Month: January 2017

The Peek-a-Blues

Of the many questions I’ve gotten about living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, one of the top questions/statements is:

“How do you handle the weather? It must be so gloomy and dark. I could never live there.”

And honestly, as many times as I cheerily answered with “I’m sure it will be great!” and “Yea, but we have the Northern Lights!” and other exclamation filled rebuttals, I really had no idea what I was getting into. My true answers would have been:

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the weather.

“I think it is.”

and

“I hope I can.”

Growing up, my Mom had these bright lights installed in her bedroom. She would climb on top of her bed, (she had one of those amazingly comfortable yet still Princess in the Pea style tall, big beds that my girlfriends and I would always sneak into and cozy up in) close her eyes and turn on the lights.

Boom!

They would blast her with light meant to emulate the rays of the sun.

In California, Winter isn’t harsh in the sense of blistering cold and snowstorms and icy sidewalks. It’s harsh though in a more subtle way. We often were stranded without power for days on end during storm season and we rarely saw the sun until the storm passed through. Sometimes it would be a month before I’d see that ‘ol vitamin D provider and simply seeing that shine would remind me how much I had missed it. And so, when the storms hit and the skies clouded up and stayed grey for weeks on end, my Mama found her relief in her sunbed of sorts.

It was her happy place.

Me on the other hand, I never did the lights. I’m one of those, yes there’s a beautiful bathtub and I’m stressed to no end and someone is offering to fill it for me and still…no. No thank you. I’ll be just fine over here, just barely bearing the weight of my little world.

Well, at least I used to be like that. Now, I’m more open to relaxation and even a little more open to help from others and to helping myself.

And so, as we approached our departure date for my first Winter in Alaska and these statements (“I could never handle the dark”) kept piling on and on until I felt I was buried in a ball pit like a kid at Chuck E Cheese and I started to panic.

What if it was the most depressing place I’d ever been? What if I never saw the sun? What if I completely abandoned a schedule and ran around like a rabid animal, unaware of the day or time or place I found myself in?

Enter: La Mama.

She had the perfect solution for my fretting self: the sunlamps.

However, despite my efforts to more readily accept help, I still couldn’t budge in this arena.

I never used the lights anyways.

“Right, because you would never accept help or lay down long enough to feel their effects.”

Nonsense. Utter hullabaloo. I could do this by myself.

And so, I refused to buy the lights myself or to let my mother buy me the lights, despite her many crafty attempts to do so.

“Oh, how weird, we just happened to stop in this store together and they carry those sunlights you were talking about, Julia!”

My Mama’s never been very swift on the lies, a trait that makes us both laugh a lot and one which most definitely trickled down to me.

But no, I couldn’t be fooled. I was heading into the dark without so much as a headlamp (thankfully, the sweet guys at SBS gifted me one). I could do this on my own.

But you see, here’s the thing about the sun in Alaska, huddle closer now: she is her own. She does what she wants and because of that, she seems like that elusive person you always see at that one bookstore that feels so mysterious and obviously way cooler than you are and that you one day ask on a date and they end up to simply be a human being, just like you.

Weird, huh?

Of course, I only know that now in retrospect. Last Winter I spent my days sun chasing and when she was nowhere to be found, I felt it (or so I thought). She would peek-out for a moment and then hide away the rest of the day and I would consider her to be elusive and take it as a personal affront and then I would feel it: The Peek-a-Blues.

 

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Up for a moment, only to be engulfed by that cloud beneath minutes later

 

I did everything I was supposed to do in such conditions: I got “out”  (went for a walk or a ski or a something to be out in nature and to hopefully catch a few rays) everyday. I made sure to take my vitamins daily (a feat I’ve never been able to conquer in my life) and was even more utterly diligent with my Vitamin D (they were gummy chewables, kind of the perfect kid-like complement to my stoic attempt at adulthood). But still, at times I felt a little blue.

And so, my lifelines were my sunshine substitutes. Along with my get “out” and vitamin regiment I talked to my girlfriends and my mother almost daily. Some days I had to have a little cry (or a big one) and sometimes we only seemed to laugh. I kept busy, preserving food, revisiting old exercise routines I hadn’t had time for in years and even did my best to sit still long enough to pass it off as meditation.

 

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Yoga Jones. Put the mat down, turn away for a moment, return to dog on mat (not willing to budge).

 

I was so zen.

In reality, I was alone. A lot.

 

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Well, I did have Miss Lou. That helped a lot.

It’s not that The Chief wasn’t present in his heart, it’s that he was absent in body. He worked construction on the restaurant I came to work in during the Summer for almost the entire duration of Winter and throughout its near entirety he was very sick. In the attempt to get the restaurant open they worked almost every day. Twenty below? Bring extra coffee. We are doing this. I was both thoroughly impressed by them and thoroughly depressed by my own seemingly smaller achievements. Every morning I would kiss The Chief goodbye and as the door closed behind him, the little panic would start. The Peek-a-Blues.

What to do?

What to do?

The simple thing about Alaska, or at least living in the middle of nowhere in Alaska is that she answers this howling call tenfold with demands.

Chop some wood. Build a fire. Defrost the generator. Wash the dishes. Start dinner. Do some laundry. Organize the Bachelor Pad into Our House. Organize the recycling. Mend your clothes.

There was a never-ending laundry list (upon which laundry always had a place) of things to do and things that needed to be done but all of it seemed so small. I wanted to do more than the inside and light outside chores. I wanted to be the one who brought down a tree by myself and presented it to The Chief proudly like a cat brings its owner a mouse. I wanted to build shelves while he was away and see the surprise on his face when he came home. There was so much I didn’t know how to do and what I did know felt unimportant.

On some days, that feeling didn’t bother me, but on the third day of overcast, not snowing and not doing anything other than inciting a dismal feeling in me, on those days, it got to me.

And I would think of the lights.

Maybe I had been too stubborn. Maybe I needed them after all. And so I would call on my lights: my Mama and my girlfriends and they would somehow part the dismal sky.

This year I still can’t take a tree down by myself. I still don’t know how to build shelves. When the snowmachine has been sitting at 30 below plus temperatures for a week I still have a very hard/potentially unsuccessful time starting it. I still can’t do what The Chief can do out here but you know what? I can do more than I could last year.

No longer is chopping wood an expletive-fest for me, instead I see what The Chief was talking about when he said you get lost in the motion. Last year it was all sweat and swearing when I just couldn’t get a log to budge. Now I look at the weather and pick my logs accordingly and if I still can’t get through? I leave it for a colder day when wood snaps apart like a Kit-Kat and the axe moves through it like soft butter. No longer is driving the snowmachine as difficult. I know how to move my body to better move the machine, I’ve found my riding stance (a very strange sidesaddle-esque approach that my body somehow came up with and which fits me like a glove), even if it is a little odd and I’ve crossed the creeks I rode solely across as a passenger last year.

And you know what? I’ve been slacking. We’ve been here a month and I’ve only recently started taking a Multi-Vitamin. I consistently forget the Vitamin D and although I get outside almost every day, I’m not so stringent as I was before. I listen to my body (most of the time).

Oh, and another You Know What? It’s been a much greyer Winter this year.

And the last You Know What? It’s been blue skies and sunshine in my head. Well, more of the time at least, especially despite the dismal array of cloudy days.

 

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Looks like a black and white photo. Isn’t. Dreary skies in a beautiful land.

 

When I lived in Italy (a land that was and will always be one of my favorite places on Earth) and I ate fresh pasta and drank local wine and consumed gelato every day and still didn’t gain a pound and where I was surrounded by some of the best art the world has produced and entrenched in a language and a lifestyle that encourages a rich life and love of it…still, I felt blue.

The sun shone almost every day I was there.

And so last year, despite all the happiness of brand spankin’ new love and a new lease on life and an awaiting adventure, still I felt a little blue. And, forgetting my time in Italy, I worried it was the sun.

It’s not so much about where you are but where you’re at and it’s not just whether the sun is where you are but if sun is within to follow where you go.

Last year I was overwhelmed by the new-ness. I hardly knew anyone that was here, I knew little about the life I was embarking upon and had a stiff learning curve just to stay afloat but I looked outward for the reason why.

The sun, or lack thereof. That was it. It had to be.

It wasn’t. And it still isn’t. Don’t get me wrong. These dreary days we’ve had of late with sun-less skies of grey can be daunting or they can be an invitation: overcast might mean warmer temperatures which means more time outside before turning into a popsicle. Or, a dreary day could just be the perfect excuse you need for a movie day and some down time. Or, perhaps, it could be a day to feel a little blue, if that’s what you need to do.

I’m not saying lack of sun is a good thing. Some people are gravely affected by its shyness. I saw how happy it made my Mama to lie in that bed with the rays surrounding her and I saw later how it helped her find her inner sunshine in the days of grey. I’ve felt myself open like a bloom to the rays, not knowing I had been bundled into a bud.

But the sun isn’t the only thing to decipher how we feel.

At the time I wrote this, late last week, I had just completed a week of work that made me feel successful, I had been to a good friend’s birthday party and seen people I loved and I had also hit my head hard enough to throw my neck out (from falling down the Ramp of Doom to hitting my head to missing stairs down from our loft, I seem to be clumsy. Who knew?) I wrote from the comfy coziness of home. I was happy, in a way, to have an excuse to do nothing and sure enough, it was grey, grey, grey outside. I felt at peace as I have most of this Winter which is in stark contrast to the ups and downs of last year.

Fast forward to yesterday, a showing of sunshine we hadn’t seen in weeks and there I was, still grounded by pain. Day 3 on the couch. This day at least I could get out of bed without it taking 15 minutes of propping myself up and alligator rolling my way out so as not to use my neck. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t really feel that sunshine in my heart. And I know it’s there. I yearned for my independence that my body could no longer provide. I couldn’t haul water or chop wood or drive or ski and walking was excruciating. I was the anti-independent Level I (the Levels go up to the umpteenth but still, I’m progressing) I’ve grown accustomed to being. There were projects I wanted to do and my second attempt of an online Pilates challenge laughed in my face. I was three days from finally completing it (again, it was the second time I’m attempted it now). I needed to see a girlfriend and laugh it off or just get outside of the tiny realm of reality I had been encased in but my body couldn’t take me there. I felt desperately restless.

 

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Oh, Alaska. She must have heard me typing last week and decided to send me a lesson. And it was a good lesson. Sun or no sun, more lessons learned versus less, I am not immune to the Peak-a-Blues. I was a teary eyed mess of pent-up energy (I’m someone who needs at least an hour and preferably multiple hours outside in order to spend the rest inside). Thankfully, The Chief and I were eventually able to giggle a bit at my sobby display and extra thankfully, a friend stopped by and infused my ouch routine with something new. Still I felt the Peek-a-Blues lingering in the form of a restless Poor Me but they were softening.

They always say in Alaska “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes” because something is always changing. Clouds come in and the sun disappears and it starts to snow and the temperature goes from 30 below to 30 above in 24 hours. It’s a whirlwind sometimes and so, one has to keep hold of their sunshine and lasso it back when it tries to go.

“I could never live there” still resonates in my head and I’m so glad I pushed through to see if I could. And I can. There are ups and downs just like anywhere. Happiness on the cloudiest of days and blues on the sunniest. The joy of slowing down and the need to speed up. A lust for life and a “blah” for life. It can happen anywhere and it happens everywhere.

I’m thinking this might just be what they call Life.

Be you here or be you there, the sunshine you seek might be within.

Clearly, I’m still learning how to harness it (and occasionally getting ahead of myself at which point Alaska sends me such sweet reminders) but I can say that every year it keeps getting better and I guess that’s all we can really hope for.

That and maybe a few of those lights wouldn’t hurt either, huh Mom?

 

With love and (sometimes) sunshine,

 

From Alaska.

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If You Give This Girl a Snack…

 

…she’s still going to want a meal to go with it.

Remember that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? My grandmother used to read it to me when I was a child and I remember feeling quite the kinship with that little mouse. He had his priorities straight. If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. And why shouldn’t he? The simple harmony of that age-old combo makes it almost insulting not to. He was a little mouse with big food priorities and I identified with that.

As a kid, the first thing I would ask when sitting down to the dinner table, seeing my portion and assessing its size in comparison to the adults was: “Is there more?”

Little has changed. And so, as perhaps you could already tell, I am a lady who loves to eat. Hunger strikes often and I jump to action. From pancakes to pupusas, I’m a craver of all things edible and when it comes to hunger, few things can top that inner beast. She wins over most other necessities. And that’s my normal hunger level.

Winter hunger on the other hand is a whole new level.

Let the beast be unleashed.

 

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My skiing companion stopping for a frozen bunny leg snack.

 

You see, the thing is, I don’t let much stand in my way when it comes to eating. You think the kitchen is bare with only potatoes, beef and cabbage? I’ll find a way to make a Shepard’s pie with coleslaw to accompany it (we wouldn’t want the pie to get lonely now, would we?). I’ll do my best to make something out of nothing and given a plethora of materials, I might just go ahead and make a feast. Once, my brother and I, well adept in the art of imagining something from random availability, made an egg drop soup from scratch with the three things we had in our house. It was ridiculous and also delicious. Another time, neither of us had the energy to follow through on our plans to go on a hike or whatnot. The obvious solution? We went to the store and bought everything under the sun to make a complete Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the middle of Summer.

So yes, needless to say, when hunger comes my way I open the door with a grand gesture and welcome the beast to the table.

Winter hunger is a whole different kind of beast. She comes on strong and sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Your whole body is propelling you towards satisfying your most basic needs. You need heat, shelter, water and food. Simply being outside burns calories, so if you’re working outside its magnified tenfold and working can be as simple as hauling water. But, despite how basic it is, in the Winter, there always seems to be a hang-up.

The other morning, I awoke starving. The beast was knocking. I hurried downstairs, determined to make swift time with my chores in order to get to the good stuff: steel-cut oats with peaches and cream on top. Boom! All I had to do was build a fire since the house was now 40 degrees due to the weather outside producing a chilly 30 below (yes, that’s 30 degrees under zero. I still shake my head and open my eyes really wide when looking at the thermometer showing such a sight. It just doesn’t seem possible, but alas…). Well, that was all I had planned on, at least. I carefully descended the stairs, each step getting me closer as I headed to the wood stove to create a roaring fire and then a bountiful breakfast.

I arrived to a big empty spot where the firewood should have been.

O.K. no biggie.

I put a jacket on over my magenta robe and headed into the frosty morning.

“Hiyah!” the cold said as it slapped me in the face. “Take that!” it said, insulted that I would dare to venture outside so poorly clothed. I hurried to the shed and arrived coughing. That kind of cold can literally take your breath away. You inhale too fast and (*enter scientific explanation here) voila! You choke on your own breath. Pretty rude if you asked me.

I continued along and crouched down next to the pile of chopped logs, gloveless, stacking the frozen pieces in my arm which was held in a stiff 90 degree angle to support the weight.

One log, two log, three log, four

five log, six log, seven log…floor (or ground, to be more precise).

The pile tumbled out as I sloppily placed the last log. My hands were freezing and I didn’t perform the motions with the care I needed to. I was being lazy and because of that, I had to start all over again. This time I was more methodical, stacking with care instead of with a rush despite my popsicle hands. At this point the cold was seeping in and my eyelashes were freezing. Blinking my eyes was a devil’s dare as each time I opened them they would do their best to remain together, top and bottom lashes in a frosty embrace. Finally, vision impaired by the lash love and arm stacked high with frozen logs (other hand placed firmly in my jacket pocket to try to warm off some of the burning cold) I headed towards the house and was faced, as I am daily, by the Ramp of Doom (you might remember her from last year).

Last year I was learning to ski and I fell. A lot. Sometimes, the bulk of my ski was simply getting back up.

This year, I’ve gotten better. The other day, I realized that I had fallen down our ramp more times than I had fallen on my skis. Isn’t that wonderful? And so I stood at the bottom of the stairs, log arm starting to fatigue, and leaned forward, hoping my bodily trajectory and some forward momentum would see my safely through the gauntlet.

At the very top, my foot slipped on the last board and I jolted forward (propelling myself far enough to miss the gap (of course there had to be a gap at the top of the ramp between the ramp and the landing) yet not so far as to overshoot the landing. It had been a close one but I had made it. I hurried inside, dropped and then organized the logs and finally, finally, got to building our fire.

The cold was seeping in.

 

 

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When your window trinkets turn into ice bridges it’s pretty darn cold.

 

One last problem: the ashes in the fireplace needed to be emptied. Thankfully, I hadn’t taken off my (still inadequate) outdoor gear yet and so I set to emptying the ashes. Ten minutes later the stove was clean and I was exactly the opposite. My face and hands looked the likes of a smudged orphan straight out of Oliver Twist. Ah, how refreshing this morning was coming to be. Good thing we have a shower to just jump into. Oh…wait. That’s a whole other hour-long endeavor that my belly was not agreeing to. It would be a dusty breakfast. Not wanting to miss the moment of a cool and clean stove, I decided to go the extra mile and clean the glass with a homemade orange peel cleaner I had recently concocted. What a difference.

I took the ashes out into the woods and tried to throw them as far away from me as possible.

That did not happen.

My arc was off and the ashes came back at me like a little mini tornado.

Success!(?)

Now, fully ashed-up from my head to my toes, I headed back up the ramp (without fall) and into the house. I was in need of some serious face washing and a new set of clothes but not before I took the chill off the house (what are you crazy? It was too cold to take any layers off at this point. The temperature inside was still almost 70 degrees warmer than outside but our house was slowly turning into a freezer. Inside it was 38 degrees and dropping by the minute). By the time the flames were devouring the fresh wood and I had washed and (quickly) changed, an hour had passed since my ravenous self had first looked forward to breakfast. What an adventure the day had already been just to whip up a bowl of oats.

The Hour Long Oats.

That seemed excessive.

Enter: The Five Hour Pizza.

You know when you have a craving for something? I do. It’s on my mind until it’s in my belly. So, when The Chief had a hankering for some homemade pizza the other night, I wanted to support his inclination. Let’s get this guy a pizza. I was already hungry at this point and so my efforts went towards making us a snack in order to tide us over for the highly anticipated pizza while The Chief worked away at the dough.

Pizza!

The Chief loves pizza like I love my pancakes. Translation: that’s a lot.

We knew we were in for a little wait since we were making pizza from scratch and so the snack came in handy to stave off hunger for the hour ahead of us until pizza time. The Chief finished the dough and let it set to rise while we snacked away. Before long, we realized that we would need the generator. The inverter could have handled the load of the oven with the rest of the operations in the house but unfortunately, the charge in the batteries was low and therefore, needed to be charged by the generator and…

the generator was outside.

And as it would be, the weather on this night, like the day of The Hour Long Oats, was quite cold though only in the negative 20’s. Basically swimsuit weather, right?

Needless to say, it was going to take a moment for the generator to heat up enough to do its thing.

I guess the dough would reallllly get a chance to rise now.

We brought in the generator and unscrewed its cover to reveal the mechanical underbelly in need of warming, propped it up on my Make Me Taller block of wood and put it next to the wood stove.

For the next two hours, The Chief prepped the pizza bits in patient excitement. The snacks were wearing off and I was already headed towards a different dinner plan. Anything that could happen soon sounded better to me at that point but when I saw the care with which The Chief was concocting the perfect tomato base and shredding his cheese combo and selecting toppings I couldn’t concede to a little simple hunger. I was in support of this mission. Pizza Night was back on track despite edging less toward fashionably late and progressing to rude in my book.

The hunger beast knocked a little louder.

Finally, the generator was warm. We took it outside to run it and of course, the gas tank was empty. We went to refuel it and eventually returned to fill the generator. A few expert pulls from The Chief and she was whirring away.

On the way back in we realized we had forgotten the pepperoni in the “cooler” outside (see: tote placed outside in the frozen wilderness that serves as one of our freezers. Watch out Kenmore, there’s a new cool in town). Shoot! Now we would have to wait for these to defrost too.

Thankfully, the fire had been raging in order to defrost the genie (generator) and within 20 minutes the pepps were looking peppy. The pizza had been assembled, the oven pre-heated. It was time to make some kitchen magic happen. Cravings satisfied in 3, 2, 1…

Lights out.

Just as the oven had come to temp and we were readying the pizza for bake-off, the genie died.

“Hmmm…that’s strange” we both thought aloud optimistically. “Should be fine” we both reassured.

The Chief headed out to assess. Within a few minutes it was whirring again, the kitchen light came back on and we waited as the oven again rose to temperature. A momentary set-back.

The oven rose right up and…

Again. Lights out.

“Bad gas?” The Chief and I thought again aloud simultaneously. It was a hopeful solution. This time, we wouldn’t turn on the eco-throttle (basically it saves energy and burns less gas). We would let the genie run full-bore to burn through whatever water had gotten into the gas. We would blow the bad gas out, fix the machine and cook a pizza in the meantime. All set.

The Chief headed out again, ramped the machine up and came back in hopeful. “That should do it”.

A minute or so later, it stopped again.

By now, we were three hours into the pizza. The snacks had definitely worn off. The genie was dead, again.

We decided to bring it inside again. Without a warm shed to work in (ours isn’t enclosed and doesn’t have room for a stove in it to keep warm while working), a lot of work ends up happening inside. Our house took on the smell of gasoline and oil instead of pizza as The Chief slowly removed each part, checking for ice in the lines or some other mishap. I looked on with fingers crossed. Finally, diagnosing all he could see, The Chief put it all back together again.

We would try one more time.

You guessed it. Our last attempt was to no avail, despite the oven kicking on and almost coming to temp, the genie again died before we could high-five and we were left again staring at a pile of dough who so wanted to grow up to be a pizza.

What would we tell this dough? Sorry, we just couldn’t figure it out?

No! This man loved pizza. Darned if we wouldn’t try (again).

And so, we decided that although the batteries were in fact low, they were not so low that solely running the oven off of the inverter would be detrimental. We switched over the power and turned on the inverter. The oven clicked on and again the heating process started. The dough looked on with hope in its eyes. Pizza time.

Nope.

Within minutes, the inverter, without explanation suddenly quit. Our brand new inverter (O.K. 6 month old inverter) suddenly shut off out of nowhere. This had happened before during the Summer. I had turned it on to put music on for The Chief’s arrival home after a long day at work and instead of returning to tunes, he returned to me with my hands in the air, staring at the equipment that had suddenly quit. We had sent it in and they couldn’t recreate the problem. It had simply worked for them. $60 later in shipping fees and with no real response other than “That’s weird” from the company (they are extremely helpful but simply could not tell us what had transpired) we had our working inverter back.

Had it struck again? We tried turning it off, holding down the power button, talking to it, doing a dance, everything. Nothing worked. The pizza dough looked on in dismay. Finally, after tinkering away, The Chief decided to call it quits. I started thinking of the fastest solution to our hunger that I could muster and just when I was ready to start executing said meal The Chief said: “Well, I guess I’ll go get the old inverter.”

What? We are still doing this? The look in his eyes told me that he would cook this pizza if he had to go to Anchorage and back to buy a new inverter. He was not giving up. I love this about him. I wouldn’t say I’m some sort of deserter but my dedication to the project paled in comparison to his. I buckled down and got my supportive pants on. Let’s do this.

The Chief went out to grab the old inverter and I went to find the tool bag we would need. We came back together and he went to work, disassembling the existing set-up for the new inverter and connecting the old inverter instead. Through the mess of black and red wires, The Chief held steady and after stripping the wires and reconnecting them and adjusting and rearranging and overall doing things I still have no idea how to do, the old inverter was in place. It was now 4 hours since we had started our pizza project and edging towards 10pm. My overly dramatic hunger beast threw her hand up and “woe is me”‘d me many times but now, I was in it. I couldn’t be swayed. It was Pizza Night.

Thankfully, the old inverter (trusty steed that she is, fingers crossed) set right to business. The oven kicked back on, the dough rose with a smile and thirty minutes later, in it went. The house, once filled with the smell of gasoline and oil shifted palates as the dough turned to crust and the cheese bubbled up.

Finally, finally, it was pizza time.

By the time we sat down to eat, it was 11pm. I was past hungry (the beast had given up on the prospect of food and had instead taken to my insides like a punching bag), ready for bed and exhausted from the in and outs and highs and lows of the evening. We had a non-working generator, a non-functional but new inverter, an old inverter being pushed to her limits and a battery bank that was near dead with no way to charge it (since the genie was caput).

But, we did have pizza.

Honestly, that dough could have turned into bubble wrap in the oven that night and I still would have eaten it. To have simply gone to sleep after that journey would have been a slap in the face to the battle we had been through. Pizza Night Combat. We had made it.

And it was delicious.

Never before did I think I could live a life where the things that I want aren’t immediately available. A recipe calls for capers? Run to the store and get them. Well, no sireebob. That’s not how it goes in these here woods. But when the hunger beast calls, especially with a special hankering, you answer. The outcome might be different from what you expected, capers might have to be olives borrowed from a neighbor, ice cream might have to be blended snow and cream but when it’s all said and done, the journey makes it taste just as good as the real thing.

Cheers to the feast and to feeding the beast…eventually.

With love,

 

From Alaska.

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Christmas at the Lake

 

Christmas at The Lake.

 

It just sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

 

Weeks before we arrived in Alaska, The Chief received a text message containing those four magical words: “Christmas at The Lake” and there it was, our Christmas plans were settled.

And by our Christmas plans I mean the whole town’s Christmas plans. Holidays and events around here aren’t invite only. As long as you know how to get there or can follow someone who does, you’re invited. There’s no hush-hush hullabaloo and I love that.

Two Summers ago (my first) on our drive in, the stranger who picked me up in Anchorage (and now is a dear girlfriend) told me she was getting married that Summer. We talked about the details and her dress that she was making from scratch(!) and the invitations she had made by hand and despite all these little clues, I still didn’t quite understand how it was all going to come together. How would they feed their guests without catering? Where would they rent the chairs and tables from? Who was invited?

Well, it turns out that the answer to all of those questions and what all those little hints were pointing to was: everyone.

Everyone would come together to make it happen and everyone was invited.

I was blown away by the inclusiveness of it all. Never before had I been around such an open wedding. It seemed foreign to me, but in the best of ways but still I just didn’t get it.

That was before I knew the town.

A month or so later when the wedding took place it all made sense. The balance of independence and inclusiveness truly showed me what this place is all about. Without that balance, the town wouldn’t be the same. People carpooled to the 15 or so mile away Lake and from there, the next step was getting across. Some brought their own boats and paddled across, the bride and groom’s families paddled and motored people across in boats and canoes and eventually, everyone arrived. Anyone who wanted to make it was there and it was a heartwarming sight to behold. Friends and family on the shore made a half circle around the dock where the ceremony took place while boating friends and family completed the other half of the circle in the water.

 

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Ah, and guess who the officiant was? Well, besides the dogs, of course (beer in hand to make it official).

 

It was absolutely stunning.

 

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The bride and groom on their paddle across The Lake on their way to the party…eventually.

 

After the ceremony (once we remembered to pick up the bride and groom whom we had accidentally stranded without a car on the other shore while we all took a joyride around The Lake…whoops!) the party moved to town and everyone, from babies to grandparents, came together to make a night that wouldn’t soon be forgotten, filled with live music and even a roasting pig. Throughout the day I was constantly impressed by the couple’s relaxed demeanor and how everything just seemed to come together. Sure, it’s still Alaska and certain things went wrong (see: leaving them stranded for an hour missing their own party among other things) but this was to be expected. It was so mellow, so focused on what really mattered.

It was the first time I truly understood this place. Everyone was invited. It took me a while to realize how strange this felt to me, how unfamiliar and also how absolutely right it fit. This was how I wanted to live.

Since then, a more communal life has grown less foreign to me and for that I am grateful. Dont’ get me wrong, I still like to be alone but it’s changed my perspective in ways I didn’t realize I needed. It’s brought me into contact with people I might not otherwise meet and the unspoken ease of it all from years and years of practice makes me smile.

From poker nights at people’s houses to holidays at the community building (actually, originally someone’s house which was donated to the community. He was a man who loved to bring people together, and so now, even in his absence, he still does) everyone somehow effortlessly comes together to create something amazing. Someone cuts firewood and heats the building before everyone arrives, someone brings something to roast, someone else bakes a pie, others bring appetizers and still others bring salads, a bachelor surprises everyone with a culinary masterpiece and others stay to do dishes or come by to clean up the next day and handle the recycling and trash.

Everyone plays a part.

And so, when we got that dreamy text this Winter, my heart warmed. Not only did I fall head over heels for The Lake upon my first visit (which was also my first night here) but I loved having a date already set when we would get together in the way that makes me most proud to live here: as a big, crazy, generation-spanning, resourceful, creative and cozy family.

Christmas Day.

We awoke together to a very white Christmas and cozied up by the fire. In place of gifts we exchanged “I love you’s” since while in Anchorage we had decided that our supplies would be our gifts to one another.

Soon, it was time to head to The Lake. For weeks since we had gotten the invitation we had been checking the weather. The temperatures had been in the high 30’s below zero (that sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?) Needless to say, it had been cold and having just arrived, we weren’t prepared to let our house freeze again just by simply leaving it for a few hours. Everyone watched their thermometers for the days approaching Christmas and as luck would have it, the weather “warmed” up. It was still below zero but if we could get the fire going hot enough before we left, we might just return to a house heated above freezing (when temperatures get that cold we even have to wake in the middle of the night to feed the fire, so leaving the house for hours on end is a sure ticket to a cold return). The “bones” of the house were still cold despite our constant fire for the last two days but we decided it would be o.k. and hoped that we were right. Now that we had handled that, it was time to figure out transport. By 10am the phone was ringing and ride orchestrations were in full-effect. How would everyone get there? Were we riding the 15 miles via snowmachine (brrrr) or should we take the pups? We decided to take the truck so we could bring a friend if she needed a ride and so the pups could come along. The Lake is doggy heaven. Frozen salmon stuck under the ice? Yes please. Once everyone had figured out with one another how to get there it was time to actually start the process.

We’ll leave in about an hour.

Did I just hear laughter?

Maybe.

By the time two hours had passed, we were finally ready. We were out of Alaska shape and pushing the boundaries of Alaska time (kind of like Hawaii time but more often due to last-minute chores that take longer than planned or quick little accidents that have to be cleaned up rather than the much more preferable laid back Island Time option). I’d forgotten how long it takes just to leave the house (and I’d completely underestimated how long it takes me to put together a peach crisp. 5 minutes, right? Wrong, dear. Wrong). Just getting dressed had been a solid 20 minute endeavor:

  1. Ok, we are going to The Lake. That means standing on ice (The Lake) most of the night so start with some solid layers: silk base layer pants (unfortunately, they’re not nearly as 80’s as they sound).
  2. However, we are also going to be inside the house where the oven and the fire will be going, so I’ll need to be able to strip down to potentially 70 degree weather clothing.
  3. Hmmm…

Finally I settled the conundrum in a series of switchouts and do-overs. Light socks paired with heavy-duty boots, jeans over the silk base and a cozy short-sleeved sweater all accompanied by a puffy jacket and insulated bibs, covered by another puffy jacket, a homemade earwarming headband and two pairs of gloves.

Finally, I was set.

The Chief and I went outside to fuel up the truck and quickly realized that the fuel had been blocked in by a trailer a friend had unknowingly placed in front of our incognito fueling station. Luckily, we still had two fuel barrels in the truck and so we transferred the pump to one of those barrels which, of course, didn’t thread up quite right. Nonetheless, we made it work and another 30 minutes flown by, we were now fueled up.

Whoops!

The truck still had items in it from our arrival: glass bottles and other breakables sat unprotected in the big side boxes of the truck. We had essentially been using it as storage for the moment until everything could find its rightful place within the house and our outdoor storage. Last year, we brought everything in at once and it was anxiety inducing, to say the least. But, now our sneaky plan had been foiled. Foiled!

We unpacked the rest of the truck.

Another 30 minutes gone.

By this time, the sun was starting to threaten to set and we wanted at least a little time out on The Lake in the sunshine.

I wouldn’t say that happened, but we were happy nonetheless.

 

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We finally arrived (after having to track down the wandering pups, they just love to play hard to get) around 3pm, just as the sun was giving her lasting final farewell. Along the drive we watched her magical descent and looked out in awe at the place we call home.

We arrived to a ready chauffeur (my girlfriend had just gotten her snowmachine working and drove over from the other side of The Lake to pick us up). She and I rode together, giggling the whole time as the uncovered peach crisp gathered bits of fresh snow as they were flung back onto me on our drive. She went back and gathered The Chief.

We had made it. Hugs and “Merry Christmas” cheers abounded.

We arrived to a big group of friends all standing around the bonfire they’d built on The Lake (a bonfire on ice? This still seems impossible to me).

Watch it in HD here

 

 

 

We had shown up just in time for sunset kickball and no sooner had everyone had a chance to kick than the sun finally bid her last adieu and we called it quits for the day.

 

 

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The perfect chill down.

 

But that didn’t cease the fun.

Up next?

Why, jumping the fire via snowboard towed by a snowmachine, of course.

One friend locked into his board while another readied his snowmachine for towing. We cleared a path and gathered the dogs and before I knew it, there they came, headlight seeking out a way through the darkness as the machine loudly announced their arrival and then…

up and over he went.

 

 

 

The first time was a breeze, the second time despite our many efforts, one of the dogs jumped in the way at the last minute. Thankfully, the dog was dodged due to some quick reflexes a la the driver Mr. K and the jumper, Mr. M still made it, despite having to let go too early.

Bonfires, kickball, fire-jumping?

This night had already exceeded my expectations.

 

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And then, it was dinner time.

Our hosts had made some amazing roasts and delicious goodies and somehow, amazingly, everyone else had brought complementary dishes and even… (drumroll please) a salad. That’s a big deal for out in the woods.

We ate, drank and were merry and as the night progressed I smiled more and more at its beauty. We all live in these woods for different reasons but I’d venture to guarantee that for everyone it’s for a piece of solitude. You won’t meet someone out here who doesn’t like to be alone. But despite all of our independence we like to be together and the we who comes together is any and every combination you can imagine. Next year’s Christmas gang might hold completely different faces. People who were here this year might be away and those who were away this year might return. It’s a constantly changing composition, this family of ours, but throughout the ebbs and flows there we still are. Through this shared experience of living in the woods, all of our differences or rough edges are rounded away.

We are in this here crazy choice of a sometimes very difficult but always rewarding life together and for that I can’t thank our lucky stars enough.

 

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Happy belated Holidays to you and yours.

With love,

From Alaska.

 

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Goodnight, bonfire.

 

 

The Long Way Home: The Nitty Gritty, Three Weeks in the Making Version

Despite our stay lasting a mere two months, packing up from our stint in California was quite the feat.

We had moved upwards of 10 times while in the good ‘ol CA, from house sitting to housesitting to our RV in one place, then moving it to another place, then to out of our RV due to a major mold takeover (and my health gone with it), to housesitting, to staying with parents, to visiting parents, to visiting friends, to housesitting to staying in our friends’ awesome Airstream to parents once again. We were packing fiends. Packing, unpacking, repeat and repeat and repeat. In and out of place after place. The funniest part of it all was that most of our time in California we were living with less amenities than we have in the woods. Especially in the RV we didn’t have hot water or a stove or showers or toilets or even phone service. All this way from the woods and we were taking steps backwards? We had to laugh at the irony.

Two weeks before we left CA we took one last spin in the RV, caravan style and headed down South to The Chief’s parents’ house.

 

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Cinda Jones and the birthday plant I stole from my mama, riding shotgun. Thanks, DCG!

 

After three days out in the beautiful foothills it was time to batten down the hatches and bid adieu to both family and our trusty (musty) RV home.

 

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Perhaps the Summer will bake out the mold? Mmmm, tasty.

 

Upon our return up North, we reached my parents’ house. It would be our last move and last place to call Home for our last week in CA before starting our journey to our Home Home in Alaska.

That last week was a constant manipulation of time and energy. Tidying up little loose ends took, as usual, longer than planned and so instead of spending quality time with my Mama, we spent most of the time maniacally running around amidst the holiday shoppers, checking things off lists upon lists. We organized the storage unit (and one day I trapped myself in a corner by accidentally encircling myself by ominous mountains of boxes…whoops!). We packed and re-packed again and again (I was determined to be under the bag weight limit this year) and tried to decipher what should come.

You see, when we left Alaska this Fall, it was still Summer in California and so we had packed for three seasons in California: Summer (hot, hot, hot), Fall (crisp but often still hot) and Winter (damp “get in your bones” rainy time). Now, we really only needed Winter apparel, and Winter in Alaska apparel at that, none of which we had in California (it was all waiting for us in our truck in AK). But what was to be done with all the other seasonal clothing? To take or leave? I found myself asking “Do I wear tank tops in the Winter?” Of course not, but in reality? I actually do. Our house ends up getting to 70-80 degrees on the daily due to my fire feeding habits. And so, the field of what to bring grew larger as my bags seemingly shrunk before my eyes (they do that, right?) Plus, come Summer in Alaska I would need all my California Summer & Fall & Winter clothes (since the weather ranges in a day what California ranges in months) but between key storage finds (real cloth napkins?!) We were getting fancy in the woods this Winter) and things (read:books) we had acquired over the two months of our stay plus the three seasons worth of clothes we had already brought, my suitcases were bulging.

Finally, the bags zipped for the last time as the week came to a speedy end. I visited the Ocean and hiked the hills one last time and said “goodbye” to a land and people whom I love, for now.

It was time to go.

After some serious packing, stacking and securing maneuvers we five (Cinda, my parents, The Chief and myself) plus four suitcases, two carry-ons and an XL dog crate were off to our night flight from San Francisco.

We made it with time to spare and spent a foggy-eyed few minutes hugging and kissing our way to goodbye. I feel lucky to say that no matter how old I am, I always miss my Mama. We hollered teary “Love you”‘s as they drove away and the now three of us navigated our way inside with our luggage brigade precariously placed all atop one cart.

Cinda was immediately on alert.

She

Is

Not

A

Fan.

She knew the inevitable squish into the kennel was coming and I could feel her anxiety surge as we entered the bustling SFO.

Since we had so much time before our flight and since our last-minute zippering up of bags had taken the whole day which meant Cinda Lou hadn’t gotten a walk, we decided I should walk her around and find the elusive “Pet Relief” area. I had looked it up on the website on our way down and could not, for the life of me, figure out where it was. We approached the Information Booth and the man said he “could try to explain it” but that it was “best to just walk diagonally across the entire terminal to the next Information Booth and ask there”. From there we would be closer.

Hmm.

Cinda and I headed out and 5 minutes later arrived to a new man with a new map with the same puzzled look on his face.

“I think, if you head down these escalators and then make a few weird turns you’ll eventually see the paw prints” he said after making us wait another five minutes while helping others with what he called “easier” questions.

What were we getting ourselves into? Some kind of underground pet society? Would we face an initiation? At this point, we were going either way.

Finally we spotted the paw prints which led us out and around and under and finally to the mysterious Pet Relief Area.

 

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And she was relieved.

 

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Panic no more Jones, we found it.

 

 

You know when you have to use the bathroom, but only a little yet as you head towards it and realize it’s occupied you suddenly have to use the bathroom a lot a lot a lot? The look in Cinda’s eyes as we went further and further into the depths of SFO with no end in sight told the same story.

But we had made it in time. All was good. We sang “follow the white puppy prints” (sung to the tune of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, of course) all the way to the pen.

At this point we had been gone almost 40 minutes so after a few chases around the pen and ear scratches, it was time to go. We raced back just in time to get in the suddenly multiplying line.

Then we saw it: Delayed.

Our layover in Seattle was 41 minutes, a flight we had chosen and raved about because of the shorter overall time Cinda would be cooped up in her cage. We were such good parents.

Right?

By the time we reached the kiosk there had been another delay. At this point we would have 10 minutes to reach our connecting flight.

“What were you even thinking booking a flight with such a short connection time?” the woman at the desk asked us.

I guess being morons, apparently. Good Parent Award out the window. We weren’t going to make our connection, she assured us.

Great!

But, there was some good news, she promised. She could (hopefully) put us on the next flight out of Seattle. With the delay as it stood we should be just fine and the overall time wouldn’t be extended. We just had to “make sure we caught that flight since it was the last one of the night” she warned us.

Just then, we saw another alert: another delay to our already twice delayed plane. My heart sunk. We’d already been on our way for weeks now, ever since we dropped off the RV and now, so close to the finish line and we might not even make it today?

Stay calm.

We put our bags on the scales and…I hadn’t made it. I was four pounds over the limit. But, just then, our luck puffed up again as the bag handler, a buff man no taller than me who could probably lift three of me, looked at me, looked at the scale, looked at the lady booking our flights, smiled and nodded.

No charge.

Booyah!

Things were looking up.

For Cinda, however, they were looking grim.

We headed over to the Oversize Baggage area with the Muscle Man himself and proceeded to, as gently as possible, shove little Lou into her cage. There was no bribing her in there or coaxing her to comply, it was sheer (gentle) force. Thank goodness we had Mr. Muscles there for backup. In the shuffle of getting in the kennel, Miss Lou knocked over her water from her “no-spill” water bowl but it was too late, apparently. The zip ties were already on the cage and Muscles was already carting her away.

“She’s like our child!” we called after him like the animal loving, over-protective lunatic parents we are as we stood there watching her roll away. There’s a panic that sets in when flying your furry loved one in the cargo of the plane, and as we realized we no longer had control over the situation we turned in for a hug.

Hugs help.

And so, dogchild-less, it was time for security. Easy-peasy. Just remove all of your humanity, put it into these tiny boxes and try not to forget anything as you rush through like a herd of cattle.

The plane was boarding by the time we made it through but we’d had nothing to eat so The Chief stopped quickly to grab us dinner. In the midst of paying he realized his ID was gone.

The food was ready, the plane on second boarding and there I stood waiting anxiously as The Chief ran all the way back to Security.

It had to be there. If not, we weren’t getting on in Seattle. A second possible derailment of our journey loomed overhead but minutes later, I saw The Chief smiling and running back to me.

Phew!

We got on the plane at Last Call and they were all buckled up and ready to go. Except when we got to our row our seats were taken by a family. They said they could move if we really wanted them to but the stewards and stewardesses were hurrying so we just plopped down in their seats (I still never quite understood why they had done the switcheroo in the first place since they knew they weren’t in their seats but hey, it matters none, I guess). Everything was a Go except for one small detail: our Lou.

When you have a dog in Cargo the airline is required to provide proof that the dog is on board via a ticket stub attached to her kennel by her parents. No ticket no go.

No ticket.

“Ready for takeoff” we heard over the loudspeakers.

Before I could even ring the stewardess button The Chief was on it. They assured us that she was on board.

No, that’s not going to work for us.

Minutes later another stewardess flashed what could have been just a blank piece of paper at us from the front of the plane and mouthed (I think) “I got it” and immediately again “Ready for takeoff” came on over the loudspeakers.

Nope. Not good enough.

I ran to the front of the plane, chased after by another stewardess who seemed to appear out of nowhere who hissed at me “Do not run!” in the quietest yell one can muster. I didn’t care. We needed that ticket.

I finished my jog and saw that the paper she held was indeed our ticket (thank goodness) and walked back, a bit embarrassed but glad to know our pooch was in tow, with the angry stewardess following closely behind. Geez.

We taxied to the runway and with that…

we waited.

The plane was delayed. Again.

 

Please, please let us make the last Seattle plane to Alaska.

Please.

 

Thankfully, we did.

 

Of course, we landed on the complete opposite side of the airport from our gate at the not so small SeaTac, but two tram stops and a run later and we panted our way onto the already boarded plane.

The flight was packed and…

when we had been re-routed by the agent at SFO we were no longer sitting next to one another. This was the last leg of the night flight. The “I’m so glad I’m sitting next to my significant other right now since I’m drooling on the person next to me and the person next to me is thankfully him.”

Don’t pretend you don’t drool too. You do, right?

No, we were rows away from one another for the sleepiest, longest leg of the journey. Good luck unknowing stranger next to me.

Again we went through the rigmarole of getting our tags for Lou. They assured us she was down below but couldn’t produce the tag. I thought The Chief was going to turn into a taller version of Mr. Muscles as he flexed his Daddy Love in the face of their oppositions.

“Sir, it’s fine, she’s almost definitely on board.”

Almost + Definitely =nope, not going to work.

Despite all eyes of the plane (again) on us we stood strong until they finally found the tag.

GEEEEEEEZ!

I had a quick flashback in that moment to a time when my Grandfather was thrown off a plane not so long ago for being obstinate (I guess it runs in the family) and crossed my fingers we would all three make the flight home.

Home. It seemed so unattainable.

As we prepared to take off yet again I texted our friend who had offered to pick us up at the airport in Anchorage, even though our original flight had us landing at 2am and told him not to worry, that we would get a cab to their house.

He, being the trooper that he is, wouldn’t hear of it and so, hours later we three and our six bags greeted a welcome familiar face.

And Lou greeted the snow.

 

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Pup Snow Angels

 

 

I felt like I could breathe again.

Sure, we still had days to go before we would actually be home but finally, finally, we had made it onto Alaskan soil. It had felt like an impossibility.

We settled in for the night at our sweet friend’s house and succeeded in only waking up 1/3 of the sleeping inhabitants.

Success!?

The next day The Chief had a sinus check-up which he thankfully passed with flying colors after which we took a cab to the garage where the fire truck was being serviced.

With a set of wheels again we were all set to finally get to shopping but by then it was already 6pm. The sun had set hours before and there was no sense in starting our food shopping since we obviously wouldn’t be able to get it done in time to leave the next morning. We shopped, unsuccessfully, until everything closed, for new Winter boots for me (since my feet had apparently decided to grow since last year) and then gave in for the day. And so, we settled in for the night, planning to do all of our errands, to buy all of our supplies for the next three months, tomorrow.

After a night of reunions with our hosting friends the next day didn’t exactly get off to an early start, but start it did.

But not before a little walk to the park.

 

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Snow. I never thought I’d miss snow.

 

 

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This was just too much for me not to record. Back to Alaska but not quite back to the wild.

 

Let the shopping begin.

Oh wait, first let me forget my wallet at home so that we have to carve out 45 minutes of our day driving back and forth and then…

Let the shopping begin.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas but if you have, and if you’ve gone in without a budget in mind, you can relate. Before half the day had gone by I was sickened by spending money. It was overwhelming. It always is.

But, we rallied together, trading off having little melt downs and saying words of encouragement to one another to get through the day. It’s funny the phases you hit.

  1. Excitement and Optimism (read: caffeine): “We are doing great!” and “It probably won’t even take the whole day!” and “I made detailed lists for each store” are phrases often naively expressed.
  2. The First Big Expenditure: “Dang, that was more than I thought it would be” is often uttered, accompanied by a lowering of enthusiasm. But still, you must push on.
  3. Fatigue: “Do we really need this?” is uttered while staring zombie-like at toilet paper and other necessities. Yes. Yes, you need that. Buckle up, buttercup, the day isn’t even halfway over.
  4. Minor Meltdown: Realize you haven’t eaten. Eat.
  5. The Fuck-Its: Sorry for the swear but it’s the best way to describe it. “We missed the milk, should I go back and get it?” someone asks while already in line. “Fuck it” the other replies. Or, “Should I get lemons? Will we have enough warm space?” followed up by a “Fuck it” said to yourself as you grab not one, but two bags. Fuck it.
  6. The Check-Out: “Oh man, you guys must be hungry!” says the checker as everyone in line behind you wishes they’d picked a better line. We organize our carts (yes, carts plural) according to freezable and non-freezable items so they can be boxed up as such. So needless to say, checking out takes a loooooooong time.
  7. The panic: We service the fire truck when we go to Town and it has a beyond tiny area to house all of our non-perishables which must all fit behind bench seat (it’s not an extended cab and there is no backseat so basically it’s a six-inch wide stacking situation. How are we going to fit everything? But, at this point it’s not a how as in, can we fit everything? The deal is done, it’s about how to fit everything. Let the Tetris games begin.
  8. The Return Home or to the Hotel and The Unpack: Just when you are beyond tired from an entire day of navigating through frozen streets and angry drivers and you finally arrive home and want nothing more than to zonk out, that’s when the next rounds of Tetris begin. Bringing round after round of all of the non-perishables inside (and subsequently taking over our friends’ house), covering all freezables that will be left, unsecured, in the truck over night and crossing your fingers they’ll be there when you wake up.
  9. You Think You’re Done but You’re Not: You’re inside, warm, maybe even eating something delicious but your mind is elsewhere. You’re planning tomorrow full of unrealistic timings and to-dos: wake up at 6am, re-pack everything (plus luggage and a dog crate and two humans and a dog) in ten minutes, shop before heading to the Department of Human Services (I had gotten lost in the system and since they wouldn’t answer their phone, the only solution was a visit and the only chance I had to visit was on our leaving day) and get out of town by 10 am at the latest. Cute, very cute.

And so our Town Run went something like that. We forgot things, were gawked at in Costco, had minor meltdowns and build-ups, spent more money in a day than feels civil and returned exhausted and on high alert. But, we did it.

 

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Carts 1&2 out of 3

 

 

The next morning we were off!

Sort of.

We did wake at 6am, according to plan (high-five, self!) but re-packing a truck in the freezing dark of the morning takes more than 10 minutes. You know that, I knew that but did I budget the time for it? Naw.

Finally, after nearly suffocating the entire household with the fumes from the backed-up-as-close-to-the-house-as-possible-to-prevent-theft truck we were on our way. Sure, it was already 8:45am and we certainly weren’t going to fit in shopping before the DHS but, oh well. We were moving, nonetheless. We waved goodbye to our now polluted-by-our-fumes-friends and off we went.

 

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You’re not mad at us, are you TheRon?

 

The mechanic had mentioned that the heater wasn’t working but we already knew that. I mean, it worked, a little, or at least enough last year in the Winter to get us home. Plus, as he mentioned, it’s mainly a Summer vehicle.

Yea?

It turns out it had worsened since we had last experienced it and temperatures were much lower than they had been last year (in the 20’s) and so we shivered our way to the government building.

“I’ll be back in just a bit, babe!” I said as I jumped out of the truck, paperwork in hand. I was in the first phase of errands again, excited and optimistic.

An hour plus later, paperwork still in hand with no telling how much longer it would be, I moved out of Stage One all the way to the Fuck It Stage. It didn’t matter if I had healthcare, right? I’m sure I would eventually get hold of someone on the phone eventually if I called enough from home. I was wasting daylight, we should just leave.

A text from The Chief (he was out running odds and ends errands) was perfectly timed, telling me to take all the time I needed and he would be handling things until I was done.

Yea, I love him.

Finally, my name was called. After 45 minutes and jumping through plenty of bureaucratic loops, I walked out triumphant.

Now, we were on the road!

We decided to drive out of Town to the next town (and last stop for a mainstream (think, has anything and will actually be open) grocery store) so we could feel like we were at least making progress.

As we were just about to hit the freeway we noticed a car had run up over a snow bank. In California, I can honestly (though still with shame) say that I’ve seen people on the side of the road with a stopped car and not stopped. They just seemed to have it handled already and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not as much the culture. Alaska brings out the best in me in that way because here people truly need to help one another, and so they do. By the time we had pulled over (we had simultaneously said “We should stop”. Jinx!) two other groups of people had stopped to help too. Three different groups of people came together and the car was out in a jiffy. The wife was so grateful that she hugged us as she said “Thank you”.

 

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I love Alaska.

An hour later we arrived at our destination town. All we had to do was grab a short list of groceries, fill up two 55-gallon drums with gasoline, fill up the truck’s two tanks and we were done and on our way for real (clearly, we were back in good ‘ol Stage One)!

Halfway through the produce section, we knew behind the seat wasn’t going to cut it and so, loving a girl who loves vegetables, The Chief came up with a plan. We would unpack the truck to get to our clothing, buy a tote in the store, line it with the clothes, fill up a water bottle with hot water to fight off the ever-dropping temperatures outside, fill the next layer of the tote with perishables, followed by another layer of clothing. He’s a smarty.

By the time we were finished shopping Cinda needed to get out and stretch her bones and so I walked the pooch while The Chief played a whole new level of Tetris. I returned to fetch the water bottle and headed inside to see if the coffee shop would fill it. 10 minutes later I returned.

“Did you get my text?”

Sure didn’t.

We had forgotten ratchet straps inside and so, The Chief and I traded and he went in this time to collect the last of the forgottens and to use the restroom.

I distracted myself from how late we were by plucking Cinda’s undercoat out and making it into a toupee.

 

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She was not amused, but she let me do it anyways.

 

By the time he came back I now had to use the restroom.

One more trip inside.

Now that the whole family had used the facilities, the truck was once again reconfigured and my veggies were on board, all we had left was to pump gas and we were done.

Oh and try to fix the heater.

The Chief fashioned a block against cold air going into the radiator via cardboard and we hoped for the best. That first hour’s drive had been a very cold one. The heater blew only cold air, so cold that we couldn’t tell if it was actually any warmer than the air outside. Well, fingers crossed for the magic of cardboard.

Now gas and gone!

150 gallons of gas (two 55-gallon barrels and two 20-gallon tanks on the truck) takes so much more time than I ever allow for.

Two hours from when we had arrived in the last town for a “quick stop for last-minute essentials” we were on our way.

 

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So much trust in four simple straps.

 

 

Except, wait.

It was Winter now and lunchtime and once we left this town it would be 5 hours before anything we saw another store or anything edible. All of the very few stops the Summer months have to offer are closed in the Winter. So, despite being beyond ready to leave, we had to stop once more for food.

Ok, now, now we are on our way.

And finally, we were.

 

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About an hour into the drive, we decided that the cardboard was in fact taking the edge off but that we were still slowly turning into human ice sculptures. I wiggled my toes incessantly in my boots to try to heat them but they were numb within minutes from the cold. I get cold. The Chief on the other hand rarely succumbs to that human reality. Yet, as I looked over at him as we scaled the roads through the mountains and the cold air blew, I could see he felt it too.

I remembered Grandma Jane had given me hand warmers last year that I had stashed in my suitcase again this year, just in case, for this exact kind of occasion.

But in which exact suitcase and where exactly they were, I hadn’t the faintest clue.

We decided to try a search anyways and pulled over. The winds were whipping and instantly my hands were frozen. Again, we had to re-tetris the load so that I could access my bags in the hopes that I had placed them in an outside zipper. I wedged my hand in between the freezing metal of the truck and the zipper of my bag.

No luck.

I tried each zipper on both bags but I couldn’t reach the far recesses of one and by then we were both frozen to the core.

We decided to give in to our frosty ride and just grin and bare it. I was about to jump off the truck when I realized my pink robe was accessible. I grabbed it and an accessible sweater, jumped out of the bed, spent a few minutes standing directly in front of the exhaust to take off the chill and jumped into what now felt like a warm truck by comparison to outside.

The Chief looked at the robe and giggled at me.

An hour later, after I had found yet another layer stashed away in the cab of the truck to cover myself, I pushed him to take the robe. I could tell he was freezing.

He looked glorious.

Hours later we made it to the last town before the turn-off. We gassed up, bought hand warmers and hot drinks at the small market, took Lou on a little jaunt where she made snow angel upon snow angel and then packed back into the truck.

No more stops.

Next stop: Home.

It was so close I could feel it.

All the stress, all the travel, all the uncertainty and endlessness of it all suddenly wrapped up into a paper ball which I sunk into an imaginary trash can. I could relax.

We were almost home.

By “almost home” I mean we still had four plus hours left but it didn’t matter. We were over the halfway mark.

Two hours later, we turned onto The Road, our 60 mile driveway, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Road glaciers beware, we were determined to make it home.

 

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We stopped to celebrate the start of the road and stepped out to the fresh prints of a lynx.

 

The Road was in surprisingly good condition and after only a few hairy moments of sliding downhill while pointed uphill driving over road glaciers, we approached the turn for our house. Five minutes and a seriously bumpy 4-wheeling time down the driveway and we had made it.

We were finally home.

We hooted and hollered and hugged and kissed our way into the house.

We were welcomed not only via signage but also by a house well above the freezing temperatures outside (45 degrees inside!). Our lovely neighbors had spent the day building and then checking and adding to a fire in our wood stove. Had they not, that cold ride home would have paled in comparison to the cold night ahead of us. We felt so lucky. (Thank you S&A!)

 

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It said “Welcome”, I swear. Excited photography blooper.

 

 

We spent the rest of the night carrying in necessities and exclaiming how we still couldn’t believe we had made it and how, at the same time, it felt like we had never left.

Finally, exhausted from months of packing and unpacking and being in a state of constant vigilance not to forget anything or leave anything behind, I settled in for the night. The Chief was still on a high from making it home and needed to wind down with some tunes, but me? I was toast.

As the first one into bed, I became the official Bed Defroster. It was still hard as a rock. The surfaces of the room were shiny with ice crystals and the windows had frost coming through every nook and cranny it could find.

 

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I suited up for my defrosting mission: long johns followed by fleece pants, wool socks, sweatshirt, hat and as many blankets as I could find. I jumped onto the bed (it’s quite high and I’m well, not) and landed with a resounding “thud”, reminding me again of my defrosting mission. I crawled under the covers and did a little dance to get a semblance of heat going. And I did. And thankfully once I get going I am a little heater. And so, by the time The Chief crawled in a few hours later we had an almost cozy place to rest our heads.

And rest we did.

Until the chores called and all the packing up of the cabin we’d done in the Fall needed to be un-done.

But that was for the morning. Our three-week journey home had ended.

 

We were home.

 

Sweet dreams.

 

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

The Long Way Home (Part I: The Mushy, Squishy, Tom & Norah Version)

Years ago, maybe 15 or so, a girlfriend and I went to a party out in the “middle of nowhere” (I have to use quotes for that one these days considering my current physical location in life). We were having a blast, way out in the hills of California only 45 minutes from our hometown yet still in a place we both had never been when suddenly…the parental units arrived.

Whoops!

Apparently our friend wasn’t supposed to be having a party.

Who knew?

I’d say likely us, we likely were the Who who knew.

The party dispersed in a flash as teenagers fled from all possible exits.

In all the rush, we had simply driven away, without getting our bearings and within no time we came to the realization that we were L-O-S-T lost. We were struck with panic. Technology wasn’t quite what it was today and let’s just say our pagers weren’t helping us any, though I swear we stared at them looking for answers. And so, without a map and with two poor senses of directions equaling one mediocre sense of direction, we just kept driving.

Retrace our steps?

Why, what a brilliant idea!

We opted not to and by opted not to I mean we didn’t even think of it, but if we had we would have been chasing ghosts. Retracing our steps in fields upon fields of high grasses cut through by miles and miles of look-alike dirt roads? Naw, no thanks.

And so, lest we confuse ourselves further we figured onward, onward ho!

In the stress of it all, we decided it was best to play Norah Jones (don’t judge me, she’s awesome and at the time she was the obvious and only choice in crises like these) to calm our nerves as we hazily sought our way back to home like naked mole-rats through an underground maze.

And it worked.

Through the confusion we were calmed by the tunes and comforted by the presence of one another. I remember thinking that even if we were lost forever, at least we had each other. And it turns out that we had just enough faith and fancy footwork to navigate our (probably obvious) route. We had made it safely home, even if it did take us cycling twice through the album.

 

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As I sat down to write about our journey this December to our Home in the woods, this memory with my girlfriend suddenly came flooding over me and with it came the song on the album which struck me most that day: “The Long Way Home”. The song is a Tom Waits cover which Norah Jones performed on the album we twice listened to that day. The memory of that day and that song and our parallel journey this year compared to last all came tumbling down on me and as I put on the song while I wrote I was suddenly choked up.

That day with my girlfriend felt like the longest Long Way Home and so the song’s presence struck me, reverberated in my ears and made me laugh at our predicament. I read little more into it then than the title (I didn’t know any of the other words) and saw it as a sort of mocking, literal and perfunctory representation of our day. We were taking a dang Long Way Home but I’d always known we would make it some hour or another. We were still in the same County for goodness sake, but still I had been shaken.The presence of the music accompanied by the presence of my girlfriend, however, shook that shake right back and restored my faith that we would make it back, eventually.

Finally, that day, landmarks I’d seen all my life started appearing, landmarks I’d known as a passenger growing up in the cars of parents and family. Yet suddenly we were the drivers, brand spankin’ new at that, and it was up to us to decipher their code. And we did. Every few miles, a specific corner or noticeable rock outcropping or old barn would signal us to turn or stay from somewhere deep in our memories and those memories guided us. We were two newbies, finding our way into the beginning of adulthood.

 

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And all along, home was nearby.

And for most of my life, it always has been.

Until last year. The year of Leap First And Look Later And Fingers Crossed It All Turns Out.

Last year I decided to move to Alaska after a Summer visit gone vibrant and well past its 17 day intended expiration date.

Life had other plans.

And so, last year, I left the land I knew. The place where after years of practice and memories like the one with my girlfriend that I could now navigate on my own while blindfolded and still find the quickest route through back alleys and hidden throughways.

Suddenly, all that familiarity was in my rearview mirror when last year we left my town and started our route to The Great Big North.

 

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It was a truer than true, longer than long, Long Way Home.

The song’s literal meaning prodded at me again.

I actually had no idea how long it would be but it exceeded even my most exorbitant of expectations. Last year, coming into the woods at the beginning of December, I was walking into the unknown and though I held steady, I was shaken at the core. I had driven the route into the woods only twice before: on my first trip in where I was 1.) a passenger and 2.) had the attention span of a hummingbird and another time solo where I was more focused on getting the turns right than remembering landmarks. The land was unfamiliar, the stops along the way new and intimidating. The sheer vastness of the state tumbled down upon me all at once and though I was excited, I have also never been so terrified.

What if we came to find we just didn’t like one another? How would I leave?

What was it like to live in the snow? Would I get frostbite?

And seriously, what in the hell was I doing?

The year of The Leap was certainly the year of questions like that: what in the hell was I doing?

It turns out what the hell I was doing was heading in exactly the right direction which although I felt in my heart, I had to explain to my head occasionally.

 

We leapt into the unknown and took the longest ride home I’ve ever experienced in my life. 10 hours plus (and that’s only once we’d actually arrived in Alaska, the journey had started five days before) in what seemed like a snowglobe come to life filled with treacherous roads and sheets of ice fog and all without even so much as a radio to make a peep over the booming winds rattling the truck and the screaming worries bouncing around my rational mind. I didn’t know the route, I didn’t know the mountains, I couldn’t tell you how far we were or how long we had to go. I had no landmarks. I had little history. I was merely a passenger.

Yet with or without landmarks and with the smidgen of history I had eked out the Summer before, I knew I was heading home.

And I was right.

 

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But I was still, just a passenger, still alone even in our togetherness because of all that was unfamiliar to me. We both were still doing it alone despite being in it together. Little did I know, the song had taken on new meaning.

The Song, to me as I’ve listened to it over the past 15 years, is about a man in the world clinging to his independence. Despite his love waiting for him, he always takes The Long Way Home and the journey to find their way is all up to him. He is alone, despite her presence. Yet in the end he asks her to come with him. His need to be alone is melted by his need for her. They both leave what they know and alone in the unknown they take The Long Way Home together.

Last year, The Chief and I were at the beginning of this song, we were both the individuals navigating our way through our own fears and doubts and The Chief had to find our literal Long Way Home for us as I was completely and utterly lost in the now snowy landscape I had barely remembered when it was completely bare the Summer before. I can see the leap we both took into the unknown now from the outside in all of its shimmering shining “are you freaking crazy?” glory. I can see how wild the leap must have seemed and I’m so glad we decided to do it anyway.

 

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Our First Christmas

 

This year, the leap was a little smaller as we moved through the rest of the song. Yes, it was a new Winter, new ever lower temperatures awaited us and our neighborhood was deserted where last year it was “bustling”. But it wasn’t so completely and overwhelmingly unknown anymore. I knew how to avoid frostbite and live in the snow and I knew that we did like each other and that we did want to be together and we had made it through the crazy leaps and into one another’s arms. Sure, there were unknowns and uncertainties up ahead but something had shifted, we had made it through our first winter and now we were undeniably in it together; we were navigating our road home together.

As we glided this year over frozen highways I found my points of reference garnered from trips throughout the past year. I was still a newbie, like I had been while driving with my girlfriend those 15 years ago, but just like then, I was learning. I knew which place to stop for food and when (before it was too late and we were engulfed in mountains for the rest of the 7 hours), which mountains meant we were closer and which glaciers were my favorite, which were the best rest spots and which post office to mail our Christmas Cards from and together we navigated our way with equal input despite still differing knowledge (and priorities: I’m pretty much on Make Sure We Eat Before Hangry Sets In patrol).

No longer were we two people in a big ol’ truck in the middle of nowhere hoping individually for the best. Now we were a team. No longer were we navigating on our own, alone. We were on the same page. No longer was I following The Chief, both of us with our fingers crossed. Instead, this year we finished the song as we navigated The Long Way Home together, hand in hand, with our pup nestled between us.

And we made it.

Home.

 

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“Well you know I love you baby

More than the whole wide world

You are my woman

I know you are my pearl

Let’s go out past the party lights

Where we can finally be alone

Come with me, together, we can take the long way home”

                                                                              -The Wonderful Mr. Waits

 

Oh, but it wasn’t all whistling Tom Waits in the wind and high-fiving each time I recognized a glacier and skipping and snow angels and mountains of pancakes.

No siree bob.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

No, this is Alaska, where nothing comes easy except change and not always the change you want and where you have to work the whole way just to make your way home. And all the love in the world doesn’t mean the journey will be easy but it does make it so much easier.

And so, with that, I tell you our Nitty Gritty, Non-Norah and Tom version of our journey to The Great North, our Long Way Home…

 

Next week.

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

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