Poppy’s Limit

Today, November 15, 2019 Poppy reached her winter limit in Alaska… mind you, we have only been in Winter for about 6 weeks and have another 5 months of it left so it is going to be extra long for her. If you don’t know, Poppy is our absolutely adorable 2 year old pup. Her breed is American Hairless Terrier, but she does have a coat (thank God). At 20 pounds she is quite large for her breed, but overall she is just a beautiful little nugget.

on her birthday last year, shortly before leaving Germany

When we found out Alaska was a go, high on the list was figuring out how to keep Poppy alive. She is small, her coat is short, and she’s a princess so -30 degrees just didn’t seem like it would be her deal. True enough, we have reached the limit of what Poppy will deal with.

It all started about a month ago. We had snow, Poppy loved it, but the temperature was also consistently at freezing. Shortly after, the temperatures started dropping lower and lower and Poppy got a urinary tract infection and started having accidents in the house. Fast forward a few weeks and we are back at the vet with another infection. Our vet says for small dogs up here it is common and after treating both infections put her on preventative medications.

While at the vet I also asked about her coat… it seemed to be thinning. The vet even noticed it was thinner than our last visit and also explained its normal for Fairbanks. Apparently, small, short haired dogs lose their fur in the winter from the lack of sunlight! Seems counter intuitive, but it’s true. So now Poppy will be even colder on trips outside since she is losing her coat. Poor pup. The vet recommended giving her Melatonin at night which should help regulate the issue and sent us on the way saying “Don’t worry Poppy, we will get you through this winter one way or another”.

So just to be clear, the darkness is making Poppy lose her coat, and the coldness is inducing a change of potty habits that increases the risk of infection. I think I can safely say Poppy is the one member of the fairly who is counting down the days until we leave Alaska.

She has been a good sport though. Yes, she has accidents, but mostly we make it outside in our coats in time for her to quickly do her business. However, this morning she put on the brakes and said “NOPE”. It was 3 degrees with a wind-chill that made it feel like -13. Last night we got a few inches of fresh snow, and thanks to the wind storm that came with it, the snow was pressed up against the door. I’ve never seen that effect in real life, but it happened here. I opened the door and the imprint of the door was there in the snow… granted this was only the bottom 6 inches or so, but Poppy’s eyes lit and she stepped back. “NOPE not doing it mom”.

This morning she had a vest and her winter coat on. We got out the door, took the few steps off the deck and she peed. I had to carry her to the poop spot, she refused, so I carried her back inside where she immediately ran to a corner and did her business. The vet said this would happen. She has a similar dog and says they have to take multiple trips because it is just too cold and they can’t do it all at once—or will just outright refuse to.

She loves being outside usually, even in the cold she has enjoyed it. The look on her face when I opened the door this morning was priceless though. She was not having it… and I don’t really blame her. But we must conquer! It is only going to get colder. From what I understand January is the worst so it’s all practice till then. As it is, Monday’s high temperature predicted is below zero. You read that right. The highest it will get still will not cross ZERO. We have all the right gear so the temperatures don’t bother us, but poor Poppy, even with gear for her it is just not enough. Needless to say, Poppy gets all her exercise indoors now. The longest walk we take is less than 5 minutes. I am also looking into getting sun lamps. Poppy may benefit the most, but I am sure it would benefit us all to have a bit more sunlight in our lives boosting our Melatonin & Serotonin levels. Unfortunately, I will not be signing Poppy up for the Skijoring class coming up… no, she will not be skiing with me. “All dogs love it” the advertisement said. I don’t agree.

Aside from Alaska doing everything it can to make Poppy unhappy, she is doing well, and so are we. The temps are cold but we are prepared. I am learning all sorts of things about life in the cold that I never even thought about. I’ll start a list and share it with you all later, but here is one… we all have heaters on our engine blocks in our cars that we plug in to keep it from freezing. What I didn’t realize until recently is that the extension cord we use to plug it in needs to be a special kind that is temperature rated so the rubber doesn’t freeze and snap the cord! Who would have thought!

I am also trying out new hobbies. I got my Christmas gift early this year and have already used them… A full set up for cross country skiing. I am terrible at it, but it’s really great exercise and gives me something to do outside while Brock is in school. We really can’t travel until spring. It is too far of a drive to get anywhere, which at this time of year also means far too dangerous. Posts will be few and far between until Spring. It feels so different, and I almost feel the need to apologize to the readers. We were so active in Germany and was blogging almost weekly, and here it seems monthly may be it. It is ok, we will have plenty of time up here. Fil has made the promotion list for Major and our DEROS has not changed… Alaska has us until January 2022. We aren’t leaving early for school, he is going to complete it online starting very soon. We will have two summers full of exploration… and a couple more winters of doing our best to keep Poppy alive.

Autumn in Fairbanks

As someone who is used to at least 6 weeks of Autumn, often more, the blip that was Autumn in Fairbanks makes me sad. We had a good 10 days between the trees changing color and the day their final leaves dropped. Seemingly overnight all the birch trees turned golden and just the next day started dropping leaves in swarms.

In the 10 days of Autumn we had, we got out as much as we could to enjoy the season, but there simply wasn’t enough time. We still have lots of trip ideas and trails to explore. Some we will still be able to do in the Winter, but its not the same. We will be missing the creatures and colors.

Thanks to the elevation of our house up on the mountain, while Fairbanks- town had rain everyday last week, we had snow. It was just a dusting to an inch or two each day, but it would warm up in the afternoon and disappear. Our first flurries fell September 26th, but this weekend counts as the first real snowfall. Fairbanks got an inch or so, and we got probably 4.

The snow mostly fell Saturday, October 5th, with a bit more on Sunday night. Sunday morning I went out for a few errands and this was still the condition of our road:

As I came down the mountain, it took a minute but first I saw tire track finally being cut in the snow as it softened, then wider and wider tracks until it was completely clear at the bottom. A bit of slush in town, but manageable. Friends of ours braved the mountain (they are Florida drivers) and admitted to being scared coming up. But after they let out the breath they were holding, their boys and Brock had an absolute blast sledding! Yup, sledding on October 6th! I’ve never heard of any snow that early… even Fil only has a vague memory of snow on a Halloween one year.

Later that day I heard on the radio that in Fairbanks, usually the first snow like this one disappears… doesn’t look like this will be the case. Even the radio host was surprised the first snow will stick. Looking at the forecast for this week, snow every weekday and sun this weekend, but the high temperature for the week is 37, low is 13. This snow isn’t going anywhere. In town there is still a dusting but we still have it all. Plus more from yesterday and the snow falling as I type this. Already, our driveway is inaccessible without 4 wheel drive due to the incline. I switched my truck to 4WD with the first sign of snow, but yesterday I tested 2WD to get out of the driveway. Nope. 4WD or no go.

3 days later, our road still looks like the picture above and I’m fairly certain we won’t see it again until April.

So far, it seems that Poppy likes the snow. She dug out under the deck railing the other day and was hopping around in the snow like a bunny for a good while before we could convince her to come inside. She was soaked but happy. She is a small dog, and already the snow is about halfway up her leg and when it’s resting on leaves the snow brushes her underbelly.

In other news, Brock started wrestling! Yesterday was his first practice and he seemed to really like it… which is good because Fil is super pumped that Brock is holding up the tradition started by Fil’s dad and continued by Fil.

So please, share with me all your Fall festival and pumpkin pictures! I have seen so many outdoor decorations that I wanted to buy and decorate the deck with but it’s too late… winter is here.

Water Work

In many ways, life in Fairbanks is the same as it is anywhere… at least for now before it gets too cold. We have multiple groceries, hobby stores, museums, a movie theater, and shopping malls. For now, the biggest difference for us is access to water.

In town, and on the military installation, homes are connected to a city water service just like anywhere else. A little further away from town it is possible to have a well, but it may not be viable. Fairbanks was founded in 1901, and the first gold was found one year later starting a rush. Gold is still mined in Fairbanks today, and as a result of the over 100 years of mining, much of the local ground water is highly contaminated with arsenic and other chemicals. Studies are completed regularly since they discovered this in the 1970’s, and Fairbanks water has consistently shown to be the most contaminated in the entire USA, so even with that well most homes need a water purifying system to make it usable.

And then there are houses like ours. We live too high up, and too far from town. Mind you “town” is only a 10 minute drive. We are not on the city line and do not have a well. We must rely on ourselves. The easiest solution is to have water delivered by the Water Wagon. The drivers of these tankers have great skill to navigate the snow covered mountain roads to deliver water year round to the houses like us, up in the boonies. And skill is absolutely required. About ½ mile from our house is a sign that explains
“this is the end of state maintenance to the roads” so in winter they can get quite rough. Even our driveway with its steep incline and switchback isn’t exactly easy, but the Water Wagon prevails.

The second option, has been my choice of late. At present, the Water Wagon charges 9 cents/gallon for the delivery but if I take my truck down town to one of the water fill stations it is only about 3 cents/gallon. So, for now, before it is too cold for me to enjoy doing this, I have been taking care of our water.

I fit right in driving this beast around

Above, is my truck with the portable water tank in the bed. It is terribly common to see trucks driving around town with these tanks. Mine holds 200 gallons. We do not know the exact size of our water tank as it is underground, but we have estimated it is about 1500 gallons which lasts us just shy of a month. Below is Brock showing off our water measuring stick. We drop that down the pipe into the water tank to check the level. There is no alarm or light that warns us we are low, we have to check. Fil checked it one night and we were dangerously low so there were no baths or showers that night, not till after I got some water the next day.

To Brock’s right is the water tank access, on the left is the air release pipe

The whole process is pretty easy, but I admit, when it gets further and further below freezing I will stop doing it myself and just pay the Water Wagon. I actually enjoy doing it. I feel rugged, useful, and so much like a local. After dropping Brock off at school, I swing by the water station, insert a $5 bill and get set up. I open the top of the tank, insert the nozzle and let ’er rip. Warning signs all over explain they are high pressure nozzles and you will get wet if not careful. So far, knock on wood, I haven’t gotten wet, but I did overfill the tank once. It wasn’t a big deal except for the groceries that were also in the truck bed that got wet.

At the fill station. Taking this picture was when I overfilled the tank since I wasn’t watching

Driving it home up the mountain I definitely notice the difference in weight… over 1600 pounds worth. When I get home I get the truck in place, hook up the hoses, and let gravity do it’s work to siphon most of the water out of the truck tank into the underground tank. If I do a load when Brock is with me he loves to help. The first time we did it together he was playing with leaves and I told him to make sure none fell in the water because if it did leaves would come out in the bathtub with him… not really, but it worked and he quit messing around. About 5 minutes later he started making echoes in the trucks water tank while I was still sitting there with the siphon hose. He said he was putting echoes in the water so when he had his bath the echo would come out. How funny is that kid!?

That is the story about water in Fairbanks, but there is one more surprise. Dry cabins are also fairly common up here! Dry, meaning no water at all. I have read that people who live in these cabins mostly use outhouses, shower at work/school/gym and keep a 5 gallon water tank for drinking. Definitely not for me, but to each his own.

I would be happy to answer any water questions I can, just leave them in the comments.

Weather update: It is Sunday, September 22, 2019. The high is 49, low is 28, at 8:00 am it is 32. Snow is predicted for Wednesday. Comparing daily sunrise & sunset times, we are losing 12 minutes a day… I would say winter is coming. I haven’t seen the Aurora Borealis yet, but it’s getting more and more active in the area.

Getting Here

Friday marked one month in Fairbanks and I can honestly say we are quite settled. I can get around town without a GPS and have started to discover our local favorites. Fairbanks is beautiful and not at all what many would think it is. For starters it is way farther away than you may expect. In miles, it is about the same distance from NJ to Fairbanks as it was to Germany. However, it takes almost twice as long to get here. Our travel here was about as fast as you can go. We had one quick one-hour layover in Seattle, and door to door it took us 16 hours.

When we left, we arrived early at Newark International to allow plenty of time to take care of Poppy, and I am glad we did. Although we did not cut it as close as we did leaving Germany, my sister was also flying to California that morning and she almost missed her flight. Security that morning was insane! Gladly though, everything checked out fine with Poppy and we were able to check her at the same counter as our massive amounts of baggage and make it to the gate in time for waffles at a cafe. Getting to Newark we needed two vehicles, mostly due to the size of Poppy’s crate, but Fil picked us up with the truck so there was no concern when we landed. That being said, the bed of the truck was full.

With my Mom & Sister before leaving Newark Airport

We actually flew on Brock’s birthday and he was super excited to get to see Daddy for his birthday night. He was a bit shy, and tired, but I know he also was thrilled to go in the cockpit with the pilots and get a set of wings. Unfortunately, our layover was so quick, and gates had changed so I rushed him off the plane before he could really look around the cockpit too much, but it was still quite a treat.

Our first photo together in months, time for Brock’s birthday cake after our long day traveling

When we landed in Fairbanks it was 4:30 in the afternoon, raining, and about 60 degrees. That was about 20 degrees colder than it was in New Jersey that morning when we left. To say we had an adjustment would be an underestimation. It was painfully obvious for about two weeks that we were new in town… when all the locals were enjoying the weather, we were already sporting our down coats and boots. Since then we only sport the down coats on occasion, but rain boots are part of our daily attire and I love it. My yellow Hunter boots get daily compliments and I feel like they are finally getting the use they deserve. The rain has slowed but living on a dirt road with a dirt driveway makes boots the better daily wear option.

Brock has also settled right in. We are still waiting on our things to arrive, but we are more than comfortable with what we have here. He loves going to school and is learning so much already! We decided to enroll him in a private school, and every morning with his class he says the pledge of allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. The school requires parents to volunteer so I have been helping with recess duty while it is still nice out. Up here the kids go outside until it reaches NEGATIVE 20 degrees! I can’t imagine we will have any snow days. At recess I try not to interfere with Brock, but I was noticing it was taking him a little while to warm up to the other kids. After 2 weeks of school he had eased right in and now has a best friend named Leroy. Brock is a good student, and has earned a sticker everyday—no bad marks for him!

So far we really love it up here, and up here it is. Our home is up on the mountain with an elevation difference of over 700 feet from town. While we don’t have views of town, on the drive down there are a number of breathtaking spots to take it in. Our A frame home is carved into the woods, surrounded by mostly White Birch trees.

View from the street of our house. Under the leaves is a dirt path that leads from the mailbox to the deck and entrance.

Total privacy and true mountain living. We have electricity and internet, but our cell phone reception at the house is spotty at best. Water and snow removal will be the biggest issues up here. We have been talking about the coming snow and we think hiring a service is our best option. The tricky part will be finding someone to come all the way up here to plow us out. I considered buying a snow blower, but the size of our driveway plus the extreme temperatures made us decide against that one.

Full view of house from driveway. Yes, that truck is what I drive up here.

What do you think of the house? I really like it, but it has been a process to fit everything in. The house is large enough, but as you can see that roof line is sharp and goes all the way to the ground. The only rooms without slanted walls are the kitchen and one of the bathrooms which are in the part right off the deck. Otherwise every single room has slanted walls which made quite the challenge of making furniture fit. I think we have it mostly figured out, but I’m worried about how to fit the furniture that is on it’s way from our New Jersey shipment. I am sure most of it will end up in the storage room above the garage.

Being up so high, although for Alaska it isn’t as high as it could be, it is still noticeably colder up here than it is in town. Without exaggerating, it is still an almost daily occurrence for me to walk out of the house and be cold, but when I get to town 10 minutes later I’m so warm I have to remove a layer. This makes me a bit worried about winter, and I know we will see it first. I remember when we visited Fil at Easter everyone in town commented that I missed all the snow, but up at the house we still had a good 5 inches.

Around Labor Day, seemingly overnight, most of the leaves turned golden and already have dropped to the ground. Winter is coming. The forecast for next week even shows a possibility of snow! Many local attractions have already closed or are closing this week for the Winter season. Tourism is big business in the summer and a lot of places just don’t stay open through the rough winter. For that reason I will not have as many travel posts as I would like. We have managed to get a few things in before it all closed up, but we are also just enjoying the beautiful Autumn weather on the weekends. Last weekend we drove up a gorgeous mountain road to take in the views and snap a few family photos.

Fil has also been quite busy hunting and fishing. Since we have been here he hasn’t gone fishing, he did that all summer long, but it is duck and moose season right now so he is on that. The wilderness is really wild up here. He has seen all sorts of animals and their tracks including grizzlies, moose, wolf and lynx.

We had hoped to find a pop-up camper so that we could travel with him on the weekends before it gets too cold, but that just hasn’t happened. The problem is that we are hours away from anything up here so day trips are few and far between and with Poppy, we either get a camper or kennel her. Come spring time we will get searching again for a pop-up and off we will go.

In the mean time I will be filling you in on all the ways life is different up here. For starters, access to water. That post is coming soon and i can promise you it will make you feel lucky for whatever water access you have.

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Back in Action

Hello friends!

After almost 7 months apart, our family is finally reunited and based out of Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. I loved keeping in touch with you all via our blog Beer, Brats & Brock while we were in Germany and it seemed fitting to do the same for this next adventure in America’s Last Frontier. 

Make sure to follow us, now at Borealis, Bears & Brock to keep up to date with our adventures. Simply add your email (below on mobile, to the right on a desktop) and continue to receive updates for each of our posts.

We haven’t even been here a month and already I have so much to tell you… I hope you join us.

P.S. The picture at the top of the page was take Sept. 8, 2019 in the Fairbanks area 🙂