Author: Julia Chester

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.

3 Things I Forgot to Be Grateful For

When I was a kid, my favorite Thanksgivings were the ones I spent with my Auntie El. I’d help her mash the potatoes and set the table and without fail, she’d always let me try my luck in the wishbone battles. She made it a special day, one where, even as the littlest being by almost a decade, I never felt out of place. So, when it was time to go around the table and say what we were thankful for, as was her family tradition, I too was encouraged to participate. While I can’t remember the specifics of what I or anyone else said on those rounds around her family table, I can remember how it felt to share in a moment of gratitude with the people I loved.

The years passed by and Thanksgivings together became fewer and farther between s I tumbled my way into adulthood. Still, I encouraged the tradition wherever I ended up on the day. I’ve always loved to hear what comes up for people, sometimes I’m even surprised by what comes up for myself. Yet throughout all of the years, all of the things I’ve been grateful for, big and small, a few really big things slipped my mind until I moved here.

When I got on a plane, bound for the land of frontier fables, I had no idea the things I would be giving up. I had knowingly bid adieu to a business, a job, a relationship, and a house, but I hadn’t thought to wave farewell to a few other things. And so, today, in this time of giving thanks, I’ll finally give a long overdue thanks to a few things I forgot along the way.

RUNNING WATER

I know that this is not a luxury that everyone enjoys but for me, running water was an everyday indulgence I completely took for granted. While I did grow up on a well, and thus did learn the importance of water conservation, I still was known to take 45-minute scalding hot showers to warm up after a winter-time soccer game or wash the dishes, leaving the water running the whole time.

Moving to Alaska, I realized how incredibly lucky (and wasteful, despite the well warnings) I’d been. Hot, running water, on demand, 24/7? How had I forgotten to mention this at Thanksgiving every year? The first time I handled raw meat here, while making The Chief and I dinner was the first time it truly sank in: no water on demand. Well, in a sense, yes. I hollered for The Chief to come near and pour a pitcher of cold water we’d hauled from the well over my hands to wet them. He stood by as I lathered them up and we both listened closely to the pitch of the filling slop bucket below as he then rinsed my now clean hands. The slop bucket was then taken outside, down the Ramp of Doom, and brought in fresh and new, ready to be filled and emptied again and again. All that just to wash my hands?

The old slop bucket situation


Showering was equally a debacle. For every one, we’d have to rearrange our space and haul 40 pound buckets of water up the Ramp of Doom to replace that which we’d used in our military-style showers. Water on. Water off. Lather up. Quickly rinse off. We’d use a few gallons each and haul the shower water out after each person finished.

Scrub a dub dub!


Still, even a military-style shower is easier than a bucket bath.

First bath, 2015


I can’t even fathom how much water I used in my pre-Alaska life. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I have the chance these days, I will take a long shower but overall, without water on demand, it’s a different ballgame.

So, here’s some long overdue gratitude for running water. I didn’t realize how much easier my life was until it was gone. Thankfully, we’ve upgraded to slightly on-demand water but the demand still requires us to haul everything we use, which stands as a good reminder: be grateful.

ON-DEMAND HEAT

I used to think it was cold when my house dropped below 65. The thermostat was set from November on and up I’d ramp it up as the winter months wore on. To get warm on a particularly chilly day, I’d turn up the heat, way up, and sit next to a vent, taking the chill off my bones. It took maybe 15 minutes and the house was back to cozy, all with the pressing of a few buttons.

This morning I woke up and our house was 40 degrees. My boots were frozen to the mat by the door as I donned them to go outside into the -5 morning to answer nature’s call. When I came in to build a fire, I realized we were short on wood so I headed back outside to chop some more. 15 minutes later, I had a raging fire. I sat in my parka and pjs just next to the stove to take off the morning’s chill. Two cups of tea and three hours later, the house finally reached 60 degrees.

Waiting…and waiting…


So, here’s some thanks for the mystical beast that is on-demand heat. My only gratitude towards the source came when I was finally warm, never was I grateful in the process of the house heating itself. Nowadays, waiting three hours for my tiny house to warm up to what I used to still consider cold, really puts it into perspective.

REFRIGERATION

Have you ever moved into a house without a refrigerator and if you have, was that one of the first things on your list? You betcha. The closest I ever came to living without refrigeration was fretting over a melting cooler at the beach on a hot day. “Oh my gosh!” I’d think “I hope the salsa doesn’t spoil!”. The horror, right? Also, salsa…spoil? In a cooler? Over the course of a few hours? Meh, probably not, Jules.

When I unintentionally moved to Alaska, I found out that having refrigeration was nearly as crazy to them as not having refrigeration was to me. Aside from keeping goods from rotting, I never even thought about the fact that, refrigerators often also house another really fun thing: ice! The first party I went to here, people acted like I was royalty because I had ice in my cocktail. I thought they were kidding until I found out that the ice I had in my drink had been harvested from the local glacier, a minimum hour-long endeavor involving hiking down to the glacier, picking off chunks with an ice axe, loading those into a backpack, hauling them home, cleaning them off and then transporting them to said party where I got to enjoy them, none the wiser of their journey to me. Glacier cocktails.

Yummmmmmmm.


Recently, we’ve upped our refrigeration game from a tiny dorm room style mini-fridge and coolers to an apartment sized beauty. Sometimes, I just open it to look inside. The other night, The Chief and I had leftovers and instead of trying to squeeze them into some nook or cranny of the tiny fridge or find a dog-friendly place on the floor that would be cool enough to leave them for the night, we simply placed them into the fridge. It’s something I’d done thousands of times everywhere I’d lived other than here but it suddenly felt so luxurious.

So, here’s a little gratitude for the refrigeration I’ve taken for granted most of my life. I never realized how amazing being able to have ice cream around any time was until I couldn’t (and still can’t unless it’s winter). And, while we are being grateful, I’m thankful for our upgrades in refrigeration since I’ve lived here. Not having to change out the ice packs in our coolers on the daily or constantly shuffle things to the coldest spot in the house is amazing.

Old refrigeration/freezer…


Manhandling/moving in the new fridge


To all the things in life I took for granted, from being able to easily do laundry to not having to suit up to go pee in the middle of the night, thank you. I had no idea how much I appreciated you until I left you.

No, it may not be the most traditional of toasts but it’s long overdue and I think my Auntie El would be proud. Living here, departing from all that was my normal has made me realize how lucky I was and how lucky I am. So, lest I forget to be thankful again, here is this year’s around the table thanks:

This year, I am thankful for my husband and our little fluff. You two hold me up when I’m determined to fall and you make me laugh harder than I’ve ever imagined. I’m thankful for my parents. For my Mom for being my biggest cheerleader, thinking I’m amazing, even when I’m not and for my Dad for being there ready when I finally came back. I’m grateful for all of my nieces and nephews, blood or otherwise, who brighten this world with their wild ideas and belly laughs. I’m grateful for all of my family, near and far for making me feel connected to a larger picture. I’m grateful for my friends, old and new, who are always there, through good and bad. I’m thankful for you for reading this blog over the years. And last but not least, I’m grateful to you, Auntie El. I miss you.


Cheers to gratitude, even that which is long overdue and cheers to you.

With love,

from Alaska

A little shift in persepctive


The Meandering Malamute

This summer, we met our match in our little ball of fluff: puberty. Because of COVID and the world, including our vet, being pretty much closed for business, our little man went from sweet little pup to full blown pubescent pooch and our ears and sanity paid for it. He howled the summer away, lamenting our locking him up to prevent an unplanned puppy pregnancy with one of his many girlfriends.

Puppy love
Puppy love


Yet finally, after weeks on end, the howling stopped. All was quiet. The window had passed for the two star-crossed pups and Leto seemed to forget all about his girlfriend. Phew! Back to a quiet, peaceful life, right? Little did we know, there was a new temptress in town: freedom.

You see, we live in a leash-less, fence-less, wide open world here where dogs wander to their heart’s content. Yet, Leto had never taken to wandering. Don’t get me wrong, he’d do his rounds checking the neighborhood, as his sister Cinda had done, for treats and attention but he always came home. Always.

Malamute
Home sweet home


Until he didn’t.

He had tasted freedom and it tasted good. Specifically, it tasted like beef jerky, french fries and who knows what else (ice cream, probably ice cream). He had found freedom and with that, he’d found tourists and with them he’d found a smorgasbord of treats even Templeton couldn’t dream up. And so, the calls started coming in:

“Oh hello, is this Leto’s Mom? I found your dog, well, he found us, and he looked so hungry so we gave him some of our breakfast. He’s walking us to Town now if you want to meet us.”

Thank goodness I made him wear a collar this summer (something Cinda had never done unless we were in Town. We called it her “Town Clothes”).

Call upon call kept coming in like a phone bank for a funds drive and every day I’d spend my lunch break finding out where our Malamute had meandered off to next (thank goodness for work from home, eh?). There were calls from friends, calls from the bar, calls from strangers, calls galore.

Dogs in bars? Oh yes, dogs in bars.


Yet one call in particular is a story we tell time and time again. Sneaky Leto hadn’t come home the night before and The Chief and I worried through the whole of the dusk lit summer hours, wondering if he’d found a moose to terrorize, worrying he’d misstep and meet his end.

Nope.

Instead, he’d taken himself 3 miles away to a local campground and posted up for the night, terrorizing, instead of a moose, tourists. The ladies inside the tent heard him outside, hoping to get in to snuggle, and thought him a bear. “He sounded much bigger than he is! We didn’t open the tent until daybreak but when we did, boy were we surprised! We gave him a little beef jerky and he got right into the tent with us.” Wander as he may, at least he wanders to good people. Time and time again, I’ve gotten to meet sweet travelers who fall in love with Leto and help him find his way home (thank you!).

Since he started his wandering ways, I’ve seen him in pictures online, received countless texts and calls and heard tales of him leading people on hikes or bringing them on tours, welcoming them to our valley like he’s the Malamute Mayor.

Thanks, AT, for sending this to me! And thanks to jmo782 who I just connected with online, only to find out that she was the tent owner mentioned in the above story! Small world.


Yet as summer wound down and the tourists merely trickled in, we figured so too would his wanderings wind down.

A month ago, we were yet again proven wrong. As The Chief worked away doing construction, he saw a group pass by on the road below up to the historic mining town. They had two dogs with them, happily trotting along and one looked awfully familiar. Far enough away that he wasn’t sure, The Chief shouted “Oy! Leto?!” and sure enough, our ball of fluff looked over his shoulder at his Dad like a teen just trying to sneak out of the house with his friends. “Ugh, Dad! Don’t embarrass me!” he seemed to whine. The Chief scooped him up and put him in our truck where we pouted the day away until it was time to come home and tell Mom of his traveling tales.

Yet that was a month ago. In the ensuing weeks since, the ground went from covered in paths of golden Apsen debris to snow-laden. The temps have followed in suit just as dramatically, plummeting to 25 below zero over night.

Fall in Alaska
From this…
Winter in Alaska
To this.


While there were now new neighbors in town to greet (he even showed up one morning with a note attached to his candy corn bandana reading “Leto came by for breakfast. I cooked him an egg”), it was significantly quieter in these parts. Certainly, with the tourists gone, all tucked into their winters elsewhere, his wandering days were over.

Not so fast.

Now that I know what to look for, I can spot the signs he’s about to slink off. We’d been busy unpacking from our Town trip and our daily outings (which were suddenly on skis!) had been pushed later and later into the day. I could see him getting more and more impatient but still, every night I’d tuck him in and every morning I would awake to him downstairs or under the house. Until one evening when it was just a little too quiet around these parts. I hadn’t seen Leto in about an hour when the texts started coming in:

Text message


Next: “Leto came by for a warm up. Should I keep him?” said one friend.

Then: “Can I give him something to eat? He seems hungry” said another an hour later.

It was 25 below zero, yet out he was, greeting his friends both dog and human, making his rounds. After three Leto sightings the latest friend he visited asked if I would like him to bring him a little closer to home. He was going to another friend’s house for dinner and could bring Leto with. I agreed. At least he would be closer. The Chief had just returned from an hour-long looking for Leto snowmachine ride and was chilled to the bone. Heading back out again simply wasn’t in the cards.

Our friend arrived at his dinner and Leto settled himself in quite comfortably. I agreed he could have dinner and spend the night. Leto also agreed and it was settled. Right?

Nom nom
Nom nom nom


Of course not. The moment his host stepped out to answer nature’s call, Leto stepped out behind him and he was off!

The next friend to call was miles away and sure enough, there he was.

Alaskan Malamute
Knock, knock!


They were having a dance party and, like a moth to the flame, my little social butterfly of a Malamute was ready to boogie. He jumped on in and finally, settled in for the night. Right?

Nope! Leto again snuck out the door post-party and he was off! His signature move struck again. After that, late in the night, the texts stopped coming in. Everyone except for the meandering pup was fast asleep. Who knew where he was now?

Eventually, we did. Come afternoon the following day, we got another text: “Leto made an appearance. I’ll keep him until you get here”. Again, The Chief suited up to battle the elements and finally, an hour later, he was home with our sneaky beast who spent the rest of the day sleeping off his adventures.

Malamute puppy
Shedding on my friends is exhausting.


So, I guess his wanderings aren’t seasonal and his puberty is still full bore. Somehow, we ended up with the most social pup I’ve ever known and despite the occasional worries, I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Thank goodness for this goof who has given us so many ups when life has presented downs. You, little man, light up our lives. Thank you.

Malamute in a wig
Our little weirdo. Loves babies, loves friends, loves dress up.


May your journeys be plenty, may you always stay safe and may you always find your way home, eventually.

With love,

from Alaska

Alaskan Malamute Dog
Smile it up, my little pup!

Let’s Hear it for the Girl

Well, I think we all know what the soundtrack for this blog (replacing “boy” with “girl” though, obviously)…

This past week, I’ve had the honor of helping one of my best friends move. Now, while the shuffling of boxes, the loading of a U-Haul and the inevitable pot of gold in the form of pizza and beer at the end of the helping a friend move rainbow are familiar to us all, this move was different.

Why?

Because, this friend was moving for a different reason than I’ve ever been a part of before: she was moving to give birth.

Women of Alaska
Playing Packing Tetris on one of our many runs to Anchorage together


“Moving to give birth?!” You might be thinking? To which I’d reply one word: Alaska.

Of course Alaska has a special birth plan!

You see, out where we live, the nearest medical care is hours away. There’s a very small clinic around 2 hours away, a hospital 4 hours and the big city with its plethora of options 8 hours away. So, lest a woman choose to have a home birth 8 hours away from substantial care (which HAS happened in our Town and a serious hats off to those tiger mamas), Town is the option and thus, so is a move. Most women who move tend to travel to Town about a month before their due date, as their appointments at that time have become weekly and a 16-hour round-trip every few days on an endlessly bumpy road is, understandably, less than ideal.

Malamute and German Shorthair Pointer
These road dogs know. Our two pooches, Ruger and Leto


So, this mama has been a busy birdie, nesting in two places simultaneously and this week, we flew the coop at home and roosted up in the big city. You might be wondering, “OK, sure, a move, but why a move with you, Julia?” to which I would answer: Good question. My girlfriend and her husband are building. Their little cabin has bloomed into a beautiful big house and her husband is staying behind (only for a week, don’t worry) to button it up in preparation for baby. So, that’s why (lucky) me!

Building in Alaska
New additions aplenty!


Now, while moving at nearly 37 (out of 40) weeks, from a construction zone, no less, is no small feat, I have to say, this mama has made it look easy. As someone who nests even without a bun in the oven, moving to me seems overwhelming at best, especially when carrying a tiny human, but she has moved through this time with true grace. The landing pad, her new nest, is also, thankfully, as ideal as it gets. A house on a hill overlooking Turnagain Arm in the bottom floor (an apartment of sorts) all to itself, underneath her “Alaska Parents”. If a move had to happen, this was as ideal a place as could be and so, we set out to move this mama.

Zoom baby shower
Last home hurrah! The baby shower.


The drive out was beautiful and we were lucky enough to see the Chitina Buffalo as we reached the end of our 60-mile dirt “driveway”.

Buffalo Alaska
My heart is not a bitter buffalo

My girlfriend, at nearly 37 weeks made the entire drive herself because I, super helpful mover that I am, am not comfortable enough carrying such a precious package with my slightly dusty stick-shift skills (I know, I know, I’m working on it. She’s giving me lessons!). So, that badassery, obviously, called for ice cream. When we were an hour outside of Anchorage and seeing the first real signs of “civilization”, we stopped at the Queen and got some dairy-filled goodness to fuel us through the last hour. We were there: the land of food!

Malamute puppy
Yay! Little Leto and Auntie K


For a hearty eater like myself and a quite pregnant lovely lady like my friend (who, in her non-pregnant life is also a huge fan of food) we had arrived in heaven. Fresh fruit, fun snacks, buying just one of something instead of twenty to haul and store for Winter made each purchase feel so fun and curated. We stocked up and arrived to her new nest an hour later and there we’ve cozied down since. The weekend has consisted of eating, talking about eating, doing a few baby things, eating, a hike, and planning to eat again.

Nesting
Oh yeah, and laundry, lots of laundry!


All eating jokes aside, it truly has been an honor to be here in this time. To wash and fold and sort the tiny little clothes that will keep this baby cozy and warm. To prep the house to make it feel like home. To write endless To-Do lists (and even check off a few items). To talk about what lies ahead and mentally prepare. It’s a beautiful time of anticipation and wonder and I feel so lucky to get to be a part of it.

Alaska


It’s an odd life, this Alaskan life, full of surprises and Alaskan-isms I never would have dreamed up, but it’s beautiful. To get to share this time, an intimate bond between girlfriends, is something rare to experience in our often isolated world. It feels a little ancient, tied into our past when women were a band unto themselves, a community to guide and support one another through all that life offers.

No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men. Best tshirt ever

I love it and feel grateful to have been afforded entry into this special time and for all the joyful times to follow.

Babies in Alaska
Babies galore!

So, let’s hear it for the girl! And by the girl, I mean this full-grown woman I am lucky enough to call a friend. You’ve helped me countless time in life and I am so grateful to know you. Now let’s meet this little lady!

Women of Alaska
Halloween pictures with puppies are hectic


With love,

from Alaska

Friends in Alaska
Grrr! Family photo

Projects

Projects.
This word strikes both glee and fear into me simultaneously. Glee for the change, the new, the progress. Fear for the time, the mess and the inevitable “oh shit” moments. This year, we’ve been in project go-mode. Having stayed home for the entire year for the first time ever, we truly had a moment to see what needed doing and oh boy, it’s a lot. Like any good project, each one began with hope and progressed like an unending nesting doll. Projects within projects (within projects, within projects) have an uncanny way of popping up.

Vine ripened tomatoes
When I planted these from seed, I forgot to think of the cages I’d need to build and the vine ripening that would take place long after the first frost, inside our house


Still, cross them off the list we did. There was trim to cut and paint and a ceiling to stain, tongue and groove to mill and paint for interior siding, a trillion tiny projects and umpteen garden projects and somehow we had the lumber for them all, lucky us.

DIY trim
Trimmed windows. Is there anything better?


The funny thing about living 8 hours from the nearest lumber yard (well, 4 if you want to pay double but that’s not often a ride I aim admittance to) is that when you buy lumber, you often buy a little extra. Mistakes happen and a buffer is key. The other “funny” thing about living so far out is said lumber must find somewhere to stay dry and cozy until it proves time for its project to commence. So, with a little extra and a lot to store, we set aside our lumber to side our house.

One year ago.

Last Summer we had hoped to have it up and done before the wedding. Did that happen? It sure didn’t.

Wedding in Alaska
Proof. Wedding day. Naked house. Oh well!


With The Chief working 12-14 hour days for 42 days with one day off and me working full-time while planning a wedding and tagging in as his co-pilot firefighter a few times a week, we didn’t exactly have a lot of milling hours in us.

Wildland firefighters of Alaska
Most of our quality family time was spent bobbing about in a huge fire truck, patrolling the area on my days off


Two years ago this Fall, I wrote about our naked house and how, despite loving what it holds inside, I am embarrassed for its lackluster outside. Now, one year after buying the lumber to do it and umpteen Winter, Spring and Summer projects that required completion in between, siding our house had still found itself on the projects back burner (or on an understandable but equally frustrating seasonal delay). Our house still remains naked. So, we set to clothe it.

The siding project (in our heads) went something like this:

1. Order and pick up lumber – Done! We’d done this last Summer. Ahead of the game already!
2. Grab the boards
3. Mill the boards
4. Sand the boards
5. Stain the boards
6. Put the boards up
Done!

Had I looked at that list when we hatched this siding plan, I might have let The Chief twist my arm to pre-built siding just to take a few of those steps out because…in addition to the above steps, our process, thus far, just to get to the third step (Mill the boards) has been:

1. Move an old couch that somehow got place in the way of the boards (Day O)
2. Organize the work tent so there is room to work in it (Day 1)
3. Uncover the boards (start of Day 2)

Lumber storage solutions
Foolproof storage, for sure

4. Set up sawhorses for the boards to stage them for milling
5. Discover that after a long Winter’s rest, some boards (which are 12 feet long) have gained a little weight (water weight, that is) and are wet
6. Set up another set of sawhorses for wet vs. dry boards
7. Sort the boards into wet and dry and move them into corresponding sawhorse piles
8. Set up another set of sawhorses for milled lumber
9. Get two generators from their two different sides of the property
10. Get the gas can and filter
11. Fill them with gas
12. Bring out the saw
13. Level the saw
14. Set up the guides on the saw to create the tongue and groove
15. Get another set of sawhorses to help hold the boards as they are milled
16. Try the first board
17. Realize that the sawhorse system isn’t working
18. Try another board
Success.
19. Mill each board through twice (to get both sides)
20. Get through 14 boards before it starts to get dark
21. Set up two more sets of sawhorses inside the work tent
22. Start a fire in the work tent to dry all boards, milled and wet
23. Move milled and wet lumber inside the tent, stacking and stickering (essentially placing another piece of wood perpendicular to each row so as to create airflow) them to cure (dry) overnight
24. Move both generators back to their respective places on the property
25. Move saw back inside
26. Re-cover remaining lumber
27. Count remaining lumber while covering
Realize that it will take you another day to finish all the milling
Go inside (it’s now 7 pm)
Haul water
Run the generator
Shower
Run the air hose through the shower to make sure it doesn’t freeze and break in the sub-30 nights
28. Check on fire in the work tent (it’s now 9 pm)
Make dinner
Do dishes
29. Check on fire in the work again (it’s now 10:30 pm)
End of Day 2

DIY Hand-milled lumber
Goodnight, lumber


So, yes, it ended up being a little longer of a process than my 6 step process had anticipated and while I didn’t count the steps like hauling water or running the generator for the house, it’s all a part of the process too. It’s all part of why things take as long as they do, because there’s always another Russian Doll popping up.

In between finishing up and counting our progress on Day 2 towards the overall product, we also realized (or rather, re-realized) another “funny” thing about living in the woods? When you buy a little extra for your project, sometimes you forget just how much extra. Saturday, we found out. Through the variety of necessary projects we’d completed in the last three seasons, we’d managed to go burn through everything “extra” and straight on into our required materials. In fact, we have less than half of what we need.

Oh joy!

I vaguely remember The Chief and I discussing this while shivering in 20 below zero weather. “We can just replace it when we are ready!” I can hear us saying. A statement we promptly forgot while we finished the ensuing projects: the trim, the tongue and groove interior siding, the planters, etc.

DIY Planter Box
#worthit


Still, whether starting with everything or just a less than half our necessary materials, start we did and while it took far longer than either of us had anticipated (surprised?) we came out ahead because we came out at all.

Sunday, we found our groove.

See, it takes no time at all!

We were outside bright and early in the below 40 degree weather and had milled and re-stacked half of the remaining pile by 10:30 am. The work tent was warm and after a brief intermission for a volunteer day at the VFD, The Chief returned and we finished the non-wet pile. 63 boards, all 12 feet, a total of 126 passes through the mill, all finally finished.

DIY Alaska


So, what remains?
8 boards to mill once they are dry.
A Town trip to grab 80 more boards.
Milling said boards (160 more passes through the mill) and then, just those few simple steps:

Sand the boards
Stain the boards
Put the boards up
Done!

I’m sure it will go just as easily as the first 63 boards went and by that I mean, not easily at all but deeply, deeply satisfying to see to completion. Perhaps our weather gambles will pay off and we will be able to stain in the late Fall sunshine or perhaps (fingers and toes crossed, no!), we will have to finish the project next year when we can again paint outside (you know, toxic fumes inside a tent heated by a flaming stove, not a great idea). Only time (on the weekends) will tell. Here’s hoping!

Dryas Drumondii
Wishing on an Einstein


To you and your projects, I wish you good luck! May your process be speedy, your materials be plenty and your clothes smell of sawdust and congratulate you of progress.

With love,

from Alaska and some very tired arms

Fall in Alaska
Fall in Alaska




The Weather Gambler

I’ve never been much of a gambler. Despite going to Las Vegas a handful of times, the most I’ve ever lost was $100 and it was $100 a friend had given me to encourage me to “Get on out there!”. Get on out there I did for about 1 solid hour of Juju gambling time and then…meh. It’s just not me.

Recently, we had the chance to gamble twice. You see, the weather a month ago had been absolutely gorgeous. Bluebird skies. Not a cloud in sight. Warm, sunny days.

Summer in Alaska

So, aiming to finally get “out” before the Fall closed in, we had scheduled a backcountry trip (where you fly in an airplane into even more remote Alaska). We met to match schedules with the flight company, deciding each to take one day off from work, and lo and behold, we found the perfect weekend. It was settled.

Then, The Chief’s boss switched around his work schedule. Suddenly, if we took the trip he would have missed one normal day of work AND one day of overtime instead of just one regular day. Being that his work season is coming to a close, the squirreling of dollars has begun and we couldn’t really swing it. Plus, one of the people who had given us the trip was visiting said weekend and we would have missed getting in some quality time with her.

Best friends
Ain’t she cute? Wine bottle birthday cake.


So, novice gamblers that we are, we risked it: Gamble #1: Rescheduling. We scheduled for the last weekend the flight company was open: last weekend. Labor Day Weekend, which also happened to be our one-year anniversary. The visiting girlfriend who had given us the flight and had worked at the flight company had worried that it might be too cold or that we would get stuck in the backcountry. “Go! Dont’ worry, we will see one another soon! I don’t want you to get stuck or not go!” she cautioned.

Stuck?

Yup.

Mid-Summer, it’s actually pretty fun to fly out to places that have difficult landing strips or are prone to weather delays and experience the maybe we will, maybe we won’t adventure of getting stuck in the backcountry. I mean, who doesn’t want more time in the mountains, right? As the Fall closes in, the chances of weather delays and rough landings increases and…this was the last weekend the flight service was operating. So, if they couldn’t pick us up, we’d have to Winter over in the mountains.

Just kidding! But…it would delay their closing if their ability to pick us up was delayed.

Still, the weather had been beautiful and if it were anything near how the weather had been last year at our wedding, we would be totally fine. So, we scheduled it. Labor Day weekend, goodbye! To the backcountry we go!

Fall in Alaska
Blue skied beauty

Right?

Enter: Gamble #2: Rescheduling…Again

As we cruised through the following weekend, post reschedule, the weekend we would have been in the backcountry originally, the weather showed up in style. It was GORGEOUS. T-shirt weather mixed with the leaves turning made for an epic precursor to Fall. Everyone reveled in the good luck we were having. What weather!

The Monday after that weekend everything changed.

Fall in Alaska
Cold and dreary but…beautiful

We awoke to Fall. The sky was overcast and cold, and the temperature was in the 20’s. As Leto and I took our morning constitutional, we looked into the mountains.

McCarthy, Alaska
Weeks later, still snow

Snow.

A lot of snow.

Oh.

The gloomy week continued and as the trip grew nearer, we had a gamble to make: we could go into the backcountry and risk getting stuck or we could cancel our trip until next year.

Cancelling Pros:
1. Next year, we could go earlier in the summer with (potentially) warmer weather
2. We could harvest our garden which, given the current weather conditions, was unlikely to last through the weekend and greet us upon our return
3. We wouldn’t risk missing extra work (more than we could really budget for)
4. We essentially live in the backcountry, so even without a plane, we could get out into the wilderness on our own. This, however, is more likely in Winter though, which means temperatures far colder than Fall weather. But…I’d done it before!

Cancelling Cons:
1. Not being in the backcountry
2. Waiting an entire year to get into a plane and go in the backcountry
3. Feeling like we “never do anything”
4. Staying home and not getting that backcountry release one can only feel when phones are off and all is quiet

Come Wednesday of the week we were finally set to depart, the forecast gave us nothing. It was dark and cold and the predictions were about 50/50 cold with sun to colder with snow. After a dinner sit down we decided to call it: The backcountry would have to wait until next year. Having worked on our garden since March, and trying to stay true to our aim to live better off the land, we would have been devastated to come home to a spoiled crop. And, although there’s nothing quite like the backcountry, we did have one trick up our sleeve:

Long Lake

You see, this Spring we did something crazy. We bought 21 acres of raw land, 3 seasons sight unseen.

Long Lake, Alaska
Thanks for leading the way!

What does that mean? The Chief and I trudged about the property for a month in the heart of Winter. Snowshoeing in hip deep snow to create trails to discover the property lines of the different lots and choose which would be ours.

Alaskan couple
The day we found our lots

We ended up with two and come this Spring, we saw them for the first time in Spring. Come this Summer, we saw them for the first time in Summer. Come this past weekend, we finally saw our property in Fall. Finally, all four seasons, sight quite seen.

The property sits across The Road from Long Lake, a place that has always held a special place in my heart since I arrived. It was, in fact, the first place I ever stayed in our area and it had me from my first mosquito fleeing boat ride across it. I never dreamed we’d actually be able to live there but The Chief and I had always hoped, deep down, that someday it might work out and then…it did.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto, hanging off the cliff-edge at the back of the property. Chitina River below


So, no, we didn’t go into the backcountry last weekend. On Wednesday we decided to cancel and guess what?! Come Thursday morning, the sun was shining bright as ever, the birds were singing and though crisp, the day was “warm”. The night and day shift in weather continued into the weekend and trust me, I doubted my gambling abilities, even going so far as to try to ruin the first few hours of our first day off together by drowning in self-doubt. Still, every time I looked up to the mountains, with its steady accumulation of snow, and down to our garden that lasted just until Saturday morning, when we harvested the last bits, I knew we had made the right choice.

Gardening in Alaska
Rainbow carrots!

To gather some of the backcountry vibe we were so desperately in need of, we turned off our phones for the weekend for the first time in months (hence the lack of photos). We spent the weekend pickling the vegetables from our garden. Carrots and zucchini and cucumbers found their way into jars and basil was hung to dry and set aside with carrot tops for pesto. The tomato plants with their fruit still green, were cut down and brought into the house to ripen on the vine and the last wild Alaskan medicinal herbs that grace our property found their way into tinctures and oils and onto drying racks.

Calendula oil
Calendula oil

It was a tidying up, a recommitment to our base values.

Pickling
Pickles, baby!

Then, it was adventure time. First, a hike out to The Toe of the glacier and then, a night at the property.

Toe of the Glacier, Alaska
Leto at The Toe a few weeks before, chasing a duck in the glacial lake

Being on the property felt magical. The Chief cut down the first trees ever, we started working on our trail and we had our first fire. We spent the night under the stars (it’s Fall, y’all and stars are back!), listening to howling coyotes and hooting owls. By dawn, it had started to rain and we threw on the tent fly, scooped up our Leto and cuddled into our family nest, cozy, safe and sound.

The next day, our one year wedding anniversary, we packed up and headed homeward. We spent the day unpacking and tidying, reading and napping. Then, as the night closed in, we 4-wheelered down to our somehow still standing wedding arch and toasted to a wonderful year together.

Wedding arch
The arch. Thank you, again MT

Our first year of marriage. As we had done during our wedding ceremony, we made vows to one another and promises born from the lessons we’d learned in the year past. Then, as we had done after our wedding ceremony, we walked down to the river, found a rock along the way and hollered our wishes as we threw the rocks in to the icy waters below.

As I tossed in my rock, I looked up to the snow-covered mountains and felt that, for once in my life, I’d made the right gamble. The biggest gamble of them all. I’d unknowingly gambled on Alaska and in it, I found the love I had never dared to dream of. Just like the weather, there have been moments to test me, to make me question myself but always I come back to here, back to you. With all of my heart, thank you to Alaska and to The Chief for gambling on me and helping me to see I’m right where I need to be.

Wedding in Alaska
Still my favorite photo ever


With love,

from Alaska

Fall in McCarthy, AK



P.S. What has been your favorite gamble?

Lavaterra flowers

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ll admit it, I’m hell-bent on patterns.

“Patterns?” You ask? Yes, dear friend. Patterns. And no, not the plaid and houndstooth of the world. No, no, no. Patterns! You know, the type of patterns that aren’t actually patterns at all but rather one time happenings we aim to replicate into eternity!

Mustard greens
Hello, mustard leaf hearts.

Those “patterns”

For example, The Chief and I have a really nice evening. We happen to have meatloaf for dinner. It happens to be Monday and suddenly…poof! Meatloaf Mondays are born. That kind of “this was good, may it always be so” type of pattern. I’m always trying to sell The Chief unsolicited tickets to my patterned events: Sunday Strolls. Take Out Tuesdays. Sweep Up Saturdays. Chop Wood Wednesdays. It seems I’m a huge fan of “always” and a downright devotee to alliteration.

Meatloaf Mondays
A tradition begins…2018

And perhaps that’s OK, no? A little bit of organization never hurt anyone, right Marie Kondo?

Marie Kondo organizing
Organizing a tiny house is best down out of doors but…Winter was coming.

But…

In my search for continuity, I seem to “find” patterns everywhere, even where they don’t exist.

So last year, when I had a downright banner year in the garden, I assumed (read: decided) that was how the garden would go from there on out. Perfectly.

All the warning signs that I was experiencing pattern blindness were there. Some of the best gardeners I know had quite difficult years last year due to pests or pole vaulting moose or the reason scariest of them all: the unknown. Eek! Still, despite seeing the ebb and the flow in even the best gardeners, this emerging seedling of a green thumb looked at my beautiful brassica bounty and assumed it would always be so.

Giant cabbages Alaska
Cabbage bounty, 2019


Clearly, I’m not winning any Best at Living in the Here and Now awards.

As the season came to an end and I did my best to put up what I’d grown and as the snow came, I tucked in the garden until next year.

This year.

The year that should have been just as good as last year. No, better!

Right?

Right?!

Gardening in Alaska 2019
August 21st, 2019. Jungle greens.



I get attached to “patterns” even when they’ve yet to begin, even when their outcome is unlikely.

Yet sometimes patterns pan out, like seeing the same first flower every year, year after year, once the snow starts to melt:

Anenome flower, Alaska
2019
Anenome bloom, spring in Alaska
2020. Same nail polish too, since 2008. Creature of habit, much?


I “see” a pattern and decide it’s a downright guarantee and while that’s totes adorbs and all, it turns out that even though I can apply mandatory patterns regarding food consumption or chores to myself, applying those patterns to others doesn’t go so hot. Especially when that other is Mother Earth. Mama don’t play that game.

Or does she?

If you’re still wondering, I have photographic proof that she, in fact, does not.

Gardening in Alaska 2020
August 21st, 2020


My cabbages that grew big as beach balls last year seemed not to have gotten their return tickets to 2020. This year’s cabbages have made no suggestion that they might decide to head up, lounging instead as small to medium leaves acting as shields for more delicate crops in our rainy year. In fact, the largest cabbage I have in my garden to date is one I threw in the compost last year that somehow overwintered and came back to life as a triplet. I kid you not.

Cabbage triplets
Hello Alaska State Fair! Sign this big beauty up for the competition!

Cabbage gardening Alaska
…just kidding! Perspective is everything, eh?

So, I stand corrected: one cabbage got a return ticket this year and petite as she is, she’s putting all her leggy, leafy brethren to shame.

Huge cabbages, Alaska
2020. A lot more cabbage, but one less ring.

So, clearly, this year, the year to beat the banner year has been a bit of a dud in some ways. Certainly, it started out with a thud. I started my seeds early, earlier than I ever had in order to get a jump on things. The world was (is?) falling apart (yet never fear, here are some tips to wait out the apocalypse) as we know it and food shortages seemed to loom in our future. Being a “mere” 8 hours from the nearest large grocery store, I hopped to it. I would provide for our family for the summer and the following months to come.

My seeds had another idea. Since people were running about all Henny Penny and seeds were bought up faster than you can say “The sky is falling!”, I recycled them from the year before. Normally, a girlfriend and I share an annual seed order because we are thrifty like that but this year, the seed stores were low and shipping times were prohibitive so we opted to simply reuse last year’s pups. Big mistake?

Maybe.

Gardening starts
1 for 6 in the first row, 2 for 3 in the second, 0 for 3 in the third. Not the best stats.


Or maybe the problem was that the soil was bunk or the trays had a funk or maybe 2020 got wind of our plans and decided to throw her doomsday fancy footwork into the show. Either way, germination wasn’t exactly my strong suit this year. I may not be a pro but I’ve been consistently able to get the finicky Delphinium to germinate so to not be able to pop up a nasturtium, welcome some kale or greet a snap pea? That was weird.

My girlfriend experienced similarly lackluster results with flowers and veggies that were equally old hat to her. A few weeks later, I went for another round, and luckily some of those who hadn’t thrived earlier popped into play. I had the basics and the garden would go on.

The spring sunshine, however, would not. We’ve had the rainiest, coldest summer I’ve ever known anywhere. Like Hawaii, we’ve had afternoon showers almost daily. Unlike Hawaii, we didn’t experience much in terms of t-shirt weather until July, and now, come August, we are back to winter layers that never even had the chance to get put into storage. So, needless to say, the slow start of the seedlings never found a helping hand in the weather and certain things show it.

Failed gardening starts
Cauliflower without a crown.


While others thrive.

Lavaterra
The first bloom of the year: Lavaterra from seed.


Though I may not be rich in sauerkraut from cabbages this winter, we will certainly have squash goodness galore. While my arugula itch never got scratched this summer, beautiful heads of red, butter and romaine lettuce led the charge into the salad bowl. Despite not a single snap pea coming to fruition, the climbing fence The Chief fashioned for me holds a plethora of sweet peas whose scent transports me every time I breathe it in. And further developments like the new stacking boxes he fashioned promise potatoes aplenty.

Pea and bean trellis
Sweet pea and snake bean city
Sweet peas
The sweetness
Potato boxes
Stackin’ taters 3 feet high now

And while doubles were the wildest combo I’d ever seen my zucchini flowers produce, I was lucky enough to see triplets this year!

Conjoined triplet zucchini flowers
We got trips!

So, how does my garden grow?
Differently.
Beautifully.
In a way all its own.

Greenhouse Alaska
Welcome to the jungle. We’ve got squash and games.


Patterns, while consistent and trustworthy, leave little room for the here and now. I’m certainly not keen to give up some of them (Meatloaf Mondays forever. If you haven’t had meatloaf since the 80’s, I implore you to give it a revamp and another try. Thank me later) but I think, I hope I can make a little more room for the abstract to come and share its wisdom as well. Despite learning the lesson that everything changes (even your face time and time again (though hopefully not ever again in that manner ever), it’s still a hard one for me to accept. Yet, when I take a step back to truly see what change reveals, it turns out the picture is uniquely beautiful, every time.

Livingstone Daisy
Daisy Livingstone, I presume? How cool are those leaves?!

It may not have been a replication of last year but this year’s garden was drop-dead gorgeous and super productive in so many other ways. The sun didn’t shine into the 80’s every day like it did last year but perhaps we were better off without the wildness a relentless midnight glow can bring. I didn’t buy a single flower this year, as I always have in the past and hoped my few starts would brighten up the place. It’s been the best flower year yet.

Nemesia
Nemesia from seed. Happiness embodied.

The garden didn’t produce in the same way as last year but it did in so many other ways and because the garden took longer to take off, I’ve found myself foraging more in the bounty that surrounds us. Picking fireweed blossoms and wild raspberries, mint, chamomile, yarrow, and more in our yard. Discovering the joy of Orange Delicious mushrooms, thanks to the teachings of a friend.

Orange delicious polenta bake
Zucchini & Orange Delicious baked polenta

Moving away from the old made room for discovering the new, perfectly imperfect as it is.

A year’s passed and life has sure has changed. Last year I was up to my eyeballs in cabbage and greens. This year I find myself a zucchini queen. Last year I was prepping for a wedding, this year, an anniversary. Imagine that. Change. Despite the feelings of safety a pattern might elicit, trying to force it to stay finds us ripping at the seams. So, I’ll let go…

a little.

With love,

from Alaska

Calendula Alaska
Even though only one Calendula seed came to be, she certainly made up for the others that didn’t! Wild child in orange.


P.S. How does your garden grow?

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P.P.S



How to Sell a Couch in Alaska

It was a summer Saturday like any other: we had things to do.

Weekends around here have been a little more chores and responsibility than chill and rejuvenate so when last Saturday rolled around, out of bed we rolled to an alarm, bright and early, though bushy-tailed we were not. Still, a bit of cheer filled our faces because the day ahead of us held a little pot of gold at the end of the responsibility rainbow: camping.

Camping in Alaska
The last real camping trip…in May.


The responsibility rainbow however, began with selling our couch. Seems easy enough, right? Ah, I thought so too. I must have forgotten we live in the woods where everything takes thrice as long and each situation is game to deal up unexpected cards to boot. Still, the plot that day was simple: as soon as we met up with the couple driving in to buy our couch, we were off to camp at The Lake.

Long Lake, Alaska
Gorgeouso!


The journey to selling the couch however, had already been an interesting one so we didn’t count our chicken plans before they’d hatched.

Who am I kidding, of course we did!

So there we were, running around as fast as kids post birthday cake, getting all of our chores done (laundry, water, dishes, etc.) when we got the call: there’d been trouble on The Road.

McCarthy Road, Alaska
First summer. First time getting stranded on The Road


Our road here is notorious for being rough on cars but this wasn’t even a problem to blame on the bumpy 60 miles of dirt madness. This time, the couple’s transmission had blown and they were only half-way down The Road.

Wait…”this time”?

You see, this here couch transaction had been in the works for over a month. Schedules hadn’t aligned and travel out here is tricky. With an 8-hour round-trip from their home to ours, the interested couple couldn’t exactly pop on over to see if they wanted it. Thankfully, through the magic of the interwebs, we were able to send pictures of the couch from every which way (posing. Posing with my arm) and they were certain it was their dream couch. Now, we just had to figure out how to get it to them.

Alaskan Malamute
Doggie dream couch


Both of them are teachers in the nearby (read: 3-4 hours away) districts and with the school season fast-approaching, we only had a few weeks to make it happen. So, three weeks ago, they had headed our way and…car trouble round one: something had malfunctioned in their vehicle, sending them back to Town. Still, all repaired up and ready to go, they had opted to give the couch a round two last weekend and…bam! Transmission.

Things weren’t looking good for this transaction.

Thankfully, Alaskan magic sent one of the wife’s prior students down The Road at just the right time and he gave them a lift to our town while we debated what to do. Their truck wasn’t going anywhere anytime fast. The reality was, they needed a ride home.

The end of the rainbow was getting farther away.

We decided we can’t just live in Alaska and not do the Alaskan thing and so we offered to drive them and our couch home. Still, first thing was first: getting the couch out of our tiny cabin.

[Sidenote: why oh why are we selling a perfectly good couch we bought less than a year ago? This pint-size princess, as my Dad used to call me, was a bit too pint-sized. My feet couldn’t reach the floor and so, despite my best attempts with a barrage of pillows arranged every which way, the couch and my back were not best friends and so, she had to go.]

Ok, back to it: getting the couch out.

Off-grid living in Alaska
Which reminded me a lot of this epic maneuver: navigating the Ramp of Doom with our new oven. Year One.


We whistled the “I need help with a household project” whistle (just kidding, we called them on telephones) and our neighborhood besties came to our aid. First, we’d have to maneuver the couch out of the house (which meant completely rearranging everything to make enough room to move). Then we’d have to load it in the truck (which meant taking apart the Ramp of Doom railing). Then we’d have to put back on the camper shell we’d taken off for fishing earlier this Summer (which meant more heavy lifting).

Just then, it started to rain.

Oh joy.

Skeptical Malamute puppy
Say what? Not impressed.


I rearranged the house while The Chief disassembled the railing on the Ramp of Doom enough that we could lower the couch from the house down into a huge plant of blooming Mugwort rather than try to pivot on the treacherous incline. The friend at the Mugwort end was apparently allergic and within minutes, his eyes were red and running. So, basically, it was going perfectly. Rain, allergies, awkward movements, breaking apart our house. A typical furniture move in AK.

Eventually, the couch was tied up snug as a bug in a rug in burrito tarps, away from the threat of rain in the bed of the truck with the camper on (thanks to The Chief’s wiggling in between the camper and the couch in order to secure it. Thanks, honey!) and good thing because we were already late to meet our road trippin buddies!

What an odd way to meet new people (“Hi! Do you have masks? Here’s one you can use!”) but lucky for us, they were awesome and lucky for me, my husband is a talker. I was pooped from an overly social week (which could mean seeing 6 people instead of my normal 3-5) and so appreciated being able to sit back and ask a few questions but mainly just listen for the 4-hour escapade. The husband in the couple was the same way. Opposites attract.

The rain gave up a little when we finally arrived at their house and unloaded the couch. Settled safely in its new home, we bid our adieus, sanitized and waved a farewell to our masks, at least for a little while. Juju needed some snacks! 4 hours without one? I was basically shriveling up.

Off-grid shopping list
The typical “Which kind of cheese do you want me to grab you?” shot for friends.


The drive gave us an excuse to grab a few fresh goodies (though I got so in Get Home Mode that I forgot to even buy a treat!) and a chance to just catch up. With The Chief’s maniacal work schedule this summer (who am I kidding, EVERY summer), we hadn’t really seen one another other than early mornings and rushed evenings aiming to make our prescribed bedtimes. We were able to finally hold the space for talks we needed and the time we needed together to simply unwind. Sure, it wasn’t camping but it was a place and a time reserved only for us and it was a treat. The day had been perfectly Alaskan: completely off-course and exactly what we needed. Exactly what we needed in order to say:

Tomorrow, we do nothing.

I can’t remember the last time we hadn’t woken to an alarm, weekend or weekday alike but last Sunday, we did. Even amidst a pandemic, we still find ourselves incredibly busy with responsibilities to the fire department and our home but that day, the only responsibility was: nothing.

Firewise, Alaska
Hauling brush in the rain? Not this Sunday!


We stayed in bed until the afternoon, drinking coffee and reading books (my absolute favorite. Nothing beats a Sunday like that).

Frida Kahlo
Our bedside companions: Frida & Sweet Pea blossoms



When we finally got up, we simply moved to our “nest” on the ground The Chief and I fashioned out of all of our camping gear.

Lovenest
Patterns, anyone?


What? Hadn’t you prepared and bought another couch for when you sold yours?

Nope.

The transaction had seemed so up in the air I hadn’t really ever known if it would actually happen. So, we sat in our little nest, cozier than we ever were on the couch with our little Leto joining the snuggle puddle, the perfect cherry on top of a do nothing Sunday.

Eventually, (aka hopefully this week while I’m in Anchorage. Eek!), we will find a new couch. Until then, it’s the nest and the reminder it provides: remember to rest.

Cheers to the unexpected. I guess its best to celebrate her, as she’ll show up to your party either way.

With love (and numb buns),

from Alaska

Alaskan Malamute and Dad
Au revoir, cuddle couch.

Fishing Confessions

Confession: I have never been fishing in Alaska.

It’s a gasp inducing revelation, I know. Catch your breath, in and out. You’re going to be OK.

I come from fishing stock, a family where Alaskan salmon was so plentiful that towards Summer’s end, it became a bit more of a job than a joy to eat. Yes, I know how that sounds but as a kiddo, I didn’t totally appreciate the pink perfection of omega-filled goodness. I just saw filets for days and days and longed for a little variation.

Then, I grew up.

(more…)

I’m White. Now What?

I’m white.

Now what?

I am not an expert on Black history. I am not an expert on our present day. I can educate myself and I am learning but I have not, nor will I ever know what it’s like to live as any Black person, past or present. Because of this, I have written and rewritten this post in my head hundreds of times over the past months. I have started and stopped, afraid to misstep, afraid to say the wrong thing.

That was my first mistake.

In writing this, I have gone through countless iterations, down (new to me) rabbit holes researching things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and into deep self-questioning and still, it won’t be perfect. I am not here to brag to you about how aware I am but rather to illuminate how asleep at the wheel I’ve been and to implore us both to wake up. This post won’t be the ultimate representation of the situation (many white people have finally realized) we are in because this situation is centuries old, endlessly nuanced and unbelievably ingrained  in our society. This post will, however, aim to illuminate our harsh reality and how white people can do the inner work no one can do for them to address the past and the present. I may misstep. I have misstepped on this same path before and I appreciate those who have taken the time and energy to correct me. Still, my hope and my understanding is that being on the path is better than watching from the sidelines as I have been.

I don’t have all the answers but I know silence isn’t one of them.

So, let’s start with underwear, obviously:

“OK ladies, where are the best places to buy cute but comfortable underwear online? Go!”

This was a text I sent out to some girlfriends a few months back and the response? Overwhelmingly Aerie. Aerie, a child brand of parent company American Eagle, was one I’d heard of but never bothered to check out. I figured it would be the same stick-thin, whitewashed company I remembered from my youth.

I was wrong.

When I visited the site, I found myself among my people: women with curves, women with cellulite, women with stretch marks. None of them were hiding their “imperfections” or strategically posing to shield our eyes from their “flaws.” I saw myself represented in a way airbrushed media doesn’t often show, and it felt good. Yet, it wasn’t just me. Women of all shapes, sizes and skin colors graced the screen (though at my most recent visit, there were, unfortunately, more white faces than before on the main page). There were women with disabilities and women who had clearly had children and wore their tiger stripes proudly instead of covering them up (if you haven’t heard of Sara Shakeel and her amazing glamification of stretch marks, please check her out). It felt good to see a wider range of representation. Our bodies tell a story. It feels so validating to see your story shown, right?

The thing is, I’m white and if you are too, our story has always been shown (and often, glorified). While I may not have grown up seeing my particular body type represented, I have always seen my skin color represented. From government and other positions of power to media (everything from books, movies and magazines, down to the pamphlets you see in your doctor’s office) to toys and more, everywhere you look, there are white people. The default has been white and the thing is, if you’re white, you may not have even noticed. Everyone, regardless of sex or skin color, knows how horrible it feels to be misrepresented. Imagine not being represented at all.

Maybe you’re thinking “Yea, but how much damage could not being represented do?” Simply put: a lot (and we’ve known it for a long time). Seeing a singular positive depiction of what it means to be beautiful via whitewashed everything and a singular negative depiction of black skin (think only being cast to play the parts of enslaved people or criminals in movies, ads, etc.) whispers to us; it sneaks into our subconscious: white is better (and just to be explicitly clear: no, it’s not).

The Doll Tests from the 1940’s illustrated this as well. They illuminated the negative effects segregation had on African-American children’s self-esteem and their feelings toward their race and social status. When posed with a choice between dolls of different colors (at the time, there weren’t any Black dolls. A white doll had to be painted black), the children overwhelmingly chose the white dolls and assigned positive characteristics to them.

This test, performed by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark was cited in the Brown vs. Board of Education Superior Court ruling which desegregated schools:

“To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

And with that desegregation passed! Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

While this acknowledgement was a win against segregation, the NAACP LDF (Legal Defense and Education Fund), a legal organization fighting for racial justice, reported in this article that “Dr. Kenneth Clark was dismayed that the court failed to cite two other conclusions he had reached: that racism was an inherently American institution, and that school segregation inhibited the development of white children, too.”

The study has since been recreated and the results replicated. White and Black children more often ascribed negative terms such as “ugly” or “dumb” to the Black dolls versus the white dolls. While segregation is legally gone (although with redlining and racist policies, is it?), the impacts of devaluing darker skin remain. Social movements like the Black is Beautiful movement, which gained momentum in the 1960’s aimed to dispel the damaging narrative that black features were inherently ugly or bad (the societal rhetoric children were subconsciously bringing with them into the Doll Tests). Yet the sheer reality that such a movement ever had to originate shows just how much damage has been done and this is just one piece of the bigger picture.

One snowflake. One grain of sand.

Just one piece.

So, we’ve gotten this far in and all we’ve talked about is underwear? Well, no. We’ve talked about the deeply ingrained devaluation of darker skin. Why does this matter? One: because how we make people feel about themselves and how we feel about others should be based on who they are as a person, not ascribed to them based on negative, untrue preconceptions about their skin color. Two: because these preconceptions aren’t just painful, unjust and ugly, they are dangerous

This problem of racism is massive. We haven’t even talked about the lasting financial effects of slavery and racist policy (essentially, our system is based on racist beginnings bringing us to a racist present where white people are helped to succeed and Black people are not). Kimberly Latrice Jones does one of the best breakdowns of our history I’ve seen right here. We haven’t talked about redlining. We haven’t talked about the unequal  numbers of Black people incarcerated versus whites (here’s a quick fact sheet). We haven’t talked about the disproportionate brutality towards and killing of innocent people of color at the hands of officers of the law and white vigilantes. There’s innumerable ways racism has shown up and reared its hideous head in the world and it will continue to do so if we, as a society, let it.

So, what can you do?

Nothing, right? It’s too big. Too ingrained. Too powerful.

No. Sure, it would have been great if our ancestors never started this horror story or realized the wrong in their ways say, oh, 400 years ago, but they didn’t. We know that we know better. Now we have to be better. [Sidenote: If you are feeling overwhelmed by how much there is to do and learn to fight injustice, I get it. It’s a lot. Yet imagine being at the hands of that injustice for hundreds of years. Hundreds. If you are feeling sensitive, stop and feel that and then move forward. Remember (from Dear Ally): “As a first step, take the discomfort you are feeling about potentially being perceived as racist and use it to develop compassion for people who are experiencing racism itself.” Start wherever you need to in order to do the work within yourself. Encourage others to do so as well. Many hands make light work and we’ve got a mountain to move.]

Here are four things you can do right now to do your part:

Listen

Learn

Speak

Support

Listen: I’ve heard it said a million times: You were given two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately. The easiest way to break down preconceived notions of people and obliterate hatred is familiarity. It’s a lot harder to apply stereotypes to someone when you actually talk to them. That being said, be respectful of people’s space, time and emotional needs and be realistic about your relationships. Reaching out to acquaintances or coworkers about such a deep issue is inappropriate. Don’t force friendships and don’t force friends to be your teachers. This is not anyone’s job but your own. Confused? Watch the quick clip below from Trevor Noah to give a little light and levity to the issue. You mean well, just make sure to do it well.

Learn: You know when you buy a new (or new to you car) and suddenly you see it everywhere? It’s the same with racism. The more you learn about how we got to our present situation, the more you see how it permeates everything, and the better you will be at helping to stop it. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it is one that I have been building myself and through the contributions of friends and leaders I deeply respect (thank you especially to TAB, EM, AM & CC all for your time and thought):

Books  (Thanks, EM & KC!) – Not into reading? Listen on Audible:

  1. How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  5. Native Son by Richard Wright
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Stop Killing Us by Terry Keys
  8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  9. The Round House by Louise Erdich
  10. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  11. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
  12. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  13. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  14. There There by Tommy Orange
  15. Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  16. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  17. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  18. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America
  19. The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou (including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
  20. I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal

This article has more

Podcasts, Social Media, Articles & More:

Podcasts

  1. 1619 Project—Podcast from The Times
  2. Following Harriet – Podcast by Tanner Latham

Articles, Websites & a HUGE Resource List (#9)

  1. Kimberlé Crenshaw and her theory of intersectionality (see the highlight reel at the bottom of the page)
  2. “They Was Killing Black People” article
  3. Learn about Juneteenth in the Washington Post
  4. The Case for Reparations by Ta- Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic
  5. The King Center
  6. The Root – sign up for their newsletter
  7. SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice)
  8. White Ally Toolkit
  9. This incredible resource a friend (thank you, TAB!) forwarded to me. I don’t know who to credit for its creation but it is stellar. It also has resources for talking to your kids about race. The Doll Test showed us how early racism can affect our children. Don’t wait to talk to your children. Check it out here

Social – follow these accounts. You won’t be sorry.

  1. Janaya Future Khan – I really recommend this video here
  2. Rachel Cargle
  3. Layla Saad
  4. Ibram X. Kendi
  5. Kiley Clark of Fresh to Farming
  6. Nandi Bushell
  7. PrivtoProg
  8. Queer Appalachia
  9. Check Your Privilege
  10. Patrisse Cullors-Brignac
  11. NAACP
  12. Trevor Noah – watch his standup special Son of Patricia
  13. Kimberly Latrice Jones – featured on Trevor Noah, John Oliver and all over the internet. If you do nothing else, watch this.

Speak: You know the request you see at airports: “If you see something, say something?” Well, if you hear something racist, say something to stop it. We’ve all heard racist things said. It’s time to say something. The more we all speak against even the smallest injustices, the less space we allow them to occupy. If someone tells a racist joke, don’t answer with uncomfortable laughter. Answer with education. Let the joke fall flat. Silence makes injustice louder. Mute, don’t amplify hatred. Share what you’ve learned and implore others to do the same. Speak up for racial justice everywhere.

Support: The Chief and I are on a budget. We are by no means swimming in cash. Every month we sit down and prepare a budget built on necessity versus want. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, but we’ve added donations as a non-negotiable part of our budget. If other things have to give in order to keep this up, give they will.

Every month we research (which takes us to the Learn step again) different organizations fighting for racial justice or that support causes we believe in. For example: Kiley Clark’s dream to start a Black-led, regenerative farm (donate at Kiley’s GoFundMe here). Donations contribute to a down payment on farmland with housing, farm equipment, infrastructure and tools to create a warm, nourishing place where all are welcome. A little more about this amazing project (and person) from Kiley’s GoFundMe page:

“I have always dreamed of working on my own land. As a Black, queer, woman land ownership has felt evasive for much of my life, not having the capital or the generational wealth to make this possible. I want to build a dream together, founded on regenerative, no till practices and paying homage to the traditional ecology knowledge of my ancestors, and the land’s original Indigenous caretakers.

Why now? In this time of horrific pain and reckoning over systemic racism in this country, it is crucial to not just support Black people in our deaths. You must also support Black joy, uplift Black liberation and invest in Black-led organizations and entrepreneurs. The farm I am building will be a community hub, a place where Queer folx can get their hands in the dirt, where our communities can thrive, laugh, and be fed.We’re building this dream together and I can’t wait to welcome you all around my future farm table! Thank you for your love and support.”


Think about the dollars you’re already spending on eating out, home goods, music, etc. Instead of solely shopping or dining (use this site to search Black owned businesses by state) at your typical spots, consider shopping at Black owned companies as well. I love Justina Blakeney’s site Jungalow for anything home goods. So good.

Support artists: anything by Desirée Hernandez of Sonera Pottery makes my heart sing, musicians (a few to recommend: Blood Orange’s Coastal Grooves, Goapele’s Even Closer, Beyoncé’s Lemonade plus accompanying film is important and amazing, The Alabama Shakes, Leon Bridges, Valerie June…), authors (see Books, above).

Support, however, does not have to take the sole form of donations. Support can mean a wealth of things and not all of them have to do with monetary exchanges. Get politically involved. Attend rallies and protests (safely). Uncomfortable with or unable to gather? Seemingly small things like calling and writing your representatives and senators or signing petitions have a huge impact and…

VOTE (please).

Support can flow through all aspects of your life. Does your workplace line up with your anti-racist values? If you’re in charge, change policy anywhere you can to make sure it does. If you’re not in charge, suggest changes. What about your children? Do you talk with them about race? It’s never too early (again, this resource has some really nice info on talking to your kids about racism). If the Doll Test taught us nothing else, it’s that it’s really never too early to talk about race and…(what the Supreme Court left out): diversity makes all of us better. Everyone’s development slows when we are segregated. Do what you can to open your children and yourself diversity. 

Introduce love (like…for ice cream), not hate. Kiddos are sponges. Be careful what you spill.

Listen. Learn. Speak. Support. Just as we are all connected, so too are these four steps. You support a Black author by reading her book, and there you are listening and learning. You hear something you now know to be racist and you speak up. The cycle perpetuates itself, keep it going.

Speak up.

Teach others what you have learned.

Look inward and unearth the not-so-pretty preconceived notions you might have.

Do the work to move through them so you don’t perpetuate them or pass them on to others.

Dismantling racism starts with all of us. Let it begin within yourself.

One last thing:

I hear you if you’re thinking “I’ve struggled too.” I know you have, sweetie. You have without a doubt lived through pain, heartache and injustice. I know you have because you are human and all of these things are part of the human experience. But have you experienced these things based solely on your skin color? Maybe. Or maybe you’ve experienced them because you’re a woman or you grew up poor or you have a disability.

We all have something that has caused us to experience inequality. In this interview with Time earlier this year, Kimberlé  Crenshaw describes today’s expanded notion of intersectionality as “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”

We’ve all experienced inequality but the reality is, if you’re white, societal norms and protections weigh heavily in your favor to keep you safer than people of color. Injustice is painful for everyone but it is disproportionately deadly to Black people. I mean, have you ever had to have this conversation with your child?

Probably not.

That is the difference. That is white privilege (the societal privileges that benefit white people over non-white people based not on their merit but solely on their skin color). As Peggy McIntosh wrote in White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance”. Invisible systems can be brought to light and undone. It’s time.

Still not quite convinced? Read this article for examples of ways you might not even realize you’re experiencing white privilege or this one for a really helpful breakdown of the term.

Thank you for listening and perhaps, for opening up to learning. I know it wasn’t perfect (and I’m here for and open to feedback) but if we wait for perfect, we will always be silent. Move with your best foot forward, speak from love, live in this world with kindness in your heart and an openness to learn.

Love, this way.

We are all human. We are all equal. We all deserve to be treated as such. 

With love to you and yours,

from Alaska.

…and Leto

I can’t say it enough: watch this

Comments? Additions? Ideas?
Please leave yours down below. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me personally and I LOVE that but I think we also need to converse as a group to learn and grown together. Leave your thoughts below. Thank you for reading.

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Love in the Woods: Year Five

Five years ago, I met my person.

All I had to do was:

turn my life upside down

travel 3,000 miles on a whim

and

go to a Friday evening softball game.

There he was. Apparently, whims can work.

On the way to the game, I had felt so incredibly out of my element. I didn’t even know what to pack for an evening out, as evenings out for me in my oh so recent past had consisted of packing a wallet and chapstick and at the last minute leaving my jacket at home due to its cumbersome nature. In Alaska, my girlfriend guided me through stuffing my pack (not purse) to the brim with layers on layers upon layers, bug spray, a knife, water bottle, drinks, snacks, etc. All for an evening out.

Like I said: out of my element.

Until I met The Chief.

Woods, man.

It may sound cheesy (but cheese is delicious so, whatever) but the moment I felt his hand in mine, sealing our introduction, I felt like I was home. That knowing touch was all I needed to dive head first into what would be the adventure my heart had yearned for: deep, lasting love. And so I dove, full of fear of the unknown, diving anyway. Just because a love is right, doesn’t mean it’s not scary.

A few weeks ago, I was going through some old posts and found this one: Love in the Woods: Year One. Our first anniversary. I’m a sap for anniversaries (clearly) and celebrate every chance I get and here we were, approaching five years. Year one beckoned me in. Who were we back then? I read along:

Blonder, for sure.

“I feel a foundation, now one year old, that has been strong enough to hold us together through all we have seen already.”

Reading this, I felt the heavy weight of a soothsayer, of a future known, already written, unchangeable. I simultaneously felt scorn for my naïveté and wanted to shield my unknowing self from what was to come.

At the time, I thought we had been through so much together. And for the time, at the time, we had. Joining our worlds, traveling, moving, parenting our pup, surgeries and sickness, all of it posed challenges, to our newborn love, yet forward still we went.

Thank goodness. Lucky we were for those small victories that at the time felt so large to prepare us, for we had no idea what was coming:

Six Funerals and a Wedding.

In half a decade, so much has changed from those early, easy days of love at first sight. We’ve lost more than I would have ever believed, had my soothsayer self tried to warn me. That base we developed early on served us well to weather the blows but cracks still found their way into our foundation. Grief has a way of encircling its victims, pulling them away from their pack, isolating them. Despite our strength, grief still tugged us into our own quiet worlds, away from one another, and we’ve had to fight hard to come back together. Fight to remember the ease of the beginning, to focus on the good, to love our base and nurture its cracks.

Such is life, such is love.

Right before our life flip flopped upside down, I was taking a pottery class. In it I heard about Kintsugi, an ancient Japanese technique where broken pottery is mended, not by using a clear adhesive but by way of a golden seal. Kintsugi translates to “golden journey” and is meant to celebrate an artifact’s past by illuminating its fractures, rather than hiding them.

Five years ago, our pottery was fresh from the kiln, the warmth of our creation made us feel safety we’d never known. Five years later, we’re a storied piece, alight with gold. Our golden journey hasn’t always been easy. At times, I’ve wished to simply cover our cracks, to go back to how we were when life was light and easy, but instead we must honor our cracks. We must nurture our simultaneously fierce and delicate love.

Ice fractures

Five years.

Five years ago, we celebrated all day. We at pancakes, went hiking with our Lou and toasted that night with champagne (the cork from which I still have) to our accomplishment: one year. Five years later, the day was far more utilitarian. We spent our anniversary day in a training together and came straight home to prep for a long work weekend ahead. Our celebration was quieter, smaller, a little less bubbles, a little more depth.

In this year, year five, we’ve seen loss but we’ve also finally felt the light return. The separate corners grief iced us into have melted and the ease we felt when we met, the inner calm has only grown. In this year, so much good has come:

We found our Leto

We had a magnificent garden.

Our marriage was blessed by an overwhelming showering of love that continues still to this day.

Wild in Love Photo by Kate Lamb

We stayed put all Winter and nourished our souls in the beauty that is this place that we live.

Another year, unique as can be.

Five years.

Five years ago I met my person. The person who drives me to be my absolute best and who loves me at my absolute worst. The person who knows me so well he can tell I’m upset just by the cadence of my breath. The person who smiles ear to ear at every concert, who cheers me on even when I’m sure I can’t do it. The person who dove with me, headfirst into our love and swam with me, hand in hand.

Our beginning was something out of a storybook and thank goodness for that because it convinced me to pay attention to the gift that life was giving. It gave me the undying understanding that this is where I’m meant to be.

Bloom where you are planted.

Diving into love isn’t the scariest part, it’s navigating the waters afterwards. It’s keeping your head above water, it’s holding your love up when it’s too tired to carry you. Yet, it’s worth it. Even when it’s hard, even when it’s messy, finding The Chief has set my heart at ease, it has brought me home, to our golden journey.

Cheers to love, always,

from Alaska.

My favorite.