alaska

Won’t you be my neighbor?

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

Carlsbad, CA Ranunculus
Learning, growing…hopefully.

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

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

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

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

Home remodel off-grid Alaska
Or tearing old ones apart

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

Neighbors?

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

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

Alaskan Malamute
Lone wolf, not so alone

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

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

Winter in Alaska
Probably not borrowing this vehicle though…

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

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

With love,

From Alaska

Alaskan Malamute
Cozy homebodies


Home(r)ward Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska Spring 2022
Cloudy with a chance of…what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love (and sunshine),

From Alaska

Spring in Alaska

Homeward Bound

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

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

I found little bits of nature, even in the city

I got to get super Ranunculus in Southern CA

And up close and personal with some new friends

Our house grew…

And so did our kiddo…

And so did I…

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

And some timeline milestones…

And some house milestones…

Some things changed (Hello, haircut!)

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

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

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

And now, off to the Wintry North.

With love,

from California (and soon from AK)

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

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

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

We can do hard things.

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

simple living alaska
Like…shower outside in the snow?

gardening in alaska
Or grow this from seed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malamute puppy
Professional chiller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can (and we don’t always have to).

With love,

From California & Alaska

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

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

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

Living In Alaska (Sometimes Means Living Apart)


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

Backpacking in Alaska
Stranded

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

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

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

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

Certainly.

Was it fun?

Certainly not.

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

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

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

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

Alaskan Malamute
Change? No thanks.

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

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

Rhianna Desperado
Turn it up, Rhi Rhi!

Secondly, you must START an addition to your house.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto’s Lair, slowly growing

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

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

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


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

Trina’s amazing Covid holiday card


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

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

Baby boy clothes
Snacks included

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

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

Best burrito in CA
Burrito baby

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

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

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

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

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

With love,

From California

weather in california
When the sky reflects all the feels

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

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part III

So many cliffhangers lately, eh? But if you’re here, reading this, two wonderful things have happened: one, you’ve subscribed (thank you!) and two, you’re finally about to learn the truth.

The truth?

Have I been lying to you, sweet reader? Never. Have I been leaving one huge part of our life out?

Yes’m.

(more…)

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part II

So…where did we leave off?

Ah, yes, Anticipation City.

So, did we make it across the border?

If you’ll recall, the border that day was Turtle (of Turtle and the Hare fame) slow. We were one of two cars, the other of which the guard had sent off for a full inspection. We waited as their rig was given the once, twice, thrive over, anticipating our own packed to the brim paddywagon being unpacked item by item.

As the inspected car apparently passed with flying colors, it was now our turn. We pulled up to the window, rolling down ours, pulling our masks over our big smiles, doing our best to look the part of the precise people you want patronizing your Province (a mouthful of P’s!). It’s hard to look friendly when half of your face is covered but I told my smile wrinkles to put on a show. Now, I don’t know about you but when I get pulled over, I become a Chatty Kathy and so does my partner in crime. We did our best to simply stick to the facts and, as one of our friends suggested, “overwhelm with paperwork”. We had papers for the dog (who was looking all things upstanding citizen with his freshly bathed and brushed self), papers for my name change, papers for The Chief’s brief brush with the law, paper for our marriage, papers for our rental down south, papers for our COVID tests…we had what felt like a small tree’s worth of paper with us and we sent it his way. Nailed it, right?! He shooed the papers away. He wanted to talk. Cool, cool, cool…

Alaskan Malamute
Stay cool, man.
(more…)

AK to CA: Roadtrip to California, Part I

If you love utter chaos, down-to-the-minute deadlines, and high-stakes, the start to our travels down south was right up your alley. While some form of chaos is inevitable in travel it seems, the past few years, we’ve really dialed in our departures to lessen the stress of leaving. Yet, as fate would have it, this time our well-oiled machine seized.

How?
A lot of distraction and a little technology.

You see, if and when you ever change your name, you’ll learn that it is, dare I say, a royal pain in the rear. I dove into the post-marital surname switch to the best that our 16-hour roundtrip from town locale would allow but in the end, I had failed to change my passport in time for our departure from AK to CA. Worried I wouldn’t get through, we phoned the Canadian Border Patrol and inquired: just how big of a deal was it that my passport didn’t match my new last name? Turns out…not that big of a deal. Phew! The other small hiccup that stole our attention was a brief moment The Chief had spent with a small-town cop who had big-time problems with him. We had worried for years if Canada would let him through and our inquiries had been far less fruitful than my passport woes. Indeed they had been inconclusive.

Alaskan Malamute puppy
Leto was unimpressed

The third distraction was the need for a negative COVID test within 72-hours of reaching the border. Sounds easy, right? Well, not exactly. You see, Alaska was (and still is) deeply struggling to meet the sudden surge of COVID in a resource-tapped state and there simply weren’t enough tests to go around. I had called everywhere from the nearest clinic to the border (one that would still be a few hours detour) to clinics in Anchorage. No one had the PCR tests required. One clinic had another accepted test but they had been receiving the results in random increments of time. Some people got their results within a day, some within 4 days. We needed them within 72-hours of hitting the border.

I kept trying, to no avail until on one of our umpteen trips to Anchorage, I saw a place offering the testing.

PCR tests Anchorage
Spotted from the car!

Even though it was a 16-hour detour AND we couldn’t make an appointment (we could only do walk-in which, when you live 8 hours away is a really funny/frustrating idea) it was the best option. We resigned ourselves to adding another 600 miles to our trip.

So, with the aforementioned distractions semi-settled, we looked to our departure date with anticipation and excitement. The Chief hurriedly got the addition in tip-top shape and I spent every weekend working on getting the house ready for us to leave. Three Anchorage trips within the month prior to leaving meant we’d done all of our building supply shopping, dropped off all of our plant babies with their sitters (dear friends of ours who took ALL of our plants for the winter), and seen our doctors and dentists. Things were settled and relatively calm for the miles we’d been clocking and the long weeks we’d been working. There was a calm to the storm.

Plantsitting
Buh bye babies!

Until there wasn’t.

So now we know the distraction. Here’s where the little bit of technology comes in: 6 days before we were meant to depart, my phone announced a reminder to me. Now, I don’t know about you but I typically respond to reminders with something to the effect of “Whatever that is, I’ll do it later” (productivity in action!) but for some reason, that day I looked at it immediately and what did I see? Our future plans dissolving. “CC Passport Expires” was all it read. I clicked into it. Surely this must be a reminder for 6 months before the expiration date. Why would I set a reminder for one week before it expired?! Unexplainably, I did. I dug into our family filing cabinet and pounced upon the passport in question. Surely, the reminder had to be wrong.

Wrong again.

The reminder was right. All along we’d been so worried about MY passport that we’d forgotten to check on The Chief’s passport. We called the Border again (whose number we’d basically committed to memory at that point) and got one of the most frustrating responses ever: maybe. Maybe? This was the answer to “Can my husband make it across the border?” Maybe. The only illumination they provided to those five letters of frustration was this: It depends who is working. They may decide you have enough time to cross into the US before your passport expires or they may not. Either way, the sooner you get here, the better. This news came at 12 noon. By 12:05 we faced the grim reality: we’d be leaving the next day, 5 days earlier than planned.

This news also came mid-workday for me and so, despite having a mountain to climb, I had to continue on with day, feet planted firmly at the base of the mountain until nightfall (the perfect time to start a climb). I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for both of us and our days of pulling all-nighters are solidly in our past. Staying up all night, working all day the next day, and then hitting the road sounded terrible. So, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to light a fire under you, eh? There’s also nothing quite like saying “Well, I did the best I could”. Case and point: garden shutdown:

Gardening in Alaska
Nailed it!

In addition to packing our life away for the next however many months, there was also the issue of the added day of going to the clinic in Anchorage that suddenly posed an even bigger issue than simply having to drive 16 hours for a test. Now it added to the gamble of our crossing. I called every single clinic again in the hopes of a mini-miracle and…we were able to get an appointment with the nearest clinic to the border AND they guaranteed results in 15-minutes! After which we could make the drive to the border, where we’d learn if our next step of the path would unfold in our favor.

Somehow, come 7 pm, we were in a place where we felt good enough to break for dinner at a friend’s house so we could say goodbye to everyone that night instead of the Adieu BBQ we’d planned (and shopped) for that coming weekend. We went home at a reasonable hour, did nothing further, and hit the hay with relative calm. The weeks of mayhem and planning prior had set us up surprisingly well. Still, when you’re leaving for months on end there are endless things to remember and as we hadn’t left for that long in the last few years, we were a little rusty. “Can this freeze?” I’d ask, holding up balsamic vinegar. “No! It’ll explode!” “Oh, yeah…”

The next day, we were up with the stars still out. The hustle was on. I still had to work but thankfully was able to swing a half-day. I stopped work at noon and got to packing. By 5 pm that evening, the car was packed, the house was stocked and secured, and somehow, 5 days earlier than planned, we were about to hit the road. We hadn’t even so much as bickered in the stress of it all. We were damn cool cucumbers considering we didn’t know if we’d even make it across the border. The stress of it hung in the air above us. What would we do if we didn’t make it across? I’d make the journey solo. I hadn’t been feeling so hot as we’d approached the journey and the idea of a 3,000-mile trip solo (plus the added 16-hour round trip to and from Anchorage to drop off The Chief) was less than appetizing. Still, somehow we were cool, man.

Alaskan Malamute
Cukes

5 pm isn’t what I would call my ideal start to a 3,000 + mile journey but…start it we did. Night quickly fell, as did a snow flurry. We ate dinner from a gas station and plodded on into…construction? By 10 pm I was calling our hotel to let them know that we’d be later than expected. “That’s OK honey, I’ll stay up for you. You just drive safely” said the sweet front desk agent. By midnight, we rolled into the lodge, exhausted. “Let me show you to your room, get in your car, and follow me. People always get lost.” Off we went following our guardian angel for the night and into bed, we fell. Our books laughed at us as we pretended to read a few sentences before falling fast asleep.

The next morning I was up early to get as much work done as I could before we hit the road. For a brief moment in time, I had found that I could suddenly work and read from the car without getting carsick. Apparently, that spell had worn off. Barf city, here we come! I shivered as I took Leto for a quick prance about the neighborhood. It was 15 degrees, icy and biting. By 9 am we were packed up and off to the clinic for our tests. When we arrived, they mentioned that we would be paying the fee, despite having insurance, since they were billing it differently as it was for travel. Mmmmmmsccuse me? $240 and 30-minutes later, we were off, COVID free, thankfully. So far, we’d made it through all of the hurdles we’d faced.
We’d packed our house in 24 hours
We’d gotten the dog his health certificate
We’d filed the paperwork
We’d registered with Canada
We’d come back negative
And now? The moment of truth.

A few miles before the border, dressed in our finest warm weather gear, showered and shorn, we stopped on the side of the road to let the Leto out and shake our worries off.

US Canada Border
Fingers crossed

It was now or never. Would they let us in? The Chief now had two strikes against him. It wasn’t looking good but we’d come this far. We had to try.

As we approached the border, my heart rate quickened. The border was slow that day, only one car lay ahead of us, which could either mean a guard who was grateful for light-duty or one who was bored and wanted to make their day more interesting by interrogating crossers (certainly, there was a multitude of options in-between but my black and white brain warned otherwise). The car in front of us was waved to the side for a full inspection. Gulp. I feared we’d reached the Day of the Bored Guard and as the Border had told us in our many, many calls “It’s all up to the guard who is working that day”.

So it was.

Delta Junction, AK
The outlook felt bleak

How did it go?

Tune in next time to find out.

See you in two weeks.

With love,

From Alaska

P.S. A huge thank you to you, sweet reader for coming along on this journey. If you love reading BTB please make sure to sign up at the top right of this page (see the picture below for details). You’ll never receive spam and your email will never be shared but you will always know when the latest entry drops and soon…that will be the only way to find out. More info to come but if you haven’t signed up yet, do so now (please). And…if you have, please feel free to share with friends.

How to Live in the Wilderness Forever

Step 1: Pack up your bags, sell off all that can’t fit within them, quit your jobs, bid adieu to your loved ones and head off.

Check.

California living
Or…stuff it all into storage

Step 2: Find your wilderness, be it deep in the heart of the Last Frontier or in the depths of the desert. Find what feels like home to you.

Check.

Living in alaskan wilderness
This guy, this place. First photo.



Step 3: Make it yours. Life off-grid is never easy, never cookie-cutter and sometimes, that’s damn frustrating but…at the end of the day, when you look at your home, it will be uniquely yours.

Check.

simple living alaska
Make sure you have a fluffy foreman to keep things skookum

Step 4: Leave

What?!
Wait, did you say leave?
Mmmhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmm.

Leave. For the last couple of years, due to that which shall not be named (*cough* COVID), we haven’t really left. Yes, we popped out to Hawaii when things felt safe to do so and I popped out to California when it felt a little less safe but my mental health required me to do so but overall, we’ve been home since 2018. 2018! Ack! In 2017, after three years of moving back and forth between Alaska and California, trying to make things work in both places simultaneously, a dear friend told me “Babe, I think you need to stay home for a year.” Just hearing her say that, I felt a wave of relief. We’d been scurrying about for so long that I still had an unpacked bag of bathing suits and shorts packed at our cabin from our trip to Ecuador. And so it was decided, we’d stay put for a while. In 2019, we unpacked years of travel and shuffling, shutting down the house in a panic and opening it just the same. We organized, we nested, we married and we stayed put. It was glorious.

everybody's living for the weekend
No more packing and unpacking. Finally, some breathing room.

Little did we know that Voldemort was on his way and we all know what happened in 2020. So now, almost three years after our last extended stay away from our beautiful life that sometimes feels a little too hard, we are about to Step 4: Leave.

Where to? The open road. We’ll be California-bound come next week just The Chief, Leto and I. We’ll have to pare down and pack tight and I can’t wait.

life in northern california
Take me to your beaches.

In this last week, The Chief will be busy putting the final touches on the addition before we leave, prepping for our awesome friends to come in and drywall and paint the space. It’s really coming along.

building in alaska
Photo cred: DE
building alaska
Let there be light! And…accidentally black vapor barrier 🙂

I will be working from home while tidying up all the loose ends. From securing rapid tests to be able to cross the border to making sure all of our non-freezable foods and goods are safely stored, the fridge is empty and the freezer is full, it’s going to be a busy week for us all. Leto will be on snow patrol.

So, how do you live in the wilderness forever? For me, you mix it up. Step 5 will obviously be Return but for a while at least, we are going to snag a little bucket hauling, generator running, fire building, 8-hour town trip breathing room. These last few years have been beautiful but no matter how much I love any place, I’ll always need a little space from it. Buh-bye location claustrophobia. Hello, open road!

That being said, BTB will be taking a few weeks off, to return in November to recount our tales to you, dear reader. Until then, I’ll be sending you love from the road and updates on Facebook and Instagram so make sure to stay tuned.

With love,

from Alaska

simple living alaska net worth
And a full woodshed, waiting for our return.

P.S. Aside from following on social media, the best way to support BTB is to subscribe (upper right-hand corner of this page) and share it with a friend. Please take a moment to sign up and share. I appreciate you!

P.P.S Sadly, Leto did not get the chance to practice his penmanship on any Vaccination Thank Yous BUT the offer still holds true. If you read last week’s post and feel inspired to get vaccinated, Leto will send you a personalized Thank You card. And…if you’re in it for the swag, stay tuned. Coming soon!

Falling Back, Looking Forward

Last weekend, we went on a family hike, Leto, The Chief and I. It went a little something like this:

Fall Alaska Colors
Not bad, eh?

While the fall colors were in full effect, there was still a feel like summer was looking over our shoulder, guiding us gently into the next season. The (sometimes) sunny days didn’t feel so far away. The next morning, I headed to Anchorage and when I returned, a mere two days later, summer’s gaze was no more. Instead, winter beckoned us in. The mountains, bare when I left, were now covered in a determined Termination Dust (what Alaskans have dubbed the first snowfall signaling the end of summer).

Fall colors
The Swimming Hole (not so swimmable). Termination Dust in the mountains.

These wintry days of freezing mornings and oh so sultry highs of 50 degree afternoons have had me looking foward towards winter. This past winter was epic. It snowed more than any year I’ve ever experienced, more than a lot of people had seen in decades.

Winter in Alaska
The Chief, shoveling out our woodchopping area after a heavy night of snow. All these trails had been completely walkable the evening before.

Snow is normally a welcome gift but it snowed so much that looking back in my journal, I found this gem of an entry:

“Monday, March 29th, 2021
5:55 am
Still fucking snowing!”

So, yeah, needless to say, it was epic but not always favorably so. This past winter was also memorable because it was the first time in a year that I had felt total hope we’d found our way out of (or at least a way to barely skirt around) this whole pandemic mess.

Why?

Because in mid-March, a local clinic (and by local, I mean a clinic 4 hours away) drove all the way out our unmaintained, Do Not Drive Without Survival Gear road to our little hamlet and provided second shots and first and only shots of the vaccine for Covid-19 to anyone who wanted them. Did every single resident come? No, but did the majority of the town? You betcha. Mind you, getting to the vaccine wasn’t an easy task. This wasn’t a “drive in your warm car to the local CVS” vaccine type o’ day. Just as the vaccine team had to work to get to us, our entire town had to work to get to them.

My vaccine day? It started with preparations.

Crescent moon
Crescent moon beans

I would be alone afterwards if The Chief was unable to make it back from his snowmachine trip and I was determined to be self-sufficient. I spent the morning chopping firewood, cleaning the house, charging the batteries, pumping gas, warming the generator, cooking food for the next few days and gassing up the snowmachines.

Woodstove heat
House heating up? Check. Firewood for two days? Check. Let’s do this.

I was prepared. The day was a gorgeous but COLD March but boy oh boy was I dressed for it.

Winter survival gear
Layers on layers…
Snowmachining in Alaska
on layers on layers…

From Mukluks to triple and quadruple layers top to bottom, I was prepared. Finally, after the house was warm and my life was ready for me to fall apart if need be, Leto and I started our journey towards vaccination day. We drove the 3.5 miles to Town, me on the snowmachine, Leto setting the slow pace ahead.

I flirted with snowbanks but didn’t make any move too fancy for fear of getting my machine stuck and missing my date. 30 minutes later, we arrived at my girlfriend’s house where our pod was waiting.

Were we all a little nervous?
Yep!
Had we all done copious research and, more importantly, spoken to doctors galore?
Yep!
We were ready.

We gathered our belongings and walked down to the Town gathering spot: Tony Zak’s (a house donated to the community for gatherings). We blasted “Break my Stride” to pump us up. Go ahead, give it a listen, you know you want to…


Just then, we got a phone call. “Are y’all on your way? We just opened the first vial and it needs to be administered in the next 30 minutes.” We’d had an appointment time scheduled for an hour later but thankfully, we were running early. We picked it up to double time and soon, we arrived. One by one we were welcomed in, administered the shot and waited our 15 minutes for any adverse effects. The feeling afterwards?

The big island of Hawaii
Sunny days on a beautiful beach

Kennicott, Alaska
Smiles for miles

Utter elation.

All the buildup, all the research, all the wondering and then…done. In two weeks time, life as we had known it would finally, finally return. We hooted and hollered and danced about and then, we all went home to prepare to nurse ourselves back to health if need be.

Need freaking be.

I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t fun. I was coooooolllllllddddd and achy. My teeth hurt. I felt like total crapola. Our pod gave one another text updates as the night wore on (the night which, thankfully, The Chief had returned on). I seemed to have it the worst of the bunch but, overall, after a night of No Thanks, I Don’t Want to Experience That Again, it was over. The next day I rested, ate nurturing foods and ticked one more day off of the 14 until the vaccine was in full-effect. The day after? I was back to skiing, back to life as normal.

Crosscountry skiing
Vitamin D for the win!

Unfortunately, life as normal hasn’t fully returned, has it? The word Delta took on a new meaning and as we look towards winter again, which seems to be coming as soon as tomorrow here in Alaska, it feels as if we’ve gone backwards a bit. But…what can we do?

We can get vaccinated.

Malamute Akita
If you’re feeling like you want to turn your back on me…just give me a moment.



Listen, I’m not vaccine-happy and I’m not suggesting you have to be either. Getting this vaccine doesn’t mean you’re pro-every single vaccine forever from here on out. Personally, if I can heal any ailment with plants first, I will. I harvest local medicine and keep it for our family. I believe in the power of the mind to heal ourselves too and the power of a healthy immune system. But…I also deeply believe in science and y’all, one thing I know is this thing is not going away any time soon unless we come together to fight it via the vaccine. If you think you’re healthy and are not worried you’ll contract it (which, I’m sorry to tell you, my friends who work in ERs have seen plenty of healthy, young people die within days) OK. But, instead maybe think of the people who aren’t so certain they’d make it, like the woman I saw in Home Depot the other day with a sign on her orange employee vest that read “Please stay back if you are unvaccinated. I have a deeply compromised immune system and I will not live through Covid.” At the end of the day, do you want to be the reason for someone’s end of days? Of course not, and thankfully, it’s an easy fix.

Julia, I’m not getting the vaccine.

OK. I hear you.

Hawaiian wild horses
Get your nose outta my business, Julia! But wait…one request…

Will you, please, then do this instead? Please take it seriously. If you simply can’t stomach the vaccine, all I ask is that you take this situation, this global pandemic, as seriously as it deserves to be taken. Wash your hands, wear masks and social distance like your life depends on it, because even if you don’t think your life depends on it, someone else’s does. Please, don’t go out unnecessarily (sorry, brunch doesn’t count as a necessary outing these days #RIPchampagnesunday). I know it sucks. I don’t like any of it. I mean, I never used hand sanitizer in my life before this. I let my immune system do its thing but this? This is different. None of us are happy about any of it but…

That day in March when I felt hope? Utter joy? Elation? That can return for all of us. We can do this. Please, be a part of it.


McCarthy, Alaska
Pod squad, post-vaccine.

With love and hope,

From Alaska.

Alaskan Malamute
A little Leto levity.

P.S. I am not above bribery, no I’m not (and neither is the state of Alaska)! For every person who is currently unvaccinated but GETS vaccinated by the time I post the next BTB blog, you will be the receiving BTB goodies when our first swag EVER comes out this winter and a personalized thank you card from Leto (his penmanship is questionable but his heart is in the right place). Send me proof of your vaccination and an address for your gifts by Monday, October 4th to win. Everyone likes winning, right?! Email me your details at: beneaththeborealis@gmail.com

P.P.S. If this post makes you say “Ewwww, Julia! I don’t want to read this blog anymore, even though I’ve loved it up until now.” Well, then…so be it. Lots of love your way and happy trails to you (hopefully to a vaccination site 😎 Yea…I couldn’t help myself).

P.P.P.S If you’re thinking “Shit, this post was heavy!”, think again. This was way heavier and this was a ringer too. As Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things. We can. We have. We will again. They will only make us stronger.

P.P.P.P.S Just kidding. We all know there’s no PPPPS! 😜

**Still here and want to support Beneath the Borealis? Please like and share this post! Send it to a friend, post it on Facebook (follow BTB on Facebook too, here!), tell a neighbor. Any way you can share, I appreciate.