Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Summer Fun

I took this two Saturdays ago. We had just come back from a camping trip. While I unpacked, cleaned, and put away all the gear the boys ran inside for their swimming shorts. They ran back outside and started playing with the garden hose. I hauled our wading pool out and they splashed around. Since it was such a sunny, hot day they didn't get cold for a while.

I like this picture because it catches both Ben and the water in action. The only question I have is how did he get the water to flow up.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Bridge to Brevig Mission

I took this picture on a trip to Brevig Mission. This is the bridge used to walk from the beach into town. The bridge is an old rail track, which we believed was for launching life boats. A group of kids were on the bridge to greet us.

Brevig Mission is a located on the western end of the Seward Peninsula, about 65 miles north west of Nome. Brevig Mission is a Inupiak Eskimo village of about 325. It was started by a Lutheran missionary from Sweden named Brevig.

Brevig Mission made international news in the late 1990's when scientists exhumed a body from a grave site. They were looking for the 1918 Spanish Influenza virus. This virus is considered by some to be the most deadly virus of modern history. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people in 18 months. With recent fears of bird flu and other possible pandemics, scientists were trying to get a live sample of the virus to study. They found it in Brevig Mission among the graves of influenza victims. The virus was kept alive because the graves were located in permafrost or frozen ground.

p.s. I am updating my flickr site for the first time in almost a month. I have already added 20 pictures and should have another 50 or so up today.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nome Gold Dredge

Nome Gold Dredge
I took this picture in June when I traveled to Teller from Nome. This gold dredge was abandoned in one of the many streams along the road to Teller. It was a perfect day for taking pictures.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fifth of July: Denali and Savage River

Continuation of Tuesday’s post

On July 4th we had camped at Riley Creek Campground located at the entrance of Denali National Park. The next day after breaking camp we piled all fourteen of us into two vehicles and headed off to explore the park.

Our first stop was the Denali National Park Visitor Center. Now Denali actually has at least four visitor centers, but this one is the main one. It is located two miles into the park just after the roundabout. You can’t miss it.

The Denali campus is quite large. Since the National Park Service considers Denali one of its jewels almost everything at the park is state of the art and new. Since I have occasionally worked for the National Park Service I have had a chance to visit many of their facilities around the state. And Denali’s main visitor center really is one of their jewels. We were amazed at its size and displays.

The first thing we did was watch their movie Heartbeats of Denali. This was perfect for us since we weren’t going to take any of the park bus tours. We couldn’t image sitting on a bus for several hours with three infants in our group. Heartbeats of Denali has a concise overview of the park’s history, environment, wildlife, and geography. It also had amazing photography. This was especially nice since we never did see the mountain on our trip because of the weather. Several of our visiting family members felt that was a perfectly acceptable backup to see the mountain in person. Heartbeats of Denali was a worth the 30 minutes.

After the movie we started to explore all the displays at the visitor center. Once again it didn’t disappoint. They had full-size mockup of a trapper’s cabin which you could go into. They also had a huge display which included a life-sized wolf with a caribou carcass. There were even had ravens picking the bones. They also had displays for a bear, moose, beaver, pica, and other animals. There were lots of hands on stuff for the kids to touch and play. It also had some really interesting facts and trivia about the animals and the park. We probably spent an hour running around and looking at the displays.

Gwenna's Favorite, PicaAfter a tailgate picnic, we all piled back into the cars and head into the park. We drove about 20 mph and took lots of stops and photos. It was a really pleasant drive. The scenery was beautiful even though it was cloudy. Just before the Savage River Bridge we saw three caribou cooling themselves along the river. Rebecca was excited because she had never seen a wild caribou. She promptly exclaimed that the whole drive was worth it just to see them.

In order to preserve its wilderness, Denali only has one road. And only the first 12 miles are open to private vehicles. Only park buses are allowed further into the park. So at mile 12 we had to stop at the Savage River day area.

The kids went straight to the river and began throwing rocks. Fortunately they never got near the nesting gulls. After exploring and taking pictures of the beautiful river valley we went for a hike. There are several trails. One heads along the river and one up to a large rock outcrop above the parking area. The kids chose the steep one and we had to catch up with them. The trail was one of the neatest I have seen. The park service had made steps out of the scree boulders which made the steps look almost nature made.

As I neared the top, I thought I heard a baby cooing. I stopped and looked around a boulder. There was a family of ptarmigan pecking its way along a trail. The mother and eight babies were in their brown summer molt. The father, with his red crest, still had about half of his white winter feather. I watched and took pictures until William came running down the trail shouting.
Ben Climbing, Savage River
Benjamin, our four year old, had run off ahead and they couldn’t find him. So I headed up the trail at a trot. I wasn’t too worried because he couldn’t have gone that far. Well, I was wrong. Ben had decided to do some rock climbing. I found him 90-percent up the back side of the rock outcrop. I had to scramble hand over hand to get up to him. When I reached him there was a group of teenagers who had stopped him from going further. They were thoroughly impressed with Ben. He had made it up in a fraction of the time it had taken them. I guess being so small and having a lower center of gravity really helps. Under protest, I picked up Ben and carried him down, which was no easy task.

It was then when everyone was up at the top we noticed the outcrop was only a false peak. The trail went upward to a higher point. We decided we were done hiking and headed back to the parking lot. After more wet shoes, rocks, and pictures we all piled into the cars and headed back.

On the way back we saw more caribou running along the river plain. The drive to Savage Creek was well worth the effort. There were plenty enough to do and see to keep anyone busy for a day.

Once we were out of the park we headed north. About a mile north of the park entrance is where all the non-park hotels and gift shops are. We spent a while going through the shops and picking out t-shirts and stuff. Then we were off driving back towards Anchorage.

We spent the night at my parents’ cabin in Willow. We did the usual things like running around, throwing rocks, riding the four wheelers, and in honor of the Fourth belated fireworks.

The next day I played river guide as I took two groups down the Kashwitna River. The river conditions were perfect for floating. Even though we didn’t get a chance to fish, because the fishery was opened yet, we had a great time. That afternoon we headed back to Anchorage. On the way back we stopped out Miller’s in Houston and got ice cream cones. It is a tradition that the kids won’t let us forget. And I am ok with that.

It irony of the trip came on the next day. We drove all the way up to Denali National Park, but never saw the mountain. It was always covered in clouds. On Saturday morning, my in-laws look out there hotel window and there was Denali as clear as a bell. I guess the only thing you can count on in Alaska is that the weather will be unpredictable, but you can still have fun.
(I will post more pictures later)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer Vs. Winter in Alaska

Winter vs. SummerThese last few weeks we have really been soaking up our Alaskan summer. This has led me to contemplate the differences between our winters and our summers. So here are thirteen differences between our two extreme seasons.

1. Everything is Green Instead of White. This is first thing people notice when they visit. In Alaska these two colors dominate their seasons unlike anywhere else I have been.
Rebecca & Gwen Hiking, Devils Club
2. Mosquitoes. This is probably the first sign of summer. Gratefully you only have to worry about the Alaskan State Bird in the summer.

3. Moose Eat Your Garden Instead of Your Bushes/Trees. You stop worrying about your lilacs and start putting up fences around your broccoli and cabbages. Either way they are everywhere.

4. The People Wearing Parkas are Tourist. You can see people wearing big coats year round in Alaska. The only difference is in the summer they are tourists.

5. People Walking Everywhere with Suitcases. It is the tourists again. Everyday I see someone walking down a sidewalk towing a rolling suitcase or lugging a huge backpack.

6. Constant Buzz of Small Airplanes. Of course we do live next to the world’s largest float plane base. But you know when the ice goes out on the lake, because the next Saturday starting at dawn there will be a constant roar of planes. And believe me those float planes can get loud.
Family Picking Blueberries
7. Fishing, Hunting, Berry Picking. Summer is the time to store up for winter. We are heading out dip netting this weekend. We are eagerly waiting for berries to ripen. And I have a tentative moose hunting trip planned for the fall. All to stock the pantry while you can. The only difference between us and bears it takes us several more months before we involuntarily put on our layer of winter fat.

8. Bears. We never have to worry about bears in the winter. Come summer time I always keep an eye out and a can of bear mace ready in case I meet one.

9. Doesn’t Take 30 Minutes to Send the Kids Out to Play. This is one of Rebecca’s favorite things about summer. There is no bundling to go run around in the yard for five minutes before something falls off and they come crying back inside.

10. Visitors. Alas no one visits much in the winter. But it seems like there are always a string of visitors throughout the summer. We love it and only wish it would happen all year round.
Summer Visitors
11. The Time Flies By. In the summer we never complain that it’s too long or start counting the weeks until it is over. Every minute is enjoyed and appreciated.

12. No Sleep. It is a combination of everything mentioned above. We just don’t sleep in or go to bed early ever during the summer. We sleep in the winter.

13. The Daylight. This is the most noticeable difference between winter and summer. Every visitor notices it. Every Alaskan basks in it. The extra daylight is also the reason for everything else on the list.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nugget Inn Mile Post

Nugget Inn Mile Post SignI took this picture last month when I was up in Nome. This was the first time I had a chance to walk around Nome and do the tourist thing. The Nugget Inn is one of the few truly historic buildings still left in town. I believe it is famous mainly for its owner bringing his daughter, the first girl, to Nome. I liked it because of the mile post sign. When I saw Taipei 4312 miles written in Chinese I knew I would have to take a picture. It wasn’t until after I took the shot that I noticed is also had Taiwan written in English.

You can learn a couple of interesting things from this sign. Dallas and Miami are farther away from Nome than Taipei, Taiwan. Moscow is closer than all three. New York is closer than Miami or Dallas which can seem counterintuitive until you remember the world is a sphere.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fourth of July Fun: Riley Creek Campground

Summer is a time for visitors in Alaska. This year has not been an exception. What started out as a simple visit from grandma and grandpa snowballed into a mini-family reunion. So on the Fourth of July this year we woke up with fourteen people in our three bedroom house. There were grandparents, aunts, cousin, and mayhem everywhere. It was awesome and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

For the Fourth of July we had decided to go up to Denali. I was excited for several reasons. First, it has been a long times since I have had five days off with my family. Second, Rebecca had never been north of Talkeetna. Third, this was our first real camping trip this year. Plus we had lots of family with us, most of who had never been to Alaska.

Rebecca and I planned for months to get this trip ready. So by 9 AM, with relatively little effort, everyone and all our gear were piled into two large cars and we were on the road headed for Denali National Park.

It took us seven hours to get to Denali National Park. 240 miles in seven hours isn’t bad considering there three infants. The trip wasn’t bad because we factored in stopping every hour for food, stretching, photographs, and just general boredom. We actually arrive at Denali on schedule because we planned to take all those breaks.

We had a walkie-talkie in each car, so I got to play tour guide on the way up. Rebecca had to revoke my privileges a couple of times when I became too inane. We like to use walkie-talkies when we travel. It makes everything go so much smoother.

Riley Creek Campsite
Eight of us camped at the Riley Creek Campground, while the rest stayed at the Denali Princes Wilderness Lodge, though “lodge” was deceiving. Most communities in Alaska are smaller than that complex. Riley Creek is located just inside the park, just past the park sign. This was convenience because we were only a mile apart from each other.

Riley Creek has 150 campsites divided into three camping areas. We drove around each area and decided on Caribou Loop because the sites were more wooded and private. We picked a site right next to the bathrooms because we had so many kids. The facilities at this campground were the nicest I have ever seen.

We set up our two tents and got everything unpacked. We than broke out the food for dinner. Within seconds we had a squirrel running around us and stealing food. The kids thought the squirrel was the coolest and he had to earn everything he stole that night.
Heading to Amphitheater
Half way through dinner, a park ranger came around and announced they were doing a presentation about the park later. So when it came time we rounded up the kids and hiked off to the campground’s amphitheater.

It had rained on and off all the drive up, but while we were setting up camp it had cleared up. Well, it decided to start raining as soon as we headed over to the amphitheater. It wasn’t so bad while we were on the trail under the trees, but when we got to the amphitheater we started getting wet. Throughout the presentation the park ranger kept asking if we wanted to move to the bus stop, but most people just wanted to stick it out.

The presentation was really cool and we learned a lot about the park and what makes it so special. My boys were really quick with answers during the presentation. Of course, judging by people’s gear, we looked like the only Alaskans there so they had the advantage.

My three boys and I were pretty wet by the time we got back to the tent. I think Tim and Ben jump through every puddle on the way back. We all went straight for the tent and climbed into our sleeping bags even though we didn’t go to sleep for several hours.
Will in Spleepingbag
It rained all night. Our mega-family tent held up better than I expected. We stayed mostly dry. I love having a mega-tent when we camp as a family, because we need all the room we can get with five kids.

By the morning the rain had stopped. Ben and I were the first out of the tent. Since I was trying to let everyone else sleep in a little, we walked down to Riley Creek. It was a beautiful glacier stream with huge boulders and fast water. Ben and I explored the banks and found a section of rails for a ore cart. Ben also threw lot of rocks.

When we got back we had a cold breakfast of muffins, pop tarts, fruits, and juice. We broke camp by 10 AM and headed into the park. I was really surprised by Riley Creek Campground. It was perfect for our group. We will have to go back again, maybe even this fall if we get one of the fall driving permits.

Check back on Friday for our trip into the park.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Me Money!

Tim at 10th & M Seafood
I have been away playing this week, so I have not posted lately. We had several relatives in town this last week. I got to play tour guide and show off the state. Since they didn't go fishing this trip we took them down to 10th & M Seafood to get some fish. The kids were thrilled by the gaint lobster mounted on the wall. They also went straight for the novelty oven mitts. Tim walked around with the store pretending to be Mr. Crabby from Sponge Bob. The kids also got to watch one of the butchers fillet out a big king salmon. They thought that was pretty cool. In the end we walked out with a box of frozen fish all packed up and ready for the airplane.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chinese Propaganda Posters

Monkey King with Child TaikonautToday I bring you a SWEET Chinese propaganda poster from Stefan Landsberger’s aptly named Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages. I find the Chinese propaganda art very fascinating. They are highly stylized and completely lacking in subtleties. These posters are as much art as a window into the political and cultural undercurrents of their times. You have to appreciate their power or boldness even if you don’t agree with the messages or powers behind the posters.

This poster, entitled "Space Flower Garden", was commissioned to celebrate the glorious Chinese space program. It is so fascinating. There is a child taikonaut (Chinese astronaut or taikongren) skipping hand in hand with the Monkey King on an idyllic alien planet. The Monkey King is probably the most beloved character in Chinese literature from China’s golden age. The poster invokes the glorious past to promote the glorious picture of the future. All to promote, or justify, the Chinese space program. On top of it, it is aimed at children.

So enjoy this link of the week. Posts may be spotty for the next while because I will be playing away from internets and phones.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thirteen Things For Fathers With Daughters

My oldest daughter, Gwenna, had her sixth birthday last week. As my daughters have grown it has made me think about their future and my responsibilities to them. The problem for me is I understand my sons’ situations but my daughters can sometimes be a mystery. Having never been one, little girls’ lives are new to me.

Fathers generally know their part in raising their boys so they are prepared for life. You wrestle with them. You take them camping and fishing. You have them help you with the car. It is easy because you just show the things you were shown as a boy, but raising girls requires more of a learning curve for fathers. So here are thirteen things I have learned, or advice I have been given, that fathers should do with their daughters.
Gwenna and Xianli at Eklutna Lake
1. Be a Gentleman. Treat your daughters, and your wife, the way you want others to treat them and they won’t settle for less.

2. Take Them With The Boys. Play catch with them. Take them to the game. They shouldn’t feel like there are separate activities they can’t do. The world will try to give them boundaries; don’t give them any to start with.

3. Camp With Them. Camping teaches them to survive on their own. Teach them how to light a fire with one match while it is raining and they will have the confidence to weather the other storms in their lives.

4. Play Dolls With Them. Show them that your love for them is big enough to do what they like. Real men let their daughters practice putting curlers in their hair.

5. Tell Them They Are Beautiful. They are entitled to a healthy body image from their fathers even if the world is full of bad ones. Every father knows their daughters are beautiful; just make sure they know that you do.
Xianli Eating Hand
6. Tell Them They Are Smart And Talented. Show them there is more to them then just their looks. Help them to develop their talents and skills.

7. Teach Them How to Fix Things. Teach them not to be afraid of technology or life. Show them how to solve their own problems whether it’s a flat tire, crazy computer, or broken relationship.

8. Go on Daddy-Daughter Dates. Take them dancing, go to dinner, or just go shopping. Make sure to spend one-on-one time with them. I usually hate shopping, but the most fun I ever had was when my daughter dragged me all over a mall looking for her Mom’s birthday gift. Gwenna’s excitement was contagious even for me. It’s a special memory just between us.

9. Listen, Talk, and Listen Some More. Take the time to really communicate with your daughters. When you talk you learn about them, their needs, and their dreams. Listening shows them you care about them. It will also help them build strong communication skills. Gwenna

10. Don’t Ogle Other Women. Actions speak louder than words. You can’t teach them to respect themselves when you are objectifying others. When they see you drooling over the college cheerleaders on ESPN or reading a “Lad Mag” you will lose credibility.

11. Help Out Around The House. Show them there is no women’s work, only house work. Show them what an equal partner looks like.

12. Kiss Your Wife In Front Of Them. When there are so many unhealthy representations of physical relationships in the media, show them what a healthy one looks like.

13. Love Their Mother. My grandmother use to say the most important thing a father can teach his children is that he loves their mother more than anything, even them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Caswell Creek, Alaska

Caswell Creek Reflecting CloudsTwo Fridays ago I was at my parents' cabin and William, Ben, and I jumped on a four wheeler and drove up the highway to Caswell Creek. Caswell Creek is a sleepy little clear water creek located near mile 85 on the Parks Highway. I say sleepy because 99% of the time I head down there I never see anyone else, but one-percent of the time when the salmon are in thick, its banks are covered with people. I have to confess. I headed down there to see if the king salmon had come in early. There wasn't a fish to be seen, but I got lucky. It was a perfect day for taking pictures and I certainly took home my limit in photos.

I chose this photo because you can see where the clear water of Caswell Creek meets the silty Susitna River. The dividing line between the two waters is amazing. And for a bonus the clouds reflected off the water nicely. We calls those clouds "Simpsons Clouds" because they look like the clouds in the opening credits of the TV show.
P.S. I finally updated my Flickr site with the recent pictures. I added around 30 new photos.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Anchorage Web Cam

Kids at JobsiteOne thing I like about being an engineer is I occasionally get to hang out at construction sites. There is just something about the heavy equipment and watching things being built. I guess I never outgrew playing in the sandbox.
Gwen & Will in Bucket
In March, I got a chance to take William and Gwenna with me to visit a construction site. It was a Saturday; the site was shut down except for three guys waiting to finish up a test. Once I was done with my work, the foreman for the site let William and Gwenna a quick look at the equipment. They thought that was pretty cool.

Well, my part of the project is pretty much completed but the building is just getting started. It is going to be a fourteen story building with four floors of parking. It is a pretty big project and it is located right in the mid-town area of Anchorage at the corner of the C Street and Northern Lights Boulevard. Since the project is high profile the building owner started a website for the project. Interestingly enough they have also installed a real-time web camera of the construction site. The camera is located across the street and has a bird’s eye view of the site.

So, the link of the week is the 188 W. Northern Lights project site with its web camera. Besides getting a chance to watch one of my projects, it is also a great way for anyone planning a trip to see what the weather is really like in Anchorage. This would have come in handy last Firday. Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Day in Teller, Alaska

Last Tuesday, I had a chance to travel to Teller, an Inupiat Village with a population of 290, along the west coast of the Seward Peninsula. Teller is a unique place in that it is accessible by a regional road. I drove the 72-miles from Nome along a narrow dirt road. It was a perfect day; sunny with hardly a cloud in the sky. Along the way I saw a bear, musk oxen, moose, ptarmigans, abandoned gold dredges, and lots of beautiful country. The drive went quickly even with the frequent stops to take pictures.

When I got to Teller, I had a chance to spend some time talking to the mayor, Joe Garnie. After our business was completed we hung around and started talking about dog sledding. It was obvious that Joe was knowledgeable in only the way a life time musher can be. When he told me he raced, I asked if he had ever done the Iditarod. He gave me a wry smile and said he had. Then I asked him how well he had done. He smiled again and said second place and third place. It then dawned on me; this was JOE GARNIE the legendary Iditarod musher. Libby Riddle raced his dogs to win the Iditarod back in 1985 when they were partners. The next year he placed second behind Susan Butcher with the same dogs. In fact he has placed in the top 25 all 15 times that he has raced. That is an amazing feat considering it is an honor to be able to even finish the race.

Joe is unique among Iditarod mushers in that he is a traditional Inupiat musher. Most of his training is just using his dogs to stay alive in the arctic. He wears traditional clothes. His kennel only has as many dogs has he can support from his subsistence hunting and fishing.

Joe claims dog sleds are the best transport in the arctic. He doesn’t use snow machines, preferring the traditional way. He says he starts traveling earlier in winter and continues longer through spring with his dog sled than anyone else can with a snow machine. He also claims to have never been stuck, broken down, or stopped by a hill he couldn’t climb with his teams. And I believe him.

Later that day, I watched as Joe finished clearing out his fishing net. He had hauled in a load of white fish, cod, herring, and a few dollies. Joe then explained that most of the fish would be dried and used as dog food, but the dollies would be saved for his personal use.

The dollies were going to be dried for a couple of hours until the pellicle forms then tossed into the freezer. The pellicle protects the meat and prevents freezer burn. I asked Joe how he eats them. His response was, “frozen.” I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg, but I later asked several other Inupiat friends and they all said it was true. In fact they all said it was their favorite way to eat fish. You just take it out of the freezer, sprinkle a little salt on it, and dip it into seal oil. After those rave reviews, I think I will have to add frozen fish in seal oil to my list of foods I have to try.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Anchorage, Fires, and Taiwan

This morning when I got up to ride to work it was dark, darker than when I went to bed. At first I thought it was going to rain. Then I got a whiff. It wasn't dark from rain clouds but haze from the forest fires north of Anchorage.

With the haze, smoky smell, warm air, humidity, and the bike ride it was like I was back in Taiwan. It was mainly the smell that brought on the flood of memories. Some of my strongest memories in Tiawan are associated with smells. So the ride in this morning was quite the trip down memory lane.
The smoke was also blending the morning light in funny ways. Greens were much more vibrant, like I was looking through a polarized filter. It must have been the smoke in the air because I remember the same thing happening with the fallout from the last Mt. Spurr erruption.

On the brightside, the forest fires usually mean more moose and fireweed. It could also open up some new trails around Trapper Lake.

P.S. The Anchorage photo was taken by seanexmachina and the Taipei photo was taken by Paogao.

Side Note: I have been in the Norton Sound region for most of the week. So I have not had time to update. I should be back on schedule next week with lots of new stories. I will also be updating my Flickr with the trip photos soon.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thirteen Reasons I Love Being a Father

I love being a father. One of the best things that ever happened to me was becoming a father. Next to my wife, my five children are the best things in my life. So in honor of Father’s Day this Sunday I have put down thirteen reasons I love having children:

1. They are Great Tax Deductions. Sure they are a net loss, but come tax time five more dependents looks pretty good.

2. They Keep Me Smart. My kids are always asking me questions and testing my knowledge. Why is the sky blue? What are the colors of the rainbow? What would happen if a black hole formed around the car? I am very grateful for Wikipedia and Google.

3. They Give Me Excuses to Buy Gear. It is easier to convince my wife to let me buy new gear such as fishing rods, stoves, camping equipment, etc. when I am going to use it with the kids.

4. They Keep Me in Shape. Whether it is wrestling with the kids or chasing them around trying to dress them, my kids always give me a workout. I get more exercise at bedtime then most people get all day. They especially keep me in shape when they make me carry them.

5. They Are The Best Pick-Me-Ups. Kids are the best distractions. No matter how bad or stressful work was, when I get home and get tackled with kisses and hugs it all melts away. You can’t help but have a smile on your face when someone is that happy to see you.

6. They Give Me Excuses to be a Kid Again. I can still watch TMNT, discuss Star Wars, read Harry Potter, and build things out of trash. With the kids, I am a good father. Without the kids I am just another aging geek.

7. They Keep Me Laughing. Whether it is the jokes they tell or things they do or say, they are always making me laugh.

8. They Inspire Me. Everything is exciting and new to my kids. They are always learning and discovering. It is impossible for that not to rub off on me.

9. They Give Me Excuses to Take Off Work. It is always easier to justify cutting work when it is for family time.

10. They Never Let Me Get Bored. There is never ever a dull, or quite, moment in our house. My wife and I wonder what people without kids do. We don’t remember, but they must have a lot of free time.

11. They are Cheap Labor. It is always nice to have several small helping hands. It always makes the work more fun, though not always easier. You get what you pay for.

12. They are a Captivated Audience. Like Ulysses Everett McGill, I too have “been endowed with the gift of gab.” Rebecca often has to gently remind me that I have already told her that story . . . today . . . twice. The kids are always begging to hear stories from when we were children. And their attention spans being what they are, they don’t mind hearing the same ones over and over again.

13. They Introduced Me to a Whole New Life. My life has been enriched by having kids. I have enjoyed greater sorrows and joys then ever before. I have experienced things I never would have imagined without kids and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Humpy at Hope

This picture cracks me up. Several years ago, I took William on a Father & Son campout with our church. We all camped in the hay flats around Hope, Alaska. We did some fishing that night for pink salmon or humpies. It is pretty easy to see how they got that name. In most cases they turn ugly as soon as they reach freshwater. We were still in the tidal area of Resurrection Creek when this one was caught. It was William’s first close encounter with a humpy and he was none too interested. The next day we decided to go hiking instead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Honey, Where is My Shovel?

Scribbit recently posted about her son, Spencer, reconstructing a mouse skeleton from an owl pellet at school. The story reminded me of similar things that I did when I was young. My best friend, who lived two doors up, had a cat that was always bringing home dead birds. One day we got the idea to bury the birds and wait until nature reduced them to bones. Then we would dig up the bones and put them back together. Why would we want to, you might ask? Because we would then have a really cool skeleton bird sitting on the bedroom shelf. To us, it was the only logical thing to do with the dead birds. Just giving them a proper burial would be such a wasted opportunity. Now we could combine the fun of treasure hunters, archeologist, builders, and mad scientists into one seemingly simple task.

So with much anticipation we buried our first bird in the woods behind my friend’s house. We even made sure to mark the spot, not with any kind of gravestone, but with an ‘X’ in the dirt. Then we waited, but boys’ attention span being what they are, we could never remember where or when to unbury the birds. That didn’t stop us though. With youthful optimism, we continued to bury the dead birds each time, completely convinced it would work out this time. We buried so many birds that it is a wonder that we never discovered a previously-burried bird while digging the hole for the next.

Eventually we did succeed in digging up one bird. We collected every bone we could find. There weren’t many. We dutifully placed them in a shoe box and then realized we had no idea what to do with the bones now that we had them. That didn’t dampen our spirits. We kept that box of bird bones as a prized treasure that some day we would get around to putting together. I don’t know whatever happened to that box with its bones. It quietly faded from memory. I suspect a mother helped it along its way.

The reason I am telling this story is to better explain my fascination with this story.

While listening to Alaska Public Radio recently, I heard a program entitled Do It Yourself from March 10, 2007. With my love of DIY, my interest was piqued and as I reached to turn up the volume the lead-in announced that one segment would be about rebuilding a 36-foot whale skeleton. Having read the story above, it should come as no surprise to anyone I was instantly awed and riveted to my radio as the desires of a lost project from my youth came alive again.

As the program unfolded I learned that Stacy Studebaker, a retired high school biology teacher, had discovered a 39-foot gray whale washed ashore near her Kodiak cabin. I totally related to her when she said her first thought was to rebuild the skeleton. "Who the heck was going to clean up the mess?" didn’t even cross our minds.

I listened with fascination at how over seven years and lots of help she essentially rediscovered the art of rearticulating whale skeletons. I won’t go into any more detail here, because Stacy Studebaker has a done a better job than I ever could chronicling the process step-by-step on her webpage. The project is now near completion and the skeleton will be housed in the new Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, which is being built to specifically display the skeleton.

As the program ended, the DIY and biologist in me were stoked and I was left enviously wishing I could find a 39-foot whale washed up at my doorstep. Though this would probably leave my neighbors extremely perplexed, especially when I gleefully started digging a pit in my backyard.

P.S. I add "Link of the Week" over on the right, which will feature webpages that I want to share.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tips: Ziploc Omelets

This past March, I went winter camping with my kids. It was one of those campouts when, in the rush to leave, things were left behind. While trying to fix breakfast the next morning I realized I had forgotten to bring a frying pan or spatula. Without either, I was unable to scramble the eggs for breakfast. While pondering what to do, I remembered I had once seen a friend cook scrambled eggs by boiling them in a plastic bag. I had often cooked oatmeal in Ziploc bags by pouring boiling water into it, but I had never tried it with eggs. I had always been curious. So, I pulled out a Ziploc and cracked a couple of eggs into the bag. I zipped up the bag and squished it in my hands to scramble the eggs. Then it went into the boiling water. The results were pretty fair. It would have been better if I had remembered salt and pepper. The only thing was it didn’t really taste like scrambled eggs but an omelet.

That got me thinking. All I would have to do is to chop up normal omelet ingredients (orange peppers, onions, etc.) and toss them into a Ziploc bag. And make sure to pack a couple of eggs. Then all I would have to do is crack in the eggs, squish it up, and boil them. Since that campout in March I have wanted to try it out. Who wouldn’t like a delicious hot omelet (without the mess) on a cold morning while camping? But alas, I have not had the opportunity to do that. So this last Saturday morning after I fixed the kids breakfast I tried it. I chopped up onion, green pepper, mushrooms, cheese, and sausages which I tossed in a Ziplock bag with a couple of eggs. I also put in some salt and pepper. After squishing it up in my hands I dropped the whole bag into some boiling water.

Almost immediately one of the kids came screaming to me about some disaster and I had to help them out. Since the omelet was boiling instead of frying, I didn’t have to worry about burning it. After a few minutes I came back and it seemed cooked. So I pulled it out, dropped it on a plate, and ate it. Let’s just say it was perfect. It tasted just like a regular omelet. It was also shaped nicely because I didn’t scramble it while trying to flip it. My wife tried a bite and loved it too. Best of all, the only clean up was throwing away the Ziploc bag. So now we have a new recipe in our camping cookbook.

Ziploc Omelets would also work well for a multiple day trip. You just have to make sure the ingredients will stay fresh without refrigeration. All the ones I listed above will last several days, but you would have to use vegetarian sausage. Eggs are fine as long as you leave them in the shell.

While I was “cleaning up”, Rebecca reminded me of another tip. Since the boiling water is still clean, you can reuse it for your morning cup of hot chocolate, reducing your fuel needs for the meal. That is true for us since we always boil water in the morning for hot chocolate anyways. With this meal we cooked everything in one pot at the same time.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My Favorite Camping Gear

On my twelfth birthday, along with joining the Boy Scouts, I received my first sleeping bag and backpack. The sleeping bag was a grey synthetic mummy bag. The backpack was blue with an aluminum frame. I still have them and even occasionally use them. That humble beginning marked the start of my ever growing collection of camping gear. Since then almost every present or gift I have received for Christmas or my birthday has been camping gear. Now I mostly get gift certificates to REI and I love it. It is about the only store that I enjoy shopping at. Whenever I get a gift card I do not spend it right away. Spending REI credit is a solemn event and must be done right. I make several scouting trips to collect information and prices. Then I develop a spreadsheet with my wish list and prices. It is only after I have determined the optimal potential of the gift card do I make my purchases. Sometimes I will wait several months so I can combine my REI membership refund with the latest sale. The only thing that has stopped my collection from getting out of hand is my frugal streak that I inherited from my parents. I am grateful to them because I would probably be inundated with gear if I didn’t have that check. Here are some of my favorite products that I have collected over the years:

1. Princeton Tec Aurora LED Headlamp. This is an ultra light weight but highly effective headlamp. It is the best headlamp on the market and it is under $30. I carry it everywhere and even use it in bed to read when my wife is sleeping. I even use it when I work on the plumbing or the car.

2. Leatherman New Wave Multi-tool. After a northern pike wrestled my first Leatherman away from me, I was multi-tool-less for about a year. It was a dark time. Then for my birthday my parents gave this to me. It is the only Leatherman on the market to really have improved the original design. The best thing is it has two locking blades on the outside. You don’t have to open up the pliers each time you want to use the knives.

3. Coleman Peak 1 Single Burner Backpack Stove. It works on butane/propane fuel cartridges, which is more efficient than straight propane. I also have never had it freeze in cold weather. It is also very small and indestructible. The best part is I bought it at Wal-Mart for $10. The only way I would need anything more expensive is if I took up mountaineering.

4. North Face Arrowhead Tent. This is an expedition quality tent I inherited from my dad. It is probably 15 years old but it looks brand new. It has stood up to 65 mile per hour winds and my kids jumping on the poles. Now that is tough.

5. REI Andora Down Mummy Bag. It is warm and lightweight. I bought this great bag in Taiwan from “Eddie the Coat Man”. I kid you not, that is what his card said. When I bought the bag from him for $30 I couldn’t believe the price, but he insisted. It wasn’t until his wife came by that we found out he had been drinking heavily just before we had arrived. It is my daughter’s favorite sleeping bag too. She likes its purple color.

6. Sierra Designs Microlight Jacket and Pants. Everyone should have a rain coat and pants that stuff into a little bag. They are perfect in Alaska where the weather changes so quickly especially when you don’t want to carry your Gortex shell around. I carry my set everywhere.

7. Keen Newport H2. This is the latest buy that made it on my list. I have wanted a pair since last summer when I heard all the rave reviews. I finally got a pair on clearance at REI with some birthday money. I have not been disappointed. They are very comfortable and my feet don’t get hot when hiking in them. I can’t wait to try them out while rafting next weekend.

8. REI Insulated Mug. It is just a lightweight and durable insulating mug. When I really want to pack light, I will eat all my meals out of it. I know there is nothing particularly special about this mug, it’s just I have grown attached to it.

9. Flatworld Orikaso Fold Flat Bowl. I hate packing plates and bowls. Maybe that is why I eat out of zip-lock bags and mugs when I can, but that can limit your diet. The first time I used this was when I traveled out to Nikolski and had to bring all my own food. Both weight and space was a huge issue. This came in so handy that I fell in love with it. It is one of those great products that you just say, “It is so simple, why didn’t I think of it?” It is just brilliant and it doesn’t even take up any space in my garage.

10. Nalgene Wide Mouth Bottles. These bottles are the best. Gone are the days of having rusty or plastic flavored water. These bottles are as inert and strong as they come. The wide mouth is a must for when you get ice build up. In Alaska, they are even considered the must-have fashion accessory.

11. Seattle Sports Dry Compression Bags. This is one of those things I use every trip. They work great shrinking your sleeping bag or extra clothes. Plus they keep them dry.

12. Rhino Trekking Backpack. Rhino is a top name brand in Taiwan. This one is an internal frame top-loading backpack. It sold for about $80, but the thing I liked best about it is its versatility. About a third of its storage capacity can be removed or reconfigured to meet the trip needs. At full capacity it can work as a week long trek pack. When all the extra stuff is removed it makes a great two day bag for traveling, especially when you have to go through an airport.

13. REI Day Pack. This bag is a top loading single compartment with a flip over pocket that cinches it down. It has nice padded shoulder straps and a minimal lap belt. It is made out of heavy weight canvas with leather reinforced bottom. I have had it for over 15 years and taken it on almost every trip I have ever gone on. It is great for an overnighter, day hike, or book bag. In a word, it is perfect. Day packs nowadays have too many pockets, straps, bells and whistles that you don’t need or get in the way. Plus they would never last very long. Something breaks or tears. I am not looking forward to when I will have to replace this bag. I don’t think I will be able to.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Chinese Landscape in Alaska

Last March, I found myself with in Valdez with a van full of architects and engineers and six hours to kill. It was also one of those rare sunny days in Valdez. So we drove around site seeing and taking pictures.

We headed up Keystone Canyon and I took this picture of a frozen waterfall at Bridal Veil Falls. I liked the shot but it wasn't until afterwards that I noticed the ice climbers. Can you spot them? Then I really liked the shot because it reminded me of Chinese landscape paintings, especially those of the Song Dynasty.

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) Chinese landscape paintings often represented people in ant-like fashion against wild, exotic landscapes. This suited both the Taoist and the Buddhist philosophies of the time. Toaist with their focus on the natural instead of the man-made or Wu Wei. Buddhists with their focus on the realization of emptiness or Shunyata. I think Song painters would have liked this photo too.

P.S. I have added about 25 photos to my Flickr site (see right)

Monday, June 04, 2007

An Afternoon at Spenard Beach Park

On Saturday, Rebecca wanted to do something as a family, so we spent the morning running errands. After lunchtime and naptime we packed the kids up on bikes, and into the bike trailers and headed off for a ride. We rode a half mile to Spenard Beach Park at Lake Hood. It is one of our favorite places for a quick family trip. For those who don’t know, Lake Hood is the world’s busiest seaplane base and is part of the Anchorage International Airport. Actually, there was a seaplane base before there was an airstrip.

The Spenard Beach Park borders the northeast shore of the lake. It is rather small and only has a swing set and some picnic tables. After a few minutes of swinging the kids had found the water. They promptly began building dams. Every minute, at least one float plane taxied past sending wakes over their walls. They were kept busy rebuilding and fortifying their dams. We had a lot of fun and I was able to give the kids some pointers on building brake waters.

When we weren’t securing the shoreline we were watching planes take off or land. Then it was back to building walls. The kids discovered that water weeds and pebbles work better than the beach sand. It was a wonderful hour at the park and after a snack, and Tim deciding to break the “No Wading” rule, we herded the kids back onto the bikes and headed home.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Eklutna Lake Review: Memorial Weekend Adventure

When we were planning our family activities for May we had decided that Memorial Day would be perfect for our first real camping trip of the year. It wasn’t until Friday night that I remembered why we usually go earlier in the month, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We were getting all excited to go camping. Earlier in the week, Rebecca and I had bought a cargo carrier that attached to our towl hitch. You wouldn’t think a Ford Expedition would need more cargo space but it fills easily with five kids and all their gear. The blankets and stuffed animals alone take up a huge amount of space.

The car was mostly packed so when I got off work early on Friday we were on the road before 5 PM. I think that was a personal best for us. The traffic was surprisingly light.
We drove north to Eklutna Lake. The turn off is about 26 miles north of Anchorage, but then it is another 10 miles up to the lake. The road is paved but narrow and very curvy. The max speed on the road is 25 miles per hour so it will seem like a crawl after the Glenn Highway, but the scenery is really spectacular. I would have taken a picture but I had to keep both hands on the wheel.

Eklutna Lake is nestled in the mountains of Chugach State Park. Eklutna Glacier carved out the valley and when it receded long ago it left a 7 mile lake with steep mountains surrounding it. It is a really pristine place and you can see why Anchorage gets 75% or so of their water from it.

Eklutna Lake has something for everyone. There is fishing and boating on the lake, though no motorized crafts are allowed. There is even a kayak rental place. Eklutna also offers miles of trails. The main trail is a 13 mile (one way) packed gravel trail along the north rim of the lake. For the first 8-miles it is wide enough to drive down and easy enough for a stroller. For the more adventurous there are several trails which offer steep hikes to the summits of the surrounding peaks, some only 5 miles long. There are also park cabins at the other end of the lake for extended trips.

The Eklutna Lake campground has 50 regular sites with 15 overflow sites. I have never seen the campground full . . . until Friday night. When we finally got to the campsite every site was filled. It looked like we had missed it by 20 minutes. Well, we had to make a quick decision after that. We decided instead of driving for another two hours trying to find an open campground on Memorial Weekend, we would head over to the day-use or picnic area. We were the only people there. Since the day-use area is separated from the campsites, it made for a lot more room and privacy. We were able to let the kids run around and yell more than if we had been over at the other place.

We roasted our hotdogs and made our s’mores. The kids got to get filthy and play with fire. After we cleaned up we all headed down to the lake. Instead of hiking the north trail like we usually do we headed east along the shore to the spillway. The water level in the lake changes a lot over the summer. We hiked along the high water mark where all the driftwood had been pushed up on the beach. The kids were having a great time exploring and picking up neat sticks. William started talking about giants in the mountain. I then mentioned that all the driftwood looked like ogre clubs. That set the kids’ imagination off. Ben and William were clamoring to tell me about the ogre battle that must have gone on. They imagined that the old wooden piles sticking out of the ground were the tombstones of the fallen heroes. They had great fun with it, even Gwenna got in to it.

Once we got to the spillway, we saw a nesting pair of golden eyes and a small beaver. There was a small ice chunk still floating near the edge of the lake, which provided an excellent target for the kids. After the kids were tired of throwing rocks they moved on to building a fort out of the spillway stones. That went along pretty smoothly until Tim walked out onto some stepping stones and dunked himself in the lake.

Luckily, since we had been planning to camp we had brought extra clothes. It still ended up being a good stopping point for the night. Once Tim was dry we packed the kids into the car and passed out the chips. The drive back was uneventful and later that night while Rebecca was soaking in a bubble bath she commented, with a relaxed smile, that it wasn’t the worst camping trip she had been on. It actually was pretty good, all of the fun stuff and not having to sleep with five kids in one tent.

(P.S. I uploaded additional photos on my Flickr site, see side bar,)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thirteen Ways to Prepare for a Trip to Alaska

One thing all Alaskans know is with the arrival of summer comes the warmer weather, outdoor activities, and visitors. Rebecca and I are no exception. This summer we are looking forward to multiple groups of friends and relatives visiting. In honor of all the tourists and visitors coming this summer, Rebecca and I came up with this list of thirteen ways to prepare for a trip to Alaska.

1. Get a Sleeping Mask. Rebecca can attest that sleeping can be difficult during the summer without blackout curtains or sleeping masks. Or you can install a dimmer light switch in your bedroom at home and slowly turn it brighter each night to get yourself used to sleeping with the lights on.

2. Bring Bug Spray. I don’t care where you are from, or how bad the bugs are there, you will need bug spray. The mosquito isn’t the state bird for nothing. Bug head-nets may also be necessary if you will be traveling into the interior of Alaska.

3. Learn How to Layer Clothing. Alaskans have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather wait five minutes.” You are likely to see rain, sunshine, clouds, wind, hot and cold temperatures, and even snow during your trip, and often in the same day. So with such a variety of conditions carrying one big coat will not work. You have to be prepared put on or pull off a T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, fleece, sweater, rain coat, hat, etc. as the weather dictates.

4. Bring Sunglasses. This one surprises people who are not familiar with Alaska. You have to remember that it is the Land of the Midnight Sun. It is always fun when your visitors realize they are putting on their sunglasses at 10 PM.

5. Bring Sun Block Too. Sun block is also a must if you are planning to be on the water or snow. A combination sun block and mosquito repellant is also convenient.

6. Bring Good Rain Gear.
Not just a rain coat but rain pants are a must too. A lot of people, mainly East Coasters, think you can get by with an umbrella but they are wrong. Rain gear also comes in handy on windy days; make sure it is breathable (see #3).

7. Read a Good Book on Alaska. Whenever I travel I like to read up on the place before I go. I also like to have a travel book that matches the theme of my trip. For Alaska I recommend Velma Wallis’ Two Old Women which is a beautiful Athabaskan legend of survival and self worth. For the more adventurous try Larry Kanuit’s Alaskan Bear Tales which will give anyone a more than healthy respect for bears.

8. Get in Shape. Alaska is an outdoor place. If you can’t get outdoors to enjoy it then you will miss a big part of the experience.

9. Get Reservations in Advance. Alaska is a popular place so make sure you get all your reservations in writing months in advance. Last month I went to reserve a camping spot at Denali National Park for July and there were only four spots left.

10. Develop a Taste for Seafood and Wild Game. Alaskans love their crab, salmon, moose, caribou, and halibut. So everywhere serves fresh seafood and reindeer on the menu. You don’t want to miss out on a taste of Alaska or some of the freshest fish you can ever have.

11. Get American Money. There are people who still don’t know Alaska is part of the United States. So bring lots of those good old green backs and you can leave them here. We won’t even mind.

12. Learn to Dress Casual. In Alaska jeans and flannel are acceptable attire everywhere, ties and sport coats are not. There isn’t a restaurant in Alaska that requires a tie or sports coat. And thank goodness. Here North Face, Carharts, and Patagonia are the fancy name brands.

13. Get a Huge Memory Card for Your Camera. There is so much to see and so much beauty that you will want to photograph it all. I can easily take 200 pictures a day. So unless you bring a laptop spend the extra money and get the mega-gigabyte card for your camera.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Too Much Anime: Astro Boy and Stinkoman

You know your kids are watching too much Anime when they do this.

On Saturday morning Tim walks up to me and says, “I’m a robot.” He then proceeded to fly around the room with him new robotic arms. I was kind of curious how that worked. He does kind of look like Astro Boy wearing nothing but a diaper.

Of course, since we were laughing at his silliness the other kids wanted in on the action. Gwenna here is doing a great impression of Stinkoman’sAre you asking for a CHALLENGE!?!” for those of you who know Strong Bad.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Trail Review: Thunderbird Falls

Last Saturday we hiked Thunderbird Falls. Thunderbird Falls is located 25 miles north of Anchorage in the Chugach State Park. This is an easy hike with rolling terrain. The trail is packed gravel and 10-feet wide. You can easily push a stroller along the trail. The main trail ends at a boardwalk overlooking Thunderbird Fall which is 200-feet high. There is also a side trail near the end that goes along the river to the base of the falls, but the trail is not as well developed.
We love this hike and it is usually the first hike we do each year. We can easily do the whole hike, including the driving, in approximately two hours. It is also an easy hike to get the kids excited for the summer. Our two year old, Tim, didn’t have any problems on this trail.

It really is a beautiful trail. Most of the trail is high above Thunderbird Creek providing great vistas. Except at the beginning, where you can see the back of a few houses, the scenery feels more wilderness than suburban. The spring is the perfect time for this hike. It is still cool and there are no mosquitoes. If you do hike it in the summer than bring lots of bug repellant but that goes for most of Alaska.

One of our favorite things about this trail is the Pooh Bear Tree. The side trail down to the river goes right by an ancient cottonwood tree that is hollowed out. It makes for great pictures. The kids also love to throwing rocks in the creek and picking horsetails. In the fall there are lots of high bush cranberries and raspberries ripe for the picking. Thunderbird Falls gets our stamp of approval.

P.S. I added pictures to my Flickr site. (See stage right)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thirteen Great Read-a-Loud Books

I love reading to my children. I read to the boys each night while Rebecca reads to the girls. My favorite books are the ones that are fun to read out loud. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. This was one of the first books I read with William. He picked it out and I thought it would be too difficult for him. I was wrong and I have learned that kids understand a lot more than most people give them credit. It is a beautifully written story.

2. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. I read these stories several years ago to my boys and they were riveted. There is nothing better than talking animals, magic, and children heroes. The relations between the children are also wonderfully done.

3. The Witches by Roald Dahl. Anything by Roald Dahl is great. I just listed The Witches because I do a great Grant High Witch voice. “Vitches of Inkland you good for nothing vorms.”

4. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. It is a great adventure book, which our whole family got into. We would go on drives just so we could all read it together. The dialog makes for great voices.

5. The Grimm Brothers. This isn’t the watered down Disney version but the real fairy tales. There are lots of difficult words and archaic language but the stories are so fascinating. The kids love them even if they can’t understand every word. Plus a lot of the stories have great lessons like don’t go walking off into the woods alone or obey your parents.

6. Journey to the West. This is one of the great four classic Chinese novels. It tells of a monk’s journey to fetch the Buddhist scriptures in India. The journey if fraught with danger and monsters, but the monk is protected by four magical servants. The greatest of which is the mischievous Monkey King. It is written like the old radio serials or something you might here from a street storyteller with each chapter ending with you wanting to tune in next week. I prefer the Anthony Yu translation over the Arthur Waley’s Monkey. It keeps the feeling of the original Chinese.

7. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. The stories are so fun and the narration read like a father telling a bedtime story. The narrator’s dialog is great, though it is probably the hardest book on this list to read smoothly out loud.

8. Dr. Seuss. All Dr. Seuss books are so fun I couldn’t chose one. He was a master at tongue twisters and lyrical rhymes. The Lorax and the Horton Hears a Who are some of our favorites.

9. Berenstain Bears. We like the early Berenstain Bear books, like Spooky Old Tree and Inside, Outside, Upside Down, which are just fun and simple. The later books are all about lessons like The Berenstain Bears Learn About Bike Safety, which just aren’t very fun.

10. The Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett. Most of Jan Brett’s books are really amazing, but this one has fun trolls which keep shouting “Want Dog!” The kids love it.

11. The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Anyone with a name like Rudyard Kipling must have a way with words. The stories are short and imaginative. Most deal with origin myths like How the Camel Got Its Hump. Trust me “O Best Beloved” stories are made to be read out loud.

12. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. It is a book about a town with weather problems. What that doesn’t sound interesting? Well is it when the weather is food. Haven’t you ever wished it would rain donuts? Mmm . . . donuts.

13. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. I can’t stand the voices in the cartoon, except for Templeton, and didn’t think I would like the reading the book out loud. But that all changed once we found out that Wilber wasn’t such a whiner and was actually deserving of Charlotte’s friendship and sacrifice.