“How will Santa find us if we’re not at home for Christmas?” 11 year-old Bruce asked as we planned our Alaska vacation. (He’s the last one out of 15 kids to still believe in the big fat man with the red and white suit.) We had to take vacation during a time that we could be away from work, and Christmas break seemed like a good time that it would work out. “I’m sure the elf in our house will see and hear us getting ready and will let Santa know our plans,” Mom told him. This explanation seemed to satisfy him. We have an elf that visits us for a couple of weeks during December, then he disappears back to the north pole a few days before Christmas.

With plans made, we enjoyed an 8 hour ride to Chicago then stayed the night at a plush hotel before our 6 hour Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage.

Soon after landing, we all skated and played hockey on an outdoor rink. This was the first time on skates in 20 years for this old man and I had a ball until I got tired and I couldn’t skate anymore.

BoysLakerTrout

These Lake Trout almost immediately froze in the 10 below cold. What fun, though, to catch these on small jigging poles!

The next day was spent with 6 of my 10 boys traveling 3.5 hours north to cold Lake Louise. With temps as low as 16 degrees below zero, we traveled along winding, mountainous roads, some with big frost heaves.

“Hang on, here comes a bump,” says Russ, as we go over yet another frost heave.

We fished for several hours in nice, heated shelters and the boys caught their biggest fishes ever, through the ice. For a short video, see: https://youtu.be/zAZLgQnHQmQ

The next day was spent skating again and getting ready for a Christmas party where, the next day, we had a houseful of 47 friends and family. Eat, visit, eat, laugh and eat some more… and drink coffee.

Hatcher Pass

At Hatchers Pass, north of Wassilla. We lost our sun-light early.

Saturday morning, us adults were trying to get ready for a 2 hour ride up to Hatcher’s Pass for snowboarding and snowmobiling. It was already 9 am, still pitch black outside and Russ said “You kids better get moving so we can get there in time to play and take advantage of the daylight.” He knew we had a fairly long ride, then only a few hours of Alaska winter daylight to play.

That evening, back in Anchorage, grandma treated the gang to the Golden Corral – all you can eat smorgasbord, including desserts. “This is my 5th dessert,” Bruce smiles, when he comes back with another plate. Most of us left there overly stuffed.

Here’s some more sampling of conversation during and after the vacation:

“That was the best chili I ever had!” Calvin, after a meal of homemade chili in Homer.

“I had a window seat on the plane!” and later, after fishing, “That was my biggest fish ever!” Bruce.

“The snow and Gordon’s new machine were awesome!” Snowmobiling enthusiast, Stanley, after spending the day at Turnagain Arm with his older brothers.

“The scenery is unbelievable here!” Joyce after traveling to Soldotna and Homer.

“I looked up, and there was a great big moose, just 25 feet away and looking right at me!” Andy.

“The wind was clocked at over 90 mph last night over in the next valley,” Russ said after the insulation got blown off our bedroom window at 6 am. His house is going to be really nice after he is through with it, but is currently a little drafty in a few places.

“I want to go out and jump up in the wind, and let it blow me!” Andy.

“You Alaskans are in much better shape than us flat-landers. I can’t even keep up with a pregnant daughter-in-law climbing these mountains!” Me, to Katrina.

“Grampa, I colored this one for you to put on your freezer at home, so don’t get it wrinkled.” Grandson Avery.

“One of the best parts was the kids had no electronic games or ipads for the entire time in Alaska!” Mom, after we got home.

“The family bonding was the greatest,” I am thinking to myself as I sit here and type, “with our kids, daughters-in-laws, grandkids and friends. We’ll have to do this sort of thing more often, before all the kids are grown.”

FamilyAtTide Rock

We got a family picture here as the tide was coming in. It comes up all the way to where Andy is sitting (he’s the highest on the rock)

Looking back and reflecting on it, I know how beneficial it was for everyone. Do you realize the tremendous benefits of spending time away on a vacation with your family? Everyone gets away from the daily stresses to relax and bond. You get lots of quality time – visiting, laughing, playing games, fishing side by side and sharing the experiences. Just plain fun and making memories that will last forever.

To Bruce’s relief, Santa found us and filled our stockings in Alaska, and still visited our house in Michigan. He left the larger presents at our house to open when we got home.

kidsUndrTree

Kids posed for a picture on a hike up a mountain near Russ’s house.

kidsNMountain

A break on the ride down to Homer.

Back at home, Bruce looked for the elf and noticed he was gone. “He must have left just after we left for our trip, because he was still here on the morning that we left,” he said. I just smiled and nodded my head.

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