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.

Look Ma, No Hands (and Other Learnings from Month One)

As I type this, I have one hand holding our babe and one hunting and pecking her way through the QWERTY-verse. Coming from a Mavis Beacon graduate (where my elder Millennials at?!) this is a sorry excuse for the flying fingers I’d unleash upon the keyboard just 30 days ago. Still, it’s a drastic improvement from my previous postpartum post. In this last month, I’ve come to learn about this little human I’ve spent the better part of a year growing as well as a few other lessons like…

(more…)

Welcome, Little One

I’ve spent the entire day trying to open my computer to write to you. Our child has had other plans.

Our child.

The two words I’ve hoped to utter for so very long. He has finally arrived. All 7 pounds, 11.5 ounces of him came into this world 11 days ago tonight. His birth was so fast we almost greeted him at home but luckily made it to the center just in time. Up he came out of the tub and into our arms, wailing immediately until we locked eyes. Curious and kind right from the start. We are head over heels for our little Oliver, Ollie for short. I can’t wait to share more with you.

See you in two weeks!

With love,

From Alaska

40 weeks pregnant labor signs: a guessing game

Last night I awoke from a dream with a startle. Tomorrow was Monday. Monday was the beginning of the workweek. Did I have any meetings I had forgotten to prep for? Did I have any first thing To-Dos I needed to prioritize?

I didn’t and I don’t because, for the first time since I started working, I haven’t been to work in weeks. Any meetings I used to attend will be held without me and any To-Dos will get done in the fall when I return. So why the worry?

Alaskan Malamute
Worry? Why?

Perhaps because today is our babe’s “due date”. The start of the biggest project we’ve ever endeavored upon and certainly the wildest adventure and the countdown clock has now rung out. “Today is the day”, it announces.

Yet so far, today isn’t the day. In the last two weeks, however, there have been a few days that certainly felt as if they might be. The first week The Chief was gone, I was awoken multiple nights by strong contractions and back pain. “Oh, please not yet. Unless you need to” I thought to myself as I breathed through the discomfort and started to calculate if and when to call The Chief, and then…nothing.

40 weeks pregnant labor signs
The ostrich move.

A few days and a few false starts later, The Chief was back home with us, and we visited our midwives. Things were looking good. It could be any minute now…

workin' moms
Gotta get the new Workin’ Moms in first…

Near the end of the week, things started to really get moving, enough to start looking at a clock and timing the party my uterus was throwing. It was also our moving day. As I looked around at the bags packed and to be packed, the many things to be moved I whispered “Not today, unless you need to” to our little bean. Another contraction. I busied myself with the moving shuffle and by the end of the day, things had slowed down again.

Yesterday, we settled in, nestling into our newest and thankfully last nest until we return home.

Malamute puppy
Leto, wedges himself next to the baby seat, despite a totally open backseat for him to enjoy. Protective already.

Some sweet friends delivered us dinner (you are the best!) and we paused to enjoy the wonderfully Alaskan meal of salmon and salad goodness.

Yummmmmmmm!

It was amazing and so nourishing after days of half-hearted meals made out of necessity rather than excitement. My belly has been up and down and all around and I’ve pretty much subsisted on a fussy toddler diet of beans and cheese and rice which hasn’t exactly been inspiring for someone who loves food as much as I do. We decided to call it quits on settling in for the night and settled on a movie and…the contractions started again.

Yet here we are this morning, babe still in belly and…I’m OK with that. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from different weekly subscriptions with the general sentiment of “Is this over yet???”. Sure, I’ll agree that the last few weeks are uncomfortable (hello flattened feet! Hello nausea and cramping and sleepy but sometimes sleepless nights) but as of now, I’m still happy to be the host (and to fully unpack) and to take our last waddles around the lake as a family of three, anticipating becoming a family of four.

University lake dog park, anchorage, ak
This must be the place…

Only time will tell just what day and what time our little one will arrive. Until then, I’ll be here, watching for signs, checking in on times, and riding the wave.

With love,

from Alaska

Two Weeks

Life is a mountain of milestones, isn’t it? As kiddos, we’re always grasping for that next accomplishment. When riding a trike was once a herculean task, now we set our sight on two wheels. When sleeping at home was the norm, we try for a sleepover. When going to the movies used to be a family affair, suddenly we’re meeting our friends and embarrassed of our parents as they drop us off. These changes, these stages and jumps in time, happen so fast and once we move forward, we rarely move back into the past from whence we came. We are changed, we are changing and we are always looking to the next challenge.

Looking back on the last two weeks, so much has changed…

The Chief celebrated another waltz around the sun (and I learned that one should never bake having just oiled one’s pregnant belly. Cocoa powder explosions are simply an inevitability and cocoa paste does oil and powder make).

Birthday cutie

“We” (AKA I orchestrated and The Chief did all the moving) moved our bed downstairs, which meant ratchet strapping it burrito style and shoving it through the hatch in the floor (during a work call where I could not stop myself from laughing and so felt it was only fair to turn my video around to show the bed debacle).

DIssasembly…
Landing…
Re-entry…
Landed.

I had my last day at work (cue the Hallelujah chorus!) preceded by a surprise virtual baby shower (thank you!).

At which point baby prep began…

Thank goodness for the deck…

And so did packing up to leave for X amount of months. “How long will you be in Anchorage?” I keep getting and continually ask myself to which I answer “No idea”. If I’ve learned anything during this being preggo process it’s that I have no idea what’s coming next and planning is only a possibility so long as you leave room for a million variations. So, I packed for who knows how long which was totally not stressful. When my Mom asked me how it was going, I sent her this:

Feelin’ greeeeeaaaaaaattttt. Not panicking AT ALLLLL.

The Chief too was feeling the pressure, enough to go gray in an instant:

Just kidding…he bumped his head on something white but still, it was amazing

I shifted from not wanting to leave home at all to feeling very ready to leave the punchy snow (and distant medical care) behind. I guess that will happen when you’re 9 months pregnant and falling up to your knees in snow on the way to the outhouse each morning.

We moved to Anchorage, which meant caravaning with The Chief for the 8-hour drive and getting in at 9 pm to a new and unfamiliar home. Leto immediately got familiar.

Peek-a-boo practice

We arrived in Anchorage to a whirlwind of appointments and appointing a new home with everything we’d need for the next however long. We met with our midwives and our doulas, we handled baby business our too busy schedules hadn’t allowed for, we found a pediatrician and FINALLY installed the car seat and packed (mostly) our Go Bags for Go Time.

The baby prep continued…

We both started losing stamina…

And so did the celebrations…

Triflin’
Feet up. Thank you, Mel.

And I spent my first Mother’s Day ever getting pampered by a dear friend while feeling the kicks of our baby. I also spent it realizing that my Mom and I would forever share this day in an entirely new way from here on out.

Mamas

Most importantly, I finally bought sweatpants (I kid, I kid…sort of).

And the baby dropped it lowwwwwww.

Two weeks ago, we were celebrating the birth of my love with friends who live only footsteps away. We nestled in at home (with a working shower!) after our last Town Trip and in full-on Go Mode to get everything done in one week’s time. Two weeks later, I find myself alone in a house I’m still learning, in a neighborhood where my closest friend is miles instead of a few steps away. Alone? The Chief had to start work this week in order to more easily take leave for the birth and so the week starts with our separating, again.

Two weeks ago, the reality of our kiddo’s impending arrival felt distant. Two weeks later, it feels MUCH more real as the tasks at hand begin to dwindle and the biggest task yet of giving birth lies ahead of us. I can’t imagine being back to two weeks ago, to feeling less focused on birth and more focused on our house and two weeks from now…I can’t even imagine. Perhaps we will be celebrating another birthday. Who knows?

WIll he love German Chocolate cake like his Daddy-O?

What we do know? In the next two weeks we will move again (because we are geniuses like that), thankfully within Anchorage this time. The Chief will return and we will reunite once more, until we have to separate once more. And every day we will be closer to meeting this little being who has been simultaneously so known to us and such a mystery. Other than that, I can only guess what the next two weeks will bring. Perhaps a babe, perhaps more waiting (which is fine by me, especially until The Chief arrives). The future holds its cards close to its chest and so we simply take the next step, every day…

Wishing you and yours lots of luck in your next steps, whatever they may be.

With love,

From Alaska

And from Leto and I trying to take a Goodnight picture

P.S. For realsies though…who knows what the next two weeks will offer but…as two weeks from now I’ll be 100, I mean, 40 weeks pregnant, there’s a chance you won’t hear from me right away. Then again, perhaps you will. Either way, I’ll update the blog as soon as possible…

Shower Power

I’m a water baby. If there’s a body of water nearby, my body wants to be in or around it. Label it the siren’s call to the substance we are mostly made of. Blame it on the zodiac (I am a water sign) or rule it without reason completely. Either way, there’s something in me that craves to be near the element. Growing up and until moving to Alaska, water was my north star. Wherever I was, I oriented against it using the ocean. I always knew west, I always knew home.

Home base by the Bay

Upon moving to Alaska, all of that changed. I did a lot of looking at water, rather than leaping into it. Glacially fed rivers and swimming holes were my watery haunts yet I rarely dove in (at least, not on purpose). I oriented myself by the river that roughly traveled North + South to decipher East + West and again my home fell into that orientation but it wasn’t quite the same. It took me a while to get my bearings, hell, I still am. Alaska is enormous, the landscape constantly changing, and gathering perspective is like looking at a painting close up (read: you rarely can see the big picture).

Little Leto looking for it (the big picture)

Before moving to Alaska, my favorite way to start my day was with a nice hot shower. I’d come out bright as a beet from the heat and lavish on lotions and potions aplenty in my steamy bathroom. Little did I know that this daily ritual would turn into a true treat in an instant. Upon arriving in Alaska, I was greeted with endless water. Unlike the near-drought (now drought) California I was leaving, there was water everywhere yet somehow, showers, my church, my moment for rejuvenation, were suddenly a luxury.

I did not sign up for this.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to dive into

I remember going to The Bar one of those first nights in Alaska and someone saying “Wow, did you just shower? Smell her! She smells great.” Granted, I had just showered and my girlfriend’s shampoo was delicious but this noticing of what I deemed a natural daily occurrence had flipped my world. Everyone commented on how lucky I was to stay where I was staying, a shower every day, if I dared. I didn’t. Luxurious as it was by comparison, it was still an outdoor shower and despite summer’s march to the neverending beat of the sun, mornings were chilly. On the colder mornings, I opted for birdbaths in the comfort of the cabin some days. Always, on the days I didn’t, on the days I braved the chill for the comfort of a hot shower with a view, someone always commented. “Did you just shower?” It cracked me up. What was this place?

Within a month I had adopted the local vernacular. “You smell great! Did you just shower?” I’d find myself saying. What had I turned into? A woman of the woods, it seemed. When I moved (read: suddenly realized I was living with a man I’d just met) into The Chief’s house, he had a shower as well…and a well. I had fallen in with a bougie bunch, it seemed. Having a well meant water every day if I wanted it. All I had to do was gas up the generator, carry the 50-pound sucker to the well, fire it up, inevitably troubleshoot it when it wouldn’t start, and fill the 50-gallon drum that was our shower reservoir. Easy peasy. Sort of. While I did find myself in the shower more days than not, it wasn’t quite the same as the steamy showers of merely a month before in California. My life had done a solid one-eighty. Everything had changed and…for the most part, I accepted those changes with open-ish arms. I adapted. It turns out we are more pliant than we think, especially when we are in love.

But then, come winter, the adaptations began again and this time, they were a little more drastic.

Hauling water post-shower at 25 below zero. Fun!

Shower? Sure! All you have to do is:
Step 1: Think ahead (this step was often forgotten and another day would fly by without a shower). Make sure to have filled all the water in the house, defrosted the bathing bin and get the house nice and toasty. For those three things, there’s about 15 steps total and a whole lot of forethought. Needless to say, this step was thwarted often.

Step 2: If everything in Step 1 was satisfied, move on to Step 2: Find the step stool, balance upon it as you lift the stairs, and secure them over your head.

Step 3: Use the aforementioned stool to hang the shower curtain and protective black plastic sheeting so your house and pantry aren’t drenched by your endeavor.

Step 4: Realize you forgot something upstairs. Undo Step 2. Gather your goodies. Repeat Steps 2-3.

Step 5: Kick up the heat! The fire has somehow died down in what feels like the 5 minutes you’ve been prepping your shower (probably more like an hour). Go outside, chop wood, bring it in and stoke the fire.

Step 6: Recalibrate. What the hell was I doing? Oh yea, showering.

At this point, showering seems about as good an idea as this does…

Step 7: Prep your space: get all your shower goodies and put them nearby (don’t forget your towel).

Step 8: Shower military-style (I don’t know when we adopted this term but I’m not sure it really applies): water on, water off. Suds up. Water on. Water off. Shampoo. Water on. Water off…you get the drill.

Step 9: Dry off and dump the water. Hopefully, you were judicious in your use of agua or you’re about to be hauling a hefty load, my friend (or, in my case, co-hauling with The Chief).

Step 10: Wait for the shower curtains and bathing bin (read: a Rubbermaid storage tote) to dry. Put them away.

These Steps 1-10 can span days and so, sometimes, can your bathing routine. Showering once a week in the winter out here is heroic and despite how this cadence failed to meet my CA expectations, I was always brought down to AK earth when someone would mention and point “She has a shower” and everyone would oooohhhh and ahhhhh. It’s all about perspective, I guess.

And still, sometimes that perspective shifts. When we decided to start our addition, we didn’t realize that we had also started a whole new project (read: baby on board) and so our focus was on one thing: amenities. Yes, it had come time, time for a year-round shower. No outdoor shower for half of the year, spanning from frozen showers in the spring to frozen feet in the fall. No more hoping the system wouldn’t break (and being disappointed multiple years when it did due to an unanticipated freeze). No more set-up and takedown from inside to outside. No more hours or days-long winter Steps 1-10. Nope. Permanence, my friends.

The project started last fall and just this week I am happy to report I took my first ever on-demand shower in our house.

Just a few weeks ago, we started here…

Now…we are here!

To say that it felt amazing is an understatement. I cried tears of joy the whole time as I laid down in the tub (the tub!) and let the water cascade down upon me. Did we come by the shower easily? Heck no. Did The Chief have to do endless research, make countless calls, and search for parts near and far? Did it work and then need tweaking and surprise us with hurdles unanticipated?

Did it seem like the project was giving us the finger at times? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

Of course it did! It was construction (in remote Alaska nonetheless), there are never any certainties. But one thing is certain now: we have a shower, shoot, we have a bathtub, and I am in heaven. And for the first time ever, we left Anchorage with excitement in our hearts to return to our shower instead of savoring every last second in the shower in Town. Our shower.

While our human addition grows within me, our house addition grows before my eyes and I have become ever more in awe of the man I married. From the ground up, he’s created for us a whole new reality. One of brightness and ease and luxuries large and small. It hasn’t always been easy but it certainly has been worth it. Together, we’ve divided and conquered, taking on the tasks most in our wheelhouse, both adding on to our family as we go, I with our babe in my belly, he with hammer in hand.

It’s wild how life can change, how perspective can shift, and how the things we took most for granted can become pure opulence. I am still a water baby, always will be, but I have a different appreciation for that water than ever before and I’m grateful for that shift. Despite growing up with it, I hope our little nugget will appreciate it too. If he forgets, I know our town will remind him how lucky he is every time he wanders into Town freshly showered.

With love (and running water),

From Alaska

P.S. Today mark’s a special day, The Chief’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, my love. We are so lucky you were born.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Sometimes, I feel a little like an anthropologist in our back and forth life. How do people live? What are the customs in this new land? What are the social graces and faux pas to learn? After a certain amount of time away, each new locale, even one as familiar as my childhood home or as my home in Alaska, feels like a whole new adventure and with that, a whole new learning curve. And so, we investigate, we learn, we stumble a bit, we right ourselves, and eventually, it’s off to the next adventure, the next learnings.

Carlsbad, CA Ranunculus
Learning, growing…hopefully.

California: After landing in California, I had to remember how to drive over 65 miles per hour, and learn traffic patterns (i.e. don’t try to drive between 3 and 6 pm). I re-discovered that Farmer’s Markets happen year-round (wooooohoooo!!!), and that winter has a whole other meaning the farther south you go (hello tank tops in November!).

Pregnant besties
And the joys of being with old friends in new times of life

I felt the sheer joy of being 30 minutes instead of 4-8 hours from a doctor when I needed one and the ease that was everything medical, comparatively. I also remembered how expensive CA life can be and how gratifying creating and sticking to a budget feels.

Alaska: Since my return to Alaska a few weeks ago, I’ve had to re-learn quite a bit as well. Most of my sentences have been littered with “Do you know where X is?” and re-discovering my systems.

Home remodel off-grid Alaska
Or tearing old ones apart

Why did I have empty space there (a luxury no one has)? Oh, right, because it was still “warm” when we left and I was using it as a cool place to store fruit. Now, it’s too cold. Time for the winter version of that space: non-freezable goods. I’ve also had to remember how to walk on slick surfaces (and learn this as a different version of myself who really, reallllllly doesn’t want to fall), how to drive in snow, how to be patient when everything takes longer than expected and…that AK life can be damn expensive as well. There have been lessons aplenty and my knowledge gap is still there but the best thing I’ve remembered from our life here has been neighbors.

Neighbors?

In the last place I stayed in California, my friend had a truly sweet little ‘hood full of best buds within walking distance of one another. They would cruise to one another’s houses to drop off goodies, help one another, play hoops or catch in the street. It was really sweet and also something I personally hadn’t experienced all that often in my life in CA. Don’t get me wrong, I have a super sweet group of friends. We would spend our holidays together, we vacationed together, dropped in on one another when we were close by but…we weren’t super close by. All of us were at least 15 minutes away by car.

Here, I’m footsteps away and boy did I miss walking those paths. In our little ‘hood live three households of our best friends, all within a 3-minute walk of one another. Despite being way out here, we are tucked into a community of close-knit comrades and the intimacy this juxtaposition breeds of being so far away from society yet so close to one another is pretty amazing.

Alaskan Malamute
Lone wolf, not so alone

For instance, right now we have two dogs: our pup Leto and our nephew Kudo. I love that instead of leaving the Valley, little KuKu gets to stay here with us while his pops is working down south. No one expects him to be boarded with people and pups he doesn’t know (not that there’s anything wrong with that and not to say that he wouldn’t be thrilled), we all just pitch in to make sure he’s well taken care of. We will have him for a few weeks and then when we move to Anchorage the next neighbors will start their round of care.

And that’s a huge part of our days here: taking care of one another. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be self-sufficient to survive the 180’s of life in the woods. Yet the hard here also facilitates a closeness, a breaking down of the normal barriers and that builds an intimacy I truly love. Sometimes it’s as small as sending someone home with one of your last pieces of fruit because you know they’re low too or doing loops around your neighbors yard to give them easy access to their house when it’s been snowing and they’ve been out of town. Sometimes it’s as big as your friend snowmachining down a frozen river to your house every day to drywall and paint (and even clean) before you come home. From small to large and every variation in-between of borrowing a cup of sugar to borrowing a vehicle, there’s a closeness here, a softness bred out of the hard.

Winter in Alaska
Probably not borrowing this vehicle though…

Yesterday, while in full-on nesting mode (read: I pulled the entire living room apart and dusted, scrubbed for 8 hours straight) I realized I was down to my last pair of skivvies. Not a good look. It would have taken me hours to get (read: find) our little washer, haul and heat water and get through 10 pairs. Plus, it would have greatly delayed my top to bottom scrub-a-thon. The solution? Neighbors to the rescue! Off I trudged with my bag over my shoulder and our still slightly frozen detergent in hand. 40 minutes and a quick walk-n-talk with my girlfriend later, we returned to her house and a load of laundry, freshly clean. Heaven.

After months of being gone, I still do feel like an anthropologist somedays. I forget that when I suggest we take a Sunday Drive it will mostly consist of me white-knuckling my way through, supporting my bouncing belly as The Chief navigates the icy terrain that are our roads. Not the windows-down-let’s-look-at-(the nonexistent) wildflowers-spring-vibe I was going for. I re-learn not to take power and water and food for granted. I remember just how much dust a woodstove can produce but also how absolutely delicious it is to sit in front of on a chilly morning with a book. Slowly but surely I’m remembering the ways and bringing back with me newfound findings from the exotic Lower 48 (like the fact that oat milk is delicious and a little amount of pampering goes a long way). But my favorite (re-)discovery so far has certainly been our little neighborhood and the neighbors within it. Nestled amongst the trees, tucked into the far away wilderness, lies a closeness I’ve always craved. It’s good to be home.

With love,

From Alaska

Alaskan Malamute
Cozy homebodies


Home(r)ward Bound

Finally, after months away and a month and a half apart, I flew home to reunite with my boys. As I stepped into the welcome area, there they were, my furry dudes with flowers in tow.

Ted Stevens International Airport
C’mon Mom, this way!

We all ran together and hugged, Leto wrapping his paws around us both. Not even my swollen sausage toes (compression socks be damned! Pregnancy is running this show) could keep me down. I felt like my half became a whole. Our family was reunited and it truly did feel so good. Ok, let’s listen to it, shall we?

**Sidenote: If you knew that the singers of this song were called Peaches & Herb you are a winner! I can’t believe I’ve known this song FOREVER and have never known that Trivia Night gem of an answer. Amazing.

After a long flight it was straight to an appointment and then our first ever together birthing class. While Zoom is amazing for connecting in a lot of ways, watching the partners together while I looked at my husband in his little bubble and me in mine, thousands of miles apart was a bit of a bummer. So, finally, we got to be in the same room and I got to experience the joys of a birthing partner. Our teacher gets an A+ ranking in my book as a good portion of the class is all about helping the birthing person to feel good and after nearly two months without someone to rub swollen feet or help me out of bed, I was feelin’ good. Uh oh, here it goes again…

The weekend zoomed along and despite our elation to be back together, there were also a bunch of loose ends to tie up. So, we got to tying. Job applications, doctors appointments, grant applications, more doctors appointments, and a few walks on the lagoon. Finally, though, it was time to have a little bit of fun with a mini BabyMoon in Homer. Despite living in Alaska for nearly 7 (!?!) years, there are SO many places I haven’t visited and so many places that The Chief has visited but not for a decade or more. Time to explore together.

Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage AK
Mom, you’re slow. Waddlefest 2022.

For two days we walked and talked our way through Homer, catching up with a dear friend and seeing her gorgeous property, checking out the famous Spit, and taking the shortest walk known to man in diagonal wind and rain. While the weather wasn’t perfect, it was a perfect location overlooking the Kachemak Bay and the mountains. Still, it wasn’t home and after nearly a week in Alaska without crossing our home’s threshold, I was over-ready to get back. It’s a good feeling to miss home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that jazz and after leaving with a bit of a panic from grey skies, it was good to be ready to return.

We returned from Homer and went straight into chore-mode (relaxing, huh?), hitting all the usual haunts (hello, Costco!) and getting home with just a few minutes to spare before our next birthing class.

Third trimester
I caught myself in the security cam looking as if I was trying to steal a basketball…

A week later and things were a little different. The glow of our reunion was still present but the two days of grey had gotten to me and I was suddenly a teary mess as panic set in. But you know what’s really good for anxiety? Breathing. And you know what you do a lot of in birthing classes? Breathe! The Chief and I laughed as this perfect medicine filled my cup up little by little. We looked into one another’s eyes and the connection held me to the present. Our kiddo kicking me and our Leto “helping” along the way too let me know we were all in this together and…luckily for us, the next day held sunshine.

We awoke early and started the packing process. Since we’d be returning just a few weeks later for another appointment with our midwives, our food haul wasn’t an epic one but since I’d been gone for 6 months, the stuff haul certainly was. Finally, tucked in tight, we made one last stop before hitting the road so Leto could stretch his little legs. As we pulled into the parking lot at the lagoon, the tiny car behind us did too and…boom! Landed straight in a puddle up over the tires. The Chief and I looked at one another knowingly and divided and conquered: I’d walk the dog, he’d get out the tow rope. 10 minutes later, the dog was walked and the people were back on solid ground.

Alaska Spring 2022
Cloudy with a chance of…what?

Would it be one of those Alaskan days, where everything takes 10x longer because of the most Alaskan things ever happening to you? We would see…

Luckily for us, it was smooth sailing. We made it home with plenty of light on easy roads (“easy” is of course relative. Our kiddo and my bladder would argue otherwise as we all bumped around in the cab but overall, it was pretty mellow) and only once we made it to our driveway did the chains come out. 30 minutes later, chained up and in 4 Low, we plowed and slid and skid our way home sweet home. Walking into our bright, light addition felt so amazing.

The light in the sky was dimming but the room felt luminous. Our dear friend had spent our days away finishing the drywall and painting the room and it was such an incredible joy to return to a project so close to the finish line. I gazed in at my bathtub, soon to be functional and whispered “See you soon”. I can’t wait.

Home(r)ward bound. One week and one day after landing, finally, we are home, and boy oh boy don’t it feel good.

Again, 1,000,000 points to you if you could have named this band. What?!?!

Am I a little nervous for the grey days after living in the land of sun for the last…forever? You betcha. Does the feeling of being with my family, in our own bed, of listening to the sounds of silence and looking at the stars without hearing sirens fill my cup? It sure does. And while the grey malaise came on strong, I have to remember that the last time it hit hard, we were in such a different place: newly pregnant, fearful of experiencing another loss, weary from years in the same place, missing adventure. We return and reunite with a belly that bounces with our beautiful babe, adventure itch scratched (for the time being) and, with a new addition in which to build new memories. We are in a different place and I am so grateful for this next chapter.

Wishing you bright chapters ahead in this time of renewal. Happy Spring!

With love (and sunshine),

From Alaska

Spring in Alaska

Homeward Bound

In high school, I was in three choirs (count ’em: three!). Insanity, right?! So, it’s no wonder that I can’t remember in which one we sang a song called Homeward Bound. However, although I can’t remember the choir (or much of high school at that, since I slept through most of my classes), the song sticks with me. It was beautiful and melancholy and is suddenly lodged in my brain as I find myself about to finally be homeward bound. So, as a final adieu to California, here are some highlights from the last few weeks and a preview of what’s coming next…

The sun was a constant. Sundown or sunup. I’ve been soaking it in lately.

I found little bits of nature, even in the city

I got to get super Ranunculus in Southern CA

And up close and personal with some new friends

Our house grew…

And so did our kiddo…

And so did I…

We hit some milestones: 7 years of storage, coming to a close!

And some timeline milestones…

And some house milestones…

Some things changed (Hello, haircut!)

And some things stayed the same: Leto is still the King of Cuteness and grumpy morning face.

Homeward bound.
I cannot wait. After 6 weeks apart, our little family will reunite (provided The Chief can get through the mountains of snow).

Thank you CA, it’s been grand. Between friends and family and the sun, my cup feels truly full.

And now, off to the Wintry North.

With love,

from California (and soon from AK)

We Can Do Hard Things (But Do We Have To?)

If you’ve ever read Glennon Doyle (and if you haven’t, I implore you to run, not walk to snag her book Untamed), you’ve heard this sentiment before: We can do hard things.

We can have those hard conversations.
We can move away from the comfort of a life we know to a life we feel drawn to.
We can leave a relationship, even if it feels like we’ll be lost without it.
We can make the jump, even if we aren’t sure how we will stick the landing.
We can be true to ourselves.

We can do hard things.

For those hard things, I’m fully on board. Stamp my ticket, conductor, I’m ready to ride. Since leaving a fraught relationship and unintentionally moving to Alaska, I’ve worked hard to build that muscle, to listen to that inner Julia that says “This, not that.” “Yes, not no.” “Stay versus go” and damned if listening to her hasn’t led me straight into the arms of the man I’m meant for and a life I’d never have dreamed up. But in addition to finally listening to my own inner North Star and doing some of the hard things I knew needed doing, I’ve also found myself smack dab in the middle of a place filled with a different kind of hard things. So…can I? Can I also do these hard things?

simple living alaska
Like…shower outside in the snow?

gardening in alaska
Or grow this from seed?

off-grid alaska
Or drive 16-hour round trips to the grocery store

It turns out that yes, I can do this version of hard too. The day-to-day hard of life off-grid has actually suited me quite well. It’s a hard to do that I want to do (well, most of the time). Yet it’s also played dangerously into another Julia, the one who pushes past the Glennon Doyle version of Good For You Hard into the Have to Do Hard. The one who touts the idea that no matter how hard, you should be able to do it. Yes, we can do all types of hard things, both emotional and physical. But do we have to?

Watching my husband and our fur baby drive away the other day, I felt a bit like a cop out. At 6.5 months pregnant, I’m still pretty agile, I still have energy, and yet here I was, separating myself from my family to stay in sunny CA because what? I couldn’t hack it in AK? Sure, our house was about to be a construction zone. Sure, I didn’t feel like I wanted our baby to be around dust and fumes from drywall and painting. Sure, it would have been hard to work from home while my husband upended said home with range of power tools and certainly it would have been hard to return mid-winter to a home that needed a lot of love to just get back to functional. BUT certainly I could do it. I’d done it before. Why was I being such a princess?

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Is it hard? I don’t wanna. I’m just going to sit in Mom’s pregnancy pillow and hide from the hard.

All of these thoughts circled my head as, after a long weekend of packing our life away into a UHaul and prepping for The Chief’s journey, I prepared to start the next step: moving. I’ve moved many, many times in my life. I used to housesit constantly. I am good at it. I also have incredibly high standards and expect to leave a place better than when I found it. So, after a solid goodbye cry, I pulled myself together. There was work to do. I packed and cleaned, cleaned and packed as the texts came in from my Mom asking when I was ready for help. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. We’d been going non-stop for weeks in preparation for this trip while simultaneously planning a last-minute family baby shower.

Baby shower covid
It was so worth it. Thank you ❤️ Picture credit to Julianne Deery

Things had been hectic and tiring and just as I needed more sleep, I found that my bladder and our baby decided I’d get less. I was beat. So, when help was offered, what did I do?

I told myself I could do hard things and I told my Mom that “I was fine, thanks!” Thankfully, she knew what the last few weeks had entailed and knew I was working myself thin. “Why don’t I just stop in a for a little?” Thirty minutes later, there she was. Thirty-one minutes later, I was feeling a little bit teary and a lotta bit of relief. Of course I could do hard things, but did I have to? And did I have to do them alone? By 5 pm that evening, we had packed and cleaned our home away from home from top to bottom, packed both of our cars and unpacked me into the new home I’d be staying in for the next 6 weeks. It was finally the end to an epically long string of marathons. Now, it was time to chill.

Malamute puppy
Professional chiller

So, could I have hacked it in Alaska at 6+ months pregnant mid-conststuction zone? Yep.
Am I glad that I didn’t? You betcha.

While the opportunity to feed the need to meet the hard head on is not Alaska-specific, the state certainly provides many opportunities to flex or stretch that muscle. There’s umpteen opportunities to rise to the hard occasion. Like, for example, my husband’s homecoming.

After a week on the road of long days, short nights and early mornings, he had finally made it home…almost. All that lay in front of him was 60 miles of snow-covered dirt road. Unfortunately, that snow wasn’t a mere winter’s dusting. It was a downright downpour that hadn’t been plowed. So, after over 3,000 miles, standing mere hours away from home, he had to call it. He left our car and trailer at a friend’s house and jumped into his road trip buddy’s rig. They’d get the car and the UHaul another day when the conditions were better. A few hours later, they were finally home. Let the construction begin, right?

Since returning, The Chief has had to shovel his way into our workshop after a plow job gone awry. He’s had to wrestle with generators that don’t want to work. He’s had to warm up batteries that don’t want to come back to life after stints at over -60 degrees this winter. 4 days in and the basics have just been restored: water, power, and access. Days of 40 degree “heat” meant sloppy trails and up to your crotch missteps if you ventured off of them. Yesterday, after shoveling for two days straight (with help from an amazing friend) to gain access to the storage area where all of the UHaul goodies would go, he made the trip to retrieve the car. All of this just to get to the “real work” of finishing our addition.

Today, he spends the day unloading. Next week he will start the process of finishing the addition and making our home ready for me and the babe to nestle into. Needless to say, his homecoming has been hard, the kind of hard he was prepared for and, to be honest, the kind I wasn’t. We’ve both agreed that while we dearly miss one another, me postholing about with a pregnant belly, isn’t exactly the type of hard that would be good for either of us right now.

pregnant in AK
Hiking up a hill for a sunset, however? That’s a hard I can handle.

As I sit outside typing in a sundress in 70 degree weather, the guilt starts to seep in again. I should be there. I should be able to handle it. Maybe it’s because as a kiddo I watched Tom Hanks’ speech in A League of Their Own a few too many times or maybe it’s because my ability to rise to the challenge has always been a point of pride for me but either way, I’m starting to let it go…a little. We can do hard things, we have done hard things, we will continue to do hard things when we have to but wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when presented with the option, we don’t always choose to do the hard that doesn’t serve us?

Take the help. Say “Yes” to the handout and “No” to the hard when you can. Becasue the thing is, the true hard will come.

Miscarriage
Like getting this email to mark the 3 month birthday anniversary that never was.

The unavoidable hard will roll in without warning and in those moments, you’ll be glad you gave yourself some respite. In this next month, I’m going to do my best to accept this gift of time, this gift of ease our separation allows me, even if it is a little lonely at times. I will value my contribution to our life in addition to my husband’s and realize that, while our actions may be different, they both point to the same end: creating a sturdy, whole, happy home for our child.

We can’t serve from an empty vessel.
It’s time to fill up.

If you can, I implore you to take the time and if you’re in a time of hard, I’m here to remind you: we can do hard things.

We can (and we don’t always have to).

With love,

From California & Alaska

P.S. What is the hard that you might need to leave behind? Are you good at it or is it hard for you? We want to hear from you!

P.P.S. Happy love day! I couldn’t think of a more perfect day for our most loving pup to have been born. Today our little fur baby turns 3! Happy birthday, little lovebug and to you, sweet Shiloh ❤️ You will be missed.

Alaskan Malamute
Lots of love, from our little family to yours

Living In Alaska (Sometimes Means Living Apart)


6 plus years ago, I waved goodbye to The Chief as I drove away with our friend, Anchorage-bound. 5 minutes in, I was laughing through my bon voyage boo hoo. Fifteen minutes later, we were grounded with a wonky wheel that wouldn’t stay put and a need for a Plan B.

Backpacking in Alaska
Stranded

60 minutes after that, after The Chief raced to come get me and deliver me to the mail plane, my mighty steed for the day, where I bid adieu to my newfound love for the second time that day.

Backcountry flights Alaska
Not a bad view for boo hoo #2

I was off to California for two weddings of four dear friends and five weeks later, The Chief would join me.

A mere five weeks. We’d spent our entire lives without one another, certainly a mere handful of weeks was manageable, right?

Certainly.

Was it fun?

Certainly not.

While it was lovely to return to California to see friends and family and excitedly tell them about our new love, it was hard to part ways. I felt like I had found my magnet match, my opposite pole and now that we were separated, the pull of that other half was constant. I missed the balance, the feeling of home and the feeling of whole. Nevertheless, five weeks eventually flew by and once we reconnected, we resolved the five weeks had been about three weeks too long.

Getting married in Alaska
Reunited. Don’t it feel good.

Something we conveniently forgot a few months ago when we made plans for this weekend. And now, it’s here. The weekend of shift, the winds of change, the time for The Chief to depart and for us to spend the next 6+ weeks apart.

Have I mentioned that I can be a little clunky with change?

Alaskan Malamute
Change? No thanks.

While we’ve managed over the years to push the 5-week fact out of our minds long enough to plan a 4 week trip for me to visit family and a few one week stints here or there without one another, the windows of our timeframes apart have slowly been narrowing over the years, with our latest longest stint being just under a week.

So, why the sudden decision to go throwback status and spend a month and a half apart? Well, you see, there’s a secret recipe to pregnancy in Alaska. It’s a sort of Build It and They Will Come approach. First, you must buy a Subaru.

Rhianna Desperado
Turn it up, Rhi Rhi!

Secondly, you must START an addition to your house.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto’s Lair, slowly growing

Why the unnecessarily aggressive all caps? Well, the key to this preggo plan is to start the addition. The second key is to race the baby to the finish line. Two of my best friends before me have cooked up this recipe in their own abodes and each time, we professed it would be the last time. And then laughed when it wasn’t.

Quick sidenote: I do NOT mean to be flippant about the difficulty of getting pregnant. For us, it took two years and it still doesn’t feel real. I know how hard it is to try and to be utterly grounded each month the potential passes. I did however see a pattern here that I couldn’t help but poke fun at. If you’re in the trying mode, I give you my sincerest wishes that you and yours welcome a babe to your bunch very, very soon. Hang in there, you’re doing great.

Start the addition we did. Now, the race is on. At nearly 6 months pregnant, I’m neither up for a 3,000+ mile roadtrip, nor do we want me plopped in the middle of a fume-filled construction zone. The solution? A division of labor and a division (momentarily) of our family.


“It’s fine.
We’re fine.
Everything is fine.”

Trina’s amazing Covid holiday card


This is a quote I’ve replayed in my head dozens of times. It originates from a holiday card during OG Covid from a dear friend that just cracked me up. We’re all doing totally fine, right?!?!

Truth be told, I have ridden a mere handful of emotional roller coasters while pregnant. The dreaded pregnancy hormone monsters have been quite kind to The Chief and I. That is, until now, when the reality that my little fambam is about to split two and two, thousands of miles apart, has started to sink in. In the last week, someone turned on the waterworks and they have been plentiful. When The Chief realized he could leave a day earlier because we switched our midwife appointment, I teared up. When I looked at my two furry boys the other morning, cuddled up nose to nose fast asleep, I teared up. When I did my first full load of baby laundry, I teared up.

Baby boy clothes
Snacks included

When the wind shifted, I teared up. It’s tear time.

So, where do we go from here? Well, there’s nothing to distract from tears like work to be done and so far, it’s gone about as smoothly as most of our journeys. Thankfully, we’ve been able to laugh through the hiccups – like having to drive two hours out of our way to pickup our Uhaul that someone decided to drop off at the wrong location to my pregoo brain driving it almost all the way home before we realized we hadn’t stopped at the storage unit on the way home (the whole reason for the Uhaul to begin with). Long hours, long days, swollen feet but still, two near-failed dinners and somehow…still fun.

Best burrito in CA
Burrito baby

Maybe because it’s the last few days together, or maybe becasue we are finally getting better at going with the natural flow of the best laid plans falling by the wayside.

Baby girl with Malamute
Just saddle up and hang on for the ride

On one of our last nights, after a big day and a wonderful last evening of drinks in the backyard with our landlords, I was beyond tuckered. I awoke to The Chief gently removing my book from my lap. I was still seated fully upright. He laughed as my post-deep sleep confusion muddled my words. He slowly removed the pillows from behind me and laid me down, tucking my enormous pregnancy pillow around me in all the right spots. “Goodnight, my love” he whispered as he shut off my bedside lamp.

I don’t want to go 6 weeks without that but I know time will only make returning to his comfort that much sweeter.

See you in 6 weeks, my loves.
See you in 2, sweet reader.

With love,

From California

weather in california
When the sky reflects all the feels

P.S. Do you and your spouse spend much time apart? How is it for you? Let us know in the comment section below!