After spending 54 years from birth to 2008 living in Iowa I was presented with an opportunity to live in Fairbanks, Alaska. My blog is a diary of the adventure to get to Alaska, day to day life in Alaska, as well as facts for loved ones left behind in the Lower 48. Enjoy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Alaska Facts

Wow - how the time has flown since my last posting. I received an e-mail from a friend in Sioux City who asked a few questions about Alaska. My reply to her e-mail was appropriate for this blog, so I included it here~

Yes, we do celebrate Thanksgiving in Alaska. Life in Alaska is so much different than in the Lower 48, as most people stay either in Fairbanks or maybe travel to Anchorage, otherwise fly out to the Lower 48 to visit family for Thanksgiving. Anchorage is about a 6 hour drive (one way), and the only city of any size that we can drive to. Fairbanks city has a population of around 35,000 and metro area population around 98,000. There are some small towns around us, a couple about the size of Sgt. Bluff, otherwise the rest are about the size of Merrill. Most towns in Alaska have population similar to Merrill's.

Due to us being so remote, we don't travel like we used to in the Lower 48. It actually makes it quite relaxing to stay in town for the holiday, rather than to worry about the roads, etc. On the other hand, it keeps us away from our family in the Lower 48. Brian and Camilla rent our duplex in our daylight basement, so we celebrate holidays (and other "regular days") together.

We had an inch of rain Monday through Wednesday last week, and things got quite icy. Fortunately the temperature was warm, so ice didn't form on the trees or electric wires, but it certainly did on the roads and sidewalks. It's kind of funny that in Alaska we cancel school when it rains, but not when it snows. It is unusual for it to rain during November in Alaska. The last time they had any substantial rain here in November was back in the 1930's. The rain washed all the frost and snow out of the trees, making it look a lot like Iowa in the wintertime.
We have received snow (light, fluffy snow) off and on since last Thursday, covering the trees and bushes with snow. Now the weather is taking a cold dip. This morning it was -8 when I went to work; when I came home it was -24. They predict it will be in the -30's tomorrow, then go back up around 0, normal temps for this time of year. We don't usually get the -30's to -40's until early January.

Due to the colder weather we've begun to plug in our cars when they are parked. We had three heaters installed on our vehicles: engine, radiator and battery. We have a timer on our home outlet at home, so it warms for about 3 hours prior to going to work. At work there are posts with plug-ins by the parking spaces where we can plug in. When the temp is + 20 to -20 the electricity runs off and on every 30 minutes. Below -20 the electricity is on all the time. They sell special kind of extension cords here that remain pliable when it is very cold, usually down to -50. Winter boots and coats are also sold by indicating the lowest temperature they should be effective. Alaskans have been very free about sharing everything we need to know to stay warm and safe in the winter weather.

Our home is heated with a boiler, as are probably 99% of the homes in Fairbanks. We have a contract with a fuel company who comes and delivers fuel to the underground tank next to the house. There is minimal natural gas here in Fairbanks. The natural gas needs to be trucked from Anchorage, then placed in a large, central storage tank. If the weather were to be bad and the trucks couldn't bring the natural gas from Anchorage to Fairbanks that could get pretty serious.

In town we have water pipes that run from the city's water treatment plant. People that live outside the city limits have a few options. Many people have no running water. (These homes are called "dry".) Their homes usually have a kitchen sink and an outhouse is their bathroom. Brian and Camilla spent their first full summer living in a dry cabin. (Dry cabins rent for about 1/3 the cost of other housing.) In Fairbanks there are two or three "water stations" similar to gas stations where people pay and pump water into their containers. Some people load 5 gallon containers with water which they use for doing dishes, washing up, etc. Some people have large plastic containers that nearly fill the back of their pick-up trucks that they take to the water station and fill up, then transfer into their home water tank. Many employers showering facilities in their place of business, otherwise laundromats have pay showers.

Another water option is to have an above or underground water tank at your residence. There are also services which will deliver water to your home on an as needed or regular basis.

Nearly everyone in the local area has electricity. In some of the remote villages they are "off the grid" and use other sources to make their own electricity.

Our days are getting quite short now. We have some light outdoors by 9:30 am., then it gets daylight until about 2:30, then starts getting dusky. Due to our latitude (65 degrees) we have long twilight, so it's actually somewhat light out before sunrise and after sunset. Alaska celebrates June 21 and December 21, the longest and shortest days of the year.

We've been watching Sarah Palin's Alaska show. Alaska is very, very different from the Lower 48. It has been fun to learn about the things that are here but nonexistent in Iowa. Sarah flies a lot in private planes in the show, which is much more common in Alaska than down there, however it is not cheap to charter a flight or take a small commercial plane. That's why we haven't done it! If I were younger, I would get my pilot's license so we could do some flying, however I don't think that at my age it's a worthwhile investment.

My son, Sam, visited for 10 days this past August. It was soooooo good to spend time with him. I was able to take several days off work when he was here to show him the local tourist sites. We purchased a 1977 Dodge camper in June, so he and I took it on the road for three days on a jaunt to Valdez, Alaska. Enroute there we had a private salmon charter and did some fishing on a river raging with glacier run off. I can attest to the water's chill, as I took a tumble into the river getting out of the boat. He enjoyed his time here in Alaska and took hundreds, if not thousands of photos. It did my soul well to be able to spend time with him and to share the beauty of the great outdoors. He is such an awesome young man and I enjoyed every minute with him. It was probably good he went home when he did, as my stomach was feeling the impact of laughing so much with him.

Camilla and Brian joined the Methodist Church here. They attend a Bible Study group which meets weekly for 17 weeks during which time they will read the entire Bible. She is also one of our 6 female singers in our Praise Band for church service. She and Brian also cook every other Saturday evening for the Celebrate Recovery meetings held at the church. (It's like AA, only Christ-centered and for all habits, hang-ups and addictions.) I volunteer every 3-4 weeks to babysit for any children that may happen to accompany their parents. So far only once have any children come on a night I was volunteering. Camilla and Brian also have parts in the Christmas Day drama which will be performed for the December 26 church service.

The Methodist congregation has probably 300 members, and they are an active church with all ages participating equally. Church and worship are very important to Alaskans, with a LOT of churches in Fairbanks and usually the entire family attending. The Methodist Church had 120 in Sunday School last week. They have enough Sunday School teacher volunteers that they rotate teaching, teaching one segment of the lesson every four weeks.

Our Boys and Girls Home here has been taking in more and more children. We currently have 60 clients living in our facility. When I moved here I was the office manager. Due to the need for a Continuous Quality Improvement Department, my job position has changed. I'm now CQI Coordinator. Basically I shuffle a lot of papers. I am responsible for alphabetizing, organizing and filing in the client's charts, conducting regular chart audits, alphabetizing, organizing and filing the billing (a 12-15" stack each month), scribing minutes on the computer during several meetings, and keeping CQI statistical reports filed and organized. I absolutely LOVE my new position.

We live about 5 blocks from the military base. It was frequent last summer to hear them shooting practice rounds throughout the night. It was kind of upsetting to know that this was a necessity, yet nice to know that they were doing what they need to keep us all safe. The military population makes up 30% of Fairbanks' population. Due to this young population there are a LOT of babies and children in the local area.

Nearly every weekend in the fall there are craft sales and/or bazaars. The first one was prior to Halloween and they will continue until Christmas. Alaskans are crafty folks. We have a very, very large JoAnn Fabric store about 5 blocks from our home, as well as a large Michael's within 10 blocks.

Fairbanks has attracted an abundance of artistic talent from all genres. This Friday evening Camilla and I have been asked to usher at the local community theater for "The Miracle Worker". All theater performances we have attended have been flawless. The Sweet Adelines Christmas concert is December 4th/ The local military band concert and Sing it Yourself Messiah are also in December. Most weekends it is necessary to select which activities we want to attend, there are just too many to attend all. We also enjoy attending an occasional Ice Dogs hockey game, Fairbanks' version of the Musketeers.

We seem to have settled in to Alaska living, yet miss spending time with our loved ones face to face. We will be back to Iowa in May for my parents' 65th wedding anniversary, Nate's granddaughter's high school graduation and my son Sam's college graduation. Until then e-mail and phone calls will need to fill those voids.

Before I close I have a prayer request for Alta, a young mother in her mid 20's who is in need of a kidney transplant. Her twin sister, Alma, has worked with us at Boys and Girls Home of Alaska, since we opened. Alta was Life Lighted (helicoptered) to Anchorage Saturday evening so she can receive dialysis, leaving her year old daughter here in Fairbanks with family members.

The Advent season is upon us, and I am praying that you will have peace in your life amongst the hustle and bustle which can sometimes blur the reason for the season.

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