30 June 2010

Impressions from the road!

OK, you need to understand two things to appreciate these pictures. 1) JoElle takes pictures with her phone and I take pictures with the camera while driving, so the pictures I take may not be in focus. 2) I have just picked up the camera to take shots quickly when something amused me. This means that a lot of my pictures are probably not representative of the area.



Yes, this is what I think of when I think of Wisconsin.

OK, there's some pretty stuff there, too.


North Dakota: beautiful driving, LOTS OF WIND

My kids are about as cute as it is humanly possible for kids to get. I say that as a completely unbiased individual.

Manitoba: not only north of North Dakota, also north of Minnesota!

Yes, rednecks have these on their cars at WalMart in Canada, too.

a photographic pause

First, I want to give a special warm THANK YOU to Arty & Marcine Weiner (Stephen's great aunt and uncle) for putting us up for a night in their lovely home outside of Chicago the night before last. I had wanted to dedicate a post entirely to them and their amazing hospitality, but it seems we are putting the miles on faster than we can keep up with the blogging right now. Needless to say, we enjoyed the time we spent with them, but we were practically overwhelmed by the amount of food and familial welcoming we received. Thanks again, Marcine & Arty, for everything!

And now, PICTURES!

Porter enjoying a burger during the packing process.

All packed up and then some.

A quick stop in Holbrook on our way to Cleveland.

Passed out at a Super 8.

A visit to see Stephen's grandmother.

Passed out at Papa Nate's house.

Happy early birthday Sean Waxman & Porter Courtright (July 9th).

Culver's on the road.

Mac & AJ Courtright.

(Uncle) Kyle Koehs & Porter at Cascarelli's in Albion, MI.

29 June 2010

Day Two/Six on the road

We just finished our second day of the second leg of our trip to Alaska, logging a combined 900ish miles in the past two days and winding up in St. Cloud, MN. I'm pretty sure that some joker kept pulling that Wile E. Coyote trick of grabbing the chunk of road we'd just driven and shoving it in front of us because Wisconsin felt approximately 6000 miles long. On the up-side, we did have a run from Chicago to Cheesyresortville, WI where the Pathfinder got 27 mpg, which is 4 mpg better than it's ever averaged before.

We're wrapping up our day at 8ish local time (got in to the hotel at 7ish and just finished unpacking and setting up). It feels good to be off the road early with a lot of travel done, and we're looking forward to getting into Canada tomorrow. Hopefully, the border crossing will be uneventful and we'll get to enjoy a clean country full of exceptionally polite people.

about Chicago

We left Cleveland yesterday and made our stop in Michigan. It was great to see Kyle and it was a pleasure to finally meet Dr. Ball (Jim) after having heard so much from Stephen. The detour through Michigan only kept us from the road for a couple of hours, though, and we made it to Chicago in the early evening hours.

Many Wednesday nights at our house at Orme have been spent poking fun at a small few students who claim that Chicago is the greatest city in the world. I had never really seen Chicago until last night, so I'd like to take this oppotunity to say a few words on the things that I saw.

Chicago has a unique and beautiful skyline, but that is because it also has a ridiculous number of large buildings stacked neatly beside each other to create the most massive downtown area I have ever seen. Once we got into the downtown area and were really able to see all of these skyscrapers up close (we drove the length of Lakeshore Drive), we saw magnificent mordern architecture nestled in among the grand old stone buildings. It totally blew me away how beautiful these massive buildings were.

Chicago has amazing parks and beaches. Everywhere we went throughout the entire downtown area, there were huge green expanses of park space and lovely sandy beaches all built with easy access and designed for practical use. A person working in one of the busiest skyscrapers could easily spend a lunch hour reading a book under a tree near a pond or out on the beach overlooking Lake Michigan. The views were stunning.

People in Chicago actually do stuff. I don't just mean shopping and restaurants, either. We saw thousands of people out and about on the city streets, in the parks, at the playgrounds, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, rollerblading, jogging, running, socializing, playing volleyball, playing soccer, playing baseball & softball, swimming & boating in Lake Michigan, and all around just being active. Let me reiterate my point: there were THOUSANDS of people OUTDOORS, being active on a MONDAY NIGHT.

I have no regrets for having picked on a certain ginger-haired Orme student from Chicago for as long or as much as we did, but after having spent only half an hour driving through the Windy City, I will concede that I now have a small understanding of why Chicagoans feel as passionately as they do about their hometown.

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26 June 2010

Cleveland wrapup - we've been busy!

In the time we've been in Cleveland (since Monday), we've been able to see a lot of my family, including all three of my grandparents. My sister, mother, and wife were able to help my grandfather sort through my grandmother's personal items and I don't think there were any badly hurt feelings as a result. I got to see both of my uncles in the same place for the first time in a while and a number of people got to see Porter for the first time. We've worked out our route, then completely reworked it (I'll possibly post that later). We've had the car repaired. We've seen one of my best friends and given him several baby items and made arrangements to see my two other best friends tonight and Monday. We've finally gotten the bill for our move and have started paying that off. We've tried to catch up on sleep and let the kids have some semblance of a normal schedule (although we've really failed at the latter - poor Seren is desperate for regular naps and time to run around like a kid her age needs to do). We've confirmed that we can keep Verizon service through Canada and that it'll cost the same as our current plan. We've even gotten new insurance cards for our car.

Looking ahead, we'll be seeing some old family friends tomorrow and doing a lot of packing. Monday, we hit the road, with a stop planned in Albion, Michigan to get lunch with one of my best friends, see a professor I've been missing a lot, get some dishes, and enjoy a barbecue chicken pizza and some Oberon! After that, we're going to head for the Chicago area for our first night back on the road. Unfortunately, we'll be missing out on the stop we hoped to make in Churubusco, Indiana to see some of JoElle's family. We had to cut time out of our trip, and the Michigan trip only made the cut because of the dishes (much as I love Oberon, 'Relli's pizza, Kyle, and JimBall). Expect more frequent updates during the next week and a half!

22 June 2010

doing preliminary planning for our Cleveland to Alaska leg

It looks like we'll be spending 7 full days on the road. We'll swing through lower Michigan and Churubusco, Indiana in order to see a few important people there, then everything else will be straightforward and without detours.

Day One: Cleveland to Chicago, 8.5 hours of driving
Day Two: Chicago to St. Cloud MN, 8.5 hours of driving
Day Three: St. Cloud MN to Brandon, MB, CANADA, 8.75 hours of driving
Day Four: Brandon MB to Saskatoon SK, 7.5 hours of driving
Day Five: Saskatoon SK to Grande Prairie AB, 12.5 hours of driving (OUCH)
Day Six: Grande Prairie AB to Fort Nelson BC, 7.5 hours of driving
Day Seven: Fort Nelson BC to Whitehorse YT, 13 hours of driving (OUCH)
Day Eight: Whitehorse YT to Skagway AK, 2.75 hours of driving/18.5 hours of ferry to Sitka!

This route was chosen to put us in big cities for the night whenever possible so that we'd have access to resources and less expensive hotels. It's a lot harder than the route that brought us to Cleveland, so we're going to have to rest up a lot and be very prepared. It'll be a huge adventure for all of us, and I can say that I'll be very glad to be doing this headed west, picking up a few 25-hour days that way!

21 June 2010

last day on the road (headed east, that is)

Yesterday we made a somewhat unscheduled stop in Joplin, MO to see my second family, the Kirbys. We only stopped for a little over an hour for lunch, but it was definitely time well spent. We had about 15 years of catching up to do, but Mike & Edythe seem to be getting along just fine and Shauna has a brood of her own. I was hit with a few surprise events (deaths, retirement, and a few other things), but somehow even after all this time, it felt like we were to able to pick up where we left off. It felt like home. The fact that yesterday was Father's Day only made it that much better. So if there are any Kirbys out there reading this post, thanks for making me one of your own. I love you guys.

On a much less sentimental note, today will be our last day on the road before we reach Cleveland. The animals are doing well and have been great on the road so far, but the kids are both a little frayed around the edges. Sleep schedules have been thrown out of whack and diet requirements are never easy to maintain on the road. Add to that a round of summer colds for the whole family and you get four people who just want a soft bed to call their own for a few days. Today will be about another 8 hours in the car before about a week of endless running around to see as many people as we can before packing the car up again and heading west.

20 June 2010

clarification is apparently necessary

We've had a number of people asking us why we're headed east to go north. This is a reasonable question, as we have not yet talked about this on the blog. My family lives in Cleveland and we had a trip planned to see them this summer before the job offer came through in Sitka. After doing some really deep soul-searching and budget examination, we made the decision to cut our trip to Cleveland down from six weeks to about one in order to take care of some of the more important things we were going to do during our visit. Among those things are spending time with my three remaining grandparents, all of whom are aging and two of whom haven't seen either of our kids in a while. The effort and expense of driving 2000 extra miles will take their toll, but we felt that this was important to do. We're also going to have a chance to see some of JoElle's family that we haven't seen in several years and to visit with some of my best friends (and give some baby stuff to one of them who's expecting his first in October!).

In other news, day two of the trip went well, but Tulsa is miserable at 84% humidity. I think I sweated out five excess pounds just doing the stairs twice at our hotel. Today's agenda: visiting JoElle's godparents near Joplin, MO and heading into southern Illinois, possibly getting as far as Indianapolis.

19 June 2010


Stephen and I have talked often of how/where I would find even part time work once we get to Sitka. With so much else to worry about with the move, we put the concern for my employment on the back burner with a little bit of hope reserved on the side for picking something up once we got settled in. We did some light research here and there just so we would have some idea where to start. One of the more promising places we found was a chain of grocery stores (4 total in Sitka) that also have pharmacies, video rental, and other amenities on site. The largest store in the chain, Seamart, is only a couple of blocks from the house we've rented. At some point a few weeks ago, I emailed a resume to the HR department that handles all of the stores. A few days later, I recieved a very informal reply which told me that my resume would be sent to the stores and I would be contacted by a manager soon to discuss open positions. Today (just now, in fact) I answered a phone call from the hiring person at Seamart with not one, but two part time possibilities that will be available to me once we get in. My instructions are to go into the store as soon as we get to Sitka so my employment can be discussed further.

Two things stand out to me about this right now:
1. I am amazed that I have had a callback on the only job I have applied for since moving to Orme, and only casually pursued at that.
2. This kind of thing seems to be the trend with all of our interactions with the people of Sitka.

Observation: If everyone in Sitka is as friendly and willing to help as everyone we've talked to so far, we will do just fine.

18 June 2010

first day: done

Some quick pictures from the drive. We're in Moriarty, NM for the night, thinking of The Bean constantly!

The poor, poor car.

Why yes, that is a high chair on top of that car.

We're crashed in a Super 8, looking forward to another 8-10 hours on the road tomorrow.

finally on the road

It feels kind of surreal leaving Orme right now. Aside from the car being far more cramped than we are used to, it feels like just another one of our biannual drives to Cleveland. Everyone is as comfortable as we can be, though, and we should arrive for the night somewhere in New Mexico. For those who are keeping track, we had 78780 miles on the Pathfinder when we set off today.

almost on the road!

We just spent the night in sleeping bags on the floor. Not as bad as it could have been, but I know two people who definitely aren't 14 any more. We got the carpets vacuumed last night and have to mop the tile and scrub a few counters this morning before we have the head of maintenance come over and look things over. Once he's done, we head to the business office to try to get our housing deposit back. Once THAT is done, we hit the road!

Our plan is to go about 200 miles and stop for lunch in Holbrook with our friend Roger at Romo's (disregard that negative review - I've never seen service that bad, although it's rarely perfect) for my last fried shredded beef tacos for a long while. Once that's over, we're getting back on the road to try to make it to eastern New Mexico for the night. Our goal is to make it to Tucumcari, where I'll do my best not to talk like John Wayne all night.

17 June 2010

observation: moving sucks, even with professional help

The packers are here, putting all of our belongings into boxes and brown paper wrapping at a remarkable rate, leaving us with surprisingly little to do. Despite that, I still hate moving.

On the agenda this afternoon: watching 95% of our worldly possessions get loaded onto a truck, then cleaning the house like crazy with a brief interlude for dinner with Jeremiah (who is a hero for understanding the need for a quiet dinner cooked by someone else at this point in the move).

16 June 2010

a quick note of thanks

Those who've been reading this blog for more than the past day will immediately notice a drastically different look to it. The main reason for that is the fact that we received an exceptionally awesome gift in the mail today from our favorite webcomic-creating toymaker, Chris Yates! He knew that we were heading to Alaska and we've been cultivating a friendship with him for a while now, helping him land a gig at The Orme School's annual Fine Arts Festival and purchasing many of his Baffler!s and other fun toys. Apparently, when you're friends with Chris and undertake fun new adventures, he sends you awesome puzzles of the places you're going! Our new header image is a picture of the puzzle that we got in the mail, Baffler #1051 ("AK").

Moral of the story: go buy stuff from Chris, because he's an amazing guy and his puzzles (and other toys) are exceptional.

13 June 2010

sometimes it's good to just be around the people you care about

I wanted to come straight home and write this post tonight because I wanted whatever remnants of this day to find their way into what you are now reading. Today was a dreadfully long day for all four of us and, at the same time, it was one of the best days I've had in a very long time.

We started out this afternoon at my sister's house for my niece's birthday party. It was nothing fancy, just a backyard barbecue and a whole lot of family. I've never been hugely motivated to go to family functions, but I was definitely reminded today of how important it is to see everyone whenever you can.

Our next venue was all the way on the other side of the Valley, at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale, AZ. This was where we held our farewell party for those who could be there to see us off. I have to recognize those who shared this day with us: Dad & Gail, Jimmy & Claire, Kristin & Dave, Jaime & Dave, Veronika & Viktor, Gordon, Glory & Jack, Doug, Julie & Todd, Heather & Tim, Roger & Becky, Amber, Don & Sarah, and ALL of their children who spent the evening making Seren feel special. I wish I had the words to express to you just how much tonight has meant to me, that my heart is somewhere between breaking from the loss I already feel from knowing that it will be some time before I see any of you again and bursting with the love and support I received from each and every one of you. My only regret is that we did not have more opportunity to see everyone more frequently before this enormous change came into our lives.

The most difficult part of today is knowing that we do not have any more opportunities to visit with any of you who did not make it out tonight. We wish there was more time, but we just can't manage another trip down to the Valley. The movers will arrive on Thursday and we will be on the road Friday morning.

But all is not sad. You will be able to follow our adventures here and continue talking to us by phone or Internet. We hope you will do these things and leave your comments on this blog so we can better share this Alaskan Adventure with you. This is not goodbye, only a heartfelt farewell until we see you next.

10 June 2010

getting there...

So far, we have managed to find other homes for the following items:
  • living room couch set (single seat, recliner, angle couch, loveseat/hide-a-bed)
  • self-lifting recliner
  • double stroller
  • bike trailer
  • Wurlitzer Electronic Piano (I'll miss the sound of this one, but it's just enormous)
  • child slide
  • hammock (that one hurts)
  • brass lamps
  • patio set
  • a child-size school desk (elementary school style, with the lifting top)
  • a very good charcoal grill
  • a swively rolly computer chair
  • a five shelf bookshelf
  • pre-lit Christmas tree (only used once)
  • a vintage hand-made wooden high chair
We're even getting paid for a few of those items!

I took down the swing in Seren's room and broke down our dining room table, so we'll be eating off of a folding table for the next week.

We view laundry and dishes as things to try to keep up on as much as possible, but there'll be a cleaning blitz on those items in the last day or so.

There are still a few things that we need to get rid of. In particular, if you're interested in
  • a corner computer desk (warning: it's moved once before and won't take a lot of jostling)
  • an old school office desk (solid wood, with nine drawers)
  • a nice wooden coffee table
let us know! We won't pay to ship any of this stuff, but we are very willing to discuss price (free is not out of the question).

We have booked the movers and we have booked the ferry from Skagway to Sitka*.

We've set up our going-away party (see Jo's previous post) and we've notified everyone of our travel plans.

The task ahead of us is still insane and monumental in scope, but it's not as bad as it could be, nor as bad as it was!

*If you're curious about visiting Alaska at all and are considering a cruise, I recommend checking out the Alaska Marine Highway System as a possible option. We're traveling on a boat that has two dining options (cafeteria and Alaska-formal restaurant, and yes, Alaska-formal is tolerant of athletic shoes and jeans), we've booked ourselves a four-berth cabin for the night, and we're taking our car on board. For the 18 hours we'll be traveling this way, we get a window to watch all of what we're passing, we'll have a private bathroom, and it's for under $500. I know that's not amazingly cheap, but a significant chunk of that is the car. We'll be stopping for an hour and a half in Haines and for four hours in Juneau, giving a decent amount of time for other dining options, basic shopping, and possibly a bit of sight-seeing before we head to our new home.

things i've learned or observed recently

In no particular order...

 1. Moving sucks
 2. Moving is made only a little less sucky by paying someone else to pack for you
 3. People will often surprise you
 4. Family members are not often among the people referred to in item 3
 5. Alaska is really, REALLY big
 6. Alaska is really, REALLY far away
 7. Kids are made of rubber
 8. No matter how minimalist you try to be with your possessions, you still end up with more than you need
 9. Family is stronger than distance and sometimes they just need to be reminded of that fact
10. It's only money
11. Alaskans are more friendly/helpful than the average American
12. There will ALWAYS be unexpected expenses (refer to item 10)

08 June 2010

Just want to point this out...

Man, moving is expensive! It's enough of a hassle to move anywhere at any time (it cost us a few hundred dollars in gas and Penske rental* to make it only 200 miles for our last move), but going almost 3000 miles away (with a 2000-mile detour!) is no joke. Aside from the expense, we're left doing all of our apartment-hunting by phone and email, I'm setting up a music program via email, and we're trying to coordinate with a moving company that has two offices in Arizona, a delivery and storage facility in Sitka, and the person responsible for our move is in Anchorage! This experience makes me really glad that I was rejected for the job in Christchurch, NZ.

*I don't endorse many companies, but Penske is one that I've never had reason to fault. If Penske is available where you are or where you are going, don't even look at U-Haul.

07 June 2010

saying goodbye

We really want to be able to say goodbye to as many of you as possible, but there isn't much time left. We're having one last hurrah in Scottsdale for friends and family this Sunday, so if you haven't received an invitation contact us for details. (We're sorry if you are one of the few who we may not have already reached. You're not being snubbed, I promise!) Otherwise, we expect to be on the road before June 20, 2010, so check here for updates!

raison d'ĂȘtre

This blog will exist for the sole purpose of documenting our adventures Up North. Since JoElle has never lived outside of Arizona for more than 6 weeks at a time and I've never been to Alaska, this entire excursion to the 49th state will be new to us both. In the coming weeks, expect us to begin uploading stories about our move (including cross-country treks of both the US and Canada!) and pictures that we think capture the spirit of what we (and, of course, our kids) are up to.

If you like what you read, please feel free to leave comments. If you want to pass it on, we appreciate link sharing, but don't want anyone copying our text or images without permission.