Winter Fun in Fairbanks

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo  The dark days are here in interior Alaska. With only four hours of daylight, it’s become all-important to squeeze in weekend outdoor activities at high-noon. If the lack of daylight weren’t challenge enough for a photographer, I’m also working with custom white balances on the reg.

Ever wondered why your snowy iPhone photos are so blue? That’s your camera white balance messing up the ‘temperature’ of the snow. It even happens with my Canon 5D Mark iii; so I’m regularly using Adobe Lightroom to fix my photos. It’s a lot of extra work that I certainly don’t mind doing for paying clients, but for my own personal work – meh. It’s time consuming and cumbersome. That’s why you won’t see many wintery pro-photos around here.

Indoor photos don’t offer reprieve. Flourescent bulbs, and mixed lighting cause chaos for white balance — maybe I’m overthinking it, as most people might not even notice. An easy fix is a black and white conversion. See Woods below? He’s walking! In color, and in black and white.  Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo For those of you who don’t know Woods personally, let me tell you something about his personality. He loves being a baby. He loves being worn, held and carried, loves being hand-fed, and loves being cuddled. He knows he has a sweet gig going, and isn’t letting up on the baby days anytime soon. So it was no surprise that he took an extra month or so beyond his first birthday to start walking.

Woods also loves to eat. His prime motivation for learning to walk was the multi-tasking appeal of carrying snacks around everywhere. I always know where he is by following his trail of cheerios, or listening for the light crunch of our dog, crumb catching behind him. He has a nice shiner on his eye from face planting on his snack cup just last night. Eat hard, play hard. That’s his mantra. Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo  Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Speaking of eating hard, Thanksgiving seemed to last forever around here. I once again made way too much food for my small family. We had Thanksgiving meals on repeat for like, four days. I spent most of the year Vegan – mostly subjecting my family to the same, and have since transitioned to a Vegetarian diet (a life without feta, is not a life I want to live). For Thanksgiving, I went ahead and made an organic turkey for the kids. I had my fair share, too. Our turkey was free range, so I assume the bird lived a happy life outdoors, but the turkey was also from Fresno, so I’m guessing not. Ha! Go Bakersfield! 

We tried to ski it off all the food, but I’m pretty sure one session of XC skiing is not the caloric equivalent of half a dozen pieces of pie, gingerbread cookies, fudge and toffee over the week. I’ve got a few dozen ugly dates with the treadmill this month.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Holiday Preparations - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Hot Cocoa is a must - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo        Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Ski Pulk - Ski Pulk Modification - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo   Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

We’ve really enjoyed cross country skiing this year. It’s our third winter in Alaska, and our first season skiing. We ran out of newborns, and excuses, so we took the plunge and purchased skis. A proper ski pulk or Thule Chariot were out of the question for us (I think $1000 would be better spent in a number of other ways), so we took a utility sled, and rigged our Contours Options Double Stroller seats into it. The seats fit perfectly, and provide just enough structure and wind shelter to keep the kids warm to 0 degrees. Hand warmers and blankets help, and we always end our ski sessions with hot cocoa.

We were so glad to have my mother-in-law Christie here from Oklahoma to celebrate the tail end of Thanksgiving and to partake in Margot and Woods’ baptisms this weekend. I think she and Margot had a great time making gingerbread ninjas and skiing. Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Fairbanks, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo


Aurora Borealis

I don’t think these Northern Lights will ever get old. I’ll always enjoy watching them, but I know as the temperatures drop here in Interior Alaska, the desire to sit outside for an hour shooting them will fade. Last week was the perfect climate for catching the Lights show.

Snow from a week ago had mostly melted off, leaving our grass once again exposed. Warmer nights (only dropping to the low 30s) meant down parkas and snow pants stayed in the closet, while we reached instead for vests, light hats, and fleece jackets and gloves. Any colder out, and my fingers would have turned to numb useless nubs, my camera battery would have drained, and my damp hair would have frozen. I don’t know how more disciplined aurora chasers tolerate the freezing temperatures closer to the winter solstice.

So here I present to you the Northern Lights, from October 6, 2015. Hopefully more to come, since this is our last season in Alaska, for now.

And in case you missed it, Isaac and I changed our residency to Alaska. We are coming back to settle down here after his military service ends (not for a few more duty stations, unfortunately). Sorry California and Oklahoma family, but something about this wild, Libertarian place has really appealed to our frontier sensibilities. It must be a mix of the bold folks who live here, the pristine tundra, and the bountiful wildlife and the lack of fashion rules that have really got us dreading the adjustment back to the lower 48 next year.

I’ll miss this one day.

Talkeetna, Alaska

I have a knack for finding alterna-towns. That’s what I call them, anyway. They’re crunchy, liberal, quirky, Olympia-styled towns, and they draw me in like a magnet.

This time, I made my way with my family in tow to Talkeetna, Alaska.

Why Talkeetna? Isaac asked me this when I approached him with an AirBnB listing for a Yurt, and a proposition to get away from Fairbanks for a few days. Spontaneity is never lost on him, and he went for it. Although I had to sell it as a hippy town, and as the launching pad for Denali Expeditions (I picked up that tidbit from all the Mountaineering memoirs I read this summer). The five hour drive would be worth it, I convinced him.

There’s more to the story, though. A friend suggested I watch Northern Exposure back when I first moved to Washington, since the show was filmed in nearby Roslyn (although based on a town in Alaska). I never got around to it, but two years into my Alaska residency (and nearly four years later), I finally did. I had to rent the DVDs from the local Blockbuster since the show is not in syndication, and it was not streaming online anywhere. It took nearly two months of evening binge watching, and treadmill TV sessions to power through the six seasons, but I did it. And the extra leg work was totally worth it.

The quirky protagonists, odd town issues, and uniquely Alaskan story lines held my attention. I could relate to Joel Fleishman’s poor assimilation, yet I still pulled for him. I loved Ed’s sweet disposition, and Shelley’s bitchin’ style. And of course we all admired Maggie’s tenacity.

For non-Northern Exposure fans, the show’s small town of Cicely is loosely based on the town of Talkeetna.

Walking around downtown, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between the show and the town. I easily imagined Ruth Ann working the counter at the historic Nagley’s, or Holling and Shelley scandalizing the town with their relationship age-difference while running the Fairview Inn. A long-haired tourist with a leather jacket immediately drew assumptions from Isaac — that must be Ed! 

While walking around downtown, we saw a stray-ish dog hobbling about on weak hips. His front legs pulled hard and fast, while his posterior extremities wobbled and collapsed like a baby deer. Out-of-towners sought to help the dog, find his owner and get the poor boy (or girl?) some help. Isaac overheard someone holler out of the Fairview Inn, yelling for the dog — Hipster! Fitting, especially for a town with a stub-tailed cat for a Mayor named Stubbs.

No, seriously.  Talkeetna has a cat for a mayor. His name is Stubbs and he’s something like 19 years old. They call him stubbs because his tail is a nub. Anyway, I think someone is finally running against the incumbent. The more you know.

We showed up to the pet-friendly town at the end of the season.

Alaska is flush with tourists for the few warm months every year. After the influx dies down, most commerce boards up, literally, and takes off for the winter. The remaining shops and restaurants rarely disappoint. Talkeetna followed suit. We ate at the Roadhouse twice, and definitely benefitted from the Family Style seating. Advice from locals on where to go and what to do is always welcome.

I had a fine time gawking at the Denali Expedition paraphernalia. I was largely unable to imagine anything about the summit expeditions except how cold it must be at the top, and how glad I am to not have the drive to do something like that.

We were lucky to find the world’s greatest playground. Apparently, the townsfolk wanted a great place for the local kids to play, so they fundraised, and then everyone came together and built this insane playground, modeled after the town itself, in just five days. Another testament to the resolution of the people of Talkeetna. Seriously, the craftsmanship was amazing! 

Talkeetna, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

It was basically impossible to rip the kids away from this park, but we did it. And we had awesome food and delicious beer from Twister Creek Restaurant, home of the Denali Brewing Company. I recommend the Mother Ale, if you find happen to visit, or if you see it in your local beer cooler.

And the icing on the cake was our two night stay in a Yurt! I think it took just as long to convince my dad that staying in a dry yurt with an outhouse wasn’t endangering my family. He spent enough time roughing it out of necessity as a kid that he doesn’t see the recreational purpose of vacationing in a glamorized tent. He’s also a grandpa, so he wants to make sure his babies are spoiled rotten, all the time. Unfortunately, Alaska doesn’t have a cushy reputation, so stoking a wood burning stove all night to keep his babies warm is probably not his idea of an awesome family vacation.

Of course we loved it.

Talkeetna, Alaska | Yea Yea Pueblo

This was our last hurrah before the snow flies. We were glad to have spent it in such a cool Vegetarian-friendly, alterna-town like Talkeetna.