Monday, April 30, 2007

Heart Run 2007

Saturday was the annual Heart Run. It is a 5K run sponsored by the American Heart Association and helps raise money to fight heart diseases. This is our second year participating. We have had so much fun, that it is quickly becoming a family tradition.

So Saturday morning we piled all five kids and the jogging stroller in the car and headed out to the race. We had to park at Providence Hospital and walk the half mile over to the starting area. We were glad we got there early so we had plenty of time to take a detour and climb all over the UAA art building’s sculpture. You have got to love modern art that seconds as a really cool jungle gym.

Since we got to the start area around 9 AM and the non-competitive event didn’t start until 10 AM we walked around sampling all the booths. Our favorite was the Great Harvest Bread Company’s booth. William was first in line, bouncing up and down with excitement, waiting for the ladies to open up shop. Their cinnamon chip bread really is that good.

After start of the competitive event started we headed over to the starting area. They announced that over 6,500 people were participating year. It seemed like most of them were in the non-competitive event with us. We hung out in the back with the rest of the strollers. Rebecca was carrying Xianli in her baby sling while pushing Ben and Tim. I was assigned William and Gwenna. This didn’t seem fair at the time, but Rebecca insisted. She said someone needed to run ahead with those two. While waiting a reported from the Anchorage Daily News came by and interviewed Rebecca for about five minutes. I think he was just awed by the five kids. In the end we didn’t make the cut for the article.

At 10 AM the horn sound and with a cheer from the crowd the race started. Ten minutes later we crossed the starting line. It was pretty slow going at first then the competitive spirit hit and Will and Gwen decided to take off. Their little bodies were quickly dodging and weaving through the crowds of people. Then I started earning my keep. Rebecca was right; it was all I could do to keep up with them while not knocking anyone over.

Once things thinned out they really took off. I was impressed at their stamina. Then Gwenna at the three quarter mile mark wanted to be carried. So I tossed her on my back and trotted ahead to keep up with William. I ended up carrying her on and off for about half the race. Most of the time I carried her after one of her several falls so she could recoup. William stayed ahead of us by about 100 feet or so, always slowing down to stay in sight of us. At the last corner, he slowed down to wait for us when we passed him on the other side. We lost sight of him and crossed the finish line just ahead of him.

Gwenna, William, and I finished the 5K run in 37 minutes. I was feeling pretty good having done half of it with 45 pounds on my back, especially since those pounds like to swing her legs a lot. Rebecca and the other kids finished around 45 minutes, not bad for pushing 100 extra pounds. Rebecca told me that Ben had acted as her horn. Anytime they had people in front of them, he would shout, “Get out of the WAY!” Ben and Tim were especially proud of their medals.

To celebrate the race we all when out to Subway for lunch. As a sponsor Subway had given out coupons for free 6-inch subs, which we eagerly took them up on. After lunch, Rebecca and I just about crashed, while the kids all ran outside to play to get so more exercise.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Camping Trips and Spatulas

One year I took just William and Gwenna camping. We drove down to Trail River Campground at Kenai Lake and slept the night crammed in my two man tent. The next morning I got up to fix breakfast only to find I had forgotten all the cooking utensils. Luckily we didn’t need much. Except we were going to have scrambled eggs and I couldn’t find anything on my leatherman that resembled a spatula.

So I had the kids look for a suitable piece of wood. Soon they found a large piece of cottonwood bark. Cottonwood bark is great for carving because it is soft and easy to split. Now the leatherman came in handy! In no time, we had ourselves a spatula. The kids thought it was the coolest thing. We had a blast scrambling eggs with it.

This is one of the reasons why I love camping. Something unexpected always happens and it inevitably tests your knowledge and skills. On every campout something is forgotten or lost. Once I spent a week cooking on a flat rock because we lost the stove when the raft over turned. I love that. It must be the MacGyver in me. It’s those experiences that make camping so fun.

Will and Gwen loved that trip and making a spatula is one of the best memories from it. You can’t schedule or plan memories like. We still have that spatula and we still take it camping. Though, we now know if we forget it we can always make another one.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Things I've Learned About Marriage

Rebecca’s and my wedding anniversary is coming up. On Monday, April 30th we will have been married nine years. I can honestly say they have been the most educational years of my life. Here are thirteen things about marriage that I’ve learned in those nine years:

  1. I knew nothing about marriage. There are great examples in my life; my parents and my grandparents, so I thought I knew something about marriage. I was wrong.

  2. Marriage greatly increased my standard of living. Before I was married I lived in an apartment with six guys. I thought we were clean and lived well, and then I saw how the other half lived. It’s really things like decorations on the wall, cleaning regularly, and not eating the same thing all week.

  3. Jane Austin is actually pretty cool. In nine years I have seen five versions of Pride and Prejudice. Being married has introduced me to many new things.

  4. Marriage is not as easy, but it is more than worth it. I was off on the cost/benefits analysis on both sides of the equations.

  5. I am less perfect, and she is better. Marriage has a way of holding up a mirror to all your flaws for closer inspection. Rebecca faired better than me.

  6. There is a lot more sharing and sharing is more fun.

  7. Women use a LOT more toilet paper than men do. I still have not figured out why, but it is true by a factor or two.

  8. My wife gets more beautiful each day. My father always said this about my mom. I respected him for it. I trusted him, but I did not understand how it was possible until it happened to me.

  9. Rebecca really is my best friend. She has been there and done more than any other friend. There is no other person I would rather spend time with than her.

  10. Back massages cover a multitude of sins. Every husband should learn this. Remember for best results do it early and often.

  11. We knew nothing about being in love. We thought we loved each other when we got married, but comparatively we did not even know the meaning of love. I didn’t know I could love someone this much. Love is like concrete it grows stronger over time.

  12. If you don’t plan to be romantic you won’t be. Scheduling a regular date night or writing on your calendar to buy flowers will make you the most romantic husband in the world.

  13. It’s going to last forever and I couldn’t be happier. We agreed at the beginning divorce was not going to be an option. Still marriage was a great unknown and I was filled with my own uncertainties. Now, nine years later I can clearly see us growing old and being together forever. Nothing makes me happier or is more comforting than that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: Dillingham Cemetery

Last summer I had a day to kill in Dillingham. I had flown out to do an inspection at the Kanakanak hospital, but that took less than an hour and my flight didn’t leave for six more hours. So I headed to Dillingham to have a look around.

I find old cemeteries in small towns fascinating. Anchorage doesn’t have much history. Dillingham does having been around almost 200 years. This cemetery was very old and peaceful.

Most of the names were Norwegian or Swedish. All of them seemed to have drowned, accepted for the infant sized crosses. Though most graves had neat white crosses, each had something unique about it. There was no gird or pattern. Graves were placed every which way with a path meandering through the tall wide grass.

As I took this picture I couldn’t help but wonder who Viktor Bertel was and what happened in 1903. When I got back I tried searching several genealogical websites with no luck.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Fads seem to cycle through every twenty or thirty years. My theory is that advertisers and toy CEOs get together and figure out how to cash in on the nostalgia of parents. Since my generation now seems to be producing offspring, all the shows, toys, superheroes, etc. from when we were kids are being dusted off and brought back from obscurity. It always makes me laugh when I see Strawberry Shortcake, Scooby-Doo, G.I. Joe, Cabbage Patch Kids, or Transformers reappearing on the shelves. Though I have to admit I do get nostalgic when I see my kids getting exited about something I loved as a kid.

One case in point is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or TMNT as they are now known. With the cartoon show coming back and the new movie out, it is a favorite with my kids. Personally, I have a soft spot for those turtles. One of my best friends introduced me to them back with the original TMNT graphic novel. From then on I was hooked. I watched the cartoon and read the comics regularly.

While I was in high school I was really into martial arts. The same friend who introduced me to TMNT also introduced me to martial arts. He was a pretty cool friend. A big highlight of the year was when our dojo would attend a big Tae Kwon Do tournament. For three of the years the tournament coincided with each of the three live action TMNT movies. So a big group of us would go out the night before the tournaments and watch the latest installment getting all jazzed up on soda and cheesy kung fu moves.

So, with that background, it has been fun watching my kids get into the TMNT over the past year or so. It is one of the few Saturday morning cartoons that I enjoy watching with them.

A while back, I was helping a young man work on this Boy Scout Eagle Project. Jack’s project involved making several hundred flannel tie quilts to pass out to women's shelters. There ended up being lots of scraps left over. William was with me and wanted to take several scraps home. I too saw the value in them, but neither of us knew what we were going to do with them. That problem was quickly solved once we got home.

It was Ben’s idea. He was the most obsessed with TMNT at the time (they each take turns for that title). He grabbed a long orange piece and presented to Rebecca demanding to be made into a ninja turtle. Rebecca being both quick and skilled with a pair of scissors soon had four masks that would have made any ninja mother proud. After all the masks were on and the initial bout of wrestling and judo chops the kids settled into the critical debate of who was going to be which turtle. When the dust cleared it was agreed upon that Gwenna was the leader (Leonardo), William the brain (Donatello), and Ben the party dude (Michelangelo). Tim our two-year old (not featured above) was stuck, oddly enough, as the muscles (Raphael). The masks were the number one toys for weeks. Ben wouldn’t take his off at bed. I laugh every time I see pictures with them in their masks. Ah, my little ninjas. I wonder what fad will cycle around for them and their kids to enjoy together.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Life Lessons Learned: Whipped Cream vs. Skin Cream

In engineering we are supposed to do Lessons Learned for each project. What’s that you ask? At a project’s end, or some other milestone, you catalog and discuss the lessons learned. This way your team builds knowledge and increasing skill bases, all the while decreasing the risk of future mistakes. Great idea, right? So why does it feel like nobody does it for Life? With that I present a Life Lessons Learned.

This post is the reason why I am starting my life lessons learned. I am on my fourth two-year old and I still have not learned this one.

Last Saturday, I was fixing waffles for the kids. It was great because we had a gallon of fresh strawberry toppings and a metric ton of whipped cream. We’re not talking about Cool Whip or other crap. This was the real deal. My wife had a birthday luncheon for herself and had served strawberry shortcake. The kids and I were reaping the leftovers.

With all this gooey deliciousness it was no surprise that Ben, our four-year old, and Tim, our two-year old, were covered in toppings. I wiped them both up and sent them on their way. I then began to work on the stationary messes. Everything was almost put away, except for the whipped cream, when Tim appeared behind me covered in whipped cream. It was all over his face with a big glob on his finger. Realizing the danger I grabbed his hand and looked around for the washcloth. It was still in the sink and out of reach. Not wanting to be wasteful I just licked off the glob of whipped cream.

The following thoughts then ran through my head: “What funny tasting whipped cream?”, Wait he just came from the hall, not the kitchen?”, “It’s not whipped cream!”
Rebecca watching from the couch noticed my odd paralyzed behavior.
“What’s the matter?”
“Iss naw wip ceam!”

Two things happened at this point. First, I started to hear laughter. Second, my mind finally made that leap of logic and I ran down the hallway. When I got to the bathroom my suspicions were confirmed. It was not whipped cream but Equate dry skin cream. Tim had obviously made the same mistake as me and had attempted to sneak a treat. I quickly washed my mouth out. For the rest of the morning, the inside of my mouth was feeling silky smooth.

Life Lesson Learned: don’t ever stick a two-year old’s finger in your mouth, even if you think you know what is on it.

But wait! You ask, “how does Equate dry skin cream taste?” Let’s just say I don’t foresee the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook adding it to their emergency substitutions page.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tips: Homemade Camping Stoves

When camping with kids you have to bring a lot of extra equipment. If you can’t afford the latest ultralight REI gear, or a Sherpa, you have to stick with car camping or find creative ways to reduce pack weight. Getting rid of bulky stoves is one way.

In the past, I have used homemade hiking stoves. They tend to be cheap and light weight, while being rugged enough for kid-friendly trips. Plus you get the extra bonus of building one with your kids, because that’s what being a dad is all about.

This summer I am planning (there is that word again) to build an alcohol “cat stove”. I have been wanting to for a while and I think this year is going to be the year.

There are other homemade stoves out there. William and I have had good times with Hobo stove. It doesn’t get easier than that. It’s a converted number 10 can that uses paraffin and cardboard as fuel.

If you really want to get serious Backpacker Magazine had a contest to see who could make the best alcohol stove. The results are really interesting with some stoves performing like a high-end mountaineering stove.

As the summer goes by, I will keep posting updates on the stove project.

The photograph is brought to you by Jim Wood’s website which also has excellent instructions.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Great Outdoor Websites

Spring is here! And I am starting to get that summer itch. I want to go fishing, hiking, camping, or anything just as long as I'm outside do something. But since the fish aren’t running and there is still snow on most of my favorite trails, I still have a couple of weeks before I can really do anything. So instead of doing something, I do the next best thing, plan something. So here are thirteen website I love to visit when I can’t actually do anything . . . yet.
  1. Alaska Outdoor Journal. This is a great site for update fishing reports and tips for Southcentral Alaska. They are still in ice fishing mode but that should change any day now. It also has claming, hunting, and gold panning information.

  2. Alaska Fly Fishing Online. If you are an Alaskan fly fisher, or want to be, this is the site for you. I visit this more in the winter when the only fishing activity I can do is tie flies.

  3. Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Sport Fishing Division. A must visit page to see fishing forecasts, tips, and updated regulations. On top of it you can buy your annual license online.

  4. Alaska Hike Search. This is the best list and review of hiking trails in Southcentral Alaska. It has detail descriptions, photos, and maps.

  5. Trails of Anchorage. This is great for those day trips with kids. It covers a lot of trails around Anchorage. There are some that might surprise even the Sourdoughs around here.

  6. Alaska Trail Head. Another resource for finding trails around Alaska.

  7. Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Park and Rec Site. This has a wealth of information. You can find cabins, parks, trials, campground for state lands. You can also get season permits or make reservations. It also has a lot of cool information and photos.

  8. Chugach National Forest: This has everything you need to know about playing in this national forest, which covers most of Southcentral.

  9. Kenai Fjords National Park: For those of us who pine for the fjords.

  10. Denali National Park. Just as soon as my little hiking buddies are big enough (more of that planning) I will do a true back-country hike through the Denali.

  11. Outdoor Action. A great place to brush up on all your outdoor wilderness and survival skills. Remember this is Alaska.

  12. REI. All the gear you could want. Really, do I need to say more?

  13. Wal-Mart. All the gear you can afford. No really, they got great prices.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: Alaskan Jungle Gym

This is a picture of William climbing around a piece of driftwood at Kenai Lake. It was taken on a camping trip in May 2004 and is one of my favorites. We had a blast beach combing and exploring. I don't think we saw another sole the whole time we were there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dinner Conversations: Women's Expo & Robot Babies

Dinner at our house is always loud, often silly, and never boring. Rebecca and I are always cracking up at the conversations overheard at our dinner table. This one started last night right after the food had been passed out.

Rebecca: Do you mind if I take Xianli (4-month old daughter), and maybe Gwenna (5-year old daughter), with me to the Women’s Expo they are having on Saturday.

Me: Sure, no problem. I’ll look after the boys.

William (7-year old son): What’s a women’s expo?

Me: Is that where they expose women?

Rebecca tries to ignore that comment while giving a look like, “you’re lucky the kids aren’t old enough to catch that one.”

Rebecca: It is where businesses who sell items for women come together to show them off . . .

Me: Like babies. You can buy and sell babies there. Mom is going to take Xianli down to see what we can get for her.

William: Really, Dad?

Me: Oh yeah. A healthy baby can fetch up to forty thousand dollars.

Rebecca: We are not going to sell Xianli. . . . But they do sell robotic parts for babies. I going to see what kind of cyborg parts we can get for Xian.

William: Why would we want to have a robot baby!?!

Me: William, if you have to ask that question you have not thought it through. WHY WOULDN’T YOU WANT A ROBOT BABY?

At this point Rebecca turns with a smile and says, “I love your responds to that question.” See why I love her so much. The conversations then headed off into other silly directions with lots of laughter. We were lucky no one spewed their drinks that night.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Alaskan Snapshots

This post is for Tyson, my best friend from college. Recently Rebecca (previously mentioned wife) and I were waxing nostalgic and decided to drop him an email since we have not heard from him in years. Well, the email was obsolesce so I had to pull out my crazy Goggle Kung fu and tracked him down.

He has asked for picture of Alaska so here they are:

(Left) Ben, Rebecca, Will, and Gwenna in 2003 going to our secrete blueberry spot located by Turnagain Pass.

(Right) Moose under my window at work.

(Left) Abandoned WWII bunker looking out at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island.

(Right) Fish rack in Shungnak north of the Arctic Circle along the Kobuk River.

By Way of Introduction

By way of introduction, this is the blog of Ni Yachen. Yes, that is my name . . . in a way. It was my name for two years while I lived in Taiwan. I have found it very convenient for use on the web. It’s always available as a user name or address. It’s also honest as well as discrete.

Since Taiwan, I have moved around until I was able to settle back down in my native Alaska in 2002. I am married to a wonderful woman and have five children. For purpose of this blog, our last name is Ni. Thus Ni Jia can be translated as Ni Family. I work as a civil engineer and travel around the Last Frontier a lot.

I am still working out the intended audience, and thus the content, for this blog. The current prevailing opinion is that I will post for family and friends. (If some web denizens are amused then all the better.) Updates will focus on the comings and goings, stories, adventures, and so on of the Ni family. There may also include the occasional musings from me. . Between family life, village hoping, and the general mayhem that is my life, I should have no shortage of material to report. Though I probably will have a shortage of time. For now I will try to post something most days, with the exception of Saturday and Sunday.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Winter Moon

I took this last winter from the deck of my parent's cabin. It was a crystal, cold day. As the sun was setting around 3 PM there was that eerie silience that falls over a snowy woodland landscape. The moon was already rising and the sun had painted the mountains with amazing colors. It was breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful.