I'm Julia. In 2015 I went on what I thought would be a quick trip to Alaska to "get out of dodge". Little did I know, Alaska had other plans for me. 17 days turned into the summer and I ended up falling in love (both with the place and with my now husband, a.k.a "The Chief"). Now, I live in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. I've gotten way more out of dodge than I had ever dreamed. Join me in this out of the blue experience for all the laughs, bumps, bruises and lessons Alaska surprises me with along the way.
The time has come to tidy up loose ends and head back to the wintry north.
In some ways, it feels like we arrived yesterday and in some ways it feels as if we’ve been gone for years. So much has happened.
When we arrived, little Ollie was, as a friend calls it, in “Potted Plant Phase”. Sure, he was rolling back and forth but for the most part he’d stay where I left him, arms and legs waving wildly. Now, it’s a full on race to keep up with my crawling, standing, stair climbing babe. He’s chock-full of change. From erupting teeth to bubbling over with babbling, he’s changing right before our eyes.
The other day, I was listing all the boats he’s been on:
A cruise to the Columbia Glacier in Valdez
A boat trip across the lake at home
A glass bottom boat in Hawaii…
This kid has run the gamut, from ice cold ocean to salmon filled lakes to warm seas. In such a small time, we’ve been so many places, met so many faces, learned so much. Change with a babe is constant but adding external change makes the ride even wilder. I did a little more tallying:
Since right before Ollie was born we’ve moved from:
Home to Anchorage
Anchorage to Anchorage (three days before the little dude arrived)
Anchorage to home
Home to Hawaii
Hawaii to Hawaii (we moved out of our family’s house this last week while they had friends visiting and we get to stay with Grandma and Grandpa who are also visiting)
Next up: Hawaii to Hawaii (back to our family’s house for the last week here) and then?
Hawaii to Anchorage
Anchorage to McCarthy (quick trip for The Chief to fix up the cabin)
Anchorage to Fairbanks (work trip for The Chief)
Anchorage to Anchorage (moving from housesitting to another friend’s home)
Anchorage to McCarthy for the summer
Anchorage for school in the fall and beyond!
Phew! I’m a little tired just thinking about it and simultaneously ready to get this show on the road. Change, here we come. Time to go.
I never in my life thought I’d be ready to leave Hawaii but I am. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’ll miss the heck out of the ease and the breeze as I wrestle my babe into winter clothes for even the smallest endeavor outdoors but Alaska for me right now signals a slow down (at least in the fall) and I am here for it. Because, while I wouldn’t change a thing, I definitely wouldn’t recommend moving umpteen times with a tot. It’s…well, it’s a lot.
And, it’s exactly what we needed to do to figure out exactly where we need to be.
When we arrived four months ago, I didn’t even want to talk about Alaska. I needed a break. Now, four months later, we are coming full circle. Because while I’m sad to leave, I’m more excited to greet community, continuity and (eventually) calm.
Years ago now, I wrote a post called Home is Where the Hard Is. In it, I wrote about the hard that is our home, about the struggle it takes to do even the simplest home project, and about how that hard is what made it all the more worthwhile.
I was new to our house and we were in the honeymoon mood of making it our home.
The hard thrilled me, it revived me. It held up a mirror to life as I’d known it and asked if what I knew was what I wanted or, if instead, I wanted something different.
I was deeply in love, not just with The Chief but with all that he and this new life embodied. Yet as I was falling in love with my new home, a new friend who has now become a dear friend confessed to me that she was falling out. Reading my post, however, set to the tone of a starry-eyed, love-drunk newbie, a bit of the romance returned for her. She looked a little more fondly at the hard, she’d just needed a break At the time I remember being shocked that anyone could possibly fall out of love with the beauty of all that is our tiny hamlet in Alaska. She pulls you in, how could you ever let go?
The romance of the hard held me close for years. The thrill of an unexpected storm, the creative meals due to dwindling supplies, the discomfort of far beyond freezing temps truly testing my abilities to survive. All of it, every day of it felt like an adventure until…
We spent two years in the hard and a fissure formed. Timing isn’t everything but it can sure make a difference and after spending the entire year before COVID at home in order to finally settle after years of constant packing and unpacking, the non-stop hard started to chip away at the joy. No worries, we’d take a trip and all would be rosy again. Except, we couldn’t. Two years after our intended year-long staycation we went on our first vacation since our honeymoon and for the first time ever we both weren’t ready to come home. I’m fact, had Leto been with us, we might not have.
Where were we?
For the first time ever, The Chief said to me “I don’t want to leave. I could even see living here.”
And so, we have.
The little crack those two years formed has grown since it’s inception but when Ollie came, the crack gave way to a rushing tide of wonderings.
Would the hard work with him?
More bluntly: Would the hard with him work for me? Was I up for the challenge?
There are countless women who have raised their babes in the wild and I was certain for years I’d be among them. It felt like a badge of honor and I hoped it’d be bestowed upon me but that’s not how badges work. Truth be told, I know my ego played a part in hoping I could live this life and ride the homestead-ish mountain mama wave all the way in.
Maybe I could, maybe we will, but right now, I’m just not up for it. This summer, with a new babe in the woods where systems constantly break down and medical care 8 hours away, where there’s one road in and one road out and sometimes no road at all, I finally admitted to myself that I am not up for this year-round anymore. OK, I had done it. I had said the scary thing to myself but the scariest part of that admission was what would happen when I uttered it aloud.
Since our start we’ve always spent some time apart but it’s gotten smaller in quantity every year. We love being together. He also loves being in Alaska. The two years had cracked him but not in the same chasm-creating way it had me. I wanted to be near healthcare and grocery stores, and activities and opportunities for Ollie and, truth be told, for myself. Yet I wanted to be with my husband. I wanted our family together.
So, what’s a family in transition to do?
Move to Hawaii, of course.
Ever since that first trip, Hawaii had been our starting point for hard conversations. Did we want to live in Alaska year round? If we didn’t, where would we live? In a time where some of our dearest friends have been gone from Alaska, it’s been both harder and easier to think outside of the AK box. Our base has shifted. So, we returned to the place where that shift began, this time with our Leto and our Ollie, never to return.
In the past few months, the hard conversations have continued. We spent Thanksgiving morning in tears when we came to the realization that things would indeed be changing but the questions of “How? To where? When?” were still unanswered. That doesn’t rest easy on the soul.
Since then, some big plans have evolved and come this fall, The Chief, Ollie, Leto, and I are doing the last thing we ever thought we would: we are moving away from the woods for more than just a season and heading to Anchorage because…
The Chief is going back to school!
I can’t express the happiness I feel in typing those last three words. I am so incredibly proud of him for choosing a path he desperately wanted but was unsure he’d ever see. I am completely aware that Anchorage is still Alaska, where the grey skies have been getting me down but, that’s the beauty of years of debate: compromise. We’ve agreed I’ll spend some time away every few months to up my vitamin D intake and we will both spend time out in the woods, just not all of our time. It’s the best (that we could come up with anyways) of all worlds. Time in the wilderness and time away and overall, most of our time together.
Almost eight years later, I completely understand where my friend was coming from. I love our home and I also needed a break from the hard. A real break. These past few months have been just what we needed: time in the sun, time with ease, and time to think.
Have I missed the 14-hour shopping days followed by the late-night 8-hour drives home? The unpacking of the truck in waist-deep snow at 3am? Honestly, in some ways, yes. The old me does st least. The mom me? In some ways still yes but in the ways that are a no, I’ve been grateful to be here, at home wherever my heart is.
In just a little over a month we fly home and for the first time ever, we won’t be rushing back out to the woods. Will we be there again? Certainly, but not immediately. Does this new norm feel weird? Indeed. Yet I know it’s right because when I remove what I feel I should do, coupled with what I said I’d do and look at what I feel I need to do for us, this is the answer.
From our hearts to yours (via Hawaii and a half n’ half sunset)
**Where is your heart taking you these days? Are you branching out from your idea of home or rooting down? Let us know in the comments below**
I’ve written to you in my head countless times, crafting paragraphs of prose I promptly forgot. So lest I lapse again, here’s where we left off:
When Ollie was born and we were learning together how to nurse, our doula remarked how we always expect babies to just eat straight through until finish, forgetting that we too pause during meals. We put down our utensils. We take a beat. This simple reality that “babies, they’re just like us” hit home in that moment and I’ve thought back to it ever since.
They’re constantly learning, constantly changing. Yet still, when Ollie got his first fever, it felt terrifying, like I’d never see a fever before. Certainly the stakes are higher for babes, certainly it’s something to watch, but overall? Babies, they’re just like us. They get colds and coughs and just when you think the last sniffle has rung out, just when we think we’ve got a handle on it, something new comes up.
And you can’t study your way out of the unknowns (trust me, I’ve tried).
Ollie sailed through his first fever with his warm cheeks pressed to my chest and straight out of that he went into another new: crawling.
Well, more like an army crawl that now has progressed into a true crawl that I’m sure will soon progress into even more mayhem. The new and the firsts just keep coming with our tenacious little man.
Another first followed: solids!
And yet another first arrived about a week later: his first time meeting his Grandma and Grandpa.
There’s something so special about seeing your parent do the things you loved with your kiddo. For us, reading was my favorite pastime and here it was, recreated in the next generation.
After the dust had settled from meeting the grandparents, up it went again in the form of a work opportunity for me and a new path for The Chief. Big decisions loomed and some still do. The dust up started to feel more like a whirlwind. Yet another first came as we got to talk about these new moves over drinks and appetizers on our first date night!
Still, the holidays stood before us as did time off to think and recoup and…sleep train.
We had plans, y’all.
Apparently we forgot that plans in parenthood (and in life) are laughable, at best.
Two teeth made their debut on Christmas Eve and while it’s been mellower than I anticipated, schedules have gone out the window along with our plans.
What’s a gal to do?
Roll with it.
As we welcome this new year, I welcome (albeit, sometimes begrudgingly) letting go. There are so very many uncertainties in our life right now that the only way forward is just that: forward. So cheers to the unplanned, the unstoppable, the unexpected. I hope it treats you well.
Here’s to a beautiful year.
P.S. What is you resolution or your word for 2023? Leave a comment below!
If the pandemic did anything for us, I think it helped to make each one of us humans recognize that everyone else is human also. Radical, I know. We saw people in their homes working with everything from kids to cats to dirty laundry in the background and finally we decided it was OK.
Working from home the past 6 years, I’d always felt that things had to be perfect. I’d tidy up my humanity into a professional front and hope and pray that Leto wouldn’t decide he needed to serenade us or that my background didn’t look too much like a cabin (it is a cabin because I live in a cabin), or that no one would notice when I’d slip and say “I just have to run outside to use the restroom”, failing to cover up the fact that we use an outhouse.
In my current job, which started in April 2020, that veneer became less important. People there seemed more interested and less appalled by my lifestyle as living a simpler life and getting back to basics (hello sourdough super fans!) gained popularity. Plus, everyone loved dogs, thankfully, as that was the summer that Leto fell in love with neighbor dog and howled 24/7 for two months. It felt a little less essential to hide my life and little more appropriate to share it yet still I spent a lot of effort tidying it to look a certain way (even if that way isn’t really my way).
What have we decided that looks like again? And…who decided this?
As I came back on screen for my first day after Parental Leave, despite being on the grid with an indoor toilet and all, I worried that again I would look unprofessional. In 87 degree weather my options were thin strapped clothing or heat stroke so I chose the straps. I also didn’t have my desk setup yet so I sat outside, Bougainvillea blooming behind me. Was that ok?
Yet locale and skimpy clothes were the least of my worries, because now I had a whole human to hide. How was I going to pull that off? I mean, I couldn’t simultaneously don my professional hat and my Mom hat, right?!
The funny thing is, I don’t believe any of this inner speak I was shouting at myself but somehow it crept in anyways. Sure, my attention might be divided if I’m holding my babe during a meeting but it will also be divided if I hear him crying during a meeting and still if I can’t hear him crying at all because I’m working away from him. Why? Because, as one of my coworkers pointed out to me when I asked how she dealt with working as a mom: I’m a mom. Part of me will always be thinking of my babes. That’s ok. That’s human.
Whether he’s in my sights or out, he will always be on my mind but that doesn’t make me less of a professional or less valuable of an employee. Perhaps it’s even a strength. Wild idea, I know! It’s amazing what I’ve seen multi-tasking minds do. I can’t count the number of times my parent friends have held a meaningful conversation all while clothing/feeding/calming/teaching another smaller human. Nor can I express how absolutely fluent these people have become in all things baby in no time flat. The learning curve is steep but up that hill we all climb, slowly, steadily learning along the way. Parents aren’t dummies but I sure was being one. All it took was a three hour kickoff meeting to shake me sense-full.
Three hours is a chonka chonka sized meeting for anyone but for a new mom? Extra chonk. Even if Ollie wasn’t home with The Chief and I, I still would have had to stop to pump at some point. Yet, him being home meant I could stop and simply feed him and then go back and…that was A-OK. There were three quick pauses in the three hours and one was just for me to refill my water. The week followed suit, going surprisingly well most hours of most days.
Truth be told, no matter how well the days go it’s still hard for me to be at work. It’s hard to not be the one who knows Ollie best or has all the tricks up my sleeve but once my ego started to let that go, I could see the beauty in The Chief stepping into the spotlight as I stepped out.
Watching him rock our little love to sleep when my classic moves weren’t working slowly felt less like defeat and more like freedom. Freedom to see myself as as a workin’ mom. Freedom to start taking longer than a bathroom break moment to myself. Freedom to share in the hard. And while the baton handoff has been shaky at times (I’m not crying, you’re crying) I know deep down I needed it.
So, I’m letting myself take the gift of the pandemic and allow myself to be human, a human working mom. May you all have coworkers as wise as mine to help set you straight, if need be. Let’s all just be humans together, shall we?
I’m not much of a runner anymore but I used to run in local races in California for fun (for fun?!). The longest run I ever completed was a 10k and at a point mid-race I remember thinking “Well, this will never end.”
Surprise! It did. I made it. And I lived to see another day. I know the pancake breakfast at the finish line had a lot to do with it but so did just putting one foot in front of the other, cliche as it may sound.
The last few weeks were all about one step at a time. There were so many bumps in the road I thought we might not make the finish line but there was something even better than pancakes waiting. I know what you’re thinking: “Better than pancakes?! Is that even possible? Barely, but yes.
After spending two weeks shutting down the house and driving for 60 miles through the nearly two feet of fresh snow that dumped the day before we left (plus cutting down a tree blocking our passage), plus two moves once we got to Anchorage, a sore throat that we worried was COVID, Leto tummy troubles that had us up in the night more than our Ollie, and Ollie’s first flight, this exhausted quartet made it to Hawaii. It felt like we’d never reach the finish line but we did.
Leto bounded out of his kennel as if he’d been expecting the tropics and has adjusted well in the 10 days we’ve been here. Ollie is a little fish in the ocean who is pretty sure he can swim already and The Chief and I are learning the keys to baby + puppy travel in a new place (where the dog can’t be left in the car and the baby suddenly HATES driving) and enjoying the ease of the warmth and slow pace.
It’s been a week plus of settling, adjusting and finding new rhythms and this week marks a whole new shift: back to work. To be totally truthful, it’s rocked me. I’ve had to force myself to stay present and enjoy the magical moments this island provides and the sweetness of being with family.
Settling wise, we are nearly there. We have a car and groceries and a beautiful place to live with our relatives.
Work wise, I’m 100% panicked about starting back but…one step at a time towards the finish line, right? A finish line even better than pancakes (but I might need some of those too).
‘Twas a whirlwind weekend indeed, preceded by a whirlwind week. And that week? Two weeks ago.
I told you, whirlwind.
Last Monday as I sat down to write, I got about three sentences in before the sleepy wave hit. I guess that’s what getting home at 1 am will do to you. Let me explain: The week had gone like this:
The Chief, partner in crime that he is, agreed to me practicing with my band not once, not twice, but three times in a row for our upcoming gig (which he also agreed to. I told you, partner in crime). This schedule promised late nights followed by his ever-early mornings for work. It was a price we were both willing to pay to help me do something that made me feel like…me. Ollie, trooper that he is, rolled right along with it, taking the milk I’d pump throughout the day (and on the way to practice. Never anticipated that one!) from a bottle from his Pops. Everyone was run a little thin but we all got through it together.
Then came the weekend. With our upcoming departure to Hawaii (we haven’t talk about that yet, have we? More to come…) looming overhead, every spare moment has been set to getting ready to leave AND with the work of living in the woods, spare moments can be hard to come by. So, we spent Friday prepping for HI and prepping for the gig. It’s amazing what you need to pack for a single night away with a kiddo and we aren’t exactly the lightest packers to begin with. Into the bag umpteen changes of clothes, diapers, pump and pajamas went and by the next morning we were off!
The gig was at 5 pm, we were set to play around 7 so I tacked on an hour to adjust for well, life. By 9 pm, Ollie perfectly content in a pack on my front, we started to wonder when the curtain would call. By 10 pm, our time had come and so had bedtime (well, bedtime #2. Ollie had been snoozing since 8).
He wouldn’t get to see me go on but he’d be cozy in bed waiting for me with his Dad. We played for almost two hours to an amazing crowd and were joined by some of the finest musicians I’ve ever had the honor to play with.
My cup was overflowing. Riding on the high of the stage, I walked home, solo for the first time since May and enjoyed the moment of solitude in the soggy streets. Ten minutes, a midnight snack and an unrushed nighttime teethbrushing/facewashing routine later and I was in a whole other moment, one of cozy calm with my three favorite boys. I walked into the room to see The Chief asleep, bottle still in his hand, and a sleeping Ollie, feet propped up on his Pops. Leto greeted me as I entered, letting me know that all of our precious cargo was safe.
What a day.
The next morning was a little bit of mayhem followed by a lot a bit of magic. After shuffling to find a dog sitter and rushing back just in the nick of time, we made it onto…
Yep. In addition to putting us up and feeding us, the gig had also hooked us up with a cruise out to the Columbia Glacier. It was amazing and a day of many firsts for Ollie:
First boat ride First whale, bear, otter, seal, and bald eagle sightings First family trip
We returned to port 7 hours later and left to collect our Leto. We arrived to the caretaker playing Leto the Boz Scaggs song “Lido Shuffle” to try to soothe him. Apparently he cried most of the day. We like to stick together, this fam. So, we all piled into the car in search of sustenance before our 5 hour drive home. On a Sunday. At 7 pm.
If the week leading up to the gig had been a push this was the final haul. The food took what felt like forever and by 8 pm we were on our way, just in time for the rain to set in. A few tears (I’m not crying, you’re crying) and 5 hours later, we were finally home. What a week. A whirlwind week of firsts.
Cheers to many more, though with shorter commutes would be ideal.
P.S. Do you have Hawaii connections?! We are headed to the Big Island (on the Kona side) and will be looking for work and community. If you have any leads, please let us know.
P.P.S Did you have any firsts this week? Lets hear about them in the comments below!
Oh boy, you guys…I made a boo-boo. You see, apparently, I forgot where I was. We’ve added on and spruced up and I had myself fooled that this place was foolproof and needed to be (wait for it…) perfect.
Perfection has haunted me most of my life but when I first moved here, our relationship changed a bit. I had to try things I wasn’t sure I’d be good at (hello chopping wood, skiing, snowmachining, etc…) and (GASP!) work at them until I got better. Imagine my horror! Everything was new and as I attempted each newbie I would oftentimes literally or figuratively fall on my ass. It was a bit belittling, a lot overwhelming and…overall? I think it was really good for me.
Yet as the years went by and things that were once foreign became familiar, I fell out of step with perfection and again we became nemeses. Which is why, when I was doing laundry the other day (INSIDE!) in our new addition on a sunny-ish day (I tell you this just to emphasize just how idyllic the situation was) and suddenly everything came to a standstill I was floored.
The washing machine stopped.
The water stopped flowing.
The power stopped well, powering.
What the…?! I wasn’t as mad as I was stunned. How could this be happening in our new house? I mean, in the old house, sure! Things were constantly not working but not now. I mean, we have a bathtub, for goodness sake.
We are miles away from where we started.
In so many ways yes. This bachelor pad has become a home to us, to our dogs, and now to our son. We have so many more amenities than I ever even dared to dream of and…we are still in the middle of the woods where everything is prone to breaking down. Damn…I forgot.
As I stood in the middle of our beautiful addition perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and the sunny day got a bit dark and stormy in my head. Why were things breaking?! Why wasn’t everything just working?! Why…
Oh, wait. I’d like to say that in that moment I had my perfectionism epiphany and realized that it was silly to ask why and instead to see what we could learn from the situation but…that took a couple of days and a couple of long walks. I didn’t look for a lesson, I wanted it to be perfect.
Things aren’t perfect out here. Things break constantly. Systems change (I can’t even remember what our power system started as and in 5 years I probably won’t remember what it is today). What worked last year won’t work this year. I know all of this but I forgot it. I think bringing home a babe, you want everything to be perfect for them so much so that it’s easy to forget what’s real. Yet I can either teach him to be frustrated, to look down on the breakdown or…we can learn.
Today, the system still isn’t back to what it once was. We’ve created a new system that circumvents the problem area (a busted pump) and I learned all about GFCI outlets. Instead of focusing on the problem, we found a workaround that is perfectly fine for now, even if it’s not perfect. As it turns out, nothing is.
So, I tip my hat to you perfection, my friendly foe and greet you again. Perhaps I’ll soon learn that trying to attain you is futile. Perhaps I’ll forget again. You are, indeed, my favorite mistake.
Until then, I’ll try to hold the lesson of the washing machine: learn from your mistakes instead of belittling yourself for them. Enjoy the wonder of finding a new solution. And let perfection go.
Or at least that’s what they say and since I normally write about 3,000 here are three pictures to sum up our last two weeks (and a few bonus words to boot!):
First and foremost, Ollie got to meet his first set of grandparents! Even after two days of travel on both ends and an almost entirely socked in (grey days) trip, they still were smiling and so was our little dude. It was so wonderful to see him interact with others and to see him through their eyes. What a treat!
Secondly, Ollie had his first babysitting experience and first bottle! Hello freedom! While this does afford me more freedom, I have to say, I’m not exactly craving it BUT I know it’s important for both of us so I’m excited to keep doing it (and grateful for the help, Auntie BB!).
Lastly, I finally admitted that I could not handle the pain of “Mother’s Thumb” and went back to wearing my super impractical with a baby Hot Topic style brace (and finally made doctors appointments ), hence the length of this post.
In 5th grade, one of my favorite songs was Monica’s “Just One of Them Days”. I’d belt it out full on diva style and my best friend would lip sync and dance to it in the mirror. We thought we were so cool and the song gave us all the feels. I mean, who can’t relate. Sometimes, it’s just one of them days.
Today? One of them days. One of them days where it’s cloudy (again), and even though you’re basically main lining vitamin D, the supplements are just not doing it for you.
One of them days where the generator can’t seem to stay on and every time you go out to fix it, you return, smelling of exhaust, to an unhappy infant and have to change clothes faster than a model during fashion week.
One of them days where your to do list involved all things interwebs but the dang thing just won’t work.
One of them days where you wanted things to be “just so” in your house before company arrived and you realize it will be closer to mayhem than made up.
One of them days where the car is low on fuel and there’s none to be found and all you “need” is to take a drive.
One of them days where you decide…screw it. I’m sitting this one out.
Sometimes when you keep pushing the rock up the hill to no avail, you have to just step aside and let it roll down, to be retrieved another day. Maybe tomorrow! And once you sit down and stop pushing you realize…damn, even with all that, things are still darn good.
Cheers to the Mondays that are on steroids, the rocks that won’t budge, the days that are just those days.
Once the internet starts working again, I’m blasting some Monica. Until then? I think I’ll just plant myself in a rocking chair with a babe on my chest and do my best to just rock with this day.