Welcome to North Pole, Alaska!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy December!

December is finally here! We are very excited for many reasons...everything is better with Holiday cheer in the air, work and school are winding down before the big break, and we are headed to the east coast in about two weeks! Best of all, we live in North Pole, Alaska!! Not "the" North Pole but does it really matter?! We have the North Pole post office, the Santa Claus house complete with reindeer, and LOTS of snow! Recently I received an email from my mother dearest and included was a list of children's names, addresses, and a brief description of their Christmas wants...

She volunteered my Santa-like skills at her work and of course, parents jumped at the opportunity to have a foe letter complete with a real North Pole stamping...the post office has VERY long lines this time of year but we don't mind waiting for this special touch.

"Santa's" letter may read something along the lines of "Billy, my elves told me you were a very good boy this year and that you love Sponge Bob...blah blah...be sure to thank your parents for threatening you to stay in bed...I don't like peekers when I'm putting my presents under the tree and when you're older, you'll understand" I was always being threatened to stay in bed and I thought my excuses were all so legitimate..."but I heard his footsteps on the roof"..."but I hear sleigh bells"..."but Santa won't come if you and dad are still awake"..."but he needs fresh cookies, more carrots, more milk...more anything!"

If anyone (I'm thinking Andrew's cousins...) would like foe Santa letters (much better than the one above) mailed out to their children, complete with mini descriptions that match their actual Christmas desires, please let me know ASAP. Send me a message via email or facebook and I'll do my best to send them out in time...from the unofficial North Pole :-)

Anyways...
It has been a longggg, slow week of venturing to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark in -25 degrees...on the upside we will miss Alaska's darkest day of the year, December 21st :-) and it will continue to get colder :-(

School and Andrew's work just happened to be canceled the entire three days of last week because of severe ice (temperatures mysteriously were above freezing for those days and now they are almost -40 this week...). We enjoyed the extra time together and we celebrated Thanksgiving with our wonderful Alaskan friends. Unfortunately, our trip to Anchorage had to be postponed because of the driving conditions...but we were able to celebrate our one-year anniversary at a nice restaurant and catch-up on our black Friday shopping via amazon.com. One year already, YIKES! That went too fast! I can't imagine life with anyone else...it is wonderful :-)

Most importantly, an ugly Christmas sweater party is on our agenda for the weekend...pictures to come!

Enjoy the festivities of the season :-)

Also, if anyone is in need of THIS, let us know and we can expedite the shipping to preserve the freshness ;-) No Joke.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I spoke too soon...

Just TODAY I head to work and what do I notice? NO Buses, FEW teachers, and LOTS of icy rain outside...

I mentioned yesterday that the schools have not had a cancellation in a looonggg time...

Well, the dry spell has been broken thanks to me speaking too soon...

No school Monday!
AND
No school Tuesday!


I couldn't be happier, except that I am not getting paid...but oh well.
I am thinking lots of homework, lots of hot chocolate, and lots of Lifetime movies...sounds great to me!

I also need to make my way on-post at some point to pick-up Andrew...his car wouldn't stand a chance on the black ice that has built up. He made it to work safely at 5:00 AM before the ice rain had hit...lucky guy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

YIKES

I guess there is nothing like waiting 1/4 of a year to blog an entry! Where has the time gone?! August 22nd seems like it was yesterday...

Our whereabouts and whatweweredoings for September:

Andrew and I spent the long Labor Day weekend exploring Anchorage and Seward. The drive was beautiful since Alaska's fall was in full swing by then. The highlights of the trip were SHOPPING (think Best Buy, Target, Pier 1, A MALL!), visiting the Hotel Alyeska (very nice 4 star resort nestled in between mountains), exploring the tiny town of Seward and stopping at the Alaska SeaLife Center (lots of rehabilitated sealions, seals, birds, and sea-like creatures such as urchins and starfish). Oh yes, and eating at Arby's too many times.





Quaint downtown Seward...apparently the TV show Northern Exposure was modeled after this Alaskan town

Andrew spent most of September out in the field for a field training exercise and I was keeping busy with teaching, schoolwork, and enjoying the last of the "crisp" days. I enjoyed the USO-sponsored Lt. Dan Band concert (Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump!) with a few friends, shot skeet for the first time (I'm pretty horrible at shooting...), and looked forward to his return!

Our first real snowfall arrived around October 18th. We rushed to put snow tires on Andrew's "put-put" of a car so that he would continue to arrive at his destinations in one piece. I had meant to show a picture of his car this summer but then I never did. In order for both of us to get where we needed to go, we bought a 89' Mazda 626...the kicker is, I haven't learned how to (safely) drive a stick-shift yet so Andrew was the lucky winner of the beauty! Actually he wanted it originally and I was in no position to argue since I knew what my car would be. It is a funny-looking car that moves very slowly and after having this thing for a few months, we've decided to never buy a car from a man who is married to his mail-ordered-bride...No Joke.

As of yesterday, the snow was piling up...



and the sun is quickly setting...3:30 PM


Tomorrow the sun will be up at 9:47 AM and the sun will be down at 3:25 PM. We lose approximately six hours of daylight each day. We will be home for the winter solstice this year (shortest daylight of the year) so I can't complain too much!

It has dipped down to -25 but only about once or twice. As of right now the typical temperatures are between -5 and 20 degrees...not too bad really. We have been having a lot of snow but for some reason it seems to accumulate a lot slower than if we were in PA. The school district has not had a cancellation in 12 years but I'm still hoping this year will break that dry spell.

Trick-or-treat was on a particularly cold night and we had a total of 15 visitors. Mom or Dad pulls up to the front door, the kids run out, ring the bell, collect their treats, and run right back in. I give those parents a lot of credit because not many parents drive their kids around house to house. Since the weather is usually less than ideal, each school holds a Halloween carnival. The kids dress up and play games by each classroom, collect a lot of candy, and make the school hallways very dirty and smelly, especially since it was a wet and cold carnival day this year. I drug Andrew around the hallways and even though he didn't wear a costume he definitely scared a few of the little ones...


Now we are into mid-November and we have been listening to Christmas music ever since October 31st. It was hard to resist because the outdoors looked like a winter wonderland by then. We've decorated our house for Christmas but there is no full-size tree this year, not even a Charlie Brown tree. We decided it would take up too much room in our box-of-a-downstairs so instead we have two tabletop trees. Andrew and I have certainly been homebodies lately and we are enjoying every minute of it!

We are only one week away from our 1st Anniversary! We each have a three-day work week and then we are headed to Anchorage for Thanksgiving...and Black Friday of course! Andrew is just as guilty as me for loving good bargains.

Then, in three short and very busy weeks we are headed back to the East Coast, for the first time together :-) We'll be on a red eye to NYC for the beginning of our visit, then a train to Harrisburg, then a car to Beaver...planes, trains, and automobiles anyone? We both acknowledge that sleep is optional during our visit home because there are so many things we want to do and so many family and friends to see!

For this being my first post in a VERY long time, I think I'll keep it simple and short. Enjoy the Thanksgiving week :-)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Happy Sunday :-)

While I thought summer was slowly leaving...Fairbanks has been quite warm lately (hitting a record 91 degrees last weekend!). I am anxiously awaiting the cooler temperatures, the fall season (which apparently lasts no more than two weeks), the snow, and everything that will be new to us in these upcoming months (since we arrived in December). Our winter forecast might be an eventful one (click the link!)!

School has already started (last Wednesday) and I am very excited for the new school year! I am working at the school behind our house as the building substitute (work every day at the same building = good news!) so I'll get to work in a variety of classrooms, pre-K to 6th grade, special education, and speech and language. I am sure I will have some great experiences and I already know the majority of the staff and the students so I feel at ease.

Andrew just arrived home from a week in Pittsburgh visiting with our families and most importantly, fulfilling his 'best man' duties in our good friends' wedding! He actually played matchmaker in 10th grade and introduced the couple! I wish I could have gone to Pittsburgh as well but unfortunately it just didn't work out too well. Sarah and Tim are a beautiful couple and wonderful friends and we cannot wait to visit them in New York City!

Just three weeks ago Lindy and my mom touched down in the great state of Alaska! We made the Fairbanks/North Pole rounds to touristy locations and enjoyed every single minute together! My dad was left at home to dog-sit (joke) and we missed him dearly!

Although there are no pictures to document this particular adventure, we went rafting in Denali once again. We decided to tackle the higher level of rapids especially since my mom was along for the ride (the most adventurous one of us all). No one fell overboard and it was a blast just like last time!


We all experienced below 40 degree temperatures at Pioneer Park- Alaska's only amusement park, which is a bit of an overstatement! We also visited the Tanana Valley Fair, which is the ultimate fair experience. It lasts for ten days and you can buy almost anything, eat anything--greasy of course, and people watch for hours. But just last night my mom assured me that the Perry County Fair in good ol' PA could have given the Tanana Fair a run for its money.

It was sad to say goodbye but it makes our visits together that much more special :-)
Andrew and I will be headed home for Christmas in just a few months! (Of course our home is anyplace that we live together but Pennsylvania will always be our "home" forever and ever because I love that state and the people there!)


At the University of Alaska museum...nothing like a beautiful outhouse!


Funny thing...my Mom was really talking to my Dad! We missed you Dougie!


Almost caused a car wreck but we finally saw moose!


Stuffed polar bear at UAF Museum of the North


Pioneer Park :-)


Lindy making friends with the musk ox!


Lindy's most coveted purchase...fox fur muffs
Check out the license plate sign :-)


The pipeline! To drill or not to drill in Alaska?


Kim's devilish elf grin ;-)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I'm still here!

It has been over one month since my last blog and I feel a bit guilty. Even though it is summertime, life seems to be pretty busy, and my writing has seemed to take a backseat. But with summer surely leaving soon (at least in Alaska) I hope to be blogging a little more often!

Where to begin...

Towards the end of June, the O'Neill family made their way to Alaska! They flew into Anchorage, explored southeastern Alaska, took the Alaskan Railroad up to Fairbanks, and we greeted them at the train station! It was our first time at the train station (we had to make two U-turns to get to it) and when we arrived we were VERY impressed by the gem-of-a-station that was tucked beside the highway. Apparently a 12 hour train ride will yield many interesting stories and sights. They were happy to stretch their legs on solid ground and see their favorite married couple!

We ate a lot of wonderful food, traveled to Denali to camp out for a night, went whitewater rafting, enjoyed the sights of many moose, visited Santa's house in North Pole, took quirky pictures at the oil pipeline, and best of all, had a blast being together.

For a few pictures...


Our hotel for our night in Denali :-)


Carrie and Sam braved -40 temperatures to experience our TYPICAL winter temperatures! They threw boiling hot water into the air and watched it turn into steam, hammered a nail into wood with a banana, and emerged without frost bite!


Flowers are beautiful and bountiful all around Fairbanks!



The O'Neills visit the oil pipeline!


A visit is not complete with stopping at the North Pole Post Office..."Dear Santa" letters really get sent here from all over the world! A lot of letters are posted on the walls of the Santa Claus house and they are hilarious to read!


Never too old to sit on Santa's lap...


We climbed to the top of this rock structure! Carrie and Sam are in this picture, towards the right!


Almost at the top of the rock!


We saw lots of moose during their visit! Mamas and babies everywhere!

Days passed quickly and we dropped off the O'Neills at the airport in the early AM. I then packed my bags and headed out of Fairbanks for a few days to work at a summer camp. The camp was for military children and it was the traditional camp experience. It was nicely situated on a lake with a climbing wall, zip line, arts and crafts, boating, campfires, and lots of water fights. I also managed to set up my tent and I called that bug infested flap of nylon my home for five nights! I was a co-counselor to a rambunctious group of 11 and 12 year old girls and overall, it was a really great experience of sunshine, fun, and lots of mosquito bites.


While Andrew has been hard at work I have been taking two summer classes at the University of Alaska (northernmost college!) in anticipation of a special education certification in my future! I've really enjoyed both courses and I've been working at the summer school program (for students with autism and learning disabilities) to fulfill course requirements. It has been an awesome experience and I know I'm on the right track with my career. Andrew is currently in the field for the week and he has been super busy the last few weeks! We will be celebrating his birthday this weekend along with the arrival of more visitors: my sister on Sunday morning at 1 AM, and my mom on Tuesday morning at 1 AM. We have found out that most planes arrive in Fairbanks really really early (around 5 AM) or really really late (1 AM seems to be standard) so it really just matters if you're a morning person or a night person. Lindy is definitely not a morning person so her choice of a late flight works out well for us! (joking)

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Andrew and I are welcoming the less minutes of daylight that we have each day. I actually really miss having DARK night skies but I am sure I will change my mind in January. I have also realized (and i have come to terms with this fact) that I will never be tan as long as I live in Alaska. The bad thing is...my skin will never be tan enough to compliment a nice white shirt. The good thing is...my skin will essentially be 3 years younger than my lower 48 friends who visit the beach, wear shorts, and occasionally bask in the sun's rays. This has been an unusually cloudy and wet summer (from what locals tell us) so we haven't been enjoying the outdoors as much as we would like. I am quite anxious to have this again:



Winter is very beautiful and it will be a great landscape for the upcoming Christmas season! (Christmas-in-July has been on my mind all month!)

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Having arrived December 16th, we have officially lived in Alaska for almost eight months and our 1st wedding anniversary is coming up!!! Where is time going?!

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Lastly, our good friends just had their first baby and he is an adorable four week bundle of joy! They are wonderful parents and their name pick, Grayson, is the perfect choice!



That is all for this evening! Happy Monday everyone and I hope the heat on the east coast settles down or moves our way :-)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

First of all, Happy Father's Day to my Dad, Andrew's Dad, our Grandpas, Uncles, Cousins, and everyone who is a father! Although we cannot be with our Dad's we hope they have wonderful days and Andrew and I know how blessed we are to have such wonderful dads and father-in-laws.

Updates in our lives...there are many!

This weekend is the official Summer Solstice for the interior of Alaska! That means, we are experiencing the longest days of sunlight! To celebrate the Solstice, a few friends and us decided (very last minute) to take part in Fairbank's annual Midnight Sun Run, a 10K race through the streets of Fairbanks. Many runners decide to sweat and grunt in heavy costumes, as it is the traditional twist to the race.

As of 2:00 PM on Saturday we decided to dress up like Toy Story 3 characters. Andrew was Buzz Lightyear, I was Jessie the cowgirl, Shannon and her husband were Barbie and Woody, and Gabe was Mr. Potato Head. We surely did a nice job of promoting the new movie, taking TONS of group pictures with children and adults, and of running 6.2 miles in costume (with only two pit stops along the way). While many runners run the race for time, we were just running the race for the experience. Fairbanksians lined the streets and it was more like a parade than a race. The race started at 10:00 PM and we crossed the finish line at 11:29. Not bad for a bunch of toys!

Midnight Sky :-)


Buzz and Jessie Post-Race


Our Supporters, Mrs. Potato Head and Nicole :-)


Entourage Style (minus me)


All of us (It was hard to find Barbie!)

Toy Story 3 at a Theater Near YOU!


It was the most fun we have had since living in Fairbanks and the run is a must-do for anyone here! Lots of jokes were made on the run and lot of laughs were had. We were in need of a restroom and of refreshments so our two pit stops happened to be at local bars...Toy Story unedited/unrated? May be.

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I am especially thankful that I visited Pennsylvania a few weeks ago.
My grandfather passed away this week and I did say a very special goodbye to him when I was home.
My family is currently at the beach celebrating his life on our family's annual Avalon, New Jersey beach outing. Andrew and I wish we could join :-)

With some of the grandkids

At the beach

My favorite picture of us, big band swing dancing in Florida :-)


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Andrew and I had a visitor at our home for a few days:




Although there is a "no-pets" policy for our townhouses we figured a 2 pound dog could be easily concealed! Kia is an adorable black Chihuahua puppy and we were sad to see her leave us for her more permanent home. Thanks for trusting us Tony and Tonya!

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Doing a little tye-dye with the neighbor kids (and Nicole made adorable tye-dyed onsies for her soon-to-be baby boy)


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Trying to sleep....at 11 PM! I still need to put up blackout paper!


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Andrew's family arrives in Anchorage on Thursday! They are hanging down there for a few days and then heading up to Fairbanks on Monday! We cannot wait! I still need to hang some curtains in their rooms or else heavy doses of sleeping medicine may be needed (the time difference and the constant light throw people for a doozy)!

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Lastly, I visited the dentist this week. I am the one in the family who brushes her teeth multiple times a day, flosses, avoids sugary drinks and coffees, and pretends to be in Colgate commercials on a daily basis; whereas Andrew brushes his teeth on an as-needed basis (gross I know). What do you know, I have three-in-a-row cavities on my back teeth, bringing my grand cavity total to about 9 or 10 during my lifetime. That news really brightened my day (it especially made Andrew chuckle...)!

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We now have TWO cars! I can't wait to show you our newest put-put! Coming tomorrow :-)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Valdez, Alaska



After I arrived back on Thursday evening, Andrew and I packed up the car and headed for Valdez, Alaska on Friday morning. Google Maps told us it would be an 8 1/2 hour drive...considering the highway speed limits here are usually 45, 50, or 55! Even with a few stops (outhouses on the side of the road, literally, Andrew would not let me take a picture...picnic lunch on a mountain top, and a few stops by scenic outlooks) we managed to get there in about 7 1/2 hours. The drive was beautiful but unfortunately we saw no wildlife except big fat porcupines scurrying across the road. That is until we took our glacier cruise on the Prince William Sound!

Pictures from the drive:








Andrew caught a rainbow!



Valdez was a very quaint, VERY small, harbor town, surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains on every side. There are just a little over 4,000 residents. All I knew about Valdez before visiting the town had to do with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. I can only imagine what those native residents think about the newest U.S. oil spill. Although we did not see any damage from the 89' oil spill, our boat captain told us that wildlife and glacier damage can still be seen from certain areas of the Sound (areas that our boat was unable to travel to).

Around 1900, Valdez became the first port that could connect gold seekers via a land route to the interior of Alaska, aka Fairbanks, where we live. Fishing runs the economy and it almost reminds me of the harbor town in the movie, Perfect Storm. In 1964, a 30 foot tsunami was the result of an earthquake (tremors are very common in AK but we have yet to feel the ground shake). The tsunami destroyed a large portion of the town of Valdez. Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers helped the residents reestablish the town about 1 mile down the road, in a safer inlet. "Old Town Valdez" is posted near the new town and the remains are basically boards.







In 1977, the Alaska pipeline was finished (see the pipeline route below). Since Valdez was an accessible port (many ports froze over in the winter), it became the final stop. On our drive we basically followed the pipeline the entire way to Valdez. The Valdez Oil Terminal is the departure point for tankers of oil which are then transported to various American ports. While on our boat cruise we passed two huge oil tankers. Enough of the history lesson (although I had to refresh my memory using Wikipedia more than once...).



Oil Terminal view from the water...



Our main reason for visiting Valdez was to take a boat cruise on the Prince William Sound. We boarded the boat (capacity 86 persons) on Saturday morning and headed out for our 6 hour tour. It was definitely the highlight of the trip (as it should be) and it is a must-do for anyone visiting Valdez (if you are visiting Valdez you are either doing a boat tour or a chartered fishing tour because that.is.it). Our tour below...



Some pictures from our excursion.

We saw MANY large and in charge sea lions...







A lot of humpback whales...although they were difficult to get pictures of.




A few bald eagles...



Also a few porpoises, puffins, sea otters, and a bear far on the coast (all too quick or too far away to get a decent picture).

At one point, as we were close to the Columbia Glacier, we were floating in a sea of ice, everywhere! It was actually quite eerie, considering Titanic was the movie playing at the hotel the previous night.







Holding an iceberg (I was the only person older than 16 to brave the coldness and embarrassment!)


We got off the boat around 6:00 PM, grabbed a bite to eat, and braced ourselves for our 7 1/2 hour drive home. We didn't think it would be too bad considering it would never be dark! We only stopped once to take this picture of the sunset, approximately 12:30 AM.




Of course, when I saw this:


I immediately thought of a cruise to a warm, tropical, and sandy destination. I hope that will be in our future, maybe a VERY belated honeymoon :-)

Although Andrew and I are not the most experienced fishermen (not like my dad!), we do hope to do a fishing charter while in Alaska. Our friend was in Valdez the same weekend on a fishing charter, and he caught hundreds of pounds of halibut, three of his halibut weighing in OVER 100 pounds! It would be quite an experience to actually catch fish that weigh about the same weight as me. Stay tuned for that post, assuming I survive :-)

To end this post on a cheesy family picture and a video of a whale:

videos