nature

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY recycling tips

The Triple R

Growing up, the three R’s were a mainstay in my house.

Pretty much.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse (though for this post the last two will be switched in order).

We Recycled without pause, hauling our goodies to the Recycling Center on weekends and returning with cold hard cash (which usually was only a few dollars but to a kiddo seemed a beyond lucrative exchange for doing something like recycling. I mean, where else would it go? The trash?) I don’t even think I understood that recycling could go in the trash, as if its sheer recycling potential would protect it like a forcefield from the landfill.

We Reused in the form of yogurt containers for leftovers and plastic grocery bags as our small trashcan liners. I truly think everyone I knew growing up had Nancy’s plain yogurt plastic containers in their cupboards and drawers in lieu of actual Tupperware.

And we Reduced…a bit.

I’d say that last R got rolled in with the others, checked off by association like 20-year-olds trying to get into a bar by surrounding themselves with older friends. Legal by association. Right?

I wouldn’t say we were gluttons by any means, and the excess was probably less on my parents’ parts and more on mine. Let’s just say my Dad wrote a song about me titled “More Daddy, More” which basically just highlighted all the things I consistently asked him for from a horse (obviously) to smaller things like this really cool plastic wallet my 6-year old self just couldn’t be without to more ice cream, more headbands…more.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY

These days it’s more food-focused than headband headstrong.

 

So, the two R’s held strong and the last one tagged along like the third wheel it was.

Over the years, my relationship with The Triple R’s has held steadfast but I wouldn’t say it necessarily grew any wiser. After moving out of the country, it became even easier to fulfill my triple R duties and in some way that distanced me from them.

Still, I ticked off the Triple R checklist or at least most of it. On Sunday nights, out the first R would go. I’d watch the recycling fall away with little more than a few beeping backups down our long hill. The second R came in the form of reused wrapping paper and second-hand shopping and the third R stared me down as I bought things I didn’t always need.

Moving here, I gained a whole other appreciation for those familiar R’s as their execution got much harder.

Sort of.

Unlike the happy to see me Recycling Centers of my childhood, there was no payoff waiting for me in Anchorage, and sometimes there was even a charge. There certainly wasn’t a trash service waiting to back down my 60-mile driveway.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY trash

Year one’s recycling haul…I’d say it’d been a while…

 

The ease of the first R had significantly changed but hey, I’d grown up driving an hour round trip to recycling, a few pesky extra (8) hours weren’t going to stop me! So, we spend the months between Town trips storing and sorting our recyclables. Placing them into their respective collections of 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, aluminum, tin and glass and then eventually making the 16-hour round trip to take them to their recycling heaven.

Despite the sticky mess the sorting game makes, I have to say, I like the process of reliving our consumption. A really good bottle of wine will pop up its empty top and remind me of a great evening or a plastic pill bottle from a round of antibiotics will remind me to be grateful for our health.

The second R (and yes, I know I’m still saying these out of order) has, due to locale, truly come into its own. Reuse. I’ve said it once and I’ll keep saying it: scarcity and need is my personal key to creativity. When living in a city, where the touch of a button or the press of a pedal gets me what I want or where I want to go, need is such a relative thing. If I ran out of all-purpose cleaner, I’d just go and buy more. Here, I remember the first time I ran out of cleaner. As the spray bottle wheezed its last spritz on this still bachelor pad, I realized that I hadn’t stocked up. I also realized that I had never thought of what exactly was in an all-purpose cleaner. I also knew this bachelor pad wasn’t near clean. And so, as the store was 8-hours away, I did a little research instead of a little drive and realized I already had everything I needed: oranges and vinegar. Well, orange peels and vinegar, to be more precise. With a little research, I realized that:

  1. Cleaners don’t have to be made of harsh chemicals
  2. I could make my own natural products

So I did and boy oh boy were they not kidding when they said all-purpose. This stuff can clean everything from windows (heck, it even could clean our sapped up, smoked out, sooty fireplace glass) to our wooden shelves and our stovetop.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY Cleaning tips

Squeaky clean top, soot-filled bottom.

 

My second R fire was relit by scarcity. Suddenly, everything around me sparked my attention. How could I best use that again or repurpose it to become something new? The Chief used my finished face lotion containers to hold nails and screws. I used old cans to hold my pencils and flowers and old egg cartons to start my seeds in the Spring. Before something went the route of bye-bye via the trash or the recycling, we took a good look at it to see if it could breathe life anew.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY gardening

They also make really great ice cube trays. Thanks, M!

 

And just like that, the third R peeked her head around the corner and smiled at me. She’d been there all along, walking hand in hand with the other R’s. Before, I would have bought something to organize our tools, to hold my pencils, to grow my seeds. I would have brought in more to address a need instead of looking at what I already had but just by doing the opposite, just by not having easy access to an “easier” way, I found that the third R had been right there. By reusing I was reducing.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY recycling tips

Original inspiration

 

Hallelujah!

That third R was sneakier than I thought.

So, we wash and re-use our Ziploc bags and turn old shirts into rags. We wear and hand down hand-me-down clothing and use junk mail and cardboard boxes for firestarter in fires composed of dead trees we’ve harvested for firewood.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY lumberjack

Stihl in love with you.

 

And still, there’s certainly a long way to go.

Despite the presence of our rule to take something out of the house to donate every time we bring something in we don’t always follow it. We still buy things we don’t need (ok, but try a milk steamer and tell me it doesn’t drastically improve your life. Not joking). We still have trash. We still have a footprint.

Yet we try, we aim, we sometimes fail, to make those three R’s proud.

Thank you, Mom and Dad for teaching me the three R’s like they were law and thank you Alaska for teaching me via the lessons of scarcity, just how to abide by that law…most of the time.

 

P.S. You didn’t think I was just going to tout an amazing recipe and not share, did you?

 

ALL PURPOSE CITRUS CLEANER

Ingredients:

Orange peels (you can use any citrus you like, I just love the smell of oranges)

White vinegar

Directions:

Peel your favorite citrus (this is especially helpful if you bought in bulk and now find your citrusy friends starting to fade. Peel them all and either juice them and freeze into ice cubes or freeze them whole to use later) and place the peels into a jar. I use a one-quart mason jar.

 

Beneath the Borealis, Triple R, 2-18-19, DIY all purpose cleaner

Whole oranges to freeze and ice cubes made of lemon juice plus the cleaner in progress behind.

 

Pack the peels in tightly but don’t give yourself carpal tunnel over it. Just a cozy bunch of peels packed purposefully.

Pour the vinegar over the peels, filling the jar until all of the peels are submerged.

Put a lid on it!

You’re pretty much done. Shake the jar every couple of days and within two weeks, this puppy is ready to go. You can remove the peels at this time or keep them going but they get a little mushy gooshy so it’s best to remove them and strain the liquid. Again, if you don’t, the sky will not fall. I’ve left them many times out of laziness or forgetfulness and the concoction turns out great but just a little grainier.

Enjoy!

Use this for glass, countertops, etc. As with anything, do a small test spot first if you feel this might not work on something but I have yet to be disappointed.

You can do this process continually by simply putting peels into a jar as you get them and adding more vinegar as you get more peels. Or, you can do it all at once. I typically have a couple of jars going at once and will pass them along to share the citrusy bounty with friends.

Enjoy!

Please let me know how your citrus goodness goes and feel free to share any of your triple R tips!

With love,

from Alaska.

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Donkey Mexico Jalisco

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico*

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico*

*If your idea of “perfect” is getting completely sick, fighting with your fiancé (and still having a good time)

A real vacation report

Every vacation report is a “real report”, however, in our world of perfectly posed playbacks of everything from our day-to-day Starbucks pics to our dripping with decadence vacays, I think it’s important to display the not so pretty and the nitty-gritty, the sand in your trunks, sunburn kind of report, along with the good.

A little context:

The last few months in California have been less filled with hiking and friends and sunshine-filled days of relaxation and more crammed with 10-hour stress-filled workdays. Which, honestly, I thought was fine. I could handle this.

And I did, for a while.

Enter: Vacation.

We flew to Mexico right after Thanksgiving (which we had spent in St. Louis seeing a little of my family and a lot of our hotel room as I had gotten sick and ended up working 12 hour days in bed). Flying on or near the holidays, we quickly realized, is never ideal. People travel no matter the state they are in and so, as we flew to Mexico, we found ourselves amongst a cacophony of coughing and sneezing and the like. Still, having just gotten over the flu myself, I figured I was immune to whatever bug was bugging about.

Wrong.

I also assumed that all of the stress of the past few months would instantly melt away the second we walked onto that airplane heading to the land of Mexico.

Wrong again.

We flew into Puerto Vallarta, a spot where I’d only ever visited long enough to drink far too much tequila and leave. I figured it was more of a stopover town but had heard great things so we decided to stay for two nights before heading off and I’m so glad we did.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Puerto Vallarta

The view of our room from the pool.

 

Our hotel was nestled in the Romantic District, a cobblestoned beauty that gracefully balanced old and new. The city was booming with the start of tourist season (December is the official start of “open season”) but there wasn’t the crazed clamor you can expect in other cities. People were kind and open and helpful beyond belief. Our taxi driver dropped us off and left us both with a hug and a “welcome to Mexico!” adieu.

I adore Mexico.

That’s the pretty picture.

The not so pretty?

On my first week off (as in, “Honey, I swear, I’m totally turning my computer off and not answering work calls”, off) in two years, I was…

Working.

I spent the entire flight over typing in a manic panic amidst the sneezing chorus. I worked at full-tilt from takeoff straight until my battery died (the plane didn’t have outlets). Thankfully, The Chief slept most of the flight (we had awoken at 3 am after a quick 3-hour snooze) so I didn’t have a witness to my panic or a scornful eye to give me the “I thought we were on vacation” look I knew I fully deserved.

That came later.

After our taxi sweetly dropped us off, we were ready to get into vacation mode!

…I just needed to do a little more work.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Hotel Puerto Vallarta Romantic District

Not a bad place to work, if you have too.

 

 

Enter: the scornful eye.

A few hours later, we finally made it out of the hotel and down to the beach. Immediately, I was taken over by the colors. I absolutely love the use of color in Mexico. Lime green? Bring it on! Fuschia? Yes, please. All together with every other color palette, you can imagine? ¿Por Qué No?

Still, the colors couldn’t quite lull me out of responsibility into vacation mode. My mind was still with work and The Chief could feel it. So, as you probably could guess, the night didn’t exactly go as swimmingly as it might have had I actually been present. We ended the evening in a tiff over the very important (to me) specification of adding “County” after “Sonoma” in a sentence (I am from Sonoma County, Sonoma is a town in the County. I am not from Sonoma).

We followed this up with a second tiff the next night regarding Tom Petty (Tom, I had your back, but it might not have been worth it and in reality, The Chief was on your team).

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Graffiti, Mexico

Perhaps, it’s time to listen. Not talk. Two ears, one mouth, they always say…

 

 

Things were off to a great start!

Not quite able to shake the very important arguments of nights past, we grumbled our way through the cobbled streets, The Chief lugging our communal suitcase through the not so suitcase friendly alleys and hailed a boat to the remote town of Yelapa to spend a little more time together in close quarters. That always helps, right?

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Casita

Bay to the right, iguana to the left

 

By dinner time, we both were through with our tiffs and I was finally relaxing into vacation mode. We were in a jungle paradise, sitting outside in short sleeves in the balmy eve amidst a candle’s glow at an outdoor restaurant. I had even bid an actual “Adios” to my work (even after repeated attempts to convince The Chief that this week “off” might be a great week to actually catch up at work. Thankfully, he nixed that genius plan). We held hands and wondered how Sonoma and Tom Petty had ever found their way between us and vowed to do better as the stress slipped off and we slipped into vacation mode.

Things were looking up.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Tropical Flowers

Jungle blooms about our casita

 

 

Right?

On our walk back from dinner, The Chief mentioned he felt a little funny.

By the next morning, he was wearing a shirt, sweatshirt, pants and socks, all under a load of blankets and still, was shivering.

It was 85 degrees in our little casita.

Then, it started storming.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Storms

Big warning clouds…

 

 

I headed out to find sickness supplies and made it all the way out of the jungle and to the store before I realized I had forgotten my money. I trudged back, only about 50% certain of my path through the mossy backyards of jungle abodes, collected the coinage and headed back out.

By the time The Chief felt better a few days later, down I went. Our roles of patient and caretaker did a quick 180 as I burrowed down into layers and blankets and The Chief, still quite ill but in better shape than I, busied himself making me tea and warming me up.

Like I said, things were looking up!

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Graffiti in Yelapa

Public art makes me happy.

 

 

And, in all honesty, they were. We were back to giggling together, back to feeling lighter, despite feeling absolutely awful. And hey, we still were in Mexico, in the jungle with iguanas as neighbors and a view of the ocean. Things could be worse.

We spent our last day in Yelapa on the beach (you walk through the hand laid paths of cobblestone and then cross the river to the beachside, hoping for low tide) sipping fresh juices and hoping to soon be sipping margaritas. We were on the mend.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa beachview

The view of the beach from the trail above

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa River to Ocean

Wading the river to get to the beach

 

The next morning, The Chief did not look mended. We contacted a local doctor who said that she and most others would be off that day due to the Presidential Election (whoops! Clueless, much?). Thankfully, the woman whose AirBnB we were renting in our next locale of Punta de Mita suggested we visit a pharmacy with a doctor on hand (how convenient is that?!). We found just that and 50 pesos later (about $2.50) we had paid for our visit and found that The Chief had a throat infection. I decided not to get looked at because I was feeling better. The local lady of pharmacy (not a pharmacist but very helpful nevertheless) in Yelapa had given me a tablet of who knows what and I was feeling good.

After the doctor, we were ready to get on our way to Punta de Mita. We unintentionally put on our We Don’t Know How to Get Where The Heck We Are Going faces and within moments, a woman was explaining the bus we actually wanted to take and setting us up with someone who would watch for the bus and explain to the driver our trajectory.

Again, Mexico, you amaze me. Thank you for your kindness.

A few hours later, we made it to Punta de Mita, a town known for the dichotomy of mega-ritzy hotels and great surf (and thus, non-ritzy surfing culture). Our Airbnb host, who had been checking on us and The Chief’s status all day was there to retrieve us when we were given incorrect directions and collected us and our luggage on her scooter.

Despite it being the last weekend night before I was about to start working again (I only was able to take off one of our two weeks there from work) we both were too tired to do anything other than walk down to the beach for a waterfront sunset and tuck in for the night.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Punta de Mita Sunset

Shapes and colors.

 

 

We needed to rest up so we could do what we came here for: Surfing.

Rest up we did. Surf, we didn’t.

When the pills the Yelapan grandma had given me wore off, I too started getting worse and despite a round of antibiotics, The Chief was not improving. He was white as a sheet and I sounded like someone shaking a bag of popcorn and a dog barking combined when I coughed (which was constant). The Chief’s earache kept getting worse. Finally, we both went to the doctor and were granted the reality that we both had throat infections and The Chief had an ear infection as the cherry on top of our sick sundaes.

Still, we were having fun.

Still, we thought we might surf.

We rented boards and carried them all the way to the beach. I’m pretty sure that 6-minute walk qualifies as one of my life triumphs thus far. We arrived and I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was exhausted. By the time I paddled out, I knew catching a wave was not in the picture and so, I laid on my board and watched the sunset while getting to chat with our Airbnb host who had paddled out to meet us. The Chief did catch some waves. Someone had to represent for the family. After it was dark, we slowly paddled our way in, letting the waves guide us home. We walked the boards home and delivered them back promptly the next day. Surfing would have to wait for next year.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico - Punta de Mita Casita

The hammock view from our Punta de Mita casita.

 

 

Without surfing to occupy our time, I woke early and worked before The Chief was up, sitting on the rooftop to watch the sun come up and then, by midday, we were free for adventuring.

Which, despite still feeling terrible, we did.

We met a long-lost friend of mine in La Cruz, a town South of Punta de Mita and met his potential new roommate (a HUGE iguana that decided to plant itself on his fence).

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Bougainvillea

My favorite.

 

 

The next day, we rented a scooter and scooted our way North to the town of Sayulita (also a surf town) to stroll around for the day. I adore Sayulita, even if it is a tiny Sonoma County in Mexico. It had everything you could want: easy waves, smoothies, music, chocolate covered bananas (not my thing, but apparently, I’m in the minority so I put it here for you all to be enticed by) and I’m sure all of the things that top your list.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Sayulita Mexico

Beach, please.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Sayulita Church

Oh yes, and gorgeous churches, always on the list.

 

On our last day, we snorkeled around the Islas Marietas and even snorkeled into the “Hidden Beach” (which at super high tide, you have to hold your breath and swim through the cave to the beach, we thankfully only had to bob our way through). We saw lots of boobies (Blue Footed ones, you perv) and the bluest of blue waters.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Islas Marietas

Too busy looking at other tourists to smile for our camera

 

On our last night, we bussed about and found ourselves in Bucerias, a town south of Punta de Mita (closer to Puerto Vallarta). We arrived just as the outdoor market was shutting down (apparently an amazing time if you’re a bargain hunter. I’m more of a pushover payer) and I found the perfect wedding cake topper for The Chief and I. We dined on the beach and bussed our way back home and I barely got carsick.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Bucerias

Ponies on the beach, lovers in the water

 

That night, we went to a beach bar with our friends we’d made in Punta de Mita and sat in lounge chairs with our toes in the sand around a bonfire. It was a beautiful goodbye for now, and fully assured us that we were coming back to “do it right”.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Mala Suerte Punta de Mita_1024

Mala Suerte…we know all about that one

 

 

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and off we bussed back to Puerto Vallarta and back to the States.

So, that’s how you do it, folks! 13 days in Mexico filled with so much guacamole I probably shouldn’t be able to zip my pants, very little margaritas, two very petty (pun intended) quarrels and a sickness to bring it all to the front: what’s important?

Working too much, so much so that when you have time off, you can’t actually be off and when you are, you end up sick?

Not important.

Experiencing new things together, meeting new people, speaking new languages?

Important.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico Yelapa Storms

De colores

 

Although those two weeks didn’t exactly go as planned, I’d give the itinerary to anyone because it did help me filter through whatever I’d been operating on as fact and focus on the reality of what really matters to me:

Watching the sun rise and set on the same day.

Cuddling with The Chief.

Being outside.

Singing.

Stepping outside my comfort zone.

Working, but not killing myself to do it.

Holding The Chief’s hand.

Feeling the warmth of the sun.

Trying new things together.

Eating good food.

Being in love.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico This is the Light

The Love Light.

 

And so, folks, that’s how to plan the perfect Mexico vacation, as long as your idea of “perfect” means getting completely and utterly ill, fighting with the person you love most and still, through it all, having a good time.

Here’s to the honest report. May mine help you to feel less alone in yours, or at least provide you a good laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. May you share your stories with those who need to hear them most.

Here’s to things not going as planned but helping you instead get back to basics.

Here’s to you and yours, may it not get petty.

 

Beneath the Borealis How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Mexico RideOn Scooter Rentals Punta de Mita Mexico

Super Scooters!

 

//How have your vacations gone? Feel free to share your stories, as planned or otherwise in the comments below//

Finally, thank you to Mexico, as a whole for being such a beautiful, open, kind place to us. You and your people are truly special. We are honored to spend time on your soils and plan to be back very soon.

Three More Days

There’s always a song.

For most of my life, I’ve had a song stuck in my head. Not so much stuck in my head, actually, but more a sort of mental placeholder, a marker for the time being. Others pop in and out constantly (some  I feel like I’m playing Whack-A-Mole with. “Get out of here, Bohemian Rhapsody!” Just kidding, that song rocks) but often, there’s one that sings to me in the background, over the in and outs and often it’s trying to tell me something.

When I was a young soccer player, I grew certain that whatever song popped into my head while playing would be an omen for the game. Since my 9-year-old self-was deep down a Country music rabbit-hole the outlook for my achy-breaky heart didn’t look good. After nearly three undefeated seasons I realized that my interpretation of the omens must have been slightly off. I must have just been hearing the message wrong. And so I grew to see my song companions as more of a horoscope. You can read into it whatever you want. Or you can just enjoy a (hopefully) really good song.

Last year, when we ventured to California, the song was, fittingly, “California” by Joni Mitchell. It stayed with me for months, holding space, holding its place as a teacher and a reminder amongst the awkwardness of shifting lifestyles of the beauty of this golden land and reconnected me to my love for it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Central Valley Sunset California

Hello, Golden State.

 

 

This year, all I could hear was Ray LaMontagne (if you don’t know this sweet Southern-ish songbird, do yourself and your ears a fabulous favor and take a listen. Don’t worry, it’s not like the Country from before). In my ear, he sang the song “Three More Days”.

“Three more days. Girl, you know I’ll be coming home to you”.

The song is about returning to your love after being out on the road and getting the job done so you can return. It’s also, to me, about how there’s a draw for the road and for home, a dichotomous relationship between being stationary and being on the move. Wanting to leave as much as he wants to come home. As much as he loves the road, he loves his lady but both take him away from the other in a sort of tug of war of the heart.

It also speaks to a pretty steamy reunion, which never hurts.

This song popped in and didn’t pop out and at first, it seemed a little too obvious. Normally, the songs that stick have a deeper meaning but “Three More Days” starting on the day we left home? Well, yeah, from start to finish our journey takes us three days.

Come on.

Easy!

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Flying to Alaska

The first of many flights. Into Winter we went.

 

 

I’ve always accepted the journey for what it is: 3 days of upheaval, of packing and repacking, a flurry of activity, of last checks on the To Do list all wrapped up in a constant state of mild to moderate anxiety. “Did I turn off the propane at the house?” “Did I bring my Winter gear in case we need cold weather survival clothing on the way home?” and the Alaskan favorite due to our constant Red-Eye flight times and constant stories of missed flights: “Did I get my flight date right?”

But all of this is normal, right?

It wasn’t until I heard the song for the 50th or so time in my head as we trucked along that I realized how incredibly bizarre a journey like this is. It feels “Old time-y”. One friend asked me if we drove all the way here. Another asked if we had taken a boat. Both were joking but it made me realize that this journey Home (in either direction) is really, really, really long!

The initial message of the song may have seemed obvious but I guess I needed it because really, truly, I had never quite recognized what a trek it is. This Summer gave me an inkling after I returned from my 5th trip out. A quick weekend trip to Fairbanks of three days I realized was actually padded on each side by travel days. 9-hour long travel days. Making the grand total actually a 5-day endeavor with a return at midnight.

And then there’s recovering from it all.

We left our home, anxiety levels high and mental and physical checklists being manically ticked off around noon. We still had a few stops but we’d be on the road by 1pm, we figured. We barreled through our last chores. First: securing all merchandise in plastic totes at the Fire Department so we wouldn’t return to a cozy vole home of shredded Fire Department hoodies laden with the sleepy-eyed little mongrels. Next: Mail to send off final Thank-Yous for our Fire Department fundraiser. Then, storage. Our dear friend generously let us store our non-freezables in his basement again. Last year it was frozen items and non-freezables but with the addition of our new solar freezer, things had changed (more on that soon).

Finally, we were picking up our road buddy and we were off! Sort of. We crossed the bridge and headed to The Chief’s boss’s home to collect his last check of the season and to check out their enormous home. There’s a tower, people. A tower. There’s also a bridge. Honestly, all they are missing is a moat and this thing is a modern-day castle. Quite the shift from the cozy cabin life. After a tour and a catch-up, the road called our names and we were off.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Alaskan Off the Grid.jpg

Goodbye, Swimming Hole! See you in the freeze.

 

 

It was almost 2 pm.

The song began.

Nevertheless, we made great time to Town and floated into Anchorage in the late evening with plenty of time still left for a smorgasbord of sushi.

The next day was a whirlwind of “Town Chores” like doctor appointments and buying last minute winter gear and, of course, checking incessantly that we indeed had the correct departure day. “Ok, we fly on the 28th at 12:30 am so we need to be there tonight, right?” It sounds easy enough but when you’ve heard tale after tale of missed flights, you start to wonder.

Finally, it was time for the flight and after another sushi dinner (I can really pack in my “sush” on those Town Runs) we were ready. We settled in to try to get some sleep.

Nope.

A few restless, neck kinking hours later, we landed in Seattle where I suddenly remembered we had a four-hour layover. Oh joy! The Chief looked at me like I was crazy. He had been prepared for this blow. Didn’t I remember?

Nope.

We had booked the tickets way back in May and I had completely forgotten the mess we had gotten ourselves into in order to spend only a small fortune versus a large fortune on travel. The Red Eye Layover. So, at 3 AM Alaska time, we landed, tried to sleep, found ourselves incapable and succumbed to four hours of people watching and, for me, working.

Truth be told, people watching is my favorite, but sleep? Sleep is pretty high on the list too.

There would be none.

At 11:30 am we landed (hard, after popping out of the cloud cover to a seemingly closer than they realized runway) in California.

5 hours later, after a meal (a second for me. I had already had sushi for breakfast. I know, it’s a problem) and multiple introductions to friends of my Mama’s we were in bed.

Three days of travel and we had finally arrived.

We were exhausted.

And rightly so. Three days of travel. How had I not seen it before?

In the three days since we’ve been here, the song has continued. Perhaps, it’s helping me to see the obvious: that this trip I’ve always taken to be “normal” is actually above and beyond “normal”, ranging on “crazy” and thus granting ourselves permission to dip into the California pool slowly, toes first. To take time to acclimate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Northern California

Dip the toes in. Peek out from the clouds.

 

 

Perhaps, outside of the obvious, which was not so obvious to me, it’s there to remind me of the dichotomy in which we live, the two very different lands our hearts simultaneously straddle. The wanting to stay and the wanting to go and the beauty of wanting both at once. It’s both hard to leave and a joy to arrive in both places. The pull of the new and the warmth of the known and the way each shifts to fill the hole the other creates.

Perhaps it’s an omen.

Perhaps it’s just a really good song.

Either way, in any way, it’s this year’s anthem.

Cheers to you and yours, whether at home or on the road, nestled in and waiting for Winter or rushing away with the chill of Fall nipping at your heels. Cheers to the omens, great and small.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Three More Days 10-1-18 Fall in Alaska

Until next Fall.

 

 

With love,

from Alaska & California

P.S. Next week, one of my best friends is getting married and so, in wanting to be present with her, I’ll be taking the week off. See you in two!

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott River

Swimming

In Alaska, I’ve had to learn a new language. It’s one I didn’t know I didn’t speak and certainly didn’t know existed until I stumbled into it. The focus of my learning has been less on dialect or accent and more on meaning. Take, for example, the word “hike”. To me, coming from California, I considered myself a pretty good hiker. I’d go off on my own for a few hours, traversing the mountain lion, rattlesnake filled fields and feeling very brave along the way. That was a hike. In Alaska, or at least in my neck of the woods, a hike may mean something very different. My first “hike” in Alaska turned into an 8-hour day, for which I was neither in shape nor mentally prepared. I came back feeling like I had gone through a battle. I had gone through an Alaskan “hike”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Kennicott glacier Alaska

A “hike”. Ice climbing was just a quick add-on.

 

 

Another example is the word “cold”. California cold is anything colder than 50 degrees. Freezing is just insane. “Cold” in Alaska? Let’s just say, during my first winter, when I first experienced a week-long stretch of the negatives (25 degrees below zero, to be precise) that was considered “warm”. When I used the word “cold” to describe how I felt (like someone was sandwiching my fingers and toes and nose between ice cubes) people would downright laugh.

Laugh!

At 25 below zero.

So, needless to say, there’s a lot of play in what means what and to whom and Alaskans just have a different threshold of what’s normal to me.

“Hike”: Anywhere from 4-10 hours

“Cold”: 60 below zero

“Hot”: Anything above 70 degrees

And so, I’ve learned this language as I go along, oftentimes by finding myself in the midst of a situation I thoroughly thought I understood only to realize I was sorely mistaken and highly under-packed in snacks. So, to avoid said misunderstandings, I try to avoid assumptions and never leave the house without at least three other layers, a change of socks, a rain jacket and snacks enough for a half-day endeavor. Therefore, even if I don’t fluently speak the language, at least I might have the tools to survive whatever I’ve gotten myself into.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Hiking Alaska

Another “hike” before I got the terminology down. It was 6 hours long and included a barefoot river crossing and ice climbing through caves.

 

 

The most common area of the Alaskan language that I still find myself tripping over is scale. “Hills” here are what I would consider “mountains” and “creeks” are often what I would deem “river” material. Just the other day, scale popped up again when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to take a stroll.

Stroll (my definition): a lackadaisical walk, perhaps with ice cream in hand – no, scratch that, definitely with ice cream in hand, in footwear ranging from flip-flops to none at all across even terrain, preferably covered in soft grass, or sand.

Stroll (her definition): a 4-6 hour hike (hiking shoes most definitely required) through a forest, followed by scaling a rocky hillside to a bolder-laden steep peak surrounding a glacial lake far below and eventually ending at another lake requiring sidehilling (read: trying to emulate mountain goats, or in my case, falling with style – or not) and then doing it all in reverse. Call me crazy but this, I would call an “adventure”.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Trundling Alaska.jpg

This is where she wanted to go. My first time to The Toe, with the boys who became brothers.

 

 

So, yeah…a clarification of terms and scale is helpful.

But it’s not always the obvious trip-ups like scale either, sometimes the Alaskan language is a little sneakier.

The other day, when I decided to sign-up for the 3rd annual Women’s Packrafting Clinic, I felt very secure in my decision because I knew what I was going into. There were no unknown Alaskan terms and the conditions of the day were understood. We’d practice some skills, self-rescue techniques and then have an awesome ride down the “creek”, which I knew to be more of what I would consider a “river”. The “creek” was raging from our hot days we’ve finally been having (hallelujah! Welcome, Summer weather. We missed you) but I knew that already. The day would be long but beautiful and I had just enough snacks. No surprises here.

However, I felt a little tingle as my spidey sense alerted me to something that suddenly felt closer to me than I was comfortable with: swimming.

“Swimming” was a verb I felt competent I knew the definition of until moving here. When I first heard it used, no one was smiling, but there I was with a big grin. Swimming! Fun! No, no, silly.  “Swimming” to me conjures up images of pool floaties or Ethel Merman-esque swimming caps. It has a lightness to it, an easy, breezy, “these are the days of our lives” feel to it.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Poolside Santa Cruz

Like this. Poolside cocktails with my favorite cookie.

 

 

That definition also exists here but there’s a second “swimming”, the “swimming” I heard where I was smiling solo, a “swimming” which would perhaps be more aptly named “falling out of a boat into a freezing river”. It doesn’t have quite the same ring though, does it? And so, “swimming”, I came to find out, means two things here: fun swimming (smiles included), and potentially scary swimming (less smiley). I opted to stay on the smiley side.

I’ve been packrafting (an awesome sport, check out Alpacka Raft for a look into the wonderful world of bringing your boat wherever you go) a couple of times each Summer here since my first three years ago and it’s a sport with an instantly addictive quality. The Women’s Packrafting Clinic is one of the highlights of the year and since I missed it last year, I was stoked to join in. 35-ish women teaching and learning from one another, packing up boats and hiking a few miles upriver and then boating down? Amazing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting

First clinic.

 

 

Still though, that spidey sense was kicking. Swimming. I’d never “swum” before and for some reason, it felt like it was knocking on my door. During the freestyle practice time in the local swimming (fun swimming) hole, I did something I normally don’t and I practiced falling out of the boat and self-rescuing. I practiced three times and on the third flip, something tweaked in my neck, sending it immediately into spasm. Oh joy!

A few ibuprofen, some lunch and an hour or so later, the spasming had lessened and I figured my spidey sense would too but there it was. “Careful, Miss Pancakes!” it warned, “You’re going to swim”.

Always listen to your spidey sense.

Perhaps I swam because of that voice in my head. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps, it was simply time. Three years without a spill was starting to get to me. I kept wondering when it would be my time to “swim” and how would it go? The anxiety of its looming inevitability had crept up and so, by my own doing or by pure chance, inevitability finally showed her face.

One moment I was up, the next I was caught on a rock and the next? I was coming up for air, facing the wrong way, flipped to the wrong side, heading face first into Class III rapids.

I was swimming.

Thankfully, instinct and training kicked in and I flipped onto my back and turned myself around, feet first as I rode the next set of rapids while trying desperately to grab my boat. I had managed to hold onto my paddle and used it to the best of my ability to steady myself as I aimed to keep my head above water. It wasn’t going well. Each time the water would go over my head, I’d come up just in time to hit the peak of the next wave and take on more water. I started to panic. I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t see. I was hitting my feet and seat on rocks as I sped through the mid 30’s-degree water. Then, I heard the voices of the women that day.

“If you find yourself swimming, stay calm. Keep your feet up, hold onto your paddle and don’t worry about your boat, worry about your life.”

In that moment, I realized that my attempts to catch the boat were going to be fruitless. As I gave up on rescuing the boat and focused on rescuing myself, I slammed into a rock, coming to a stop as I watched the boat speed away. Slowly, I assessed my surroundings. I was sandwiched between the rock that had caught me and the current that was pushing me into it. Thankfully, it wasn’t so strong that I couldn’t move and so, ever so carefully, I steadied myself to find my way to shore. Foot entrapment was also something we had gone over that morning and as I felt the shifting rocks below me, I again heard the women’s words:

“Slow and steady. People have drowned in even the shallowest water from getting themselves trapped in a mad dash for the shore. Slow down.”

Slowly, steadily, I made it to the shore.

Just then, the rest of the group showed up, saw my predicament and eddied out to help. After they checked in with me with the double “Are you ok” (the first happens immediately, the second comes a few minutes to make sure you’re telling the truth when you reply “yes”) we devised a plan where two of them would scout for the boat and the other would stay with me. Upon their sighting of my craft, I then hiked downriver and they all rafted down. Finally, after bushwhacking along the moose track laden shore for 10 minutes, I caught up.

There they were, my group, waiting with smiles, and my boat (which had beached itself – see, don’t worry about the boat, worry about your life) to greet and congratulate me.

“That was a long swim! Nice work!”

I love those ladies.

The rest of the ride home, I talked myself through the rapids as I always do, pumping myself up as I go and congratulating myself on doing it…

I had finally gone swimming…

and I was exhausted.

Staying afloat in those icy cold waters is no ice cream-toting stroll in the park and the fear that kicks in could tire a horse. Yet thankfully, this pony was headed back to stable.

As I came into town, sleepy and sopping wet, I made my way to our truck to change and regroup. There, under the center console was a cookie, just for me. The Chief had bought me the little treasure earlier that day and I sniffed it out like a kid finding hidden Christmas presents. It was glorious, like a hug from within.

Learning to speak Alaskan has pushed me into situations I might have otherwise wiggled out of. It has coaxed me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. It has given new meaning to words I thought I knew and still new meaning as I learn what they mean for me. “Swimming” was a word I lived in fear of. When would I swim? How would it go? Learning the word and living the word are two different things and here, there are still so many words I only know the definition of. Yet, despite the bumps and bruises that sometimes come with learning them, I’m excited to add my own stories to my Alaskan dictionary. Cheers to learning a new language, even in the place you call home and to learning a new side of you along the way.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Packrafting Kennicott River

The fabulous K. I always feel good when she’s on the water with me. Plus, she’s got the best drysuit I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Cheers to our very varied definitions of terms and to learning to speak the language of the locals.

Cheers to swimming, in all it’s forms.

 

With love, from Alaska.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Swimming Glacial lake.jpg

I think we can all agree on “beautiful” for this one, eh?

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

Alaskan Tiny Home Living Ups and Downs

Somedays, in the woods of Alaska, you wake up to an exact serving of fresh coffee grounds and the sweet sound of the tea kettle already boiling water. Your kitchen promises two dozen eggs at your disposal and the woodstove glows with last nights logs, now in beautiful coal form which means, lighting a fire will be a cinch and that the house is already likely above 50 degrees. Plus, a huge stack of firewood rests at your disposal next to the fireplace. You barely have to step outside for more than your morning “restroom” break (read: one must learn the art of the nature pee to live out here).

You spend your morning drinking your coffee, having scrambled eggs with veggies (you have tons at the moment) and your favorite cheese and even some orange juice on the side. You’re freshly showered and the laundry bin is empty as you spent the day yesterday doing laundry, depleting your water stores, and then hauling water to replenish them. You are stocked up in all avenues: food, warmth, clothing, hygiene, water and you even have some extras sprinkled on: orange juice, special cheese, freshly cleaned socks.

You are, as my Mama would say “In ’em”.

 

 

 

Stock-piled.

Things are looking on the bright side and lining up quite nicely.

On the other hand, some mornings, you wake up to a house at 37 degrees. You gingerly grab your robe, cursing the logs you had hoped would “catch” before you went to sleep and cursing yourself for not babying them further to ensure they would put out warmth. You go downstairs to find that there not only are no grounds, but there is no coffee, at which point, the rummaging begins to find where exactly in this tiny home of yours, you’ve hidden this gem from yourself. You further find that you are nearly out of water but luckily enough, you have just enough for coffee and so delicately fill up the tea kettle, hoping not to spill a drop. You’ll be hauling water shortly.

You go to light a fire and find that the fire did not catch well, but did leave you with a charcoal mess, by the time you organize it, you look like a chimney sweep. You resign to build another fire but there is no wood in the house at which point you decide to venture outside into what will, of course, be a brr-inducing morning and find that there is no chopped wood outside either. Being a stubborn beast, you decide to chop wood, despite the cold, with bare hands and slippers in your robe. Wild-haired, sweating with soot on your face, you return to start a fire, just as your water boils. Now it’s time to build a fire, find the coffee (and hope that you, in fact, do have extra coffee) and grind it. 15 minutes later, you’re finally getting the day started. It’s breakfast time but you realize your last egg went down the gullet yesterday and so you opt for oatmeal instead but realize you don’t even have enough water. A slightly mealy apple it is.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Dogs of Alaska

You start to feel like this fine creature.

 

 

And now it’s time for water.

It’s still not even chimed 8am.

In all likelihood, your last shower was a bit too far off for comfort, your socks have been “recycled” once or twice (let’s be honest, at least twice) and your fresh food supply is starting to not even meet Alaska Good standards (a term my girlfriend created in California as a way to gauge if something was indeed too far gone to eat. Alaska Good is still edible, but it’s close. Really close. I’ve been known to grab things before people throw them in the compost, saving apples with little bruises and lettuce that has a few slimy pieces but I do cap it at Alaska Good, most of the time). You’re dirty, hungry, under-caffeinated, out of water, out of wood, warm only because of the exercise your just beginning day already required and the only extra you have sprinkled on is the plethora of chores you have to do. The only bright side is that you can see the beautiful fire you just made because in the ebb you made an amazing concoction out of orange peels that takes away the grime and leaves you with this:

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Hello, love.

 

 

You’re, as my Mama would say “Not in ’em”.

Some days, you’re in ’em and some days, you’re so far out of ’em you don’t remember what ’em looked like.

The ebb and flow here might as well be called the drought and the downpour because that is exactly how it goes.

Home from Town?

In ’em.

You’ve got meats and cheeses and eggs, oh my! Juices and fruits and veggies! You even have spinach.

Spinach, people. In the woods. That stuff barely keeps in the city but somehow, if you baby it every day, you can make it last a week here.

And then, a week passes and suddenly, supplies are rapidly decreasing. What felt like a boatload of supplies starts to look more like a mere bucket full and the rationing begins.

Ebb and flow.

Drought and downpour.

Yet oftentimes, just as you’re about to grab your divining rod, Alaska smiles upon you in the drought. Just as you crack your last egg, your friend’s chickens come out of Winter production and he’s selling again. Just as you face down your last bell pepper, your girlfriend picks you up one as a present one day while doing a laundry journey into Close Town.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Woodstove Tiny House

Or, you remember the Shaggy Manes your girlfriend gave you a while back and you rehydrate them.

 

 

And the same rings true in reverse. Just as your neighbor runs out of salt, there you are, having bought extra with extra to spare. When all of your avocados ripen at once, you make a guacamole to share or you send one along as a gift. And then it returns, for just as you feel you can’t possibly cook another darn meal (as you cook every meal you eat, every day), someone calls to say they made extra chili if you’re hungry.

Of course, you are and you have a block of cheddar to top that chili with.

The go around come around makes the drought and downpour feel a little less torrential and a little more like an ebb and flow. It makes a life that can be hard, a little easier for even though the hard is what makes it good, sometimes you just need a little reprieve.

I’ve never lived a life where I couldn’t just pop into the store for what I’ve needed. I’ve never relied on my neighbors or felt comfortable enough doing so to call them at 9 pm and ask if they have an extra can of tomato paste. I’ve never cherished fresh as I do today or looked at a salad as if it were a goddess.

So, despite the sometimes harshness of the drought and downpour, the frustration of there not being wood, or not being water, or feeling like I may as well put in to be a member of the Garbage Pail Kids, the appreciation provided by the times where we are “In ’em” is enough. This place makes gratitude easy for the necessities are obvious and the ebb or flow of them is immediate.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 04-16-18 Ice Fall Nizina River Alaska

Plus, the scenery isn’t too bad either.

 

 

And so…

may your water buckets (or pipes) be full, may your pantries be stocked, may your baths be often (I am living vicariously through you, a bath is a gift from the Gods) and may your neighbors be kind enough to send over a little sugar once in a while.

I hope you’re in ’em.

 

5 Things to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Go To Ecuador)

What? What did you think we were expecting?

 

Research we may and research we might but despite a studious approach, it’s near impossible for a person to know a place until, well, you know the place. I do not presume to “know” Ecuador but along the last 6 weeks or so, I’ve picked up a thing or two. This is by no means an exhaustive list but instead, a sneak peek into the perks and pastimes, odds and ends and oddities of a place we called home for a moment in time.

 

ONE: The people

A smile is universal. You may know this from traveling in places where you don’t necessarily communicate well in the language but just in case you were wondering about Ecuador, it’s true there too. The people there are far more willing to smile than our co-patriots in North America (is there a daily smile allotment I haven’t been told about so that people don’t want to waste their smiles?) and if you ask for help (or even if you don’t but obviously look like you need it) they are quick to jump in. Shoot, even when you don’t know that you need help they jump in.

The Chief and I had a rough moment and a Cinda reminder (there are huskies everywhere in Ecuador) in the way of a sweet stray that brought tears to both of our eyes when a stranger approached us and offered The Chief his beer. “I just want you to be happy, amigo (friend)” he said. He didn’t need to reach out, it wasn’t his duty. He was amongst friends on a Friday night, seemingly on vacation himself but reach out he did. A smile is universal. English however, is not. Practica, pratica. We must practice our languages.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Canoa Hostesses Ecuador.jpg

Hostesses with the Most(esses). Thank you!

 

 

TWO: The animals

As you might have surmised, we are dog people and in general, in the U.S. I think we are in good company (the sheer volume of cute kitty/puppy videos should be proof alone that we are pro pet), yet not everyone or everywhere in the world feels the same. In the time I’ve spent in Mexico and Central America, stray dogs weren’t often seen as comrades but rather as nuisances and their often skittish nature protected them from potential affronts. I’d always adopt a dog while in my travels and wish I could bring him or her back with me because the life they lead was rough and it was hard to see. So, I prepared myself to be in a place where dogs might not be regarded as family members.

Wrong, oh so wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Must Love Dogs Ecuador

Must Love Dogs.

 

 

Without placing too great an Alapaca blanket statement over the country, this place loves dogs (yet another reason to call is Alascuador). The dogs in Canoa were well taken care of. People would take turns bringing them to the vet and ridding them of fleas and they, in turn, acted as local security officers, escorting non-locals home on the potentially dangerous late night beach walks, asking for little more than an ear scratch in return, if that. Baños was no different. I’ve actually never seen so many dog grooming and veterinary establishments per square mile anywhere and the local businesses would have consistently full (despite being frequently visited) watering and feeding stations for the local perros. They lived independent, seemingly pretty wonderful lives and were well-regarded members of society. Even trying to adopt a dog here would seem funny because 1. The dog would have to adopt you and 2. They don’t really need you. It would have to be a special match.

 

THREE: The market

Bargaining, to me, had always seemed rude, a sort of “this isn’t worth what you’re asking” insult, but this trip gave me a whole different insight. Bargaining in Ecuador (and I’m sure most places where bargaining is a part of the culture) is like a dance, a push and pull where both parties have to play their role lest one person be dragged about or ignored. Bargaining is participating. If someone gives you a price and you just take it, you’ve told them you’re not interested in the dance and so, you take the item and they take the inflated dollar amount (yes, another Ecuadorian quirk I hadn’t known until we planned the trip: they are on the American dollar).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Artesanal Market in Banos Ecuador

Welcome to the show, people.

 

 

By the end of the trip, after tips from locals on bargaining strategies, we were bargaining fiends (OK maybe not quite fiends, but we were participating). Hear a price, cut it in half and together, find the middle from there. It wasn’t so much the change of the price but rather the smiles and laughs throughout the process that made me adopt it. It was true, it was a dance and although clumsy at times, we broke out a few rusty moves (The Lawnmower, The Shopping Cart, you name it. 90’s move).

FOUR: The bathroom

When traveling, the basic necessities come to the forefront. Food, water, bodily functions, shelter, all coming demanding attention at different times depending on the immediacy with which they need to be satisfied. Thankfully, the bathroom is one necessity that is well thought out in Ecuador. From the moment you realize that you have to pee to the moment that you find a bathroom usually lasts no longer than 3 minutes, at which point you pay the fee (normally about $0.25 cents for TP and the bathroom or $0.10 without. Lucky boys) and tada! Needs satisfied.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Bathrooms Quito Ecuador

 

 

In public restrooms, you may even be able to go in for free, however, don’t forget to get your toilet paper ahead of time. The dispenser sits at the entrance to the stalls. There is no TP in the individual stalls. I repeat: there is no toilet paper (almost never at least) in the individual stalls. This can make for a rough surprise so in case I forgot, I often kept a bit of TP in my pocket (another Alaska similarity). Overall, the necessity of a bathroom was met full-force and reminded me of how easy it can be. I can’t even recall all the times I’ve been in San Francisco or any other large city in the states and nearly peed myself trying to find a public restroom, only to give up 30 minutes in, paying $5.00 for a coffee I don’t want in a bathroom certainly not worth a $5.00 visit.

 

*Ecuadorian quirk: In every place we stayed or paid to use, the bathrooms were perfumed by the use of perfumed toilet paper. The Chief and I even sought out unscented toilet paper at the grocery store and were only able to find it in Quito. Perhaps it’s because of the second quirk which you may already be familiar with: toilet paper does not go into the toilet but rather into a trash basket nearby. Again, none of this matters if you don’t buy/bring the toilet paper to begin with so, either stock your pockets or don’t be a ding-dong and grab paper first. And now that we are back? I am constantly trying to remember the protocol. TP in trash? Toilet? Outhouse? Oh wait, that’s Alaksa but it’s again, another similarity to Ecuador. I basically spend my time these days trying to remember where the TP goes. Glamorous.

 

FIFTH: The bus

This one is last because it’s my favorite. So, first thing’s first: travel in Ecuador is far different from I thought it would be. Surprised? No, me neither. Travel between locations was not something I studiously approached but with a map showing a relatively small country, a plentitude of roadways and buses as the main transport I figured we’d be bussing about quite a bit. Right and wrong. The Right: The buses here are plentiful and you can get seemingly everywhere. The Wrong: Even Ejecutivos (First Class direct buses) make quite a few stops, elongating the trip. A 4-hour journey by car is an 8-10 hour bus ride. So, although you can get everywhere, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Ok, boring semantics out-of-the-way and…onto the best part: Bus Atmosphere (with a focus on food. Surprised?).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Chivas in Banos Ecuador

Chivas! Tour buses that are essentially Saturday Night Fever on wheels. Plus families.

 

 

That’s right, friends, buses here are basically a party on wheels with food as the ever-changing guest of honor. Buses here blast one of two types of entertainment (and sometimes both, simultaneously): movies and music. On one 10-hour bus ride, they were showing a horror movie (a true one too, the scariest kind. Gee, thanks) at full volume. Thankfully, The Chief and I were seated right under the speaker (catch the sarcasm). However, truly thankfully, I think the fright and might of the movie scared the bus sickness out of me. If it’s not a movie, it’s tunes, normally full-blast. On the way back from the grocery store one day, “Despacito” was playing. The bus was comprised mainly of schoolkids and basically turned into a music video with the kiddos singing at the top of their lungs whilst dancing in the aisles and seats. So, needless to say, entertainment is included. Next up: snacks.

Bus food is the syrup to my pancakes. Our first ride from Quito to Canoa was a 12-hour day and after a lackadaisical bag search by a very nonchalant security guard, I was forced to throw away the food we had brought for the ride. Never fear, Ecuadorian hospitality to our rescue. You see, at every stop, the buses are swarmed by vendors offering all sorts of goodies. I had read not to eat fruit or street food for fear of the tummy revenge but I had already caved on day two and had a salad without negative effects so I was up for a risk but still a little shy. What was all this stuff?

Thankfully, Ecuadorian hospitality to the rescue, the woman next to us kept buying extra of every vendor who came on the bus and giving us a taste. Whole mangoes, fruit in a cup, ice cream, bread, honey roasted soybeans, plantain chips (I think The Chief OD’d on these), empanadas, pork in a fanny pack (avoid that one, unless you want to end up like our friends from Boston) and our ultimate favorite: Pan de Yucca ((bread, usually with cheese, made from yucca (picture a sort of potato and a sweet potato baby) flour)). On a queasy but hungry tummy, those rolls (gluten-free even) warm from a cloth napkin-covered basket are like a hug for your stomach.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Pan de Yucca Ecuador

Behold, the glory that is Pan de Yucca. Thank you, lady on the bus.

 

 

Finally, in the food parade, the longest buses often break up the trip with a stop at a restaurant where the food is great, the facilities are clean and the much-needed stretching of the limbs is available. Muchisimas gracias. So, even though it may take a day to get somewhere, at least you’re well fed along the way.

Now that you’ve read the big 5 you’re ready for Ecuador but just in case you needed a few extra intricacies to put in your back pocket, look no further.

 

10 Quick Odds and Ends and Ecuadorian Quirks:

1.) Alpaca is a staple and if you spend any time in cold climates I highly recommend getting some. I had to forcibly stop The Chief from spending our future life savings on everything alpaca (don’t worry, he still made out with head to toe llama).

2.) Try the streetside mango with salt, lime and chili powder. You can thank me later.

3.) Crocs are insanely popular. I’m open to it but I’ll never say I get it. Oh, and taffy. Taffy is everywhere.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Taffy in Banos Ecuador.jpg

That is some serious taffy handling.

 

 

4.) The lunch special anywhere is by far the most economical and filling meal of the day (think soup and popcorn/plantain chip appetizers, a large meal and a drink and potentially a dessert). Plus, here you’ll find the locals and where the locals eat is where you want to be.

 

5.) The bamboo structures here are impressive, to say the least.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Isla Corazon

 

 

6.) Stop and smell the roses. Really. Ecuador produces a huge amount of the roses you see in the U.S. Apparently, Andean conditions are the thorny beauties favorites and so, roses abound.

7.) Fear of heights? Enjoy. From bus rides to hikes to waterfalls to treehouses, Ecuador has seemingly endless options to flex your fear of heights. Flex on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Basilica del Voto Quito Ecuador

We decided to climb to the top of that spire, obviously. Afraid? Me?

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View from the top. Barf.

 

 

8.) Ecuador + ice cream = every afternoon. I haven’t seen the cold stuff adored like this since Italy. Feels like home.

9.) Small bills and coins are king. If you show up with $100 bills you are either a.) leaving with them or b.) leaving with inaccurate change. $20 is the biggest bill you should bring and always aim to pay in exact coinage (especially on buses, etc.) or if you have a large bill, pay for your co-riders and they can buy you a beer later. Make it easy.

10.) The street art is amazing. The sheer use of color alone had my art heart swooning. Eat it up.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis 5 Things to Expect When You're Expecting Street Art in Banos Ecuador

My favorite.

 

 

Well, that’s all, folks and by “that’s all” I mean that’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the Ecuador that I’ve known thus far. I hope to return soon and report back more findings. In the meantime, have you gone to Ecuador or South America? What are your favorite quirks of living abroad? Do tell.

And now…to Alaska.

 

Surf Thirty (One)

As a California grown lady of the sun, I’ve spent my whole life around surfing. I grew up at the beach, I spent my summers by any body of water I could find and I loved a good beach blonde suntan combo. I had all the components of surfing: I lived near a beach, there were surf shops galore with boards and wetsuits for rent (and sweatshirts I desperately wanted but would allow myself, lest I be discovered a poser) and I knew of people who were surfers. Yet what I lacked was the confidence to try.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up Beetle Bug.jpg

Surf’s up, buttercup. Hangin’ ten, beetle style.

 

 

The times I came closest to learning, I realized that the people wanting to “take me out” actually had more interest in taking me out for a date than really teaching me to surf and so, frustrated, I had bailed (surfer lingo, brah).

A few bails in, I stopped trying. Certainly, without question, I could have gone on my own or grabbed a girlfriend to go with but in my awkward earlier years I was less Grab The Bull By The Horns and more Oh Shoot, I Just Watched That Bull Go By.

And so it went.

Suddenly, I was 31, still wanting to learn to surf and realizing that the only thing about surfing that I’d learned was that saying you want to surf and actually surfing are a world apart.

Enter: Ecuador, or as I’ve started to call it: Alascuador.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea. Could this be heaven?

 

 

This place, I swear is a cousin to our State of Brr. Everything from the reservation at first interaction to the utter triumph one feels getting a pint of ice cream home (one of our friends paid a taxi driver 50% extra just to get him home as fast as possible with a quart of ice cream he was bringing home for a celebration) to the timing (Alaska time, Ecuador time, Hawaiian time, same, same), to the dogs running about being a celebrated part of the town, to the what to do with toilet paper has made this southern spot seem like a flip side family member to the Alaskan way.

Which makes it no surprise that upon landing here, Ecuador has kindly kicked my behind. Just like in Alaska, if you’re not on the right path, Ecuador seems to either firmly correct your trajectory or high-five congratulate you for your ability to go with the flow. From our first escapades in getting to know one another in travel (firm corrections) to gliding through bus connections with uncanny luck (high-five congratulations) to finding our home for these last few weeks and me struggling to learn to relax (firm corrections as far as the eye can see) this place has been full of the ups and downs that I cherish about Alaska. The things that make life in Alaska feel, well, alive.

All the while, firm corrections and congratulations popping about, in the back of my head an anxiety started to rise. Was I going to continue to talk about surfing or actually learn? We had come to Ecuador to learn to surf and it was day 10 with no waves in sight. Don’t get me wrong, there were waves all about but we certainly weren’t on them. It had been years since I’d been fully immersed in an ocean, something I didn’t realize until we got here and the last beach I had been on had been unfriendly, to say the least.

Yet, when we arrived, I figured I’d jump on in like I had for years as a kid and start off right away with some epic bodysurfing.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Sunset

Canoa sunset.

 

 

Wrong.

It turns out I wasn’t as comfortable in the waves as I had planned. While The Chief seemed to glide out past the break into calm waters, I was left in a whitewash whirlwind. I had forgotten all the tricks my Mom had taught me.

 

Diving under waves

Timing

Decision-making

Confidence.

 

I realized it would be a few days until I was comfortable alone in the water, much less to attach something to me and bring it into the water.

Enter: the boogie board, the perfect transition between body surfing and surfing.

We broke it within 20 minutes.

Still, getting tumbled about in waves far bigger than me was good for my morale.

Until it wore off. Finally, on day ten, panicked that we would never learn to surf (I love to pop in nevers, even when I have control of them) we went to Town to find June and his week-long surfboard rentals. Four hours later, after waiting for 2 hours for the shop owner to return, we had our boards. It was late in the day and we were set to be picked up for our traveling trivia team (apparently, The Chief and I make a sought-after trivia duo) and so, we said “goodnight” to the boards which had taken so long just to find and hours to rent and waited until tomorrow. Mañana, mañana.

I was sick of mañana.

Today was the day.

Unfortunately, Ecuador didn’t agree (or in actuality, she did agree, but she was testing my will. Do you really want to learn or do you want to talk about learning? Sound familiar, Alaska? Alascuador). A storm set-up, the sky was pregnant with rain and right as we went in for my first set ever, the waters came down upon us. The sea responded. The waves were all over the place, coming in diagonally, double crashing and the current was so strong that within minutes we were out of sight of our hotel. Gone were the parallel sets of beautifully set-up, semi-consistent waves of the morning only an hour prior. If I hadn’t been in a bathing suit in warm water, I would have sworn I was back in Alaska. The timing was just too much. The Chief and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. Decades of build-up and we couldn’t have picked a worse time.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Canoa Ecuador Stormcloud

Ominous, eh?

 

 

It was perfect.

By the time we were out of the water, my hips and knees looked like I had dyed them blue. Bruises welled up before my eyes and I plopped down in the sand, exhausted.

I’d been in for 20 minutes.

And…I’d gotten up. Sure, we may have just been chasing whitewash but after 20 years of hoping, wanting, giving up and hoping again, I had gotten up on a surfboard and rode that whitewash all the way to shore.

A few hours later, still storming but not as bad, we went in again. A couple we met from Canada was sharing the boards with us and had impeccable timing so the next time they went, we went after.

Still, it was storming.

Still, there we were, up again, riding the whitewash.

I feel like my body had been planning and scheming and approximating just how it would do this task for me for years, I just hadn’t unleashed it.

I looked at The Chief and we were both beaming, smiles from ear to ear.

Those three seconds of the joy of floating above the water were worth the ten minutes of push and pull to get to them. I couldn’t believe how it felt. Better than I had imagined. Maybe like flying.

Needless to say, I was hooked.

That night I went to bed, completely physically exhausted for the first time in a long time. In Alaska, I often fall into bed, absolutely fatigued from the day’s duties. That day, the duties were purely pleasure-based but they were as challenging as any other chore I’ve performed.

Finally, finally, I had tried. The years of wanting washed over me. How simply such a buildup could just go away. How unnecessary the buildup to begin with.

Lesson learned?

I hope so.

One week later, I’ve caught even more than the whitewash. I’ve caught my first real wave, from crest to finish, I’ve even turned (a little). I’ve fallen more times than I can count, my body is more bruised than unbruised, I’ve caught a fin twice in the thigh, I’ve been hit in the back, had the board land on my head, done a somersault into the ocean floor and broken a fin and I can’t think of anything right now I’d rather be doing.

It may have taken me until 31 to try, but now that I have, I’m a sucker for it.

It’s time to start checking off the list of the long overdue wants and wishes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Surf's up The Chief

A log, a love, two boards, two books. Bueno.

 

 

 

Thank you, Alaska for starting the teaching. For forcing me to test myself and trust myself. Thank you Ecuador for testing that teaching by forcing me to get out in a bathing suit day after day even on the days I’d feel more comfortable in, say, a parka. Thank you for pushing me to make new friends, get out of my comfort zones, to get a little scared but to try anyway and in the end to get to the base of it: to enjoy oneself. I’m listening. I’m trying.

Thank you. You are beautiful.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Surf Thirty (One) Bananas in Ecuador

Bananas, y’all.

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - The dip

The California Contrast

Living here, I’m used to being on the opposite end of the spectrum from my old haunts and old ways in California.

 

Running hot water used to feel normal, now it feels like liquid gold.

When taking a walk I used to watch out for other humans, now I keep a watch for bears and I’m surprised if I run into another living soul.

Some days, the entirety of my waking hours are taken up by chores that in my old life never even existed.

Chopping wood.

Pumping gas.

Hauling water.

Just keeping a fire going when it’s 30 below can be a full-time job, akin to, I assume,  midnight feedings (and 2am and 5am and…).

It’s a place where for days I forget how different my old life and my new life are, for weeks I forget that it used to be strange to me to haul every bit of water I use by hand. Strange to even know how much water this aquababy has used. And then, when the last bucket runs dry and it’s 8pm and I’m tired and hungry and the last thing I want to do is to suit up to spend 30 minutes walking 40lb. buckets up and down our Ramp of Doom until we are re-supplied, then, I remember.

When it’s 40 degrees here at night in the Summer and 80 at night in California, I remember.

When it’s slush is the Spring without a flower to be found and lush as can be in California, I remember.

I remember my old life and I feel grateful for the contrast because the difference is what makes me grateful.

The contrast was always one I appreciated, until recently.

This last week, the town in which I was born went up in flames. In this frantic Fall of natural disasters, it seemed that there couldn’t possibly be more devastation to come. But, come it did.

Fire after fire tore through even the most industrial of locations and raged in wind-driven fervor through the counties where I spent my first 28 years. My Mom was close to being evacuated and had to sleep in shifts (alternating with her neighbors) in order to make sure she would hear the notice to get out. People I know and love had to run for their lives. People I love lost everything.

And here I sit, in a place where fire is constantly on my mind, a place where I’ve joined the fire department to ensure I know how to help. A place where we all worry about fire, we all watch for smoke and suddenly, it has struck in the place I least expected it and I am nowhere near it to help.

I never expected it.

The contrast.

And so it continued. In the week of the worst fires my area in California has ever seen, in a week where I could barely breathe because of the panic I felt, the first snow of the season fell.

 

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - First Snowfall

The Ramp of Doom Returns…Happy Falling!

 

 

Fire and Ice.

As I walk outside I breathe the fresh air of an area relatively untouched.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - Panorama

 

 

As my friends and family in California go outside, they don masks to protect their sweet lungs from the deep, heavy smoke.

As I look out my window I see a flurry of fat snowflakes.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - First Snowfall Walk

And a Fly-By Neighbor Pup

 

 

As they look out the window they see the falling of ash.

As I build a fire to stay warm, they fight one to stay alive.

 

The contrast has never felt stronger or stranger and being so far away has never made me feel so out of control. But, with two tickets already purchased months ago, I wait.

 

 

 

 

In two weeks, we leave for California. The tidying here has already begun (and failed some too, foiled by the 6 inches of snowfall) and the three-day process of leaving will be here before we know it. And although it will be heartbreaking to witness such devastation, I am eager to get to my first home and become part of the amazing relief efforts that started on the dawn of day 1.

The firefighters and emergency response have been tirelessly working around the clock, taking mere cat-naps to make it through and the outpouring of love and help offered up by the community has been amazing. People have collected blankets, food, found others housing, taken in families, rescued animals, distributed face masks, offered pampering in a time of panic via massage and haircuts and counseling. While it’s been absolutely awful to read story after story of loss, it’s been uplifting to see the love that spills over this pain. I’ve seen countless pictures of a poster that’s been put up all over the county that reads:

The love in the air is thicker than the smoke.

It will be good to be a part of that love.

Stay safe all.

 

California, I’m coming home.

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - Morning Glory

The morning glory blooms in the face of Winter.

 

 

NOTE:

Dear reader,

If you would like to help relief efforts in California the Redwood Credit Union is a wonderful local branch collecting funds for neighboring counties in the Bay Area. I’ve been told it’s the best place to donate to and 100% of the funds go to relief efforts.

Anything and everything helps. Thank you.

https://www.redwoodcu.org/northbayfirerelief

 

Beneath the Borealis - The California Contrast - RCU Donate

 

 

 

A New Start(s)

Aside from one unyielding patch of ice (which funny enough is home to our Swimming Hole…brr), Spring has sprung.

And it’s sprung right into Summer.

Break-up seems like an event with no end, it feels like the ground won’t be able to lap up the rest of the standing water and just when it seems like it might, it rains. But puddles aside, all other signs are pointing right past Spring and into Summer.

I saw my first flower a week ago, a delicate little white beauty with a purple underneath called an Anenome.

Three days ago I found again the patch of wild orchids I happened upon last year with their first blooms.

The Dryas from last year is out and uncovered and being adorable as always, making shadows with their Einstein-esque hair.

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And my seeds have turned into seedlings. There’s not much better than seeing baby plants grow up.

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Tis the season for new growth and so, this past week, we planted the garden. We turned the dirt and amended the soil and placed hopeful seeds into the ground and once we’ve hardened off the starts they too will go in.

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The drudgery of Break-Up (and in all honesty, it was pretty mild compared to last year) has been replaced by the optimism of Spring and it feels really good. Despite the joy of seeing friends from my first Summer last year, my clinging to Winter made it hard to enjoy. This year, I feel able to dive in and its as if one big family has come home.

And so, I’m taking a note from all the new life I’ve seen and trying to emulate its rejuvenation and with Summer staring me in the face with her crazy long days and lack of sleep and constant go-go-go I’m at least feeling a little more prepared. That’s all we can hope for, right?

Progress and new starts.

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Happy Summer.

Getting into the Spring of Things

Oh my oh my is it getting Spring-y over here.

Not Spring-y in the commercial sense we all have grown up being told is Spring. There are no daffodils out, or lambs being born or lustrous bright green grasses to gallop through.  No, that’s not quite an Alaskan Spring.

Here, it’s more subtle. Your nose recognizes the smell of dirt for the first time in months. Your eyes see colors they’d once held dear and almost forgotten. The landscape shifts hourly before your eyes. The trees start to send out little buds, hopeful and expectant. And the birds come out to sing just a bit louder their songs of Spring.

And, despite their beauty, all of these little joys can easily be overpowered by a rough break-up. No, not the kind where someone ends with “I hope we can still be friends” (ugh, isn’t that the worst?). No, the Breakup of the rivers and the official end of Winter.

 

 

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Last year, Breakup was rough. It was the “I hope we can still be friends” of Breakups that went back and forth, split up, back together, on again off again turmoil one expects in the relationships of our early 20’s. I thought this stage was over. The rivers became impassable and the roads turned to slush as Spring followed the April Showers part of the old phrase but lacked the May Flowers (at least in the beginning) to follow. It was dreary and rainy and cold enough to freeze the puddles every night. Those little ice mounds were my nemeses and I have a scar on my buns to prove it. After falling multiple times on the walk home from Town one night last year, I felt a draft. I returned home to find that I had been sharing my rear view with all unsuspecting onlookers (thankfully they were few and friends at that since the Town hadn’t filled with people yet, plus it was dark) as a huge rip had been torn in my pants (and carved into my bum) from slipping and falling on the rugged ice. It bumped and bruised and teased me after. Last year, I was not a fan of Breakup.

And so, coming back from California this year, I was nervous to once again experience a slip-sliding-bruised-backsiding Breakup. I prepared for the worst.

But thankfully, was surprised by the best.

 

 

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Look familiar?

 

 

I arrived to see what had been a snow-laden Winter wonderland when I left turned into a patchy, muddy but Spring. It was worlds away from the snow haven I had left where travel by snowmachine was the name of the game. Suddenly, one could barely play hopscotch from snow patch to snow patch. The little mounds of snow would melt further every day as our sunny Spring sent rays down to bring on the exposure of the earth beneath. Puddles would change daily as once rain boot required routes would suddenly be slipper accessible in a short 24 hours. The earth was soaking it in.

 

 

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Hello new nature. Nice to see you.

 

 

And so, as the earth has started preparations for Summer, so have we. The skis are put away along with the Winter boots and jackets and the in betweeners have entered. Rain boots and rain gear have replaced bibs and snowboots. Triple layered walks have been replaced by tank tops and hiking boots. And despite my love of Winter, this year I’m finding it easier to let go.

 

 

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Sunday Strolls

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply miss our silent haven where even the loudest sounds are muffled by the snow on the trees, where I can walk for hours without seeing a face, where The Chief and I spend the day inside next to the fire. But, those days are gone, until Winter comes again.

And before we know it, she’ll be here.

But first, Summer.

As I was returning from California this year, I asked a girlfriend how Town was.

“I can feel the stampede” she replied with trepidation in her voice.

Last year, I felt that too. Spring was simply the waiting game for the hundreds of Summer friends to join us and just like waiting for your friends to arrive at your birthday party, there is always an apprehension. How will it be? How will it go? Last year, I was still holding onto Winter as I asked these questions and so, since I was neither here nor there, the limbo I found myself in was disconcerting. I wasn’t ready for Summer. I was mourning my loss of Winter and disliking Spring. I was living in a world two seasons past.

And so, this year I am trying to be exactly where I am and remember that old Alaskan saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes. It applies to everything here. Each moment is different. Everyday someone new comes in or out and again, our little microcosm is changed, ever so slightly. The introduction of something new, the exit of something old. We are like a “Kitchen Sink” stew here where you put a little bit of everything all at once into a meal. A little of this, a little of that and the outcome is never the same. Everyday the end result is changed. In the Winter, the ingredients are fewer and so each addition is noticeable and each subtraction is as well. In the Summer, there are a plethora of options and the stew becomes nuanced in ways we have forgotten over the snowy months. Both are good, both are unique and each are shared with all who contribute. The dinner table gets longer and longer.

We are going to need a lot more bowls.

 

Happy Spring to you, should it find you in a field of flowers or in a puddle-ridden grey land or like here, somewhere in between. Anywhere you are, I bet it’s changing right as you read this, even ever so slightly. May this time of rebirth bring to you renewed energies and an excitement for the future, stampedes or not I hope it’s delicious.

 

 

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