Homesteading

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, 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

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

Cabin Confessions: Putting Up

I’m not sure what was in the air or the water or the stars this October but for some reason, the month brought with it many confessions. From candid to long-hidden, confessions came from dear friends and new friends alike, as if the month held a sort of truth serum that all of us had unknowingly drunk (for, of course, I had confessions of my own).

In this growing age of online versus in-person, of creating personas based on snapshots and moments in time, it’s easy to assume that another’s life is just how he or she portrays it: downright near perfect. That’s not to say that across the board, we all simply share the good times and hide the bad. I’ve seen plenty of Instagram feeds with hilariously relatable “fails” or beautifully honest posts. Yet overall, the online personas we often see showcase the best of the best of the very best sides of all of us and sometimes, I think that too flows into our in-person lives.

Enter: October

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Leto the Alaskan Malamute

Leto and the new ice.

 

I think the truth is catching and it caught like wildfire. The truth serum must have been drunk at a gathering of gals early on in the month and from there it spread. That night I learned “dirty secrets” (that were neither dirty nor did they need to be secrets) that made me feel…

Normal.

Since that night, I’ve aimed to honor that honesty and spread the good word: we all have things we think are odd, weird, ugly, bad or boring when it comes to ourselves but unearthing those hidden weirdos, bringing to light what you consider bad might just make you feel a little bit of good.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Best Friends

Let’s hear it for the weirdos in our lives! Love you girls.

 

 

And so, in that honest vein, I bring to you: Cabin Confessions, a sort of mini-series within BTB to keep the truth moving through us all, self-included. May it spread your way and help you to feel a little better, brighter and lighter. Or, just a little more normal.

Here goes:

Cabin Confession: Putting Up

Sometimes it feels that upon moving to Alaska, you’re supposed to have already learned all of the “Alaska Skills”.

Chop wood? Of course I can!

Fish? Sure, old hat for me!

Garden? Duh, easy peasy.

Sew? Yep!

Knit? Mmmmhmmm!

Survive in the woods? Yesireebob!

The list goes on and on. The truth is, when I moved here my first Winter I scored about a wobbly, uncertain 1.5 out of 6 on the list above and the above just breaks the surface. Heck, I didn’t even know how to dress myself (and in truth, when the weather changes these days, I still find myself wondering how I did it last season). So, when it came to Putting Up (a term I had never even heard before) I felt my familiar “friend” creep over my shoulder. Hello, Overwhelm.

Four years later, I still feel that sense when it comes to Putting Up food.

What is Putting Up?

Canning fish, pickling cucumbers, drying herbs, making sauerkraut, freezing bulk garden goods, etc.

Basically, to Put something Up means to harvest and preserve something you’ve bought or for more Alaska gold stars, something you’ve grown or harvested (typically in the warmer months), so that you can enjoy it for the colder months to come.

Easy, right?

Confession: Nope. Not for me.

Certainly, some Putting Up I fell in naturally with. I love harvesting, though sometimes I have trouble with the follow-through if the follow-through involves more than drying. Thank goodness for tea!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, harvesting wild alaskan plants

Goldenrod, Spruce Tips, Labrador Tea, Yarrow, Lupine & River Beauty

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, harvesting spruce tips

Spruce tips (and Leto0

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, foraging for morels

Morels, found by Leto (and Leto)

 

Yet, for some reason, putting up fermented foods has always made me feel more put down, by myself. The phobia I had discovered in California didn’t suddenly melt away upon moving to Alaska (I must have missed the Alaska Newbie Handbook), it froze solid. I can’t tell you how many cabbages I’ve bought at the store to make sauerkraut or kimchi that ended up moldy in the compost. Wasting food out here, where the nearest grocery store is 4 hours away is a serious no-no. Sure, food going to waste happens, but it’s often more of an accident; someone gifted you something you couldn’t quite finish or you had to leave for a few days unexpectedly and your refrigeration failed in some way. It’s not often because you have been staring down your food, too scared to fail and thus too paralyzed to do anything with it, that it goes bad. This year, to ensure I’d really learn the kraut craft, I grew my own cabbages.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, starts from seed

April starts

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan garden starts

Brand new garden bed

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbages

Gigantic cabbages!

 

The pressure was on but it was ok because this year I was making sauerkraut, no matter what.

Yep!

Sure was.

Right?

Nope.

Wrong.

A few days ago, I peeked at my last harvest of cabbages, 5 beautiful cabbages I had been lovingly caring for since starting them from seed in April. Watering, feeding, guarding, admiring every day, watching grow bigger and bigger…

They were rotten.

I’ll give myself a slight out to say that food storage in a tiny cabin where the temperature fluctuates between 90 and 40 degrees almost daily is a challenge but…I had also procrastinated for almost a month since their harvest. Sure, there had been an unexpected Town trip and well, I definitely needed to deep clean the oven…twice. I had procrastinated them into oblivion.

* I did, however, eat these first babies up!

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages

First harvest

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, giant cabbages green

Cowabunga, dude! Enormo!

 

My last harvest of beautiful cabbage babies met their end in the compost, joining the many before them.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest

The second harvest as the frost came tumbling in. Leto helped a lot.

 

Not only was it disappointing in the sense that all this time and energy had gone into this food that now lay spoiled before me, not only was it disappointing to have lost 5 good cabbages which could have made endless meals if not kraut, but the disappointment that again I had failed after 6 months of preparation was almost too much to bear. I was so disappointed…in me and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had, yet again, failed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute puppy

I felt a little bit like this.

 

Thankfully, The Chief was in the next room, a few feet away to hear the sigh.

“It’s OK, we just won’t let this happen next year. It’s OK, Julia. Plus, we still have one cabbage left!”

Oh great, one more cabbage to stare me down as it degrades.

Yet, instead of going down that path, I remembered honesty. I told everyone about my ruined cabbages and as I listened to others lament about kraut cold feet or pickling paranoia I suddenly felt better. Not in the misery loves company way because they were no longer miserable as I was, in the way that I felt I could (finally) get over this, as they all had.

The last cabbage left was a behemoth of a babe that my girlfriend had grown this year. She is an epic gardener (you can read all about it here) and after a dinner date at her house this Fall (read: 2 hours out, 2 hours back. That’s an Alaskan dinner party, if I’ve ever heard of one!) she gifted me one of her gargantuan gals.

I may ruin storebought cabbages and I may ruin my own, but I wasn’t going to ruin hers.

Right?

Finally, the answer was “Right”.

Three weeks later.

Meh, better late than never, right? I had been battling this fear for years, three lousy weeks weren’t going to take me under this time (plus, I had some gentle nudging from a friend, moving me slowly but surely along).

So, three weeks later than I had planned on doing something with her cabbage, I finally did.

1 Quart for experimenting

1 Big Bowl of Potluck Coleslaw for Poker Night

1 Big Crock

later and the enormous cabbage was finally gone and…

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan cabbage harvest making Sauerkraut

Half-way through

 

Kraut is on the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Gardening in Alaska, Malamute puppy in Alaska

Finally, I felt like this!

 

I’ve psyched myself up time and time again to do the Putting Up I dream to do here but time and time again, I’ve found myself talking myself down, stressing the details, deciding I’ve failed before I’ve even started and thus, never begun. Perfectionism sure is a sneaky beast that robs you of entering new experiences with lightness or confidence, if you enter into them at all. Yet step by step, uncertainty by uncertainty, I moved forward this time and I owe it all to honesty (and certainly to some truly non-judgemental love from The Chief and friends and to my furry Leto, who sat on my toes or watched me squish cabbage the whole way through).

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alaskan Malamute 9 months old

Ice dance.

 

Opening up about my own shortcomings, or things I just see as such, has helped me to see how normal they are. Certainly, mine may not be yours. You might be scoffing at this little backwoods cabbage waster but I’m certain there is something for you too. Some half-finished project, some goal yet unmet, some hidden habit that you feel guilty or sad or embarrassed about. The good news is: you don’t have to! Who knew?! Feeling bad provides little impetus for change. Feeling bad leaves the cabbages rotting and the sauerkraut supply still empty. So go and tell your tale of your closeted self, whoever that may be. Chances are, the person you tell might really, truly need to hear it and I guarantee you’ll feel better.

Best wishes to you and to all of your quirks and flaws and beauty that make you who you are. You are doing just fine.

Cheers to you.

Cheers to honesty.

May it spread to you and yours and beyond.

With love (and sauerkraut),

 

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis, 11-11-19, Post Cabin Confessions, Putting Up, Alpenglow Alaska

Alpenglow time of year.

 

P.S. Do you too have a fermenting phobia? My friends pointed me towards Nourished Kitchen, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and searching Facebook for helpful groups. There are many salt to cabbage ratios but one tried and true method I’ve heard (and tried) is to make it as salty as the sea. If that’s too vague for you, I totally understand. Let the professionals guide your way, it’s not as scary as I thought. I promise.

P.P.S Beneath the Borealis has been featured on Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs and Websites to Follow in 2019. Thank you, Feedspot! I’m honored. Check the good company we keep here: Feedspot’s Top 30 Alaska Blogs

This post is dedicated to Danielle. I love you. Thank you for always encouraging me to keep trying new things in the kitchen and beyond.