Sunday, June 28, 2015

Manic Monday #6 Mukluk Land

While there are many attractions that draw visitors to Interior Alaska, a much-underrated treasure is Tok’s own Mukluk Land.  This quaint little fun park is a gem not just because of the fun activities and oddities it totes, but also because the owners, George and Beth Jacobs, are just about the sweetest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet.  Every time we go there, Beth’s eyes light up with joy, like her best friend who she hasn’t seen for awhile just came to visit…and it’s not just with us.  She has greeted every person I’ve seen come there with that sincere warmth and love.  It makes you want to just linger and absorb.
Something for everyone...Engine Alley, full of unique engines for guys to grunt over.
Sadie and Titus pulling an outhouse from the Dawson City Outhouse Race.
So this last Wednesday I told Titus and Sadie (Tucker’s still in Colorado) that we were going to have our first trip to Mukluk Land the next day.  Jumps for joy, shouts of exuberance, almost tears of happiness filled the land.  Yet upon waking we were greeted with rain.  While Mukluk Land is open 2-8 rain or shine June through August, the attraction our under 6 children love the most, the ginormous bouncy house, is not operational in the rain.  I looked at Titus and told him he better start praying.  Yet the rain kept falling.  At 2:15 it finally stopped, the skies cleared, and I said, “Well, let’s go see if they are going to chance it.”
Titus jumping the "river" to the safety of the bouncy house.
When we walked up the drive we could see Mr. Jacobs pulling the tarp from the bouncy house and the motor blowing it up.  Titus ran up to Mrs. Jacobs to tell her that he prayed and God answered his prayers, and she was so excited for him, she made him go immediately to tell Mr. Jacobs the good news.  How awesome is God to bolster a young one’s faith with a simple answered prayer. Then the afternoon of fun commenced.
Friendly neighborhood bear.
Typical Alaskan Mosquito---Titus' face is classic!!!
We bounced on the bouncy house.  Titus worked on his front flips.  We ate cotton candy and popcorn.  We explored the collection of interesting outhouses.  Titus got a bug bite from a typical Alaskan mosquito.  Sadie and Titus visited with the local bear.  We toured the Engine Alley, and peeked in Santa’s Rocket Ship.  After bouncing some more, we went to visit Mrs. Jacobs again and play skee ball.  By this time, we were too tired for a round of miniature golf, so we decided that will have to wait until next time.
So that's how Santa does it!
All this fun cost us a whapping $5.75.  Yep, that’s it folks.  When Tucker is here, it may cost as much as $10 dollars, maybe, but that’s only if we get snacks, which we don’t every time.  I’m telling you, the Jacobs are amazing.  This little elderly couple have been collecting items for this museum of sorts and giving kids and adults a place of fun for years  It’s such a blessing in this little town that doesn’t have much as far as entertainment goes.  We are so thankful for George and Beth and encourage anyone who is in the Tok area to make time to stop at the one-of-a-kind Mukluk Land. 
My Alaskan goldpanner

Taking an old snow machine (or snow mobile for you lower 48ers) for a ride.  There are a huge collection of these things!
And as an extra special note, the rain started back up 10 minutes after we left.  God gave Titus his window of fun, and he hasn’t been able to stop letting that slip into conversations since.  Until next time, have a manic and blessed one!
Sadie carrying her baby while ice fishing. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Manic Monday #5 -- Building in Alaska

Hello and God's blessings to you all on this wonderful Monday!  (though technically, I'm posting this late Sunday night.)  We are incredibly smoky up here in Tok, Alaska with 3 different forest fires within 60 miles or so of us.  We are praying that we get two good days of rain to knock the fires out, but it's not looking too promising on the forecast.  I thought I'd give you an update on the house and tell you some of the fun stuff that goes along with building in Alaska.

In most places in Alaska (those that are not in boroughs, primarily) there are no such things as codes.  You are not required a gazillion permits to build your house or even one.  You do not need an inspector to tell you your house is approved to live in.  In fact, most people live in their house while they are building it (so we aren't too Alaskan terms.)  You don't need a contractor, plumber or any other profession ending in 'r' to legally build your house.  You don't have any local, state or federal agency breathing down your neck and peeking in your pipes.  With this are goods and bads. 

The Goods:
  • You can build things the way you want.  When we lived in Oregon, if you sneezed wrong you got a ticket from the building inspectors that would troll the streets in search of home improvement.  We are building a house that is not traditional with extra layers for insulation and whatnot which might not be considered "legal" in other places.  Here, Stretch can use ladders on top of four wheeler crates topped with plywood and contortionism to put up beams.  This maneuver is not OSHA approved.
    Contortionist building
  • You can live in an unfinished house.  Now, why is this important you may wonder?  Well, for us, we want to build our house completely out of pocket.  When we are done, we want no debt. In order to achieve that goal, we are going to have to build it in stages.  Since we also don't want to pay the crazy rent prices that are in Tok, so we can have the money we need to build the house, we need to be able to live in our house during those stages.  So, stage 1 for us is the 16 x 40 section of the house that will eventually be the garage.
    16 x 40 section we are building this summer.  You can see the rest of the perimeter of the house in the background.
  • You can actually build your house for a reasonable price.  My brother-in-law built a house a few years ago and paid over $30,000 just in permits!  That's bonkers!  We are thinking, if we don't go crazy, that in the end our house will cost around $40,000.  Translation: no mortgage!  We won't have an electric bill since we will be on solar.  We won't have a water bill since we have a well.  Imagine what you can do for God if your major bills coming out of from your income didn't exist! 
    4 wheeler crate scaffold
  • We are actually going to be able to build our house all on our own (with the help of our awesome friends from time to time) from the concrete to the roof and all the layers in-between.  Can you imagine how satisfying it is going to be to drive into our property in the years to come and say, "We did this!"?  Sometimes I feel like the people of ages gone by, responsible for creating your own way on the frontier, not expecting others to do the work for you, but being thankful for the help when you have it.
The Bads:
  • If you don't know what you are doing, you could end up with a house like in my Manic Monday #3 post. When you are shopping for a house in Alaska, it is very important to know the tell-tale signs of a builder who cut too many corners or didn't have a clue.
    Muscling a beam into place with leverage and balance.

  • Getting a mortgage can sometimes be tricky.  And getting a building loan as well.  So, in the future if you ever wanted to sell, you have know the things that mortgage companies won't approve and either build with that in mind, or plan to never sell.
I know, there are probably other bads, but I honestly can't think of any, when it comes to building.  Which is one of the things that appeals to us about Tok and other rural parts of Alaska.  Just imagine, in 2-4 years, depending, we will have a house on over 3.5 acres that we built with our own two hands and with no mortgage.  Add to that the opportunities to hunt or fish all the meat we will ever need and  if we maintain a yearly garden, expenses go down even further.  Yes, we pay more for some groceries and other things, but honestly, this last winter gas was cheaper here than it was in Las Vegas and last time I went to Colorado to visit family, groceries were very similar in price.  All this to say, living in Alaska is awesome, and I'm blessed to have the freedoms we have by living here.  Hope you have a manic one!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Manic Monday #4 Gluten free, Egg free Fresh Strawberry Pinata Cake

I'm 3 and adorable...oh and my cake is nice, too.

Whew….that’s a mouthful!  Quick dietary history on the Blackard family (well, really just me since the kids and hubby all seem normal), I’ve had gut issues and psoriasis since college.  The gut issues were diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome with the instruction to lower my stress and the psoriasis was thrown a steroid cream that never really helped.  I just figured it was my lot in life to have Freaky Skin Disease (which is what we loving call it at our house.)  Well, right after I had Sadie 3 years ago and our ducks started laying eggs, yes me and the ducks were on the same birthing schedule, I started getting violently ill, spending the entire day in the bathroom.  Guess what!?  I’m allergic to the protein of all egg whites, not just one type of egg like normal folk.  Now could it be that my gut problems were due to this allergy and it just got ramped up to the violent status with the increase protein level in duck eggs?  “Thank you gut specialist doctor for taking my case seriously and not chalking it up to the typical and probably overly diagnosed IBS!” (said with great sarcarsim)  So, in June 2012, I became the mother of a princess and egg free.
3-year-old Birthday Princess with big brother Batman.

Now along with all of this, my psoriasis continued to get worse.  My hands were swollen and cracked along all of my knuckles, behind my knees and elbows were raw from constantly itching, my face on the eyelids would occasionally itch up (which is not very pretty), and my scalp was covered in sores with my hair falling out in clumps.  But, what could I do?  The multiple skin doctors I went to just said to live with it and sent me out with cream that didn’t work, not to mention was steroids that I didn’t really want to handle the babies while wearing.  However, in the later months of 2013, my joints started hurting as well, so much that I could hardly stand from the couch or walk the many stairs in the house we were at.  I felt like I was 80 years old.  After doing research and spending a lot of time over at, I decided to do the autoimmune protocol diet for an initial detox period, with leaving gluten out forever (said with doom and drama.)  Within 3 weeks my joints stopped hurting and within 6 weeks most of my psoriasis was gone.  I started adding everything but eggs and gluten back into my diet after 4 weeks with success.  After 3 months of no gluten, even my scalp was healed and my hair was no longer falling out profusely.  I haven’t cheated for a while, but this last weekend we were in town, aka Fairbanks, and I had a slice of pizza.  Two days later and my knees are still hurting so bad I don’t want to walk the two rv steps and my knuckles hurt that typing this post is a test in dedication.
Piñata Time!!!

While being gluten free and egg free can be a real pain and eating dilemma, especially up in the middle-of-no-where-Alaska, the benefits have far outweighed the negatives.  And, quite honestly, most of the time I really don’t miss it.  There are so many great recipes out there, and I spend a lot of my recipe research time on  Nicole has amazing recipes, and her book on bread is a must for anyone who needs to satisfy that bread craving once in a while.  

Sadie’s birthday party we were having jointly with two of her friends that are also June babies was yesterday, and since I rarely will make a dessert I can’t eat, I went searching for a fresh strawberry cake recipe.  I found one over at Raising Generation Nourished, but when I went to gather up the ingredients, I realized I was running low on multiple items and wouldn’t have enough for what i was doing.  So I tweaked and subbed and ended up with a pretty decent cake.  It’s not fluffy and light, more like a dense cake.  I also saw on Pinterest the idea of piñata cakes with candy hidden in the middle.  One cake had fresh berries, so I thought we’d try that, so I made a double batch of cake (yep, 4 layers of yumminess.)  Now, I have to tell my oops moment.  I can’t bake in the travel trailer.  It has an oven, but it doesn’t work or I’m not smart enough to get it to work, plus it would just make the trailer miserably hot.  So, I take my baking to the parsonage at our church.  Since I only have two 9 inch pans, I knew I’d have to do 2 different batches, since I’ve found that the longer a batter sits the thicker and gummier it gets.  The first batch was made and thick, which the original recipe said it would be, but I was concerned.  I stuck them in the oven, then started mixing wet and dry ingredients to be ready to throw together when the first batch was done.  I got to the dry ingredients and realized I had forgotten the sugar in the first batch!!!!  Seriously!  You can’t have cake without sugar!  But what could I do?  I needed the layers for the piñata part and didn’t have time or ingredients to make a third batch.  Well, while it wasn’t cakey, the messed up batch created a yummy scone-type thing that worked.  In fact, I used the cut out part for a PB&J yesterday and grilled “pancake” today.  So, you get a twofer recipe today!
1st batch or biscuit/scone thing. Still yummy, but not right.
What it is actually supposed to look like--thick cake batter.
Gluten Free & Egg Free Fresh Strawberry Surprise Cake
Bright Pink...Yep.  Crown of raspberries...Yep.

1 cup white rice flour
1 cup sorghum flour
½ cup tapioca flour/starch
½ cup potato starch
½ cup brown rice flour
1 ¾ cup sugar (omit for biscuit/scone thing)
2 teas. baking soda
2 teas. Xanthum gum
1 teas. Salt
1 cup milk
1 cup pureed strawberries
½ cup olive oil
2 Tables. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tables. Vanilla extract
fresh berries for the stuffing

1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your 9 inch round pans by spraying with oil or buttering and putting parchment paper in the bottom.
2.   Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl well to incorporate all the baking soda (nothing like a bite of soda to ruin a good cake!)
3.    Mix all the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl.  I used my immersion hand mixer to get it good    and mixed and all strawberry pieces to little.  You could use a blender or hand mixer.
4.    Combine the wet to the dry and stir until all mixed up and loving each other.
5.   Pour equally into the pans and pop them into the oven to bake for 25-35 minutes.  Mine took a little over 25 minutes to be toothpick done.
6.  Decorate to your heart’s content.

Surprise!  Next time, I'd make the cavity even bigger.

Normally I would make my own frosting, but with time constraints and not knowing where my hand mixer is at the moment I just bought a ridiculously pink can of frosting.  To make the surprise, I took 2 layers (the biscuit-messed-up layers), cut a big circle in the middle of them then stacked the cake.  I used strawberry jam, instead of frosting, to glue the layers together and before putting the top layer on, filled the cavity with fresh strawberries, raspberries and cherries.  While I should’ve made the hole bigger, it was still fun to see the kids faces when the berries peeked out from inside.

For the biscuit/scone thing, you could probably put ¼ cup of sugar in it to make it a little more sweet for strawberry shortcakes or a tea party.  However, for PB & J and fried “pancake” this morning, it was sweet enough.

If you have any questions about being gluten free or egg free, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me.  I may not know the answer, but I sure will try and find it for you!
Remember, even princesses need the Armor of God!

Until next week, have a blessed manic one!  God bless!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Manic Monday #3 – Lesson in Golden Opportunities

It has been a manic week here.  How about with you?  The topic of today’s post has so many lessons involved that I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it in the future, so hopefully I’ll find a lighter lesson later. I realize that Americans (and other developed countries) live in a “disposable” time.  We, in the universal sense, have disposable mindsets in our purchases-buying $200 cell phones knowing you’ll probably be getting a new one in a year or two, in our marriages-“If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a divorce.”, and in our ethics and morals-the genocide of millions of unborn babies disposed each year.  In an era where one can easily get rid of, start over and replace, I see spirits of apatheticness and mediocrity (and a lot of other spirits, but this post is already heavy enough) leaching into lives that used to be full of striving hard, doing your best and not wasting what you have.  With the decrease of value in life, both physical and material, came a decrease in caring.

When our latest investment opportunity came up, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised at the depth of this spirit, but I was and continue to be.  We have friends who live even further in the boonies than we do that had a neighbor move in, build their house, and fill it with stuff.   Through lack of knowledge in construction, laziness, cutting corners that shouldn’t have been cut, or all of the above, the septic system stopped working, the one wood stove didn’t heat the ginormous house effectively and the first big snowfall resulted in a collapsed roof.  Thankfully, the family had already left when the roof came down, probably due to the miserableness of no toilets and a freezing house at below temperatures.  However, they never came back.  A house full to the brim with life and their stuff and their dreams and hopes and it’s left without a second thought.  After two years, rather than see the place torched by the owner, our friend made an offer and it was accepted.  The golden opportunity of investment for literally pennies.
36 x 40 house on 5 acres

This last week, on top of our other goings-on, we were busy cleaning up and making somewhat safe a disposable house.  It’s been a modern day treasure hunt.  The boys, with their fascination in junkyards, are in hog heaven running around the perimeter searching for the latest cool find.  They are (and, if I’m honest, the adults are as well) enthralled with what the next awesome find is going to be.  As we scratched at the surface, because we literally are at the surface of discoveries, and pulled bag after bag of perfectly good food and herbs and cookware out of the house, a sadness hovered over me.  A sadness of the waste that could’ve been avoided and the lesson learned.  Because while we were able to pull out literally over a $1000 worth of stuff we can use in a couple of hours, the trash pile is going to be huge.  Where books and food and 6 tvs and more are destroyed now after two years of sitting exposed, it would’ve only taken a day or two to salvage and empty the place when it first happened. 

This is the spirit of apatheticness that we are up against in a huge in-our-face life lesson.  An indifference to life that screams disposable.  While this is an insanely profitable investment opportunity, I think the golden opportunity lies in the lessons we are going to be able to teach our children.  Teaching them the desire to not only do things correctly, but to the best of their ability.  As we build our house simultaneously with tearing down the other, teaching the importance of knowing what you are doing and recognizing when you need to ask someone for help.  As we dig through the clothes, toys, homeschool supplies, movies, and books and everything else teaching our children, and reminding myself, that we need to remember the value of our stuff, and though we can dispose and replace very easily in today’s lifestyle, maybe a truer sense of character and worth would be in valuing the things we are blessed with in taking care of it and salvaging rather than replacing.  Instead of striving for a life of excess and waste so apparent today, striving for a life of minimalist, so you have more to give to others.  It seems almost an insurmountable task, teaching our children a spirit that is in complete contrast to life that bombards us everyday.  However, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” – Matthew 19:26.   And there lies the solution.  God’s Word doesn’t teach a life that is disposable, but rather a life worthy of being redeemed.  If I am diligent to teach the lessons laid out in the master syllabus of lesson plans, the Bible, my children will find the life promised by society lacking the fullness that only a life steeped in a relationship with God can produce.  As we spend the summer and following year or so digging through a life that was disposable and redeeming it to something of worth and value, I’m praying God will reveal the precious lessons He wants us to learn in the golden opportunity He’s blessed us with.  Until next week, have a manic and blessed one!