Welcome to North Pole, Alaska!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

March is here :-)

What a great weekend we had! It was the perfect balance of socializing with friends and relaxing at home. On Friday night we celebrated a friend's birthday, Stefanie, with her and her husband and another couple (friends too!) at a local Mexican restaurant. Although the menu read "Tex Mex" my tostada supreme was delicious and I would put it up against El Rodeo's tostada any day (for all of us from Camp Hill). If you are guessing what Andrew had...TACOS of course, his favorite! The food was good but the company was even better! It was a great way to wind down from the week and we shared many good stories and laughs. Andrew even managed to squeeze out a few impersonations...whether our friends were laughing with him or at him, we will just have to wait and see if we have friends in the weeks to come!

After a much-needed sleeping in on Saturday, Andrew and I were out the door and ready to take on the world by 10:00. We ran a few errands, and then ventured to Bruegger's Bagels for a light lunch! Yes...one of the three chain restaurant-like establishments that is within a 300 mile radius of us (Chilis and Starbucks being the other two...not including the typical fast food joints). We then met up with Stefanie and her husband. We, the ladies, headed out on a mission to find baby items, while the men took on the task of searching for a shotgun for Andrew's hunting adventures...hmmm, scary isn't it? Stefanie is due in June and they are expecting a boy-their first! It is very exciting to be Stefanie's pregnancy cheerleader (hope she isn't weirded out by that!)...her and her husband are great people and they will be wonderful parents! I've already given Stefanie the "I love to babysit talk" so we'll just have to see how they feel about Andrew helping with the babysitting duties ;-) No children for us in the near (aka four or five years) future so we can hope to vicariously live through our friends' parenthood in the meantime!

Saturday evening brought us to another friends home, enjoying an Italian dinner of salad, cheesy pesto garlic bread (my creation), and lasagna. We then chatted among cocktails and headed to a local bar to see Hell's Belles, an AC/DC cover band consisting of a group of untamed women from Texas and Washington. Andrew of course donned his one of many AC/DC screen printed shirts as I decided to rock a heavy-metal looking necklace (compliments of The Limited from my mom). Although I found myself ad libbing lyrics like usual, Andrew made up for my poor performance by singing the lyrics to near perfection. The show was packed and we were near center stage. Great concert for a below 0 night!

Today, Sunday, consisted of cleaning, organizing, and the various odds and ends that needed to be done at home. I bribed Andrew to join me on a trip to Sam's Club, the magical promise being a trip to McDonalds after the shopping trip! Although I am not a big fast food person, crispy chicken nuggets and salty french fries are always appealing once I step through those Golden Arches. Nonetheless, it was a filling dinner, and we ventured home to continue with the odds and ends awaiting us. As I type, Andrew and I are watching (I am listening) to the movie, Immortal Beloved...it chronicles the life of Beethoven and I will say, it is a good movie. Andrew is up at 4:45 tomorrow and I will be up at 6:00 so it is time to hit the hay! I can't wait to blog about our newest life endeavor for the summer months...coming tomorrow night (Alaska time!). Until then, have a Happy Monday and a Wonderful March 1st! Spring will soon show (on the East Coast) and 30 degree weather will soon arrive (for us living nowhere near the epicenter of North America)! But we do love it :-)

I also learned how to change my background and I love it...hope you all do too! More aesthetically pleasing to the eyes :-)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Red Velvet Cake, yes please!

This past Saturday I slaved in the kitchen for a few hours (Andrew providing me moral support from the sofa) and made a homemade, delicious, red velvet cake. I found a recipe from the Food Network website and I figured I couldn't go wrong with professionals telling me how to bake. Just an FYI to any fellow red velvet bakers: make sure you have TWO bottles of red food coloring before beginning because I only used one and well, my cake was more like a lackluster tomato-brown color than a deep crimson red like Barefoot Contessas.

I made the cake for a supper club event, theme being Southern foods. I added a little extra buttermilk to give it that added "southern" flavor just so my bases were covered in terms of a southern cake (right?!). Anyways, Andrew lucked out and was able to taste my red velvet creation after only two people (me being one of the two!) sampled the delicacy! I knew I should have stuck with my dad's suggestion of making good ol' southern baked beans with some bacon! I didn't take it too personally though and really, I am glad that we got stuck with the final product anyways!

On Sunday, Andrew and I ventured outdoors to go snow tubing on post at Birch Hill. Fort Wainwright has its very own mountain side for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. They have a cute little lodge at the base of the mountain where the fried food was surprisingly good too. I recommend to anyone that an hour of tubing is enough for anyone! We tried every way to go down the mountain track on the tubes (holding hands, on our stomachs, backwards, running starts, pushed starts, etc.) and by the end we were just tired and ready to head indoors. A funny moment occurred as we waited in line to be hooked up to the tube lift. A boy, about nine years old, turned to me, and said, "do you want to go down the hill with us?" I was confused at first but then realized he was talking to me. Therefore, Andrew and I ended up joining forces with two nine year olds and whizzing down the hill with our tubes attached to one another. Apparently they wanted a faster ride and when they saw the size of Andrew and me they knew we were the perfect softies (and heavyweights) to give them a thrill ride. Not to brag or anything but after racing them separately, Andrew and I emerged as the winners. The funny thing was, the dad was watching us the entire time, probably thinking, who are these losers entertaining my kids?!

The view from the tubing hill...very cloudy!

The weekend flew by and the week will surely keep us busy! We are organizing papers, books, and other odds and ends that are stuck in various places around the house! Andrew is a bookworm, reading about the war overseas, as well as various other military novels. I recently finished Dear John and of course, cried my eyes out. Literally, I hyperventilated for a few seconds until Andrew told me to get a grip! Now I would like to see the movie. We saw Sherlock Holmes and thought it was excellent, despite the reviews it had received. Lastly, we watched a wonderful 1991 movie, Not Without My Daughter, featuring Sally Field at her finest! It is about an American woman who marries a doctor (he is a citizen of Iran who has been practicing medicine in the US for 20 years) who holds his wife and daughter hostage in Iran after vacationing there...based on a true story...the creepiest part of all! Andrew is a movie buff and I enjoy his enthusiasm towards movies because I am watching some really great movies that were made during my toddler years that I would probably not otherwise watch.

It is hard for me to keep up with this daily but I will definitely be on here weekly if not more! Enjoy this week and for everyone back home you will be happy to know that it has finally snowed about 1/2 inch today! Yay! I say, send it our way, because we miss the snow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Long Weekend :-)

This post is a week overdue! Here is what is new in our lives!

I have been working full-time as a teacher's assistant in a special education classroom. I love it! I work with small groups of students (4th, 5th, and 6th grade) and we focus on reading skills, the writing process, and math. With a little over 500 students in the school, about half of them come from military families. I enjoy talking to them about where they moved from, how long they have lived here, etc. The school year calendar here runs from mid-August to mid-May. In fact, the students are done May 14th! The spring and summer here is beautiful and ALWAYS sunny so I think it is a good idea to take a break from the school routine then too!

Andrew and I had a delicious Chinese dinner at a local restaurant called Pagoda. It was featured on The Food Channel's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Everyone I talked to to (from home and here) would mention the restaurant and refer to the fact that it was on the television show. It seriously was the best Chinese food we have ever eaten and so we will be taking our family there when they visit!

Andrew had a four-day weekend and I had a three-day weekend because of the holiday, so we ventured to Anchorage, Alaska...the largest city in the state! It was about a 6 1/2 hour drive, mainly because we left at 5:30 in the morning and saw no one on the highway for most of our trip! The Alaska Highway 3 runs from Fairbanks, through the towns of Nenana, Denali (WOW!), Talkeetna, Wasilla (looked for Ms. Palin!), and finally, Anchorage. There were a few small towns aka villages of a few homes and a community/grocer store and a church on the way too. The majority of the Alaska 3 is not a highway like you would imagine in PA, mostly because it is one-lane for the majority of the miles. We ended up passing about 20 cars during our trip.

The highway cuts right by the entrance to Denali National Park, and therefore, we rode through beautiful mountains, valleys, and canyons. We even almost hit three moose (a cow and her two calves) because as we came around a bend they were finishing their walk across the road! It was our first moose-sighting since living here and it was exciting! By the time I got my camera they were gone into the wood line! However, we did manage to hit (or it hit us?) a fairly large bird. After doing some research I am pretty certain that we hit a sharp-shinned hawk, considering the colors of the feathers and the shape of its beak. The birds were all over the roads and there was no way of avoiding them, so, we just smacked right into it going 60 miles an hour! Ouch! A few feathers flew up and we felt bad for a few minutes but then our thoughts trailed to something else and it was forgotten. All birds go to heaven, right?!...They are lucky because they actually have the wings!

However, when we arrived at the hotel, Andrew told me that we had a treat in our Explorer's grill. Yep, there is was, a five or six pound bird with a sharp beak smashed into our grill, ew. The only amusement I got out of it was watching Andrew fish it out with a long ice scrapper that we had in our car (while taking pictures of course). If the bird didn't die on contact it certainly froze to death with the four hour car ride from Denali to Anchorage. It did break a part of the grill but it is minor damage and something that can be eventually fixed.

The drive was beautiful, especially around the Denali area. The park is closed until May, when it opens the season until September. There are beautiful lodges, hotels, and cabins all around the park entrance, waiting for the summer season to begin. Andrew and I cannot wait to venture there this summer. The only way into the park is to take a bus provided by the National Park Service. You can choose how far you would like to travel into the park, with one tour even going as deep as a 12-hour ride. After talking with a few people, it is guaranteed that you will see caribou, grizzlies, moose, and birds galore inside Denali. The park is gigantic, covering over 9,000 miles. We saw Mount McKinley from a distance but failed to take any decent pictures of it! What we do have our some beautiful pictures of the Alaskan 3 through the Denali area.

In Anchorage we stayed at a very nice Hampton Inn. They had fresh-baked cookies waiting at the check-in desk, stuffed animals hung around the fireplace, free shuttle service to the downtown, and free breakfast in the morning...perfect for us! We did a little shopping, considering they had a REAL, LARGE mall, a Target, and a Best Buy. In Fairbanks, we are not accustomed to such high-end stores!! Andrew and I had a lovely and romantic dinner at a local seafood restaurant, Simon and Seafurd. The restaurants sits on a ledge and overlooks an inlet from the ocean. Here is a picture of each of us outside of the restaurant, with the water behind us.

We went out on Saturday evening to the only well-known bar and club in Anchorage, Chilkook Charlies. We then had a late night snack at a local brewery and pizza pub, Moose Tooth. We are convinced that there is not a good place to eat wings in the whole state of Alaska! We will continue our search (in other words, Andrew's search!) for our love affair of delicious buffalo wings. We had planned on visiting a museum but the days got away from us as we ate and shopped and walked and the museum visit never happened. Always another time!

Our verdict on the city of Anchorage as compared to our city of Fairbanks...despite the lack of shopping venues in Fairbanks, we would live in Fairbanks any day over living in Anchorage. There is quite a bit of rift-raft in Anchorage and the people weren't as friendly as the Fairbanks-eans. The roads and streets were covered in dirty brown snow because of the higher temperatures. It averaged about 30 degrees in Anchorage and Andrew and I didn't pile on clothing like we were used to doing. Anchorage is surrounded by beautiful snow-covered mountains, but Fairbanks has a cleaner-quality to it's surroundings. We would like to go back this summer when we know it will look quite different!

Anchorage, Alaska- surrounded by mountains

Our car loved us when we gave it a bath!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dog sledding! Yukon Quest 2010

Andrew and I braved the cold and headed ON the river to watch the start of the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race. It was a pretty unique experience. There were people all over the river, the bridges, and the banks. No worries, the river, which is not very wide, was frozen solid....we could barely chip a layer off with our boots.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh...the things that I have learned...

Well, it is Friday night, 9:35 to be exact, and what am I doing...BLOGGING of course! I was excited to sit down and write a new post, considering four people have already asked me to update it (my family members are those people). So...tonight will work! I just finished cleaning up the kitchen after making pesto pasta- basically angel hair pasta tossed with olive oil, shrimp, cherry tomatoes, and lots of garlic and pesto. It was super easy to make and delicious! Andrew didn't really care for the texture of the whole wheat pasta, but eh, he will get used to it, because that's I'll I'm making (unless I have a weak moment)!

Since living in a home of my own I have learned many things. One, do not try and carry huge pieces of furniture and boxes over seventy pounds without Andrews help; hence the scratches and nicked paint on the walls, whoops. Also, I will never again convince Andrew to let me buy a five pound bag of clementines; because, of course, they never get eaten in time and they sit in the kitchen or the refrig and rot (I am the only one that will eat clementines).
Most importantly, who knew that garlic bulbs could bloom and get fungi all over them after one week?! Well...I now know never ever to decoratively store them in an airtight container. I thought I was being really creative and kitchen cutesy by buying a 3 pound mesh bag of garlic cloves to display in my glass airtight container...well, bad, and eventually disgusting idea! As I was mincing my garlic clove, I noticed that the jar had moisture all over it, and that the bulbs had bloomed long, stick-lick appendages-ew. Needless to say, now I know why the original packaging of the garlic was a mesh bag...it needs to breathe. Another couple of bucks spent at Sam's Club down the drain...but I am learning!

Last night, Andrew slept outside in a tent for a training exercise. It was a pretty cold night too, around -38! He said it was not too bad though. They put a little stove in the tent and their sleeping bags (which are cleverly called fart sacks by the guys) are weather-rated to -50 degrees; so unless you are in 0 or colder weather, you'd probably overheat your organs.

I spent the evening cleaning the house, rearranging some rooms, and eating a PB&J sandwich. It is not very fun to cook for one person, I think. I love making meals for the two of us. Both my parents and Andrew's parents are great cooks and I think it has influenced us (more so me so far!) to get in the kitchen and try new meals. Needless to say, Andrew and I sometimes have different ideas of recipes and foods. For example, I said to him, I'll make hot dogs and baked beans (it was a long day and I was looking for an easy dish). Andrew loves hot dogs and beans (I don't care for hot dogs) so I thought he would be thrilled by my idea. He said sounds delicious. So, I got the can of beans and the beef franks, and just as I was about to pour the dogs into a bubbling casserole dish of hot beans and bacon, Andrew yelped STOP, haha literally! Heck no...who puts their hot dogs actually IN the beans?! Well, my family always used to do this and I loved it that way. He had never heard of such a thing; therefore, Andy ended up eating his FOUR franks in buns and his beans neatly piled on his plate. I opted for leftovers and beans. Scenarios like that play out almost everyday but it is fun to get to know the likes and dislikes of one another. Moving on...

Tomorrow morning we are going into downtown Fairbanks by the Chena River to watch the start of an annual dog race, the Yukon Quest. It is a 1,000 mile dog sled race that begins in Fairbanks and ends in Whitehorse, a town in the Yukon Territory. We have yet to see dog mushers or a race so I am anxious to see what it is about. It has been in the paper and on the news for the past few weeks. The start of a race is a pretty big deal. A dog sled has one human (the musher) and fourteen dogs pulling the load, from what I've read. I'll have to post some pictures of the experience. I think spectators are suppose to stand on the frozen river to watch the event because they keep talking about spectators watching for steam rising from certain spots on the river (meaning that the ice has broke). Um, yea, I am not sure if we will skate onto that ice because I'm new to this sort of thing and my luck, I would plunge into the -20 water. Ice fishing, yes please, but being fished for out of the ice, no thank you.

Also, Andrew has read my blog and has pointed out my misspellings, grammatical errors, and incorrect usage of maxims. For example, the saying is.... "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again" and not like I said, "if you don't succeed, try, try again." Close enough, right?! Also, "I've been hit by the baking bug," well, no not really, it should read something more like, "I've been bitten by the baking bug?" I've never heard that one but I'll take his word for it. Thank you sweetie for telling me all about those and I'll make sure you proofread more often :-)

I wish we were in PA for the weekend because I miss the snow storms! We haven't had REAL (aka more than flurries) snow since we have lived here! In fact, this is the lowest snowfall year since 1904 here! Also, Aubree saw a moose on our road and unfortunately I was out running errands! We must repel them because we have YET to see one but they are all around our woods. We'll keep our fingers crossed for 12 inches of snow and a moose sighting.
I may have to send Andrew outside to track the moose pies ;-)

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Boy kicked by moose on his way to school"

Andrew and I woke up Sunday and found this article on the front page of the newspaper. Although we have YET to see a moose, apparently they are out in full force in some places. Ouch.

If you don't succeed...try, try again!

I went to Sam's Club last night because I wanted to stock up on the bakery ingredients and something wonderful happened. Andrew and I had $70 worth of giftcards to Sams Club and my total amount was exactly $69.95...how perfect! It made my day considering you can buy nothing for less than $10.00 there and I had not even paid attention to the prices to plan that! I then rushed to the commissary, which already has narrow aisles AND it was pay day so it was PACKED! Note to self, never again on a pay day. I ran around the store, got what I needed, and headed out in less than 30 minutes. I did not know this before moving here but every commissary has people (usually giggly teenagers) who bag your groceries, load the bags on a heavy-duty sled-like cart and then take them to your car and unload them. They don't ask you if you want it, they just do it and it is slightly annoying because I feel compelled to tip the poor guy who is lugging my groceries (something that I am very capable of doing myself, regardless if I am living in Alaska and have to roll the cart across a frozen parking lot). However, yesterday my grocery lugger really earned his tip because I walked him up and down three aisles to find my car! It was dark, cold, and I couldn't remember where I had parked. I opened the trunk, handed him a dollar bill, hopped in the front seat, blasted the heat, and waited until my carriage was loaded...oh the perks of shopping at the commissary...treated like a princess, sort of.

Lastly, dinner was made by eight o'clock and my whoopie pie creations were baked by ten o'clock, and my delicious icing, was well, disgusting! I added way too much salt into the peanut butter icing and it was awful! Feeling a bit down considering I just wasted some very precious ingredients (a jar of peanut butter being one!), I packed up the pies in bags and decided to try out the traditional vanilla-marshmallow icing the next day. Well...I did and it turned out much better! I'll stick to the traditional whoopie pie icing for now. I am seriously considering putting two of them in my mailbox with a corny little note attached. I think my Santa-looking mailman would enjoy that gesture of Pennsylvania Dutch appreciation. I've got about one hour to think about that...

Have a great day everyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

I've been hit by the baking bug

Well, we will see how long this lasts. I have had the sudden urge to bake about twenty different things! I want to make a pineapple upside down cake, apple cobbler, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, a cheesecake (never made one in my life...yet!), chocolate bread pudding (Sorry I didn't make this one at home dad!), and the list goes on. Once Andrew gets home I am taking the car to the commissary to buy my ingredients...the commissary as odd hours; it is only open from 10 am until 7 pm so it'll be a rush to get there!

Last time I went there, Andrew dropped me off at the door at 7:05 (this was before I noticed the hours) and I kept trying to open the in door but it was locked. I saw people inside so I thought that the door was just jammed so I walked in the exit doors and grabbed a cart and started shopping. Well...two minutes later the manager of the store asked me how I got in and told me that they were closed and just waiting for the people to pay and go. Whoops! He was nice and let me grab eggs, milk, and bread, (seriously! It was funny that I needed the three kitchen staples!) before I had to check out. Now I know!

Tonight I am baking chocolate whoopie pies with peanut butter icing and I am very excited! I've mentioned whoopie pies to about five people and they have no idea what I am talking about (they are from the south mainly). I then give the schpeel about how my ancestors were Lancaster German Mennonites (like they care) and whoopie pies were their specialty! I will give them all a taste of the 30 or so pies I am making tonight! Wish me luck!

Lastly, I will start full-time on Monday being a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. My hours are 8:30 until 4:00 so not bad at all! I can still sleep in until 7 or so and maybe even go the gym with Andrew, maybe! I am anxious to begin working with the teacher and the students. I brought my special education binder from Penn State with me and I've been reviewing it the past couple of days. I already know some of the kids because I have been tutoring them in math, another good thing! All for now, time to unload the dishwasher, make dinner, and be Julie Child (sort of!). Also, Andrew just walked in the door, perfect timing!