Like many transplants to Alaska, we don't have family nearby who can join us for the holidays. Thus, we spend a lot of time with friends who have become family, sharing both food and good times during the most special of occasions.
It's become our own tradition, a significant portion of which revolves around the outdoors.
Thanksgiving, with an obvious focus on food, often leaves families feeling overstuffed and underactive, which is why we've instituted several strategies for the holiday and the long weekend that follows.
I am also a proponent of the notion that Black Friday is black indeed if you spend time standing in lines for department store sales in favor of experiencing the Alaska outdoors with the kids. In fact, there's an entire campaign based on "opting outside" during Thanksgiving weekend."
Need a few ideas? Here are fun ways to get the crew outdoors after noshing on that enormous, carb-laden turkey dinner. Some activities require a bit of planning, but most are easy, simple and, best of all, cheap.
Take a hike
Alaska's public lands are ready for hikers (and on some trails, skiers). From a free family walk through Anchorage's Campbell Tract the day after Thanksgiving from 10 to 11 a.m. to independent strolls around Alaska State Parks trails, hikes are super calorie-burners and attitude adjusters.
If you need more motivation to take a hike, Alaska State Parks will waive parking fees on Black Friday.
(By the way, 2018 state parks passes are now on sale at the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in downtown Anchorage or online.
Feed the birds
The Eagle River Nature Center is hosting its annual Thanksgiving for the Birds event from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, with special guests from the Bird Treatment and Learning Center.
Have any raw turkey necks or leftover raw cranberries? Bring them as a special treat for the birds.
Make sure you allow time to walk or ski the center's wonderful trails as well for a full day of outdoor exploration, and remember the $5 parking fee unless you are a member.
Snap a family photo
Bundle up (matching clothing is entirely optional) and head to your favorite park, trail or even the front yard with a camera-savvy friend or professional photographer. Set the stage with your favorite gear, the family dog or whatever shows off your crew's unique identity.
Make it fun with cut-out letters from a craft store that spell your family name or a holiday greeting. Toss snowballs or sled down a hill, and remember to be you, rosy cheeks, clunky boots and all.
Find a Christmas tree
With a little extra love, your fresh-cut Christmas tree can last through the holiday season.
The rules are strict when it comes to cutting your own tree on federal or state land, so read carefully before you head out.
Stringing lights on the trees in your yard is a wonderful way to bring a bit of cheer to any neighborhood and make the dark Alaska days much brighter.
And whether or not you put up a tree, make plans to attend the Anchorage Downtown Partnership's annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony at Town Square on Friday from 4:15 to 7:30 p.m. Lots of music, free cookies and hot cocoa, and an appearance by Santa and his reindeer will cap the event. But get there early — it's bound to be crowded.
No, I'm not kidding. One of my teenage son's favorite snowy-weather activities is playing football or soccer at our local park.
Expecting a crowd at your house? Tell everyone to bring warm clothing and pick teams with a balance of adults and kids for a rousing hour or so of hilarious exercise. Your kids will love it.
Gaze at the stars
What better way to welcome the most wonderful of seasons than looking at the heavens?
Try to get away from artificial light, dress warmly and pack a thermos of hot tea or cocoa.
Check out the StarChart app for free on GooglePlay or iTunes; it works on both Apple and Android systems and greatly aids in identifying the constellations.
See the lights
The Zoo Lights, that is. The popular light show at The Alaska Zoo begins Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. and tickets are on sale now.
Bring snacks, warm drinks, a sled and lots of hand warmers and make an evening excursion out of it. Going at 5 p.m. on a weekday is a good bet if you can't make it over the weekend.
Find out more or purchase tickets at the zoo's website.
Get away from it all
While many of Alaska's public use cabins are already full for the holiday weekend (and beyond), there may still be options for those willing to make last-minute arrangements.
Winter camping with the help of a cozy cabin is so much fun, and it's a great way to unplug from the holiday bustle. Visit the new and greatly improved reservation page on the Alaska Department of Natural Resources/Division of Parks and Recreation website for a complete listing of cabins and their availability.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com.