50 Charming States of America

I need to remind myself at times… I live a CHARMED life. Figuratively AND Literally!!

When I was 16, my mother gave me a sterling silver charm bracelet for Christmas. You could tell she put a lot of love and thought in this precious gift. Each charm represented a specific life event or story.

Charm bracelet

A roller skate to remind me of the time my brother used my only pair to make himself a skateboard, a mouse to represent my nickname ‘little mouse’ (don’t ask), a princess phone for all the times I was reminded phones were for dispatching information… NOT chatting! My favorite charm is the Lie Detector. That one must have been difficult to find. I don’t know if my mom happened upon it, or had to hunt for it… but that ONE charm is near and dear to my heart. It is the only one on that entire bracelet that represents a family memory involving my dad.

At the time our family was living in Shrewsbury, NJ in a sub-division named Vail Homes. My mom liked to call it ‘Vile Homes’. One fall, when I was about 4 years old, mom purchased a basket of apples and left them on the kitchen counter. In the morning she woke up to find 2 or 3 apples with tiny little bites out of them lying on the stairway. She called me downstairs and I was throughly reprimanded. Of course I said I didn’t do it. Trust me when I tell you talking back to my mom was NOT a smart move… even at 4 I knew that!! I was spanked for lying.

This continued the next night… and this time my father did the spanking. I can remember crying and saying I didn’t do it… but they didn’t believe me, and sent me to my room. My dad started thinking about the problem. It dawned on him I wasn’t known to lie, and thought perhaps I was sleep walking and didn’t realize I was doing it. So that night he grab a chair and got comfy, determined to catch me in the act. To his surprise he found out who the real culprit was.

Back in those days our house was heated with coal. A delivery man came to the house on a regular basis and dropped coal down a shoot from the outside of the house to the coal bin inside. Apparently a racoon got inside and was living in the coal bin. My dad watched in amazement as the little racoon crawled up onto the kitchen counter, grab an apple and scurried away. It would then go to the stairs, take a bite, drop it… and repeat the process.

Obviously my parents apologized profusely with hugs and kisses… and treated me to a special dessert.

Anyway… every once in a while as I traveled around, I would purchase another charm to be added to the bracelet. The chain is not that sturdy, and once it was filled, I still purchased charms, but never had them attached. The novelty wore off quickly.

Charms

While traveling through Alaska I came across this ADORABLE moose charm… so I bought it. Which then got me thinking about the bracelet. Knowing I have been to 49 of the 50 US States… I decided I should make a charm bracelet with 50 charms… 1 from each state!!!

Last night I dumped my bag of charms onto the bed and took inventory. Out of the 49 states I have been to, I collected 15 charms… plus a few from other countries. “OK… I can make this work.” I said to myself. So now I’m on the hunt!!! I’ve made a list of all the states and marked which ones I have already. Next to the ones I don’t have, I jotted down a suggestion of what kind of charm to look for. For example… my first view of Hawaii from the air were of sea turtles… so I want to get a sea turtle charm. It might take me YEARS to finish this project… but I am determined to complete it.

One aspect of collecting that I find interesting is the pricing. Some of my old charms still have a price tag showing $7.50. The current charms are sold for $20.00 each. I guess I should have never stopped collecting them years ago 🙂

Which state is the only one I haven’t been to yet??? Colorado! Technically my DNA is within it’s boundaries… but to be honest I haven’t experienced it enough to convincingly say I’ve been there. Many years ago I stood in Four Corners… so my right hand has been in the state, and on the way home from Alaska last week I had a 7 hour lay over in the Denver airport. Neither of these close encounters qualifies the purchase of a charm. I play fair… and I don’t lie!

The Road Less Traveled

Our family’s trip to Alaska had been plotted and planned for months in advance. All airline tickets procured, houses and hotels not only booked, but scrutinized to the ‘nth’ degree. Activities chosen with back up plans if needed as fillers or replacements. So it was surprising we found ourselves with a ‘free’ day.

“Let’s go panning for gold”, was the resounding cry we heard from the male members of our group. “Ok”, our ‘tour director’ agreed. “But instead of going to one of those cheesy touristy places, let’s buy supplies and pan for gold in a local creek ourselves.”

So that was our plan. We let ‘Mr. Research’ google a local creek, then stopped off at the Sportsman Shop to pack in our supplies. Once we entered the store, everyone scattered in different directions. This store was better than any Cabella’s or Dick’s!!! One of our group immediately headed to the Go Pro display, another was found perusing the gift section. Who knew where in the store ‘Mr. Research’ wandered off to… as he is known for his disappearing. Eventually we all met up in the Gold Panning aisle… an aisle you WON’T find in New Jersey.

Pan, pick, and vials in hand… we checked out and headed on our way. We were assured by ‘Mr. Research’ that creeks were not that far away. After missing a turn off and driving a few extra miles before realizing the mistake and turning around… we ended up at the intersection of Fish Creek Rd… and Fairbanks Creek Rd. Sounds perfect, right? We thought so.

Road Signs

Pulling in to the dirt parking lot we quickly realized we weren’t in Kansas any more Toto. Mud covered diesel pick up trucks and Rvs were haphazardly parked and each one had an empty flat-bed trailer which looked like it carried an ATV.

A fella was talking on his cell phone… dressed in muddy boots, dirty jeans, and hooded sweatshirt… and was sporting a few days worth of facial hair and uncombed mess on his head. We ‘city folks’ were dressed in our LL Bean and Columbia backpacking best. Oh… and the clouds were rolling in fast as the wind picked up.

The executive decision to continue on our mission was made… and we put one foot in front of the other and began walking down the dirt road. Our first sign was to beware of heavy equipment using the road… which started us giggling. How funny would it be to stumble upon hard-core panners using machinery who take this mining activity seriously… as we unpack our little pans and travel pick??? Visions of shotguns being aimed at us danced through our heads.

The dirt road went on forever… with no sight of a creek anywhere in the area. ‘Mr. Research’ ran ahead of us to check things out. We began to worry about him when he didn’t return… but we kept on walking. It began to sprinkle, and got cold… then the sun would come out and it would get hot. More rain and cold, more sun and heat.

Dirt road

Guys in pick-up trucks bumping down the road in the opposite direction smiled and waved at us as they passed. We waved back in return… and kept walking… wondering if their smile meant they knew something we didn’t.

Ding!!!!

Hark! We finally have cell service!!! The ‘tour director’ tried to call ‘Mr. Research’… but his phone either wasn’t on, or didn’t have cells where he was. Checking our co-ordinates we realized there wasn’t a creek, or any other body of water for that matter anywhere near us so another executive decision to abort our mission was made. We split up in to two groups. The ‘tour director’ and myself would head back and get the car… while the remaining two continued on the road to meet up with ‘Mr. Research’. Just as we turned and walked about 20 paces… he returned.

Ok… so venturing out on our own to a creek we couldn’t find was not the ideal situation. However, after sitting on boats, busses, trains, and planes… the fresh air and exercise was a welcomed activity. A trip to the cheesy, touristy, gold panning place would be added to the next day’s itinerary to satisfy the guys need to do something ‘macho’.

Suckers for good marketing… we chose to go to GOLD DAUGHTERS because their advertising flyer appealed to us. Metallic gold cardstock with matte black ink… in addition to using a heart in their logo… PLUS a guarantee you would strike GOLD… AND you could PAN ALL DAY had us excited.

What a HOOT!!! We let the guys do the panning as we watched. Originally we girls were planning on laughing while taking pictures, but we quickly became fascinated with the process.

One of the owners, Jordan stayed with us and taught the guys the subtle way to dip the pan to wash away the rocks and dirt… and then swirl the pan with a quick flick of the wrist to uncover the gold pieces.

The process takes patience and concentration. When finished, you use a dry finger to touch the gold which then sticks to your finger… then you touch it to water in a small vial and it easily drops to the bottom. When finished, you have the option to grab a shovel of rocks from the huge pile, and continue to pan… for as long as you’d like.

Boys panning

All in all… Jordan made this a fun experience. She has been panning for gold as a hobby since she was a little girl. Her passion for this fun pastime just oooozed out of her. She was a great and patient instructor, as well as a wealth of information about the area and local geology. The tractor trailer of fossils was a happy surprise… as were the rustic machinery displays placed around the grounds.

Gold pan

By the end of our visit the guys each had a vial of gold, smiles on their faces, we had photos, and a memory of a wonderful day.

Alaska Daylight 24/7

Since summer in Alaska means daylight 23 ½ hours a day… the use of ‘black out’ shades or curtains are mandatory. So far on this trip I have not had to use them… until tonight. The room in the last house I rented was painted in dark colors, only had one window which was blocked by trees… so it felt like you were walking into a cave. Even though it was bright as day at 11:30pm I was eager to go to sleep and had no problem.

Today however I am in a different rental… a beautiful rustic home on the ridge of a mountain in Fairbanks. The bedroom here is painted creamy white… with antique quilts hanging on the wall (I’ll get to them in a minute). Trying to fall asleep at 11:30pm in bright daylight reminds me of being a little kid and having to go to bed in the summer time. It’s still bright out, but just falling into dusk. The only problem now is that in Alaska dusk never comes. Which is helpful when you are driving curvy, dirt roads up an unfamiliar mountain… but not such a pleasure when trying to get some shut-eye.

Fairbanks rental

Tomorrow is another busy day of sightseeing… so tonight I have drawn the heavy black curtains across the window… and it’s beginning to feel like bed time. I wonder what it will feel like in the morning.

This house by the way is AWESOME!! Decorated with eclectic furniture… mixing IKEA with solid antiques, having an old retro oven be the kitchen centerpiece with a collection of antique toasters above it, and old antique quilts hanging on the walls in each of the 4 bedrooms. You would think the owner designed this house just for me!!

The quilts are stunning… and yet I cringe when looking at them. The owner has hung them with nails and push pins. YIKES!!! People in the ‘quilt world’ know NEVER to do that!! For one, you are putting holes in the fabric, but also gravity pulls them down and creates a scallop along the top edge… and enlarges the hole. The proper way is to sew a ‘sleeve’ on the back and suspend the quilt on brackets using a dowel or curtain rod. This way the weight is distributed evenly… which preserves the quilt for future generations to enjoy.

antique quilt

It’s all I can do to NOT make a trip to the local quilt shop to purchase some fabric, needle and thread to make a sleeve. But then I remember it’s not my house… and certainly not my problem. So instead I sit and cringe at the sagging quilts.

sagging quilt

The other bizarre thing in this house is the bathroom. The toilet is in the shower!!! I kid you not!!! The bathroom is completely tiled in really nice, thick, good quality tile. It looks like it is new construction. A drain is installed in the middle of the floor. The floor is graded so all water flows to it. A shower curtain is suspended from a rod installed a few inches down from the ceiling that spans the width of the room. If that were all that was in the space it would be fine… however… at one end of this room… sits a commode. The Throne, the porcelain pot, the toilet… whatever you call it… it’s sitting right there… in the shower.

When you take your morning shower you have to take care not to get the toilet paper wet. And when you go to use the facilities after breakfast… you have to watch out for the water on the floor that hasn’t dried yet. It’s bad enough the person sleeping in that bedroom has to deal with it… but it is the only restroom down on the main level and therefore is considered the quest bathroom.

Very quirky!

I love it!

Living the Dream in Alaska

There is just so much to see and do here in Alaska… that by the time we roll into the driveway at the end of the day it takes all of our fortitude to throw ourselves into bed.

It’s an Alaskan ‘thing’ to take your shoes off when entering a house. I’m guessing it started when women got tired of cleaning up all the dirt and mud that gets tracked in from the slushy outside. However, we weren’t told of this and so didn’t pack any slippers. Believe me when I tell you the floors are so chilly in the morning you really have to think twice about getting out of bed to use the bathroom… even in the summer. Brrrrrr….

Visiting family is always fun… but when they live in the back woods of Alaska ‘off the grid’ while building the house (not a cabin… but a 3 bedroom house) of their dreams… it makes the visit an amazing adventure!! When I say ‘building their own house’ I mean… chopping down the tree, hauling it to the site, milling it into lumber, drying it, and THEN using it for building. There’s no delivery from the local lumber yard… no siree… not for this family. They have been working on this masterpiece for 7 years… and hope to complete it by year’s end… or early Spring… or…

House

The joy this family gets out of all this work radiates out of them and surrounds you with excitement. Their smiles say it all. After spending a day blazing trails with them while riding in a tractor-type-tank-thing… you clearly understand this is way much more than just building a house. It’s ‘living the dream’. The open skies, the wildflowers, amazing vistas, swamps and rivers… and on a clear day you can see Mt. McKinley… OH! It’s a whole different way of life. A life where shotguns are ‘at the ready’ to protect yourself from bears, cans of OFF spray are tucked in easy to reach nooks and crannies for a quick spritz, and construction permits and inspections are non-existent. It’s not a life for me… I enjoyed the visit immensely… but I like the comforts of my ‘already built’ home more.

Here’s a picture of the tractor/tank wheel after running through a swamp:

Tractor Wheel

 

Oh… and let me tell you about the ‘toys’! If you have ever watched a little boy play in the dirt with his plastic toy tractors, back hoe, front loader, and dump trucks… imagine that in real life. This family has all that and more!! Ski mobiles fill the multi-compartment garages, as do nail guns, reciprocating saws with diamond blades, dog sleds, and so much more!!

Their stories kept us raptured for hours. Moose hunting, salmon fishing, getting lost in a blizzard while snowmobiling and having to stay warm and dry… and more importantly… alive… in the open drifts until the storm lifted and they could find their way home… falling from a second story loft and hitting the wood burning stove on the way down… OY! This is all in a day of choosing this life style.

photo 3

 

Uncle Earl was a wealth of information… and made certain we ‘saw it all’!!!

There are LOTS of bugs here… but they don’t seem to bite. Standing outside in the middle of a swampy forest, my face was the only thing uncovered… and although the bugs were annoying, only one bit me on the forehead. It itched for a few seconds… then vanished. You use the spray more to keep them flying around you… not to keep them from biting you.

OH… I can’t leave without telling you all I spotted a MOOSE!!! I was in an adorable town named Talkeetna… when I saw him standing in front of a store. He was painted!!! I am familiar with the painted cows that swept the nation a generation ago… but here it’s Moose. They are so cute!!

Moose

ALASKA!!! The Final Frontier!

FINALLY!!! I’m here! Anchorage, Alaska! I thought this day would never come. So many delays had me wondering if this trip was ever really going to happen.

Traffic jam on the highway getting to the airport… A delay in closing the cabin door due to a seat assignment snafu in the aisle across from us… VP Biden landing in Philly, putting all airline traffic at a stand still… then FINALLY we are on our way!!!

The little girl sitting in the seat in front of me was so darn cute… and well-behaved. I couldn’t resist snapping a peek-a-boo picture of her.

Baby on airplane

The landing in Seattle at sunset was absolutely stunning!!! I couldn’t get a good picture of it… so it will have to remain in my head. Hopefully some day I will be able to paint it. Leg 1 of my journey was finally complete. Just another 3 ½ hour jaunt and I would be in ALASKA! It couldn’t come fast enough as fas as I was concerned. Leg 2 was a bit tight. I was wedged in the middle seat between a big guy reading his bible the entire way… and the Michelin Man on the other side of me. He took up his seat… and a quarter of mine! He couldn’t help it, he just spilled out. When he fell asleep he relaxed and spread out even more. I couldn’t WAIT for the plane to land!

What a day. I was up at 6:00AM EST and didn’t land in Alaska until 12:00AM ATZ (that’s 4:00AM for my east coast friends)!!!

After a solid night’s sleep… I was up and ready to roll!! First on our itinerary was an 11 mile coastal bike ride… but it was raining and although we didn’t mind getting wet… we wouldn’t get to see any of the beautiful scenery due to the heavy cloud cover. Our spirits weren’t dampened… as we continued on with the rest of our scheduled events, and added a trip to the most phenomenal library you would ever want to see!!! Quite impressive.

Walking around the town of Anchorage, checking out the old damns at Ship Creek where you can observe the salmon swimming up-stream during the height of the season, learning about ULU Knives, visiting the Anchorage Museum to become more acquainted with the many tribes indigenous to the area, and food shopping… filled our day.

Anchorage Museum

The museum’s newest installment was all about GYRE… large rotating currents in the ocean… and all the plastic trash they stir up and spit out along the world’s beaches. Artists have been creating the most amazing pieces with this trash. Here’s a crew of dogs pulling a sled… all made from plastic recovered from various shores.

Plastic dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When originally planning our trip… it was decided the most economical choice was to stay in a rented house. OMG!!! You should see this beauty!!! Located on the outskirts of Anchorage… on a lake… with a view of the mountains. Fully equipped modern kitchen, amazing stained glass art work all around the place, wrap around decks, 4 great bedrooms, and a jacuzzi… very upscale! I can’t say enough wonderful things about this place. Since this entire trip was ‘my deal’… it was assumed I would take the master bedroom. Nope… I instead chose the cozy room on the main floor off to the side. The one with the lake level view 🙂

My most favorite thing in the whole house… other than my bed… is the life-size carved wooden bear who holds the TV in the living room. He’s adorable!!!

TV Bear

Speaking of bears… this place comes equipped with 2 grills on the deck… one gas and one charcoal. The owners have asked us to forego using them… because 2 bears have been caught traipsing on the property and they don’t want to encourage them.

Such is life in Alaska.

Tomorrow we have another full day of fun. Sightseeing in the morning with a trip south… finishing with a dinner cruise. There is reportedly 18 hours of daylight. I only wish my body could keep up with the time.

I leave you with a view of the lake outside the breakfast nook. If you look closely you will see a mountain peeking out from the clouds.

Alaska lake view