but when she started insulting Atticus Jem couldn’t handle it any longer.  He trashed her garden in a fit of rage, and the ensuing punishment was brutal: he had to sit at Mrs. Dubose’s bedside and read to her for several hours each afternoon.

By the end of the book we learn a little more about nasty Mrs. Dubose, and I wondered if there might be more to Meano as well.

“You remember that first time Nemo went after Tess?” I asked Maggie.  Of course she did.  “Remember how his owner said Nemo is trained to protect him?  I’ve been thinking about that.  We don’t know that man.  We don’t know his story.  What if something sad or scary has happened in his life, and he needs to be protected?  We just don’t know.

“But I do know you.  I know you’re mad at that dog, and scared of it.  You worry he could hurt Tess.  But you love animals so much – especially dogs – and I know you would never really wish it dead.”

I hoped not anyway.

For once Maggie was quiet.  She shook her head and looked at her plate, and who knows what was rolling through her crazy little mind.

I’m convinced Harper Lee created one of the greatest literary heroes in all of fiction with Atticus Finch.  He may not be real, but he’s still a role model.

Harper Lee is now 88, and her late sister said she can barely see or hear any longer. I hope those who discovered her second novel, Go Set a Watchmen, have as much integrity as Atticus Finch and are truly following her wishes by publishing it.

After all, it’s a sin to hurt a mockingbird.


From Get Lit to Get Fit

Posted on

After all these years it’s clear that my book club will never be the kind of group that sits in an organized circle, methodically responding to prepared literary questions about symbolism as we tactfully draw G-rated allegories between the text and our own lives.

Nope.  Not us.

Instead, we all roll in like tornadoes, one after the other, carrying bundles of food and bellying right up to the bar where four or five boisterous conversations (not about the book) are already happening simultaneously, each competing to be heard over the other.

Welcome to Get Lit.

Sometimes it’s charming, but even we admit that we can be downright annoying.  A few months ago my friend Nancy’s mom was in town for our monthly meeting, and she had an epiphany afterwards:  “I should have taken out my hearing aids!”

What can I say?  We are a passionately opinionated bunch, and a month’s worth of life experiences between our meetings is just too much to contain.

If anything can keep us on track, it’s a good theme.  And this month we nailed it!  We read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.  It’s Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of a solo hiking excursion through California, Oregon, and Washington.


The book inspired us to make campfire dinners.  We chopped up scads of veggies – potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers – and stirred them up with fresh herbs and plenty of seasonings.  Ideally we would have cooked them in a big old fire pit, but it was a windy night so we opted for the oven instead.  They still turned out great!  Janelle learned a slick trick back in her Girl Scout days:  squirt your initial with cheap mustard on the outside of the foil.  The letter will burn on the foil as it cooks, so everyone is sure to receive their own customized concoction.  Perfect meal, and easiest cleanup ever!

(Perhaps if we were a better book club we would have made an allegory between these initials and Strayed’s quest to shed her own scarlet letter along the PCT… but instead we just dug in and enjoyed.)

IMG_4903 IMG_4899

After dinner we laced up our hiking shoes and took a little stroll.  We are blessed have a Pacific Coast Trail right outside our front door, and even though it was a cool, blustery evening we all hit that trail.  What better way to honor the book?!

IMG_4912 IMG_4911 IMG_4907

Maybe we should change our name from Get Lit to Get Fit?  It was a great walk… we broke into smaller groups as we headed up the mountain, and for once we didn’t seem so ridiculously loud.  (Although I was not worried about bears with this group… no whistle required!)

When we got back to my house we actually talked about the book!  We had very different opinions about really good questions (most found here).  Our on-task chat (we were so proud!) was only cut short because we were dying to watch the film adaptation of the book.  We broke out the fleece blankets, scrunched together on the couch, and cued up the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon.

We loved it!  If it hadn’t been so late when the movie ended, we would have debriefed for hours.  The next day my friend Nancy kept texting me incredibly profound reflections… about the Pacific Coast Trail becoming an actual character in the story, about women being “in the driver’s seat” of their lives, about the mantras we tell ourselves…


Me?  I just wanted to know how they did that scene where Reese Witherspoon ripped off her toenails.  That couldn’t be real, could it?

Book club is always a highlight of my month, but last night was especially positive, healthy, special, and thought-provoking.  As long as I have this group of women in my life, I will never need to walk 1000 miles to clear my head or fill my tank!