Off the Grid

Projects

Projects.
This word strikes both glee and fear into me simultaneously. Glee for the change, the new, the progress. Fear for the time, the mess and the inevitable “oh shit” moments. This year, we’ve been in project go-mode. Having stayed home for the entire year for the first time ever, we truly had a moment to see what needed doing and oh boy, it’s a lot. Like any good project, each one began with hope and progressed like an unending nesting doll. Projects within projects (within projects, within projects) have an uncanny way of popping up.

Vine ripened tomatoes
When I planted these from seed, I forgot to think of the cages I’d need to build and the vine ripening that would take place long after the first frost, inside our house


Still, cross them off the list we did. There was trim to cut and paint and a ceiling to stain, tongue and groove to mill and paint for interior siding, a trillion tiny projects and umpteen garden projects and somehow we had the lumber for them all, lucky us.

DIY trim
Trimmed windows. Is there anything better?


The funny thing about living 8 hours from the nearest lumber yard (well, 4 if you want to pay double but that’s not often a ride I aim admittance to) is that when you buy lumber, you often buy a little extra. Mistakes happen and a buffer is key. The other “funny” thing about living so far out is said lumber must find somewhere to stay dry and cozy until it proves time for its project to commence. So, with a little extra and a lot to store, we set aside our lumber to side our house.

One year ago.

Last Summer we had hoped to have it up and done before the wedding. Did that happen? It sure didn’t.

Wedding in Alaska
Proof. Wedding day. Naked house. Oh well!


With The Chief working 12-14 hour days for 42 days with one day off and me working full-time while planning a wedding and tagging in as his co-pilot firefighter a few times a week, we didn’t exactly have a lot of milling hours in us.

Wildland firefighters of Alaska
Most of our quality family time was spent bobbing about in a huge fire truck, patrolling the area on my days off


Two years ago this Fall, I wrote about our naked house and how, despite loving what it holds inside, I am embarrassed for its lackluster outside. Now, one year after buying the lumber to do it and umpteen Winter, Spring and Summer projects that required completion in between, siding our house had still found itself on the projects back burner (or on an understandable but equally frustrating seasonal delay). Our house still remains naked. So, we set to clothe it.

The siding project (in our heads) went something like this:

1. Order and pick up lumber – Done! We’d done this last Summer. Ahead of the game already!
2. Grab the boards
3. Mill the boards
4. Sand the boards
5. Stain the boards
6. Put the boards up
Done!

Had I looked at that list when we hatched this siding plan, I might have let The Chief twist my arm to pre-built siding just to take a few of those steps out because…in addition to the above steps, our process, thus far, just to get to the third step (Mill the boards) has been:

1. Move an old couch that somehow got place in the way of the boards (Day O)
2. Organize the work tent so there is room to work in it (Day 1)
3. Uncover the boards (start of Day 2)

Lumber storage solutions
Foolproof storage, for sure

4. Set up sawhorses for the boards to stage them for milling
5. Discover that after a long Winter’s rest, some boards (which are 12 feet long) have gained a little weight (water weight, that is) and are wet
6. Set up another set of sawhorses for wet vs. dry boards
7. Sort the boards into wet and dry and move them into corresponding sawhorse piles
8. Set up another set of sawhorses for milled lumber
9. Get two generators from their two different sides of the property
10. Get the gas can and filter
11. Fill them with gas
12. Bring out the saw
13. Level the saw
14. Set up the guides on the saw to create the tongue and groove
15. Get another set of sawhorses to help hold the boards as they are milled
16. Try the first board
17. Realize that the sawhorse system isn’t working
18. Try another board
Success.
19. Mill each board through twice (to get both sides)
20. Get through 14 boards before it starts to get dark
21. Set up two more sets of sawhorses inside the work tent
22. Start a fire in the work tent to dry all boards, milled and wet
23. Move milled and wet lumber inside the tent, stacking and stickering (essentially placing another piece of wood perpendicular to each row so as to create airflow) them to cure (dry) overnight
24. Move both generators back to their respective places on the property
25. Move saw back inside
26. Re-cover remaining lumber
27. Count remaining lumber while covering
Realize that it will take you another day to finish all the milling
Go inside (it’s now 7 pm)
Haul water
Run the generator
Shower
Run the air hose through the shower to make sure it doesn’t freeze and break in the sub-30 nights
28. Check on fire in the work tent (it’s now 9 pm)
Make dinner
Do dishes
29. Check on fire in the work again (it’s now 10:30 pm)
End of Day 2

DIY Hand-milled lumber
Goodnight, lumber


So, yes, it ended up being a little longer of a process than my 6 step process had anticipated and while I didn’t count the steps like hauling water or running the generator for the house, it’s all a part of the process too. It’s all part of why things take as long as they do, because there’s always another Russian Doll popping up.

In between finishing up and counting our progress on Day 2 towards the overall product, we also realized (or rather, re-realized) another “funny” thing about living in the woods? When you buy a little extra for your project, sometimes you forget just how much extra. Saturday, we found out. Through the variety of necessary projects we’d completed in the last three seasons, we’d managed to go burn through everything “extra” and straight on into our required materials. In fact, we have less than half of what we need.

Oh joy!

I vaguely remember The Chief and I discussing this while shivering in 20 below zero weather. “We can just replace it when we are ready!” I can hear us saying. A statement we promptly forgot while we finished the ensuing projects: the trim, the tongue and groove interior siding, the planters, etc.

DIY Planter Box
#worthit


Still, whether starting with everything or just a less than half our necessary materials, start we did and while it took far longer than either of us had anticipated (surprised?) we came out ahead because we came out at all.

Sunday, we found our groove.

See, it takes no time at all!

We were outside bright and early in the below 40 degree weather and had milled and re-stacked half of the remaining pile by 10:30 am. The work tent was warm and after a brief intermission for a volunteer day at the VFD, The Chief returned and we finished the non-wet pile. 63 boards, all 12 feet, a total of 126 passes through the mill, all finally finished.

DIY Alaska


So, what remains?
8 boards to mill once they are dry.
A Town trip to grab 80 more boards.
Milling said boards (160 more passes through the mill) and then, just those few simple steps:

Sand the boards
Stain the boards
Put the boards up
Done!

I’m sure it will go just as easily as the first 63 boards went and by that I mean, not easily at all but deeply, deeply satisfying to see to completion. Perhaps our weather gambles will pay off and we will be able to stain in the late Fall sunshine or perhaps (fingers and toes crossed, no!), we will have to finish the project next year when we can again paint outside (you know, toxic fumes inside a tent heated by a flaming stove, not a great idea). Only time (on the weekends) will tell. Here’s hoping!

Dryas Drumondii
Wishing on an Einstein


To you and your projects, I wish you good luck! May your process be speedy, your materials be plenty and your clothes smell of sawdust and congratulate you of progress.

With love,

from Alaska and some very tired arms

Fall in Alaska
Fall in Alaska




Lavaterra flowers

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ll admit it, I’m hell-bent on patterns.

“Patterns?” You ask? Yes, dear friend. Patterns. And no, not the plaid and houndstooth of the world. No, no, no. Patterns! You know, the type of patterns that aren’t actually patterns at all but rather one time happenings we aim to replicate into eternity!

Mustard greens
Hello, mustard leaf hearts.

Those “patterns”

For example, The Chief and I have a really nice evening. We happen to have meatloaf for dinner. It happens to be Monday and suddenly…poof! Meatloaf Mondays are born. That kind of “this was good, may it always be so” type of pattern. I’m always trying to sell The Chief unsolicited tickets to my patterned events: Sunday Strolls. Take Out Tuesdays. Sweep Up Saturdays. Chop Wood Wednesdays. It seems I’m a huge fan of “always” and a downright devotee to alliteration.

Meatloaf Mondays
A tradition begins…2018

And perhaps that’s OK, no? A little bit of organization never hurt anyone, right Marie Kondo?

Marie Kondo organizing
Organizing a tiny house is best down out of doors but…Winter was coming.

But…

In my search for continuity, I seem to “find” patterns everywhere, even where they don’t exist.

So last year, when I had a downright banner year in the garden, I assumed (read: decided) that was how the garden would go from there on out. Perfectly.

All the warning signs that I was experiencing pattern blindness were there. Some of the best gardeners I know had quite difficult years last year due to pests or pole vaulting moose or the reason scariest of them all: the unknown. Eek! Still, despite seeing the ebb and the flow in even the best gardeners, this emerging seedling of a green thumb looked at my beautiful brassica bounty and assumed it would always be so.

Giant cabbages Alaska
Cabbage bounty, 2019


Clearly, I’m not winning any Best at Living in the Here and Now awards.

As the season came to an end and I did my best to put up what I’d grown and as the snow came, I tucked in the garden until next year.

This year.

The year that should have been just as good as last year. No, better!

Right?

Right?!

Gardening in Alaska 2019
August 21st, 2019. Jungle greens.



I get attached to “patterns” even when they’ve yet to begin, even when their outcome is unlikely.

Yet sometimes patterns pan out, like seeing the same first flower every year, year after year, once the snow starts to melt:

Anenome flower, Alaska
2019
Anenome bloom, spring in Alaska
2020. Same nail polish too, since 2008. Creature of habit, much?


I “see” a pattern and decide it’s a downright guarantee and while that’s totes adorbs and all, it turns out that even though I can apply mandatory patterns regarding food consumption or chores to myself, applying those patterns to others doesn’t go so hot. Especially when that other is Mother Earth. Mama don’t play that game.

Or does she?

If you’re still wondering, I have photographic proof that she, in fact, does not.

Gardening in Alaska 2020
August 21st, 2020


My cabbages that grew big as beach balls last year seemed not to have gotten their return tickets to 2020. This year’s cabbages have made no suggestion that they might decide to head up, lounging instead as small to medium leaves acting as shields for more delicate crops in our rainy year. In fact, the largest cabbage I have in my garden to date is one I threw in the compost last year that somehow overwintered and came back to life as a triplet. I kid you not.

Cabbage triplets
Hello Alaska State Fair! Sign this big beauty up for the competition!

Cabbage gardening Alaska
…just kidding! Perspective is everything, eh?

So, I stand corrected: one cabbage got a return ticket this year and petite as she is, she’s putting all her leggy, leafy brethren to shame.

Huge cabbages, Alaska
2020. A lot more cabbage, but one less ring.

So, clearly, this year, the year to beat the banner year has been a bit of a dud in some ways. Certainly, it started out with a thud. I started my seeds early, earlier than I ever had in order to get a jump on things. The world was (is?) falling apart (yet never fear, here are some tips to wait out the apocalypse) as we know it and food shortages seemed to loom in our future. Being a “mere” 8 hours from the nearest large grocery store, I hopped to it. I would provide for our family for the summer and the following months to come.

My seeds had another idea. Since people were running about all Henny Penny and seeds were bought up faster than you can say “The sky is falling!”, I recycled them from the year before. Normally, a girlfriend and I share an annual seed order because we are thrifty like that but this year, the seed stores were low and shipping times were prohibitive so we opted to simply reuse last year’s pups. Big mistake?

Maybe.

Gardening starts
1 for 6 in the first row, 2 for 3 in the second, 0 for 3 in the third. Not the best stats.


Or maybe the problem was that the soil was bunk or the trays had a funk or maybe 2020 got wind of our plans and decided to throw her doomsday fancy footwork into the show. Either way, germination wasn’t exactly my strong suit this year. I may not be a pro but I’ve been consistently able to get the finicky Delphinium to germinate so to not be able to pop up a nasturtium, welcome some kale or greet a snap pea? That was weird.

My girlfriend experienced similarly lackluster results with flowers and veggies that were equally old hat to her. A few weeks later, I went for another round, and luckily some of those who hadn’t thrived earlier popped into play. I had the basics and the garden would go on.

The spring sunshine, however, would not. We’ve had the rainiest, coldest summer I’ve ever known anywhere. Like Hawaii, we’ve had afternoon showers almost daily. Unlike Hawaii, we didn’t experience much in terms of t-shirt weather until July, and now, come August, we are back to winter layers that never even had the chance to get put into storage. So, needless to say, the slow start of the seedlings never found a helping hand in the weather and certain things show it.

Failed gardening starts
Cauliflower without a crown.


While others thrive.

Lavaterra
The first bloom of the year: Lavaterra from seed.


Though I may not be rich in sauerkraut from cabbages this winter, we will certainly have squash goodness galore. While my arugula itch never got scratched this summer, beautiful heads of red, butter and romaine lettuce led the charge into the salad bowl. Despite not a single snap pea coming to fruition, the climbing fence The Chief fashioned for me holds a plethora of sweet peas whose scent transports me every time I breathe it in. And further developments like the new stacking boxes he fashioned promise potatoes aplenty.

Pea and bean trellis
Sweet pea and snake bean city
Sweet peas
The sweetness
Potato boxes
Stackin’ taters 3 feet high now

And while doubles were the wildest combo I’d ever seen my zucchini flowers produce, I was lucky enough to see triplets this year!

Conjoined triplet zucchini flowers
We got trips!

So, how does my garden grow?
Differently.
Beautifully.
In a way all its own.

Greenhouse Alaska
Welcome to the jungle. We’ve got squash and games.


Patterns, while consistent and trustworthy, leave little room for the here and now. I’m certainly not keen to give up some of them (Meatloaf Mondays forever. If you haven’t had meatloaf since the 80’s, I implore you to give it a revamp and another try. Thank me later) but I think, I hope I can make a little more room for the abstract to come and share its wisdom as well. Despite learning the lesson that everything changes (even your face time and time again (though hopefully not ever again in that manner ever), it’s still a hard one for me to accept. Yet, when I take a step back to truly see what change reveals, it turns out the picture is uniquely beautiful, every time.

Livingstone Daisy
Daisy Livingstone, I presume? How cool are those leaves?!

It may not have been a replication of last year but this year’s garden was drop-dead gorgeous and super productive in so many other ways. The sun didn’t shine into the 80’s every day like it did last year but perhaps we were better off without the wildness a relentless midnight glow can bring. I didn’t buy a single flower this year, as I always have in the past and hoped my few starts would brighten up the place. It’s been the best flower year yet.

Nemesia
Nemesia from seed. Happiness embodied.

The garden didn’t produce in the same way as last year but it did in so many other ways and because the garden took longer to take off, I’ve found myself foraging more in the bounty that surrounds us. Picking fireweed blossoms and wild raspberries, mint, chamomile, yarrow, and more in our yard. Discovering the joy of Orange Delicious mushrooms, thanks to the teachings of a friend.

Orange delicious polenta bake
Zucchini & Orange Delicious baked polenta

Moving away from the old made room for discovering the new, perfectly imperfect as it is.

A year’s passed and life has sure has changed. Last year I was up to my eyeballs in cabbage and greens. This year I find myself a zucchini queen. Last year I was prepping for a wedding, this year, an anniversary. Imagine that. Change. Despite the feelings of safety a pattern might elicit, trying to force it to stay finds us ripping at the seams. So, I’ll let go…

a little.

With love,

from Alaska

Calendula Alaska
Even though only one Calendula seed came to be, she certainly made up for the others that didn’t! Wild child in orange.


P.S. How does your garden grow?

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P.P.S



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

Apocatips

Apocatips

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

 

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

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

Not anymore.

New reality versus old reality:

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Apocalypse

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

 

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

Oh no, you don’t.

 

 

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

Oh, joy!

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Green onions and celery.

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

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

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

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

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

    Swiss Chard kissing Marigold.

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Some examples:

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

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

    Spruce tips for tea and a tired puppy.

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

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

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

    Coconut milk yogurt doing its thing.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Like frittatas! Frittatas are positive.

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

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

Think outside of just yourself.

For goodness sake, do not hoard.

Be kind.

Keep you and your local and global community safe.

 

With love (and lots of handwashing),
From Alaska

 

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

Be cool, wash your hands.

Beneath the Borealis, 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, 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.

 

 

 

 

A Wedding in Six Acts

ACT I: The Arrival

It wasn’t until the wedding was a few months out that I really realized that we were having a destination wedding. For me, the destination was my backyard. The ceremony would be a 15-minute walk in one direction and the reception 15 minutes in the cardinal opposite, faster even by truck or 4-wheeler. It was as close as it could get. Yet (and feel free to yell “duh” in tandem with me now) for all non-locals the commute was, well, a bit farther.

The week before our wedding, The Chief and I headed back to Anchorage for our third trip in 2 weeks. We had been earning our Road Warrior badges with trips more frequent than we wished but this trip, this was different.

This one was the arrival.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Belly Laughs

The belly laughs had begun.

 

We pulled up to the hotel and out poured my Mom, my Aunt, my two best friends since 5th grade and my friends partner (and my friend) and my niece (not by blood but close enough). It was a cacophony of “hellos” and laughter and hugs and total mayhem. Thus, the logistics began (a favorite Alaskan pastime). No sooner had we packed the umpteen suitcases into the bed of our truck (first bagging each one in a contractor bag to avoid their getting dirty on the deeply dusty drive), buckled up and turned out of the hotel than my neice performed a barfing act not dissimilar to a small cannon. A small cannon that landed right in her lap, soaking her to the bone in her own vomit.

The suitcase with her clothes was positioned perfectly at the bottom of the suitcase pit.

The trip had begun.

Like any good Alaskan road trip, nothing comes easy and smooth is suspicious, yet despite our precarious start, we were on the road a few hours and a few hundred Water Wipes later.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Reunions

The belly laughs continued as one of the KaCaJus kept documenting…Love you C!

 

We arrived that evening, in a caravan of wedding guests, The Chief and his two truckloads of groomsmen and family and us. My girlfriend, badass mother of my beloved puker, upon finally hearing “Yes” to the question “Are we close?” said truthfully, “That was way worse than I thought it would be”. The entire car burst into laughter. Surely she had misspoken? The trip which had started at 11 am and ended 13 plus hours later? Certainly, she couldn’t have thought that was all that bad?

And so, we arrived at our destination wedding, laughing.

ACT II: Preparations 

Our friends and family had all arrived, the wedding week was in full effect and after one day to settle in and get the off the grid crash course we put them to work, as any good Alaskan couple does (it’s a sign of love, truly).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, Off-Grid Living

Off-Grid techniques like how to clean puke out of a carseat and do laundry at the same time…and spray Leto, his favorite game.

 

Despite our “low-key” wedding, it took two full days with a large and ever-changing group of friends to dust off and dress up our reception site. One friend spent an entire day raking leaves to create paths, while another group of friends (and my Pops, straight from his drive in that day) spent trip after trip hauling wood shavings to fill those paths, creating a sort of Winter Wonderland in September.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Setup Crew

Part of the work crew. Team meeting.

 

It was all coming together.

The couple who hosted our reception spent countless hours nailing down every last detail and sweetly surprising us along the way.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Decor

Huge hearts from a play in Anchorage, salvage and spruced up by B&D

 

There were two circus tents and food tents and eating tents and 10 strings of lights to light the way in the darkening nights. We set the tables and prayed for sun, while fully prepping for rain. It was a wedding in September, a September (and August) which, so far, had only been filled with bluebird skies and sun so hot we all were steaming away in tanktops. Could we really expect a sunny wedding?

ACT III: The Bachlor/ette

As if we hadn’t yet been scooped up by our community and showered in enough love the days prior, we still were both lucky enough to enjoy a true treat: a night with the ladies, a night with the boys. After two days of non-stop prep, my girlfriends gave me a hard “out time” and whisked me off for what? I did not know.

We left our house and passed car upon car heading opposite us towards the Bachelor Pary. Everyone was so jovial and excited.

I arrived to the Footbridge and was greeted by the many smiling faces of the lady loves of our town.

It was incredible.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Alaskan Bachelorette Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love

 

We had a champagne toast as the water flowed beneath us and the mountains shone to greet us.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Party Alaska, View

No sooner had a stepped onto that bridge and greeted everyone did I turn around to see the head party planner with her wonderfully mischevious grin. “Turn around Juju” (she calls me Juju. I love her eyeballs). It had begun. Something was on my head and in my hair and her laugh erupted. The penises had entered the scene. I had penises on my head and penises in my hair. I was ready.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Party, Alaska

Claps for all you ladies.

 

We walked into town (handmade boquet from a girlfriend in hand, sweet E), gaggle of gals that we were, laughing all the ways as the two penises on my head (think bunny ears) would randomly clang together, as if clapping for us. We arrived to one of the local restaurants to find that the head party planner (and co-owner of the restaurant) had shut it down for us. A special event.

Special it was. Like any friend of mine knows, food is king and eat we did. We had to keep our stamina up for the many bachelorette activities to follow: penis ring toss, a dollar per mint nibble, a delicious penis cake and some fill in the blank games that made us roar.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Alaskan Bachelorette Party

Gotta love the attention to detail.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Alaska

One of my favorite photos of the night.

 

The night ended at The Bar with dancing to our favorite guilty pleasure songs.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Bachelorette Dance

Leto wasn’t so sure about my new friend Fernando.

 

It was perfect. Thank you, ladies.

Act IV: The Rehearsal

After another day of last-minute prep, we had finally arrived: the night before the wedding. Again, our friends closed their restaurant and hosted us for a fabulous Italian dinner.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

You sweet thangs.

 

There were roasts and salads and more deliciousness than I can recall (but enough for two platefuls. Ever the timid eater. Gotta fit in that dress, right?!). Looking around, we felt surrounded in love, The Chief and I. Fifty of our closest friends and relatives were nestled in together, meeting, reconnecting. We toasted (ugh, I love toasts!) and shed a tear or two and before I knew it, it was over.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Toasts

Cheers to you two. Thank you Mom and Dad.

 

The Chief and I kissed goodnight, our last unmarried kiss, and the bridal party and I escaped to the beautiful B&B a few miles outside of town that would be our haven for the night.

Upon arrival, the mood was set. These girls know sure know how to woo me. I was promptly placed into the center of the couch, my feet put in a footbath, and the sweet silliness began. Our resident Yogi and primo planner (who gave me the biggest compliment I could get that week when she told me: “I’m stressing out because you don’t seem to be stressing out at all. You seem very relaxed.” and I was because every step of the way, someone was there to support me) had us all go around the room and recount how we had met and a wish for The Chief and I. Like at Thanksgiving, where you might go around the room and say what you’re thankful for, it at first felt funny and then the belly laughs and tears began. It’s not always easy or natural to start, but it is such a beautiful gift to give someone that love, that care and that attention. I was deeply touched…and deeply tired. We all were exhausted. These girls had been running full steam ahead, one, our resident Fertility Goddess (and Penis Cake maker extraordinaire) was due 10 days after the wedding but still had been there every step of the way. These loves were the ultimate troopers but it was time for bed.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Karelian Bear Dog Snuggles

Karelian snuggles documented!

 

ACT V: The Wedding

On the morning of our wedding, I wrote my vows.

Surprised?

Yea, me neither.

I woke up and did a quick workout, took a shower and sat down to paint my nails and write my vows when something else showed up: nerves. The nail polish skidded across my fingers as I tried to calm myself. I ate the beautiful breakfast my girlfriends had prepared and the tea they had brought specially for me (all while sewing the dogs’ outfits) but still my stomach was in knots.

It was really happening. This day we had talked about and planned for, stressed over, laughed over, counted down the days till, this day, our “destination wedding” was about to happen. I jotted down that which could only scratch the surface of how I feel and decided to let my heart lead the rest of the way. It was time to get ready.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Thank you, sweet friends.

 

All the ladies and I donned our wishbone necklaces (wishbones hold a special place in my heart. My Auntie El taught me the wishbone basics and they always make me smile and always make me think of her) as we got ready. A sweet, simple connection to those around me and those we’ve lost. I did my makeup and donned the same lipstick I always wear (even though I’d bought multiple new ones to try. I’m a creature of habit, I guess). I was ready.

Or so I thought.

On a recent trip to Anchorage, I had been talking with an esthetician I knew from going to her salon. Upon hearing that I was getting married and that I didn’t even own concealer in case I wanted to cover my scar (or as she lovingly called it “the copper vein running through your forehead”), she told me she would be there to do our makeup. We didn’t talk much after that and I had assumed that perhaps it would work, perhaps not. When she called that morning and heard we were leaving in an hour, I figured there simply wasn’t enough time (and I’d done my best already). There wasn’t enough time. She didn’t have access to her car, it was just too much.

That didn’t stop her. She somehow found a bicycle and huffed her way towards us when she happened upon our wedding photographer and together, they made the jaunt to us. She is a character. She spiffed up my copper vein a bit and gave us all the special treatment that made it start to feel official.

 

 

Suddenly, my excitement trumped my nerves. I was going to marry The Chief!

Our entourage got in various cars packed with who knows what and made our way back to our house. We arrived to smiling family and friends and two girlfriends who were creating the most unbelievable flower crowns, boutonnieres and hairpieces (all flow in by them from their family’s fly-in lodge. How special can it get?!).

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Floral Arrangements Weddings

Flowers for the peeps, flowers for the pups. Thank you E&L!

 

Inside were more friends, visiting, doing one another’s hair (I even took a turn) and toasting to the day. One of the bridesmaids ran the ties and pocket squares over to the groomsmen. It was happening.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Wedding Get Ready

Last-minute prep

 

It was so joyful.

Finally, it was time.

Leto and I were out ahead, leading the way (now that it was happening, I was ready to get moving!). We walked the trails we take on our (ideally) daily walk to The River. Trails I’ve seen change through the seasons, trails that have seen me change in the four years I’ve lived with them.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

The procession.

 

Along the way, we spotted the rocks the groomsmen had painted to mark the trail for the guests. At the end of the trail, my family was waiting for me. It was time. They set out ahead of us, Leto escorting my Mom proudly/trying to get her to run to Dad.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Too much cuteness.

 

My girlfriends and I got into formation (Beyoncé anybody?), a sort of Flying V meant to hide me from The Chief for our long approach and then, we were finally there. My girlfriends walked slowly to the willow arch our friend had made for us that morning and lined up while I was left standing with my first boyfriend in Alaska: Buddha. Buddha is the dog of one of my girlfriends and when I first came here, he escorted me everywhere and so, it seemed only appropriate that he walk me down the aisle. The Chief and Leto were waiting for us both. My family.

 

 

The sea of smiling faces all around us beamed our way. You could feel the love radiating. I’ve never felt anything quite like it. The Chief and I hugged and held hands and then held the hands of our friend who was marrying us. We all took a deep breath and took it all in, all of us too choked up to say anything without taking a moment first.

The vows I had written earlier came together and The Chief spoke his beautifully from the heart, as I knew he would (me with my notepad, him off the cuff. So perfect). We both laughed, we both cried. We both made promises, both lighthearted and serious.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

We laughed a lot.

 

We both vowed to love and be loved as kindly and gently as we can and to continue on, even when it is hard, even as it has been hard, we promised to go forward together.

At the finish of the ceremony, all of the guests found a rock to bestow a wish upon and sent it flying into the river. The joy just kept getting brighter and brighter. There was not a cloud in sight.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

You ladies are so beautiful.

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Rockin’ the pinks and reds. Lookin’ good, gents.

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, The Wedding Party

The whole wedding party

 

We took pictures and then everyone meandered back down the trail to our neighbor’s house (also the wonderful man who married us) where there was a full spread of hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail hour (The Chief and I even got to stroll solo, taking it all in for a moment).

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Our first married kiss.

 

Without asking, people manned the bartending station and had created this beautiful spread (thank you E, C, D & J!). We all lazed on the lawn in the sun until the next leg began.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

ACT VI: The Reception

We arrived to a full house, a party fully in swing. The decorations looked beautiful (our friends who hosted had made note of where everything was to go and then had brought it all inside to protect it on account of rain, then set it all back up again on the day of) and the flown in flowers and bouquets graced all of the vases and bottles throughout the garden and the dining tables. It truly looked like a Wonderland.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Us arriving.

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

The beautiful backyard

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Yet another surprise!

 

Again our friends fed us and again it was phenomenal fare. My girlfriend even ran to the line for us (twice) so that The Chief and I could catch our breath (again, these ladies are troopers). We had set up six tables, but in true Alaskan style, most people ate standing and so, the wedding party and all the kids (the kids who mainly spent the night playing in the compost pile. Ha! I love Alaskan children), The Chief and I dined together under the beautiful warm lights.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, La Mama

Con La Mama

 

After dinner, the entertainment started and…my band got to kick off the festivities. I had always wanted to be in a band and here I was, not only in one but singing at my own wedding, looking at the face of my husband in the crowd beaming with joy. It was my favorite show we’ve played.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

Love you boys.

 

After that, the bands continued to rock it (two bands from out of town came in just to play the wedding) and we cut the cake that had been made by a few dear friends.

 

 

The night ended for us a few hours later as the last band finished and we finally made our way home, husband and wife.

The Chief carried me over the threshold, though certainly not up the Ramp of Doom (I’m a sucker for tradition but not for a broken leg) and we nestled into our cozy cabin in the woods.

Every bit of the day had the touch of love in it. From the painted rocks to the ball and chain piñata surprise to the candles lit in the garden for our ancestors’ table, to the hand-grated carrot cake, to the frequent flyer mile ready flowers and beyond. Every detail, every bit of the day was seen to in this communal way I’ve never experienced before.

 

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

We love you.

 

Each person raised us up together, beamed with us in happiness and congratulations and in confirmation of our choice. We are meant to be together.

And together we are.

 

Beneath the Borealis, A Wedding in Six Acts, 10:28:19, Cheers, Love

Cheers to you, my love.

 

Thank goodness I found you, tucked away in the woods, sweet Chief. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been right. Life has handed us a hefty dose of sour in these last few years but together we have helped to sweeten it and will only continue to do so. Thank you for who you are and who you help me to be. I love you, always.

To our community, near and far, with us and passed on: Words cannot begin to describe how you made us feel but I will say that we felt held in a way that we hadn’t felt in years, safe and happy, beautifully happy. Thank you, all of you, for your contributions great and small. You made our wedding and our start together in this new life a beacon of hope for us. Thank you, always.

 

With love and laughter,

 

from Alaska

McCarthy Alaska Wedding

 

P.S. A special thanks to our wedding photographer, Kate Lamb. She’s awesome. Check her out here: Wild In Love Photography

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Do the Hustle

(The moment this title, “Do the Hustle”, came to me, I’ve been singing the tune of the classic “Do the Hustle”. Wanna sing along? Do it, do the Hustle).

Here, the Hustle (Alaskan name: The Shuffle Hustle) is a dance even those with two left feet know well. In our cabin, from the moment we return home to the next time we leave to resupply, the floor of this cabin looks like a jumble of Arthur Murray dance diagrams. You see, the dance is always changing.

The First Dance: The Big Haul

Shopping.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Shopping in Alaska

Heaven…unless I’m in a hurry.

 

Returning from Town is a trip of endless possibilities and outcomes but in most cases, especially in the Winter, no matter how early our start, we tend to return in the dark and the cold. Headlamps light our way as our sleepy though psyched selves haul in everything that can’t freeze. And what might that be? More than I realized. Everything from bottles of wine to bags of produce and even some sauces (I’ve even had vinegar explode). What can freeze? More than I originally realized as well: bananas, peel on and all, kale (though be prepared for tiny kale pieces and spread about your freezer in a sort of healthy confetti), cheese, tortillas, guacamole even.

If you’re smart, which occasionally we are, your totes (in which you haul your Town booty) is organized by freezables and non-freezables. Yet often, your Town bounty overfloweth and cannot be contained by totes alone. You return home and despite your best Tetris efforts, the back of your truck might look like this:

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska

Let the panic ensue.

 

You open the back door slowly to reveal a crumbling mountain of goodness which, despite your caution, often tumbles out towards you, out of the truck and into the snow.

As you know by now, a Town trip is basically a continual reconfiguration of things, a process of stacking and re-stacking, packing and re-packing. Messes made, messes cleaned, messes eventually just lived with for another hour or two. But now, that you’re home the process can stop, right?

Wrong.

The packing and re-packing of Home though at least comes with a theme song: Do the Hustle.

Finally, endless trips up and down the Ramp of Doom and you have finished. The anticipated (read: idealized, unrealistic) 8-hour trip turned 12-hour (duh) trip due to extra stops and groceries and packing and re-packing and finally unpacking at home is now complete.

 

 

*Year one’s haul on the left (Kitchen: two-burner camp stove, chest freezer, desk, no oven, no room). The evolution on the right (stove, refrigerator, lots and lots of fresh veggies, still not a lot of room but better utilized).

 

The Hustle, however, has just begun. Your first dance steps are tracked upon the floor where countless others will follow.

The Second Dance: The Shuffle Hustle

You’ve brought the first wave in, the non-freezables and you’ve secured them in their respective safety zones…for now.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Organization DIY

After. Shelves, water buckets, and fridge all full.

 

You see, everything has its place here until it doesn’t.

Since we don’t have a pantry or a fridge large enough to store all of our goods, our house becomes our perma-pantry and perma-refrigerator where the Shuffle Hustle begins (cue the music please). Different corners of the house serve different purposes at different temperatures so the cold corner from one night where the low was 10 degrees Fahrenheit turns to the frozen corner the next night when the temp drops to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, that if the cold corner had delicates (lettuce especially), it’s time to get those precious dainties on the move. Do the Shuffle Hustle to find a new home…for now.

Our goodies storage, in order to make up for a small pantry and even smaller fridge,  consists of the hodge-podge following:

 

 

4 totes on the floor stuffed underneath a counter’s shelf

1 mini fridge/freezer combo

1 wall pantry measuring about 2 cans deep, 3 ft. wide and 7 ft. tall (shower hardware at the ready)

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Alaska Pantry Organization

Oh, the meals into which you’ll go!

 

3 large totes, 5 mini organizers in the loft upstairs (aka our bedroom)

Multiple cold to potentially frozen corners of the house

1-2 (weather permitting, meaning, it stays below freezing) totes outside.

 

Do the Hustle.

The initial landing places of most things will inevitably change as the goodies get eaten and the rest of the truck gets unloaded. From one day to the next, the fridge can go from chock full to half empty and then right back to filled to the brim again. As one thing moves or proves hearty enough to shift, another, perhaps more delicate flower takes its place.

But this doesn’t just happen with produce. The beans and canned good and frozen fun, they too get in on the dancing.

Let me set the scene of a typical evening:

The dinner of choice: Pasta with Pesto, Shrimp, Peas and Carrot Ribbons

The Dance: Shuffle Hustle (Techno Remix)

As the water comes to a boil, The Chief might ask me: “Babe, do you know where the pasta is?” I might say “Totes!” and point him towards the milk crate in which we store “grab-ables”, AKA, the high touch items like pasta, tuna, canned tomatoes, chocolate (when we have it) and snacks. Needless to say, this is my favorite spot of the house. But alas, The Chief replies the dreaded response: “Nope”.

The dance begins, the music gets louder. Up I head into our Loft where I try to remember the clues I left myself as to where everything was last year. I know both totes are freezable (or at least hope I know that otherwise, I’m likely about to discover a mess). I know one tote is mainly freezable (fingers crossed) condiments and canned goods while the other tote is filled with grain-type goodies: pastas and noodles of all varieties and some coffee to top it off. Which one? Does it really matter? Just open them both, right? Well, the thing is, it’s not just the opening of a tote, it’s the dance, the constant moving of one thing to gain access to another. In this case, it’s the moving of one large tote or five smaller totes off the food totes held captive beneath them. I close the hatch to prevent a spill. I choose the one with the one large (and I’d forgotten, very heavy) tote atop it.

Wrong.

I proceed to move the heavy tote back and unearth the other. With everything finally up and off of the tote, the true tote of my desire is now exposed. Pasta! I grab a couple of bags in order to stave off having to do this particular Shuffle for a while and make a mental note of the contents of both totes to speed my next foray into the “pantry” as I put everything back in order.

Downstairs I head. This dance is almost over, there’s dinner to be had. Until…

We need the shrimp and the peas. Out The Chief goes to dive headfirst into the frosty haven that is our new freezer. Despite our best efforts to catalog just what lies beneath, still, disorder sneaks her swift paws into our frozen bliss. Finally, he finds the shrimpy pals and heads in. Onions and garlic going, I move to toss in the shrimp and ask for the peas for the shrimp’s cooking company.

“Shoot!”

Out again The Chief heads, this time to the frozen totes near the house (which only the week before had to be completely emptied, goodies stored elsewhere, due to a three-day stretch of warm, sorry “warm” weather. 33 degrees Fahrenheit I don’t think should be so nonchalantly labeled as warm. But here, it is as it’s simply too warm to keep a frozen handle on things). The peas smile up at The Chief as he collects them and delivers them to his bride to be. Yet, just as soon as he starts to take off his boots, I toss them back his way, realizing that due to our recent lemon juice ice cube making marathon (due to lemons who wanted to go bad within a week of purchase. What gives?!) our inside mini-freezer can’t spare the room. Again out he goes to put them back into their frozen holdings.

The Chief finally un-boots and prepares a movie for us as I put the finishing touches on dinner. Carrot ribbons spun, it’s finally time. The pasta is twirled into bowls, the shrimp and peas plop atop and the pesto…

The pesto.

I go to the cold northern corner of the house, a wonderfully consistent corner for cold-hearty condiments and champagne alike.

The pesto is not with its chilly friends. The champagne looks up at me with a shrug.

The pesto, we realize, we forgot to replace (by bringing a new one in from the freezer) when we finished it the last time we made our pesto shrimp feast and now, we are about two hours too late.

This time, figuring this evening had tortured The Chief enough,  I head out to the freezer to do the deep dive to find the pesto and find it I do, but not until I’ve dove to the depths. Oh joy! Chickens and vegetables and frozen fruit get tucked back in again and I bring my pesto prize proudly into the house ten minutes later to the presence of now cooling pasta. Back everything goes, into the pot as I fight to scoop the frozen pesto onto the awaiting pesto pasta dinner.  A little warmer and much more of a pesto pasta than before, the meal goes back into the bowls, preparing for their crowning glory: carrot ribbons. They prance atop the highly anticipated twenty step dinner and as I head into the living room/dining room, I reflect on what seems ages ago when I ventured into the loft to start this pesto pasta process.

Dinner, my friends, is served.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Tiny House Living Alaska Champagne for Everyone

I felt approximately this happy. Champagne for everyone!

 

The final dance of the night is the cleanup step. Thankfully, there’s room in the cold corner next to the champagne for her newest pesto friend and room in the tote under the open cabinets to keep the leftovers. Yet, tonight it is cold, in the near -30 Fahrenheit range and so, in order to prevent the pasta from freezing (the texture of brown rice pasta once frozen is lacking, to say the least) I take one of my puffy jackets and wrap it up like the present it is. A present into which a lot of work and a whole lot of Shuffle Hustle dance steps went.

The music dies down.

And just like that, just as you get comfortable with your jacket wrapped leftovers and your pesto placed just right. Just when everything has its place and your tiny world is contained enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all, a friend calls…and asks if you need anything from Town.

Let the tumbling crumbling mountain of goodies dance begin again.

The things we do for love (of food).

Do the Hustle.

 

With love,

From Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Do the Hustle - 2:11:19 - Backcountry Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Tracks

Snowtime Stories

People always wonder at me how it is I stay entertained in this blank canvas. Without the bustle of business, the tremor of transactions, nary a Starbucks in sight, how does one fill the void left by the sudden loss of the familiar hustle of humans?

Yet, without the clamor of a consistent chorus, the songs are still there. They simply play a different tune.

The quiet here opens up the possibilities to hear the faintest stories.

A vole scampering by on my way to the woodshed, diving out of my footstep into a snowy cave below.

A chickadee, grateful for our (or at least our seed’s) return.

And still, sometimes, the loudest song stories are those which require you to see, not hear.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Tracks

Lou and I deciphering human tracks, 2016

 

 

A little over a week ago, while on a mid-day ski to the River, I happened upon a story I’d only ever been told, one I’d never read myself: the story of the Wolf.

You see, vole tracks, with their heart-shaped happiness dart about with the Arctic Hare in the arsenal of tracks I hold in my mind. Bear and moose too make easily identifiable imprints (though, much to my chagrin, I mistook a hare for a moose my first Winter. “Moose have been all over the yard!” I exclaimed as we jumped out of the truck that first night of my first Winter, so proud to identify it, incorrectly, first. The Chief gently suggested a bunny might be the more likely culprit, considering the print’s depth. I love that guy).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Bear tracks

Summer bear track bounty

 

 

Yet the wolf, I’ve always been second on the scene to identify. Mostly because every time I’ve seen the tracks I’ve been in the company of my best guy friend who is a tracker extraordinaire. The day I beat him to identify a wolf track, I will probably pass out from giving myself too many high-fives.

The odds of identification were stacked in my being second to notice them for years until this year when, suddenly, I stopped in my tracks to notice…tracks.

And not just any track, a track that stuck out all its own.

This time of year, the neighborhood can get quite quiet (and truth be told, my tracking pal was out of the area when I spotted this find so I don’t think I’ll pass out from high-fives just yet) and this year is no exception. The only dogs in the area on the day of the tracks were tracks I knew. Full grown pups who leave what seems like a big print.

This was something entirely different.

As I stopped to take a picture, The Chief rounded the corner on the snowmachine on his way to Mail, his machine threatening to sweep away all the clues that lie ahead. I flagged him down and pointed, certain enough to be the one to say it first (à la the bunny tracks of that first Winter) yet still a little uncertain in my qualification:

“Wolf tracks.”

He nodded and gave The Chief “Yep” and then mentioned that our neighbors too had just told him that they too had wolfy suspicions.

Bingo! Bunny mishap no more. My confidence was on-track (sorry, that one was too much but I couldn’t help myself).

I took a picture, using my glove as a reference point like a pulled splinter next to a penny, steered The Chief to the right of the tracks and kissed him “adieu” as he smiled a mischievous smile at me, knowing I’d be tracking the Wolf the rest of my woodsy wanderings.

 

 

 

 

Wolf of the left, Dog on the right. Same glove.

After my first foray into following tracks, one might think me a bit of a fool to follow in the footsteps of a furry non-friend (I mean, we weren’t friends yet), but I had read the first sentence and I was hooked on the story. Plus, it was mid-day and the wolf was probably long gone by now ((two things I wasn’t totally certain of at the time but have, after some research, verified. Wolves are indeed night-time prowlers and they move on through quite quickly minus the presence of an unearthed invitation to stay and thankfully, I didn’t think it had found one (trash, etc.)).

I followed the tracks along the trail that I myself meander each day, honored to walk in the prints they had lain the night before. That much I knew, these were fresh. The snow here sets out like a blank page upon which is written the stories of a secret world. We may often miss the first showing, but at least we get to read about it the next day.

But wait…

I thought about the night before.

I too had been on the River Trail.

At nightfall.

 

 

beneath-the-borealis-snowtime-stories-2-4-19-sunset-ski.jpg

Fire sky sunset

 

 

A non-stop day at work had left me sequestered inside and so, despite the falling of dusk, I decided to take a quick ski.

Strangely enough, despite how distracting that ski had been (I had actually been on the phone with a girlfriend had some verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry good news) I had kept stopping to look over my shoulder.

I just felt like I wasn’t quite alone.

Perhaps I wasn’t.

The tracks headed down to the River and led right out onto the River’s frozen surface, which was now shattered by the breaking of Hidden Lake (a glacial lake, which normally breaks in the Summer but for the last four Winters has also broken in the Winter). The path back was no longer but never you mind because the backtracking was not the goal of this endeavor.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 River Crossing

River crossing

 

The tracks continued…

Back to our neighborhood.

I followed the storied imprints towards home until our trails divided and I tucked myself into homeways while the Wolf continued on. As we parted ways I dreamt up a tale of the wolf’s passing through, its certainty in its steps, confident and steadfast.

From then on, I visited the tracks every day to see if I could unearth further clues. I visited them in better lights of day and photographed them, I found scat and photographed that too (because I am a weirdo and because it’s a clue!). Every day I returned until one day, I found a new clue: more tracks.

I quickly checked with our neighbors to make sure they hadn’t ventured in this direction lately (even though I knew the tracks were too large to attribute to any pup I knew).

They hadn’t.

A return visit.

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Wolf tracks

Well hello again.

 

 

Perhaps the Wolf had found something of interest in our neighborhood? When I consulted the interesting options, the neighborhood dogs as a snack were at the top of the list. We collectively kept a closer eye on the pups who roam about laissez-faire here from cabin to cabin visiting and exploring on their own free time.

Still, the tracks never led directly up to our houses and other than natural instincts, the Wolf didn’t tell me of ominous plans.

I visited the tracks every day again, looking for old clues and waiting for new ones.

And then, just like that, the book was closed. It started to snow, washing the tracks away, tucking them beneath the layers of stories already told and those still to come.

That’s the thing: out here, the story whispers at you to listen, to follow, to imagine and just as soon, before you know it, that whispered invitation is gone.

I guess that is the long answer to a short question of how I stay entertained. I like the stories this place tells and the urgency with which they arrive and depart. The scarcity makes each story louder, the closeness makes each one more personal.

Today, as I write, the snow falls thick again hiding all the tales since its last frosted ancestors fell, leaving a blank slate for stories anew, waiting to be explored.

With love (via heart-shaped vole prints),

 

from Alaska

 

Beneath the Borealis - Snowtime Stories - 2-4-19 Animal Tracks of Alaska

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

A Confession: Phase I

Here’s a confession:

As much as I love our life and where we live, I’ve always been a bit reticent to show what our house looks like.

Well, at least on the outside.

The inside of our cabin is our cozy haven, filled with bright colors and soft fabrics and candlelight enough to make a Dane shout “Hygge!” (if you don’t know about the Hygge movement, check it out. You won’t be disappointed).

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Christmas

First Christmas, Family photo

 

 

The outside…well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite evoke the same feeling.

Still, I tried to pretend it didn’t matter. In my newly found simple life, it felt incongruous to care so much about appearances. It was such a small part of my life. The outside of my house bothering me? It seemed petty. I tried to push it down.

I’d take nighttime photos of snow lit evenings, the house aglow with the warmth it possessed inside but in the day, without the camouflage of night or the focus shifted to something in the foreground, I was less likely to share the view.

Why?

Our house is naked.

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska

Hello, love.

 

 

With Tyvek that doesn’t even cover all of the house and no siding in sight, our little haven looks a little rough from the outside.

There’s a lot of things I’ve grown used to while living in Alaska that I realize are still strange to others, no matter how normal they’ve become to me.

Outhouses? Normal.

Peeing outside? Normal.

No running water? Normal.

Infrequent showers? Normal.

Living off the grid? Totally normal.

I’ve adapted and found a way to make these changes work for me and some I’ve embraced completely unaltered, loving the way they’ve changed me instead. And of all those normal to me, strange to others things, not a one felt noteworthy or strange or something to hide…except for the outside of the house.

It’s a work in progress and a work in progress is a very common thing in Alaska but it never sat quite right with me. Perhaps it’s because we are really stretching the “normalcy” of it all since we most likely are holding the current record for most years before siding. Still, it’s not as if our neighbors scoff at it, though it is a bit of an ongoing joke at this point.

You see, our house was built by The Chief and his family over a decade ago. I loved it on sight and it immediately felt like home. Despite its bachelor veneer, I saw the beauty underneath and with a little (ok, a lot) of scrubbing and love it became our home. Our cozy cabin has everything we need. Yet, because of the grand plan for the house (The Chief added a 10’X12′ addition on a few years back and we have plans for more expansion), our house has remained “in progress” and naked (read: without siding) since birth. We may not be the only house in progress, it’s definitely more common in Alaska than the Lower 48 but still, at ten plus years, our house really takes the cake.

Houses, like ours, that have additions added throughout the years are lovingly titled “More-On” houses where we live. It’s, you guessed it, pronounced like “moron”, insinuating simultaneously that you’ve learned a lot of what not to do along the way and that the project is never quite done. There’s always more to add on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Winter Construction

An oldie but a goodie. The first shelving project.

 

 

It took me time to adjust. In the Lower 48, you buy a move-in ready house or construct a house and often, you don’t move in until the last nail is placed and the final bits of sawdust have been vacuumed. In Alaska, it is far more common for people to move in before the project is finished. There are a lot of factors that make this so. For The Chief, it was a race against Winter. He could stay in the house he built, even though it was unfinished, or he could again rent a cabin that was not his own. He chose to go with his own work and finish it as time went on. And he did, but when it came to the siding, it just didn’t take priority. Houses take two things to build on your own: time and money and when you’re a young man in your 20’s with a roof overhead that you built by hand on a property that you own, I’d say you’re doing pretty well. Who cares if you don’t have siding? And, if you plan to expand, why go through the time and money to simply provide a finished look outside, when the inside is where you spend your time?

It made sense.

I guess.

Yet still, the more we planned and talked about the projects we wanted to do in the future, the farther away we realized that the future would be. As we already know, construction is costly in both money and time and every project here always ends up being 10 times more involved than it seems. From needing extra wood because you missed a cut to running out of screws or vapor barrier or running into unpredictable weather, there is always something that prolongs the process. So, for now, we’ve decided that we have plenty of space in our 12’X22′ cabin for the two of us. At some point we will expand, but for now, we’ve decided to focus on improving that which we already have.

And so, along came the birth of the siding project.

It would be simple. The Chief have already harvested trees and milled them into boards in a late Spring shuffle. All we had to do was “slap them on” (a favorite phrase of The Chief’s).

Phase I:

In order to put siding on your house, your house should be complete. This was the step I thought we had completed prior to deciding that it was finally siding time. But (big, big “But”), in talking more, we realized that wasn’t true.

As a man in his 20’s building a house from scratch on his own dime, The Chief had to be resourceful and so, in that resourcefulness, he had incorporated plenty of recycled materials to finish the job. From windows to interior siding, our house was a lovingly crafted hodge-podge of materials from the valley we live in. From historic to hand-me-down the house had come together in a wonderful, less-expensive amalgamation of materials. Yet, despite the low-cost at the time, the novelty of some of these things was wearing off as they started to lose their functionality. We finally relented to the fact that the old windows he had salvaged that no longer had screens and wouldn’t open, needed replacing.

“Great! Let’s do it next Summer when we have a little more money!” I suggested.

Wrong.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Construction

Windows out!

 

 

Like I mentioned earlier, a fact which is clearly new to my construction understanding, every change needs to be complete before the siding goes up.

We had ten days before we were leaving.

If we wanted to side the house this Winter when we finally would have time to, the windows needed to go in.

And so, The Chief made the trip to town which he graciously allowed me to back out of since I’d basically been on the road since July.

A few days later, he returned and the race began.

New windows before departure.

The clock was ticking.

In a hustle like I’d never seen, The Chief not only put in windows but also built us a shed for our newly acquired solar freezer (so we did not have to ask for storage help as much) in less than a week. Thanks to some serious help from our friends, everything was built in time to start the project…

This Winter.

Siding project: Phase I: Complete.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska Windows

New windows. One less couch. New set-up. Thanks, K!

 

 

Now, we only have to wait a few months until we get home to start actually siding.

Just like everything in Alaska, this too will take time.

And so, now that the secret is out, now that you know our house is naked, I’ll share with you it’s clothing process along the way.

Until then, may your projects be speedy and finished…eventually.

With love,

 

from Alaska & California.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis The More On 10-22-18 Tiny Home Alaska California

Good day, sun ray.

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Under Pressure

I hate to say it, but I often perform best under pressure.

//Obviously, we all are going to need to listen to Queen’s “Under Pressure” now. Come on, you know you want to.//

Throughout the past ten years or so, I’ve been able to start to curb the maddened procrastinator’s panic and channel it a fraction more usefully by ever so slightly planning ahead. Yet still, that edging towards a deadline, that building of pressure seems to always produce something a little more magical than that which is created without the deafening drumbeats of time.

Or maybe, that’s just the procrastinator’s validation because, really, there’s no true way to test it.

All that I do know for sure is that sometimes I need a little fire beneath my feet in order to jump in.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Ozarks MO

Jump on in, the water is fine. There may be a Water Moccasin or two but…

 

 

Alaska, in and of herself, is a fire underfoot. She pushes you to do things now because later will often look very different. And so, to her, I am grateful for the small procrastinations she’s helped me to shift. To do the little things immediately, before you can’t. The generator is warm? Run it now before it cools down outside and you find yourself having to build a fire to bring it to temperature, all while your computer battery is now suddenly dead and you find yourself suddenly approaching a deadline. Do it. Now.

The other way, perhaps a bit sneakier, that Alaska has set a fire beneath my feet is in the way of a simpler life. I wanted a simpler life. I read about it. I dreamed about it. But my life was so plentiful that I didn’t have scarcity to be my guide.

Never fear, Alaska is here.

I needed the scarcity of Alaska to really learn to take inventory and advantage of what I have. To use everything to the very last drop and savor it, knowing that it may be months before I can replace it. To get inventive in stretching meals when unexpected guests come over without simply going to the store to pick up more. And don’t get me wrong, there are times when I wish we could do just that, but I also love the communal effort that ensues when you’re short just one egg for a recipe and suddenly, the neighborhood search is on.

Scarcity has forced me to repurpose and reinvent that which is no longer available and to use all of that which is abundant.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Conjoined Summer Squash Gardening in Alaska

Conjoined Summer Squash was all this baby wanted to produce. Twinsies for days.

 

So, when our garden had gifted us it’s very last labors of love and was ready to be put to sleep, I turned my attention to our final product: herb salt.

After a girlfriend gave me a heaping jar of this salty goodness, I could not get enough. It’s a finishing salt (something I didn’t even know existed until another girlfriend introduced me to Maldon salt. Try it, thank her later) that goes on, well, everything and I absolutely adore it.

And so, since that first gift, I’ve been taking anything and everything from our garden I can to make herb salt.

Fennel salt?

Sure!

Chive salt?

Bring it on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

Hello, gorgeous.

 

 

My usual suspects, sage and rosemary were only flying at half-mast this year (the rosemary was a no go) and so, the old steadfast oregano came in for the win.

I spent the better part of an afternoon in my gardening overalls, watching the sun make it’s journey as I sliced and diced and salted to my heart’s content. I layered pink and white sea salt and labeled away and as the sun started to make her descent and the chill came on.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Herb Salt Gardening in Alaska

 

 

I packed up, using my garden bounty baskets I’d collected the herbs in (which feels very fancy and fun. Funny how one small wicker basket can bring you such delight) and was almost inside when…

I spilled the salt.

Of the dozen or so salts, my favorite, the one I had written birthday wishes upon for my girlfriend crashed to the ground, breaking the delicately crafted layers of pink and white and green into a swirled mess on the ground at my feet.

So is life.

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Fennel Seeds Gardening in Alaska

Herb castings.

 

 

Thankfully, there were others remaining that I could also dedicate to her and thankfully, a little bit of that good old-fashioned Alaskan fire underfoot had made me take the day to turn our garden’s goodness into something that would last all year.

I needed that fire.

Thank you, Alaska for always providing a little incentive (sometimes a lot) and for always giving a last-minute reminder to not take it too seriously, spilled salt and all.

With love, and a little bit of get ‘er done pressure,

From Alaska.

 

P.S. Want the recipe? It goes a little like this:

Dried or fresh herbs (they say to refrigerate the fresh herbs but I’m not so worried about it – up to you). Mix and match to your heart’s content. My favorite combination has been sage and rosemary. What’s yours?

Your favorite salt or salts. I adore me some pink Himalayan salt if for nothing but the color alone. Everything is good. It’s salt, what could be bad?

Mix or layer to your preferred ratios.

Enjoy!

//I know this recipe is more of a suggestion than hard numbers. If you like those, I totally get it, I’m exactly the same. Dashes of this and pinches of that used to stress me out. But, consider this a little fire under your feet, a little stretch to try out winging it. I know you’ll do great!//

 

 

Beneath the Borealis Under Pressure 10-15-18 Lavaterra Gardening in Alaska

The loverly Lavaterra, greeting the day.