Life is a mountain of milestones, isn’t it? As kiddos, we’re always grasping for that next accomplishment. When riding a trike was once a herculean task, now we set our sight on two wheels. When sleeping at home was the norm, we try for a sleepover. When going to the movies used to be a family affair, suddenly we’re meeting our friends and embarrassed of our parents as they drop us off. These changes, these stages and jumps in time, happen so fast and once we move forward, we rarely move back into the past from whence we came. We are changed, we are changing and we are always looking to the next challenge.
Looking back on the last two weeks, so much has changed…
The Chief celebrated another waltz around the sun (and I learned that one should never bake having just oiled one’s pregnant belly. Cocoa powder explosions are simply an inevitability and cocoa paste does oil and powder make).
“We” (AKA I orchestrated and The Chief did all the moving) moved our bed downstairs, which meant ratchet strapping it burrito style and shoving it through the hatch in the floor (during a work call where I could not stop myself from laughing and so felt it was only fair to turn my video around to show the bed debacle).
I had my last day at work (cue the Hallelujah chorus!) preceded by a surprise virtual baby shower (thank you!).
At which point baby prep began…
And so did packing up to leave for X amount of months. “How long will you be in Anchorage?” I keep getting and continually ask myself to which I answer “No idea”. If I’ve learned anything during this being preggo process it’s that I have no idea what’s coming next and planning is only a possibility so long as you leave room for a million variations. So, I packed for who knows how long which was totally not stressful. When my Mom asked me how it was going, I sent her this:
The Chief too was feeling the pressure, enough to go gray in an instant:
I shifted from not wanting to leave home at all to feeling very ready to leave the punchy snow (and distant medical care) behind. I guess that will happen when you’re 9 months pregnant and falling up to your knees in snow on the way to the outhouse each morning.
We moved to Anchorage, which meant caravaning with The Chief for the 8-hour drive and getting in at 9 pm to a new and unfamiliar home. Leto immediately got familiar.
We arrived in Anchorage to a whirlwind of appointments and appointing a new home with everything we’d need for the next however long. We met with our midwives and our doulas, we handled baby business our too busy schedules hadn’t allowed for, we found a pediatrician and FINALLY installed the car seat and packed (mostly) our Go Bags for Go Time.
The baby prep continued…
And so did the celebrations…
And I spent my first Mother’s Day ever getting pampered by a dear friend while feeling the kicks of our baby. I also spent it realizing that my Mom and I would forever share this day in an entirely new way from here on out.
Most importantly, I finally bought sweatpants (I kid, I kid…sort of).
Two weeks ago, we were celebrating the birth of my love with friends who live only footsteps away. We nestled in at home (with a working shower!) after our last Town Trip and in full-on Go Mode to get everything done in one week’s time. Two weeks later, I find myself alone in a house I’m still learning, in a neighborhood where my closest friend is miles instead of a few steps away. Alone? The Chief had to start work this week in order to more easily take leave for the birth and so the week starts with our separating, again.
Two weeks ago, the reality of our kiddo’s impending arrival felt distant. Two weeks later, it feels MUCH more real as the tasks at hand begin to dwindle and the biggest task yet of giving birth lies ahead of us. I can’t imagine being back to two weeks ago, to feeling less focused on birth and more focused on our house and two weeks from now…I can’t even imagine. Perhaps we will be celebrating another birthday. Who knows?
What we do know? In the next two weeks we will move again (because we are geniuses like that), thankfully within Anchorage this time. The Chief will return and we will reunite once more, until we have to separate once more. And every day we will be closer to meeting this little being who has been simultaneously so known to us and such a mystery. Other than that, I can only guess what the next two weeks will bring. Perhaps a babe, perhaps more waiting (which is fine by me, especially until The Chief arrives). The future holds its cards close to its chest and so we simply take the next step, every day…
Wishing you and yours lots of luck in your next steps, whatever they may be.
P.S. For realsies though…who knows what the next two weeks will offer but…as two weeks from now I’ll be 100, I mean, 40 weeks pregnant, there’s a chance you won’t hear from me right away. Then again, perhaps you will. Either way, I’ll update the blog as soon as possible…
I’m a water baby. If there’s a body of water nearby, my body wants to be in or around it. Label it the siren’s call to the substance we are mostly made of. Blame it on the zodiac (I am a water sign) or rule it without reason completely. Either way, there’s something in me that craves to be near the element. Growing up and until moving to Alaska, water was my north star. Wherever I was, I oriented against it using the ocean. I always knew west, I always knew home.
Upon moving to Alaska, all of that changed. I did a lot of looking at water, rather than leaping into it. Glacially fed rivers and swimming holes were my watery haunts yet I rarely dove in (at least, not on purpose). I oriented myself by the river that roughly traveled North + South to decipher East + West and again my home fell into that orientation but it wasn’t quite the same. It took me a while to get my bearings, hell, I still am. Alaska is enormous, the landscape constantly changing, and gathering perspective is like looking at a painting close up (read: you rarely can see the big picture).
Before moving to Alaska, my favorite way to start my day was with a nice hot shower. I’d come out bright as a beet from the heat and lavish on lotions and potions aplenty in my steamy bathroom. Little did I know that this daily ritual would turn into a true treat in an instant. Upon arriving in Alaska, I was greeted with endless water. Unlike the near-drought (now drought) California I was leaving, there was water everywhere yet somehow, showers, my church, my moment for rejuvenation, were suddenly a luxury.
I did not sign up for this.
I remember going to The Bar one of those first nights in Alaska and someone saying “Wow, did you just shower? Smell her! She smells great.” Granted, I had just showered and my girlfriend’s shampoo was delicious but this noticing of what I deemed a natural daily occurrence had flipped my world. Everyone commented on how lucky I was to stay where I was staying, a shower every day, if I dared. I didn’t. Luxurious as it was by comparison, it was still an outdoor shower and despite summer’s march to the neverending beat of the sun, mornings were chilly. On the colder mornings, I opted for birdbaths in the comfort of the cabin some days. Always, on the days I didn’t, on the days I braved the chill for the comfort of a hot shower with a view, someone always commented. “Did you just shower?” It cracked me up. What was this place?
Within a month I had adopted the local vernacular. “You smell great! Did you just shower?” I’d find myself saying. What had I turned into? A woman of the woods, it seemed. When I moved (read: suddenly realized I was living with a man I’d just met) into The Chief’s house, he had a shower as well…and a well. I had fallen in with a bougie bunch, it seemed. Having a well meant water every day if I wanted it. All I had to do was gas up the generator, carry the 50-pound sucker to the well, fire it up, inevitably troubleshoot it when it wouldn’t start, and fill the 50-gallon drum that was our shower reservoir. Easy peasy. Sort of. While I did find myself in the shower more days than not, it wasn’t quite the same as the steamy showers of merely a month before in California. My life had done a solid one-eighty. Everything had changed and…for the most part, I accepted those changes with open-ish arms. I adapted. It turns out we are more pliant than we think, especially when we are in love.
But then, come winter, the adaptations began again and this time, they were a little more drastic.
Shower? Sure! All you have to do is: Step 1: Think ahead (this step was often forgotten and another day would fly by without a shower). Make sure to have filled all the water in the house, defrosted the bathing bin and get the house nice and toasty. For those three things, there’s about 15 steps total and a whole lot of forethought. Needless to say, this step was thwarted often.
Step 2: If everything in Step 1 was satisfied, move on to Step 2: Find the step stool, balance upon it as you lift the stairs, and secure them over your head.
Step 3: Use the aforementioned stool to hang the shower curtain and protective black plastic sheeting so your house and pantry aren’t drenched by your endeavor.
Step 4: Realize you forgot something upstairs. Undo Step 2. Gather your goodies. Repeat Steps 2-3.
Step 5: Kick up the heat! The fire has somehow died down in what feels like the 5 minutes you’ve been prepping your shower (probably more like an hour). Go outside, chop wood, bring it in and stoke the fire.
Step 6: Recalibrate. What the hell was I doing? Oh yea, showering.
Step 7: Prep your space: get all your shower goodies and put them nearby (don’t forget your towel).
Step 8: Shower military-style (I don’t know when we adopted this term but I’m not sure it really applies): water on, water off. Suds up. Water on. Water off. Shampoo. Water on. Water off…you get the drill.
Step 9: Dry off and dump the water. Hopefully, you were judicious in your use of agua or you’re about to be hauling a hefty load, my friend (or, in my case, co-hauling with The Chief).
Step 10: Wait for the shower curtains and bathing bin (read: a Rubbermaid storage tote) to dry. Put them away.
These Steps 1-10 can span days and so, sometimes, can your bathing routine. Showering once a week in the winter out here is heroic and despite how this cadence failed to meet my CA expectations, I was always brought down to AK earth when someone would mention and point “She has a shower” and everyone would oooohhhh and ahhhhh. It’s all about perspective, I guess.
And still, sometimes that perspective shifts. When we decided to start our addition, we didn’t realize that we had also started a whole new project (read: baby on board) and so our focus was on one thing: amenities. Yes, it had come time, time for a year-round shower. No outdoor shower for half of the year, spanning from frozen showers in the spring to frozen feet in the fall. No more hoping the system wouldn’t break (and being disappointed multiple years when it did due to an unanticipated freeze). No more set-up and takedown from inside to outside. No more hours or days-long winter Steps 1-10. Nope. Permanence, my friends.
The project started last fall and just this week I am happy to report I took my first ever on-demand shower in our house.
To say that it felt amazing is an understatement. I cried tears of joy the whole time as I laid down in the tub (the tub!) and let the water cascade down upon me. Did we come by the shower easily? Heck no. Did The Chief have to do endless research, make countless calls, and search for parts near and far? Did it work and then need tweaking and surprise us with hurdles unanticipated?
Of course it did! It was construction (in remote Alaska nonetheless), there are never any certainties. But one thing is certain now: we have a shower, shoot, we have a bathtub, and I am in heaven. And for the first time ever, we left Anchorage with excitement in our hearts to return to our shower instead of savoring every last second in the shower in Town. Our shower.
While our human addition grows within me, our house addition grows before my eyes and I have become ever more in awe of the man I married. From the ground up, he’s created for us a whole new reality. One of brightness and ease and luxuries large and small. It hasn’t always been easy but it certainly has been worth it. Together, we’ve divided and conquered, taking on the tasks most in our wheelhouse, both adding on to our family as we go, I with our babe in my belly, he with hammer in hand.
It’s wild how life can change, how perspective can shift, and how the things we took most for granted can become pure opulence. I am still a water baby, always will be, but I have a different appreciation for that water than ever before and I’m grateful for that shift. Despite growing up with it, I hope our little nugget will appreciate it too. If he forgets, I know our town will remind him how lucky he is every time he wanders into Town freshly showered.
With love (and running water),
P.S. Today mark’s a special day, The Chief’s birthday. Happiest of birthdays to you, my love. We are so lucky you were born.
6 plus years ago, I waved goodbye to The Chief as I drove away with our friend, Anchorage-bound. 5 minutes in, I was laughing through my bon voyage boo hoo. Fifteen minutes later, we were grounded with a wonky wheel that wouldn’t stay put and a need for a Plan B.
60 minutes after that, after The Chief raced to come get me and deliver me to the mail plane, my mighty steed for the day, where I bid adieu to my newfound love for the second time that day.
I was off to California for two weddings of four dear friends and five weeks later, The Chief would join me.
A mere five weeks. We’d spent our entire lives without one another, certainly a mere handful of weeks was manageable, right?
Was it fun?
While it was lovely to return to California to see friends and family and excitedly tell them about our new love, it was hard to part ways. I felt like I had found my magnet match, my opposite pole and now that we were separated, the pull of that other half was constant. I missed the balance, the feeling of home and the feeling of whole. Nevertheless, five weeks eventually flew by and once we reconnected, we resolved the five weeks had been about three weeks too long.
Something we conveniently forgot a few months ago when we made plans for this weekend. And now, it’s here. The weekend of shift, the winds of change, the time for The Chief to depart and for us to spend the next 6+ weeks apart.
Have I mentioned that I can be a little clunky with change?
While we’ve managed over the years to push the 5-week fact out of our minds long enough to plan a 4 week trip for me to visit family and a few one week stints here or there without one another, the windows of our timeframes apart have slowly been narrowing over the years, with our latest longest stint being just under a week.
So, why the sudden decision to go throwback status and spend a month and a half apart? Well, you see, there’s a secret recipe to pregnancy in Alaska. It’s a sort of Build It and They Will Come approach. First, you must buy a Subaru.
Why the unnecessarily aggressive all caps? Well, the key to this preggo plan is to start the addition. The second key is to race the baby to the finish line. Two of my best friends before me have cooked up this recipe in their own abodes and each time, we professed it would be the last time. And then laughed when it wasn’t.
Quick sidenote: I do NOT mean to be flippant about the difficulty of getting pregnant. For us, it took two years and it still doesn’t feel real. I know how hard it is to try and to be utterly grounded each month the potential passes. I did however see a pattern here that I couldn’t help but poke fun at. If you’re in the trying mode, I give you my sincerest wishes that you and yours welcome a babe to your bunch very, very soon. Hang in there, you’re doing great.
Start the addition we did. Now, the race is on. At nearly 6 months pregnant, I’m neither up for a 3,000+ mile roadtrip, nor do we want me plopped in the middle of a fume-filled construction zone. The solution? A division of labor and a division (momentarily) of our family.
“It’s fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine.”
Trina’s amazing Covid holiday card
This is a quote I’ve replayed in my head dozens of times. It originates from a holiday card during OG Covid from a dear friend that just cracked me up. We’re all doing totally fine, right?!?!
Truth be told, I have ridden a mere handful of emotional roller coasters while pregnant. The dreaded pregnancy hormone monsters have been quite kind to The Chief and I. That is, until now, when the reality that my little fambam is about to split two and two, thousands of miles apart, has started to sink in. In the last week, someone turned on the waterworks and they have been plentiful. When The Chief realized he could leave a day earlier because we switched our midwife appointment, I teared up. When I looked at my two furry boys the other morning, cuddled up nose to nose fast asleep, I teared up. When I did my first full load of baby laundry, I teared up.
When the wind shifted, I teared up. It’s tear time.
So, where do we go from here? Well, there’s nothing to distract from tears like work to be done and so far, it’s gone about as smoothly as most of our journeys. Thankfully, we’ve been able to laugh through the hiccups – like having to drive two hours out of our way to pickup our Uhaul that someone decided to drop off at the wrong location to my pregoo brain driving it almost all the way home before we realized we hadn’t stopped at the storage unit on the way home (the whole reason for the Uhaul to begin with). Long hours, long days, swollen feet but still, two near-failed dinners and somehow…still fun.
Maybe because it’s the last few days together, or maybe becasue we are finally getting better at going with the natural flow of the best laid plans falling by the wayside.
On one of our last nights, after a big day and a wonderful last evening of drinks in the backyard with our landlords, I was beyond tuckered. I awoke to The Chief gently removing my book from my lap. I was still seated fully upright. He laughed as my post-deep sleep confusion muddled my words. He slowly removed the pillows from behind me and laid me down, tucking my enormous pregnancy pillow around me in all the right spots. “Goodnight, my love” he whispered as he shut off my bedside lamp.
I don’t want to go 6 weeks without that but I know time will only make returning to his comfort that much sweeter.
See you in 6 weeks, my loves. See you in 2, sweet reader.
P.S. Do you and your spouse spend much time apart? How is it for you? Let us know in the comment section below!
Do you ever look back on your younger self and think “Oh, honey…what were you thinking?!” This past winter, as The Chief pulled out of our driveway on his now annual January trip to Town for supplies, I had a sudden feeling of panic.
Was it because I was all alone in the wilderness with nary a neighbor nearby? Nope.
Was it because the winter before the temps had dropped to 50 below the second he left? Nope.
Was it because I suddenly felt the paralyzing reality of our distance from help, if need be? Yep. And as I watched our only vehicle roar away, I realized our one ticket out had just been cashed.
Out here, cars are a different breed. There are Town Cars and Beaters and the two don’t travel the same trail. A Town Car is one that is reliable enough to get you to Town (aka Anchorage). A Beater is a car that often is not even road-worthy. Registration? Naw. All lights working? Maybe. It’s a car that you hope will get you to work each day. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. Breakdowns are constant, repairs as well and we all shift and shimmy our ways through the various modes of transportation we have, ranging from cars to four-wheelers, bikes, our feet and beyond.
When I moved here, the mode of transportation I employed the most was hitching a ride or walking. The Chief was always driving the fire truck, as the State had hired our VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) to Firewise and patrol the area so I thought little about our reality: we had no car. No Town Car, not even a Beater.
Growing up in Sonoma County, a car was the ultimate freedom. We always lived outside of town, miles and miles away from the nearest friend, leaving me locked into home. By the time I was 14, I was working near full-time in order to save for my freedom ticket: my first car. I absolutely adored driving. I’d head out to the beach for sunrise and sunset every day, just to feel that expansive feeling of independence.
Still, when I moved here, I thought little of leaving. Getting around our town was an adventure, a constant shifting of moving parts. Logistics, logistics, logistics. It wasn’t until we got home that first winter that it hit me: I was stuck. We had arrived home in a fire truck that had been in Town for some engine work but once it was safely back at the VFD, I took stock of our inventory at home:
Two snowmachines One non-road-worthy car that wasn’t currently in operation.
As The Chief took his snowmachine for a test run and I watched him disappear down the driveway I felt panic rush over me. I started crying. What in the hell did I just do?! The only mode of transportation I had was something I didn’t even know how to start and if I didn’t like the incredibly huge life change I had just made (moving to Alaska), I was going to what? Ride a snowmachine to Anchorage? Suddenly, catching a ride everywhere didn’t feel so footloose and fancy free. While The Chief promised me that if I ever wanted to leave, he would always find me a way, I still felt myself in a precarious situation.
Thankfully, I didn’t want to leave and we did finally get the one Beater working. I learned to drive a stick and when that broke down on my way to work one morning, we realized the obvious: we needed a car. That endeavor was interesting, to say the least and is still one of the most Alaskan things I’ve ever been a part of (other than this). We bought a truck and within a few months, the transmission went out. Thankfully, we were able to finally find our Golden Girl and things seemed to settle.
We had transportation, freedom. All was well. Until…
This last winter, watching The Chief drive away.
Living here, this far out has its joys and its curses. Being so far from medical care is one of the less amazing parts and as I watched The Chief leave this year, I realized that I couldn’t push the worry out of my mind any longer. With him gone, I was stranded. Normally, there’s a neighbor nearby who I know would help me in any situation but this year, the nearest neighbor was 30 minutes away. Something in me just broke. I felt trapped and, in all reality, I was. I needed freedom.
This past weekend, in our true Road Warrior style, The Chief and I found freedom in the shape of a brand new car. A new car?! What are you crazy or sumthin’, Juju? Well, not in this scenario, no. It turns out that due to, you know that thing that shall not be mentioned that happened last year, buying a new car and a used car is about the same price. We looked for months and after tons of research, I realized that our best option might actually be a new car. It was and it is. This past Friday, after a long week at work, The Chief came home at 7 pm and by 8:30 we were fed, packed and on the road to Anchorage. Thoroughly no longer in our 20’s we agreed to camp halfway. As the sun did her dance of short slumber, we pulled into our home for the night.
It’s amazing how even a gravel pit in Alaska can have stunning views, and it did, but at 1 am, we were almost too tired to appreciate them. Almost. What we appreciated even more was our little snuggle bug, Leto, who promptly placed himself between the two of us, got into my sleeping bed and conked out. The road sounds nearby were putting him in a panic but it was nothing a Leto Sandwich couldn’t cure.
The next morning we were up at 6:30, shivering as we packed up camp and made coffee. By 7:30 we were on the road again and three hours later, we were swinging into Anchorage for a quick change of clothes and a “hello” to our gracious hosts. Then it was straight to the car dealer where we stayed until 5 pm that evening. Leto was a true champ, charming all of the car buyers as he sauntered about the showroom (a showroom completely devoid of cars as there are almost zero to be had). After a hefty amount of paperwork and coffee, it was done. We were car owners, again! Freedom! I smiled ear to ear as I drove our little babe home.
Even an 8-hour drive, again on very little sleep, couldn’t dampen my spirits. We were headed home, caravan style with two vehicles! We wouldn’t have to constantly do the transportation shuffle. If our truck wasn’t working, we wouldn’t be stranded. We had options. I felt an ease come over me as we pulled into our driveway at 8:30 pm. Full circle.
So, am I extremely grateful for our new rig?! You betcha.
Do I wish we would have done this years ago? Uh huh! Yet the reality is, we weren’t in a place financially to make that happen. I’ve long enjoyed the comfort of a friend’s fancy car but never thought we’d be able to pull it off (and take it as no small blessing that we are finally able to). So…we lived in uncertainty and did our best to handle all that life threw our way, as we all do.
And finally, freedom.
P.S. What are your car conundrums? Do you live footloose and fancy free or prefer a rig that will get you from A to B? Let me know
I don’t know about you but damn if I didn’t miss my friends this last year. Luckily for me (sarcasm) two of my closest friends and neighbors happened to be gone from our ‘hood this last year. Thankfully, two other besties were nearby to pump my estrogen levels back up and there were some winter newbies I was lucky enough to get to know. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boyfriends but sometimes there’s simply no substitute for the love that exists between girlfriends, and this weekend I got to fill my tank.
On the way into Town, I rode in with my girlfriend (one of the two who were gone this winter) you might remember from this post and the newest addition to our girl gang: Leona. She’s my Scorpio soul sister. Our connection runs deep and the strange ways her coming to be all the way to her birth crossed over with our babe and our miscarriage still give me chills. It was cathartic and healing and an overall serious full-circle experience to ride into Town together, the three of us (plus my nephew pup, Ruger of course), this time with Leona on the outside, squeaking and squealing and babbling her way through the normally 8-hour, turned 10-hour, drive. We were on baby time and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
After getting in at 1:30 am, getting to sleep by 2:30, and up again at 6:30 we were all a little blurry-eyed but gung-ho. There was a lot to do and do it we did, all the way from getting the pup in and out of surgery (he’s OK, don’t worry!), getting my friend’s car repaired, getting me to acupuncture and an ultrasound plus blood draw (I’m OK too and no, I’m not pregnant. It was just a look around to make sure all is well, and I feel very grateful to say that it is) plus countless errands in between. The consensus? We pretty much nailed it.
The next morning, my girlfriend and little Leona and I parted ways (they are staying to pick up her sister and I needed to head home for the workweek). They dropped me off at the dentist where I arrived full snail style (aka with my life on my back) and when I was finished, my other neighbor who had been gone all last year picked me up! Despite a rocky start (pun intended) when the starter on her truck gave us guff we made it out of Anchorage. We shopped separately, one of us staying with the truck while the other went in, as we were too nervous to turn off the truck and thus finally departed the grocery store at 3:30. Would it be another late night? Who cares! We were together for the first stretch of substantial time together in over a year. We talked the WHOLE time. It filled my cup, a cup I didn’t realize was empty. Gosh, I love girlfriends.
So, am I completely and utterly tired? Yep.
Do I feel a little dizzy from that whiplash of a trip? Yep.
Was it worth it? Hellllllll yea! I am so grateful to Alaska for the hard it provides and the beauty that hard creates. 18 hours in the car never felt so good.
Cheers to the friends in our lives who help us to learn ourselves, push ourselves, love ourselves. I am so grateful for each and every one of you.
After the most epic year of snow I’ve ever seen, Spring has finally sprung. While Spring in Alaska is more of a slog than a sprint, I’ll take it. Onto the next season we go! We’ve had 50 degree days, sunshine and the constant drip drop of melting snow. Every day, slowly but surely, that which slept in a snowy embrace awakens. Usually, everything that’s uncovered is welcome. Sure, there may be a stray tool that didn’t make it in the shop or an errant piece of cardboard that missed the fire. Sure, you have to wait as it melts, freezes, and melts again until you can finally get these items out but hey, playing lost and found is what Spring is all about.
That is, until Leto decided to up the ante.
A little over a week ago, I went outside to check on Leto before a meeting for work. There he was, under the house, soaking up the sun rays. He looked relaxed. A little too relaxed. Mid-double take I noticed that he was rocking ever so slightly. I slip-slid my way along the icy underbelly of the house (aka Leto’s Lair) and immediately knew something was off. His tongue was sticking out of his mouth and the rocking was constant. He could barely open his eyes in greeting. I offered him a treat to get his attention but…nothing. If you know Leto, you know he’s perhaps the most food motivated dog in the world. My Momtuition kicked into high gear. Finally, I got him to stand up and head indoors where I could better assess the situation. He stumbled to his feet and weeble-wobbled his way up the Ramp of Doom as I stood over him, guiding his way.
My mind was racing. I’d heard him and his friend yelp while playing earlier that day. Had he hurt himself? He didn’t seem to be in pain. I ran my hands over his body, checking for any signs of injury. I found none. As I took my hands away from him, he fell to the ground, unable to support his own weight. I looked at the clock. My meeting was about to start. I let them know I wouldn’t be coming to that or anything else until I knew what was going on. Something was wrong.
I called The Chief and asked him to come home. Tears welled up in my eyes as panic set in but then, something else took over. After so many years of so many emergencies, my brain went into autopilot. Make the calls, pack the bags, handle the situation.
1 pm is apparently the worst possible time to have a vet emergency in Alaska. Every vet I called was out on lunch or busy with a patient. Thankfully, there was a vet 5 hours away (our closest option nowadays. Dr. Kimi, come back!) with an emergency number. I called and she texted back. I explained Leto’s symptoms and she said “Sounds like he’s high. Give him lots of water and text me if anything changes.” The only problem was, I couldn’t get him to drink a drop and I couldn’t think of where he would have gotten it. I scoured the outside for anything that could have gotten him in such a “groovy” mood. Nothing. To add to the mystery, the compost was undisturbed, the mechanical fluids were intact…zero clues. Plus, he’d been with me all day, in the house, under the house on a line or out with me when we took a short walk.
I tried another vet and eventually got through. They recommended coming in. 7 hours away. After feeling pretty rebuffed by the first vet (she had asked next to zero questions and said it “should be fine”) and told to immediately come in by the second, things were vascillating in my heart between “I’m sure he’s fine” and “He’s about to die.” So, I texted a video of him to a friend who is also a vet. She called me right away and started running me through all the questions.
How are his pupils? Are they dilating?
How are his gums? Pink? Responsive to pressure?
Is he eating or drinking?
Can he walk?
We talked through the possibilities and they ranged from mild to terrifying. Given our distance from the nearest medical care, if it did end up being something serious and we waited, chances were we wouldn’t make it in time. That made the choice for us (a choice I’d pretty much already made the second I saw him). We were headed in. Time to get the show on the road. I started packing us up as The Chief headed out to get the truck ready. One problem: we were out of fuel. So, he gathered our cans and sped off on the snowmachine to borrow some. I moved through the house in a calculated daze. I’d done this so many times that it was almost second nature. Hope for a night, pack for a week. By the time I had us all situated, The Chief was back and our neighbor was over wishing us good luck. 20 minutes and a change of clothes later (diesel isn’t the best smelling perfume) I watched as The Chief carried our fur baby down the Ramp of Doom.
I lost it.
I’d watched him do the same thing with our Lou the entire week before she passed and it broke my heart to see it again. I went into the freezer shed to grab last minute items and to pull myself together. I sent out a little prayer to the Universe, dried my eyes, took a deep breath and steadied myself. Time to go.
7 hours, dozens of glaciers (one that had turned into a foot-wide, foot-deep running river) and endless check-ins to make sure our little man was still breathing later, we arrived. The entire drive Leto had barely moved. He wouldn’t get out to pee or drink and his über expressive ears barely twitched when we said his name. Our vet friend had changed her plans that night in order to meet us and didn’t even flinch at the fact that we wouldn’t be getting in until 10 pm. The Chief gently picked up our babe from the back seat and slowly, steadily made his way across the skating rink-esque parking spot to the house.
Leto loves new places and upon being set on the examination mat, he started to come to and then…he started to pee. Everywhere. Quick lady she is, our friend grabbed a cup and gathered a sample as he stumbled outside. It was time to start the detective work. 5 minutes later, the truth came out: stoned. Our little Malamute was stoned out of his mind. He rang true for THC in his pee test. No government jobs for this kiddo.
Relief poured over all of us. For the first time in 10 hours, I could breathe easy. My babe would be OK, he was just totally and completely blitzed.
The epic pee time seemed to wake him up a little more and though he walked like a drunk, he was walking again, wagging his tail and drinking water. We spent the rest of the night catching up and learning a few vet tricks, like how to take his femoral pulse. In addition to seeing us at 10 pm, our friend continued her awesomeness and offered us to stay with her. As we made the bed, Leto came running into the room and jumped onto it. His first feat of near normal mobility. The boy loves a good sleepover. The next morning Leto crawled into bed with us, tail wagging, like nothing had even happened. As the Chief, Leto and I all cuddled in bed I felt myself relax into the reality that our babe was actually OK.
A few days later, home again, I peeked at him under the house and what did I see? Rocking Leto, eyes closed, tongue out.
I went inside and told The Chief and his Uncle Dan that we had a repeat offender on our hands. I brought him inside and we all gave him love and pets, hoping to make his trip an easy one. Even though it still was hard to see him that way, we were able to make jokes this time. That is until he suddenly started drooling profusely, then dry heaving. My mind flashed to fear. What if it wasn’t a repeat offense. What if he’d actually eaten something poisonous this time and we’d just been sitting there watching him, wasting precious time?
Thankfully, the drooling and dry heaving stopped and it was clear that he had simply raided his stash again.
Over a week later and two days of StonerMute in the books, we still have no idea where he found the goodies. All we can hope is that he finished them off for good. Oh Spring, how you uncover the most wondrous of things. In the end, the nearer vet was right, he was stoned but I’d take a trip to Town any day of the year to know our little man was OK. Living this far out has its advantages but moments like these highlight the disadvantages. It’s a true life of living lock step with faith that everything will work out while simultaneously knowing that life is full of the unexpected. Thankfully, the unexpected left us unscathed this time and I can’t explain how grateful I am for that. Thank you.
P.S. Any stoners on your watch? Share your story in the comments!
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A few weeks back, as The Iditarod began, I looked at The Chief and asked “Didn’t that just happen?”
The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome (although this year, conditions necessitated an altered route). Mushers and a team of 14 dogs cover the distance, enduring everything Alaska has to give, in one to two weeks or more. The origin of the race lies in the amazing journey to get the Diptheria serum to Nome (try not crying while you read this article). It’s an Alaskan tradition, a huge event every year and I had genuinely forgotten that a year had already gone by since it last occurred.
Can you relate?
For me, it feels like this whole year has blended into the last, like it’s been winter for 365 days and counting. A global pandemic, stay at home orders and just the general upheaval of our societal norms as a whole aside, another huge part of why it feels like I’ve been living on The Wall (Game of Thrones, anyone?) has been this: sunshine, or rather, lack thereof.
People always ask me: “Do you ever see the sun?!” to which I reply with a chuckle, “Of course!”. Truth be told, in winters past this place was lit up like a Christmas tree. While our days were short, the sun still did her best to break up the dark and it was stunningly beautiful. Plus, even when the sun wasn’t shining, the moon would light up the night. The snow would look as if it were littered with diamonds, as if Sara Shakeel herself had designed it. This whole last year, however, it’s been pretty darn overcast. Last winter, as COVID hit, the days were often as gloomy as our attitudes. It was as if the sun would consider coming out and then deem it a little too risky.
Never fear, summer was coming.
Summer, with her hot days and ice cream cones and swimming hole days promised relief. I couldn’t wait.
It turns out I had to, we all did. I barely broke into my summer tote of clothes by the time the leaves started to turn. Sure, there were some sunny days but it wasn’t exactly tank top weather as we were used to. Still, winter, with her ever-reflecting light would provide our salvation, right? The northern lights would do their dances and brighten up the long winter’s night. The sunrises with their cotton candy skies would greet us each morning. It would be glorious and fully make up for all the gloom. I couldn’t wait.
Wrong again! This winter has been the gloomiest to date (for me). While overcast skies meant LOTS of snow, which is awesome, for the first time ever, I heard people say they were over winter long before she has ended. When it snowed two more feet last month, the late season storm was exciting but also…overwhelming. More shoveling, more schlepping, more whiteout days where, if you didn’t know the mountains were surrounding you, you’d never be wiser to their existence. Until, finally…
While it hasn’t been the sunniest March I’ve ever seen, I’ll take it. Nothing has been as it once was this last year. Seeing the sun beam each day has brought me out of a year long winter’s rest and I couldn’t be happier. Clear nights mean cold temperatures as -25 rears her head again but this clarity also brings with it the northern lights. Finally, both the night and the day greet us with gusto. I’m taking it for the beacon of hope that it seems to be. Brighter days are ahead.
Let the sunshine in.
P.S. Are you enjoying Beneath the Borealis? If so, would you share it with a few of your friends? Thank you! P.P.S How are things in your neck of the woods? Has the sun decided to shine?
The day started off like any other unassuming Sunday: sipping tea in bed while journaling away through the dark morning dawn. A breakfast brunch as the day finally broke through the darkness and then…plans. What would the day hold? While there were chores like hauling water and running the generator, it was Sunday. The day of rest, right?
The Chief had, unfortunately, forgotten his phone at the Lake where we put in our first trail to our property(!) the day before.
So…his day’s agenda was set. Mine, on the other hand? Free as a slightly chore-laden bird. Still, I knew what was coming next.
“You should take The Beast out for a couple laps when I go out to the Lake. Pack down this new snow, you know?”
The night before had laid down a beautiful layer of fat, fluffy flakes. Six inches of snow graced our valley. Suddenly, all of the well-trodden trails we’d grown accustomed to in the last month were covered. Every trek a tromp through calf-deep goodness. The trail to the generator, the outhouse, the sheds, all now a bit of a slog, overnight. Not only were our personal trails changed but all of the exterior trails were too. Without a quick pat down by the snowmachine it would be post-holing for Leto and I on our afternoon walk. The best plan, the pre-emptive plan, would be to take a few laps, prepping the trail for the oncoming week so it could setup. The best plan, however, was normally The Chief’s job.
In secret, I’d always wanted to be the one who laid first tracks upon the trails here and often I would but solely with my skis. Not once had I been first to set tracks with my machine. Even if our household was first out, we’d be riding in tandem and I always found myself riding in second place. Scratch that: I always positioned myself in second place and with Leto aiming to lead the way, I’d find myself a solid third.
While it would be easy to blame The Chief for taking on these duties so as not to have to look at myself and by providing excuses like “He’s typically free when it snows and I’m typically working” or “He enjoys it more”, I finally let my guard down and came face to face with with the truth: I’m scared to get stuck.
The truth is, yes, sometimes The Chief is home and I’m working when the trails need to be put in. Sometimes not. And yes, The Chief does enjoy it but what’s also true: I love it too. There’s nothing like breaking first trail (even if it’s merely 6 inches atop an old trail), or so I’ve been told. Growing up, I used to love to drive my Grandpa’s riding lawnmower, back and forth in the summer heat, until the lawn was perfectly flat and uniform. Setting trail is the winter version of this (also somehow sweaty). So why all the hubbub?
I’ve done it before. Stuck, stranded, using every bit of I Don’t Want to Have to Call My (at the time) Boyfriend Strength up. Sweating. Panicking. Losing then regaining my senses.
Getting stuck. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
The reality? Getting stuck actually is a truly important lesson out here. You wouldn’t drive a car without knowing how to operate it and getting stuck is just a part of operating a snowmachine. Still, there’s one issue: I’m a perfectionist. Perfectionist. The title seems harmless enough, unassuming, almost…dare I say, cute? In reality, it’s anything but. Being a perfectionist, for me, means doing things right the first time or…doing nothing at all. You’ll notice by my lovely array of dust-laden instruments in our cabin that I fall prey most often to the latter (doing nothing at all), than the often impossible former (doing it right the first time). Did even young Mozart have to plunk about on his piano for a bit prior to conducting his masterpieces? Me thinks not.
Truly, deep down, me knows so. I know there’s plenty of plunking about we don’t see behind the Insta-worthy lives we show. So, as The Chief gently challenged me to dust off my piano, per se, I met his gaze and said “OK, but I’m a little scared I’ll get stuck.”
“You might! That’s all part of it.”
Ugh, sage advisor that he is, I wasn’t having it. Again, I’ve gotten stuck but only twice have I been completely alone and they were relatively easy fixes (thanks to the I Don’t Want to Have to Call My Boyfriend adrenaline). The other times, when I’ve gotten really stuck (I mean REALLY stuck), I’ve luckily been in the company of friends. What if I got REALLY stuck?!
The Chief would be 45 minutes away. What if I needed him? Our neighbors were all gone. The closest call for help would be a long way away. I’d be a burden. Perhaps that’s the greatest fear: not just doing it imperfectly, but having an audience.
So, dear audience, here’s my confession: get stuck I did. I got stuck “damn good”, as my Mother would say. See?
After two hours of miles-long loops around the local trails, racing back and forth and off into sub-trails, I arrived back at home sweet home. In my laps, I’d veered off into our yard and flattened out our home trails quite well but I thought to myself: “Why don’t I do one more lap to the fire pit?” I’d had a little trouble paving my way through the terrain with a turning radius that just wouldn’t take hold and I wanted a third run at it. It had been the only part of the last few hours that had given me pause, wondering if this would be the place I’d get stuck. Still, I had made my way through it twice already and today was about facing fears! Another voice sheepishly tapped me on the shoulder: “Excuse me, umm, I think maybe you’re pretty tired? Maybe, umm, maybe you should call it quits?” Even Leto, The Meandering Malamute, had thrown in the towel a few laps before. It would be totally honorable to do the same.
Instead, I went full-bore. I was going to make the turnaround in one fell swoop instead of employing my wussy reverse again! Straight ahead or nothing!
I drew the nothing card.
In the last moment of the turn (which I was, in fact, totally nailing), my track caught on a previously unseen mini-boulder and…over she went!
I heaved and ho-ed like no other. Just when I would get some momentum, my feet would slip out from under me, towards the machine. While I wanted it upright, I didn’t want it upright on top of me. I slid the back end away from the rock as best I could but the going was tough. I flattened the snow all around the machine in the direction I wanted to move it but still, I’d only get it an inch or less at a time. Until I purchased my latest machine, I’d always had lighter ones, ones I could lift. This one, weighing in at over 500 pounds, I couldn’t (which plays a great deal into a fear of getting stuck). No matter of momentum was proving to help. I was…
So, I did what I aimed not to: I called my husband. Somehow, despite being in the middle of chainsawing his way through our new property, he felt the phone buzz. He answered. The spotty service only swelled my frustration.
“I got stuck!” I finally yelled, angelically, of course. What I wanted him to say in return was: “Don’t worry! The machine will be totally fine on its side for the next hour until I can get home.” What he said instead was: “Well, no, babe, the machine shouldn’t just sit like that. You need to figure it out.” “This is all your fault” my less than adorable side thought (thankfully not aloud). “Maybe look up come alongs on YouTube? Or create a pulley system?”
I thought back to my 7th grade science classes. Pulley systems…yep, I had definitely been class clowning my way through that lesson. Nice work, Jules! But, he did have a point. I had the internet and a ton of tools (I didn’t know how to use) at my disposal. Perhaps I could cook up my own rescue. I said a grumpy “Thank you. Be safe.” and got off the phone. Time to brainstorm. To the back of the truck, Batman!
The thing about “packed down” snow (aka the snow I had been riding back and forth across for the past few hours) is that it needs to set up, meaning it needs time to settle and ideally, cold temperatures to turn it into a little mini-highway. This snow had not done that in the last 30 minutes of my trying to right the wronged machine. The audacity! So, back and forth I trekked, slipping calf-deep to the icy surface below, shedding layers as I went. Gloves on. Gloves off. Fingers frozen to metal. Gloves on. Repeat. After an embarassing and inaccurate first attempt (“I’ll use a tie down!” aka a ratchet strap) I finally agreed with myself to consult the YouTube oracle. “How to use a come along” I queried. The first video I saw had snow on the ground and a big truck. It looked like home so I clicked on it. Actually, the first video I saw said “Finger Pincher”. Rude. So I clicked on the aforementioned second one. The gist was the same: Do NOT use this if you don’t understand it. You will snap your fingers off. Fear mongers!
So, I watched the video over and over until I knew the subject back and forth, right?
Nah. I skimmed through it and looked for the main cues (i.e. which side is “Up” and which end gets attached where). A few more trip-laden tromps back and forth to the truck and I had everything I needed. I thought. And…it turns out I was right.
After some fenagling the pieces over the most secure junctions and a wish of good luck for my fearful fingers, I started cranking back and forth, back and forth until…I saw movement. The snowmachine was finally coming upright.
I gave a few more cranks and gently tipped it the rest of the way down to the snowy surface.
“Hell yes!” I shrieked to myself. “I did it!”. I was in shock. I’d done something that gave me paused (riding alone in fresh powder), met my fear (getting stuck) and found my way out (upright).
Now, trust me, I know that to an experienced rider, this whole conundrum likely seems trivial. Well, trivial at best, perhaps closer to pathetic. To which I would say, “I get it.” Yet, I would also venture a guess that there might be things that make a brap bro pause that might be easy peasy to others. I can write an essay in my sleep but driving a stick shift makes me feel as if I should have a Caution, Teen Driver sticker on my bumper. Maybe you’re amazing with a chainsaw but can’t imagine a moment onstage. Perhaps you can draw life-like portraits but tremble at the thought of swimming in the ocean. Who knows? The point is, hopefully, small or large, insignificant or essential, we find a way to stride past our fears and get to the joy of just trying…and maybe getting stuck.
So, get stuck I did and unstuck to boot and now, my machine, was upright again.
Sweating and thoroughly exhausted, I put my coat and gloves back on, fingers crossed, in anticipation of a ride. She started right up, purring away loudly. “Yes!” I yelled again. I took her for a final lap through the local trails and she hummed away, happy to be back on track. I thanked my lucky stars.
By the time I returned home, it was almost 5. The Chief arrived soonafter, whooping and hollering for me as well. “This is what I mean! It really is good for us to get stuck, even if it is scary! I’m so proud of you, baby.” He then proceeded to tell me about a time he too had gotten stuck in our own backyard, years ago, during his first winter. He heaved and ho-ed and stomped down the snow around him for hours, all the while watching the lights go out at the friend’s house he had been on his way to visit (there weren’t cell phones here back then. Kind of amazing, right?!). Finally, hours later, sweating and exhausted, he had made it the couple hundred feet home.
So, a restful Sunday, it was not, yet, it was exactly what I needed and I’m grateful for it.
In the end, getting stuck was the best part of my day. OK, getting unstuck was the best part of my day but it wouldn’t have come without first getting…stuck. I think in this time of online perfection, it’s important to show the less elegant, less photo-worthy moments. Maybe, just maybe, it will help us all see that perfection is limiting, at best, and that we all struggle and thrive in different ways. Moving here has forced me to face my fears, fears I didn’t even know I had, head on and while, in the sweating, exhausted moments of meeting them, it’s not always fun, in the aftermath, I’m always grateful. And so, I share those moments with you. The nitty, gritty, not always so pretty version of life (off-grid or otherwise) that force us to face ourselves, head on. It’s not always the shiny parts that need the most light.
Cheers to you in your triumphs and in your moments of defeat. May they both bring you closer to who you want to be.
P.S. Can you relate? What are your hangups others might find easy?
This summer, we met our match in our little ball of fluff: puberty. Because of COVID and the world, including our vet, being pretty much closed for business, our little man went from sweet little pup to full blown pubescent pooch and our ears and sanity paid for it. He howled the summer away, lamenting our locking him up to prevent an unplanned puppy pregnancy with one of his many girlfriends.
Yet finally, after weeks on end, the howling stopped. All was quiet. The window had passed for the two star-crossed pups and Leto seemed to forget all about his girlfriend. Phew! Back to a quiet, peaceful life, right? Little did we know, there was a new temptress in town: freedom.
You see, we live in a leash-less, fence-less, wide open world here where dogs wander to their heart’s content. Yet, Leto had never taken to wandering. Don’t get me wrong, he’d do his rounds checking the neighborhood, as his sister Cinda had done, for treats and attention but he always came home. Always.
Until he didn’t.
He had tasted freedom and it tasted good. Specifically, it tasted like beef jerky, french fries and who knows what else (ice cream, probably ice cream). He had found freedom and with that, he’d found tourists and with them he’d found a smorgasbord of treats even Templeton couldn’t dream up. And so, the calls started coming in:
“Oh hello, is this Leto’s Mom? I found your dog, well, he found us, and he looked so hungry so we gave him some of our breakfast. He’s walking us to Town now if you want to meet us.”
Thank goodness I made him wear a collar this summer (something Cinda had never done unless we were in Town. We called it her “Town Clothes”).
Call upon call kept coming in like a phone bank for a funds drive and every day I’d spend my lunch break finding out where our Malamute had meandered off to next (thank goodness for work from home, eh?). There were calls from friends, calls from the bar, calls from strangers, calls galore.
Yet one call in particular is a story we tell time and time again. Sneaky Leto hadn’t come home the night before and The Chief and I worried through the whole of the dusk lit summer hours, wondering if he’d found a moose to terrorize, worrying he’d misstep and meet his end.
Instead, he’d taken himself 3 miles away to a local campground and posted up for the night, terrorizing, instead of a moose, tourists. The ladies inside the tent heard him outside, hoping to get in to snuggle, and thought him a bear. “He sounded much bigger than he is! We didn’t open the tent until daybreak but when we did, boy were we surprised! We gave him a little beef jerky and he got right into the tent with us.” Wander as he may, at least he wanders to good people. Time and time again, I’ve gotten to meet sweet travelers who fall in love with Leto and help him find his way home (thank you!).
Since he started his wandering ways, I’ve seen him in pictures online, received countless texts and calls and heard tales of him leading people on hikes or bringing them on tours, welcoming them to our valley like he’s the Malamute Mayor.
Yet as summer wound down and the tourists merely trickled in, we figured so too would his wanderings wind down.
A month ago, we were yet again proven wrong. As The Chief worked away doing construction, he saw a group pass by on the road below up to the historic mining town. They had two dogs with them, happily trotting along and one looked awfully familiar. Far enough away that he wasn’t sure, The Chief shouted “Oy! Leto?!” and sure enough, our ball of fluff looked over his shoulder at his Dad like a teen just trying to sneak out of the house with his friends. “Ugh, Dad! Don’t embarrass me!” he seemed to whine. The Chief scooped him up and put him in our truck where we pouted the day away until it was time to come home and tell Mom of his traveling tales.
Yet that was a month ago. In the ensuing weeks since, the ground went from covered in paths of golden Apsen debris to snow-laden. The temps have followed in suit just as dramatically, plummeting to 25 below zero over night.
While there were now new neighbors in town to greet (he even showed up one morning with a note attached to his candy corn bandana reading “Leto came by for breakfast. I cooked him an egg”), it was significantly quieter in these parts. Certainly, with the tourists gone, all tucked into their winters elsewhere, his wandering days were over.
Not so fast.
Now that I know what to look for, I can spot the signs he’s about to slink off. We’d been busy unpacking from our Town trip and our daily outings (which were suddenly on skis!) had been pushed later and later into the day. I could see him getting more and more impatient but still, every night I’d tuck him in and every morning I would awake to him downstairs or under the house. Until one evening when it was just a little too quiet around these parts. I hadn’t seen Leto in about an hour when the texts started coming in:
Next: “Leto came by for a warm up. Should I keep him?” said one friend.
Then: “Can I give him something to eat? He seems hungry” said another an hour later.
It was 25 below zero, yet out he was, greeting his friends both dog and human, making his rounds. After three Leto sightings the latest friend he visited asked if I would like him to bring him a little closer to home. He was going to another friend’s house for dinner and could bring Leto with. I agreed. At least he would be closer. The Chief had just returned from an hour-long looking for Leto snowmachine ride and was chilled to the bone. Heading back out again simply wasn’t in the cards.
Our friend arrived at his dinner and Leto settled himself in quite comfortably. I agreed he could have dinner and spend the night. Leto also agreed and it was settled. Right?
Of course not. The moment his host stepped out to answer nature’s call, Leto stepped out behind him and he was off!
The next friend to call was miles away and sure enough, there he was.
They were having a dance party and, like a moth to the flame, my little social butterfly of a Malamute was ready to boogie. He jumped on in and finally, settled in for the night. Right?
Nope! Leto again snuck out the door post-party and he was off! His signature move struck again. After that, late in the night, the texts stopped coming in. Everyone except for the meandering pup was fast asleep. Who knew where he was now?
Eventually, we did. Come afternoon the following day, we got another text: “Leto made an appearance. I’ll keep him until you get here”. Again, The Chief suited up to battle the elements and finally, an hour later, he was home with our sneaky beast who spent the rest of the day sleeping off his adventures.
So, I guess his wanderings aren’t seasonal and his puberty is still full bore. Somehow, we ended up with the most social pup I’ve ever known and despite the occasional worries, I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Thank goodness for this goof who has given us so many ups when life has presented downs. You, little man, light up our lives. Thank you.
May your journeys be plenty, may you always stay safe and may you always find your way home, eventually.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.