Life in a Winter Wonder Land

I'm lying on the floor of the cabin, not far from the woodstove. The heat of the fire covers me like a warm blanket. The woodstove is going really well. The heat actually reaches the other side of our one room cabin without much effort (read: "wood").

On my insistence Bill (finally) put a damper in the chimney pipe. According to Bill this isn't necessary, because the woodstove is a 1977 cast iron Vermont stove, with build-in damper. As far as I'm concerned, that build-in damper is useless. It either closes the chimney all the way off, thus cutting off the air flow totally, or it sets the chimney wide open, effectively letting all the heat go out the chimney.

We have a damper in our chimney at home. It is a great way to regulate the air flow. You need to find the tipping point, where there is still enough airflow to keep the fire roaring, as well as a small enough "gap" in the chimney pipe to let the smoke escape, but keep the heat in. At this tipping point a little wood goes a long way.

I've been using arm fulls of wood to keep a comfortable temperature in the cabin. It works, but we are using wood by the truckload.

With the damper in, it is as if we have a totally different stove. We've found the tipping point. Now we have a roaring fire from just a couple of pieces of wood that also heats the cabin. The amount of wood I'd been using in a day now lasts us about three days. We both wished we'd done it much sooner.

It's a good example of being penny wise (not wanting to spend time and effort to put an $8 (yes only eight) damper in) and pound foolish (using much more wood then necessary).

Well, Bill has his work literally cut out for him. He'll be cutting the dead standing spruce trees in the woods sooner then he'd thought he would.

As I'm enjoying the heat of the fire, I hear him tapping away on the key board. Chapter 6 is in the making.

Bill puts the chimney back together after putting the damper in.

Box Days

Morning temperatures.

Crystal clear.

Robin is guarding the boxes we've received in the mail.

Surprise package from Laura. A box filled with beads! Thanks Laura!

A real microscope! Wow! Thanks Tom!
Read more about our geology lesson along the California road side.

Bill receives this jacket from David in San Rafael, California. He'll be warm now! This jacket is good for the Himalayas!

All the way from Hawaii, arriving exactly on the first day of Hanukkah! Great timing Janet! We're enjoying it tremendously.

Last but not least, a box from Aunt Beth!

Let the treasure hunt begin!

Airing out

Up to the starting line.

Robin is not to be left behind. She stomps up the mountaiin, sled in hand.

Ready, Set, Go!

Cheyenne flies down the mountain to aim her sled straight over a jump. Whoosh...


Sunset. It's 3.45 pm.

I went up to the road tonightf; a sled, flashlight and a map of the heavens in my hands. The Big Dipper has me baffled. I can't figure out why it seems to be upside down and at other times right side up. I've been using the stars of the outer side (furthers away from the beginning of the handle) of the dipper to determine where to find Polaris. Polaris is the north star. It is also the beginning of the handle of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor). You go up seven times the distance between the outer stars up from the dipper to find Polaris.

Using this technique makes Polaris appear more to the south then I think it should be. Tonight is the night I figure it out.

I park the sled at the beginning of the driveway, making sure it won't slide down while I'm looking up at the stars. I spread my map out in front of me, but don't turn on my flashlight yet. My eyes are already used to the moonless night. The first stop is to orient myself with the stars; finding constellations I'm familiar with.

The Big Dipper is to the north east, partly hidden behind the tres, but clear enough to see the guide stars of the outer side. Cassiopeia is more above me, hanging a tinge to the west.

The quest for Polaris is on. I count seven steps and end up on a star. I look and stare. It just doesn't seem to add up. i search for the additional stars of Ursa Minor. i think I see them, but am just not sure. There are so many stars visible. The sky is log jammed with them.

I turn on my flashlight to observe the map. There is the Big Dipper, there is Cassiopeia. Observing it closer I see that Polaris is somewhat in the middle of these two constellations.

Then it dawns on me. I'm looking at the stars on the other side of the world! If it were night right now in Europe, they'd be looking up at the Big Dipper and find it "the proper way." People from Finland (the same latitude as Alaska) would be able to see Cassiopeia, but for they that constellation would be "upside down."

With this insight it all makes sense. I count again from the Big Dipper and end up on the same star. This time I find all the stars to Ursa Minor.

I turn the map up to the sky to find the names to other constellations; Auriga, Taurus and Pleiades are added to my list. By now my fingers are getting cold. It's time to sled down the drive way and warm up at the fire.

During my study of the heavens, two shooting stars went by. My wishes remain the same...

Wednesday, December 15th 2010

"What is the temperature?" is a question we frequently ask. We're now used to subzero temperatures. "Minus 16/14/18." It doesn't faze us anymore. A month ago we were in the teens above zero. The temperature drops steadily. Next week it'll be officially winter. Then we'll see what winter in Alaska really is about.

It's been in the teens for about two weeks! And that's below zero mind you! Better get dressed before going outside.

Temperature is relative though. It's the moisture in the air that really counts. When the air is dry and crisp, the thermometer is a good guide. When it's more moist, then it feels immediately 10-20 degrees colder. A dry minus 18 feels warmer then a moist 5 degrees above.

The sun has been getting up a little after one in the afternoon. By three thirty it sets again. Before sunrise and after sunset we have a long dawn and dusk period. Probably over an hour easily. Still it's strange how little light we get from nature. In the cabin we have some good lights, making it day in night. This keeps us up in the evening for a long time. We just forget time.

In the morning it's different though. The cabin is cold. Very cold. At the window furthest from the stove we have a thermometer. Around the forties it usually shows. Bill and I have a game going of "pretending to be asleep." The one that pretends best gets to stay in bed. The other braves her/himself against the cold and has the task to perk up the fire. And quickly too. The girls are already antsy to get downstairs. Another day of playing and learning awaits them.

Once one of us is downstairs and the fire is going, the girls trickle down the stairs. They sit close to the fire to warm up with the fresh new heat. Then it's on to breakfast. Brunch is probably a better word, since we don't seem to make it down till usually 9.30am, mostly later. It's still pitch dark outside at that time. An other reason it's hard to get up. This is where it is good to have goals in life. Things that get you out of bed in the morning. A book to write, a bus to fix, learning to do, a purse to sew, snow to enjoy.

After breakfast it's light enough to turn off the big lights and let the sun do its part. Then the jitters set in. It's time to go outside and enjoy this winter weather in this winter wonder land.

Golden glory.

We're up at the road at the "crack of dawn..." It's 12.30pm. The sun will be up over the horizon in about half an hour.

The sun hoovers over the horizon at 2.30pm. Jasmine and Cheyenne are filling the garbage cans with snow to help provide for water.

On a winter hike.

Seeds are sprinkled across the snow.

Ready, Set,

GO !!

The descend to the cabin is the best of all. Cheyenne is ready to fly down the hill.

Robin scooters right along. The little sled is just fine for her. Graciously, with her arms as rudders, she slides down the driveway. She picks up speed and puts her feet down when it's going too fast for her.

The sun turns the smoke orange while Jasmine finishes her descend. Cheyenne and Robin are already down, waiting patiently under our big "Yeller" bike. It hangs there patiently, till spring shows her face in five short months.

The sunset is a'blazin'.

So many things to do and enjoy outside, so little time to do so. We are outside for about an hour, then it's inside time. Warming up in front of the fire once more. Sometimes we dress up for the outdoors again in the evening, to go stargazing at the road. An exciting experience.

Indoors we keep the stories, workbooks and purses going. I sewed myself a wallet this week. A couple of pockets, a zipper and I'm back in business. No more ziplock bags for me. I'm very proud of myself. A couple of months ago I hardly knew how to thread a needle. Now look what I can. I think intensive learning works best for me, instead of spreading it out over a couple of hours per week. It's an interesting concept I'm working on developing further.

Jasmine is swewing away on a purse for Pake.

Since the icestorm in November we haven't had any reliable internet reception. You can be online, working on an update and boom, no more reception. It's very frustrating. Well, it was. Now I'm used to it and am no longer counting on having internet reception. It gives a peaceful feeling of not having the pressure to update. More time with the girls, less frustration when it doesn't go as planned.

To have internet reception I now go to town. Once or twice a week I get a ride with one of our neighbors. He drops me off at the Coffeehouse and there I sit. Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the college. Sometimes Cheyenne comes with me. A nice getaway for her, and a little less femininity for Bill.

Cheyenne goes with me to town. At the College Coffeehouse I have the internet reception I need to update and look for other information.

When Bill goes to town, he makes it a priority to do something on the bus. Last week he's brought the rims to the tire shop. We now have four tires on the bus. It'll roll now. Let's call that progress! Our plan is to have a wrecker pull it up to our driveway. Then we can work on it together over the winter. It'll be so much easier to measure and scheme when we can just walk up to it.

The book is coming along nicely too. We've had great constructive comments on the first chapter. We'll be mending the text for the final update. We're already in the eight chapter. That doesn't mean the other chapters are finished, but they are in the rewriting process. We understand now that you don't just "write a book;" you "rewrite a book." And then you rewrite the rewriting. There is always room for improvement. Always.

The week before Christmas, 2010

A field of energy surges through the cabin. "The boys are coming! The boys are coming!" The girls are counting down the days until their big brothers Adam (18) and Jesse (13) are coming to spend a week with us. Cheyenne is working on a welcome poster. The boys will arrive at midnight - to dark to see the welcome sign - but the thought is great! They'll see it during the daytime when they're out sledding.

Welcome Adam and Jesse!

The girls haven't seen them since we left on our bicycle journey on August 1, 2009; almost a year and a half ago. The girls have changed tremendously over this period of time. We can only imagine how the boys have changed. Perhaps we're to the stage that it is inappropriate to call them boys. Perhaps "young men" is now their proper title. For the week they're with us we've decided to rent a van. It'll be great for all of us to see the area. We haven't had the chance to do so ourselves.

On Sunday the 19th Bill rides to town with our friend Martin. The van can be picked up at the airport. Then the waiting begins. They won't arrive until after midnight. Bill's brought his computer to work on another chapter of the book, but the mind keeps wandering. Wandering from clock to clock. "Are they still on schedule?" "How much longer?" The waiting doesn't last forever. They're finally here! And well dressed for the temperature too!

Wearing all their warm clothes they arrive in Fairbanks; it's -18 degrees.

I can't go to sleep. I want to see them coming down the hill on the sleds. It's after 1am when I hear laughter and voices. From the bed I can look out the window and see the lights rushing towards the cabin. They all stop without a major crash. The laughter continues inside. I can hear them talking. They are good sounds. When Bill comes to bed he tells me they saw a beautiful green Aurora Borealis on their way home. They stopped at the top of Spinach Creek and got out of the car. Then there it was. A bright green fish hook of an Aurora. Later they saw another one, at the junction of Darling Avenue. What are the chances of that! What a wonderful welcome!

When morning comes on Monday, the girls actually let the boys sleep in a little. At the first sign of awakening they are under attack though. This is what the girls have been looking forward to; having a good time with their brothers.

Hey! Are you awake yet?!

This first day we don't have a lot of things planned. Adam and Jesse can sure use their rest. Just playing and sledding are on the schedule. First we start with hotcakes. That'll be a good base for the day.

Hotcakes for breakfast.

On their way to the top of the drive. Cheyenne will teach them how to go down fast.

The temperature is in the teens below. It isn't long before they're all back inside. Robin didn't go out at the same time though. She talks Adam into pushing her on the swing for a little while.

Outside a little longer; Adam pushes Robin on the swing.

Warming up in front of the wood stove, wrestling on the couch bed, fixing a puzzle at the table, playing with the lego's. It's as if they've never done anything else. The girls are so tickled with their playmates. With everyone playing so nicely, Bill and I head up to the road. We're expecting a big delivery. So big, that Bill needs to take the snow shovel to make space for it up at the road.

Shoveling snow to make a parking space.

Special delivery!

The bus has arrived.

We've chosen to have the bus parked near us. This way we can look at it, scheme and dream about it and measure it. There is a lot to do to get ready for our departure next spring. Having the bus near us gives it a certain urgency. We're excited about this new adventure.

Not only "have we arranged" the Aurora Borealis for the boys. This evening we have something as spectacular: a lunar eclipse! Little by little the earth scoots between the sun and the moon, until the full moon is no longer clearly visible. It takes over an hour to take place. We can see it happening through the windows of the cabin. For Cheyenne and I this is not enough. We get dressed and head up to the road. There are less trees interfering with our view. We can see it all. It is etched in our memories. These are the experiences we love to fill our lives up with.

The next few days we spend exploring the north, east and south east side of Fairbanks. The first drive takes us up the Steese Highway, then into the Elliot Highway. This road is also known as "The Ice Road", as in "Ice Road Truckers!"

We're on the Ice Road!

A visit to the Ice Road wouldn't be complete without a stop at the Hilltop cafe for a piece of home made pie!

Enjoying a good piece of pie.

An Ice Road trucker is on his way north to Prudhoe Bay.

Looking North-East from the Steese Highway, on our way to Chatanika.

The scenery is breathtaking. To the North West we could see the moon set. A big white-yellow blob on the horizon. In a couple of hours it will rize again. It's the total opposite of the sun on this shortest day of the year. The moon seems to be up as long as the sun is "under."

We've made it through the shortest day of the year. Incredible. Now the real winter will arrive. Also, the days are getting longer again. Seconds a day at first, going into minutes before the new year arrives. There is no way we can tell that the days are getting longer, but still, we can feel it none the less. The days are getting longer! Next season: Spring!

We're home late, but Jesse is not yet done for the day. The Aurora is crawling through his veins. "Let's go up to the road and see if we can see it again!" While Adam stays with the girls, Bill and I walk up the road with Jesse. Cheyenne begs me to let her join us. "If we see the lights, I'll come and get you," I say. When we get to the road, I think I see the onset of an Aurora; there is a hazy white layer visible towards the North West. I jump on the sled, to get Cheyenne. When we get back to the road it's still there. The car is still warm. Off we are to the junction of Spinach Creek and Old Murphy. There is a great viewing point there. We park and walk through the knee deep snow. False alarm. No Aurora. They're just clouds. Cheyenne enjoyed the adventure any way. And so did we!

On the hunt for the Aurora.

Jesse quickly realizes it's warmer upstairs. Robin and Jasmine are delighted to have their big brother between them. Robin doesn't even crawl out of bed like she usually does to join Bill and I! Sweet.

On Wednesday we drive straight East; 60 miles to Chena Hot Springs. We arrive at about 4 o'clock. It's still a little light. Inside are two hot tubs and a warm swimming pool. This is where the girls will enjoy the water. This is where we start out. Outside is the natural Hot Spring, as well as a big jacuzzi hot tub. Adam heads for the hot springs immediately. The girls splash and swim in the water. From hot tub to pool and back again. We, the big people - including Jesse -, take turns playing with the girls and going outside to enjoy this natural wonder. It seems that they can regulate the hot water coming into the outdoors pool area. One time it's relatively hot. Another time it is super hot; we can't even walk to the center of the natural pool. It is a great experience though. The outside air is subzero and yet we walk around in our bathing suits, our hairs freezing into new fashions.

Jesse with a frozen haircut.

A frozen Adam comes back inside from the hot springs.

Thursday we're waking up to a new record:

We're "clocking" the coldest temperature to date at our cabin! Minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit! Minus 34 degrees Celcius!

It just so happens today is the day we're going to North Pole. A town to the South East of Fairbanks. It's usually about 10-20 degrees colder there then in Fairbanks. Chances are we're going to see 40 below today! It's where Fahrenheit and Celcius meet!

Playdough time at our friend Cindy's home in North Pole.

We're all gathering in the kitchen while the girls are working on their playdough creations.


After our visit with Cindy, we head for the Santa Claus House. The attraction of the town: "Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives Year Round."

A round-about in North Pole has ice sculptures of Santa being pulled by a dog sled team. A beautiful display. We take the round-about several times to admire the art.

"Hurry up taking the picture Bill! It's cold out here!"

Robin, Cheyenne and Jasmine under attack of a polar bear.

A visit to the Santa Claus House; what to say about that. We've been there and done it. We've seen Santa and a line of parents with (not always willing) children to have their pictures taken. We've seen all the Santa related gifts there are to buy in this season. We've seen the reindeer. An overload of gifts as the spirit of Christmas? No, I didn't think so either. For us it's being together, surrounded by family and friends.

We didn't make it to 40 below, but we came close!

We're preparing an Arabic meal tonight at John and Johnna's house in Fairbanks. Bill makes the kebobs and the "wharkad-whally" (misspelled I'm sure). I'm in charge of the pita bread. it turns out to be a great meal with fine friends. The kids are playing with every toy they can find.

Working together.

Pita, fresh from the oven. The "wharkad-whally" (rolled grapeleaves filled with rice, ground beef and spices) are in the pots above.

Robin between the toys.

Luke offers up the pinata he made himself for dessert. Robin can hardly wait.

It takes a lot of hits, but eventually the candy comes out. And out come the kids. They dive on the candy as a lioness pounces on a gazelle.

Three days on the go. Great memories made. Friday is a day to stay around the cabin. Not to be lazy though. Wayne Hunter the Woodcutter from Salcha is coming with his crew to help us cut down a couple of spruce and birch trees. We're not yet out of wood, but we would be somewhere in February. It's time to be prepared. It's time to do some chopping. They arrive in a whirlwind and so they leave again. A cord or two has been cut and stacked. Ready for Bill to be split. Thanks Wayne! Thanks Adam and Jesse for your hard work pulling the logs out of the woods!

With all the hard work done, the time to play is here. The last night we'll have Adam and Jesse with us. The week has gone so fast. Tomorrow Bill will take them to town in the early afternoon to have some "men time." Their plane leaves after midnight.

Jasmine the Christmas tree.

Time to wrestle.

Time to play.

Time for a family picture.

And a time to say goodbye.

It is Saturday the 25th. Bill takes Jesse and Adam back to town. They're having a great time together; talking, eating, watching a movie, talking some more. They also get to stand on the frozen Chena River. Is the ice strong enough? Yes it is! And then some too. Cars drive over it as if it is a major highway.

On the frozen Chena river. The ice is so strong it can hold cars!

We are very thankful we had the opportunity to have Adam and Jesse here with us. Thanks for coming! We will treasure these memories. We're sure you will too!

The final days of 2010!

Another year has rolled by. A year filled with the succesful arrival in Fairbanks after 6,439 miles on our quint. We've made so many new friends, it's hard to just select a few and name them here. Instead, we're gong to do our best to name everyone who has been on this incredible journey with us in our soon to be published book!

The winter in Fairbanks is treating us well. The temperatures have dropped gradually, allowing us to slowly get used to it. The low temperatures seem a bit deceptive. Without the moisture in the air that we're accustomed to, it just doesn't feel that cold. Of course we do have proper winter gear. It all helps.

Jasmine and I on ski's. We're on our way to feed the neighbor's bunny.

Frost sticks to Cheyenne's hair after a walk.

The days are getting longer again. That is something we do look forward too. With only about six hours of daylight a day, we're longing for more sunshine. It's probably more mental then anything, but we believe we can feel the lenghtening of the days, even if it's only minutes a day. Little by little it adds up.

Team work. Cheyenne works on her second grade workbooks, while Bill is writing.

Jasmine provides the tea party.

New Year's eve it is just us together. Snuggled up, we watch some movies. During one of them I sneak downstairs to prepare a special treat. I'm going to make "Appelflappen;" deep fried, batter covered, slices of appel. Growing up in the Netherlands, this was one of the treats we'd eat. Freshly made by my dad. We'd be running up and down to the shed where he'd be frying them. Bringing back trays full into the house, I bet not all of them would actually make it all the way from the shed to the kitchen counter. Good memories.

New year's eve treat: Appelflappen in the making!


Happy New Year Everybody!
Fill it with an abundance of love, joy and adventure!

Join us in the year 2011!
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Getting Ready for Winter
Our First Month in Fairbanks.

Winter is Coming!
Our Second Month in Fairbanks.

Winter is Here!
Our Third Month in Fairbanks.

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