alaska

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.
Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Women of Alaska

The Pendulum

“Should I bring a hairdryer, or do you have one there I could use?”

This was the first of many faux pauxs I made in preparing for my initial endeavor into the woods of Alaska. It was met with a laugh from my girlfriend and an “I’m not so sure my inverter could even handle a hairdryer.”

So, that’s a “no”?

Don’t bring one?

And you’re sure you don’t have one?

No dryer.

I had no frame of reference for how silly of a question that was at the time. Despite the fact that my hairdryer-less girlfriend had told me multiple times that her only power source was a generator, the off-grid reality just hadn’t hit me yet. It seems I simply saw the on-grid amenities my life in California afforded me coming along on my adventure into Alaska.

My hair would be dry.

Cocktails would have ice.

Showers would be long and luxurious.

Right?

Nope.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan cocktail ice

Harvest your cocktail ice here, friends!

 

I knew some things would be different. I knew it was more laid back, more casual. I knew my girlfriend told me to only pack hiking clothes, a stark change to my normal heeled getup. I also knew, no matter how formal or informal the town was itself, I myself had the opportunity to show up as whatever me I wanted to be. I looked forward to the opportunity while simultaneously was a bit terrified to showcase my new makeup-less look.

Did I still pack makeup? Yep.

Did I get my hair done before going?

Yesiree!

Hmmm…

Still, in all honestly, before unexpectedly moving to the woods I thought that I was relatively low-maintenance. I actually hated blow-drying my hair but since living in Italy where one of my classmates informed me that I was called Lei Con I Capelli Sempre Tutti Bagnati (essentially, that chick who always has wet hair) I felt that I needed to try a little harder. In perennially put-together Italy, it was an indicator of poor self-care and sloppy timing (I also was often sick in my early 20’s too…coincidence?). It resonated with me.

And so, twice a week I would try to stay cool while I sweated under the obnoxious blowing heat of a hairdryer. Because I was not a fan but did it anyway (despite the fact that I rarely brushed my hair in between), because I wore some but not a ton of makeup every day, I still thought that I was low-maintenance.

Enter: Alaska.

Come as you are.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Women of Alaska

No makeup mornings. Trying it out, with trepidation.

 

If Italy is the overbearing parent who cares just a little too much what you look like, Alaska is the fun aunt or uncle who just lets you play in the mud. So, for the most part, I’ve spent the last 5 years getting dirty instead of gussying up, wearing overalls and work clothes and jeans and sweatshirts with ponytails or braids instead of heels with fashionable versus functional fabrics with my hair in curls.

In California, despite the fact that I didn’t brush my hair much, I rarely stepped out without it at least looking “done”.

Every

Freakin’

Day.

Going to the gym?

Hair was done.

Grocery?

Done.

Lazing around the house?

Pretty much done (ish).

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, California

My daily driver.

 

So, when I moved to Alaska, where turning on a hairdryer could have blown up our inverter, my hair became a lot more un-done and I didn’t miss it one bit. Sometimes I brushed it, most days I didn’t, and away I went with 15-60 minutes more in my day than I would have had in California. Sometimes I’d twist it back into a bun to dry to give myself some beachy waves or pull it back into a ‘do of sorts but mostly, it roamed free or in a ponytail.

It took me two years and a little more familiarity with (and upgrades to) our power system to realize that, while a blowdryer was probably out of the question (and even if not, having dropped the habit, I had zero interest in picking it up again), a curling iron which drew little power could still take a few tussles with my tresses, if I wanted.

I used it once before it broke and I didn’t think about it again until this last year when I realized that since I was doing my hair for our wedding I would probably need to replace it. It took me 10 minutes and held through to the next day. I loved it. It was bouncy and celebratory. Then this Winter when we took our 6-month celebration photos in the snow, I pulled it out again. Another 10-minutes and voila! Fancy tresses.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan Wedding

Move over, Mom.

 

It planted a seed, it seems because recently I’ve started thinking: I miss having a ‘do to do.

Throughout my 20’s I had countless variations on cuts and colors and suddenly, mid-quarantine (hmm…connection?) I started to feel like my long style-less locks were a little lackluster. Maybe I’d start dyeing my hair black again?

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Patrick Dempsey

Black ‘do and Dempsey.

 

Hmm…that’s a commitment. Maybe brown? At a minimum I needed some layers, right?

Out came the scissors (insert extremely sinister background music).

I was tired of my nearly down to my buns one length hair. It had been with me through so much in the past few years and like The Chief (who asked me to chop off his shoulder-length locks this Winter), I felt the need for a shift.

Chop to it, little lady!

The first home haircut round went well but I ended up with a slight mullet.

So, I did what every good quarantiner did these past months and consulted YouTube (sinister music gets louder).

I settled on a couple videos on the same variation: the unicorn approach (hint: approach this mystical beast with caution. She’s not all sparkles and magic). Should I have settled on one video and one technique?

Yes!

Did I?

Nope. Two different techniques to one approach.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Quarantine haircut

Watch the horn!

 

It seems this is how I approach most things. When searching for recipes I lookup about 5 variations and make one of my own combination depending on what we have available. This haircut would be no different. Unfortunately, I forgot that while most of my recipes come out “mmm mmm good”, everyone once in a while they’re a little more “meh”. Maybe I didn’t forget but I certainly ignored this fact.

One might say this is where the trouble started. One would be right.

You know when you go to the salon and your hair looks dope-tastic-fabuloso-put-me-in-a-magazine-straighaway right out the gate?! You and your new ‘do float out of the salon, Tresemme reps at your heels.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Quarantine Haircut Alaska

I thought it went well…at first.

 

Then a day or so later the glow of the salon is gone and you’re stuck with a ‘do you actually have to do yourself that looks a little less stellar and more stale? It’s like buyer’s remorse…on your head.

In combining the two unicorn styles (double unicorn?! That’s even better than a double rainbow!) something went awry.

Surprised?

The shortcut that was supposed to cut off length while simultaneously making perfect layers. I came out the rainbow’s end with some serious layers and pretty much zero relief in length (think layers like steps in a large staircase or even better, multiple bowl cuts in succession). It was glorious.

Actually, it looked pretty darn good at first, I had that salon de Julia glow going.

Then, I washed it.

Huge mistake.

The “layers” were unveiled and out came the truth: another mullet! This time, uneven to boot! Kind of like multiple mullets…

Now, I will say that when I lived in Italy nearly 15 years ago, the long mullet (which I am currently rocking) was in fashion and in fashion years, it seems about time that it would have finally made it’s way to Alaska (if we were a phone, we’d be a flip phone in terms of what gets here when) so…maybe I was just in time?

Nah.

I’ve spent the past month with a ding dong ‘do and some days it’s really bothered me. Some days I could care less. Some days, most days, it’s somewhere in between. I’ve gone through every iteration of change from how to fix it to absolutely hating it to liking it. I’ve decided on fixes (Should I just chop it all off? Should I attempt another go? Perhaps just some length this time. Maybe I should get bangs again?) and decided to wait. I’ve felt everything from remorse at my hasty chop job to total apathy about anything hair related.

I’ve gone from one extreme to the other, not only in the last month but in my lifetime. I’ve aimed to love the inside and care less about the outside and then watched myself struggle to maintain that as the outside changed. In the ups and downs and backs and forth, however, I did realize something: my self-love pendulum has finally started to swing a little more consistently closer to the middle than ever before, I just needed the extremes to find out. Before I moved here, I felt trapped by keeping up an image, I was far to one extreme. When I moved to Alaska, I felt like I shouldn’t care at all and sometimes faced ridicule if it seemed like I did (“why are you wearing lipstick?! Is that seriously mascara?!”. Yaaas boo, it is.) that made me second guess myself. The other extreme.

Spiffed up in CA, spiffed up in AK:

 

Now?

I’m somewhere in the middle, somewhere it seems a lot of us might live.

I’ve had women in Alaska ask if they could borrow my lipstick upon seeing me wearing it out one night or comment things like “I sometimes want to wear mascara too but don’t want to catch guff for it”. I hear ya, sister. I’ve also had friends in “the real world” who wished that they didn’t feel (as I did) like they had to put on a “face” every day. It’s ok to want to glam up or glam down. Your beauty throttle is up to you, boo.

I do care what I look like but I care less and I love myself more than I used to, and that’s something. I’m accepting that I do like a little spiff up now and then but I don’t weigh my worth by it anymore. I’m low maintenance to a degree, to my degree. My degree, that will pounce in a mud puddle all day long, but maybe have nail polish on while doing it. That’s me.

We can get purty, we can get dirty, we can find ourselves somewhere in between. It’s all just an outer shell to the inner you, but there’s no need to apologize if you want to revamp that shell from time to time, nor are you required to do so.

So, perhaps I’ll keep trying at the spiff up and pick up the scissors to try my hand again someday soon. Better yet, maybe I’ll finally get to see a professional (and to any stylist reading this, I offer you my sincerest apologies. To my California stylist, my hair and I miss you dearly) to help undo what I’ve done. Or…maybe I’ll just wait it out. Let the sun kiss my locks, let time grow them out, let the pendulum swing.

 

Winter pendulum, Summer pendulum.

 

 

It all depends on which wild hairs I get and which I listen to…the ones who chant “chop, chop, chop” sure have gotten louder while writing this post. The most important voice though, always, is the one that says “I love you, just as you are”. Slowly but steadily, I’m learning to listen.

With love (and currently, no makeup and a mullet),

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Beauty Pendulum, 06-01-20, Alaskan Malamute

Even Leto likes a new ‘do occasionally. He calls this one Grass Stripes.

 

What about you? Where does your pendulum fall? Got a quarantine cut or story to share? Share on, hair sisters and brothers, in the comments below 👇

Like the blog? Like us on Facebook.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Alaskan Puppy Love

Alaskan Puppy Love

A few years ago, I was talking to my nephew about our beloved dog Cinda. I was telling him how every morning, after her breakfast, she would set off on her neighborhood rounds. Around the ‘hood she would trot, bidding good morning and begging for treats, eventually returning home to stand guard of her kingdom.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Cinda in Alaska

My Lou, my love.

 

He was amazed.

For her persuasive puppy ways? Her treat-seeking ingenuity?

No.

For her ability to get through the fences.

He evaluated her, a regal dog lady in her later years, and remarked:

“Oh wow, Auntie Juju! How does she get through all the fences?!”

Fences?

Of course.

He lives in a sweet little wooded area himself and is no stranger to vast open areas of land but even the largest plots of land still have fences.

In a town where I could probably count on one hand the number of fences I know of, I had completely forgotten about them. Fence-less life had become so normal to me that his sweet surprise brought me back to reality: these dogs have it good.

No fences, no leashes, sometimes without so much as even a collar to hinder their wild spirits, with millions of acres to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Hiking in Alaska

13+ million acres to roam.

 

Cinda had it good and trick or treat her way through the neighborhood she did all the way up until she passed. So, when we found our new ball of fluff and welcomed him home, we assumed he’d have the same fence-less life.

Right?

Well, kind of.

The poor pooch came down with Parvo before I was even able to pick him up. Then, once he puppy powered(!) his way through it, we were sequestered to the house for 6-weeks. Never once did he go outside without me and always attached to a leash. This grated against his punk rock Papa who made Cinda wear a collar, which he dubbed her “City Clothes” only when we went to Town. Eventually, Leto’s quarantine ended, and off from the leash he went, collar-less, mildly leash-trained, and ready to roam.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Leto in Alaska

Leto, when he was just a wee one.

 

Free to be.

Until a few weeks ago.

Among the multitude of COVID complications, I never would have guessed that puppy love would have become a problem. You see, Leto is a lover. He’s one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. He LOVES people, big and small (though he’s especially fond of babies). Yet in the time of COVID, despite his fence-less life,  physical contact with his neighborhood besties, both furry and fur-less (well, maybe just less furry) has been notably challenging for this playful pooch. No going inside for his good morning rounds, no fun. And despite his fence-free life, he’d never wandered farther than the neighborhood houses he knows. Until…

Puberty.

Oh, what a joy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute Attitude

Whatever, Mom.

 

You see, just as Leto hit the prime time for neutering, COVID-19 swept in. Not only was our trip to the vet on hold due to travel bans, but our banned travels would have been futile, as our vet had gotten stuck out of state and wasn’t allowed back in.

While puberty was a bit, umm, obnoxious (think: newfound possessiveness over his body-length moose bone, constant grumpy face instead of the happy to see me puppy of the year past) it wasn’t any worse than anything we’d already dealt with from our little Leto beast. It turns out, however, that puberty attitudes were nothing compared to the next hurdle his steadfast testicle friends posed:

Puppy love.

A friend’s dog we’d dog-sat last year named Piper, is one of Leto’s favorite girlfriends. She chewed on his face so much that she gave him hotspots and still, he went relentlessly back for more. He was enamored. I would look out the window and there he would be, on his back with her dragging him by the neck through the mud. Leto was the ultimate pushover for her (are you also having flashbacks of your twenties right now? Eek!). The puppy love bug was strong.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Alaskan Malamute I Love You

Love bites.

 

Although they hadn’t seen one another in months, every time The Chief would return from seeing Piper’s Dad he would go crazy. Still, he stayed home. Until one day when he decided that if his girlfriend wouldn’t come to him, he would go to her. It was the farthest he’d ever wandered but I figured the isolation was getting to him and this behavior would be a one time blip on the radar.

Silly Mama.

You see, it turns out he discovered something on that visit, something I wasn’t aware of:

Piper was in heat.

His courting started coyly, with Leto greeting each early morning with a long and lonesome “Hello” howl to her. Unaware of the cause of the howling, I assumed it was just a new phase, he’d found his voice. It was cute and a daily reminder (though 13 hours early for the 8pm Howl) that we were all in this together, this quarantine life.

Apparently, the message wasn’t for us, nor was it getting through.

A few days after his howling Hello’s had begun, I got a call: “Leto is here” Piper’s Mom said. Miles away he had gone, again. I went to retrieve him and Piper’s Mom said: “I think she might be in heat”.

Oh.

No.

Still, to be honest, I didn’t think much of it.

Leto, on the other hand, did.

Transformed by the visit, his morning howls grew in intensity and frequency.

All

day

howling.

All

night

howling.

Our neighbors love us.

So, we brought him inside more often than not and listened for hours on end to his lonesome lullabies.

 

 

 

His once cute and mournful cries were now hoarse from exhaustion. He would howl so hard his voice would give out, howl so hard he would knock himself over.

It was lovely.

Working from home was even more lovely. I’d watch longingly as The Chief would set out for the day. “Bye! Let me know what life without earplugs is like!” I’d think.

Three walks per day still weren’t cutting it. When he wasn’t howling, he was sleeping from the sheer exhaustion the howling caused.

Finally, one night at 2 am, we broke. By 3 am, I had consulted every puppy resource I had and the verdict was out:

Good luck!

This won’t end until her heatwave does.

More good news?

Heats can last from 2-4 weeks.

Oh, joy.

It turns out that in comparison to the horror stories I read online, we actually had a pretty cush situation with our Leto.

So cushy, huh?

About as cushy as sleeping on a pinecone.

Two weeks and 74,000,000 howls later, we’ve discovered a semi-successful Ignore and Reward system but boy oh boy has working from home with a howling 1-year old Malamute been a pleasure. Thank goodness for the mute button in online meetings and noise-canceling earphones. Sometimes, they even work!

And so, in his first year around the sun, we’ve come full circle: quarantined again. Every move he makes is attached to a leash, except for the few times I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt and been sorely reminded that no amount of treats can dissuade nature’s call. Again and again, I’ve made the drive over to Piper’s house to retrieve him, tail wagging.

“Mom! So good to see you. Thank goodness you’re here. Can you let Piper out for me? We have some, uh, business to attend to.”

Two crazed puppies in love.

One night, he stayed under their stairs all night long. A real Romeo, you know.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Peek a Boo

One of his best tricks. Peek a boo!

 

Finally, we are staring down what must be (please, oh please) the last week of her heat. The howling, so loud it rattles the walls, has become ever so slightly less frequent and his manners have improved. He is, however, on a seemingly love induced hunger strike this weekend but, as I’ve been reminded time after time, this too shall pass. Leto has finally accepted his tied up fate (something we vowed he would never do to a dog) for the most part and has even become a bit of a gentleman on the leash.

A few months ago, at a Ladies Night, back when such things weren’t relegated to Zoom, I mentioned that Leto wasn’t as leash trained as I had wished.

Be careful what you wish for.

Despite the fact that we live in a leash-less, fence-less place, my goal had been to train Leto to acceptable standards. What were those standards? The Chief and I had different ideas of what acceptable meant and without an agreed-upon agenda, things got confusing for the young lad. Enter: puberty and things started getting messy.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, Shake it Off

“Shake it off, Mom” – Leto, in the lower left.

 

Lucky me, I got my wish, and training became a must, as did a family plan. Forced by the piercing cries of our oh so lovesick pup, we had no choice but to land on the same page and for that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful for understanding neighbors and for trees to somewhat bury his lovesong sounds.

Oh, Alaska, you sneaky beast, always lying in wait to serve us up the lessons we avoid best and need most.

Thank you.

Despite the frustrations of the last few weeks, the family fights and the utterly “I’m going to lose it” inducing cadence of his howls, Leto has provided us with an opportunity to grow as a family. I’m not saying it was pretty but it was worth it. Hopefully, someday soon, to the vet, we will go.

Cheers to you. May your unexpected COVID conundrums be few or if many, may they soon subside. Best wishes in these strangely trying times.

With (puppy) love,

from Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Alaskan Puppy Love, The Chesters of Alaska

Family portrait, minus the Fluff

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska

Sown

The annual seed planting party has started and this year, it’s a two-stage event.

As acquiring fresh food has become more of a logistical marathon than even the “best” Alaskan shopping trips, creating your own something fresh has become more important than ever. For months now, I’ve been sporting a serious rotation of sprouts and have discovered, through scarcity, ways to stretch fresh foods farther than ever before. Yet as Winter seemed to hang on rather than hang her hat, I wasn’t so sure when the real growing season would begin.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Animals of Alaska

Sweet little pawprints in still deep snow.

 

So, I began.

While most seedlings are ready to go outside by about 6-weeks, the longer and longer Alaskan days (the sun is barely set by 10 pm these days) sometimes speed that process. The sun greets the little starts and the starts salute her back, stretching to meet her daily. Start too early and your sweet seeds will have legs for days (in this case, a bad thing). Start too late and your seedlings will still be maturing when the ground is ready, shortening your growing season. Plant now? Plant later? It’s a dance we all do out here, every year.

“Have you planted?”

“Do you think it will be a June 1st kind of year?”

With almost two feet of snow on the ground and April midway through her reign, getting plants into the ground by June 1st, even two weeks ago, didn’t sound all that feasible. Still, I figured, why not start a sort of starter crop? If the season held tight and refused to greet Spring, I could re-pot the most gung-ho of starts into bigger pots and keep them inside, further transforming our house into a greenhouse.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, House plants in Alaska

These babes have been with since last Fall and have brought me more joy than I could have imagined.

 

So, I braved the slippery descent under the house to round up the seeds a girlfriend and I share. A few days earlier I had gone under to grab my remaining half cube of soil, a huge bag I wrestled inside in order to defrost. Trying to keep my footing on our under the house ice rink, I smacked my head in the process hard enough to put a ringing in my ears. Perhaps I need a helmet. So, on my second descent, I proceeded with care, retrieved the seeds and got to work. It seemed as if the little ones had reproduced over winter. The options were endless.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Gardening in Alaska Starting Seeds

Grandma watched over via her decanter. Love you, Gam.

 

Easily overwhelmed, I used a lifeline, phoned a friend, and decided to start with the basics:

Flowers

Herbs

Lettuce

and

Early beginners (those who need a longer season, like tomatoes, peppers, etc.)

 

I divided them by the above delineations and then by their needs:

 

Darkness

A 24-hour soaking period prior to planting

Constant moisture

Light watering

Daily foot rubs (oh wait, that’s my need)

And then, I got to planting!

Nope.

By the end of the prepping, planning and pampering my babes to be, hours had passed and I was pooped.

The Chief looked at me and back at the half cube (think: about 15 pounds) of soil sitting in our “enormous” house (that was sarcastic) and gently said “It’s ok. Just leave it inside for one more day”. The soil, after being moved into and about the house from inconvenient place to inconvenient place for the last few days of planting procrastination certainly wasn’t going outside to freeze again. The nights had been cold and the snow continued to flurry and so we tucked in for the night, Leto, The Chief, the soil and I.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Alaskan Malamutes

Mind meld nap

 

The next day was the day: Planting Day (Round One). I budgeted an hour or so to get all the seeds into their cozy, warm soil homes. I mean, I’d already done the hard part of sorting and debating over and soaking the seeds. It was planting time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Gardening in Alaska

Round One

 

Time it was. Somehow, it took me three hours to simply plop some seed pups into soil. It’s a process and one I really love to do. I forget every year how lost I get in the process and how the hours smoothly slide on by. The day was sunny but cool and as the sun made her way behind the trees the temps dropped quickly. I got up every few sown rows or so to get more water from inside, as the water I had cooled within a few minutes. My frozen fingers plodded along as I finished up by fashioning darkness for some of the finicky flowers and cilantro. The cold nipped its final warning. Inside time.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Starting Plants from Seed in Alaska

Already rising from their dark sleep.

 

It was done. Round One of the great seed party was complete and as the sky threatened snow I knew I had made the right choice. Winter would hold on, but at least we’d have fresh food inside.

Then came the rain. Winter had ceded her throne. How wrong I was.

The very next morning, Easter morning, I heard the familiar old sound of rain on the roof greeting me from my bed. It had been months since I’d head that sound, since last November, and it brought with it a sweet fondness and familiarity. Change was coming. The lightest of pitter-patter turned into a substantial stream and in it, The Chief, Leto and I took our final true Winter walk. The next day, the trails were an ominous mixture of hard and soft, packed and porous, and I sunk with every few steps up to my knee. Precarious as it was, it announced what I had wondered on for weeks: Spring was on her way.

In the last week, Winter has finally given her final bow and into our lives Spring has sprung with gusto. My garden beds I’d shoveled weeks ago finally melted their last icy layers and for the first time in months on end, I saw the earth below. I dug my fingers into the still nippy soil and looked up to a bright sun in my face.

Spring.

In the last week, all sorts of things have returned to my reality, like old friends returning home.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Weather in Alaska

Hello, butt stump!

 

From pulling out our rainboots to seeing what’s unearthed by the melt, things I’d forgotten were buried beneath the season (and our house) have shown their faces again. Processes and patterns, well-weathered by months on end of repetition, have changed and with them, we find ourselves sometimes awkwardly shifting with the season. Even simply getting water from our well is a different experience and although one might think it would be exactly the same experience for us and our neighbors with whom we share the well, it isn’t.

This time of year onward into Summer is the easiest time for us to get water. We hook up two hoses and thar she blows! Instead of schlepping buckets up and down the Ramp of Doom we simply run the hose to the top of the Ramp and fill buckets quickly and easily. Our neighbors, on the other hand, once the snow has completely melted have to walk over, carrying their 70-pounds of water home because their 3-wheeler isn’t working (though they can borrow ours, of course, but I know that sometimes the exercise is nice. Sometimes not.). In the Winter, walking up the Ramp is treacherous and tiresome while they simply load and unload a snowmachine. Two households with the same opportunity (the well) and two completely different realities. One easier, one harder.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Spring in Alaska

Spring. The Flipped Perspective.

 

As the season shifts, it means different things for different people, even those in relatively similar circumstances, especially for those in different circumstances. For me, I’m praying to be eating a harvest from these seedling babes in a few months. For my girlfriend in Oregon, she’s enjoying the current bounty from her Winter garden while simultaneously prepping her next season’s crops. We all live in different circumstances yet want the same things: food, water, shelter, love (and pancakes. Did I mention pancakes?). The simple shifting of the season makes it oh so clear that while we are all in this shift together, it means different things for different people.

Be gentle.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska

Tender new sweet peas. Leaves of little hearts.

 

Shift these times will, and remind us of that which perhaps we had forgotten under the cover of Winter. The other day, after the rains had abated, I visited the wedding arch a dear friend crafted for us on our wedding day and saw the stones he had placed to hold the two willows in place. I had forgotten that beneath the snow lay a base. A base of love, built by hand, stone by stone.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Wedding Arch in Alaska

Thanks, M.T. We love you.

 

It’s funny how we forget that which was familiar only months ago and even that which has been for years, every year. We forget that starts take hours on end to complete. That soil has to be brought inside sometimes days before planting. That you never remember everything you need the first time to get the planting job done. That some things that are hard for you are easy for others and vice versa. That your loved ones will surprise you with little miracles to last the seasons through.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Friendships in Alaska

Throwback to when A.T. brought me a bell pepper (!) in the middle of Winter. Cheers to beautiful friends.

 

I think in this most precarious of times, seeing that which lies beneath by shedding our winter coats, feels a bit like a rebirth. Seeing soil, shifting our chores to reflect the season, starting fresh with life anew through the simplicity of seedlings soothed my soul in ways I didn’t know I needed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Growing Peas from Seed in Alaska.jpeg

Rows on rows on rows. Hello, loves.

 

Perhaps June 1st will welcome these sprouting babes and the planting beds will be filled with warm soil, ready to receive them. Or, perhaps Spring will snap again and whisk herself away from Summer’s grasp and our house will turn further into a jungle. Perhaps some of the seeds will sprout and some won’t. Not everything that’s planted blooms. Either way, I’m grateful for the shift that has already occurred, away from darkness and into the light.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Post, Sown, 04-20-20, Weddings in Alaska.jpeg

This way, mama.

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Winter in Alaska

A European Vacation

Last month, for the first time since my first Winter here, I had significant time off at home, in Alaska.

Not just time, an unprecedented amount of time: an entire month.

Aside from a few months in my first Winter (which I spent nearly paralyzed by all I had to learn in order to live and thus, not very much enjoying my unemployed freedom), I’ve always worked at least one job, most often two or more, while living here. Before that, I worked consistently since age 14, always carrying at least one but often closer to three. Even on “vacations” in the last few years, I’ve always worked at least a chunk of the time off.

So it came: A whole month off, for the first time in longer than I can remember.

Amazing, right?

Well, yes, eventually.

Work, to me, is security and purpose. I like to work (maybe a little too much) and so the idea of not working, of not having a schedule or deadlines or responsibilities or (especially) cashflow felt very overwhelming. I also knew it was exactly what I needed. The past few years have been a lot, to say the least, and I desperately needed a reset before jumping into my new job (the impetus for the time off). Thankfully, my new boss agreed – scratch that – actually, encouraged me to take the whole month off before I started my new job (thank you!) and so…I did.

“What will you do with your time off?” was the question I received most often.

“Don’t waste it!” was another common sentiment.

Yikes! I could feel the pressure building. So, I set out to quell the panic with my most favorite of lists: a To-Do list

Vacation To-Dos:

  1. Watch the sunrise and sunset every almost every day
  2. Exercise every day
  3. Write every day
  4. Train Leto to skijor (become professional skijorer, obviously)
  5. Leash train Leto to police dog status
  6. Become a seamstress
  7. Master knitting
  8. Become a collage artist
  9. Embroider onesies for all of the newest babes in my life
  10. Finish all remodeling projects on our house
  11. Bring the large washing machine inside and do all Winter laundry
  12. Bake every other day
  13. Go to the doctor and the dentist (a full trip to Anchorage)
  14. Become a fermenting pro
  15. Learn to play the guitar
  16. Learn to play the keyboard
  17. Record a few songs
  18. Oh yeah, relax
  19. etc.
  20. etc.

The list went on and on so I won’t bore you with the details but I will say this:

I completed every single To-Do!

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Malamute Puppy Skijoring

Skijoring champion!

 

Nope.

No, I didn’t.

Of course, I didn’t.

In retrospect, I see how fast a month flies by and how utterly over the top my ambitions had been. I chuckle to think of my therapist trying to slow the runaway train of my month off ambitions so I’d finish the month in a realistic, rather than a disappointing state. Yet try as she might, I was unstoppable.

At first.

In the first two weeks of my vacation, I spent my time waking early and working on any and all business I had at present or had neglected in the past. Taxes, property searches, car insurance, titles, oh my! My heart beat far too fast and my adrenaline surged from the moment I awoke each day as my need to fill time and “not waste” my vacation jumped in the driver’s seat. I did my best to suck all the fun out of those two weeks but in retrospect, it was exactly what I needed so that the third week, I could relax.

By week three, I had finally allowed myself some time to just chill. While sleeping in eluded me for the entirety of the month (though I was able to wake at 8 am once versus my 6 or 7 am daily rooster routine). Eventually, my anxiety waned as I found the rest I desperately needed in ways I normally wouldn’t allow myself. I read in bed, which to me, is perhaps the most luxurious thing one can do, made only more luxurious by The Chief bringing me tea in bed as well. I watched trashy TV in the middle of the day (before doing so, I stopped to look over my shoulder as if to say “Am I really allowed to do this?!”) and had phone conversations with friends and family I hadn’t been able to catch up with in ages. I read magazines I’d received months earlier and never even opened and baked scones and biscuits and other buttery bits I wouldn’t normally let myself whip up.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Muffin Tops in Alaska

“Muffin tops”. Apparently, I didn’t fill them enough to get the full effect but you get the idea. Ha!

 

I also implemented a hint of a schedule via parameters: before I looked at my phone each day, I needed to complete my morning ritual of reading and journaling. It was surprising how hard that was at first but instead of waking and obsessing over everything on my To-Do list via phone from the moment I awoke, it gave me a moment to connect inwards and check in with what I needed. It allowed me to let go of my To-Dos for a moment and just listen to what my body needed.

Which was:

Not an exercise regime but instead a long, rambling ski (and snacks. Lots of snacks).

Not a sunrise/sunset agenda but a snowshoe hike or a walk whenever my body needed it.

Not a concrete daily schedule but time to be open to whatever came next.

What my body needed was a mixture of play and work, a mixture I had been missing for a very long time. So, when my body asked for a timeout, I took it and when I started getting anxious from too much downtime, up I went.

I baked and tidied the house and started long overdue organizing projects and skied and worked on skijoring with Leto a bit too.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Home ORganization

Organization in progress. What floor?!

 

Everything on my list was given a nod though not necessarily the full processional. I never even got out my sewing machine but I did go on many an unplanned adventure. New To-Dos came up that trumped my original plans. Things shifted and priorities swayed with my inner tides by simply asking myself: What do you need?

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Cross Country Skiing

This. I needed this.

 

What do you need?

So often, we forget to check-in with ourselves. So often we forget that we can provide what we need. Once I had focused on what my body and mind needed, I realized there was something else I needed: a desk. The Chief and I realized that in order to accommodate the command center my work was sending me, I certainly had a need: a new desk.

So, I went online and…

We built one. All too often, I think of something I need and go to procure it rather than manufacturing it myself. If nothing else, this virus has brought me back, full circle, to the realization that I’m often far more able to meet my material needs than I realize (and doing so myself is often far, far cheaper) So, I didn’t buy one online. I certainly researched ideas and designs online but instead of clicking “Buy” The Chief helped me manufacture a beautiful cream-colored lass made especially for me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Building

Work in progress

 

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Workshed, Winter

Half of the shop

 

Gorgeous as she was, she inspired us to finish our bedroom (finally) with trim and even (gasp!) actual walls. I know, I know, fancy, right?

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Building in Alaska

My moon.

 

My time off ended in a flurry of warming the work tent in the morning, working long days that carried into the night, then stoking the fire for hours afterward to protect our painted pieces against the suddenly cold outside temperatures that threatened to cool the tent. We went to bed that last week with sawdust in our hair and paint on our hands and the joy of making something, together. Down to the wire we were nailing in trim and navigating the plethora of connections my new computers required. I finished out my month off in a scurry, in true Julia fashion, but the job was done and done well. All in time to start my new job.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Work from Home

The command center!

 

Last week, as my vacation came to a close, my therapist and I laughed at my overzealous To-Do list. “This is why Europeans take a full month off every year. In the first two weeks you are detoxing from work, the third week you relax and the fourth you prepare to go back to work. There’s not really much time to start a million new hobbies. You have to pick a few”.

And I had (though not the ones I would have guessed I would have prioritized).

It was just as she said, my European vacation. Full of decompression, relaxing and then re-compression in a mindset anew. Full of hopes, reality, daydreams and dust bunnies. Full of surprises. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar surprise situation due to an unplanned virus-induced vacation of sorts. Perhaps your mountain of a To-Do list is overwhelming you. Perhaps the vacation doesn’t have an end in sight and monetary pressures loom over you.

Yet still, I implore you to dig into this moment of reprieve from the daily grind. Give yourself whatever time off you can and if possible, find the calm after the decompression. I promise you, it’s a beauty. I don’t say this as someone who is comfortable not working or as someone who would be alright financially not working for weeks on end but I do say this as someone on the other side of four weeks who didn’t realize how badly I needed them until I reached their end.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Kennicott Alaska

Mountain play date. The only thing on the To-Do list that day.

 

Despite the intensity of this COVID situation and the different challenges we all independently face, there is beauty in a necessitated slowing down. A moment to take stock of what we do have, what we can do and DIY (and save money doing so), without looking outward. Take a bath (please, for me, take a bath. Is there anything better for relaxing than a bath? Someday…), take a nap, phone a friend, build something you’d normally buy or bake a pie for no reason other than you are alive (and what a reason that is).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Baking, Winter in Alaska

Turkey Pot Pie deliciousness

 

Give yourself a moment in this mandated moment of pause to do just that.

Pause.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

Pause professional

 

Cheers to you, wherever you are sequestered. May your troubles be few and your time off from our persistent reality calming. May work come back to you if it has fled and if not, may financial security find you in some other way. May you find yourself a moment of calm.

To you and yours, with love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, A European Vacation, Winter in Alaska

Winter walks.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Sprouts for Breakfast, Dolly Parton, Alaska

Apocatips

Apocatips

Tools & Tips to Weather the COVID-19 Storm from Off-Grid Alaska

 

The other day my girlfriend, who lives in California, said to me: “If anyone is ready for this, it’s you guys.”

“This” being the COVID-19 pandemic. “This” being hunkering down in our days of social distancing. “This” being living off of and making do with what we have for an unknown amount of time. Normally, I would have thought to myself with pride “Yes! We are so prepared!”. However, as fate would have it, the past few months we have flip-flopped our tendencies as we have significantly tightened our belts around here. With that tightening went away any non-essential purchases and the well-worn habit of always buying a little extra. We weren’t preppers by any means but for the last five years, we’ve always had enough stocked to last us a few months at a time.

Not anymore.

New reality versus old reality:

 

 

 

 

The past few months we’ve whittled down our freezer stores and eaten all the things we tend to forget (read: aren’t interested in eating) are in there (hello random fish filet. You weren’t exactly delicious but you got the job done). For the first time ever, we’ve run out of things and not immediately ordered them again without having a family discussion about it. Do we need this? Really? Or do we just want it? Chocolate didn’t even make the list you guys. Chocolate. Serious budgeting (and serious regrets).

You see, normally, we actually have it pretty darn good out here, despite being 4 hours to the nearest and 8 hours to a variety of grocery stores. Friends and family are constantly surprised to hear about all the fresh veggies we are lucky enough to have during the Winter, often due to the kindness of neighbors. Yet even that we have pared down. Wasting nothing has been our goal and so we’ve pared down all around. For the past five years, I’ve shopped to satisfy our needs for months at a time and so we’ve rarely run out of things. Yet in the last few months, vowing not to go to Town unless we needed to, we’ve let ourselves run out. We’ve been diligent in paring down just in time for…

The Apocalypse

Okay, okay, it’s the not the Apocalypse (It’s not, right?) but it certainly feels a bit doomsday-ish right now. Just in time for everyone to have cleared the shelves, we too have cleared out our freezer and pantry and now find ourselves at a bit of a loss in replacing our stores. Our first Town trip in months was scheduled for last week but was canceled indefinitely due to the virus. So, I ventured onto Amazon to try to replenish some basics. I found a 12-pack of pasta in the totally “normal” price range of $56.72-$326.69.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, COVID-19 Price Gouging

Oh no, you don’t.

 

 

Being gluten-free, I’m used to higher prices but pasta over three hundred dollars? It had better be made with gold dust (it wasn’t). So, yes, price gouging is real. As I sat on my computer, trying to purchase the basics I hadn’t planned on needing to replenish via the web (beans, pasta, polenta, shelf-stable almond milk), panic started to crawl over me. Everything was either out of stock, exorbitantly priced or wouldn’t ship to Alaska.

Oh, joy!

I looked at our less than packed pantry, our dwindling freezer bounty, our single large package of toilet paper (a 48 pack we had started on February 13th. Yep, we have been budgeting that hard that we wrote it down on our family whiteboard to track how much toilet paper we actually use and try to pair it down, pre-COVID-19. FYI, over a month later we still have PLENTY) and our fresh food nearly fresh out and realized it was time to take action. No, we were not going into this prepared as we normally would. In food alone, it was not true that if anyone was ready for this it was us. However, we did have a trick up our sleeve: we live in rural Alaska.

While our stockpile may be lackluster at just the wrong time, our tricks and tips for making do with less are tools we use year-round. They are seasoned and ready. While we live with more than people typically assume, we are also well versed in living with less and making do with what we have. So, without further ado, here are some Apocalypse Tips (aka Apocatips) for weathering the COVID-19 s-storm we all find ourselves in:

  1. Get Used to Living With Less, Going Without and Substituting (Spoiler Alert: It’s Actually Fun): In these past few months of paring down, living with less has actually been more enjoyable than living with more. Certainly, when I found that I wasn’t able to get what I “needed” the other day, I panicked. However, this is where substitutions shine. It’s a real cup half full moment to step out of focusing on what you don’t have and instead look at what you do. Dig deep into your pantry and freezer and you might be surprised at what you do have versus what you don’t. Plus, the surprise is great an all but the pride I feel when I make something from improvised ingredients is the real cherry on top.

    Some examples:

    We ran out of almond milk for tea and coffee, baking, cooking, etc. so for my tea, I blended some coconut cream I had in our pantry with some water and voila! It was delicious. For baking, I substituted some powdered buttermilk I rarely use (and didn’t know existed until the grocery store didn’t have liquid and they gave me the powdered for free. Thanks, Freddy’s!) for some cornbread and again, delicious! Once the coconut cream is running low, we will make almond milk in the blender and save the almond meal produced from it for flour. While I know fresh is best, think of things that can replace what you might normally consume fresh (i.e. powdered buttermilk, milk, etc.). Step out of your usual tendencies and switch it up when you run out. Use maple syrup for sugar or make your own red sauce from scratch versus the can. The possibilities are endless. Also, if you have too much of something and it might go bad, share it. If that’s not an option preserve it! Pickling, fermenting, etc. scared the heck out of me but guess what? It’s so, so, so fun. You got this. Waste not, want not.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Ombre Sauerkraut, Alaska

    Ombre sauerkraut. The new Starbucks unicorn latte or…whatever.

  2. Find Yourself a Handkerchief: Toilet paper a little low? No, no, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting hankies for your heinies but for your schnoz, it’s a different story. Here, we often use toilet paper to blow our noses (and in Winter in Alaska there is a lot of nose-blowing going on) but what we did recently (and what we should have been doing all along) was switch to handkerchiefs. They are durable, less wasteful and a fun little snotty accessory to brighten up your daytime jammies, er, outfit. No handkerchiefs laying about? Perhaps make one out of old shirts or other clothing you’ve been meaning to donate. The same can be said for paper towels. We haven’t bought paper towels in years (I’ll be honest, I missed them dearly at first) and use rags and cloth napkins instead. It works, I promise (plus, it makes me feel oh so fancy when I use a cloth napkin).
  3. Let it Grow: Winter is certainly a time we all help one another around here and right now is no different. Most often, anytime someone has come in these days they’ve checked to see if others could use some fresh vegetable or fruit supplies. However, even with people willing to bring things in, empty stores mean we have way fewer freshies than usual. Thankfully, I put up a ton of greens from our garden this year but frozen isn’t the same as fresh so…let it grow.

    Some examples:

    If you are able to get green onions you can put them in water and they will continue to grow as you cut them for use. You can also do this with ends of other vegetables by submerging the base in water (here’s one site about it but there are tons. Just search for “growing vegetables from kitchen scraps”). I’ve had great luck with lettuce.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Growing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps, Alaska

    Green onions and celery.

    Another option is to start some sprouts (you know, those things your hippie parents always had growing in the window? Yea, they were geniuses)! Lately, I’ve been super into sunflower sprouts. They are hearty and a bit sweet. Currently, I have lentils and alfalfa sprouts going.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Sprouts for Breakfast, Dolly Parton, Alaska

    Thanks, Dolly. Will do. Sprouts on scrambled eggs with tomatoes.

    Start your garden. While in Alaska it’s a bit early to start the entire garden (though I did spend a few hours yesterday shoveling our garden out so the ground would thaw faster. “Faster”, however, was not my personal speed as our snow shovel was at the fire department and I aimed to concur the few feet of snow with an avalanche shovel. I wouldn’t recommend it), microgreens are the way to go. Yesterday I brought my soil inside to start defrosting and I plan to start as many seeds as I have space for and then transfer them into containers to grow. If you live where you can garden outside this time of year, go for it! Even if your space is limited you can make do with windows (read: hanging plants) or windowsills or do some container gardening even in the smallest of outdoor spaces. Think vertically when space is limited (a true Alaskan tip).

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Swiss Chard, Gardening in Alaska

    Swiss Chard kissing Marigold.

  4. Being Sequestered: Ok, admittedly this is not as much of an issue for us out in the woods. While we are essentially following all shelter in place rules we admittedly have the luxury of a lot more area to roam. Still, y’all remember January? I do. In January this year, I was more or less housebound. I went for very cold walks when I could but overall, I was inside watching the cold crawl through the cracks in my wall. It felt tight and a little claustrophobic. It also made things a whole lot simpler. My options were limited.
    While you may not have to stoke a fire every 30 minutes or haul water, there are certainly ways to fill your time when you can’t go outside. As an ex-personal trainer, I love to exercise (though sometimes you wouldn’t know it by my “I wore yoga pants all day without working out” approach I sometimes take. Ebb and flow and whatnot) and my body and mind love me when I do it. YouTube has a TON of workout videos for anything and everything. I love Yoga with Adrienne (she’s a gem. Even The Chief does her classes and raves about how much better he feels when he does). Classes make me feel like I’m around other people even when I’m not (and in all honesty, it’s what I prefer). Join a 30-day challenge or create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
    If you miss the camaraderie of your close pals, set up some virtual cocktail hours or start/continue a book club. Come mid-Winter this year, my California girlfriends and I started weekly phone calls and it made my night every time. Being alone can also be a good time for some soul searching. It’s one of my favorite aspects of living here is not being distracted from the work I need to do on myself. Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More is amazing. My guy friend, upon listening to the book said with a chuckle “I wish I had listened to that ten years ago. I could have saved myself from having to go through my last 7 relationships”. It’s a keeper. Worried about money? I get it. I can’t recommend Tosha Silver’s book called It’s Not Your Money. Thank me (and my girlfriend who recommended it to me) later when you find 100 bucks in your pocket.
  5. Iron Chef It Up: Growing up, my brother and I used to watch Iron Chef and then we would aim to make dinner out of our own limited store. We pretended we were competitors on the show. We made egg drop soup one night when all we could find were eggs and broth. We’d scour the pantry and freezer and come up with the most random of meals but guess what? They were amazing. Plus, making the meal together, coming up with ideas from very little was extremely satisfying. Without a nearby grocery store, I often still feel like an Iron Chef. So, in addition to discovering recipe substitutions, step completely out of your dinner rut and create something altogether new. You might love it, you might hate it (we certainly had some kitchen fails) but either way, you’re getting creative in the kitchen and again, focusing on what you have versus what you are lacking. At a loss for ideas? Look at what you have and decipher which thing will go bad first. Plan a meal around that. If you don’t have any inspiration consult the oracle (aka Google) for ideas.

    Some examples:

    Cabbage is a great long-term vegetable to purchase when possible as it stores for a long time but you don’t want it to go bad (trust me, it smells ungodly) so use it up as it nears its end! Make cabbage rolls, sauerkraut or soup. I’ve made peanut chicken using the last bits of peanut butter and coconut milk, green soup using frozen veggies, smoothies using anything and everything. Go for it!

  6. Conserve What You Already Have: When we are used to being able to get whatever we need whenever we want, we waste more. Moving here, I found so many ways in which I was using far more than necessary and not utilizing what I had.

    Some examples:

    The easiest way to have more is to use less. The Chief and I love to eat but sometimes (read: far more often than I’d like to admit) we take an extra serving (or two) that we don’t actually need. Now is the time to decipher between want and need and it actually feels really good to set some boundaries around it. Instead of snacking post-dinner, try some tea. Harvest some wild herbs like mint, yarrow, goldenrod or chamomile, etc. if you can and dry them for your own tea.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Spruce Tips for Tea, Alaska

    Spruce tips for tea and a tired puppy.

    Stretch it. Have you ever been making dinner for two and suddenly friends drop by? You stretch whatever you’re making to accommodate. Do the same here. Add a little extra broth to your soup (broth that perhaps you’ve made from the last time you roasted a chicken…hint, hint), add a filling side like rice or polenta or simply chop everything smaller. The last one may sound ridiculous but we found that we used far less when we chopped everything smaller.

  7. DIY: Just like with the almond milk example above, there are tons of things we buy on the regular that, with a little effort we can simply make. Pickles, sauerkraut, mayonnaise, broth, yogurt (this recipe for coconut yogurt is made by mixing probiotics into coconut milk and letting it do its thing on your counter for two days. It’s so yummers and truly simple), etc. are all things we’ve made versus bought. I’m not saying you have to make everything (nor do we all of the time, trust me), but the more we can self-sustain on what we already have, the better off we all are.

    Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Homemade Coconut Yogurt, Alaska

    Coconut milk yogurt doing its thing.

    Next up: DIY what you would normally have done for you (warning: results will vary).

    On our canceled Town trip last week one of the highlights for both my girlfriend and I was the idea of a haircut. Often here I simply go without certain beauty perks for months on end but if I really get a hankering for a change, I simply do it myself. Again, results do vary. I may or may not have (I absolutely did) given myself a haircut that resembles a mullet BUT, I did it myself and it feels pretty darn good to at least get some weight off.

    Next up? Highlights. I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed that I won’t be able to win a Joe Dirt lookalike competition.

    More DIY: Used to getting pedicures? Give yourself one! Waxing, dying your brows, facials, etc. You can do all of this from home and in a time of uncertainty such as that which we currently find ourselves in, a little self-soothing is certainly called for. Be nice to yourself, get creative and DIY yourself anew.

 

Overall, despite what a wild time this is, we can find the good in it. We can focus on what we have versus what we don’t have. We can get creative and brainstorm together. We can spend time with our loved ones. We can focus on the positive.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Frittatas

Like frittatas! Frittatas are positive.

The reality is, no one is unaffected. Even here in remote Alaska, we definitely feel the intensity of the situation. People are returning to the valley from travels all over the world. Social distancing is in full effect even for our dogs and most are in agreement that two weeks quarantining upon arrival is a must. All of this reminds me so much of when Leto was shedding Parvo and he and I were quarantined at our house for six weeks. Six weeks! If we can do six weeks with a puppy who thought (read: knew) I was his chew toy, working full-time plus cleaning every surface he touched, not leaving our property and sterilizing everywhere he pooped, we can all stay away from one another for two weeks.

It seems most everyone feels a little on edge as our rural town with very little medical resources braces to protect our inhabitants. Our challenges, throughout the world, are different from one another but the reality is, we are all in this together. My health is your health is all of our health. It is my responsibility not just to keep myself safe but to keep you safe. Every single one of us holds someone dear to them who is at risk. Treat the loved ones of others as you would want your loved ones treated.

Think outside of just yourself.

For goodness sake, do not hoard.

Be kind.

Keep you and your local and global community safe.

 

With love (and lots of handwashing),
From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Apocatips, 03-23-20, Malamutes of Alaska

Be cool, wash your hands.

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

Cabin Fever

I haven’t left my house in three months.

This reality came tumbling all the way out of my subconscious during a walk the other day and it’s been on my mind ever since.

 

Three months.

In the woods.

Mostly just the two of us.

Sometimes all alone.

For months.

Three months.

Cabin fever anyone?

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

I have the Fever, Dad. Put what you’re doing down and pet me (Note: The Chief is already using his left hand to draw but that was not good enough).

 

I mean, I’ve physically left my house. I ski or walk daily though mainly the same variations of loops. Yet, the farthest I’ve ventured out in three months has been 15 miles down The Road to two different friends’ houses for a total of three trips “out” since November.

Christmas, New Years Eve and a dinner party.

Aside from that, we’ve done dinners and parties in the neighborhood often enough for all of us introverts to meet our personal levels of social overload. Yet leave our house, shut it fully down and be away overnight somewhere?

Not for three months.

When I quantify it, as in “Oh girrrrrrl…you haven’t left the house in a quarter of a year!” It seems insane or at least a little closer to shut-in status than I ever thought I’d venture. Yet when I think of the time in increments, in weather, in months and happenings, it doesn’t seem that long.

In November, the at-home novelty was fierce. I’d been back and forth to Town more times than I could count. In October, I took my last trip out, or so I thought until a kidney infection had me on a rushed 4-hour trip to the closest clinic. Two doctor visits in two weeks added to all the travel of the Summer made me feel like the calm would never come.  I longed to pull into our driveway for the long haul and finally, we did.

I spent Halloween, my birthday and Thanksgiving here at home for the first time ever in all of the almost five (five?!?!?!) years I’ve spent in Alaska. Through Fall into Winter, we whistled the months away, looking alternately at the ground and the sky, praying for snow and watching as the final trickle of people leaving for Winter came to a close. Those who were staying were here, those who were going were gone.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 December in Alaska

Winter sunsets.

 

December was jovial. We finally got some snow and the holidays were sweet and intimate, unrushed and unscheduled. Seasons greetings filled our little home and cookies and cakes (and tighter pants) were aplenty. Winter had finally arrived and we settled in to enjoy it.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Christmas in Alaska

Our itty bitty backyard tree.

 

January arrived with a little more light and a lot more cold. Almost the entire month was spent heads down trying to stay warm in near 50 below temperatures. We were deep in the thick of it: Deep Winter.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Winter 50 below zero

This pretty much captures January.

 

Then, in danced February, warm and cheery. It felt as if the days have been flying off the shelves like hot, fresh donuts (mmm, donuts). The light has brightened and lengthened and finally, after all this time, my cabin fever has finally arrived.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River in Winter

Skiing in the middle of the river

 

For the past week, it’s been sunny and warm and not just the “Oh yay, I don’t have to bundle up like the kid in A Christmas Story every time I go outside” kind of warm. It’s been the “Oh no, all of the snow has fallen off of the trees, the ground is melting and the rivers, so nicely frozen into highways have been ripped open” kind of warm.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska

A river runs through the old river highway.

 

With the warmth and the sun comes a new energy, a different energy, and for the first time in four months, I wanted to leave. Cabin fever, right?

You see, as beautiful as Cabin life is, Cabin Fever is a thing. In the darkest of days and for months on end, I’ve drooled over the idea of a long, hot bath or the simple luxury of ordering an overpriced cocktail in the appropriate barware from someone I don’t know. Other times, the idea of being surrounded by strangers and spending dollar after dollar sounds suffocating. Sometimes I walk or ski our local loops and feel closed in. Other times I feel the expanse of thirteen million acres spread out before me. There are days when either The Chief or I (or god forbid both of us) are in a bad mood and these four walls feel awfully tight while other times we dance in our “spacious” abode.

Sometimes, your woodshed is full, your water is hauled, your batteries are charged and you’ve just gotten a replenishment of freshies from a friend in from Town and life is good. Other times, your batteries are dead, the house is cold, you’re out of water, wood isn’t chopped, you have to pump gas (and of course you’re at the bottom of the barrel) and the generator, which holds the key to most of these problems, is frozen.

There are days when all you need is to see a girlfriend (yes, there are other women here, thankfully) but the only other women around are 15 miles up The Road and at 40 below, going anywhere is out of the question. So, you sit with yourself, your emotions, your needs and tell them they will all simply have to wait until the weather moves out.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute Modelo

Puppy cabin fever. Leto took to the drink.

 

Feeling feverish yet?

The funny thing is, honestly, I wasn’t.

Of course, I can think of a day or two throughout the last three months when it felt like the walls were a little closer to my personal space bubble than I was comfortable with. There were days when I just wanted to be clean with clean clothes for more than twenty-four hours at a time. But the quiet? The calm? No one around for miles? I was OK with that. In fact, I loved it. The other things were just creature comforts I experience less in the Winter but miss year-round. The truth is, I’d never felt cabin fever this Winter in the way I felt it the other day when I realized I’d been here for three months straight. The “fever”, however, wasn’t about being stuck in the cabin, it was about our being “stuck” coming to an end.

The quiet.

The calm.

The solitude.

Gone.

Don’t get me wrong, Winter is hard but I think the hardest part about Winter, for me, is letting it go.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Malamute and Alaskan

We’ve all grown accustomed to it. Even Leto’s paws pray for more Winter.

 

This past week with its temps in the low 40’s (read: everything is melting) it really hit home. For three months, leaving felt like the last thing I wanted to do. Now, it feels like the first. I want to outrun the change. To find another place to cozy down for just a few more months of a good Winter’s rest. I feel like a kiddo sleepily asking for “just a few more minutes” of shuteye every morning as the alarm goes off. I want to hit Snooze on Spring.

I’ve never been good with change. Especially change I didn’t choose (read: you know, most of life). Sure, the weather might shift again. Even as I type this post this morning the boards of the Ramp of Doom let out a crack as The Chief descends them, signifying a drop in temperature to below zero. The paths that are now icy might again be covered in snow, the river might again freeze. Yet the shift woke us all from our Winter slumber and there’s no way to dismiss it: Summer is coming…slowly.

Once the Winter spell is broken, you can’t go back. The reality is there. As snoozing pales in comparison to deep sleep, we too feel the end in sight. You know there’s no going back to the quiet calm you came from.

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Kennicott River, Alaska Crosscountry Skiing

So long middle of the river skis…maybe.

 

Until next Winter.

Until then, I’m grateful for the stretch we’ve had and pray to the skies for a little more snow, just as we did those three months ago in November.

Only time will tell.

Cheers to you and yours wherever you may be. Whether you are ready for Summer or Spring or still clinging to the depths of Winter. Wherever you are, may you be happy.

With love,

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis Post Cabin Fever 02:24:20 Alaskan Malamute in Alaska in Winter

Our pensive pup.

 

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Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California, Golden Gate Bridge

Building

Few things are more often discussed out here in the woods than building. From adding in a draining sink to starting completely from scratch, people here are doing it all, all of the time.

Growing up, we were always lucky enough to own the homes we lived in and thus, were able to modify them. As an adult living in California, the idea of ever owning a home was almost laughable (and definitely cry-able). I rented in a multitude of situations, everything from rooms in different friend’s parent’s houses to the floor of my brother’s room. I housesat, stayed with friends and eventually, after years of packing and unpacking (one year I moved over 20 times), I found myself in a little in-law cottage in Berkeley where I was going to school.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California

My car most often looked like this (love you goofs)

 

The sheer expanse of it all thrilled me. Living alone (despite how grateful I was for all of the houses I had laid my head down in the years prior), I could finally take a deep breath. It was the first time I had fully unpacked in years.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California, Golden Gate Bridge

Plus, the local hikes weren’t so bad, eh? Oh GG, you are gorgeous.

 

Yet as a renter, unpacking was just about the only modification I could make to my space and eventually, what once felt roomy started to feel cramped as my tenancy above a 24-hour barking dog started to grate on my sanity.

A few years after that, I found myself (still renting) in my dream home in Graton, California. Years before, I had housesat that exact house and had offered it up to the Universe that, if it wasn’t too much trouble, someday I would really love to live somewhere like this.

Exactly like it, it turned out.

(Thank you)

As friends moved out, I moved in and true roots, for the first time in years started to unfurl. I unpacked books from storage that had sat patiently, awaiting an opening and boxes from my childhood now laid in my home, rather than with my parents. I was becoming something…

Finally, I had space to mold that was my own. I decorated with real furniture, buying my first ever big kid couch and bed (booyah!) and worked the grounds around us. Grounds. There was finally space to stretch out, away from a city, in peace. I was close to my favorite haunts and perched perfectly adjacent to some of my most beloved trails. Near convenience yet far enough from the hustle and bustle.

The house was perfect.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Succulents

A prickly situation

 

The relationship, on the other hand, was not (for anyone) and one day, I woke up and knew it was time to leave.

I moved in with a glorious girlfriend, to whom I will always be grateful. She softened the blow of the shrapnel from the life I had exploded with talks and walks and wine and baths and bowls of soup I never knew I needed (thank you, thank you. Always, thank you).

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Beekepers

Just beekeepin’ with my boo

 

And then…

Alaska.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Glacier Cave

Glacier and girlfriend.

 

Since moving here, I have been lucky enough to be catapulted into a title I thought I’d never inhabit: Homeowner. The elusiveness of homeownership in California isn’t quite the same here in Alaska, at least in our part of Alaska, and over a decade ago, when The Chief first found this bit of land with his bestie, it was even less so. Together, they paid off the land, put in a well and built their own homes. In their 20’s. 20’s! The Californian in me stills gasps every time I remember this fact. It awes me.

And so, lucky enough to fall into this place, and the furry arms that built this house, I find myself not renting for the first time since my teens. It’s a strange new world and The Chief and I have done our best to take full advantage of the fruits of our bounty through modifications and additions. For the first time, the only person I have to check in with is my husband, instead of my landlord.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Building Construction Tiny Home Husband.jpeg

And he’s pretty nice.

 

Need a hook? Put one in!

Shelves? Heck yes!

Rip it down, put it up? Let’s do it!

We’ve worked on our home slowly and steadily (and sometimes in bursts of weather-induced deadlines) aiming to tidy it up the inside so we could side the outside and…

be done.

Done.

Silly us!

This Saturday, we went to a friend’s house and a few weeks before that, another couple’s house for dinners. First viewing dinners. They both had been working on their dream homes and both dinners signified the first time we would dine together in their beautifully buttoned-down abodes.

They are both gorgeous (the people and the houses) with details I don’t know how they dreamed much less executed, and designs to make your heart pitter-patter. They’re done.

Right?

Well…

Even these houses, still have building adventures they want to embark upon. Siding to put up or projects only they know to exist. From an outsider’s point of view, however, they look darn good and darn done.

It’s amazing.

And daunting.

Because…

The “Let’s just button it up and be finished for the foreseeable future” plan of our last almost 5 years here together, has come to an end. In realizing that we will someday soon want to expand our family (I mean, Leto really needs his own room, right?) we’ve realized that we too will need to expand our house. The main culprit is a set of stairs, nay, essentially a vertical ladder that is our only access between the bedroom and downstairs.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Tiny Home

Straight up.

 

It’s an access point that rivals the Ramp of Doom. I have fallen down these stairs and through the hatch MANY times. One time I even fell down the stairs and landed on a banana (I kid you not), slipping into a splits position and a full stop, at last. The Ladder of Chance is the reason Leto began sleeping alone downstairs almost immediately despite us wishing he could be up in our bedroom with us. It’s just too fraught with falling hazards with high-risk endings.

And so the iterations begin.

We’ve gone back and forth, up and down and every which way in between. We’ve ventured in the building dreamland everywhere from building onto our current house and making room for more moderate stairs to starting completely over with a new house to starting completely over at a new property.

“Oy vey!”, my Godmother might say.

For now, we’ve decided at least to spruce up our current digs as we won’t be adding on, and so the projects begin again as well.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaska Building Construction Tiny Home

A weekend of looking up and some very sore shoulders. Ceiling improvements!

 

In my spinning head, these competing options rattle about, challenging one another. The best solution will win, yet only time (and, oh yeah, money. The old Fast, Cheap, Good Triangle, right?) will tell. Until then, I’ll be hanging in the unknown and I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, California Praying Mantis

 

Good luck to you, whether renting or building or living in a fully finished house. May you be cozy, safe and well-fed.

 

With love,

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, Building, 02-10-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy

…and Leto and his basket (he’s become a bit of a kleptomaniac

 

Are you building? What have you learned, loved, loathed? Do comment and tell us your story!

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

40 Below (Alone)

40 Below (Alone)

A week in Alaska, alone, at 40 below zero.

 

I awoke to the morning of January 3rd in this new decade to a very distinct quiet: I was alone. The Chief and our Third Amigo had ventured off to Anchorage for a supply run and so alone I lay, hearing only the breaths that were my own. It’s a strange feeling, that sensation, that moment of realizing the space someone warms and fills by their simply just being. That tinge of loneliness was enough to motivate me to get out of bed. As I rose, a new level of morning cold nipped at me. The temperature must have dropped.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Skijoring in Alaska

The two days before: warm sunshine and skijoring! Happy New Year!

 

Dropped it had to a brisk 25 below zero. Our Winter thus far had been a mild one at best, filled with more icy than snowy roads and a Christmas warm enough to don merely a dress with leggings and a jacket. We’d had quick cold snaps where the temps had dropped to 13 below but that was it. Winter light. Yet snap it did that morning into truly cold territory and with it came flooding back all that “cold” means.

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I am not suddenly immune to normal cold. The temps we’d had before were not warm by human standards, they were simply warm by Winter’s standards. Secondly, our cold out here is a dry cold with the rare windy day (though yes, there certainly is wind) which makes the cold a bit more bearable (and personally, I love the cold, which makes it a lot more bearable, for me).

Living in California for most of my life, the temperature never varied in a way that affected me all that much. Sure, we’d prep for storms and power outages but all in all, it was a mild fluctuation of predictable seasonal shifts. Certainly, some days I’d find myself ill-prepared on an unseasonably cold Spring day and have to rummage around in my car (read: my second closet) for another layer but all in all, there was always a newspaper to cover my head in a random rainstorm or flip flops to greet a sunny day. With relative ease and a modicum of preparation, I was typically able to meet the challenges of the elements.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, California Dillon Beach

A Dillon Beach storm a-brewin’!

 

Enter: Alaska. A whole new set of elements where flip flops and newspapers were unlikely problem solvers. For me, it’s been a beast to learn. Yet learn I have and learning I still am. However, just as I’ve learned, I’ve also forgotten as the tricks for one season don’t always blend into the next. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen temperatures of -25. I’d forgotten how it felt, what it meant. As I sat in front of our fireplace that morning, warming myself and our 40-degree house, the little things about life at 25 below started coming back to me. Like the quiet. It wasn’t just the absence of my husband that made the morning quiet, it was the cold. 25 below seems to be the threshold at which things start to get very calm, very quiet. A seriousness settles in.

It was Go Time.

Day One:

For the first time ever since we’ve lived here, I was alone, in Winter, in Go Time temperatures. The cold temp quirks started coming back to me as I reached for my toothpaste, only to find it near frozen, the icy water with which I rinsed stunning my teeth, flushing the drain with boiling water so it wouldn’t freeze. Leto’s water bowl threatened to ice over as the floor sent up glacial tentacles that grasped me through my slippered feet. I made my first step outside onto The Ramp of Doom which let out a piercing pop as the frozen wood responded to my pressure, the crack all that much louder in the blanket of silence around me. Surprised, I drew in a quick breath, and my throat caught slightly as the freezing air hit it. The snow further announced my outside arrival, squeaking loudly with each step. All familiar signs of 25 below. In just one night’s sleep, everything had changed, the game was on.

The game? Stay warm, stay safe, keep your ship running smoothly.

Easy, right?

I was the sole player and it wasn’t just The Chief who was absent. I was also officially more alone in the woods than I had ever been, in any season. All of our neighbors were gone and the closest help was miles away.  Still, it was “only” 25 below. I’d done 25 below with The Chief, I could do 25 below solo. So, I spent the day running through mental checklists and chores to prepare for what I assumed would be a few days at 25, maybe 30 below. I chopped as much wood as my arms would allow (since we had zero chopped at the moment), pumped fuel, checked our systems and looked gratefully at the remaining three full buckets of water The Chief and I had filled before his departure.

As I checked chores off the list, I thought forward. The next day was a friend’s birthday and if I could get the house warm and my snowmachine going I figured I’d head out for an hour or two to toast her trip around the sun.

Mother Nature had other plans.

To keep my one mode of transportation in good working order, I’d been starting my snowmachine every day since The Chief had left.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Snowmachining in Alaska

Sunset ride with the puppers.

 

Yet as the temps dropped, my battery, already on its last leg, couldn’t produce power enough to start the machine with the electric start (read: what dreams are made of). Plan B was the pull start but with such a large engine it was no easy feat. I pulled slowly to start, like stretching before a run (and to avoid ripping my arm out of its socket), then eventually full fast pulls. I pulled until I was nearly sweating (at 25 below!) but the engine wouldn’t budge. Knowing that a warm battery had a better chance than a cold one, I set out to pull it inside and charge it.

If only it were that easy.

Try as I might, I couldn’t pry it, bang it or will it free. It was frozen into place. My fingers cursed the cold as I cursed myself for having sent The Chief to Town with the only pair of heavy-duty gloves I had (in fairness, they were originally his and mine were nowhere to be found). Frozen from sweating and then standing at 25 below for an hour, I needed a break. I brought my aching hands inside to warm up and realized my next problem: warmth.

It was already midday and all-day-long I had kept the insatiable woodstove full to the brim but as I entered from outside, the temperature inside didn’t wrap warmth around me as it should have. I checked the temperature. The house was still at a stubborn 59 degrees. I looked at the wood I’d brought inside and realized my problem: wet wood. I did my best to remedy the situation by removing the frozen bark from all the warmed pieces but the water went deeper. In normal temperatures, I’d barely noticed the lack of heat this wood produced but as the temperature neared 30 below a feeling of doom settled in. Still, the house was cold but it wasn’t like it was freezing, right? I could manage. The dogs (we were dogsitting our beloved Kvichak), having made full use (read: a full mess) of the discarded bark told me it was time for a walk to take our minds off the cold (seems contradictory, right?) so off we went. We came back an hour later and before I knew it, the day had passed. I bundled up for bed, knowing the inside temp would further drop as I slept. In I crept to a hardened mattress (another thing I forgot happens in these temps: frozen mattresses!) in head to toe wool long johns, a sweatshirt, a hat and wool socks (exactly the opposite of how I normally sleep). I’d stoked the fire as much as safety allowed, hoping to buy myself a couple hours of sleep.

Day Two:

Come the ringing of my 4 A.M. fire tending alarm, not an ember remained in the woodstove and the house was down to 35 degrees. I was shocked. This wasn’t right. Our stove isn’t the largest but I felt like we’d been able to maintain a warm house and at least a 4-hour fire in the past without losing this much heat. I built another fire and sat brushing Leto (who had decided that right then, along with his best pal Kvichak, was a good time to start his bi-annual shedding) as I waited for enough coals to build up that I could again stuff the stove and get a little more sleep.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamutes Shedding

About a minute in. The ever-expanding fluff pile.

 

Sleep I finally did around 5 A.M., waking at 9 A.M., yet awake to a warm house I did not. Despite building a raging fire at the crack of dawn, I still woke to the bitter cold of our near-frozen home and again, not one ember in the fireplace. Something was different, a shift had occurred. I looked to every Alaskan’s Oracle: the thermometer.

It was 37 degrees below zero outside and 37 degrees in our house.

I needed to get on my feet and moving fast or this house would freeze, soon.

I think we call all agree that the difference between 25 below and 37 below is 12 degrees but the physical difference with each added degree below zero is exponential. Past 30 below, your breath doesn’t simply catch, it nearly chokes you with each inhale. Your woodstove isn’t just a resource, it is a lifeline and…things and systems start to breakdown, fast. Even the smallest hiccup can put the wheels of mayhem in motion. My first Winter, I grabbed a tote that had been left out in the Fall and it shattered in my hands and it’s contents spilled out, ruining half of them. The temperature had been a “mere” 28 below. We were way past that territory now.

Reality started to set in: this was no joke. I had found a rhythm in drying my woodpile but I had yet to find warmth. Try as I might, the temperature inside had not topped 60 degrees and had hovered for most of the day in the high 40s to low 50s. I texted the birthday girl to report that I most definitely would not be able to visit. Snowmachine aside, my 60-degree plight made leaving a no go. Even those who actually had a warmed house couldn’t make the birthday for fear of their house freezing while they were gone. Our house was already halfway to freezing. My girlfriend told me not to promise to reach out if I started losing the battle and things started going upside down on me.

I knew I was in a bit of a bind but having someone else say it shocked me further into action. This was serious.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Malamute Puppy

Mom…you got this?

 

I cherry-picked my way through my inside woodpile and the driest logs I could. The fire kicked up for the first time in two days. Things were looking up! Yet there was no time to celebrate. It was chore time.

I bundled up in my warmest clothes, protecting every inch of skin minus the very top of my cheeks and my eyes and went outside to get water. I lugged the generator over to our well. I was all set and ready to go. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get the water hose to thread onto the well. The threads had frozen. I pulled out my lighter to melt the ice but it barely budged as the flame kept failing in the cold. I wrapped my hand around the threads but nearly ripped off the skin as it instantly froze. Next, I trudged into our makeshift workshop to find our propane lighter. Genius! 10 minutes later I finally gave in. It was too cold to flow enough to ignite. Finally, after 30 minutes of problem-solving and failing, I was starting to get cold and the running generator was about to run out of gas. I decided to go for it without the hose. Who needs a hose anyways?

I do.

I need a hose.

Without a hose, the water shot straight from the pipe about four feet in the air. I held the bucket above my shoulders trying to catch as much as I could (and prevent Leto from catching the stream he loves to chase), using one bucket to fill the other three. Within seconds I was encased in a frozen cocoon of ice from head to toe. After two rounds of running up and down the Ramp of Doom with 80 pounds of water at a time, the dogs constantly in my way, tripping me as I rallied myself upward, water was done.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska

Back to lash-sicle territory

 

Next, I needed to charge the house batteries. Easy. I’d just had the generator running. It was warm and ready to go…but, it was out of gas so I filled it up, started it up, plugged the house in and…our outside lights didn’t come on.

Strange.

Still, before I could check if it was charging inside, I needed more wood. Especially in cold temps I always try to apply the waitressing technique my friend taught me early on: Don’t move empty-handed. Make every trip in and out count. I chopped a quick armload of wood to bring inside but on the last swing of the ax, I felt something pop in my shoulder. Pain radiated up and down my arm. I felt panic well up inside me. If I couldn’t chop wood, I really was screwed. Still, there was no time to wallow. I loaded up my other arm with wood and headed inside.

Inside, the fire near dead after an hour of chores, I stoked it with new wood as I felt my cheeks start to melt from the comparative warmth of the house. The splatter from the well water had hardened where my eyelashes and my upper cheeks were exposed and immediately my skin started to burn. Still, there was no time to worry about that either as I looked to the batteries and saw that the house was not in fact charging. Just then, the generator started to angrily rev up and down.

After two days of failing to heat our house, struggling with water, countless near falls up and down the Ramp of Doom from dogs underfoot, an aching shoulder, a burning face and now a generator not producing power, I was starting to lose it. I checked everything I had learned about malfunctioning generators and found no culprit. It felt like my little world was starting to, to quote my girlfriend “go upside down on me”. Was I losing the battle? I called The Chief for a pep talk and just hearing his voice made my eyes well up with tears.

“You’re doing great. It’s hard, babe. Really hard.”

The tears threatened to spill over when at just the right moment he followed up with:

“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this.”

Deep breathe I did and I was back. I did have this. I could do this and with a little persuasion, I finally picked the easy route. There wasn’t time to troubleshoot the generator right now. I grabbed our backup and brought it inside to warm. Then, I headed to the woodshed and cherry-picked the best, most checked pieces of wood I could find (a check in a round of wood suggests it’s drier than one without it) and painfully chopped my way through it. Finally, hours after I had bundled up to start chores, they were finally winding down. The new wood fed the fire with gusto and an audible difference in the flames let me know this fire would warm us, which was good because, in the time I’d been outside, the inside temps had sunk again to the ’30s and the outside was near -40.

An hour later, the replacement generator hopefully warm enough, I suited up again for the outdoors, now in the early dark of dusk. In all the frustration earlier, I had forgotten I would need more fuel so off I went to fill another 5-gallon jug. In the cold, the fuel hose had frozen into a kinked position through which no fuel would flow. Again I de-gloved and warmed it as best I could with my bare hands. Finally, the fuel started to flow. I filled the generator and finally after about 20 pulls it started.

Success!

I went inside and saw it was producing power (the generator was the problem, not our inverter or batteries, as I had feared) and all was well.

Then, the lights went out.

The generator had died.

I quite nearly lost it (again) but (again) outside I trudged. Luckily, the generator had simply stopped because it was cold. I finally got it started again and this time it took. Cautiously, I went inside. Consistently it hummed.

A few hours later it was nearly 7 pm and the house was finally above 60! I was simultaneously exhausted and elated. At that moment, a next-door girlfriend newly returned from Town (I finally had neighbors again!) texted.

“Champagne? It was for the birthday but I think we should celebrate from afar.”

Yes, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska with Champagne

I love bubbles.

 

By the time she came over the house was still a bit chilly but my cheeks were on fire. The frozen water from the well had burnt the top layer of skin, like a sunburn only from cold: frostnip. Thankfully, good conversation and bubbles distract from welted cheeks. The healing powers of girlfriends, eh? I felt rejuvenated and accomplished. I had made it! As she left, I realized what I hadn’t made was dinner (or lunch). I settled on the dinner of champions (or maybe just this momentary bachelorette): pasta with butter (sorry, arteries).

Chalking the day up to a success, I finally fell into bed again after midnight. The house was near 70 degrees and with a stuffed woodstove and belly, I fell asleep.

Day Three:

The 4 A.M. wakeup call felt extra early the next morning. Groggy, I remembered that in our conversation the day before The Chief had asked if the bricks in the top of the stove had ash on them (meaning that perhaps that buildup, in addition to wet wood was adding to our heating issue). Since the fire had been going steadily since he’d asked I hadn’t been able to check. Yet, despite a full stove 4 hours earlier, there was no trace of heat. Now was my chance. I cleaned out the wood stove that was dense with ash and checked the bricks. Soot fell from atop them as I tugged them out, simultaneously realizing I had no idea how to get them back in. A few tense minutes later, everything thankfully was back in place and again. I started yet another fire and headed out into the -39 morning to dump the ashes.

By 4:30 I was doing dishes waiting for the fire to catch. The reservoir of water we use to fuel our faucet had frozen so I did my dishes in a basin, careful not to let any water trickle into our homemade plumbing and ice up. At those temperatures, water freezes almost instantly so even small amounts can take us out of commission fast and the last thing I wanted was to add slop buckets back into our life. Finally, the fire established its coals. I stuffed it full and opted for a few more hours of sleep.

I awoke to yet another morning of a near-frozen house, a woodstove without coals and completely dead batteries but it was ok. I may not have had it totally dialed but this situation wasn’t going upside down on me. Finally, caught up enough on chores and the house warm enough to be able to step away for an hour, the dogs told me how we would fill our time: a walk, at 39 below.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 25 Below Zero in Alaska Stircrazy Puppies

Driving each other stir cray cray.

 

Despite being constantly in my way, they had been very good sports through it all but the stir craziness was starting to hit. Even though they are both Northern breeds, even they can’t stay outside long in those temps if not running and so had opted to be inside, in the way. Thus, we all needed some outside time. I covered my frost nipped cheeks as they amazingly pranced unphased by the cold, minus a lifted paw here and there.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, Husky, Malamute, Alaska

Moonlit walk.

 

The Chief phoned to tell me that they were delayed and wouldn’t be home that night but would return the following day. Two days before I might have panicked at his extended absence but I didn’t. I had done it. I had made it through 40 below, alone.

Day Four:

The next morning, the cold snap lifted. The thermometer read a mere -12 outside and I finally got the house to near 80 degrees. I love when it’s cold and the house is warm at the difference reaches nearly 100 degrees between the inside and outside. At the coldest of 40 below and the house in the ’70s, the day before the difference had been over 110 degrees, something that still just makes me laugh in awe.

In true Alaskan fashion, things didn’t quite go as The Chief had planned for departure but he was determined to make it home. By 3 A.M., I finally heard our truck roaring up the driveway. After hugs and hellos and unloading the truck of perishables and making and tending a new fire, we were finally both back to bed, cozied up at 5 A.M. An hour or so later I felt The Chief rise from our bed and heard the familiar sound of him stoking the fire. An hour after that, groggily preparing for work, I went downstairs to find that despite the again dropping temperature, the woodstove was alive with glowing coals.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 35 Below Zero in Alaska

And the temperature finally above 40 in the morning!

 

My brain did a joyful backflip while my ego simultaneously sighed. A strange juxtaposition. I was overjoyed for The Chief to be home yet at the same time, it meant I was no longer the lone soldier protecting our castle. After 15 years of living alone in the woods, The Chief’s internal alarm clock awakes him immediately when temperatures drop. Having lived 4 years in the woods with The Chief, I think my internal clock would let me sleep through icicles forming in the house. The Chief has (almost) always beaten me to stoking the fire in the night. The sighing part of me was the part that wanted to continue to better hone my instincts. Yet other parts of me, like my shoulder, celebrated the help.

I’ll always be 11 years shy of The Chief’s Alaskan experience but come the opportunity to have my own, I did and I survived. Looking back on the week alone, I realized how far I had come in 4 years. I’d probably never even have noticed the wood was wet my first year. I certainly wouldn’t have known how to troubleshoot the well or the generator or even how to dress for the elements. Sure, there were hiccups, there were things I could have done better (and will do better next time) but the most important is that looking back, I can see how much I’ve learned. I’ve learned how to care for myself in the middle of nowhere Alaska, in the middle of Winter, alone.

The Chief’s help doesn’t negate my learning. Divvying up labor doesn’t mean both people aren’t capable of either task or that one is more or less important. Resting my shoulder so it can heal doesn’t mean I’m giving in, it means The Chief is stepping in to help and just as The Chief helps me, I help him. His presence doesn’t mean the learning stops and just in case I forget what I’ve learned, I’m sure Alaska has many more trials and tribulations up her sleeve to remind me.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska

Plus, when he’s home and the temperature drops to almost 50 below, I have a partner with which to capture this…playing with boiling water!

 

With love,

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 40 Below (Alone), January 27th, 2020, 50 Below Zero in Alaska Frozen Water

Steam halos.

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

The Fox and the Hound

Our little Leto is one month shy of his first trip around the sun. Recently an old friend came back to visit, reminding me of one of the best highlights of his first year: The Fox and The Hound.

When Leto was just a few months old, his Auntie E brought him his first-ever toy: Lambchop. Leto and Lambchop were an inseparable pair.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Lambchop

Two peas in a pod

 

Every morning I’d come downstairs and greet the pair, often double-taking between the two of them to decipher which was which. Despite being nearly the same size, little Leto carried his friend with him on all of his adventures. Lambchop was by his side more often than not but soon enough his mini-me started to lose her parts. An ear here, an eye there. His little teeth made his way through the toy till there was nary a lamb shank left.

Thus, entered his second-ever toy: Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy 2 months old and Elephant

Love at first sight.

 

Despite her lackluster name, Elephant was the apple of little Leto’s eye. While Lambchop had been by his side more often than not, Elephant might as well have been glued to it. Outside they ventured together into the woods, Leto always bringing her back in, tucking her into the bed they shared each evening. He would lovingly mouth her trunk but not a bite was taken from her, ever.

One day, Leto’s Unclue Ruger (a 2-year old German Shorthaired Pointer) came by to check-in.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and German Shorthaired Pointer

Just a couple pups, out for a drive.

 

The dogs of our neighborhood love to do the morning rounds, greeting each household, checking for treats, marking “their” territory. Only this morning, Ruger had another plan in mind. In he came for some morning snuggles and no sooner had I bid him “Hello” did he lunge for Elephant and abscond with the prized possession. Leto was in hot pursuit but his 3-month old legs were no match for the long-legs of his thieving friend. Defeated, he sat on the front porch and howled, a long and mournful howl, for the first time ever.

He sat out on the porch that day, bewildered and tucked into bed that night for the first time, alone.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute puppy toys

He did, however, stay entertained with a duck he was “gifted” from Uncle Ruger, much to Ruger’s chagrin. The gift we think started it all.

 

As the months wore on, the captive Elephant would make random appearances with her captor. Through the yard he would prance, head held high with his prize daintily held between his teeth. Leto would try to catch him, as would we, but none of us came close. It seemed he moved Elephant every day or so, always staying one step ahead, guarding Elephant like the treasure she was.

And so, Leto found other ways to amuse himself.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy with Morel mushrooms, Alaska

Like hunting for Morels (he pointed me to all of these! I just had to get to them before he devoured them all).

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy yawn

And ignoring his replacement toy.

 

Until one day this August when Leto and I returned from a walk by the river to come home to…

Elephant.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and toy

No bumps, no bruises and only a little worse for wear.

 

Gently placed in a cluster of willow branches lay his prized friend. He grabbed her and yipped and threw her into the air and then brought her inside to safety.

Months went by and as our little pup seemed to grow overnight, outgrowing his elephant by leaps and bounds, his fondness seemed to hold steadfast. We’d bring her with us on road trips and he’d cuddle her along the bumpy roads and each night he’d tuck her in. All was right with the world again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute and firefighter

Little tiny, not so tiny.

 

Yet our little one, who suddenly was not so little, grew up and suddenly, grew a little careless. One night this Fall, he left his Elephant outside in the early November snow. I saw as he attempted to bring her inside but she’d frozen into the ground and so, cavalier pup that he is, he left her to weather the night solo. The next morning as we warmed ourselves by the fire, I saw a shuffling figure outside. I went to the window and watched as a fox came up the driveway and sniffed about. Loving finally seeing the animal that whose tiny prints painted our yard, I grabbed my phone to tape the sighting and no sooner had I turned it on did The Fox discover Elephant and…

After a few tugs to pull her from the ice, off he went with her (see the video here)! I barely realized what was happening before he had snatched her. I hurried outside and he stopped and turned to face me. I was having a hard time holding in my laughter as I asked:

“Are you certain? Do you really want Elephant?”

If he took it, surely we’d never see Elephant again. After such a long journey back home, I didn’t want a howling Leto to twice lose his Elephant. Yet lose her he did, for a second time.

The Fox stared at me as I questioned him and then seemed to think to himself, “Yes, I really, really do want Elephant!” and off he went with her in tow.

Leto ran outside behind me, sniffing in seeming disbelief. He paused where his Elephant had been and sat down in the spot, dumbfounded. Then, he took off after The Fox. An hour or so later, he returned, empty-pawed.

Elephant was gone.

Again.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Pouting on the couch

 

The Fox returned almost every day that week, sometimes more than once a day, seemingly to taunt Leto as his Uncle had in the Summer. They would have a staredown, The Fox in the driveway and Leto in his pup cave under the house and then, one of them would make a move and the chase would be on.

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Cross Fox

So much cuteness.

 

It went on like this for weeks until we dog sat another dog and suddenly, three was a crowd. The Fox didn’t return again.

Until…

One day, in the last days of December I walked out into the driveway and there was Elephant, completely encased in slobber made ice. The Fox had returned her. It seemed the whole neighborhood was in on the game now, The Fox and the Hounds (well, Pointer and Malamute but you know what I mean). Who would make the next move? Only time will tell.

These days, she’s still the apple of Leto’s (outside only, it seems) eye. Outside Elephant sits with nary more than a torn ear. She’s weathered many a storm and gathered many a tale…if only she would tell.

With love,

From The Fox, The Hounds, and Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, The Fox and the Hound, 01-13-20, Alaskan Malamute Puppy