Tag Archives: fairbanks

So this is what they were talking about… (Chicago Winter Woes)

When we first decided to move to the Chicago area, in November no less, every single person we encountered would look at us incredulously and warn us about the frigid cold winters. Even when we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winter temperatures regularly hover below zero, residents pitied the frosty plight that we were to face in the midwest.

So we were prepared. When the first cold front came through shortly after we moved here and temperatures hardly rose above 20 degrees for a week, I bundled up and went about my business feeling proud of my ability to tough it out and power through. But that was nothing…

This week, as a massive cold front swept most of the nation, we got a taste of our first real winter weather, where temperatures have plummeted to zero and wind-chills have gotten down to 35 degrees below zero. This is a cold like I have never known.

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When it started on Sunday, we were still in good spirits. The freezing temperatures blew in accompanied by beautiful snow. We enjoyed the day of rest while we watched the flakes fall, sun shining through, and cozied up drinking endless cups of cocoa. Eventually we got out to shovel the snow from our drive, treating it as a fun new adventure – my first time shoveling snow, how thrilling! 

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Monday was a sunny snow day filled with fun and frolicking. Though the temperatures stayed in the single digits, we alternated playing in the snow and getting out and about with bustling around the house cooking and cleaning and keeping warm. And at the end of the day, we enjoyed the vibrant colors of the sunset contrasting the stark white of the snow.

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Tuesday brought more snow. And more shoveling. Which by this point was starting to get old. But hey, the sun was still shining and this winter weather wasn’t going to get me down. So I put on a pot of soup, simmering with a mix of hearty flavors and a dash of hope for a bit of warmth. I layered on wool socks and knit hats and cozy scarves – just to stay inside.

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On Wednesday I pulled out all the stops to combat the cold. I packed on the layers and devoured the soup and drank the tea. I hovered by our space heater and broke out our new humidifier. I dashed out to the gym to warm up my body. And when all else failed I just crawled into bed early, cranked up the electric blanket, and tried to ignore the wind howling outside of our windows.

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But then came Thursday, and really I’d had enough. It was so cold, and so grey, and so cold, and so windy, and so cold. When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I discovered that there was ice lining the windows. Let me re-phrase that, there was ice lining the inside of the windows.

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Sometime around mid-morning even more snow started. The wind whipped around so wildly that it was impossible to tell whether the icy flakes were coming from the sky above or the already snow-covered ground below.

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By now my coping strategy had degraded to climbing under a pile of blankets, kept company by a marathon of House Hunters International. It was apparent that no amount of soup or tea could drown out the fact that were were living in the world of Frozen. And not in the happy Disney way, but in way that looks much more like this:

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Because we are all just so cold. All the time.

Then, out of the blue yesterday, a dear friend called me. While she lives in (relatively) warmer Tennessee now, she used to live in Chicago and consoled me with the story of her first Chicago winter meltdown (the only kind of melting we’ll be seeing around here anytime soon). She told me about a frigid day when she was walking to the train and she was so cold that she just started crying. Before a warm tear of relief even had the chance to slide down her face, she said, she realized her tear had frozen to her cheek.

Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, that story was just what I needed to hear to encourage me to keep going. Because, unfortunately, Chicago winter weather doesn’t care about our feelings. So we just have to find a way to (snow) plow forward, making the most of it, and looking towards the warmer days ahead. (Forecast is calling for double digit temps next week – hooray!)

And when all else fails, remember it could always be worse… (I’m looking at you Fairbanks!)

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Airplanes Over Alaska

Before we pulled out of Fairbanks this morning on the train, we had one last little adventure. At Andrew’s insistence, we visited the city’s smaller airport – built for recreational pilots and float planes.

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Alaska is a vast land, with cities spread hundreds of miles apart and smaller towns or residences in remote areas not easily accessible by car. For this reason Alaska is a decidedly aviation centered culture. For this reason Andrew loves Alaska.

As we strolled around the small airport, Andrew was convinced that it was the most beautiful and tranquil place in the world. And I have to say, he had a point…

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We got to watch a float plane land for the first time, which was surprisingly very neat. Dual purpose as a plane and boat? Yes please!

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As a former member of the Civil Air Patrol, Andrew was pretty excited to spot one of their planes up here.

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And we came this close to buying a plane. What’s another $168,000? Maybe next trip.

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If you’re going to be at an airport (which we often are), this one’s a great place to be. It really was a wonderfully peaceful way to wrap up this first phase of our trip.

Falling in Love with the Golden Heart

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been here over a week. In a way though, it also feels like so much longer. Usually when we travel, we’re constantly on the move, but with Andrew’s job, it’s allowed us to settle into Fairbanks more, get to know the town a little better.

The first few days, before Andrew began work, we spent our time being total tourists around Fairbanks.

To get up to speed on our Alaskan history and culture, we checked out the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. Not only did we gain a wealth of interesting information, we also got to meet the museum’s mascot – Otto the grizzly.

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We then headed down to Pike’s Landing, a local recreation area along the Chena River.

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In the summer this area is teeming with outdoor activities such as river-boating and kayaking, golf over the river, and waterfront walking and dining.

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When winter comes, the river freezes over, creating an ice bridge and perfect setting for snowmobiling, dogsledding, and skating or skiing.

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But in the current shoulder season, the banks of the river are just plain peaceful.

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Over the weekends we’ve enjoyed one of our favorite places regardless of what town we’re in – the farmer’s market. Fairbanks’ Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market is a great combination of delicious local produce (yes, Alaska actually does have so much incredible produce), as well as craft artisans inspired by the beauty and resources that are uniquely Alaskan.

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Even the view from the farmer’s market parking lot is incredible.

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We also explored Pioneer Park, “Alaska’s only historic theme park.”

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The park is filled with a few small rides, lots of open park area, historic buildings and exhibits, museums, shops, and food vendors.

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And of course there was an aviation museum that someone loved.

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Later we headed to downtown Fairbanks, which was not so much an urban Mecca as a quiet riverfront town. A lovely place to relax and enjoy the flowing water and evening sun.

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To top it all off, we couldn’t miss a visit to North Pole.

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The town of North Pole, Alaska is just outside of Fairbanks and draws in visitors to enjoy the year-round Christmas cheer. The main attraction is Santa Clause House, where the big man himself greets visitors, offers seasonal delights, and preps his reindeer for the big December journey.

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It’s safe to say we got into the Christmas spirit!

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Though our first week here hasn’t been the Discovery Channel style “Alaskan Adventure” most people imagine, it has been so wonderful to experience and become a small part of the Fairbanks community. As Alaska’s third largest city (behind Anchorage and Juneau), Fairbanks is still relatively small, with a population of only about 100,000 people throughout the greater metropolitan region. This gives Fairbanks a small town feel and a rich community, where residents and tourists alike enjoy the simple pleasures of good food, friendly people and just living in this beautiful place. It’s easy to see why Fairbanks is affectionately known as “The Golden Heart City.”

Alaskan Anniversary

A few months ago when I thought about how me might spend our first anniversary, I figured we would maybe go out to a nice dinner to celebrate, perhaps even escape to a bed and breakfast in the mountains for a weekend. Never did I think that we would get to celebrate in the biggest way possible, out in the great big estate of Alaska. Turns out, that was the absolute perfect way to celebrate the big day.

We considered beginning our anniversary with a 15 mile hike, but instead decided to indulge in sleeping in, since there are only so many more mornings we can enjoy this simple pleasure. So after a relaxed morning and a hearty breakfast, we set off towards the Chena Hot Springs about an hour outside of Fairbanks.

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The drive was gorgeous, winding through valleys surrounded by spruce-filled mountains and meandering rivers. As cell phone reception diminished within the first few miles, we were able to just focus on each other and this beautiful land we were exploring.

Finally we reached the end of the road – the hot springs.

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The entire resort was lovely. Secluded, but bustling with uniquely Alaskan activities – flight-seeing, dog-sled tours, ice museum, and Aurora watching, just to name a few. Beautiful flowers peeked out from every imaginable container.

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I had never been to a hot springs before and it was quite a treat. Having just flown in from 90 degree heat a few days before, I was chilled to the bone by the cool Alaskan air with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. So climbing in the steaming water felt like a bear hug, warming me from the inside out. There’s something surreal and so relaxing about sitting in a warm natural pool with a cold mountain breeze blowing around you.

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Since the average temperature of the springs is a little over 100 degrees, I spent most of the time lounging on a chilled rock with my feet submerged in the hot springs so as not to overheat our little one. Still so very enjoyable.

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After a long, hard day spent relaxing at the hot springs, it was time to feed our appetites. Originally we had planned to head back to Fairbanks for dinner. I’d brought a nice dress for the occasion, we’d picked out a recommended restaurant. But in typical Andrew and Courtney fashion, our plans changed at the last minute and we decided to dine at Chena – no fancy clothes, no fancy plans, we didn’t even have our wedding rings! But it was delightful and perfectly our style.

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Besides, you can’t go wrong with fresh made creamy smoked salmon pasta.

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After dinner we toured the world renowned ice museum.

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Where I warmed up by the fire place.

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And used the icy outhouse.

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And for a mere $600 we could stay a night in this cold Christmas-themed room.

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We decided to pass.

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Having our fill of the hot springs and cold ice, we headed back to Fairbanks. The sunset drive was indescribably gorgeous. One of the magical things about Alaska is that the brilliant twilight sunset time, that breathtaking light that most of us barely manage to catch a glimpse of on our drive home from work, lasts for hours up here. It creates the most stunning colors cast across the sky and landscape, giving the appearance of a watercolor painting.

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But our anniversary wasn’t over yet! Because back at the hotel it was time to dig into the dessert that had traveled over 4,000 miles for this special day – the top to our wedding cake.

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Yes, despite Andrew’s protestatations, I somehow managed to get that frozen chunk of sugary goodness past airport security and lugged it all the way across the country to enjoy this first anniversary tradition.

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Being the kind husband that he is, Andrew waited to tell me that the cake had become a little dry. And of course, nothing goes better with wedding cake than a nice mug of beer.

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Cheers to the most wonderful Alaskan anniversary and many more adventurous years to come!

Wanderlust & Adventures Ahead

This past weekend while visiting the lovely Pleasanton Goods in Paris, Kentucky for my cousin’s baby shower, my eye caught sight of a beautiful magazine. I was instantly drawn in by a single caption on the cover.

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Wander.  Defined as to “walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way,” wander is one of my favorite words and activities. Intrigued, I picked up the magazine and, flipping to the back cover, found the most wonderful quote.

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Yes. Yes. Yes. If I were to choose a life mantra, that might just be it.

While the love of wandering is always close to my heart; this quote, this idea, resonates with me even more in my current phase of life. Because, well, I’m doing it again. Quitting my job, that is, to take off on another grand adventure. Taking that leap of faith to live free and ready to wander.

Last time it was South Florida, so this time we’re going for the extreme opposite: Alaska. Since we’re older and wiser now, this trek comes with a little more foresight, in the form of a job. Andrew’s job offered him an unparalleled opportunity to do work in various regions throughout the 49th state and, fortunately, he was willing and able to respond with a resounding yes. The only caveat was, I wasn’t letting him go alone. No way was I going to miss out on an opportunity to explore the final frontier of American wilderness.

So we decided that Andrew would finish up the first leg of his work in the the tiny town of Unalakleet before I head up on to meet him in the comparatively populous Fairbanks. Once he finishes up another week of work there we’re off to, well, wander. Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, Homer, and Seward are just a few of the spots we hope to hit, but really it’s up to wherever the open road (or sky or sea) takes us.

As great as it is to have a plan sometimes, especially when traveling on a timeline or budget and trying to fit everything in; I believe there is something even more blissful about not having a plan. Allowing a trip, or life in general to become it’s own adventure.

I realize that we can’t all take off on an Alaskan voyage, as I feel simultaneously blessed that my life currently allows me this opportunity but also acutely aware that my days of flying to a far off land to spend a month are quickly coming to a close. Still, I don’t think adventure has to be limited to grand journeys.

As I flipped through the pages of that beautiful Folk magazine I picked up, I found that Tyler Axtell had already worded this very idea so eloquently in his article:

“Adventure is not just about physically traveling to the unknown. I think that the underlying truth of all adventures is that it draws a boundary, a line in the sand. We get to choose whether to cross it. I think that adventurous living can take place in locations other than the mountains or woods or overseas (although these adventures are highly encouraged). I believe it is a lifestyle choice, just as much as it is for someone who only purchases ethical, organic, handmade goods. So, too, the life of adventure can be chosen.”

Wherever you are in your life or in this world, don’t ignore that adventurous spirit within. The world is just waiting for wanderers like us.